Friday, July 29, 2011

Preserve, Protect and Defend - Invoke the 14th Amendment

Article II Section 1 Clause 8 of the Constitution of the United States requires the President of the United States to “ preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.  This is considered by many the most sacred trust of the only nationally elected official in our country. There have been a number of times when Presidents have been faced with major crisis and lack of clarity as to their power to take action - but during those times of crisis great Presidents have risen to the occasion and protected our constitution and our nation.

In 1831 the state of South Carolina threatened by legislative action to bar collection of federal taxes at its ports and to nullify federal laws within its borders.  President Andrew Jackson told the South Carolinians that he would lead the army himself and hang all of them if they dared challenge the United Sates government.  South Carolina backed down and the union was preserved.

In 1861 seven states seceded and President Buchanan, from Pennsylvania, declared they did not have the right to do so but he had no power to stop them.  President Abraham Lincoln, from Illinois, asserted his oath of office and called for volunteers and fought a four year civil war which ultimately preserved the union, and emancipated the slaves.  The Constitution provided that the Writ of Habeas Corpus could be suspended during time of rebellion but didn’t indicate who could suspend it.  Lincoln again asserting his oath of office suspended the Writ.  By the time the courts dealt with the question the war was over and the Union had won.

In 1946 after World War II the nation was beset with labor strikes.  President Truman seized control of the railroads and threatened to draft the workers into the armed forces, the strike was settled. And in April 1952 he ordered the government to seize the steel mills to assure munitions supplies. He did these acts under his power as Commander in Chief and in accordance with his oath of office. The Supreme Court ultimately by a 6-3 vote ordered the return of the steel mills to the private owners but Truman had made his point.  As he did when he issued an Executive Order integrating the armed forces - he didn’t seek or wait for Congressional action. (It was reported on one MSNBC news show that at one point in his term President Truman invoked the 14th amendment to increase government borrowing.)

Now the United States faces a fiscal crisis.  Our economy is sinking into lethargy and a depression could occur.  Due to the partisan gridlock in Congress the federal government has less revenue coming in than bills to pay pursuant to appropriations and laws passed by the Congress.  Section 4 of Amendment 14 of the Constitution states that “The validity of the public debt of the United States ...shall not be questioned”.  And Supreme Court decisions have held that clause is operative in post civil war America and did not solely apply to civil war debt.  The President has the obligation to preserve the constitution.  If the Congress won’t then only he can.  He should order the payment of all bills and obligations of the government that are based on appropriations and federal laws (e.g. the Social Security Acts).  Let the market regulate the debt ceiling – the ceiling will in effect be the point at which investors are no longer willing to invest in the United States.

Amendment 14 was declared in effect July 28, 1868 just one hundred and forty-three years ago.  In all those years even during the Great Depression the full faith and credit of the United States was never questioned.  Our currency is based on that faith and credit. And the fact that America meets its obligations is what enables us to borrow money.
As long as investors, which could include the American people as it did during both World Wars, are willing to buy US bonds, the President should borrow whatever he needs to meet the obligations incurred by law.

Republicans say if the President enforces the 14th Amendment they’ll impeach him.   Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman didn’t worry about impeachment.  They concerned themselves with preserving, protecting and defending the constitution.  Now it’s Barack Obama’s turn to step up to the plate and preserve the Constitution and the Union.

28 July 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Old Ideas May Require New Arguments (Pro and Con)

I am sixty-four years old.  I’ve lived my life learning things and forming opinions. I am a New Deal, Liberal, Progressive, Democrat.  I believe in and will defend most of the domestic and foreign policy programs adopted in the years when I was growing up:  Medicare, Social Security, NATO, the UN, anti- fascism, support of Israel, reproductive freedom of choice, decriminalization of marijuana and legal acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

It is said that as most people become older they become more conservative.  Not so with me, I have become more liberal.  But I always remember reading the words that Woodrow Wilson spoke as he left office. He was of course heartbroken with the failure of the US to enter the League of Nations.  He said to his closest aides “I do not doubt the ultimate triumph of what we have fought for.  But I will concede it may come about in a better way.”

Democracy is based on the idea that people come together in society and govern themselves. It works when the government they institute has the support of those people by accomplishing things the people admire. It cannot succeed, as dictatorship cannot, in the long run, if it loses the inherent support of the populace.  A new generation of Americans is beginning not only to vote for leaders but to become those leaders. People who were born in the 1980’s are now beginning to hold decision making positions in business and in government; and that will increase as the economic and political leaders of our country age out. Over the next two decades even many of the generation of the 1980's will begin to be the “old” folks as today’s teenagers begin to assert themselves into leadership roles.

And it may be that new ideas, or old ideas once rejected, may begin to attract the interest  of the populace.  I believe the gold standard is an old idea that was properly rejected by a past generation.  But perhaps the populace will demand it or something like it again.  And maybe the fact that it was once the nations’ monetary policy and was discarded will not be enough of an answer to those who would revert to past ways of doing things. Perhaps we will as a body politic again debate the efficacy of tying our currency to a precious metal like Gold or perhaps even Gold and Silver (bimetallism)

It may well be that our people are going to have to re-decide what our generation thought were settled matters.  It is not enough to answer those who would say “take the US out of the UN” with “we did that after WWII and we were right”. Instead it is incumbent upon us to reargue the value of collective security and nations working together for Peace.  It is not enough to tell the Ryanites that they can’t mess with Social Security or Medicare because it is a contract with our people.  We must make those under fifty  understand why Social Security and Medicare were put in place to protect seniors and reduce the burden of caring for the elderly upon the younger generation so they could concentrate their resources on their children.  We can’t just say “we tried that” “it didn’t work” or “we’ve done that for a hundred years”  because it was “the right thing to do”.  As frustrating as it may be to defenders of the way it is -- we must educate our citizenry as to the value of things we did to make life better than the way it was. 

In the midst of the Great Depression we built the infrastructure of America, roads, school buildings, public works, dams etc. that served America for half a century and many still do today.  At the close of our devastating Civil War we built the intercontinental railroad and after World War II we built the interstate highway system.  These mammoth undertakings unified the country and opened it up to all Americans.

I believe we can convince the citizens of today that these were worthwhile projects and that others that the this federal government should be fully engaged in; e.g., continued space travel, expanding broadband access, reinvesting in manufacturing and providing quality education, from pre-K through college, for all.

Going back to old ways simply because some think they worked long ago – going Back to the Future is not the answer to America’s problems.  Moving forward,  guaranteeing  new freedoms, and building a greater society is the way we assure a fair deal for all Americans of the generations to come.

25 July 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

America As It Is - or As It Was(?)

Washington DC politicians are busy debating Medicare, Debt Ceiling, long term Deficit reduction and major Republican initiatives such as freedom of choice on which light bulb to buy and delaying the repeal of Don’t  Ask Don’t Tell.

In the debate on Medicare the radical Republicans say that the system will be bust in about ten years so let’s radically alter it -- let’s voucherize it.  And, while we’re at it let’s privatize Social Security so all those who would retire after 2037 can put their money into the stock market.  Democrats demand retention of Medicare and Social Security as they are.

But what is happening today in our nations capitol, is not a debate about whether particular programs will be retained without change or even only moderately altered.  What is going on today is a debate about whether we retain America as Is.

Radical right wing conservatives would have us undo the America that has been built since the administration of Theodore Roosevelt (1901-08) and return our country to a mythological golden era before the Civil War (1861-65).  To these radicals the antebellum period was a time when slaves were happy on the plantation, and immigrants were few and  lived pleasantly in the wooden slum tenements of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. There were few problems in America then, no labor unions, few government employees because there were few government, federal or state, programs to administer.  The rich sent their children to the private schools they could afford and  others went to “poor schools” -- at least for the early grades if they were lucky.   There was no income tax or estate tax; and little pollution that people knew of because they were unknowingly doing the polluting of the waters and the land.

America as it was is the dream of the radical right conservatives.  To believe the myth that Americans were better off before the Civil War, including those held in slavery, one has to have a very poor knowledge of our country’s history and an inability to grasp the meaning of the progress we have made since the nineteenth century.  They believe that in those halcyon days the country was isolated from the evils of Europe and Asia by two impregnable oceans and so the problems of the world were not ours. And yet we fought two wars before the Civil War - one against England and one in some ways fomented by the collapse of the Spanish empire.  We also engaged in an undeclared war in Tripoli. But we were not the military or economic leader of the world so it is true that we did not involve ourselves in every world problem.  Like an uncle or a cousin we didn’t put ourselves in the middle of every family problem in our extended family.

Of course the radical right forgets that before the Civil War women and blacks couldn’t vote.  And without the 14th amendment the public debt of the United States and the individual states wasn’t constitutionally secure but that didn’t matter because there was very little public debt since there wasn’t much in the way of government expenditures.

America as it Is (and always will be!)  That’s what progressives are fighting for.  To keep public education available to all our children to the levels they have the ability to reach. To insure the retirement years of our senior citizens so they can live in some degree of comfort, with adequate quality health care and not be a financial burden on their children.  To clean our air and our waters and our lands and leave them as a legacy to the generations to come.  To remain a beacon of democracy and freedom in the world and assist those people throughout the globe struggling to be free.

We are that America, despite the rants of a minority of our citizens yearning for a mythical past.  And, despite their antics and their pledges we will always be that America.  For while right wing conservatives write pledges that commit candidates to undoing America and going backwards -- progressives remain committed to one Pledge. A pledge of support for “One nation” (not 50 small states) “under God” (the God of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and any who recognize some spiritual power  - not just the God of the loudest denomination) “indivisible” (not a multiplicity of  factions and interests) “with Liberty” (unfettered constitutional rights not just 2nd and 10th amendment rights) “and Justice” (regardless of personal wealth or social status) “for ALL”.( every American not just a favored few).

18 July 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Liberty or Death! Would Americans Today Accept that Choice?

Everyone knows the words from the US Declaration of Independence, that there are certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Many of the American colonies as they declared independence, some even before the Continental Congress, stressed Life, Liberty and Property The French Revolution, a decade later, phrased it Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. (They celebrate July 14th Bastile Day – the day they liberated the prisoners of Paris as akin to our independence day.) But all had in common the word LIBERTY.  But what did it mean and what does it mean today?

Liberty encompassed all the natural rights. The right to practice ones religion or not, the right to have a say in determining who would govern and what the power of that government would be, the right to privacy and others -- some spelled out in American state constitutions and some in the federal Bill of Rights.

Today there is a Tea Party movement, taking its name from the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and proclaiming that it stands strong for LIBERTY.  What does Liberty mean to them and to their radical right wing Republican partners who with them control that Grand Old Party.  Well we know what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean the right of a public employee to form a union and bargain collectively, as we’ve seen by their actions in Wisconsin.  And, it doesn’t mean the right of a woman to choose an abortion even if her personal views allow it.  Nor does it evidently allow a couple to practice birth control as a means of family planning, according to laws being pushed in eight states.

It does mean the right to own a weapon not just for hunting or self defense but for any reason.  And apparently it means the right to make as much money as you can any way you can and give as little or none of it to the government which according to some of these radicals needn’t exist.

Yet government is instituted by the people to secure and guarantee these  rights.

Can one enjoy Liberty if one can’t feed and clothe their family?  Liberty has to include the right to get an education that will allow you to get a job to pay for lifes necessities or you can’t enjoy Life, Liberty or the Pursuit of Happiness.   Liberty should include the right of two people to marry and build a family and live the life style they prefer.  

The pursuit of Happiness is the reaching for the American Dream.  The Dream that brought so many immigrants to this country.  And the Dream that led eight of my ancestors to fight in the Revolutionary War so America would be free to chart its own course and not be ruled by a monarch and a nobility from across the ocean.  (I don’t think they expected we might be ruled by an oligarchy of billionaires living in our own country and investing most of their money overseas.)

So who really supports LIBERTY today.  The radical republicans support what they call economic liberty - no taxes on business, no individual mandates to require people to have health insurance, no regulations on financial transactions or large industries while providing government subsidies to big oil, big agriculture and other big businesses to keep them big.  Liberal Democrats support personal LIBERTY: freedom of choice on reproduction, no-discrimination due to choice of life style, a constitutionally protected right to privacy (9th amendment), absolute first amendment freedom of speech and religion with no government interference.  And a third party, the Libertarians, support absolute non- government interference in economic or personal affairs ; almost a non government approach which didn’t work when advocated in Europe in the 19th century by the anarchists and nihilists.

Surely there is common ground here around which a majority of Americans can rally. Keep the government out of the bedroom and the church.  Let Americans be secure in all their rights - their papers (including their computer emails).  Let Americans with legitimate reasons,e.g. hunting or self defense, be allowed to possess weapon(s).  Let small businesses be exempt from as many regulations as possible as long as such exemptions don’t endanger the life of employees or customers.  And let big business be regulated by government on behalf of the people so that the people rule their government and their lives.

Today in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain people are facing death protesting and demanding  Liberty.  People in Tibet, China, Burma, and Belarus struggle to find ways to open up their societies to allow more personal freedom.   Here in America, when not obsessed by sex scandals, we debate issues that involve Liberty as if they were academic abstractions – perhaps we’ve had so much Liberty that we take it for granted.  We had best not – when we take Liberty for granted we will likely lose it.

11 July, 2011