December 25, 2011

The Tenth Amendment Party, Part 1

In line with the wise dictum that it is better to light candles than to curse the darkness, I propose (modestly enough) a complete and total transformation of the American government.

I hold these truths to be self evident, that we have devolved into a nation dominated by Big Money, with a bought-and-paid-for, bankrupt government, and an imperialist, warmongering foreign policy which serves only the interests of the Military-Industrial Complex, precisely as foretold by Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address; that the nation is dedicated and consecrated to the mindless and profligate waste of energy, that it is environmentally obtuse; that it has subjugated the legitimate needs of its populace for good jobs and decent educations to the demands of Big Business, the Empire, and the banking cartel; in short, that we have become a degenerate and profoundly undemocratic nation.

In other words, things need to change. Strangely enough, the means of change are plainly and obviously at hand: adherence to the Constitution of the United States of America, as brought up to date to reflect the quantitative and qualitative changes in the body politic since the adoption of the Constitution in 1789.

To bring the Constitution up to date, we need to do the following:

1. Change the provisions relating to the Executive Branch (Article 2) to eliminate the (indirect) election of the President through the college of electors. Instead of a President elected on a nationwide basis, we will switch to a leadership system modeled on parliamentary systems; to wit, the President will be elected by the single (unicameral) House members from among their own number (primus inter pares, as in Great Britain). The Senate will be abolished; its existing members can be transferred directly to an assisted living facility in Virginia, where the senile among them (most of them at this point), can be installed in a mock-up of the Capitol building where they can gas on till their final days, complimenting each other and passing "laws" designed to destroy the civil rights of the American commoners. They will never notice the difference.

This change in election method will preserve the great legacy of President Barack Obama. He will forever be remembered in American history as the chief executive who finally broke the back of the electoral system. Americans simply gave up after Obama; he was "the End of the Hope for Change" (h/t: Barley). A man engendering such profound, inimitable, life-altering disappointment in his former supporters that they became ready for something that would really work, instead of an electoral system based completely on Madison Avenue techniques. It is no small thing, Mr. Obama, to be the historical figure who prepared the American people for a return to a Constitutional form of government. Your caving in, your sell-outs, your abandonment of principles, your 180 degree reversals on virtually everything - none of this needs to be in vain. Thank you, Mr. President.

2. The new House of Representatives will consist of about 1,000 delegates, elected from districts among the states on a "one person, one vote" basis, to the extent this can be devised. The powers of the House (or Parliament) will be strictly limited to those enumerated in Article One of the Constitution. This is an extensive list, but the abuses of general language (particularly the Commerce Clause) will be rolled back by legislation in the form of a Constitutional Amendment so that power is reallocated to the states and local government wherever possible to diminish the encroachment of the central state on local sovereignty. This will probably be the main work of the new Constitutional Convention.

3. The 16th Amendment (passed in 1913) will be rescinded, eliminating the national income tax. Instead, the new central government, with its vastly curtailed functions, will be financed as it was during the first 124 years of the Republic, mainly through tariffs on imports and excise taxes. If it is considered necessary to supplement the income of the federal government in order to maintain a decent defense, a value added tax (which does not interfere with the right of states to levy sales taxes, a main source of revenue at the local level) should be added.

In my next manifesto, I will go through the Article One powers of the House and demonstrate (a) how easy the changes actually are (and how wise the Founding Fathers were) and (b) how far over the line the central government has gone with its ceaseless expansion and endless meddling into local governance.

December 23, 2011

Ron Paul as the Nemesis of Big Government Liberals Everywhere

Yes, I am aware that Dr. Paul, as with many "purists," sometimes ventures into the realm of the completely fanciful and unrealistic. For example, in one of the Republican "debates," he argued against any form of socialized medicine and suggested that "private charity" might fill in the (gaping) hole left in access to medical care if we repealed Medicare/Medicaid, as if a person with a treatable form of cancer, e.g., might rely on the kindness of strangers to get him through his rough patch, and that such a paradigm is an acceptable substitute for an actual health care system. Maybe Dr. Paul (who is 76 and from Texas) can remember the days of trading a pig for an appendectomy, or something like that, but I don't think his idea is practical in modern times.

Does that mean that Medicare is practical? This is where Ron Paul is pretty indispensable to the national debate. Nobody else really says the stuff that he says. If the federal government has devolved into a huge "insurance company with an army," Ron Paul is the one guy who is willing to point out the absurdity of centralizing so much power into a remote, inefficient bureaucracy, financed by the money-hallucinating machine of the Federal Reserve. It is in this larger context that his philosophy has to be assessed.

Big Government Liberals (Paul Krugman, for example) see Ron Paul as a huge threat, and mercilessly belittle what they describe as Paul's lack of realism, or ignorance about modern economic theory. For the power of the Big Government Liberal depends upon the continuing reliance on the federal government to solve all problems, both national and local, even if there is no serious doubt anymore that the federal government cannot afford nearly half the things it is attempting to do (it can afford about 58%, in point of fact).

In a conversation recently with the Distinguished Professor of a Great Southwestern University, I adumbrated my view that the recent piece of atrocious legislation passed by the Senate, the Let's Throw Americans in A Dungeon Act, was actually a kind of desperate job-justification attempt; to wit, The Insurance Company With An Army (TICWAA) needs to justify that huge Pentagon expenditure (around $700 billion) that was passed along with the Dungeon Act, and formally known as the National Defense Authorization Act (all these grand names are another clue - this used to be called simply budget appropriations). Thus, even if terrorist attacks in the United States are a very, very minor cause of death compared to...well, just about anything else, but certainly compared to disease and auto accidents, Congress is not going to be able to lavish $700 billion on itself, and thus place itself in a position to dole out huge favors to military-connected contractors and lobbyists, by talking about auto safety or the obesity epidemic.

So the trick is to make the world seem as dangerous as humanly possible, to portray America as under siege, and the one resonant means for doing so is Terrorism, because while North Korea might be a bigger problem, we're not going to do anything about North Korea except hope the situation gets better, somehow. Terrorism works because of 9-11; without 9-11, all of this constant emphasis on Authorizations for Use of Military Force, and invasions of Muslim countries year-by-year, would seem like the obvious insanity it obviously is.

Thus, Congress has made a theme out of 9/11. 9/11 is the core of the Congressional Mission Statement. Congress just can't get enough of 9/11. As a realistic matter, it's the best thing that ever happened to the modern Congress. TICWAA really has nothing else. Congress does not want the American people to keep looking over there at the mustachioed clown behind the curtain.

If we consider how the Founding Fathers really saw things happening, the federal government was supposed to do things that the "several states" delegated to the central authority. These were logical functions: defending the national borders (an army and control of immigration); relations among the states (border disputes and interstate commerce); bankruptcy (to make uniform the discharge of debt across state lines); and maritime law, which follows naturally from defense, immigration and border issues. As I've written previously (sometimes to a chorus of boos), Big Government Liberalism came into favor because it reined in the injustices of the Southern States. It did this twice, the Civil War (to the extent the War was about slavery, which is not very extensive according to Leon Litwack, Professor Emeritus of the University of California and perhaps the leading Civil War scholar in the country), and the Civil Rights Movement. This is where Ron Paul's son, Rand Paul, goes off the rails when he follows his father into excessive "purism" and argues that a motel in Kentucky ought to be able to send the nice Negro family on down the road to an establishment that caters to their kind. (There is nothing wrong with enforcing Equal Protection by the federal government; that's one of its good functions.)

But in order to assure ourselves of this beneficent function of the feds, we have given away too much sovereignty which should have remained local, as the Tenth Amendment states and as the True Liberal, Thomas Jefferson, intended. Under the guise of national security, we have allowed ourselves to slide into a police state, among other problems. And for what? So the TICWAA can recycle money generated by the citizens of the several states into two big liberal programs, Social Security and Medicare, while Congress pockets the Fun Money, the trillion or so for the military, the homeland security apparatus, and spy agencies (increasingly used to spy on Americans). The "liberals" in Congress are just as much in favor of this state of affairs as the so-called Conservatives, because their power depends on it. Liberals and Conservatives alike love to inculcate in Americans a sense of dependency, and that dependency is based entirely on fear, because Americans, in point of fact, positively loathe Congress.

Now we are beginning to see the failure of these centralized programs because of the inexorable rules of Complexity Theory - the marginal dis-utility of piling on ever greater levels of rules, regulations, and bureaucratic control. No one, and certainly not the average American voter, can figure out how the whole Rube Goldberg contraption even works anymore. Thus, democracy becomes meaningless, other than as a once-every-two-years convulsion of revulsion where the bums are thrown out in favor of new bums.

Underlying the whole mess is the simple question: if that's all the TICWAA does, recycles money from the states in inefficient programs and spends money far in excess of what's necessary on defense and security, why do we even have this system? That's what Ron Paul is actually saying. That is his context. He argues for closing ALL foreign military bases. For ending ALL foreign wars. For returning power to the states and localities to handle state and local issues. For abolishing the federal income tax so that local revenue is retained to deal with local government problems.

You can see why he is hated and reviled by Big Government Liberals and Conservative alike. Whoever heard of anyone in national politics actually saying all of these things out loud? He must be a kook. We'd better dig up some of those old videos about abortion and civil rights. This asshole is getting a little too close to home.

December 21, 2011

Will the President Kill You?

Things are getting a little hysterical these days. Take this appearance on CNN by law professor Jonathan Turley, wherein he states:

It's even worse than coming into your house. President Obama has just stated a policy that he can have any American citizen killed without any charge, without any review, except his own. If he's satisfied that you are a terrorist, he says that he can kill you anywhere in the world including in the United States.

I will not quibble with Jonathan's summary of the President's powers, which the President first arrogated unto himself before noted liberal Carl Levin of the Senate helped him along by codifying our right of "self defense" against a broader array of terrorists, or "associated forces" of terrorists, or people in general who might "substantially support" "associated forces" of terrorists (or the Taliban - I'm not technically sure that they are "terrorists;" it's possible they are an indigenous people resisting a foreign invasion, but I hasten to add that I do not support, substantially or otherwise, the right of indigenous people to defend themselves against any invaders when those invaders are Americans, because then those indigenous terrorists are acting contrary to our right of self defense, which is why we undertook the invasion of their country in the first place).

Anyway, note the qualifying language: if he's satisfied you are a terrorist. All these so-called experts make it sound so arbitrary. He has to be satisfied first that you are a terrorist. Granted, as Congress keeps broadening the categories of those against whom the President is empowered to take action under various Authorizations for Use of Military Force, the definition of "terrorist" keeps expanding. In a sense, this might seem surprising, here in the waning days of 2011. Bin Laden is dead, the government tells us Al Qaeda has been rendered essentially "inoperative," it's been over a decade since any kind of serious terrorist attack occurred here in the Homeland (the "Homeland" being what we used to call "America.") I know that in our culture we equate sequence with causation (we try, whenever possible, to avoid statistical rigor in our public discourse); thus, if there have been no major terrorist attacks (other than the many instances of mass murder on campuses, at 7-11 stores, various other venues in Shooting Gallery America, but those don't count unless there is a kind of Muslim/political connection to the mayhem), we assume it is because of the War on Terror. It's true, of course, that about 8 years passed between the first, half-assed attack on the World Trade Center in 2003 and 9/11, and those years of calm cannot be ascribed to a Department of Homeland Security or War on Terror that didn't exist yet, but, you know...what the hell's the point of all this logic?

It's actually easy not to be a Terrorist, after all. I don't know what criteria the President uses to "satisfy" himself that someone is a Terrorist (and no criteria are published or even exist, for all I know), but I have a hunch that if you just shut up, vote for one of the two major parties, and stay away from Occupy demonstrations, or Tea Party gatherings - you know, just don't cause any goddam trouble - the President will be satisfied that you're not a Terrorist, and the odds of your being assassinated are probably less than being killed by a lightning strike. If you live on a golf course in the Dallas area between the months of April and October. Even if the 5th Amendment and Due Process have been repealed, let me ask you this question: if you're not guilty, why do you even care about the 5th Amendment? Will anyone accuse you of anything (thus activating your need to invoke Due Process) if you haven't done anything at all? Okay, someone might, but I don't see how that's the point. Let me rephrase that: yes, it is the point, that's exactly when you wish you had some process for determining your guilt, when you're not guilty and someone accuses you of something, but in order to be safe from those once-a-decade attacks (they don't really occur that often, but for the sake of argument), we should certainly be willing to tolerate the occasional, mysterious annihilation of Americans who behaved in ways that satisfied the President they were doing something covered by one of the new vague standards of terroristy things. Surely that's exactly what John Adams had in mind.

Anyway, Winston Smith came around to seeing things that way, but why go through all the miseries of his learning experience?

December 18, 2011

A Reply to Barack

"Waldoswimmer-- Early this morning, the last of our troops left Iraq. As we honor and reflect on the sacrifices that millions of men and women made for this war, I wanted to make sure you heard the news. Bringing this war to a responsible end was a cause that sparked many Americans to get involved in the political process for the first time. Today's outcome is a reminder that we all have a stake in our country's future, and a say in the direction we choose. Thank you. Barack"

Dear Barack,

First of all, you're welcome. My mother did not raise an inconsiderate son, and it's important to be polite. With that out of the way...

Since you're my President, I would like to mention a few of my concerns and ask for your comments:

1. My understanding is that the December 2011 departure date was negotiated between George W. Bush and Nouri Al-Maliki a number of years back as part of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) talks. That is the case, isn't it? I think it's fine to reflect on what our military has been through in this awful war (it's something we should do), but there has been plenty of false self-congratulation surrounding this departure and maybe it's time for that to come to an end, too. Specifically, if Maliki had negotiated a different SOFA arrangement whereby American military personnel had continued to enjoy their immunity from local (Iraqi) legal jurisdiction, wouldn't you have pressed for a longer commitment in Iraq? From everything I've read on this point, it seems to me that the wily Nouri withheld this concession precisely because he knew that it would propel the Americans out of Iraq. That's the way it goes; it's important to remember that chess was invented in that part of the world.

I'm not suggesting that you're trying to take credit for a withdrawal from Iraq that was written in stone before you ever took office. On the other hand, I'm not suggesting that you're not.

"Bringing this war to a responsible end was a cause that sparked many Americans to get involved in the political process for the first time." Okay, here's my feeling on that one. Personally, I got involved in the 2008 campaign (even journeyed to Florida to work as a Voting Rights Lawyer for you) because I thought you were serious about returning the United States to a Constitutional form of government and one of laws, not of men. The drift toward lawlessness, disregard of the Constitution and open defiance of international norms of decency became very pronounced under your predecessor. The Iraq War was certainly part of that, but it was apparent before the election of 2008 that the occupation of Iraq had an expiration date.

Be that as it may, here is what I think is really necessary for a "responsible end." The news reports use the "standard statistics" for describing the costs of the war. The number cited for Iraqi deaths is always "100,000." It seems to me that if a country, such as my country, really wants to regain the ethical high ground that we ought to leave off with such convenient calculations and really go at the problem. The Johns Hopkins - Lancet study, using standard methodology for such epidemiological problems, calculated the number of Iraqi deaths at much higher levels, as many as one million "excess deaths" over and above normal mortality even under a dictator such as Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush dismissed this study with his famous "flawed methodology" comment, but of course (and with all due respect to our brilliant ex-Commander in Chief) this is not exactly definitive. We spend lots of money on "commissions" and panels of Blue Ribbon experts. How about just one more: a group of scientists and statisticians, modeled on the panel led by Richard Feynman to study the Challenger disaster, to delve very deeply into the question of "excess deaths" in Iraq. Let's find out how many people actually died. If we don't determine the true cost to the local population of these military adventures, it's just way too easy to justify interfering in a foreign locale whenever we perceive some interest of ours is being disturbed. I also think we owe the Iraqi people this measure of respect. If a million people in Iraq died as the direct result of an invasion built on false premises, let's own up to it. It's not as if they're not going to notice if we don't.

3. While we're at it, let's determine and publish a real number regarding American military casualties. This part is easy. We already have all of the statistics. Let's make public a full accounting of the injuries caused to American personnel as the result of the war, by body part, severity and life consequences. How many soldiers are brain damaged? How many lost one or more eyes? How many amputations? How many third degree burns? How many disfigurements? How many cases of post traumatic stress and/or insanity? Put it all out there as a counterpoint to the nonstop glorification of war once and for all.

I think doing all of those things is the minimal requirement of "responsibility," don't you?

4. "Today's outcome is a reminder that we all have a stake in our country's future, and a say in the direction we choose."

No question about that. As I exercise my "say" next year, I'll be watching to see how you handle my suggestions.

Merry Christmas, and by the way, basketball is my favorite sport, too.


December 17, 2011

Notes & Errata on the Indefinite Detention Bill

Perhaps I spoke a little too soon in condemning the Mainstream Media for its silence in the face of the repeal of the Bill of Rights through the "Indefinite Detention" provision that passed as part of the Defense Authorization Act in the Senate this past week. Since our touchstone here at the Pond is intellectual honesty, I hasten to point out that the august New York Times, usually an unflagging admirer of the "practical" and centrist policies of President Chance the Basketball Player, used markedly harsh language in condemning what it called Obama's latest "cave-in." To wit, in an Op-Ed entitled (tellingly) "Politics Over Principle":

The bill has so many other objectionable aspects that we can’t go into them all. Among the worst: It leaves open the possibility of subjecting American citizens to military detention and trial by a military court. It will make it impossible to shut the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And it includes an unneeded expansion of the authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan to include indefinite detention of anyone suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda or an amorphous group of “associated forces” that could cover just about anyone arrested anywhere in the world. (NYT Op-Ed.)
Not bad, as rousing defenses of the Bill of Rights go. One cavil is that the McCain-Levin amendment doesn't just "leave open the possibility of subjecting American citizens to military detention and trial by a military court." One can rest assured that with this thing on the books, the next time the feds pick up someone like Jose Padilla, there won't be an 11th hour diversion of the case to a civilian court. Still: Big Up to the Times, even if they are seen as part of the Liberal/Criminal-coddling/ACLU/Civil Liberties/mostly Jewish complex. Doing the right thing is doing the right thing.

The actual amendment is all theater, of course. There is no need for the McCain-Levin gizmo. Domestic law enforcement and the civilian courts can handle any American actually arrested (as opposed to blown to smithereens by a Predator in some distant, sand-filled land) and placed in jail, on the basis of actual probable cause. As I wrote some time back, all of these terrorist fantasies, and this need to revisit the ghost of 9-11 more than ten years later, when the actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down, are simply intended to (a) keep the American populace in a perpetual state of fear, the better to (b) sit still for a tremendous diversion of very scarce budgetary resources to the Pentagon, even as the country slides into a Banana Republican state of poverty. A big Pentagon consolidates power at the federal level, and without this clothing, the Emperors in Washington stand out in their irrelevant nakedness. They have not quite enough money to do four things: (a) re-route money coming in from FICA to Social Security beneficiaries (about $800 billion per annum); (b) pay for Medicare/Medicaid ($900 billion); (c) service the interest on the national debt (~$400 billion); and (d) invade and blow up other countries (~$700 billion, officially). Those four outlay items add up to $2.8 trillion.

In its sunny way, the Treasury Statement forecasts over $2.6 trillion in revenue this year, which I believe would be an all-time record. Yet the first two months of the fiscal year are only about $20 billion ahead of last year's pace. That suggests (extrapolating forward) that this year might produce 6 x 20 = $120 billion more than last year's ~$2.2 trillion. With the economy again hitting stall speed, and with actual average income falling according to Treasury withholding reports, it does not compute. So it appears that we'll probably fall half a trillion dollars short of even covering the Big Four of the federal government's raison d'etre.

This is not something the power addicts like to talk about too much. Troublemakers like Ron & Rand Paul, of course, talk about it all the time, and so does Michele Bachmann. As you can see, it's not that hard to figure out that we're broke. Thus, it's much better to emphasize that even though we can't possibly afford about 42% of everything the federal government does, we've simply got to keep funneling dough into defense and security, or else we're doomed, doomed, I tell you! Carl Levin and McCain are big mucky-mucks in the Armed Services Committee, and zealously guard the Pentagon's gargantuan budget, the better to bask in the reflected glory of the military. They've done so for the 80 or 90 years or so that both have been in the Senate. So if we have doubts about the military's mission(s) overseas, well hell, here's another job they can do: capture, jail and court-martial regular ol' Americans right here at home! Pretty logical, huh?

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the Senate Democrats who voted for this legislative monstrosity, to see how the "liberal" stalwarts were protecting our civil rights to due process. Sheldon Whitehouse, I noticed, voted for it, while Rand Paul of Kentucky voted against it. A total of 60 Senators voted for passage, and since the Democrats arguably "control" the Senate, it took a lot of cross-overs to give the President the unconstitutional "tool" he wanted. Rest assured, however, that the actual vote tally was a mirage, an "arranged" lineup of yeas and nays to give cover to the fake liberals who could have stopped it before it ever came to a vote, but chose not to. And our ever-compliant President will sign the bill with no hesitation whatsoever.