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Eight needed steps to save democracy and our future

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Fellmeth is the Price Professor of Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law and the founder and executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Institute.

Democracies in decline rarely come to an abrupt end. They usually unravel — slowly and subtly — over a period of time; the rot slowly reveals itself until the endgame becomes obvious. Threats to democracy are now out in the open and very real, but there are some steps we can take to help preserve governance by informed people who are concerned about our children and the Earth we leave behind.


1. Reverse Citizens United and Noerr-Pennington. The Supreme Court’s erroneous 2010 decision in Citizens United has led to extreme campaign finance corruption through “dark money” financing of political campaigns. Collusive associations can form entities exempt from campaign contribution limitations and effective disclosure of financing sources. This holding fuses individual citizens and corporate entities into comparable status. Earth to court: Corporate officers have a fiduciary duty to protect the corporation’s capital and maximize its profit — an orientation radically disparate from the citizens of a democracy with concern for their children and the future.

Adding to this seminal corruption is the Noerr-Pennington decision that confers First Amendment privilege to combinations of corporations normally required not to collude for marketplace efficacy. But that collusion now results in trade associations for every imaginable profit interest — collusively lobbying and directing the Citizens United largesse into unprecedented election corruption. It has spawned a lobbying regime that effectively controls virtually every alleged regulatory agency, actually representing the takeover of government by organized and corruptive special interests.

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2.Limit the Electoral College to assure presidential election by the majority of the nation. We have a Senate that already manifests the important role of state sovereignty. Further, the recent Supreme Court ruling that renders moot much of the nation’s Voting Rights Act violates basic judicial competency. Gerrymandering needs to be stopped, which could be somewhat accomplished by eliminating the Electoral College.

3. Tackle global warming. This is, as Al Gore presciently put it, “an inconvenient truth.” The evidence is not in bona fide dispute. We are well into making our long-term future unviable. The dismissal of curative action is furthered by those who profit from the imposition of carbon and other imbalances — a source of influence much stimulated by the dark money corruption of our democracy noted above.

4. Reduce thefederal deficit. Republicans have traditionally adhered to a sensible policy of carrying only a modest future deficit that will eventually be imposed on our grandchildren or theirs. This debt, now reaching a record $34 trillion, is an extreme danger to the future of all of us. It represents an obligation to repay our creditors (led by Japan and China). But what four-year administration arranged the single highest increase in that debt? That of Donald Trump, a Republican — adding $8.2 trillion mostly through tax cuts for the wealthy.

5.Preserve free speech. Communication is how we learn, but it is in jeopardy. The internet and artificial intelligence increasingly allow disinformation to dominate what is seen or heard. Free speech is a fundamental right, but those of us who hear or see a message also have essential rights. The audience should be able to choose who it reads or hears, and know something about the expertise and bias of the source. Requiring messengers to disclose their identities — no screening, no restrictions, no sanctions — will allow actual free speech to function. If we can persuade one platform to require this disclosure, others will follow suit from competitive pressure.

6. Say “no” to socialism. State ownership of the means of production and the absence of private gain and free markets is disastrous wherever it occurs. Capitalism needs some controls and fair competition assurance — without the abuses of monopoly, price fixing, product irreparable harm and other forms of corruption. But the basic structure of private accomplishment for the public good is simply necessary for effective market performance.

7. Address overpopulation. Our nation’s diversity and humanitarian traditions are based on the acceptance of refugees fleeing other countries, but there are advantageous limits on that influx. We can allow 1.5 million new citizens from outside our county each year — that amounts to half of 1 percent. But there is an underlying issue of excessive world population. How ironic it is that “right to life” adherents would prohibit all abortions and view every fertilized egg as a child when we now have 8.1 billion humans alive in this world, more than triple since 1950.

What would be the result of a world where we had presumptive contraception, and egg fertilization did not happen without prior intent by two adults who take a basic course in parenting, and perhaps post a bond for education expenses? Why don’t we think about options other than the misapplication of religious dogma presaging the end of humankind?

8. Avoid “packism,”the most pernicious human flaw. Our greatest debilitation by far, is our formation into groupings — by religion, sexual preference, race or ethnicity, political leanings, tribal or nation/state affiliations. Then, we use these affiliations to inflict suffering or death upon “the other.” Whether it’s Vladimir Putin’s Russia invading Ukraine, Hamas attacking Israelis, Israel blasting Palestinians, or the Chinese genocide against Turkic Muslim communities, it is the single most evil feature of human beings, historically and presently.

These eight areas of needed reform will determine the fate of those who follow us.

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