Jul 9, 2007

Is the US Constitution Still Valid?

I recently participated in a discussion board where an individual stated that the US Constitution is a "deeply flawed document masquerading as a 'contract' or 'compact' which describes a possibly workable, but by no stretch of the imagination consensual government." This is not the first time that the idea of the US Constitution as a failed contract has come up. Libertarian blogs have been discussing it for years. Rather more recently, however some mainstream liberal and conservative groups have been 'nibbling around the edges' of this very same idea. So has our hallowed Constitution failed us? Is it a failed document and idea? Should we scrap it and look for some new compact between the People and the Government? As Congressman Ron Paul-a 'back to the Constitution' candidate if there ever was one-is now a viable candidate in the 2008 Presidential race, it seems a good time to look more closely at the issue.
 Simply put, the Constitution is not a failed document. If anything it did not fail us; we failed it. Over time, we have allowed the safeguards that our Founding Fathers built into the Constitution to be abrogated, annulled, or ignored by our government. The founders recognized the sovereignty of the people. The people were to be the ultimate enforcers of the strict limits that were placed on government. As Jefferson said when discussing the impropriety of judicial interpretation of Constitutional questions:
"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." (The Writings Of Thomas Jefferson, By Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, Washington, DC, 1902, page 278: letter to William Charles Jarvis, Monticello, September 28, 1820.)
The structures the Founders established in the US Constitution were designed to create and reinforce internal and external competition and balances of power, with the intent of ultimately reducing the threat of government tyranny. The founders recognized that some tasks were best accomplished by government, but with the concomitant danger of accumulation of power in a single group. The State Governments balance the Federal Government balance the people. Within the Federal Government, they balanced the Executive against the Legislative against the Judicial branches. These two groups of three: the People, the State Governments, the Federal Government, and, the Legislative, Executive, Judicial branches, were intended to diffuse the concentration of political power in any one group while still allowing efficiency. As Jefferson put it:
"No, my friend, the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate." (Letters, Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826, Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, 1984, page 1380: letter regarding THE WARD SYSTEM, To Joseph C. Cabell. Monticello, February 2, 1816.)
 The founders also ensured the people had the means to enforce their ultimate sovereignty over government via the 2nd Amendment:
"What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure." (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Henry A. Washington, ed, 1853-54, 911: letter regarding THE NEW CONSTITUTION, To William S. Smith. Paris, November 13, 1787. )
If all else fails, the people are empowered to rebel to protect their liberty and enforce their will on an overweening government. According to Jefferson, this was the only effective means of controlling government. The Constitution provided the people with the tools to effectively balance the Federal and State Governments. The people were expected to play the dominant role by reining in excessive concentrations of power in the State and Federal Governments.
The internal and external balances fundamental to the success of the Constitution have been severely damaged. The 14th and 17th Amendments eviscerated the powers of the States to function as a counterweight to the Federal Government. The Civil War even removed the right of the people and the States to secede from association with the Federal Government. As a result, power was shifted away from the States and the people to the Federal Government. Within the Federal Government, the careful balance established by the division of powers between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches has been gradually defused amongst all three. The Judiciary and Executive branched now make policy with the force of law. The Judiciary interprets all constitutional questions and applies them to the other branches, the States and the people. The careful balances crafted by the founders have been systematically disassembled, and the associated political power has been shifted further and further to Washington, DC. We the people allowed it, and in some cases actively aided and abetted this shift.
All is not lost, however. There is still time to reestablish the Constitutional balances. The recent defeat of the Immigration Bill provides two lessons: One, we can still get our Representatives to execute our will if we unite and bludgeon them into it. Two, we are nearly to the point where we are in danger of becoming the subjects of a new populist regency. We will have an elected dictatorship of those who pander most to our shortsighted avarice. The people will be left with little more than the ability to elect their choice of dictators. We are not at that point just yet, as our Representatives in the end, bowed to the will of the people. The fact that they nearly did not should serve as a clear warning of how close we are to a complete loss of our power to control the Federal Government.
A recent email exchange I had with a Congressional Aide demonstrates this point. We were discussing the need to rescue Social Security. I had been providing studies and other background materials so that the aide could intelligently brief the Congressman. One statement that the aide made in passing struck me: "Congress is going to have to make some tough decisions shortly. The earlier they tackle the solvency issue, the less painful it will be." Notice that 'Congress' is going to have to make some tough decisions; not the American people. This should serve as a clear indication that we are nearing a point at which the Federal Government will be completely unrestrained by the people.
The Constitution is not a failed document. If there are flaws, the Constitution itself provides for changes. The Founding Fathers were well aware that it was not a perfect document, and so included in Article V two means of modification: Congressional proposals of amendment, and a Constitutional Convention called by the State legislatures. We have seen some of the flaws, such as no clear statements on the right of secession, the limits on judicial interpretation, and the right of the people to adjudge the justice of the law itself, not only the guilt or innocence of the accused. That the Constitution provided a means to fix these types of oversights demonstrates its continued viability.
Erroneously faulting the Constitution for our improper use is equivalent to blaming the handgun for the crimes of a murderer. Our misuse of the tools the Constitution provided has caused a systems failure, however. If we uphold our responsibilities as envisioned by the Constitution, return the power to the States in line with the Constitution, and enforce the division of power within the Federal Government as was intended, we can correct the systems failure and re-invigorate our Constitutional Republic. With the people firmly back at the helm, just as the Constitution intended.

Feb 28, 2007

Global Warming Goes To Washington

(This is a historical piece from February 2007)
I have done a bit of investigation into the Global Warming issue. I studied Physics as an undergrad, and since have avidly followed new scientific discoveries and issues. As I only have a Bachelors degree I should never be confused with a 'real' scientist, but I am sufficiently familiar with the methodology and nomenclature of scientific issues to usually make sense of the arguments and concepts. When the issue of Global Warming first presented itself several years ago, I thought that it was simply another interesting scientific debate. When the 'Blame-it-on-America' doomsayers started crowing it a couple of years ago, I just shook my head in disgust. When the typical political panderers in Washington picked it up, I still though it was nothing to be overly concerned about. But when our President mentioned it in his State Of The Union Address, and new Speaker of the House embraced it last month, that REALLY scared me. It is one thing when competing scientific hypotheses are being debated and potential theories which may address the resultant issues are proposed; but it is an entirely different case when we are debating implementing radical solutions to purely hypothetical problems. It scares me to think that we could have the government trying to fix' it via law-with unanticipated consequences galore.
Remember Global Cooling back in the 1970's? I do. Remember how it was going to require spreading coal dust on the polar ice caps and other extreme--and very, very expensive--solutions just to keep an Ice Age away? Thankfully, we never did any of them. Now, 30 years later, we have Global Warming. I guess all the pundits back then were wrong. Imagine if we had been arrogant enough to take the drastic measures that were recommended at the time? We would now be further destroying our environment and our economy trying to 'fix' our attempts to stop Global Cooling! Do you think they could be wrong again this time with Global Warming? I would say the odds are better than 50/50.
A more realistic view of the current Global Warming argument revolves around the root causes of this particular instance of warming. As you may or may not know, the world temperature is always either going up over time or going down over time. These cycles are spread out over tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. In an entire lifetime, one would hardly notice the changes in the average global temperature. There is no 'right' temperature; no steady-state. The only real distinction for this particular warming trend, is to answer the question of whether it is part of the natural cycle, or has it been caused or exacerbated by changes in the CO2 level as a direct result of recent human activities. Right now, there is an ongoing debate in the scientific community if this period of warming is any different than the hundreds of other warming periods in the earth's geological and climatological history. This question has not yet been answered definitively, and the scientific community is in no way even near consensus.
Even if, however, this question was resolved in favor of the argument for man-made global warming, there are still very serious questions about two aspects of any proposed solutions:
First, do we know enough to implement methods to control the warming without doing potentially catastrophic harm to the earth? The earth is a massively complex interrelated system. It is both delicate and resilient. The system is so complex however, that even in this age of super-computers we cannot build an accurate model, both from a lack of knowledge and a lack of computing power. Could the methods we use to control warming actually cause a massive cooling such as was predicted in the 197's? The general scientific consensus is that, no, we do not yet know enough one way or the other. In other words, we do not yet know enough to make a rational decision; all we can do is guess. The computer models we have and the ones that had to be manipulated to achieve the results in support of any man-made global warming are not accurate enough to predict what is going to happen, much less what will happen from any intervention. It would be nearly criminally irresponsible to start trying to manipulate the delicate climatological balance when we cannot even generate a reliable model of what the impacts would be. We take a--not nominal--chance of upsetting the natural balance and turning the Earth into something like Venus. I personally would not like that, how about you?
Second, since we do not know what will be required to reduce warming without upsetting this delicate balance, we also do not know enough to judge effectively the economic versus environmental tradeoffs that would be required. For example, if the consequences of doing nothing are environmentally near zero, would we want to pay an economic cost of a global depression? We cannot judge the worth of a solution without first having at least some idea of the costs, benefits, and risks. Again, we just don't know enough, and good decisions cannot be made with incomplete, doctored, or faulty data; even if one lives in D.C.!
So far as the Kyoto Agreement is concerned, the best estimates I have seen predict a potential reduction of the global average temperature by 0.04 degrees will have little to no real effect, and will likely cost some trillions of dollars. That minuscule predicted reduction is assuming the signatory countries actually fully implement the required economic modifications. To date, the vast majority have not: Britain, for instance, was targeted to decrease  CO2 emissions by 12%. To date Britain actually increased emissions by 9%. In only the first couple of years, the economic costs have already become much more onerous than anyone initially anticipated. A large group of Canadian climatologists are already petitioning the Canadian government to revoke its agreement to Kyoto.
If this warming trend is not natural and was totally caused by man-made CO2 output increases, or our CO2 production has simply made it worse, we need to look seriously at the issue. Once we know the causes, we can then focus on how to fix it. As is so often being preached, the environmental balance is delicate. It is not something we should attempt to manipulate without knowing exactly what we are doing, and without a good idea of the consequences, both climatologically and economically. Then we can accurately evaluate the tradeoff's required. We need to wait until at the very minimum a preponderance of the experts concur on both the cause(s) and the solution(s) before acting. When we know what we are doing, then we should act resolutely.
Man-made global warming is not a proven fact, and it is far too early to make laws based on guesses which can too easily have unintended and possibly catastrophic consequences. The majority of scientists in applicable fields agree on this much, at least. Global Warming is a serious issue, still deeply entrenched in debate. Doing too much too soon can easily be worse than too little too late.

Feb 6, 2007

Confessions of a Ron Paul Spammer

(This was published by Associated Content)
After all the news stories from online pollsters, radio talkshow hosts, and news people in general stating unequivocally that Ron Paul's domination of online polls on the two Republican Presidential debates is due to "spamming polls on the Internet", I have decided that I must be a Ron Paul Spammer.
There, I admitted it. All the psychologists say that the first step toward a cure is to admit the problem. I guess I will now need to join "Ron Paul Spammers Anonymous"? Does anyone know if there is a chapter in Florida yet? Or is it an online program only? I could always Google it, but I am not sure if Google still allows searches that include the contiguous words 'Ron Paul'. I'll have to try it.
I don't know how this happened to me, really. I used to be just a normal, 50-ish, Republican. Ever since January, though, when Ron Paul announced his Exploratory Committee for President, I just haven't been able to stop myself. I initially attributed it to the elation I felt that a truly principle man had finally entered the Presidential race. Someone who stands by and defends the US Constitution as I did when I was in the Military. But my fervor has continued, unabated, and I find myself spending more and more time working to support Ron Paul, both online and in real life. I still find it hard to believe however, that ardently supporting someone on the internet who represents my values could be considered spam by anyone.
Spam--at least according to the American Heritage Dictionary--is an "Unsolicited e-mail, often of a commercial nature, sent indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals, or newsgroups; junk e-mail." In Wikipedia it is defined as "the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages, which are generally undesired. While the most widely recognized form of spam is email spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, mobile phone messaging spam, internet forum spam and junk fax transmissions. Spam is also called junk mail."
I'm a spammer, alright. I have sent emails to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Larry Kudlow, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and others regarding comments on their programs about or relating to Ron Paul and his positions. I doubt they wanted them. I am active online, and I have voted in numerous polls. In fact, we Ron Paul activists have several eGroups that we use to disseminate information about polls just so we can vote in them. So far as my personal behavior, I vote in them. Once. No bots, no electronic assistance of any kind. The same old, go to the website and 'click'.
Well, I must admit that I have cheated twice: The first time, I was confused by the 'slider bars' on the MSNBC site after the first Republican debate in California; Before I knew it, I had voted 'neutral' on all the candidates. Since the site prevented me from changing my vote or voting again, I got on my daughter's computer and voted the way I really wanted. The second time was after the South Carolina debate, when I voted via Text Message: I punched in the message the first time and got no response, so I voted again about 20 minutes later just in case I sent the wrong number or something. I only got one 'thank you' message, so either they had it covered, or I did send it incorrectly. I guess that is spamming, too.
Or could it be that most of Ron Paul's support actually is on the internet? Regular people, who have access to a computer, and can actually voice their opinions? They don't need a lot of money and can't be considered pundits in the sense that they have wide influence with the media. Just average Americans, who think that this country is going in the wrong direction. Those who read and understand the Constitution, and still consider themselves--The People--to be the sovereigns of this country. Those who do not think that they are well served by the people that purportedly represent them in Washington D.C. Look at percentage of people who don't vote in this country: do they abstain because they must choose between bad and worse? The people I have spoken with that support Ron Paul are from every party and no party. Some haven't voted for years because they consider it a waste of time. These are the people who are 'fired up' and out there voting in every poll. They want Ron Paul.
So the question becomes, are we spammers because we are active, or because we have some sinister technology that allows us to defeat all the software engineers and security experts deployed to prevent just such abuses? Or are we simply more widespread and conveying a message that is considered 'undesirable' by all the pundits? Both, by definition, are spam, but the latter is also quintessential to the concept of being an American.
Since I don't have any technological miracles, it must be becuase I an active online and I support Ron Paul. I think I will skip the next Spammers Anonymous meeting, as I see I have a few polls I haven't voted in yet...