September 16, 2011

The Commandments of the US Constitution (long form)

The Principles of the Constitution

  1. We shall not have a tyrannical government
    • government shall not have unlimited power
    • government power shall be dispersed to prevent its accumulation; the different parts shall provide “checks” on the others
    • individuals shall not be able to leverage the power of government for long
    • individuals who violate the public trust can be removed from office
    • the power of the government shall be limited to specified areas
    • many personal rights will be specified so as to also restrict government power from infringing them
  2. Each of us shall have rights the government can’t take away
    • no one has special rights
    • one person's rights can’t be used to infringe on others rights
    • people can believe in any religion or none; therefore no one can be forced to belong to any religion
    • no one can be held in slavery or involuntary servitude
    • all citizens have the right to vote
    • a small, enumerated set of national emergency situations permit suspending specifically listed constitutional rights, but in no other circumstances and for no other rights
  3. No religion or religious sect gets government preference over another
    • government can't require any person to be of a religion
    • government can’t require a religious test, nor require god's name, for an oath of office
  4. None of us can be unjustly deprived of life, liberty or property
    • no one can be spied on, be arrested or have there property taken with showing probable cause beforehand
    • any imprisoned person can challenge the reason why they are being held in court
    • any accused person get their day in court in a timely manner, a fair chance to defend themselves and be judged by their peers rather than the government
  5. Each of us can say what they believe, including especially about the government
    • people can get together and say what they believe
    • people can publish what they believe
  6. We shall have a representative government so it can be changed and its power checked
    • some parts will be more representative than others
    • some parts will be more quickly responsive to the people than others
    • all citizens of a certain age can vote; there shall be no discrimination between different classes of citizens
  7. We shall have a nation governed by the rule of law
    • no one is above the law
    • the law applies equally to everyone
  8. All laws and government actions must conform to the US Constitution, which is the ultimate authority
    • new laws under the US Constitution can be created by the Congress & President
    • treaties with other countries can be agreed by the Senate & President, but once approved have the same force as the US Constitution
    • all state constitutions and laws are subject to the US Constitution
    • powers not enumerated in the US Constitution devolve to states or the People
    • the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all disputes about the constitutionality of laws or actions, including by the President or between the branches of government or between a citizen or state and the government or any of its branches
    • the constitution can be amended, but the process isn't easy to ensure broad acceptance
  9. The nation can defend itself, fight wars and provide for a military
    • the government can raise and sustain armies, including in peacetime
    • money shall only be allocated for limited time, by the Congress
    • the President will be head of the military
    • the Congress can limit by regulation how the military can do things and what things it can do, including the President as head of the military
  10. We can tax ourselves and regulate interstate commerce
  11. The federal government shall be our voice in foreign relations

These do not look anything like the Judeoo-Christian 10 Commandments, about which I've remarked here.

The Commandments of the US Constitution (short form)

The Constitution’s Basic Principles

The primary purpose of the constitution so to describe how we form (constitute) our government — not to delineate every moral code we choose as a society — in order to determine how governmental power is determined, allocated and shared.

The general principles underlying our American Constitution form a set of “commandments” of our American government that we share:

  1. We shall not have a tyrannical government
  2. We shall have a representative government so it can be changed and its power checked
  3. Each of us shall have rights the government can’t take away
  4. No religion or religious sect gets government preference over another
  5. None of us can be unjustly deprived of life, liberty or property
  6. Each of us can say what we believe, including especially about the government
  7. We shall have a nation governed by the rule of law, applied equally to all, including those in power
  8. All laws and government actions must conform to this US Constitution, which is the ultimate authority
  9. The nation can defend itself, fight wars and provide for a military
  10. We can tax ourselves
  11. The federal government shall be our voice in foreign relations

These do not look anything like the Judeoo-Christian 10 Commandments, about which I've remarked here.

Long form here.

April 05, 2011

The Threat Within

I too have little doubt that the biggest danger to ordinary Americans is Washington Democrats responding to the GOP's $5-6 trillion proposal to ruin Medicare, etc. with Democratic,

... Beltway desire to prove oneself “serious” by courageously agreeing to hurt ordinary Americans to make the nation safe for high-end tax cuts.


January 28, 2011

Did the Senate just lose the future?

... the Senate decided that its current procedures are good enough. There's something slightly terrifying about that. Accepting a dysfunctional legislature is, as James Fallows and others have argued, one way to lose the future. Our problems -- debt, health-care costs, infrastructure, education, etc. -- are on autopilot. Our solutions are not. Obama can give as many speeches as he wants. If we don't have a political system capable of acting on our challenges, we don't have a political system capable of overcoming them.

via Ezra Klein at

This may be a poltical blunder of colossal proportions for Democrats as well as continuing the long American nightmare of a dysfunctional US Senate blocking the functioning of the US administration, US judiciary, US House of Representatives and continuing the inability to move forward on myriad challenges.

Not that the filibuster reform would have been something great for Democrats, as it was crafted to reform the Senate for whatever majority.  And here's the difference between the parties.  

When Republicans (Senate Majority Leader of the time, Bill Frist) first made moves in this direction, they made it clear it would be to punish the Democrats and get their way: he called it the "nuclear option" (there's that good old right-wing violence metaphor ever in the forefront).  Democrats backed down a bit.  And they when the Republicans became the minority they ratcheted up filibuster obstruction to record levels, many times higher than had been seen historically.

Whereas the Democrats are proposing actual reform to open the Senate's process, encourage real debate, make the minority show their strength and hand, but create a workable system that, yes, allows the majority to get more done (which after all is what democracy is supposed to be about).

So Democrats have now legitimized the process of reforming the Senate via majority vote, but didn't do it.  And this reform moment will fade away.  -- Sidebar: Note that in this process, after about 15 years, Senator Wyden finally got the Senate to abolish secret holds.  15 years!  Just to abolish the secret hold. Holds still in place, just not secret.  (So, yes, Senator Merkley may still be a US Senator in a couple of decades (2050 anyone?) when reform of this magnitude might finally happen in the Senate.)

The moment has passed for real reform.  I do not expect it will blow this way again in my lifetime.

But Republicans aren't interested in good governance.

And that is the big danger for Democrats.

Now if the Republicans decide they want to shove more through when they are in power, they will use the opening created here by the Democrats to change the rules, but will not push though a Merkley-style reform.  It will be a power grab wolf in reform sheep's clothing.

Thank-you Senators Merkley, Udall and Harkin for trying hard and coming close.  And for having more optimism than I that you will succeed before it is too late.

January 27, 2011

The President Ignored the Elephant in the Room

I think Reich nails it. The central focus has to be on increasing the share of American wealth generation that goes to the middle class.

American (big) business is already supremely "competitive" having rebounded to record-breaking profits, but without that translating to American jobs and increased wages. If the middle class does better that provides a ladder up for others, it increases tax revenue without increased tax rates and it reduces the need for government programs to support the middle class. It would be far better for the economy and government goal to make being middle class self-supporting.

If, as the American economy doubled in size over the last thirty years the middle class incomes had also doubled, we would not be in the situation we find ourselves today.

... the president's failure to address the decoupling of American corporate profits from American jobs, and explain specifically what he'll do to get jobs back, not only risks making his grand plans for reviving the nation's "competitiveness" seem somewhat beside the point but also cedes to Republicans the dominant narrative...

The Great Recession wasn't due to America's loss of "competitiveness" relative to the Chinese or anyone else. In fact, American corporations are now enormously competitive, racking up some of their highest profits in history...


What the president should have done is talk frankly about the central structural flaw in the U.S. economy -- the dwindling share of its gains going to the vast middle class, and the almost unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at top -- in sharp contrast to the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.

Although the economy is more than twice as large as it was thirty years ago, the median wage has barely budged. Most of the gains from growth have gone to the richest Americans... So the central challenge is put more money into the pockets average Americans...

[This narrative] would give [Obama] a convincing counter-narrative to the Republican anti-government one. Government exists to protect and advance the interests of average working families. Without it, Americans have to rely mainly on big and increasingly global corporations, whose only interest is making money wherever it can be made.



January 05, 2011

2010: The End of World War II

Military hostilities for World War II ended in 1945.  The fall of the Berlin Wall was a key turning point showing we had reached the beginning of the end of the Cold War which ended “officially” in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR.  I would argue that 20 years after the end of the Cold War and we are finally and truly in a new era.

After World War II, the United States embarked on a possibly unprecedented effort in human history, to rebuild not only the allies but also rebuild the enemies of the war, using tools like the Marshall Plan and a new constitution and investment in and economic inclusion of Japan.  The goal was to raise the economic tide and thus lift all "country-boats".  Based on a model of non-military expansion of states and on inter-country trade rather than on wars and on monopolization of resources.  Russia declined to participate and with the advent of Communist China joining them in a bloc, the Cold War military and economic “containment” of their ambitions was sustained successfully for decades. Since then, economic integration has proceeded including them.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and declaration in 1991 of the end of the Cold War did mark a significant and and highly symbolic turning point.

But in 2010, we saw a remarkable economic economic situation: the United States economy struggling along with continued and expected unemployment near 10%, continued asset depreciation and many other weak signs from the Great Recession - the deepest economic slump with years forecast to recover housing and employment.  Yet the stock market did quite well on the strength of very strong corporate earnings. Earnings that would normally be depressed by a high unemployment and thus lowered spending rate. Earnings that were instead driven by overseas growth in sales and profits ... and hiring overseas, not here, as a result. Earnings that are expected to continue in 2011 well above the weakly growing US economy.

A strong US economy can help earnings, but earnings aren't primarilty dependent on the US economic market.  

The world economy is now largely, if loosely, integrated.  Many weak economies representing the vast majority of people around the world have grown stronger.  The most striking being the rise of China, which, in spite of huge numbers mired in deep poverty, now has a developing middle-class that is larger than the entire population of the United States.

And that worldwide integration of economies including Russia and China, lifting so many, is a great success, leveling the economic field by bringing others up.  The true end of World War II.

And that wasn't achieved via tax cuts for the rich (a third of the rich inherited their money, not earned it) and wishful thinking about how unregulated markets and the superrich would buy things to make it happen, but rather through deliberate policy choices and government investment financed by a tax system where those that benefited most financially from our system paid that forward in higher taxes. (The United States has the 23rd lowest tax rate of the top 25 economies of the world, so the problem isn't that our taxes are too high -- they are arguably too low.)

In this era, after years of denials successfully blocking timely action, global warming is now moving unstoppably with only the options of mitigation and adaptation, oil reserves have almost certainly passed “peak oil” as we have to go to ever greater and more bizarre lengths to obtain supplies, we have an tax system that encourages corporation to off-shore jobs to countries that exploit labor and defile "their" environment as if it wasn't connected to "our" environment.

What got us from 1945 to 2010 will not get us from 2010 to 2075.

Willful progress? The Tea Party's reactionary retreat? Libertarian's laissez-faire wishful thinking?  DC Republican's boorishness?  Which will best carry the US forward to 2075?

December 21, 2010

Myth busting "taxing breathing"

There's no arguing the emotional appeal of the right when they complain that the individual mandate in the healthcare reform act amounts to, for the first time in human history, "taxing breathing" (although they use the phrase for other things they don't like too).   They are so good at that kind of stuff.  Wow, how "unfair"!

But let's be honest: Yes, you can "choose" to not pay income tax by not making any money, and you can "choose" to not pay property taxes by not owning real-estate and also not renting from someone who owns property, and you can "choose" to not pay sales tax by not buying anything, and you can "choose" not to pay fuel taxes by never going anywhere in motorized transport or using anything that used motorized transport.

But no one willingly chooses that life of extreme poverty, privation and isolation to not make money, not buy anything, not live anywhere and not use anything.

So, take a deep breath, the "moral" argument they are making simply does not hold water.

December 03, 2010

Clip: "Just Let Her Do Her Thing"

My fear, by the way, is Bob Reich's. The fundamental reason for Palin's strength is the despair of the white working class - a despair certainly merited given the economic forces of the past couple of decades. Their jobs aren't coming back - they've gone to India and China for ever - and their wages have barely risen in a generation. And their response is to blame cultural, not economic elites - as is usually the case in America:

According to the right-wing narrative, the calamity that’s befallen the white working class is due to the global and intellectual elites who run the mainstream media, direct the government, dispense benefits to the undeserving, and dominate popular culture. (The story and targets are not substantially different from those that have fueled right-wing and fascist movements during times of economic stress for more than a century, here and abroad.)

Sarah Palin has special appeal because she wraps the story in an upbeat message. She avoids the bilious rants of Rush, Sean Hannity, and their ilk. But her cheerfulness isn’t sunny; she doesn’t promise Morning in America. She offers pure snark, and promises revenge. Over and over again she tells the same snide, sarcastic, inside joke, but in different words: “They think they can keep screwing us, but (wink, wink), we know something they don’t. We’re gonna take over and screw them.”


Re: Bipartisan Blight: The Great Tax Reform Mirage

Today, in a column grandly entitled, "A Tax Reform Vision," [David] Brooks celebrates the growing beltway consensus on tax reform, suggesting that a bipartisan accord could be built around lowering tax rates, simplifying the code, and erasing most tax deductions and loopholes.


Only we really have played this game before. In the mid 1980s, under Ronald Reagan, civic minded Senator Bill Bradley joined with reformers to fashion a similar deal -- lower rates, eliminate egregious tax loopholes and deductions, in a revenue neutral fashion. The establishment rallied; the bill passed.

Only while the deductions were eliminated, the lobbies that created them were not. They went to work. The loopholes, tax expenditures, various dodges returned. Now the tax code is so riddled with them, that beltway pundits can call for playing the same game once more.

Only while the loopholes returned, the lower rates stayed largely in place. 


December 01, 2010

Letter sent to OR Sen. Jeff Merkley re: Filibuster reform

To Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR):

Thank-you for taking leadership -- effective leadership -- in crafting a reform to the filibuster.  While the principle of ensuring debate and ensuring a voice for a minority was sound, the implementation has rotted the Senate for years.  And this has gidlocked our entire system, emasculating the other two branches of government and the House.

I remember driving you between events when you were making a campaign swing through Yamhill County during your election.  The filibuster was the primary thing I thought needed work if America was to move forward again, so I'm very glad to see you pursuing it so vigorously.

Thanks for your hard work finding a solution that, if implemented, would help restore representational govermnet to the Senate.

- Will

Clip: The Dickishness Of The GOP

What we've observed these past two years is a political party that knows nothing but scorched earth tactics, cannot begin to see any merits in the other party's arguments, refuses to compromise one inch on anything, and has sought from the very beginning to do nothing but destroy the Obama presidency....

The two parties are evenly spread in this 50-50 country, but only one can brook no compromise in its accelerating rush to the far right. And that is what it seems we have to contemplate for the next two years - total paralysis in the face of urgent problems as part of a game of cynical partisan brinkmanship. They simply cannot bear that another party might actually have a role to play in government....

This is not conservatism, properly understood, a disposition that respects the institutions and traditions of government, that can give as well as take, that seeks the national interest before partisan concerns, and that respects both the other branches of government and seeks to work with them. These people are not conservatives in this core civilized sense; they are partisan vandals.


November 30, 2010

Cantor Urges 'Open Mind' On VA Legislature Plan To Blow Up The Constitution | TPMDC

He goes even beyond the reactionary conservatives who "love the constitution, they just hate the system of government it creates" to disliking the founding principle of of checks-and-balances between the three branches (legislative, administrative and judicial) to add a fourth extra-judicial system by which state legislatures could repeal fully constitutional federal laws:

Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is part of a class of Republicans who say they want to change the country fundamentally -- and to that end, Cantor isn't dismissing a plan by legislators in his home state of Virgina to blow up the Constitutional system and replace it with one that would give state governments veto power over federal laws.

For several weeks now, conservative legal circles have been buzzing with Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell's plan to amend the Constitution so that a 2/3 vote of the states could overturn overturn any federal law passed by the Congress and signed by the President. Howell first floated the idea in a September Wall Street Journal op-ed he co-wrote with Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett.



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