advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about politics, economics, and more…

On Running Your Own Government, Or, Why Pay The Military? July 30, 2011

I have not been talking about the insanity around the debt ceiling and debt and deficit and the efforts of Republicans to drive us all off the cliff, but I am today – and I’m going to do it by allowing you to grab ahold of this problem and see for yourself just how unbelievably bad this manufactured crisis is going to be.

You will hear a lot of conversation about the consequences from others; today, however, you are going to get the chance to be both the President and the Secretary of the Treasury, and you will get to decide for yourself exactly what bills the Federal Government should and should not pay as the cash runs out if a deal is not made by the time borrowing authority runs out.

At that point you’ll be able to see what’s coming for yourself – and once you do, you won’t need me to tell you what ugly is going to look like.

“…no state has the right to secede unless it wishes to…[and] it is the President’s duty to enforce the laws, unless somebody opposes him…”

William H. Seward, deprecating President James Buchanan’s efforts to preserve the Union, as quoted in the book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

So before I go sending you off to take the reins of power, let’s fill you in on a few things that you’ll need to know.

If no one has explained it to you yet, the Great Big Fuss that is going on right now is set around two issues: there are those who feel that the best way to make this economy better is to ensure that the Federal Government is a smaller player in our economy and not running on a deficit; many of these folks feel the way to achieve this is to make immediate, drastic, cuts in Federal spending.

At the same time, the United States has run up against its “debt limit”. That means the US will be unable to borrow money to fund ongoing government operations, and as you’ll soon see, right now we borrow a lot of the money we need to run today’s Government.

So if you are one of those who seeks to immediately cut Federal spending, you could force that to happen by refusing to allow the Federal Government any more borrowing authority; the fear of what could happen after that is presumably going to force the opposition to accept any deal, no matter how draconian, just to obtain that borrowing authority.

Naturally, the bigger a hostage you’re holding, the more draconian of a deal you hope you can make, and holding the “Full Faith and Credit of the United States” hostage is about as big as it gets; that’s why the Republicans are pushing for everything right this very second, from the end of Medicare and Medicaid to the right to mine uranium right next door to the Grand Canyon.

So with all that in mind, let’s talk money.

In the month of August, the Federal Government is expected to take in $172.4 billion.

There will be a mess of bills that are coming due during the month; that amount totals $306.7 billion, and that means about 44% of the bills must go unpaid.

Where’s that money go?

The Big Five are interest on current debt, which must be paid to avoid a default, payments due to defense contractors, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; the five of those, alone, will be just about $160 billion.

And that leaves $12.4 billion to fund everything else the Federal Government has to do.

That would include the remaining cost of supporting our several wars, the entire Federal law enforcement establishment (for example, the FBI, DEA, ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the Federal Marshals’ Service and the Bureau of Prisons), the National Parks Service and the Forest Service, the Centers for Disease Control, the Weather Service…well, just about every single thing the Federal Government does, except the Big Five.

So that’s the situation – and now it’s time for you to become the boss and make the choices:

The fine folks at Bloomberg Government have created an interactive tool that allows you to point and click your way to figuring this stuff out.

You will find your spending choices, and you just click on what you want until you run out of money, which the handy bar on the left will manage for you. When the bar turns red…you’re out of money.

“…Each month, I put all my bill collectors’ names in a hat, reach in, and pull out a name. That’s who I pay. If you keep calling here, then your name is not going in the hat next month.”

–Steve Harvey, quoted in October 2003’s Vibe magazine

OK folks, so now you know where to go, and you know what to do, so let’s make something happen.

Take this tool and use it to create a conversation about just what really is at stake, and watch the look on your friends’ faces when you point out that the entire Federal Government is about to go out of business if Republicans have their way.

I’d tell you the looks on their faces would be priceless – but that’s not true.

Absent a debt ceiling deal, the price is actually going to be about $134 billion, which is the money we’re just not going to have next month, when we’re not doing things like paying for the salaries of active-duty servicemembers or food inspectors or the guards out there at the Supermax.

It should be a fun time, all the way around – unless, of course, you’re one of the 300 million or so of us who are gonna get screwed over by it all.

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On Happy-ing Their Gilmores, Or, Will Body Bags Be The New Gold Watch? April 26, 2011

We are continuing a recent theme here today in which two of my favorite topics are going to converge: Social Security and in-your-face political activism.

I have been encouraging folks to take advantage of the recent Congressional recess to have a few words with your CongressCritter about the proposed Death Of Medicare and all the proposed cuts to Social Security…and you have, as we’ll discuss…and now we have an opportunity to do something on a national scale, just as we did a few weeks ago in support of Social Security.

This time, we’re going to concentrate on fighting the idea that retirement ages should go up before we become eligible for Social Security and Medicare (and elements of Medicaid, as well), and that Americans should just keep right on working until the age of 67 or so—which isn’t going to be any big problem…really…trust us.

Now that just makes no sense, and to help make the point we have a really cool video that you can pass around to all your friends—and your enemies, for that matter, since they’ll also have to worry about what happens to them if they should ever make it to old age.

“…Art can create a climate of sensitivity in which it is possible for change to occur…”

Shabana Azmi, on Riz Khan’s Al Jazeera program One on One

Members of Congress are at home this week, and they love to go out and meet the voters—but it hasn’t been as much fun all of a sudden for some of them, and there are several videos out on the Web right now where it looks like Members wish they hadn’t been hanging out where the public could see them so easily.

Now some of these videos are loud and boisterous—but the one that should really scare Republicans was Charlie Bass’ appearance in Hillsboro, NH on the 4/20 holiday.

If you look at the crowd, they’re older, for the most part—and for the most part they came to the meeting with their own information, meaning that they weren’t so much looking for the Congressman to tell them what was up as they were looking to tell Mr. Bass (who represents the State’s 2nd District) that they weren’t too happy with him about this “entitlements reform” deal.

Now they weren’t there with pitchforks and torches by any means, and a lot of them were supportive of many of the Congressman’s other positions—but they were extremely unhappy about the idea that Medicare would become a voucher system (just so you know, Bass would insist that it’s a “premium support system” whenever the word “voucher” came up), and they did not find the argument that “this won’t affect you” very convincing, either.

In addition to the obvious question (basically, “why would the plan be better if it only sticks it to our kids and grandkids?”), a woman from the crowd asked a question I don’t think Karl Rove ever thought would come up: you might not be sticking it to senior citizens today…but she wondered what’s to prevent conservatives from coming back in a few years and asking those under 65 why they should be supporting those old people and their “Cadillac plans”—at which point it will be “stick it to the old folks” season, and Medicare will officially die, along with a lot more old and disabled people, sooner than they should have.

And he wasn’t the only one to have a bit of a tough week at what used to be really friendly Town Halls: Pat Meehan (PA-07) got himself into a shouting match with his putative employers, so did Lou Barletta, he of Pennsylvania’s 11th…and so did Catfood 2.0’s architect, Paul Ryan, who had to face what he politely described as an “enthusiastic” crowd in Milton, Wisconsin.

“Happy learned how to putt! Uh-oh!”

–Adam Sandler, from the movie Happy Gilmore

To put it bluntly, the Members are hating it, big-time, as it appears that their 2009 “Town Hall Goose” has suddenly become just a little too good for the gander.

And if we’re already making life hot for these folks…why not just keep on pushing?

That’s the idea behind “Don’t Make Us Work ‘Til We Die”, which is an effort of the fine folks at Strengthen Social Security to highlight the fact that a lot of people right now are proposing to raise the retirement age; either to 67, or to something north of that…for the good of America, of course.

After all, if you’re a firefighter, or a nurse, or maybe you work in the trades, or a restaurant kitchen, or you drive a gasoline truck…or maybe you’re a smokejumper for the Forest Service…why would working until 67 be a problem for you?

Here’s a video that makes the point very nicely:

(By the way, they would love for you to spread this video far and wide; grab the embed code and just go nuts—or, if you prefer, email the link—and in the interests of Full Disclosure: I’m associated with the Campaign for America’s Future and they’re one of the members of the Strengthen Social Security coalition.)
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On Wednesday and Thursday all of this goes outside and hits the streets all across the country, and to make it easy, the same website can help you find an event near you—or, if you live in Wyoming or something, you can attend the “virtual event”—either way, just visit the handy website and go from there.

So there you go: we have Republicans feeling mighty uncomfortable all of a sudden, we have a chance this week to get out in public and make the point in a bigger way—and now you even have the perfect video to send to that one relative who always forwards you Michael Savage’s latest missives.

Now get out and keep the momentum going forward—and don’t forget, it’s really easy to look at the person next to you in line at the grocery store and say: “Can you believe how they’re trying to screw us out of Social Security?”

That’s about all it takes to get a pretty good conversation going…and if you repeat that process, about a million times…well, that’s how politics gets done.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

On Fighting To Win, Or, A Tale Of Two Kinds Of Democrats April 17, 2011

If your view of politics is filtered by a lens marked “Progressive” or “Liberal”, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve been gnashing your teeth and pulling your hair in frustration over the “give away the store, then negotiate” approach professional Democrats have used when facing the challenges from the Tea Party last year, and all that’s come after.

Over and over and over people like me have written stories wondering why Democrats, starting with this President, don’t get out in a very public way and slam Republican policies, over and over and over—especially when most Americans hate the things Republicans seem to love to support.

Turning over Government to the highest bidder?
Not so popular.

Going back to a heathcare system run by, for, and of the insurance industry?
Again, not so much.

Jacking up taxes and healthcare costs for you and me in order to provide another trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?
So unpopular pollsters hardly believe it.

But there is another way, and today’s story is in two parts: we’re going to talk about how hard it is to get Democrats, as a group, to get loud and get aggressive—and then we’re going to talk about Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who is out there showing any reluctant Democrat just exactly how you can “grow the brand”.

We are, all, North and South, engaged in the White Slave Trade, and he who succeeds best, is esteemed most respectable. It is far more cruel than the Black Slave Trade, because it exacts more of its slaves, and neither protects nor governs them. We boast, that it exacts more, when we say, “that the profits made from employing free labor are greater than those from slave labor.” The profits, made from free labor, are the amount of the products of such labor, which the employer, by means of the command which capital or skill gives him, takes away, exacts or “exploitates” from the free laborer. The profits of slave labor are that portion of the products of such labor which the power of the master enables him to appropriate. These profits are less, because the master allows the slave to retain a larger share of the results of his own labor, than do the employers of free labor.

–From the book Cannibals All!, by George Fitzhugh, 1857

So let’s start with the “how hard is it?” part:

I get to participate in conference calls these days, and I was recently on a call with a Member of Congress who shall remain nameless (to protect the moderately guilty). The Member was unable to remain on the call until my question, but I was able to get an email off to the press rep over there, who was kind enough to get back to me.

After an exchange of emails, we got down to the real question:

How should I explain to readers why they don’t hear every Democrat saying something like this, every single day: “We get that there’s a financing problem in the future, and the good news that it can be fixed without raising the retirement age, and without cutting benefits, and we can even lower the payroll tax rate at the same time–and that’s why we will never let the Republicans destroy Social Security, even under cover of a budget fight”?

Now I post on almost 30 blog sites, from Kos to Docudharma to Left In Alabama to The Bilerico Project, and all sorts of others in between, and if there is one theme that is consistent across all these sites, it’s that readers do not understand why so many Democrats, over and over, don’t avail themselves of the obvious political advantages that are there to be had when they get in front of the public and, well, frankly, act like Democrats?

So that was the question I sent…and it’s a good thing I didn’t hold my breath waiting for an answer, because that answer never came.

I sent the same question to the office of a very liberal Member with whom I’ve had good relations in the past—and again, nothing.

Here’s another “what does it take to get Democrats to act like Democrats?” story:

I was in Olympia, Washington, on April 8th for a big ol’ labor rally, and the featured speaker was Senator Spencer Coggs (he’s one of the 14 Democratic State Senators who left Wisconsin to make Scott Walker’s life a whole lot less comfortable), and he tore up the crowd pretty good…but there was at least a couple of hours of speakers, and the event was held right in front of the State Capitol, and the (Democratically controlled) Legislature was in session, right at that very moment…and the (Democratically occupied) Governor’s Mansion is literally right next door…and yet, somehow, not one single elected official of the Democratic persuasion from anywhere in the entire State of Washington could manage to find their way past the kids ringing bells under the Dome and out the front door to greet the thousands of voters standing just outside.

OK, so that’s the problem—but as you know, I like to offer solutions as well, and with that in mind, it’s time to meet the Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer.

Now, as you might imagine, Montana is not exactly a haven for lefty liberals, but Schweitzer, a Democrat, is not only not caving under pressure…he’s showing Democrats everywhere how to send a message—and how to send it with style.

The Republican-led Legislature passed a slew of bills he didn’t like (he reported that none of ‘em created new jobs—and doesn’t that sound familiar?), and he could have given in and signed them—or he could follow the advice of Denny Lester, ace political cartoonist for the Helena (MT) “Independent Record”, and veto the hell out of those bills, preferably with a branding iron.

There is a Montana Department of Livestock, and if you intend to register a new cattle brand, they are the folks you need to see—and sure enough, on February 23rd, an “Official Brand Certificate” was issued to the Governor for the brand “VETO”.

Then the Governor went out and created a job in Montana: he had a series of branding irons made, each carrying the new brand in various sizes (“calf”, “yearling”, and “bull”, depending on how much he wanted to veto any particular bill).

“…so my Mom called to find out if there was a branding going on, and I said well, not really, it’s a sort of a branding, and she said, uh, do you need somebody to bring the beer?…”

–Governor Brian Schweitzer, April 13, 2011

The Governor got a few friends together last Wednesday, and he vetoed not one, not two, but 17 bills he felt were “either frivolous, unconstitutional or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana”…and he did it, with the cameras rolling, by using the branding irons to brand a red-hot “VETO” on those bills, all to the cheers of the assembled crowd.

You can see it for yourself, right here, in a video produced by the Montana Democratic Party—and trust me when I tell you, it’s a hoot:

Now if you watched that video, you might be thinking: “Hey, maybe that guy should be President…”—and that’s how we get to the real point of this story.

We have in front of us a President and a Democratic Party apparatus who can either negotiate with Republicans who want to kill both Social Security and Medicare (the likely end result being two programs and a Democratic Party that will basically be “circling the drain” from then on)…or they can take the branding iron to Paul Ryan’s “Catfood Plan v 2.0” and a lot of other Republican ideas besides, and they can help their own Party and make every Republican in the country feel the burn, all at the same time.

Since negotiating away Medicare and Social Security is hugely unpopular…that’s pretty much what I expect far too many Democrats to do, unless we can grab ‘em by the lapels and show ‘em that voters want Democratic Democrats—you know, the kind of Democrat who understands how to grow a brand, and how to keep it strong, and how to set fire to bad ideas, loudly and publicly, when that’s the right thing to do.

Tell your Member of Congress about this video, and your President, too; and let’s see if we can show our elected “followers” how to get on the road to becoming elected ”leaders”.

 

Social Security: Are You Ready For A Congressional “Video Staycation”? April 4, 2011

Diligent reporter that I am, I got up Thursday morning to do a bit of fishing for a story, and as so often happens, I’ve caught something a bit unexpected.

Now what I have for you today starts out as a bit of insider information that came to me on background—but it turns into a chance for those of us who support Social Security to very much get in the faces of our members of Congress, for two whole weeks.

And to make it even better, I’m going to throw out a few direct action ideas “for your consideration” (as they say in Hollywood during Awards Season) that would absolutely make good street actions and YouTube videos, both at the same time…and even more importantly, we’ll absolutely make some great Spring Break fun.

“I mean, just from the very notion that it said that 50 percent of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? For – you know, listen. We’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be…

…We’re going to have to accept some changes as far as the rest of us. And what we’re saying is for those 55 and older do not have to worry about changes in benefits. But for the rest of us we will. We will have to do that.”

–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, speaking at the Hoover Institution, March 21, 2011

OK, so like I said, I have bit of “inside baseball” that sets this whole thing up.

I got a piece of information “on background” yesterday from An Actual Well-Informed Source who seems to be about two or three “degrees of separation” away from actually being in the room while this news is occurring; because of that I’m willing to ascribe to it a reasonably good chance of proving to be entirely accurate.

What I was told was that Paul Ryan, who is the “manager” of the House Republicans’ budget-cutting effort, has decided not to push to include cuts in Social Security as part of the current fight over a Continuing Resolution…because Spring Break is coming up.

Check this out: according to the House Schedule, April 18-29 is Spring Recess, and I was told there’s a lot of concern on the Republican side about what would happen if anyone made any crazy Social Security proposals right now…when they have to go home and face you and me and the rest of the Angry Nation in just about two weeks.

(There’s some evidence to back this up: it is now possible that Cantor “misspoke” in that quote a couple of paragraphs up the page; as of this moment I can’t confirm if a “full backpedal” is officially underway or not.)

We can discern two things from that little nugget: for starters, we are having an impact on this fight—but beyond that, we also now know that we have two weeks to publicly torment those Members of Congress who are looking to cut Social Security…and we have two weeks to get ready.

Since hunger strikes are already underway, here are a few other ideas you’re welcome to steal to make your statement:

Is your Member going to be appearing at a community center or a friendly church?

Well how about arriving a few hours early and setting up a cardboard “Social Security Tahrir Square”?

You could have a box that’s the local “Catfood Grocery”, you could paint one of the boxes to look like “Grandma’s Gingerbread Box”, and you could even have a “Long-Term Care Facility” and hand out fliers of your own—and make sure you catch the reaction of the Congressional Staff on video to set up the bigger video of you interacting with the crowd…or y’all being ejected by the suddenly fearful Representative…or y’all “making happy” with a supportive Member.

Now you’re going to love this one, and there are two ways you can make it work.

What we’ll be playing on are the proposals to increase the retirement age and how we’ll be asking old people to do jobs that, obviously, they just can’t; what I basically want you to do is either go to an event…or outside one of the Members’ District Offices…and create a “job training center” for senior citizens.

Get a wheelbarrow and load it with a nice load of bricks, maybe fill some oval trays with a mess of plates and beverageware (safety first on this one; beware of glass and ceramic—and don’t forget the jackstands), and then rustle up a transfer belt and a heavy volunteer and simulate what nurses and their aides do all day long, and all night, too: lifting and transferring those who can’t do it for themselves.

Take it all to the venue, and you can either “train” your own 70+ year-old students…who might not be old enough to retire, under the new proposals…on how to do these types of jobs while the crowd watches—or you can invite older members of the crowd to try their hand at moving the bricks, or lifting the tray. Bring a medical worker and you can show them what lifting looks like, too—although I would be unlikely to invite the crowd to do that one without some kind of training.

(Do I have to warn you that this could get someone hurt, and you’ll have to use a reasonable amount of caution when you do this? I didn’t think so.)

Again, get it all on video—and then get that video right up on the Web.

Our final idea for today might be my favorite—but that might be because I used to be a caterer, and this really fits my sense of humor.

You know those “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef” shows?

And you know how we refer to that Deficit Commission as the Catfood Commission?

Well…why not sponsor a “Catfood Contest” at your Congresscritter’s event?

Again, you could go two ways: invite “contestants” in chef’s whites to create delightful dishes with the Commission’s Catfood, or you could judge competing sculptures; they do both at the Spam Jam in Waikiki, and if it was me I’d steal the ambiance of this kind of an event from Hawai’i, especially since it’s Spring Break season anyway.

An alternative way to do this: performance art of an elderly couple having a Catfood Commission BBQ, cooking Catfood patties on portable grills to make a point.

So there you go:

We have two weeks to get ready to have two great weeks of fun just really tightening the screws on those Members of Congress who are looking to jack America out of Social Security, and we have ideas on the table that you are entirely welcome to borrow, or adapt, or outright steal—and with any luck, other readers will toss in some ideas of their own—so get your art on, gather your props, and bring extra video batteries and a blank tape to give the police…just in case.

And here’s one last thing to remember: this isn’t just about turning back a disastrous plan to break the backs of Americans for decades to come—it’s also about having a good time.

Well-executed comedy makes people agree with you, and to like your message, and that’s a powerful thing; the more fun you’re having, the better the whole thing is going to work.

Now go forth, make some mischief, and watch the magic happen.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

Social Security: Get On The Phone Tuesday And Wednesday And Help Fight Cuts March 27, 2011

So it’s been about three weeks since we last had this conversation, but once again we have to take action to try to keep Social Security from being the victim of “deficit fever”.

I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering the disconnect between Social Security and the deficit—but once again it’s “Continuing Resolution” time on Capitol Hill, where some use the threat of an impending shutdown of the Federal Government to extract concessions from the other side…and some on the other side try to make points with the voters by out-conceding their opponents.

So Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, there’s a national push on to get voters to call their Senators and remind them to vote for an Amendment that is a big ol’ “I’m not willing to cut Social Security just because other people philosophically want to cut Government any way they can” kind of reassurance to the voters, and I’m here to encourage you, once again, to make a couple phone calls and do some pushing of your own.

I’ve also been storing up a couple somewhat facetious random thoughts which will be the “garnish” for today’s dish; you’ll see them pop up as we go along.

First, the I’m A Bit Confused Dept.: There’s an ad currently running on TV for a drug called Intuniv. The drug is for children who are suffering from ADHD, and the visual image features a mother coming out the doors of the school with her “now-perfectly-behaved” 11- or 12-year-old child.

What comes next is the warning that the drug might—well, I’ll just quote the Intuniv website…

“Patients should not drive or operate heavy equipment until understanding how INTUNIV affects them”

…and every time I see the ad I think that if my 11-year-old could drive and operate heavy machinery I might suggest giving the other kids ADHD so they, too, could grow up and have a valuable skill of their own one day.

As we discussed “above the fold”, the Strengthen Social Security folks are doing a nationwide Senate call-in Tuesday and Wednesday to drum up support for passage of S.AMDT.207, the Sanders-Reid Social Security Protection Amendment, and they’ve created a process to painlessly put you directly in touch with both of your Senators, even if you have no idea who they might be.

I tried it out myself, just to see what would happen, and here’s how it works:

You call the phone number (1-866-251-4044) and the friendly automated phone voice automatically determines your location and then informs you that you “are represented by Senators [insert names here]”—and all of this without your having to navigate a menu or push a button.

The friendly phone voice then tells you to choose a Senator (“…push one or two…”), and you’re then directly connected to that office. Before you go, you’re encouraged to call back and leave a message with your other Senator as well…and you’re also offered “the commercial”: a fairly precise (roughly) 10-second script for a message that you might choose to leave, suggesting that your Senator vote for that Sanders-Reid Amendment.

I have a plan to make nuclear reactors in this country safer, and to do it fast: every Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, everyone who votes on granting or renewing plant licenses, every nuclear power plant inspector, and the top executives of any nuclear licensee…should all be required to move into on-site housing at the nuclear power plants they’re in charge of within one year.

(This idea might also be adapted to improve the lives of nursing home residents, and it’s the same kind of “enforced safety” thinking that led to the old rule that Army paratroopers had to pack their own parachutes.)

We’ve made other calls like this recently, and just like before, the goal here is to keep the pressure on, and to remind all 100 Senators that they all have voters who absolutely do not want cuts in Social Security, and that this is not the time to be trying to sneak something in under cover of “Continuing Resolution” darkness.

So there you go: on Tuesday and Wednesday call the handy number (1-866-251-4044), let the automated voice guide you to your Senators, tell them you want them to vote for the Sanders-Reid Amendment…and while you have them on the phone, don’t be afraid to suggest that nuclear power plant on-site housing idea either.

Fighting for want you want is a process, not something that happens all in one day, and you should expect more messages like this one as we go along, asking you to make your voice heard—but you should also keep in mind that we’ve been doing pretty well so far, and when we speak, we’re being heard.

So make those calls, apply that pressure…and let’s win this thing.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

On Monday Morning Philosophy, Or, Founders Tell America: “You Figure It Out” March 22, 2011

In our efforts to form a more perfect Union we look to the Constitution for guidance for how we might shape the form and function of Government; many who seek to interpret that document try to do so by following what they believe is The Original Intent Of The Founders.

Some among us have managed to turn their certainty into something that approaches a reverential calling, and you need look no further than the Supreme Court to find such notables as Cardinals Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia providing “liturgical foundation” to the adherents of the point of view that the Constitution is like The Bible: that it’s somehow immutable, set in stone, and, if we would only listen to the right experts, easily interpreted.

But what if that absolutist point of view is absolutely wrong?

What if the Original Intent Of The Founders, that summer in Philadelphia…was simply to get something passed out of the Constitutional Convention, and the only way that could happen was to leave a lot of the really tough decisions to the future?

What if The Real Original Intent…was that we work it out for ourselves as we go along?

“…you see, all the majesty of worship that once adorned these fatal halls / was just a target for the angry as they blew up the Taj Mahal…”

–From the song Gasoline, by Sheryl Crow

The reason this is coming up today is because I’ve been writing a lot about Social Security lately, and I keep getting comments from folks who see no Constitutional foundation for such a program.

To sum up what I often hear, if there is nothing in the Constitution that specifically provides for Social Security, then, if it’s to be done at all, it’s something that should be left to the States. (The 10th Amendment is used to reinforce this point.)

A lot of these folks, from what I can see, hearken for a simpler time, a time when America had no “foreign entanglements” or National Banks…a time when men of the soil worked their farms with no fear of Debt or The Taxman….a time when government worked best by using local wisdom to deal with local problems.

In other words, we’re basically having the same arguments over the shape of this Government that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were having in 1787—and for those who don’t recall, Hamilton won, which reflects the reality that we don’t all live on farms and hunt turkeys and Indians, and that State Governments are just as capable of ignorance and foolishness and greed and blind hate as any Federal Government.

To reinforce their arguments “fundamentalists” fall back on some version of the Original Intent theory, which basically assumes the Constitution was written by men who miraculously created a perfect document, and that all the answers to today’s problems would be found by simply allowing the Original Intent to shine through.

I’m here to tell you that couldn’t be more wrong—and to prove my point you need only consider the Civil War.

Despite what you might have heard in Virginia, the Civil War really was about slavery, and the reason we had that fight in the 1860s was because there was no way the question could be settled at the Constitutional Convention.

Those Founders who supported ending that “peculiar institution” were never going to convince slaveowning Founders to give up their property, and as a result of the desire to get a Constitution drafted that could be ratified by “the various States” there were compromises made, including the 3/5ths Compromise and Article Four’s requirement to deliver fugitive slaves to their owners upon demand, which resulted in the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850.

The Intent Of The Founders, on the question of slavery, was to let time work it out.

The same kind of “let time work it out” thinking led us to Article 1, Section 8, and the “general welfare” clause.

Congress is empowered to enact legislation that provides for the “common defense and general welfare of the United States”…but there is no specific interpretation of what the phrase means (in fact, there is no glossary at all for the Constitution, which means there are plenty of other examples of, shall we say, “unclear phrasing”).

Since there is no specific reference as to how Article 1, Section 8 and the 10th Amendment are supposed to interact or what the Founders’ Intent might be, we are again forced to apply our own interpretations, over time, to figure out how to resolve the inevitable conflicts.

We had to do that because, even as there were proponents of a Federal system, there were plenty of Delegates at the Convention who wanted nothing to do with a strong central government. They wanted to keep a system in place that resembled what we had under the Articles of Confederation, where the Federal Government had no ability to compel the payment of taxes and States had the choice of whether to “accept” Federal laws…or not.

Over time, of course, we’ve come to realize that having one air traffic control system, and not 50, was a good idea, and that funding things like disaster response on a national level makes sense, even if Texas wants to go it alone or something, and we probably all agree today that if States are willing to allow 12-year-old factory workers to work 16-hour days, then Federal child labor laws are a reasonable thing to make that stop—and all of this progression of history is happening because the Original Intent was to let the future figure out where the 10th and Article 1, Section 8 would “find their center”.

The Original Intent Of The Founders, apparently, was that white men who did not own property, women, and those not pale and fair and of European descent had no reason to be involving themselves in the affairs of government, as that was the list of who was not allowed to vote at the time we began our experiment in democracy; over time we’ve seen fit to change that—and at every step along the way there have been Cardinals of Interpretation ready to tell us that with each change we were doing violence to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution as they knew the Founders would have intended it to be.

Am I entitled to create or possess any form of pornography because the First Amendment prevents Congress from abridging free speech, or is the general welfare furthered by allowing society to protect itself from the exploitative effects of pornography by limiting or banning completely the production or possession of certain materials that are considered unacceptable?

The Founders seem to have offered no obvious intent when they created this conflict, which makes sense, because the possession of child pornography didn’t really exist as an issue in 1789.

I’m guessing that today we are not anxious to have each of the 50 States adopt their own rules (after all, who knows what some crazy State might do?)—but they did put that “general welfare” clause in Article 1, Section 8, and over time, our view of Constitutional law has come to accept the compromise that the Founders could not have foreseen.

The fact that the Supreme Court resolves these kinds of conflicts at all was not laid out in the Constitution, nor was the fact that the Federal Government’s powers are superior to those of the States; it took the 1803 Marbury v Madison and 1819 McCulloch v Maryland rulings to figure out, when there are multiple claims of liberty, which were to be put ahead of the others.

Can you guess why?

That’s right, folks: it was because they had Delegates at the Constitutional Convention (and States who had to ratify the finished product) who did not want to give the Court or a Federal Government that kind of power, and the only way to get something passed was to sort of “leave things open” and let time work it out.

Here’s an example of how one of the Founders tried to tried to kill the “Original Intent” argument before it even got off the ground: James Madison, who kept the only known complete set of notes during the Constitutional Convention never released those notes during his lifetime (he’s also credited with being the principal author of the document, possibly because his were the best notes).

Why did he do that? It appears to be because that Founder’s Intent was to make the Constitution’s words stand on their own, without his notes to frame the debate—and in fact the document had been in force for almost 50 years before those notes saw the light of day.

The Cardinals of the Supreme Court, some of whom claim they can divine Original Intent for any and all situations, are hoping that you’ll forget that they really serve to resolve disputes where the intent of the Founders seems to collide with the intent of the Founders—and all of that brings us right back to Social Security.

It is true that the Constitution, as it was written in 1789, does not contain the words “you may establish Social Security”—but it is also true that there were no words that would allow anyone who is not a white male to vote, or to prohibit the ownership of slaves.

Congress, acting with the authority to provide for the general welfare, took Roosevelt’s proposal and enacted it into law. The Supreme Court, in 1937, took up the question of whether the 10th Amendment prevented Congress from enacting Social Security with a series of three rulings, and here’s part of what they had to say:

Counsel for respondent has recalled to us the virtues of self-reliance and frugality. There is a possibility, he says, that aid from a paternal government may sap those sturdy virtues and breed a race of weaklings. If Massachusetts so believes and shapes her laws in that conviction, must her breed of sons be changed, he asks, because some other philosophy of government finds favor in the halls of Congress? But the answer is not doubtful. One might ask with equal reason whether the system of protective tariffs is to be set aside at will in one state or another whenever local policy prefers the rule of laissez faire. The issue is a closed one. It was fought out long ago. When money is spent to promote the general welfare, the concept of welfare or the opposite is shaped by Congress, not the states. So the concept be not arbitrary, the locality must yield. Constitution, Art. VI, Par. 2.

So there you go: the next time someone tells you that a program like Social Security is unconstitutional because of Original Intent, be very, very, suspicious, and keep in mind that the Constitution was written, intentionally, with the idea that a lot of problems were simply going to be kicked down the road to future generations of Americans.

Constitutional Delegates, after all, were politicians, and if there is one thing that politicians love to do it’s to kick a problem down the road so that something can get done today.

The history of the last 225 or so years has been a long journey down a long road that took us past slavery and Reconstruction and suffrage and Jim Crow, and to assert, as the Cardinals of the Court do, that all those questions were answered that summer in Independence Hall is to be either amazingly blind or deliberately untruthful—and the fact that they get to dress in robes and sit behind something that looks quite a bit like an altar doesn’t change that even one little bit.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

Campaign Manifesto #3: On The Road, Defending Social Security February 28, 2011

So it’s Day 3 of my fake campaign for Congress, and we’ve run into our first obstacle

The Fake Campaign, as you may recall, is fake headed for Wisconsin, to show solidarity, and we’ve fake hitched a ride on a delivery truck headed for Rush Limbaugh’s Florida broadcasting studios—but we fake found ourselves caught up in the all-too-real Giant Grip Of Winter that has seized the Midwest over the past week.

We’re back on the road now, but we were stuck for darn near a half-day there at Wall…and if you know anything about South Dakota, you know there are really only two things to do in the City of Wall: you can shuffle back and forth between Gold Diggers and the Badlands Bar, partaking of numerous intoxicating liquors along the way…or you can head on into Wall Drug (the same one that’s on all those bumper stickers and signs) and partake of the finest display of Giant Jackalopia on the planet.

The Campaign, naturally, chose Jackalopia—and that’s why today’s Manifesto is all about the fake impromptu 5-cent-coffee-fueled Social Security Town Hall that we held in the Wall Drug Mall for several hours while we waited for I-90 to reopen.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, grass grows by Itself.

–From the Zenrin Kushu, attributed to Toyo Eicho

I-90, the main route from West to East (if your fake trip begins in Seattle, as ours did), was closed at Wall, South Dakota for about 24 hours this week, but this particular delivery truck just absolutely has to be in Florida by Monday…and the delivery is so important that to get us back on the road we now have a special escort of two South Dakota Department of Transportation snowplows and two 2011 “new and improved” South Dakota Highway Patrol Dodge Charger Pursuits (now with longer lasting brakes!) to make sure we get to the Wisconsin line in the shortest time possible.

With the weather being what it is, Jenna and Tendei, our driving team, have been earning their money, in a big way, this trip, and for the moment Tendei is asleep, while Jenna and I mull over the conversations we had tonight, me and the caravan of Wall Drug customers who gathered, first by the snake-oil salesman (that’s not hyperbole, either: they actually have an anamatronic snake-oil salesman), then out in front of the Western bookstore, and finally over by one of the 5-cent coffee stations.

It was my fault: standing next to the snake-oil salesman got me thinking about all the lies we hear every day about Social Security…which I mentioned to the 30-something couple standing next to me, young son in tow.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d guess the next words out of his mouth are going to be: ‘I’ll never see a dollar of my Social Security anyway, so who cares how they fix it?’.”

He looked back at me, all surprised: “We’re not ever going to see any; they tell us that all the time.”

“Yeah, I know…but it’s a big ol’ load of hooey, and I’ll tell you why: Social Security is funded by payroll taxes that are, for the most part, paid out as they’re collected, that means there’ll always be money that we will use to pay benefits, unless we just quit collecting that money altogether, which is not likely.”

We were beginning to gather a few others around us (hey, we were all stuck there—nothing else to do…); that means my gestures were getting a bit bigger—but there’s a nice echo in there, and you can be heard.

“The way things work now, if nothing changes, there will be enough money to pay out all the benefits we expect to pay until 2037. After that, if the ‘pessimistic projection’ plays out, even if nothing else changes, we can still pay 75% of what we expect to pay for about 50 years after that. We only look out 75 years at a time, so we don’t have a projection that goes out past 2084…but, pretty much, as long as we keep collecting the money, we’ll still be able to pay the benefits.”

I looked over at a 40-ish couple that had come over to listen: “What about you two? Right now there’s a lot of talk about ‘fixing’ Social Security by making you wait longer to retire or by making sure cost-of-living increases don’t really keep up with inflation. Don’t y’all feel like if they do that, you’re just getting screwed?”

It was almost like Parliament and “Question Time” in there for a second (which is not a George Clinton reference) as the 15 or so folks listening began to “harrumph” in agreement.

“Well how about if I were to tell you that I could fix this problem, and that I could do it without raising the retirement age or messing with your cost-of-living…and that I could do this in a way that gives every person in this room a tax cut at the same time…and that, even though I’m running for Congress, I’m not a snake-oil salesman?”

About two lives ago I used to be a failed stand-up comic (true!), and it is possible to know when the crowd is turning—and this was one of those moments.

The 40-ish husband looked at me and said, basically, that I did sound like a Congressman—and not in a good way.

“I know you don’t believe me, but listen to this: if you turn a wrench or carry a tray or do anything that makes under, basically, $105,000 a year in wages, all your income is taxed for Social Security…but if you make a million a year, you don’t pay any tax at all on the last $890,000…and if that income was taxed, we wouldn’t have a Social Security problem.

Now you don’t hear much about this back in Washington, and there’s a couple of reasons why: right off the bat, this President and this Congress don’t want to be accused of ‘raising anyone’s taxes’; beyond that, 2012 is coming fast, and both the President and the Grim Weeper are trying to be the one who can look at the voters and say: ‘I’m The Slasher, and I will cut the deficit and balance the budget faster than the other guy’.

Lots of people think cutting Social Security will somehow cut the deficit and reduce the debt, even though it has nothing to do with it at all, and some of them figure that if they campaign around cutting everything that government does it’s gonna help their political future, and that includes cutting benefits for people just like you, instead of just funding Social Security with a flat tax for everyone…even the rich.”

This argument, I might add, was starting to gain traction.

“Look at where we are right this very second: standing in front of a Western bookstore…and if you go in there you’ll see stories of how people died of starvation and how land barons ruled counties with an iron fist and how we fought range wars with imported hired guns and shootouts in the streets.

Is that what we want to go back to?

It’s not what they wanted. The pioneers didn’t just build isolated ranches, they built towns, and towns with a schoolhouse, so that the kids on those ranches didn’t have to rely on a home school education. They had a Sheriff or a Marshal and a Town Council and a Judge, because they knew that they had to create some rules and establish some government.

Some towns in the Wild West, and you know I’m telling the truth about this, didn’t even allow guns inside the town limits…just like when Wyatt Earp was the Marshal in Dodge City and you had to check your guns if you were going north of the railroad tracks.”

You know what? This was working: the crowd began to nod with me, and I figured while I had the advantage I’d press the thing home:

“Now a lot of people probably think the fix is in, and what’s the point…but I don’t agree. There was an effort at the beginning of this Congress to force these cuts by threatening to stop providing any money for the Government at the beginning of March if the ‘Wrecking Crew” didn’t get their way, and the Tea Party folks came in here with a big ol’ war cry about ‘shut it all down’ and all that…but now that March 4th is actually drawing close, and the public is starting to figure out what’s up, the message is suddenly all about ‘maybe we can extend the funding after all’.

That tells me that the people who think cutting everything in sight because it looks good are finding out it doesn’t always look good to just go around cutting everything in sight.

Tell ya something else. A lot of the people who want to change Social Security want to change it into a system that rewards people who manage Social Security accounts, not the people who own the accounts, and if you look at what ‘privatizing’ the system is all about, that’s what it is: it’s just a plan to get more money out of you in the form of fees and charges, which is going to be a great big reward to great big political donors who have been trying to make this happen since the 1980s.

So here’s the reality: there is enough money in the system to pay for you and your kids to have benefits, even if no changes are made, and if you just make Social Security a flat tax, even for the rich, we are pretty much guaranteed to have every dollar we need until at least 2084, and we don’t have to cut benefits or raise the retirement age, or do any of that crazy stuff…and we don’t have to give up our hard-earned money to big banks and Wall Street in the form of new fees and charges on your Social Security accounts.

So I came here in a truck, and it has to be in Florida in a couple days, and my driver friend is walking over here, and that means I gotta go, but I hope I told you something about Social Security you didn’t know a while ago…and if any of you are fake voting for a fake Congressional candidate in 2012, I hope you’ll keep me in mind.”

And with that, I fake shook a few hands, jumped in our fake truck, and headed off to Wisconsin.