The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘the Constitution’

SHOULD WE REPEAL THE CONSTITUTION’S 26TH AMENDMENT?

Amendment XXVI

Section 1.

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.

Section 2.

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

Perhaps you will think that because I’m older (and you probably think crotchety as well), I decided to write this post.  Well, I am older than I used to be and I would hope my bubbly upbeat personality and rosy view of life will dispel the other issue from your minds.  But I just decided to write on the subject because I haven’t put up anything very controversial lately – and I was in the mood for doing so.  Call it personal whimsy.

LBJ’s explosive expansion of the war in Viet Nam in the mid – late ‘60’s ignited one of the greatest hell fires of division in American society that we had seen since the Civil War.  The college protests against the war were viewed by mainstream America as being nothing more than a few radical leftists who were lucky to live in a country where freedom of speech was a part of our heritage.  Most Americans supported our war effort.

Soldiers started coming home in body bags, mothers lost sons and sisters lost their brothers.  The attitude of Americans shifted from one of support for the war as more “non-radical”, mainstream people were personally affected by the mounting number of American deaths.

It was from this climate that we began considering the issue of whether, for the fourth time we should expand the right to vote by extending this to 18 year olds.  The mantra of the day was, “If you’re old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to vote.”   In 1971 the amendment was passed and ratified.

When the Constitution was written, the average life expectancy was approximately 35 years.  By the time the 16th amendment was adopted, that had increased to about 75 years.  (As an interesting side note, in the last 43 years, despite all our medical advances, the current expectation is approximately 80 years).

So a young man in the newly constituted United States of America might be able to vote in only seven congressional elections and three presidential elections before he went into the great beyond.  Given the short life spans, establishing an age of maturity of 21 seemed to be rather a high bar – intended to insure that people who were sufficiently mature and informed would be the participants in the voting process.  With the lack of universal mandatory education, it is reasonable to believe that not every voter was as well informed as the Founding Fathers might have hoped.

Americans have been both blessed by and suffered from out relative size and our location on the globe.  We have been blessed because we are generally isolated from hostile governments and have been spared incursions by them on our home soil.  We have suffered because our isolation has kept up generally insulated from an understanding of what is happening in much of the world as the following video demonstrates:

Okay.  I’ve tried to offer an explanation for why we may not be as well informed as we should with respect to foreign events.  But that is hardly an excuse for our lack of information about basic facts regarding our own nation:

In reviewing these two videos, it should be apparent that age is no respecter of stupidity.  So no matter what age we deem a person to be “eligible” to vote, it is apparent that is no guarantee that the citizen so empowered will exercise good judgment in exercising that right.

I would like to reiterate my belief that while voting might be a “right,” its intelligent exercise is a responsibility.  I have previously suggested that all voters, irrespective of age be tested – say once every 10 years – to make sure that their cognitive functions are still operational.  By that I mean that they be able to meet the same standard of scoring at least 58 correct answers out of the 99 questions as we require of those who apply for citizenship.  I have provided the link to “The Christian Science Monitor’s” citizenship test so that you may review your own knowledge of America and American history.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2011/0104/Could-you-pass-a-US-citizenship-test#Could-you-pass-a-US-citizenship-test/Who-signs-bills?&_suid=139829406131408742607584329032

Good luck.  NO GOOGLING.  And no talking among yourselves.  Grab your pencils, open your test books – GO!

SELECTIVE JUSTICE

The mob that gathered last Saturday to voice their negative opinion of the George Zimmerman acquittal did get one thing right.  Whether or not one agrees with their premise that the basis for Mr. Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict was the result of a justice system that punishes minorities more harshly than it does whites, they are correct in saying that anytime anyone is either convicted or acquitted of a crime because of something extraneous to the facts of the case, there is an inequity which has prevailed – and all of us should protest against it.

Why should we protest such a miscarriage of justice – especially if we happen to like a particular verdict?  The answer is little more than “self-preservation”.  If we close our eyes to this sort of behavior in someone else’s case, who knows how long it will be before a corrupt political system finds reason to place us in the defendant’s box?

This administration, beginning with President Obama and continuing with Atty. Gen. Eric Holder have demonstrated a continuing pattern and practice of engaging in precisely such behavior – not only in violation of their oaths of office but to the general degradation of our legal system and ultimately to the detriment of every American.

It is hard, other than for political reasons, for me to understand the administration’s resistance to requiring people to provide proof of identity before they are allowed to vote.  When I write a check for groceries, the store wants to verify who I am.  (I don’t blame them).  When I call my gas or electric or telephone or cable TV provider to make an inquiry on the phone, they ask for the last four digits of my Social Security number and my DOB.  (I don’t blame them).

Why, then is it such a big deal that a person be required to prove that he is the person who he or she claims to be before being handed a ballot?  In fact, I believe that if we want to talk about discrimination in voting (as the Atty. General recently has regarding changes in the voting rules in a Texas county), I believe a strong case could be made about the disenfranchisement of legitimate voters by allowing people who do not have that right to vote in our elections.

There are only a few plausible explanations:

1)  The Administration is more concerned with getting people who support their agenda to vote them and their cronies into office than they are in upholding the Constitution;

2)  The Administration is terminally brain-dead and doesn’t have a clue that voting “irregularities” occur.  (If President Obama had lived his entire life in Alaska rather than a good portion of it in Chicago, there might be more believability in this);

3)  The Administration is vindictive and selective in its enforcement of the laws of the land;

4)  The Administration, having been called on by the mob to bring “Justice to Trayvon”, realizing there is no basis for their further pursuing this, need yet another distraction to show that they’re on the side of the “oppressed”;

5)   The Administration is just down right upset at the recent passage of tighter abortion regulations in Texas and is trying to appease one of its most faithful voting blocs.

That Atty. Gen. Holder’s new initiative comes in response to the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down key portions of the Voting Rights bill as being currently irrelevant is particularly disturbing.  There is a reason that the Founding Fathers ordered government divided into three equal parts.

Perhaps the president and the AG missed that semester in law school.

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WHAT ARE YOU THINKING, JOHN BOEHNER?

Today the House is set to vote to delay certain portions of the ACA (a/k/a/ Obamacare) from being implemented.  The reasoning of Speaker Boehner is that if the President can delay employers’ having to comply with the reporting requirements until 2015, then it is only fair that the individual mandate, requiring every American to purchase health insurance also be deferred until then as well.

This is exactly the wrong approach to take on two bases – one of which is a matter of legality and one of which is a matter of politics.

It is the responsibility of the Congress – not the President to enact laws.  As we all know, a Democrat controlled Congress passed this law unanimously over the unanimous objection of Republicans in the House and the Senate ratified this legislation.  In theory, the only role the President played was in signing the legislation to make it the law of the land.

It is still the law of the land and has not in any way been modified since its original passage.  The only branch of government which has the right to alter an existing law is the Legislative branch.  And if the Legislative branch enacts a law which the Judicial branch deems to violate a provision of the Constitution, it may strike down or amend that law so that it conforms to the Constitution as the Justices interpret it.  But nowhere does the Constitution grant the Executive branch the authority to modify any law which is duly passed by the Legislative branch of the government.

In deferring the employer reporting requirement, President Obama has overreached his Constitutional authority and is in violation of his oath that he will (to the best of his ability), preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Arguably, this might be sufficient grounds for a Bill of Impeachment.  But as we all know, that will provide us with more distractions and more melodrama and has a zero possibility of success.

But it does give Speaker Boehner an opportunity to achieve his laudable goal of killing ACA in the womb (if you’ll pardon the somewhat distasteful mixed metaphor).

Rather than attempt to defer the individual mandate, the Speaker should point out the facts of my first argument and insist that both mandates be implemented beginning in 2014 as the law is written.  Unless he has ceded the responsibility of lawmaking which rightly belongs to him and his colleagues in Congress to the President and has, thus, violated his own oath of office.

It was clear to those of us who read this law that it was, to be kind, bad legislation from the beginning.  That is becoming ever more apparent as the details of it unfold.  The American people in the majority opposed it when it was passed, and as it comes closer to implementation that majority is swelling.  There are too many requirements which may have sounded good, but the act of actually effectuating those (the employer reporting requirements is a good example), are so onerous that they simply are unachievable – at least according to the schedule which the original bill contained.

If the Speaker, the Republican party, and the majority of the American people want this bill repealed, the most efficient way to do that is to insist that it be implemented as the Democrat Congress wrote it and the Democrat President signed it.

It would be hard for those in the Administration to argue that requiring that ACA, the “jewel” in the crown of team Obama’s first term in office be put into full effect could in any way be called Republican “obstructionism.”

AN AMERICAN DEATH

Jeb was a college friend of mine.  It’s hard to believe that 45 years have passed since he was sent to Vietnam and died there, performing his duties in the Army as a medic.  He was a Conscientious Objector.

The two of us met in a History of Western Civilization class and would frequently study together.  He was from Rhode Island, one of two children from a small family who belonged to The Society of Friends or, as most of us know them, Quakers.  He was one of the most gentle, kind and thoughtful men I ever met, a man who truly lived his brief life in a spirit of peace, caring and non-violence.

When Jeb graduated he was drafted, despite his Conscientious Objector convictions.  He was not one who chose to flee to Canada and was willing to do his part in our terribly misguided war effort, but he was not willing to do that while holding a gun – and that is how he ended up in the Medical Corps.  The fatalities among medics ran higher than for your typical armed soldier – and he knew that.

The War in Vietnam divided the country in the 1960’s.  It was one issue on which virtually everyone had a point of view – whether that was one which supported our military actions or one which opposed our involvement and escalating our efforts there.  What started as a grumbling from our college students escalated to a roar as more young Americans died and their mourning siblings and parents started writing letters to Congress and took their places in the swelling ranks of those who marched in protest.

Perhaps one of the starkest contrasts between then and now is that our print and television media had their own points of view on the subject.  Certain papers actively advocated our efforts in Southeast Asia and others as vehemently opposed them.  The same was true for commentators who reported the day’s events in Vietnam.  We had not yet grown accustomed to the “mind meld” in which our reporters had abdicated their responsibility as journalists, had accepted an official government version of “the truth” and dutifully repeated it for its audience.

And there was one even more significant difference between those times and these.  Underpinning this sometimes heated and angry debate, all of us understood that we had the right to our opinion because of the First Amendment to the Constitution and, protected by this governing document, could say just exactly what was on our mind.  It was precisely because of that document which The New York Times considers “antiquated” and should be abolished, that what began as the song of a small but vocal minority became the theme song for the country and the choir swelled to include the majority of Americans.

In many ways, I attribute my many years of non-gun ownership to the gentle example my friend Jeb set for me.  In many respects, his and my philosophies were identical.  I was not tempted to change my position that violence solves nothing even after I had been criminally mugged by three thugs and beaten unconscious and spent five days in the hospital recovering from a concussion.  By the way, they were able to carry out their violent act while threatening me not with guns but with switchblades.

So why has my position on this issue of guns and one’s right to own them, or perhaps more correctly one’s responsibility to own them, evolved?  Precisely because of the advocacy of The New York Times that we should abandon or, at the very least, modify our ancient relic of a Constitution to reflect today’s world.

There is little doubt in my mind that when the Constitution was adopted there were violent people in this country and throughout the world.  That has not changed.  But if there is no longer any protection for the voices of those in the minority to be heard, then history has shown that the majority, engorged on its own popularity, will have little difficulty suppressing those who have a different viewpoint from their own.

And if, as seems to be the case, they are successful in electing a government which shares their view that dissent is disloyalty, then those conscientious few who wish to hold on to their individual freedoms and their souls had best be prepared and be willing to do battle.

I wish that my friend Jeb had not died in Vietnam.  He was a source of great insight and wisdom and counsel – and I am sorry that I cannot ask him for his guidance.  But he lived his life and gave it up because of something he considered the essence of being a human being – living according to principle.  And I guess that is, in itself, sufficient guidance.  And now it is our turn.

II BE OR NOT II BE

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  – 2nd Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Vice President Biden has been tasked with the responsibility of conducting a conversation, investigation and hearings on whether, our Constitution notwithstanding, the citizens of the United States should be allowed to own weaponry – specifically guns.  This should prove very interesting and I plan on following this closely and report updates as they are warranted.

The Vice-President has an extensive history and record of being anti-gun and has long advocated greater and more restrictive gun control measures.  This may disturb our sports heroes in the NFL, three-quarters of whom own personal weapons.  Maybe they’ll organize a play to sack the Veep.

I hope that VP Biden brings with him to this discussion, the same open-minded thinking he brought to the subject of abortion.  Perhaps you recall his statement during the Vice Presidential debate.

While he is a practicing Roman Catholic, he felt “that imposing his personal beliefs on others in the matter of abortion was ‘wrong.’” 

I wonder if he will carry the same philosophy to his involvement in the discussion over gun ownership.

II be or not II be.  That is the question.

ON TERRORISM

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions… Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy.”

–  Portion of a statement issued by the U. S. Embassy in Cairo on 9/11/12 in response to the protests outside that embassy and the burning by “militant ultra-conservative Muslims” of the U. S. flag.

After I read the embassy’s response I began thinking about the only violent episode in which I have ever been personally involved.  Previously I wrote about my college incident when I was mugged by three men carrying switchblades, kicked unconscious and spent five days in the hospital with a concussion.

If I were to describe this mugging in the way in which our embassy in Egypt responded to the demonstrations outside its doors, I might have said the following:

“Yes, it was unfortunate and tragic what happened to me.  But if you think about it, really it was my own fault.”

“If I hadn’t accepted my professor’s invitation to join him and his family for dinner, I wouldn’t have been walking where I was mugged.  I would have been safe in my own apartment.”

“So, you see.  It’s terribly misguided to lay the blame on my assailants.  They were just doing what they do.  It was just a matter of bad luck that they did it to me.”

I don’t want to sound harsh because that is not my style.  I believe that anger, hatred and vitriol never settle arguments effectively.  But having said that, let’s look at the reality of what happened in Cairo.

The people who were involved in the rioting outside our embassy are  thugs – and You Tube movie or not have an agenda on which they will continue to move.  That agenda is to hate us – and any excuse, real or imagined – will serve their ends.

Is there anyone in our State Department who believes that those who murdered our ambassador and three others in Libya or participated in the riots outside the Cairo embassy are the kind of rational people who will be placated by our making statements like the one they issued?  People whose first response to any perceived “injustice” is to take to violence seldom are people who understand the concept of sitting down at a peace table and resolving differences through negotiation.

They interpret kindness and rational explanations as signs of weakness which merely further encourages them to continue their behavior.  Having delivered these “nice-nice” lectures many times, there finally comes a point at which the rational person realizes that conversation is insufficient to remedy a continuing problem and further, more assertive action, must be taken.

Why should the terrorists involved in these attacks believe the following sentence which was part of the embassy’s statement?” (Perhaps more germane to the point is, do you think that they care if it is true?)  But we, as Americans, should indeed hope that it is true.

“Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy.”

These words directly mirror those expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  But is that what we really believe and how we truly govern ourselves?  Are we really committed to the individual’s right to practice his or her religious faith without government interference – or to allow our citizens to choose a non-religious path without fear of reprisal?

(Of course, this entire concept of freedom to choose or reject a particular religious path is abhorrent to the terrorists’ most fundamental view that there is only one true faith – theirs).

Let’s consider the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s four years in office, Obamacare.  One of the provisions, commonly known as the HHS Mandate requires that all employers must cover their workers by purchasing insurance which coverage shall include benefits for birth control, abortions and for abortifacients – or face severe government penalties.

This provision is a direct assault against those who are practicing adherents of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and many fundamental Christian denominations who view procreation as the primary reason for sexual engagement.  So by enforcing this provision on those who find it morally and religiously objectionable, we have essentially enacted a law that says it is alright for government to deny them their constitutional right to practice their First Amendment rights.

You might be a reader who is “Pro-Choice” and who believes that there is nothing wrong with practicing birth control or feels that abortion is acceptable.  The purpose of this post is neither to dispute or argue with your beliefs.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion – in fact your are guaranteed the right to hold that opinion by our Constitution.  I applaud the fact that we are blessed to live in a country where that is true.

But if we stand by silently and watch the rights of those with whom we might disagree be eroded by our own government, we should be conscious that we are opening the flood gates which might one day sweep our own beliefs away as well.

The murders in Libya and the demonstrations throughout the Muslim world are indeed acts of terrorism.  But they pale in comparison to the erosion of the Constitution that, if not the agenda of the Obama administration during the four years it has reigned, has been the ultimate result of their policies.

A MAN OF FEW WORDS

There was a man from Vermont named Calvin Coolidge who became the 30th President of the United States.  He was dubbed, “Silent Cal” because of his terse conversational style.  I have just finished reading Claude M. Fuess’ excellent biography.  We would do well today to emulate much of what President Coolidge espoused and did during his time in office.

Coolidge rose through the ranks to become the Governor of Massachusetts.  He came to the nation’s attention when in 1919 the Boston Police went on strike.  Boston’s Police Commissioner, Edwin Curtis had threatened to suspend any officers who organized in a union.  He ultimately carried out his promise.  As a consequence, three quarters of the force walked off the job.

Samuel Gompers then the President of the AFL stated that the Commissioner acted inappropriately in denying the Boston Police’s right to form a union.  Several days of rioting and lawlessness ensued in the absence of law enforcement.  Coolidge responded to Gompers via telegram:

“Your assertion that the Commissioner was wrong cannot justify the wrong of leaving the city unguarded.  That furnished the opportunity, the criminal element furnished the action.  There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time.”

As Governor, Coolidge signed into law a reduction in the number of hours that women and children were allowed to work; presented the State Legislature with a balanced budget by trimming expenses without raising taxes and vetoed a bill that would have provided state legislators a fifty percent pay increase.  He also vetoed a bill that would have allowed beverages with low levels of alcohol to have been sold in the state, although he personally opposed Prohibition:

“Opinions and instructions do not outmatch the Constitution…”

In 1920 Coolidge was surprisingly nominated to be Vice-President on the ticket headed by Warren G. Harding.  Harding’s administration was plagued with scandal and it was largely through Coolidge’s efforts and reputation that faith was restored in the White House when President Harding passed away suddenly in 1923 and Coolidge succeeded him.

Coolidge was nominated the Republican candidate for President at that party’s convention in 1924.  Despite the sorrow he experienced because of the unexpected death of his younger son, he conducted his re-election campaign in a dignified manner, without speaking poorly of his opponents, preferring to express his opinion on his theory of how government should be conducted.

The Coolidge administration, guided by its Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, the third highest taxpayer in the country after John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, lowered the rate of Federal taxation while reducing spending so that by the end of his first elected term in office, one quarter of the national debt was retired.  The only Americans who paid income taxes as a result of their policies were the top two percent of income earners.

Coolidge was adamant in his support of equal civil rights for all Americans and signed into law the “Indian Citizenship Act” granting all Native Americans full citizenship.

“Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color.  I have taken my oath to support that Constitution.”

Perhaps the most often repeated, if perhaps apocryphal exchange, which highlighted Coolidge’s moniker as “Silent Cal” was reported to have occurred between the President and writer, satirist, Dorothy Parker.

Parker was supposedly seated next to the President and said,

“I have a bet with a friend that I can get you to say more than two words.”

Coolidge reportedly turned to her and said,

“You lose.”

Perhaps the essence of Coolidge’s view on the office to which he had been elected was best expressed in his statement:

“The words of a President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.”

As this man of few words believed, less is more.  Words for all of us to remember.

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