A New Declaration of Independence: 10 Ideas for Taking America Back from the 1%
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The extra-constitutional “delayed-notice search warrants” given to law enforcement by the Patriot Act have been used far more for fighting the war on drugs than the war on terror, which is to be expected from a law that was essentially a massive laundry list of tools and privileges that prosecutors and FBI agents had wanted for years that had thus far been denied to them by pesky constitutional checks on their powers. The government even has its own secret legal readings of the act, allowing it to do secret things we can know nothing about.
The government now has vast powers to track and spy on us for whatever reasons it chooses, and both parties are mostly fine with that. When the NSA was found to be engaging in illegal domestic wiretapping and data mining, Congress responded by granting them more domestic wiretapping and data mining powers. As we’ve moved further from those panicky days that birthed the Patriot Act, the law and its associated unaccountable domestic surveillance state have, perversely, become more normalized. Those in favor of limited government should be the most alarmed at this.
7. Tackle climate change
We may be rapidly approaching the catastrophic point of no return when it comes to preventing major, devastating climate change. To keep warming below “dangerous levels,” one recent study says, we’d need to “reverse the rise in emissions immediately and follow through with steep reductions through the century.” Immediately — like now.
Frustratingly, even half-measures have found no support in Congress, where the industries doing the polluting have far more clout than mere scientists or human beings who’ll be alive in a future period of mass extinctions, hunger, flooding and drought. At the very least — and this is literally the very least the government should be doing right now to combat climate change — a price should be put on carbon emissions, either in the form of a direct tax or as part of a cap-and-trade scheme. This is a policy so self-evidently beneficial to the vast majority of mankind — it taxes a bad thing, so that corporations do less of the bad thing, while also giving the government revenue to spend on good things — that cap-and-trade’s defeat in Congress says just about all there is to say about the corrupting power of industry money on the government process.
8. Stop locking everyone up for everything and end the drug war
The American incarceration rate dwarfs that of our closest competitor, Russia, at 743 per 100,000 residents. A full quarter of the world’s prison inmates are American prison inmates. One in 100 American adults are behind bars. These staggering numbers have been repeated over and over again for years by activists, reporters, academics and even the very rare courageous politician, but the prison system just keeps growing, and growing, and growing.
The problem is that there is no political will to do anything about it. In fact, locking people up tends to be a popular campaign platform. In some locales, felons are both denied voting rights and also counted as residents of their prisons for the purposes of congressional apportionment, causing a perverse incentive to lock up more inmates. Tens of thousands of inmates are in long-term solitary confinement, which is essentially torture by another name.
As violent crime rates have fallen, the prison population has continued to grow, because of longer terms and mandatory sentencing and denial of parole. The U.S. holds its prisoners longer than any other nation in the world, and because rehabilitation comes a distant second to punishment in our prisons, recidivism is common. (It doesn’t help that, across the nation, ex-felons can’t qualify for welfare or subsidized housing or find work.) We’re actively creating a massive, mostly black and Hispanic underclass of permanent prisoners and future prisoners. America desperately needs more juvenile diversion programs and well-funded rehabilitation and education programs for those currently in the system.