Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Nothing

I am, without doubt, a bit of a curmudgeon.  I am not a full-fledged  curmudgeon mind you, just a bit of one.  For example, I don’t believe I am always ill-tempered, or surly.  In fact, I generally keep my thoughts on my surroundings to myself, except when I write them down and push them in your direction.  Candidly, I find most things amusing, but generally in that cynical way that would upset the individuals if I always pointed them out.  I’ve learned through trial and error not to do that too often.

Today I am wondering, has it always been the case where we attribute every action, event, or circumstance that occurs within the country, or is done by the country, to the President of the United States?  I recall a scant few years ago the outrage of the partisan left over the right’s blaming the President for something, and now the roles are reversed the right is all fired up.  For example:  John Cho, an actor, tweeted out “It’s hard not to see the connection between the environment Trump has created and what happened on that @united flight.”  This was met with a number of derisive responses within the twitter confine of no more than 144 characters.  Among my favorites was “Trump is an incompetent dolt and can alter the behavior of private airline employees AT THE SAME TIME.”

Let’s talk, for just a minute, about the environment President Trump has created.  He surely used some bad words, and was not very flattering to other politicians as he campaigned, but stop and think for a just a moment, who has actually told people to go beat up others, who has actually taken to the streets to damage property and display their dislike for the reality of the election?  It sure is easy to blame the President, rather than admit to the failure of a political agenda that advanced the desires of a vocal minority over the general good.  So much for “Love Trumps Hate.”

Another line in the news these days, “Trump drops a MOAB.”  Some on the left are condemning this as abuse of power, while it has his supporters on the right – applauding.  Does no one stop and think of the fallacy of this statement.  With the logic of these headlines, we should rewrite history to “Truman Wins Second World War,” or "Lincoln frees the slaves!"  Oh wait, Lincoln actually did take an action in the form of an executive order to free the slaves.  He actually had a direct role, not just an implied one.
     The United States Armed Forces dropped this bomb, acting on the direction of the Unified Commander of the area, General Votel, who works directly for the Secretary of Defense, who works for the President.  By the way, General Votel was appointed to his position during the Obama administration.
     Accurately we can say the United States dropped this bomb, inaccurately we choose to say the President did it, as if he was aboard the aircraft.  The only time I know the President has flown on an MC-130 was when it saved President Ford, (Harrison Ford) from certain death in the movie Air Force One, and spared us from having Glenn Close as our President, although I am sure she would have been a good one.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Free Speech = Hate Speech

With a hat tip to Althouse.  She posted this  on her blog this morning, it is a picture taken at Brown University that says “free speech = hate speech,” she found posted on Facebook.  There are a variety of comments in the post, including those who support the idea that speech they find offensive needs to be controlled and stopped.  I didn’t bother to look into the University’s position, but from someone who’s spent his life defending the Constitution it troubles me that young people know so little about the reasons for the Constitutional safeguards, or even our recent history, they have been indoctrinated to believe censorship of ideas they don’t like is okay.
When I wrote about the 1st Amendment (here) I did not discuss why the founders thought the free exchange of ideas, dissent, and disagreement was so critical, I only mentioned the fact government did have some limited rights to control speech. 
The idea of one side imposing its will on the speech of those who disagree with them is not new, it has been a condition of human existence since mankind began keeping records, and perhaps well before that.  This is, I believe, the potential tyranny they sought to avoid.  We were a collective band of Europeans who had all left the safety of the known, for the challenges of the unknown.  Each with a separate reason, some voluntarily, some not, but once here became a people who appreciated the freedom this land offered.
I doubt most millennials, aside from a few film and television buffs are familiar with the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors association, or the Production Code Association established in 1934 to assure the morality of the film industry.  Without PCA approval a film would not be allowed into the commercial theaters of the day.  This was possible because the Supreme court had ruled that moving pictures were purely commercial products and as such not subject to the safeguards of the 1st Amendment.  That decision was reversed in 1952, but between 1934 and 1952 the prospects of any film rested almost exclusively on the editorial decisions of the PCA.
Then we come to the infamous House Un-American Activities committee, who investigated potential communist sympathizers in the private sector.  In the late 40’s it created a “black list” of film writers, directors, actors, and others.  This list was used for well over a decade to punish those individuals who were implicated, without a thought of due process, or the right for an individual to face his/her accuser. 
At about the same time, Senator Joseph McCarthy made headlines for his investigations of communists in the government.  While he had widespread support, the damage he did to individuals based on scant evidence, innuendo, and implication was horrendous.
In each case, significant numbers of people were willing to silence their voices for fear of retribution.  It was only with the passage of time, or the courage of a few to speak up that we as a nation came to appreciate the damage being done.
Now we come to the modern day, where a group of impressionable youths are willing to climb on board with a vocal minority fighting for political domination.  In the process, they will implement a new form of censorship under the guise of “hate speech,” and surrender their freedom to explore ideas, just as our parents and grandparents did for the myths of protection from morally inappropriate material or from communism.

Monday, April 10, 2017

What is the Truth

“I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!” A famous exchange between Lt. Daniel Kaffee (USN) and Col Nathan R. Jessup (USMC), in the movie A Few Good Men.
We have reached a point where opinion is broadcast as news, and we seemingly accept opinion from those we admire as the same thing as truth.  I wonder, has it always been this way?   Perhaps it has, but under the compression of instantaneous broadcast its dangers seem to be amplified.
I can only smile, a sly inner smile, at those broadcasters who’ve become so outraged they resort to hyperbole and condemnation for the very acts just a few short months ago they would have applauded and praised.  The same holds true for those competing broadcasters who make no effort to question the actions of an administration who does the same thing they condemned the past administration for.
The only conclusion I can draw is “we can’t handle the truth.” We  only support or condemn in this binary world we’ve allowed the political parties, and their media propaganda arms, to define for us.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Waiting for Paint to Dry

The dawn invites a beautiful day
Cool, with a breeze from the south
Chilled by the night, over the gulf
It will be a pleasant Sunday

The saws hum, as boards are trimmed
As the sun begins to warm the patio
It is Palm Sunday, a day to remember
There is so much to remember, so much to forget

Finally, the cutting is through,
The wood, primed and ready
The paint glides on, brightening its host
It is as if it were any day, but it is not

It is Palm Sunday, a day we remember
A day we forget

We remember the Christ, riding triumphantly
As the throngs cry out Hosanna
But those same crowds just days later
Cried out for Barabbas

How fickle and petty we humans
How arrogant and assured
Are we in God’s image?
Or is God in ours?

It is Palm Sunday, a day I remember
A day I reflect

As I wait for paint to dry.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The 27th Amendment

Believe it, or not, this amendment took over 200 years to ratify.  It was one of the 12 original amendments proposed as the Bill of Rights.  The original Second Amendment dealt with pay for Congress.  Any guess as to why it wasn’t included?  It is a simple statement but was not ratified until May 1992.
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
We have Gregory Watson, a student at the University of Texas, Austin[i] to thank for bringing this back up after it sat forgotten for so many years.  Greg wrote a paper on the fact the amendment was still open and could be ratified.  Greg got a “C” on the paper because his professor thought the idea unrealistic.  So, he began a letter writing campaign to the various state legislatures.  The rest, as they say is history.
Well that’s it… a brief discussion of all 27 Amendments can be found on my blog if you ever care to go back and review them.  Of course, Wikipedia is probably a lot easier and more detailed.  You can also read the Cornell Law website for good legal reference.
Thanks for reading.

The 26th Amendment -- Lowering the Voting Age

The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
On March 23, 1971 Congress proposed the Amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.  It was ratified by the states in 98 days, and became part of our constitution on July 1, 1971,[i] becoming the quickest amendment ever to be ratified.  But why?
Well, two things happened that led to this amendment.  The first was the political activism of the 1960’s where first the civil rights, and then the anti-Vietnam war movements convinced the politicians of a need for change, and then there was, as their usually is, some judicial challenge that forces a change.
The idea of lowering the legal age from 21 to 18 can be traced back to the second world war.  It was supported by President Eisenhower, but changes to the status quo, especially if there is no pressing need, oft times come slow.  In 1963, a Presidential commission recommended the idea to President Johnson, but it was not until 1970 when things came to a head.
In that year, Senator Ted Kennedy, (D-MA) proposed amending the 1965 Voting Rights Act to lower the minimum age for all elections to 18.  President Nixon signed the legislation, but voiced concern over the constitutionality of the provision, and directed his Attorney General to cooperate on expediting a court case to determine its legitimacy.[ii]
In Oregon vs Mitchell (1970), the Supreme Court of the United States found the Congress could establish a voting age for the national elections, but could not force the states to lower it for state and local elections.  At the time, only four states had 18 as their legal age to vote.  Faced with the possibility they would have to maintain two sets of voter registrations, one for federal and one for state, the multitude of states quickly agreed to the amendment and so it came to be.
I was 20 when the amendment passed, so it did minimally affect me, but the thing that stands out in my memory was the nature of the disagreements on this issue.  I don’t recall rancor or animosity, neither side seemed to have an issue with lowering the age, it was only a debate on how to do it within the framework of our principle guiding document, the U.S. Constitution.
     How different we see the political debates today, when every issue is crouched as if it were a great moral debate and challenge to our society.  The 26th Amendment should stand as a testament on how fast we can do something, if personality politics are put aside in the political debate, but then again, we didn’t have the media fanning the flames of political differences quite as hard as they do now.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The 25th Amendment -Replacing the President.

It’s probably just me, but it seems this is the most complex of the all the amendments and carries the unmistakable signature of lawyers writing a contract.

Section 1:  In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2:  Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3:  Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4:  Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Proposed by the Congress on July 6, 1965 it was ratified on February 10, 1967.  It found its first use within 7 years, during the Nixon administration.

This amendment traces its history back to the Eisenhower administration when the President suffered a series of heart attacks that incapacitated him for several periods of time.  He and his Vice President agreed that Nixon would fill in as President for him during these periods, returning authority as soon as the President was able to assume it.

A practical agreement to be sure, but nothing within the framework of the Constitution defined its legitimacy.

This tradition was carried on by Kennedy and Johnson, but then came that fatal day in Dallas when the President was shot.  At first, it was thought by some the President might survive, but if he had he would most certainly be in a coma for an extended period of time.  In the age of the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear attack, a vacuum in authority was almost as frightening to our leadership as the loss of the President.

These two events led to the creation of the 25th Amendment defining how power was to transition from the President, to the VP, and back, or how the office of VP would be filled if the President were to be removed from office, either through natural death/incapacitation, assassination, impeachment, or resignation.  

The amendment also allows for the removal of the President if the VP and the Heads of the executive Departments (Cabinet), or of some undefined body appointed by Congress, finds the President is not capable of performing his duties.  If this were to happen, the VP would become President.

I doubt the framers of this amendment anticipated that just a few years later it would come into play when Vice President Spiro Agnew (R-MD) was forced to resign after pleading no-contest to a charge he had failed to report $29,500 of income in 1967[i].  He was replaced by Gerald Ford (R-MI), who later went on to replace Richard Nixon (R-CA) on his appointment resignation.  He is the only person who has served as President having never run for the office of President or Vice President, although he did run as an incumbent, losing to Jimmy Carter.

As the drums beat daily, by those who oppose our current President, take heart!  You will always have the 25th Amendment to help, all you have to do is take complete control of the Congress, organize a committee to find him unfit for office and simply upgrade the VP.  Sorry, but I don’t think you get to replace both without an election.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The 24th Amendment -- Eliminating the Poll Tax

The 1960’s can legitimately be considered the decade of political activism.  Not only for the civil rights movement, or the anti-war protests that followed, but also because politicians made more changes to the US Constitution, quicker than at any other time since the Bill of Rights. 
Almost all of these amendments had to do with providing suffrage, or eliminating state imposed hurtles that prevented some from full access to the voting rights a citizen should enjoy.  Between January 1960 and December 1969, the States ratified, the 23rd, 24th and 25th amendments, the 26th came just two years later, but its framework was laid in the 60’s as part of the protests over the Vietnam war.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 24th Amendment addressed a discriminatory practice, found principally in the south, that had been used to prevent the poor, mostly black, citizens from voting because they could not afford to pay a state mandated tax, known as a poll tax.
The poll tax had been around for a hundred years, gaining popularity in the south during the Reconstruction period.  In 1937, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the rights of the state to levy such a tax (Breedlove v Suttles, Tax Collector) when Mr. Breedlove sued the Georgia tax collector to allow him to register without paying the tax of $1.00/year.
As the civil rights movement, led by Dr. King, raised the conscience of America to the multitude of ways the blacks were discriminated against the discriminatory nature of the poll tax became a central focus.  At the time, Lyndon B. Johnson exerted enormous pressure within the Democratic party, and the Congress, to move forward with eliminating this issue through the amendment of the Constitution, first as the VP supporting John F. Kennedy’s push, and then as President, working to push the States as a legacy issue for JFK.
The amendment passed the Senate on September 14, 1962, and was ratified on January 23 1964.  Not surprisingly a number of southern states did not vote for ratification, they were Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  Joining them were Arizona, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The 23rd Amendment

The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct: A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Proposed by the Congress in June 1960, it was ratified as an amendment on March 29, 1961.  In its ratification, it acknowledged the permanent residents of the District of Columbia should have a voice in electing the President.

What had been created as a monument city to house the government was now a major metropolitan area with a permanent population the size of which the founding fathers could not have imagined.  It came to this point with the expansion of the Federal government and the many agencies the executive branch had created, as well as the migration of the blacks from the rural south to the metropolitan areas where better work and pay might be found.

The interesting thing about this city is the pure partisan nature of its population.  In all the presidential elections since 1964, its first year of participation, the city has voted exclusively Democrat.   
By the way, if you are curious they get three electoral votes -- the same number as Wyoming. 

On the bright side, unlike the states where the electors have to travel to DC to do their thing, the district’s three electors can stay home, hop the metro on the appointed day, and probably be home for dinner.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The 22nd Amendment

This amendment is near and dear to me.  You see, my hometown hero is singularly responsible for it.  Before him no one thought a President would serve more than the two terms, a tradition set by George Washington himself.
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.
But then came Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D-NY), to save the nation at the time of the Great Depression.  He saw his duty and hung on for four terms to lead the nation through the depression, into the World War and died just prior to the creation of the Nuclear Age. 
He gave us fire side chats, and the imprisonment of the Japanese-Americans living along the west coast.  He attempted to pack the Supreme Court of the United States with extra judges, and created the social security program we have today and American’s loved him for all he did.  Of course, back then the press didn’t see the need to tell the average American he was an invalid and couldn’t get himself dressed without the help of his black butler.  I point out his butler’s color only because Franklin made little effort to end the discrimination that existed in the South, including Washington DC during his term. 
If the blacks had a voice in the White House it was Eleanor’s, and not Franklin.
But he did love himself some power and the prestige that came with being the savior of the nation.  At the end of his term he allowed the Russians to gain control of Eastern Europe and never confided in his VP the potential of the atomic weapon he had authorized.  His death in Warm Springs Georgia left the nation in morning and his VP trying to figure out what were the most important issues to face right now.
The Congress authorized this Amendment in 1947 and it was ratified by the 36th state in 1951.  I think JFK was the first subject to its restriction.

The 21st Amendment

     The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
     The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
     This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.
And with this simple amendment the nation-wide prohibition of alcohol ends, and the rights for a state to regulate its sale or use is returned.  Only in place for about 14 years from ratification to repeal the 18th Amendment, as noted earlier, sparked a whole new industry in the US that did not simply disappear with its repeal.
Since  approval there have been a number of significant court cases challenging the second section statement about the rights of the state.  These have met with mixed results as the court has moved first in one direction, and more recently in another.  For example, soon after its ratification the court found a state could write legislation that would favor domestic production over the importation of other products without running afoul of the Constitution's commerce clause in Article 1. (e.g. State Board of Equalization v. Young’s Market Company,1936).  More recent judgements have seen the court move to undercut the broad interpretation of the 1936 decision with positions favoring federal jurisdiction with the commerce clause holding sway.
Finally, if you’ve been paying attention you will have noticed the last several amendments carry an interesting last section or clause.  This, to me, seems to be the mark of a professional law staff now engaged in the writing of the amendments.  Starting with the 18th, then the 20th, and now the 21st the Congress gave the states a drop- dead date to get the amendment passed.  In each case, they said  “you’ve got seven-years or else this proposed amendment dies.”   If our founding fathers had used that provision I wonder if the 27th amendment would have ever seen the light of day, but that’s for another posting, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The 20th Amendment

The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.
Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
Ratified on January 23, 1933, this amendment dealt with several organizational changes to the government.  As I noted in the post on the 18th Amendment, organizational change was one of the driving factors for an amendment, and the need to change government organization, or authorities, and the use of amendments to do so was set with the adoption of the 11th and 12th amendments early in our history.
It seems to me, the most significant changes brought with this amendment was the elimination of about 6 weeks of time when the past President would still be office as a “lame duck.”  The original confederation had set March 4th as the date of inauguration, and our framers carried that over.  At the time, there was good reason for this, allowing for the votes to be counted, the electoral college assembled and vote, and the President and Vice President elect to travel to the Capital.  With the improvements in transportation this was no longer necessary.
It also clarified the transition of power, and we saw its use during the Nixon administration when Gerald Ford first replaced Spiro Agnew and then Richard Nixon, and Nelson Rockefeller assumed the role of VP.
Finally, it actually specified when the Congressional term should begin.  The constitution never set a date for the meetings, only the term of office, so technically they could have met in December and called it a day.  Hmmmm, I wonder if we would be better served if that were actually the case?

Monday, March 27, 2017

The 19th Amendment

    The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
    Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The struggle for women’s rights was, and is, a long one here in the United States, but that is true for most of the world as well.  The history behind the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, traces back to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, widely recognized as the first woman’s rights convention in the country.  Organized by the Quakers and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it featured Lucretia Mott as speaker.[i]  The purpose of the convention, spanning two days, was to provide attendees with a forum to discuss the issues of equality and woman’s rights, as well as provide the initial opportunity to meet like-minded others.

The product of this convention was a “Declaration of Sentiments” signed by about 1/3 of the convention attendees (88 women/12 men).[ii]  Following the lead of our founders it begins with lines similar to our nation’s Declaration of Independence.  “When in the course of human events…” and goes on, as in the original declaration, to list about 14 grievances against men.  These became the cornerstone of the suffragette movement, and the feminist movement that followed.

Many of these women, especially those of the Quaker society, also were deeply involved in the abolitionist movement fighting to end slavery as an institution, and saw in that movement the similarity to their own enslavement.  In fact, Fredrick Douglas was a central figure in this convention.

     Providing women with a voice in government was a step in allowing them to achieve parity, but does it achieve equality?  That seems to be the question before us, as a nation, today.  I am not sure with so many opinions that a clear and universally accepted understanding of what equality means is possible, but as we continue to wrestle with this issue, perhaps that will change.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The 18th Amendment


Section 1.  After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.  The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.  This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

With its ratification on January 19, 1919, the United States entered into the alcohol-free era where booze was outlawed and we would become a much better society.  This was the culmination of a long-term effort by the temperance movement and a progressive highlight of that time.  Who could have possibly understood the second and third order effects of telling the average citizen they could possess alcohol, but could not legally buy it?

What I find so amusing about this, is we men decided to outlaw booze before we were willing to give women an equal voice in voting.  Was there a cause and effect relationship?  Actually, there probably was.  Both came up in the Congress about the same time in the later-half of the 19th century and both were ratified the same year Congress didn't pass the 19th Amendment until the 18th was approved, so the idea that suffrage and temperance go hand-in-hand does not seem to be that much of a stretch.  This idea is reinforced, at least for me, in the movies of the time where we see groups of women banding together to shut down the saloons in their western towns.  Now, how accurately movies depicted real life is always subject to opinion.

This Amendment illustrates one of the dangers in social engineering through the creation of laws, and the Constitution.  Up to this point amendments had been approved to clarify how government was to work (e.g. 11th & 12th, or 16 & 17th amendments), or to protect and expand individual liberties (i.e. Bill of Rights, 14th and 15th amendments), with ratification of the 18th its framers and the politicians who approved it were entering into the role of overseers of our personal welfare.  The fundamental question, at least for me, is:  Is it possible for an amoral entity like government to actually define what is best for me as an individual?

Although not quite the same, we see a similar approach in the modern “war on drugs” campaign the United States has been waging since the end of World War II.  How successful has that campaign been at reducing the populations desire for the various drugs.  Proponents will certainly argue it has been money well spent, but has it?  Why then do we still see some 70 years since the beginning so many who advocate for Marijuana legalization?  I wonder how much government disinformation has been put out there in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the average citizen?

At the end of the day this amendment lasted about 14 years until repealed.  Its by-product was the dramatic expansion of organized crime and bootleggers who, unencumbered by a need to follow the laws, rushed in to fill the void left as legitimate businesses were forced to close.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The 17th Amendment

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

With this amendment, ALL the members of the Congress were chosen by direct election rather than through some intermediate body.  The Representatives had always been so chosen, but it was not until after April 8, 1913 with the ratification of the 17th Amendment that the people could vote directly for their Senators.  Why was that?

We use the words democracy and democratic with great abandon here in the United States, but our founding fathers feared the potential of utter chaos if they attempted to establish a pure democracy were everyone had an equal voice and every decision had to have majority approval.  Therefore, they took steps in the framing of the constitution to limit the potential for pure democracy.  We see that in the appointment of Judges, in the Electoral College, and in the selection of Senators, where article 1, section 3, clause 1 said, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”

At the Constitutional Convention, there was only one delegate, James Wilson[i] - a Pennsylvanian, who favored the direct election of the Senators.  During the next 100 years or so the process worked, but with some difficulty.  The principle problems are the same thing we see today where political party affiliation became the dominate concern, and if a State’s Legislature was divided they might not reach consensus on a nominee, leaving that state without a Senator, or perhaps having one too many and forcing the U.S. Senate to decide who was the best qualified.

As in all things political, there were also allegations of graft and other corruptions that led to investigations into a number of Senator nominations and the odd removal for being found guilty of bribing their way into office.  These events flashed across the social media of the day; cutesy of the muckraking journalists who made their living through the exposure of political corruption.

Following this last Presidential election, we heard much caterwauling, condemnation, intimidation and attempted corruption of the Electoral College as it assembled to do its constitutional duty, by those who were upset their beloved candidate was not victorious. To those who were so emotionally distraught as to believe that life as we know it was ending, I suggest you contact your elected officials and demand they follow the same process our great grandfathers had followed when they wrote the 17th Amendment.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Sixteenth Amendment

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
The 16th amendment was proposed on July 12, 1909, and ratified on February 3, 1913, but why was it necessary, didn’t the Constitution already give the Congress the right to tax the people?
 Article 1, section 8 begins with “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States” wasn’t that enough?
The short answer was no, but let’s look at why.
To begin with, Article 1, section 8, clause 1 is not the only reference to taxation in the Constitution.  Article 1, section 2, clause 2 limits the types of taxes and how they are apportioned when it says, “…direct taxes will be apportioned among the several states…”  Section 9 clause 4, “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.” And clause 5 continues, “No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.”  It was the section 9, clause 4 that became problematic as the government grew and the cost of government increased.
There had been time in the past when to fund the cost of war income taxes had been levied (i.e. war of 1812 and the Civil War), but they were both finite in their duration.  In 1895, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), heard the case of Charles Pollock versus Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company which seems to be the actual event leading to the decision to amend the constitution.
In this case, Mr. Pollock, of Massachusetts, “argued that while state-regulated income taxes were considered to be direct taxes, they were not subject to apportionment; as a result, Pollock argued that unapportioned, state-regulated direct taxes were in the direct violation of the Constitution.”[i]  In its opinion - SCOTUS upheld Mr. Pollock’s claim.
The idea of an income tax and the amendment itself was supported by the southern and many of the northeastern states, but was opposed by the western half of the country.  It was also opposed by many Republican politicians based on the concerns of their wealthy supporters.
With the passage of the 16th Amendment we opened up a new revenue source for the government, and enabled a growth in government bureaucracy to what we have today.   

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The 15th Amendment

Section. 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
In passing the 14th Amendment without clear guidance on the right of the African-Americans to vote, the determination on voting rights was left to the states.  At the time neither the Northern or Southern states were all that keen in allowing the Blacks an equal voice in the government, and the courts sided with the popular position of the day.  Nonetheless, supporters recognized the need to clearly provide the former slaves and freeman with equality at the ballot box.  The Amendment was proposed on February 26, 1869 and ratified 342 days later on February 3, 1870.  The following states rejected the amendment, Kentucky (March 12, 1869), Delaware (March 18, 1869), Ohio (Apr 30, 1869), Tennessee (Nov 16, 1869), California (January 28, 1870), New Jersey (February 7, 1870), and Maryland (February 26, 1870).  New York initially approved, then rescinded its ratification on January 5, 1870, but finally rescinded its rescission on March 30, 1970.[i]
Unfortunately for minorities the passage of an amendment did little to change the realities of the discrimination they faced, even when taken to the highest court in the land.  Initially, the SCOTUS was inclined to emphasize only the negative aspects of the amendment. ‘The Fifteenth Amendment,’ it announced, did ‘not confer the right . . . [to vote] upon any one,’ but merely ‘invested the citizens of the United States with a new constitutional right which is . . . exemption from discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’” [ii]  Fortunately, later courts have amended this early interpretation, and the courts have been actively involved in settling the various tactics our politicians have used to subvert the suffrage of African-Americans.  Unfortunately, these have historically been done retroactively, after the damage of discrimination has occurred.
 It would be nice if I could write that today the 15th Amendment stands as only a reminder of what was once a wide-spread problem in the United States, but I cannot.  Racial discrimination remains alive and well, in fact it has grown significantly in this century as various groups come into power and attempt to maintain that power through the creation of racial division and strife.  The hopes of those who crafted the 15th Amendment remains an unrealized dream, but the safe-guard stands for those whose rights are taken through the subterfuge of the political establishment. 
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