Archive for January 2014

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This is a work of fiction that explores many of the political, spiritual and cultural issues that I pontificate on in my blog. It is currently appearing here in serialized form.

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Article V   2 comments

Many people do not realize how close we are to an Article V convention of the states. Article V of the US. Constitution allows for 2/3s of state legislatures to petition Congress for a convention. Thirty-two states have asked for such a convention over the issue of a balanced budget amendment. Two more states and the threshold has been reached. (Since I wrote this, another state has submitted an application on the same issue. Usually, by now, Congress would have acted, but instead it is dithering and suggesting that some of these applications may no longer be valid because it’s been a few years since they were submitted).

 We’ve never had such a convention, not since the one that tossed out the Articles of Confederation and replaced them with the US Constitution. There are a lot of people who are terrified of such a circumstance. They’re right to be circumspect, given that history. Article V puts no limits on the topics, so “anything goes” is a possibility. On the other hand ….

We are at a point in our history where the ballot box no longer works. It especially doesn’t work if you’re a conservative because neither of the two major parties really represents us. Ideas like the balanced budget amendment or term limits for Congress cannot make it through the current Congressional system, so we the people become increasingly frustrated. We vote for meaningful change, but we get the same reshuffling of partisan professional politicians that has been going on for decades. Many of us know it should be different, but peaceful solutions don’t appear to work. So, increasingly, people are starting to discuss revolution.

I’ve just finished going through the Declaration of Independence, drawing parallels between the patriot complaints about King George and our current situation. This is not about President Obama. Yes, I think he’s been a dismal failure as a president. He took a country mired in debt and dug the hole twice as deep. He’s racially divisive, dismissive of anyone who doesn’t agree with him, and he’s expanded the surveillance state beyond even George W. Bush. But, ultimately, he is not the problem. The whole government structure as existing in the 21st century is the problem. He’s just the current face-man for the dictatorship. When he exits stage-left, he’ll be replaced by another.

The problem is that the United States of America was founded upon the simple, radical idea of self-governance, but we’re at the wrong end of a century of liberty restrictions. It’s not the foundation of the country that is the problem, but the superstructure that has been added to it that is threatening to bring it all down. The Constitution and the first 10 or 11 amendments are fine, but slip-shod, short-sighted, and ill-conceived latter editions have expanded government power and circumscribed citizen liberty.

When the ballot box no longer works, the alternative is usually the bullet-box. Fortunately, we have alternatives. I’m just suggesting one for now.

Currently, 32 (33) states are calling upon Congress, pursuant to Article V of the Constitution, to send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification. A similar attempt in the 1990s revolved around term-limits. It didn’t make the threshold and Congress has not voted for an amendment to limit itself even slightly in the 15 years since. Wow, are we surprised?

The merits of terms limits or balanced budgets or discontinuing the federal income tax aside, constitutional conventions are scary. The last time a con-con was threatened, it was the early 20th century and it resulted in the Progressive Era amendments being passed – direct election of senators, the income tax, and prohibition of alcohol. One was so bad it’s already been repealed and the other two …. These amendments were passed by Congress to avoid a con-con. Enough states had already petitioned on the subject of direct election that the only way to avoid it was to pass the 17th amendment. Congress put out the idea that a con-con would be fraught with peril because it would essentially set aside the Constitution and operate by rules set by the delegates.

It’s not true! The Constitution does NOT provide for a Constitutional Convention such as was held in 1787. It provides for a “Convention for proposing Amendments” to the Constitution. That is NOT a trivial difference. Yes, such a convention would make its own rules and Article V does not provide limits on the topics. There is no part of the Constitution, including the amendment provisions themselves, that a convention might not try to amend. Congress and state legislatures could not limit the agenda. However, a convention may only “propose” amendments. No proposal becomes constitutional law until it is ratified by the states.

There is a great deal of difference between a free-standing “Constitutional Convention”—authorized to write even its own rules of ratification—and a convention for proposing amendments to an existing constitution that already prescribes how any such amendments are to be ratified. In no way does Article V authorize the former. Any proposals to amend the existing Constitution that proceed by either of the methods prescribed in Article V must be ratified by the procedures prescribed there. Even a proposal to change the ratification procedure itself must be ratified by the existing ratification procedure.

It’s no accident that in 230-odd years there have only been 27 amendments ratified for ratification must be by the concurrence of “the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof.” Given the unlikelihood of the latter method, the numbers alone tell the story. It takes majorities in 75 of the 99 state legislative bodies in America to ratify any change in the Constitution.  Only 13 such bodies to block any change. You do the math!

Are there not 13 bodies in the states united that would rise to block all but the most popular of proposals? A generation ago, not even the Equal Rights Amendment—which enjoyed wide support—was able to make it through the ratification process.

Article V was put in the Constitution to be used, but not for light and transient reasons. By overwhelming majorities, averaging 75%, Americans of every creed and color have come to understand that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that, under modern conditions, has resulted in our being ruled year in and year out by a class of professional politicians and bureaucrats. Why don’t we just call them the Ruling Class. Oh, yeah, I have already!

The situation is neither healthy nor right in a limited, constitutional republic. Fortunately, the Framers provided a way to do something about it, a way to make fundamental change while ensuring that our fundamental principles remain in place.

Yeah, there are risks. Life entails risk. Usually, fixing something that’s broken holds risk, but fixing it also holds rewards.

Ballot Box, Bullet Box or …?   Leave a comment

Election cycle after election cycle has produced growing tyranny.

At the same time, polls show that the American people are highly (60-75%) dissatisfied with the current government and feel there is never any progress toward resolving the real issues of the country no matter which party is in control.

When the Republicans were in the majority of all three branches of government, tyrannical regulations continued to grow and so did spending.

When the Democrats were in the majority of all three branches of government, tyrannical regulations continued to grow and spending increased even faster than under the Republicans.

Now that we have divided government, tyrannical regulations continue to grow, spending has stabilized at an unacceptably high level, but the problems are mainly being kicked down the road. Solutions are addressed in one chamber to be ignored by the other and if it gets passed by the Senate, the President will veto it. If he doesn’t and it becomes law, the administrative state will bury any solution that moves toward self-government deep, deep in a vault never to be seen again.

States have good ideas, but the federal government ignores the states or threatens them with draconian action if they “get out of line”. The solution when the ballot box doesn’t work is … some would say revolution, but revolutions are bloody and result in graveyards and involve completely setting aside the existing form of government. I like the government our Founders designed. I’d like to pull it out of the swamp it’s been buried in and wipe the muck off, see if it might actually work in the 21st century if given a chance. If only our Ruling Class would allow that …

Our Constitution provides the means to peacefully correct the current mess, but Congress as currently arranged is not going to pass the REINS Act (requiring a thorough Congressional review and up-down vote on all federal regulations) or constitutional amendments requiring term limits, balanced federal budgets, repeal of the 16th Amendment (personal income tax), and the17th Amendment (direct election of Senators) and restructuring (or repeal/replace) of the 14th Amendment (where it interferes with the 10th Amendment).

Fortunately, if Congress won’t act to send amendments to the states for ratification, then the Constitution provides an alternative means to avoid armed revolution. An amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate (uh, yeah, not going to happen) or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.

I was taught in political science classes that an Article V convention to amend the U.S. Constitution is a scary thing that never turns out well. It’s never happened in the United States, unless you count the convention that replaced the Articles of Confederation with the U.S. Constitution. That history gives us a reason to be nervous of such a gathering, but the question we need to ask ourselves is: should we fear that gathering more than we fear the unchecked growth of governmental tyranny?

My professors, who were almost all on the moderate left, feared a conservative uprising to create a permanent ban on all abortions, relegating women to barefoot pregnant culinary servitude, imposing a theocracy, and making Ronald Reagan President for life. Today, I’m sure they worry about conservatives doing many of the same things. But let’s be honest. Those on the right fear what a liberal uprising might do on such issues, including making Barack Obama President for life, and the very real risks to the First Amendment protections for political speech, the 2nd Amendment, the 4th Amendment and 10th Amendment. Heck, I worry about the potential effect on the entire Bill of Rights. There are those who believe that the dangers of a runaway convention are so severe that we cannot risk ruining our Constitution by even allowing such a convention to take place.    

(When I wrote the following six months ago, I was not convinced. Now, I think it may well be the only way to save the republic. Lela)

For a long time, I agreed. Now, I’m not so certain. I haven’t drank any koolaid yet, but I’m re-evaluating my position, because:

  • The federal government has grown far beyond its constitutionally imposed limitations. 
  • All branches of the government have participated
  • Each exercises unprecedented control over the lives of the citizens.
  • The “administrative state” acts as a fourth, extra-constitutional branch of government that falls outside of the normal checks-and-balances of the federal structure. 

The federal kraken has grown into a leviathan that we may not be able to tame without an Article V amending convention.  We have three choices – continue with growing tyranny until we slide into a totalitarian state (yes, it CAN happen here), explode into a revolution (consistent with our national DNA), or take an intermediate step that may seem radical, but might avoid bloodshed.

In Federalist No. 48, James Madison wrote: “The conclusion which I am warranted in drawing from these observations is that a mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.”

Madison was prescient.  The American Constitution may be the best document of its kind ever written, but even the mighty Constitution itself has not been enough to restrain against the encroachments of a tyrannical concentration of federal government power.  Madison predicted this day and the Framers provided a safety valve for it. Perhaps it is time the citizens rise up, through a Convention of the States and restrain the federal kraken again.

I don’t write that without trepidation. I’m a federalist, so I tend to trust the states far more than I do the federal government, but the America of the 21st century is not the America of the 18th. There are risks inherent in such a gathering. California and Texas have radically different ideas of what the country should look like. However ….

The Founders made this mechanism available in the Constitution itself to avoid another blood-soaked armed revolution. Thirty-eight states must ratify any amendment. Take a look at the red-blue map and look at the states so represented. I couldn’t find 38 states that could form a radical left or right bloc. I did count 38 states that might be in favor of stuffing the federal kraken back in the cage from which it has slithered.

Each state’s legislature would need to weigh carefully the delegates to this convention and give them specific instructions on what they may and may not meddle with. Alaska is unlikely to send delegates who oppose the First Amendment protections on speech, the Second Amendment protections on fire arms, the protections on fair trial, privacy, or states’ rights. I think we might be surprised at how California and New Jersey feel about states’ rights once they realize that the power to infringe upon their rights is also part and parcel with the power to infringe upon the rights of other states. The body of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are probably safe from being heavily meddled with by 38 states – well, actually 75 of the 99 legislative bodies in the 50 states. Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, by the way. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be debate at the convention on the Bill of Rights. I just can’t see 75 legislative bodies agreeing to ratify substantial changes, even on the 2nd amendment and most especially on the 10th. If anything, I think they’d want to make that one clearer.

The following 17 amendments may be a different matter. They should be a different matter because many of them were ill-conceived, enacted with era-specific agendas, resulting in unintended negative consequences that may, in some instances, outweigh the positive consequences. No, I’m not saying these amendments should all be repealed. I’m saying they want examination and reform as needed and, if Congress won’t do it, then the state legislatures must.

Else, we’re ending as a nation because what we have currently is not working.

State legislatures would need to carefully weigh how their authority would be wielded by their delegates at the convention. I’m encouraged by the December 7 meeting of state legislators that addressed this issue. Choosing delegates would be instructive in itself. Following the convention, just as in 1789, the amendments would have to go to each legislature and 38 of them would need to agree to them to make any changes our constitution. Some states might put it to a direct vote of the people. Others would probably create ratification committees. Again, the debates triggered would go a long way toward educating the public on the Constitution and (perhaps) giving our generation ownership of it. In 1787, the whole Bill of Rights was put up as a package, but that needn’t be the process for whatever a convention came up with in, say 2015. More than likely, it would be a line-item ratification just as congressionally-generated amendments have been.

Though it’s not without risk, what better example of states rights and self-government do we need in the 21st century?

The alternative is we wait for the situation to become so bad that Americans take up arms against Americans. Oh, yeah, we did that once before. Southerners started shooting at Northerners, the President declared war and, after four years of bloodshed, the “winner” forced the loser to cede states’ rights in favor of an imperial administration. The country has been on a liberty-damaging trajectory ever since.

What if we had called a constitutional convention in 1860 and resolved the slavery question through compromise and negotiation instead of bloodshed and tyrannical reconstruction?

Which do we in the 21st century prefer?

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Cut Off by Road, Valdez Alaska Copes with Avalanche   Leave a comment

The big news in Alaska right now is the avalanche that has closed the Richardson Highway north of Valdez, which is where the marine terminal for the TransAlaska Pipeline is located. About 4000 people can’t drive out of town because several massive avalanches have sealed a 300-foot-wide canyon with 40-foot-deep of ice and snow, damming a river which created a huge lake, and frustrating Department of Transportation from clearing the road. Follow the link for details and a cool (no pun intended) photo.

http://www.adn.com/2014/01/28/3295469/more-rain-falling-as-state-weighs.html

The REAL big story about this incident is that it is NOT a disaster. Nobody died. A trucker spent a couple of hours caught between avalanches and DOT “rescued” him. The pipeline was constructed with avalanches in mind. Valdez has no current road access to the world, but the Alaska Marine Highway is picking up the slack and Valdez has an airport.

Life goes on.

A part of the Alaskan zeitgeist is acceptance of extreme weather and nature trying to shrug us off. Yes, the people of Valdez want the government to do its job and clear the road, but they recognize the world has not ended and they are (mostly) comfortable with waiting until it’s safe to clear the road. I suspect that is one of the reasons why Sarah Palin didn’t mesh with many of the big city voters who currently control American national elections. They want lots of government intervention because they live in circumstances that require a lot of government intervention. One broadcast story featured interviews with Valdez residents who are coping with the avalanche. One woman said her mother is needling her because she has tons of supplies stuck in Anchorage and only has a “few weeks” left at her home. To a city dweller, a few weeks of supplies is verging on hoarding. In Alaska, that’s not well-prepared.

It’s an interesting dichotome that highlights our very different

Posted January 29, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Similarities to 1776   Leave a comment

When I ran this series originally, I had just finished a review of the Declaration of Independence. You are welcome to find those posts and read them. I am not re-running them this time. Lela

_______________

File:Constitution of the United States, page 1.jpgFinishing our review of the Declaration of Independence, we need to stop and consider where that leaves us today. We’ve found that there are a lot more similarities between 1776 and 2013 than we may have realized. I know I was surprised to find that our government may have become even more oppressive than King George and Parliament.

At heart, the first American Revolution was about self-governance. Forget the whole “taxation without representation” slogan. Taxation was one pixel of a much larger picture. Contrary to popular belief, the British Crown had only been the titular government of the American colonies for the 150 years preceding the Revolution. For five generations, the Crown had practiced “benign neglect” and the people of America had governed themselves. By the mid-1760s, following the French and Indian War, England was asserting control over the colonies and their residents. The catalyzing event was the Declaratory Act of 1766, which put the colonists on notice that Parliament considered itself in control and that body did not need to consult with the colonists, who had no representation in Parliament.

The Declaratory Act was, unlike our laws today, clear and forceful in its statement that the colonies had no right to liberty or the pretense of liberty at any level of life and certainly not in the arena of governance. Today, our politicians enact laws that infringe on our basic liberty and our ability to govern ourselves at the local, state and federal levels, while also intruding on our private lives. These laws regulate many of our activities from cradle to grave and everything in between. There’s not a legal commercial transaction not governed by regulation of business and few personal behaviors not controlled through the power of taxation.

Yes, civilized people must rightly tolerate a measure of intrusion into our lives and infringement of our liberties to live in a civil society. Compromise is necessary. My rights end where my neighbors’ begin. We can all agree there, I think. But …

How much is too much? Increasingly, polls show that most of us believe we’ve crossed that line. Like the American colonists, those of us who have known liberty recognize when our liberties are impinged without our consent or permission. Though we elect representatives, a full 60% of voters today say that the federal government lacks the consent of the governed.

In retrospect, the Declaratory Act displayed arrogance and ignorance of the colonies. We see that same arrogance and ignorance from our elected representatives today. Consider Nancy Pelosi’s “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it”. That was outrageous, but this arrogance runs throughout the political class in our country and is not limited to one party. 

In 1766, this type of arrogance started the American Revolution. In the 21st century, consider the “tea party” movement which has been pushing back against runamok government for over four years. The Occupy movement railed against crony capitalism – which has been a lesser target for the Tea Party. (Betcha didn’t know that!) Polling on issue after issue indicates the government is out of step with the majority of Americans.

Are we witnessing the roots of the second American Revolution? Perhaps the seeds of a second American Civil War?

The political class would do well to heed their own history. 

America sprang from the idea that the people can and should govern themselves.  When the representatives of the people regularly pass and impose laws, rules and regulations which the people do not support, history dictates that we need to reform the government or, if reform is not possible, remove it. When repeated elections fail to accomplish that goal, the people have a history of doing it through other means.

Luckily, the colonists who created the United States based on the principle of self-governance also gave us a Constitution which provides methods to restore liberty without bloodshed. When Congress refused to act and the states couldn’t get their heads out of their armpits in the 1850s, we set aside the Constitution as a nation and started shooting at each other. We need to remember that history and learn lessons from it. Today, we must use all of the constitutional safeguards if the flame of liberty is not to be extinguished by a political class out of touch with the citizens and apparently ignorant of history. 

Revolutions do not have to result in bloodshed. Our Constitution provides us with the means to avoid it, if we will make use of those means.

The fight for liberty and self-governance is part of our heritage.  We fought for them in 1776 when we declared our independence and officially began the American Revolution.   We fight for them today as we participate in what my grandchildren’s history books may call the second American Revolution.

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Full CoverI just uploaded Chapter 5 “Storm Clouds” and the previously posted sections are available at the link below.

If you like it, post a comment. Let me know what you think.

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