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A Proposed Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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The U.S. President will be elected by means of a standardized physical and personally signed mail-in ballot, which, starting in the first month of the election-year, is mailed out to all registered voters, who are broken down into 100 different and all-inclusive randomly assigned daily batches of 1% of the electorate (5% of the electorate per week), and which asks each such person “Whom do you wish were America’s President right now? (Name a living American.)” Each of the top two chosen named persons that is Constitutionally qualified and willing to serve as President — both of them naturally being publicly well-known — will then, within 30 days of having been publicly announced as having been selected by the voters for the second-round voting and willing to serve, post online that individual’s proposed Presidential policies; and each of these two contenders will, then, after yet another 30 days, together face a town hall, with 100 randomly selected Americans, at which event ten of them who would like to ask questions will randomly be selected, each one of these ten questioners to ask only one question (secretly held by that randomly selected individual), which they want to be answered by both of the contenders, and allowing each such questioner up to 5 successive follow-up questions on that one question, to ask that question of each one of the two contenders, but allowing no other question, and no time-limits. (That will, at a maximum, be 10 main questions, plus, for each question, 10 follow-up questions, or 110 questions total, as an absolute maximum, at this event, which will be the one and only Presidential-campaign town hall during the entire election-season.) After that town hall, each of the two candidates will have a half hour of free and federally financed air-time on all networks each week, so as to be able to address any issues that may have arisen. 100 days after that town hall, a second standardized physical mail-in ballot will be mailed out, this time all-at-once, to all registered voters and listing as options only those two identified individuals. All of the returned and personally signed ballots in each of the two rounds will be permanently stored for possible recounts. The candidate who receives the majority of votes will be the next President. The loser will be the Vice President. 

The twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution is hereby nullified.

The twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is hereby nullified.

Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 & 3, of the U.S. Constitution, are hereby nullified.

THIS PROPOSED AMENDMENT WOULD ESTABLISH A MEANS OF AVOIDING THE MAIN SOURCES OF PROBLEMS THAT ARE IN THE EXISTING SYSTEM OF SELECTING A U.S. PRESIDENT, such as:

Nominees being selected entirely by means which enable billionaires and other top political donors collectively to control the outcome by eliminating candidates whom they all oppose.

Major newsmedia, which themselves are controlled by billionaires, coloring or ‘interpreting’ candidates’ assertions so as to sway voters toward their preferred candidates.

Staged ‘debates’ with only shallow questions that have been pre-approved by representatives of the billionaires, which representatives have negotiated, in advance, what questions will and what won’t be allowed to be publicly debated at these ‘debates’.

Replacing the Electoral College and eliminating the role that superdelegates play in the Presidential-selection process.

Eliminating the argument for term-limits on the Presidency (because no arbitrary requirement will be placed on whom the President should be, other than the requirements that were imposed in the 1787 Constitution itself).

Temporally spreading the initial selection-process, out to 100 weekdays, or 20 weeks, will prevent any one news-event or scandal or emergency from over-influencing the first-round choices of whom will be the two individuals competing in the second round.

By limiting the final choice to the individuals who were the two top chosen persons in the initial choice and willing to serve, that final choice will not only be between two individuals both of whom are highly regarded by a substantial portion of the population and willing to serve, but in the second (the final) round will allow each of them to present the individual’s case for him/herself and against the opponent; and this natural adversarial process will produce the polarity that is necessary to be accentuated in any meaningful election, so as to expose not only the strengths, but also the vulnerabilities, in each of the two electoral options (persons) that are being offered to the public in the final stage. 

Since this Amendment would eliminate the influence of Party-organizations (because the voters would be choosing on their own and not guided by the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee), it would introduce a new type of Presidency — one which, for the very first time in American history after the election of George Washington, would produce Presidents who are not answerable to any Party-organization but only directly-and-only to the electorate. The balance of powers between the Executive and the Legislative branches would then be much closer to what the Founders (who had wished to avoid any political Parties from forming in America) had intended to be the case, regarding the selection of the President. The Founders opposed political Parties because they knew such Parties to result inevitably in, and to encourage the development of, corruption. They wanted the President to represent only the public, no Party organization. The Founders also knew that any admixture between the Legislative and the Executive functions will greatly exacerbate corruption, by means of reducing the separation-of-powers. This proposed new U.S. Constitutional Amendment would restrain corruption because it would separate the President not only from the Party-system that controls the Legislature, but from the Legislature itself. This double-insulation would amplify the President’s “bully pulpit” (by institutionalizing adversariality, competition, between the Executive and Legislative branches) and simultaneously diminish the President’s direct influence (which, under the current system, a President exercises via his own Party-organization) over the Legislature. Politically, the President will therefore then be competing against both the House and the Senate, and will cooperate with the Legislature only so as to produce legislation that both the Executive and the Legislative branches will want to take to the electorate in their respective re-election campaigns. The objective here is to maximize the Government’s electoral accountability to the public.

The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution (setting a term-limit upon the Presidency, at no more than two four-year terms) was instituted during 1947-1951, under President Truman, in order to reduce democracy (eliminate the public from choosing the President) when an incumbent in the Presidency has proven to be so good that the public will probably always be happy for that person to continue on in that office until that person either dies or quits — such as was the case with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had died as the President in his fourth term, on 12 April 1945. Historians rank FDR as the 2nd-greatest President, after only Abraham Lincoln. Though he was popular as President, he is even more admired in retrospect by historians. In his own time, America’s wealthy were hostile toward him. The first-ever U.S. Presidential-election poll was taken by the conservative Literary Digest during the Great Depression in 1936 and only amongst middle-and-upper-class Americans, and it showed FDR likely to obtain only 43% of the vote, but in the actual election, he won 61%, and that magazine then died in 1938. Months after the Literary Digest poll in 1936, George Gallup mocked that pollster’s methodology and correctly predicted FDR’s win (though likewise under-estimating it, at 56%), thus creating the first scientific polling-organization, which still exists. The 1940 pollings showed FDR as being almost certain to win, which happened; and, then, in 1944, likewise. Republicans didn’t want that to happen ever again and thus forced through the 22nd Amendment so as to prevent it from happening. They sensed that they could never get a Republican as President who would be so popular for so long. However: that Republican 22nd Amendment is inevitably an invitation to corruption because it reduces the incentive for a sitting President to govern so that the public will be and will remain supportive of that incumbent’s continuance in office. The 22nd Amendment was thus part of the degeneration of American democracy — not part of its enhancement. If FDR had been held to the standard that the Republicans succeeded at imposing upon the country in 1951, with the 22nd Amendment, then in 1941 when the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor and America’s economic recovery from the Republicans’ Great Depression was already blossoming in full force since 1938, the Republican Wall-Street lawyer and proponent of regulated monopolies, Wendel Willkie, would probably have become President, and America’s degeneration into extreme corruption would likely have begun four years before it ultimately did. Willkie wouldn’t have kept America out of WW II, but he had zero record in public office and there was nothing in his public record which would indicate that he would have served America and the world better in WW II and afterward than FDR and even Truman did. The 22nd Amendment was just a thinly rationalized power-grab by the Republican National Committee, as soon as FDR died. But merely eliminating it wouldn’t be enough to make America’s Presidential-selection process truly and directly democratic. Parties must be removed entirely from that process. This Amendment would do that. 

The 12th Amendment to the Constitution, as well as Clauses 2 & 3 of Section Two, all deal with the Electoral College, and thus likewise would be eliminated by the proposed Amendment. Those provisions, too, had been introduced by conservatives, especially the slave states. Particularly, during the U.S. Constitutional Convention, “southern Convention delegates, who personally thrived on the institution of slavery and represented others who also did so, forced the compromise establishment of our bipartite constitutional scheme for presidential elections.” The Amendment which is proposed here would replace all of that. This Amendment would, in fact, at the Presidential level, end the institutionalized rule of America by its former slave states. The Civil War didn’t do this, but only held the Union together while outlawing outright slavery. Some of the Deep South’s stranglehold against democracy remained even after the 14th Amendment ended the overt commerce in human beings. Moreover, slavery continued in Alabama right up to WW II, when FDR, on 12 December 1941, ordered it finally to be ended.

Consequently, this would be a very important Amendment.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Americas

Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea

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On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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Maximizing Biden’s Plan to Combat Corruption and Promote Good Governance in Central America

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Authors: Lauren Mooney and Eguiar Lizundia*

To tackle enduring political, economic and security challenges in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Biden administration is attempting to revitalize its commitment to the region, including through a four-year, $4 billion plan submitted in a bill to Congress.

In its plan, the White House has rightly identified the root causes of migration, including limited economic opportunity, climate change, inequality, and violence. Systemic corruption resulting from the weak rule of law connects and entrenches the root causes of migration, while the increased devastation brought about by climate change exacerbates economic hardship and citizen insecurity. 

The renewed investment holds promise: previous foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle has shown results, including by contributing to a reduction in the expected level of violence. As the Biden Administration finalizes and begins implementing its Central America strategy, it should include three pillars—rooted in lessons learned from within and outside the region—to maximize the probability that the proposed spending in U.S. taxpayer funds has its intended impact. 

First, the Biden administration should deliver on its promise to make the fight against corruption its number one priority in Central America by supporting local anti-graft actors. The sanctions against officials which the United States is considering  are a step in the right direction, but lasting reform is best accomplished through a partnership involving regional or multilateral organizations. Guatemala’s international commission against impunity (CICIG) model was relatively successful until internal pushback and dwindling U.S. advocacy resulted in its dismantlement in 2019. Though Honduras’ equivalent was largely ineffective, and El Salvador’s recently launched version is marred by President Bukele’s campaign against judicial independence, there is room for learning from past mistakes and propose a more robust and mutually beneficial arrangement. The experience of Ukraine shows that while external engagement is no silver bullet in eliminating corruption, the role of foreign actors can lead to tangible improvements in the anti-corruption ecosystem, including more transparent public procurement and increased accountability for corrupt politicians.

In tandem with direct diplomatic pressure and helping stand up CICIG-like structures, the U.S. can harness lessons from prior anticorruption efforts to fund programs that address other aspects of graft in each country. This should involve empowering civil society in each country to monitor government compliance with anti-corruption laws and putting pressure on elected officials to uphold their commitments. While reducing impunity and improving transparency might not automatically persuade Central Americans to stay, better democratic governance will allow the three Northern Triangle nations to pursue policies that will end up expanding economic opportunities for residents. As Vice President Harris recently noted, any progress on addressing violence or food insecurity would be undermined if the environment for enabling corruption remains unchanged.

Second, the United States should support local initiatives to help reverse the deterioration of the social fabric in the region by expanding access to community decision-making. Given the high levels of mistrust of government institutions, any efforts to support reform-minded actors and stamp out corruption at the national level must be paired with efforts to promote social cohesion and revitalize confidence in subnational leaders and opportunities. In the Northern Triangle countries, violence and economic deprivation erode social cohesion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. The U.S. government and practitioners should support civic efforts to build trust among community members and open opportunities for collective action, particularly in marginalized areas. A key component of this is expanding sociopolitical reintegration opportunities for returning migrants. In so doing, it is possible to help improve perceptions of quality of life, sense of belonging, and vision for the future. While evidence should underpin all elements of a U.S. Strategy for Central America, it is particularly important to ensure social cohesion initiatives are locally-owned, respond to the most salient issues, and are systematically evaluated in order to understand their effects on migration.

Lastly, the U.S. should take a human-rights based approach to managing migration and learn from the pitfalls associated with hardline approaches to stem migration. Policies rooted in a securitized vision have a demonstrable bad record. For example, since 2015, the European Union undertook significant measures to prevent irregular migration from Niger, including by criminalizing many previously legitimate businesses associated with migration and enforced the imposition of legal restrictions to dissuade open and legal migration. Not only did this violate freedom of movement and create adverse economic consequences, but it also pushed migration underground, with individuals still making the journey and encountering significant threats to their lives, security and human rights.

A welcome realignment

Acknowledging the role of push factors is key to responding to migration effectively. Most importantly, putting political inclusion and responsive governance at the center is critical for ensuring vulnerable populations feel rooted in their community. A more secure, prosperous, and democratic Central America will pay dividends to the United States not only in terms of border security, but also in the form of improved cooperation to tackle global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China. 

*Eguiar Lizundia is the Deputy Director for Technical Advancement and Governance Advisor at IRI

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