|June 30, 2015||The Agitator #175: The unmaking of America||no comments|
|June 24, 2015||The Agitator #174: Presidential timber made of balsa wood||2 comments|
|June 18, 2015||The Agitator #173: The new face of chutzpah||3 comments|
|June 09, 2015||The Agitator #172: It's MY right!||3 comments|
|June 02, 2015||The Agitator #171: Mr. Lee's latest folly||1 comments|
|May 27, 2015||The Agitator #170: Which is it?||1 comments|
|May 20, 2015||The Agitator #169: We have become a SECULAR nation!||no comments|
|May 12, 2015||The Agitator #168: The Constitutionalists||no comments|
|May 06, 2015||The Agitator #167: The making of a statesman||no comments|
|April 29, 2015||The Agitator #166: A different culture war||no comments|
If I had just landed in America from another planet and had no knowledge of the American Constitution or the country’s history, I would wonder if I arrived at a very bad time. After seeing and reading all the media reports about last week’s two major Supreme Court decisions, I’d have to reconsider whether to leave before it was too late.
First, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal faction of the court to uphold federal health insurance exchanges, which in effect means that the Affordable Healthcare Act is here to stay---plus or minus any tinkering over the next few years. This was a statutory interpretation decision, not one based on the Constitution, and my reading and understanding of the guidelines that the High Court follows in these instances is that Roberts played by the rules.
Yet the conservatives are apoplectic that Roberts has sold them out, that he is another liberal activist judge, another judge who legislates from the bench. I won’t disagree with some of that argument, especially Roberts’ clearly activist opinion in Citizens United, the case that has all but eliminated campaign spending limits. But nary was an objection heard from conservatives when Citizens United was decided.
In February of this year the Supreme Court tossed the criminal conviction of a Louisiana fisherman who threw overboard his undersized catch after being ordered by a law enforcement officer to preserve the fish while piloting his boat into port. The fisherman was charged with a provision in the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) statute pertaining to the destruction of evidence. The Supreme Court ruled that SOX was never intended to reach down to such misconduct, to go beyond financial fraud,---even though the statute itself provided no such limitation. Roberts was in the majority, and fellow conservative Anthony Alito wrote a concurring opinion. The conservatives who think that the federal government has been overreaching for years, were delighted with the decision. But intellectual honesty and consistency should have had them crying foul.
Conservatives weren’t even able to catch their breath when the day after the ACA opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriages were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. Hysteria is what followed. Many clergymen see it as the apocalypse, that their constitutional rights under the First Amendment are being infringed, that their beliefs are under attack, that supporters of gay rights are intolerant---never mind that it is illegal to discriminate in housing and employment against someone because of their faith---a protection not provided to gay people.
Locally, the Reverend Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, along with others, expressed concern that they could be prosecuted for not performing gay weddings. Where they got that idea from is one I am still trying to figure out. Considering that no member of the clergy has ever been required to perform any marriage against their beliefs, what would change? What is the source of this absurd misunderstanding of their First Amendment rights? Why do some Christians think that the First Amendment should only reflect their religious beliefs and not those of others? And no, I don’t see a movement to pass laws allowing for polygamy, marrying animals, or being allowed to marry someone ten years old.
Could churches lose their tax exempt status if they didn’t perform gay marriages, another concern of the hysterical minded? My best guess is no, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if they did. For starters, there is no constitutional right to it. I, and others who share my beliefs, resent having to make up for the taxes houses of worship don’t pay for services that they receive, but I also know that the emotional arguments on this one will supersede any rational discussion.
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that he would issue some kind of order that would effectively nullify the court’s decision. I assume that it is something new, because I am totally unaware of a president being able to ignore the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Richard Nixon preceded Huckabee in learning that lesson. Then there is the Texas Attorney General who has said that he will provide legal counsel to any government clerk that refuses to issue a marriage license based on his or her religious beliefs. What has this country come to? One has to ask how that kind of legal nonsense would fly if we had to immediately impose a military draft, and anyone could be immediately exempted by just declaring that they didn’t believe in war. The AG’s position also hasn’t worked for folks who have conscientious objections to paying taxes that support one cause or another at odds with one’s religious convictions.
I detest many of the laws and court decisions that I am obligated to obey. But I do it without reservation as part of the social contract we adhere to if we are to survive as a nation. We comply with the rule of law to prevent anarchy. There are mechanisms to change the law and Constitution, and admittedly the processes aren’t easy, but they exist and changes have been made. When any government official takes an oath to support, preserve and defend the Constitution, his fingers aren’t crossed where he silently whispers some self-declared exception. It is immoral to swear such oath and then arbitrarily decide that you hold allegiance to some other unspecified authority. No one makes anyone run for public office or work for the government on any level.
Our country will survive and be better in the long run extending liberty to a group of people who know a lot more about intolerance than the “victimized” clergy. This marriage decision will have no impact on anyone’s individual beliefs. And I am quite sure that there are many houses of worship that will use this decision to proselytize new members. I am fine with that. After all, in addition to the tax exemptions they get, there are a lot of parishioners who are slackers, who don’t pay their fair share, so this could be a win-win for churches. They just need to give it time to figure it out.
For a few days the media had a blast with Donald Trump’s announcement that he was joining other Republicans to be a candidate for president. He probably figured out that this was his last chance since he just turned 69, and that it was the voters’ last chance to acknowledge that he is America’s savior. Many consider him a clown, and considering some of his statements, it’s probably not an unfair moniker. But putting aside whether Trump deserves to be called one, there are other reasons to ask why anyone would take this guy seriously.
Trump is a Queens native who apparently had some difficulties when he was in his yoooot (that’s “youth” in New Yorkese---see “My Cousin Vinnie”). He finished high school at New York Military Academy located just north of West Point, a then prestigious school for those needing some extra attention and adjustment. He graduated from the Wharton Business School and then joined his father’s real estate business.
Nowhere in Trump’s bio do you find that Trump served in the military during the Vietnam draft era. For those who have hung with me these past four years and read my blogs, you know that I consider any conservative of draft age during that time who avoided wearing the uniform, to be a phony hypocrite. I have to ask where the “lame stream” media has been to query Trump about his deferments after his 2-S student deferment expired, and why he didn’t volunteer to serve this country then that he so badly wants to serve now. Fox News might want to ask the same questions since they are the only “fair and balanced” media we have in America today to rely on for the truth.
Since Trump is a member of the Party of Family Values, I find it astonishing, but shouldn’t, that the usual voices who speak for Christians haven’t denounced Trump for his three marriages, especially since he has been known as a serial philanderer, and that in each re-marriage he has traded up (or down depending on your perspective) by marrying a much younger woman. In light of all the noise from the Christian Right about gay marriages, one would think that they would be just as loud about condemning someone who clearly violates Biblical commandments.
If one can get past these issues (non-issues to some), it gets even more interesting. Trump talks about taking out ISIS, building a wall on the Mexican border that the Mexicans will pay for, reigning in the Chinese on trade issues, be the greatest jobs creator in history, and a passel of other hot issues. What he doesn’t say is where the money would come from to execute all his great ideas. Nor does he say how he would motivate the Congress to act on his grandiose visions.
It’s too bad Eisenhower isn’t alive to advise him. Ike, who actually was a war hero and knew a little bit about when and how to engage your enemies, could teach Trump a few things from real experience that Trump wouldn’t know about. Ike would also tell the Great Dreamer that as President of the United States, he has to convince a majority of 535 legislators, none of whom answer to the president, that they should follow him.
Some of Trump’s admirers like his “passion.” They like his tough talk. They like the fact that he will stand up to our enemies, that he is fearless, that he is what this country needs. But at the end of the day he is totally unproven in the political realm. He has no record of having ever run anything except as the CEO where he had a lot of power, power that is not analogous to being president.
I will concede that Trump would make a good president if he was running for the job in Russia. Then he could bully his way into doing what he wants, pick and choose which laws to observe, jail or kill his opponents, and be the dictator that Putin has become. Makes me wonder if Putin is his role model.
There is a well-known anecdote that best defines the word “chutzpah” about the young man who murders his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court pleading that he is an orphan. Maurice “Hank” Greenburg may be the new face of chutzpah to describe his shameless and audacious lawsuit against the government.
Greenburg is the former CEO of AIG (American International Group), the large insurance company that the taxpayers bailed out to the tune of $85 billion during the financial crisis that began in 2007. AIG had insured vast numbers of the worthless collateralized debt securities (CDS) that brokers put together from the purchase of mortgages from lenders that were only too happy to transfer the debt. After all, lenders didn’t care if a borrower was qualified for a loan because the housing market was going to go up in value indefinitely, and they wouldn’t be stuck with any bad paper if they miscalculated. But miscalculate they did, and it led to the Great Recession.
When those holding the CDS fell back on their insurance with AIG, it turned out that AIG couldn’t even come close to covering the losses. CDS weren’t regulated by the federal government, and you can attribute the lack of regulation to the moneyed interests that were able to keep our elected representatives from passing regulations that would have prevented the crisis. Why not? Our Republican officials repeatedly tell us that we need less regulation, that it would be good for business, that it would grow America’s economy. AIG was living proof of what prosperity looks like---until the house of cards collapsed.
The Bush and Obama administrations saw the looming worldwide financial catastrophe if AIG failed, if it could not meet its obligations. To prevent this from occurring the government took over eighty percent of the company’s interest with an $85 billion infusion of cash that grew to $185 billion and ninety-two percent government ownership .
What’s important to note is that many pension funds, municipalities, investors, and private individuals had money tied up in what they believed was guaranteed because of AIG. The ripple effect of letting AIG go under would have trickled down to countless households. As distasteful as the bailout was, and there were good arguments against it, it did have the desirable result of preventing things from becoming exponentially worse.
Greenberg and his fellow shareholders were not happy about the bailout, alleged that the government took their interests without just compensation, and sought $40 billion in compensation from the taxpayers. Never mind that AIG would almost certainly have gone bankrupt had the government not stepped. (AIG has since repaid the money, and the government has sold its shares.) In the U.S. Court of Claims, a judge ruled that the government had overreached, but that Greenberg, et al are entitled to no damages. Greenberg has stated that he will appeal the decision.
Greenberg is someone that earned what he got the old fashioned way: he worked for it. He is a decorated soldier who served in combat in WW II. Somewhere along the way, though, his moral compass began to only point south. It became all about him and the money. He is only the most recent to make a public fool of himself, to spit in the face of the taxpayers who rescued his company. I recall Rush Limbaugh defending bankers that took taxpayer bonuses from bailout money because their employment contracts included bonus provisions.
I wonder how many of these low-lifes, the Greenbergs and their ilk, can justify their hypocrisy of taking public money after they were outed as proven failures. They are also probably among those who criticize the down and out who get crumbs from government programs like food stamps. Corporate welfare for them, cake for the suckers who are stuck with the bill. And so far not a peep from any elected official about the attempted raid on the public treasury.
(A shout-out to Pat, a reader of this blog who came over to me at the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association lunch on Tuesday, to say that she enjoys my commentaries. Pat is a woman who served in Vietnam, and I appreciate knowing that there are some like-minded thinkers in Cobb County who didn’t stay at home during the war. I also am heartened that there are now nine people in Cobb County who share some of my world view. Thank you, Pat!)
Last week Georgia’s “guns anywhere” law, enacted in 2014 and applicable to airports, was tested at Hartsfield-Jackson IA. A Second Amendment Advocate paraded through the airport with an AR-15 and hundred round drum. This man seemed troubled that the police would dare ask him any questions about sporting the weapon in such surroundings, that as long as he had a legal right to possess it where he did and otherwise didn’t create any sort of suspicion of doing something wrong, he should have been left alone.
First, a police officer has as much right to ask someone a question as anyone else. If the person isn’t being detained in the legal sense, then he can walk away. So like it or not, the police have First Amendment rights, too. So many people who are absolute about defending the Second Amendment are less than supportive of other of our constitutional rights. I shake my head in amazement every time someone exercises his right to remain silent or right to counsel, and so called “constitutionalists” will say that if the person had nothing to hide he wouldn’t hide behind those rights. Lois Lerner, formerly with the IRS, is just one high profile person who comes to mind concerning this, but it happens daily throughout the country.
I can’t argue with the guns everywhere law other than to disagree with it. I wonder how high the paranoia index would go up if a couple of hundred people carried one of these firearms into the rotunda or other crowded surroundings. If just one of these carriers let loose, accidently or intentionally, one can imagine what would happen next. The math isn’t complicated---there would be a lot of bullets let loose very quickly. Those with law enforcement and combat experience well know the confusion that follows from the suddenness of a weapon going off, the incredibly loud noise, the smoke, and panic. In the mix of all that, there may be others carrying concealed weapons who probably wouldn’t have any idea who the one bad guy is out of the mass chaos and would likely be returning fire wherever they thought the shots were emanated.
Being around guns the better part of my life, one thing that I have learned from personal experience is that even trained people can make mistakes. I was present when an FBI agent, inside an office, fired a weapon that he thought was unloaded. I almost lost a foot from an accidental discharge on my Swift Boat when one of my crew members pulled the trigger on an M-16 without meaning to. A similar incident happened on the firearms range. Ask any law enforcement officer, and my guess is that each can tell stories about accidental discharges. How many recall the Cobb County firearms instructor, in a firearms class, who killed a police recruit by accident? The story is not unique.
Yet lawmakers who support the “guns anywhere” law somehow feel justified in restricting firearms at places like the state capitol and Cobb County government buildings, provided that a screening process is in place. In other words, if all guns, excluding law enforcement, are barred in these places, then it’s okay. Looking back at some of the more recent mass shootings, they have occurred mostly in restaurants, schools, and college campuses, but much fewer in government buildings where everyone is screened. Why don’t the representatives who support such liberal firearms carry laws just carry their own weapons to their government offices and eliminate the cost of all the metal detectors and extra police security? After all, the one thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun--at least that’s what we are told.
On May 27th, the MDJ published a letter from Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, in which Mr. Lee explained why he supports the construction of a fitness center for county employees. As has become Mr. Lee’s wont, we are once again told that it won’t cost the taxpayers any money. Cobbians by now are used to Mr. Lee’s ability to build a stadium, a bridge, a bus rapid transit system, hire a new aide at a six figure salary---and more---all without any additional revenue. (To be clear, I don’t oppose much of what Mr. Lee wants to do for the county; I oppose his obfuscations and other tactics to achieve his goals.)
Mr. Lee cites some figures to support his argument that healthcare costs have dropped since the county implemented a “comprehensive wellness program.” My first question is whether we are talking about correlation or causation. How many employees are taking advantage of the program? Are they adhering to nutrition and exercise regimens that I assume professionals in the health field have provided to each employee? Are there records to show what percentage of employees have taken advantage of the wellness program, and is the county recording whether each employee is following the regimen?
In building the fitness center, has any thought been given to liability issues? Will there be someone available in case of a medical emergency? Has the county attorney provided an opinion concerning whether an individual can legally waive any negligence that could occur associated with the center or its equipment? Will there be a way to monitor and record who uses the facility in case of a medical emergency or a later legal claim for an injury? Every gym I have ever belonged to does this. At the McCleskey-East Cobb YMCA, I have been present on any number of occasions when there was a medical emergency. Staff immediately provided help and called 911, which never failed to respond within minutes.
In the Marietta area you can’t throw a stone without hitting a gym or fitness center. Membership fees are all over the map, but there is a facility that will fit any interested person’s budget and needs. It would seem to make financial sense to not only let county employees decide what is most suitable for them, but also to help our local businesses who pay a lot of taxes to our community.
My guess is that Mr. Lee is not very familiar with the culture attending gym/fitness center memberships. I have been a gym rat for 40 years, starting in Greenville, SC, Manhattan, Atlanta, and the YMCA in Marietta. There is a common denominator to all of them: only serious people regularly use the facilities. January is always crowded because of the Christmas gifts and New Year’s resolutions, but invariably the overwhelming majority of new members quickly drop off. Considering that the Cobb fitness center that Mr. Lee is building will draw from a relatively small number of people, you can almost bank on it that the center will be empty or hardly used most of the time.
If Mr. Lee was really all that concerned about health and fitness, he would put the money toward upgrading or providing equipment for police and firefighters. First of all, their jobs demand that they be fit, and it is fair for the taxpayers to help them achieve that goal. Also, with the odd hours these first responders work, it makes sense to have facilities at their stations and precincts. And these folks do work out and do maintain fitness. They know that their lives and other people’s lives may depend on it.
Mr. Lee, allow me to suggest looking into a YMCA membership for yourself. You are eligible for the senior discount, which is substantial, and you have so many options to choose from to get into shape. Rebecca Shipley is the Y director, a fellow Marietta Kiwanian, who I’m sure would be glad to talk to you. I would guarantee that if you took it seriously you would drop down a few suit sizes.
Construction of the Keystone Pipeline was hugely controversial during the 2012 presidential election and for some time afterwards. It seems like a year or more has passed without much, if any mention of it. There were so many issues associated with the pipeline that I could only wonder how many lawyers joined the one percent class.
Very briefly, TransCanada, a Canadian energy company, has wanted since 2005 to build an oil pipeline from Alberta to the gulf coast where there are a number of refineries. Proponents argued any number of reasons in support to include safety, speed, lower cost to move oil, helping to make us energy independent, and the creation of lots of temporary and permanent jobs. Opponents countered with concerns about the environment, substantially fewer jobs than projected, that most of the oil would not go to the U.S. but into the world market, and the very unpopular taking of land from farmers in the U.S. through the legal process of eminent domain.
I suspect that the issue that strikes closest to home, especially Republicans, is eminent domain. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo vs. City of New London, upheld the constitutional power of the government to take the home of a longtime owner and transfer ownership to a private entity that would develop the land and increase the tax base. Many states thereafter passed laws to limit the power of governments to exercise such property seizures. Georgia was one of them.
I had many discussions with conservatives about Keystone. All supported building the pipeline for the aforementioned reasons. When I asked about the farmers who would be affected, the response was, in effect, that the greater good superseded their property interests. Too much upside, not enough downside, they said.
Now comes a similar situation, but one close to home. Actually, it strikes directly at home---our state of Georgia. The AJC reported a week ago that Texas based Kinder-Morgan wants to build a 360 mile pipeline from Jacksonville, FL to a storage facility in Belton, SC. Many of the same arguments in support of the Keystone pipeline were used in this instance.
Keep in mind that many of our own elected officials on the state and federal levels were behind Keystone, bashed Obama unmercifully for opposing it, but now are on the other side.
The Georgia Department of Transportation, according to the AJC article, stated…”’that there is substantial evidence showing that the pipeline would not constitute a public convenience or necessity.”’ “It said there is little evidence of increasing fuel demand in Georgia despite a growing population, and it questioned whether the pipeline would reduce the price of fuel in the region.” It appears that the opponents have adopted many of the same points that the Keystone opposition had articulated.
I hear frequently that there are certain litmus issues that identify one as a conservative, and failing the test either makes one a RINO, liberal, progressive, or Democrat. I want to go back to my Republican roots, but am confused by conflicting ideologies that seem to depend more on whose ox is being gored at the moment than on intellectual honesty and consistency. The Keystone versus Kinder-Morgan controversies is one case in point. The other is the conservative support (not all) for taxpayer money to support a multi-billion dollar business, one that is highly successful and profitable---the Atlanta Braves move to Cobb County---just because of the “promise” of how it will lift all boats with the high tide of money expected from the Braves. Conservatives seem to love free markets as long as it serves their personal purposes.
How many people even know about the Georgia pipeline proposal? How many editorials from conservative media have opined about it? Same for the tax subsidies for the Braves. I haven’t figured out a name yet to describe the counterpart of the pejorative “lame stream” media to represent the voices of silence from the conservative side. In the meanwhile, the silence continues to be deafening.
We are a nation that is predominantly Christian, but we are not a Christian nation. On each occasion that I took an oath---the Navy, NC State Bar, FBI, and probably a few others---I swore allegiance to the Constitution, not a deity. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a mention of God or Jesus Christ. Article VI states that no religious test shall be required to hold public office. And a person can affirm his oath, where called for, vice swearing on a Bible. The First Amendment and its many Supreme Court interpretations don’t allow for a state religion found in many countries. Pretty basic stuff.
In recent years we are hearing from conservative alarmists that the U.S. is becoming a “secular” nation. Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Herman Cain are among those who seem to think that this is a new development, that it is bad for our country. Perhaps if they read and understood that the First Amendment embodies freedom of conscience, that the government’s role with regard to religion is neutrality, they would appreciate the wisdom and foresight of our Founding Fathers.
Georgia Republicans, although not including Governor Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, now want to turn the First Amendment and history on its head. The federal law enacted in 1993, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was passed to protect individuals and religious entities from the government. Other federal and state laws, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ban discrimination by businesses engaged in interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has applied a very broad interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause to these laws so that its sweep protects discrimination against race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, and sex.
State Senator Josh McKoon and State Representative Sam Teasley want to change all that, despite their protests to the contrary, by passing a religious freedom law that would provide an affirmative defense to a business owner that refused service to anyone because of honestly held religious convictions. Deal and Ralston have insisted that any such law must contain an anti-discrimination clause, something that the two representatives argue against with the best of sophistic reasoning.
There are those who believe that the proposed law is nothing more than a shield to discriminate against gays, largely in anticipation of the forthcoming Supreme Court decision that could legitimize gay marriages. They are probably right in my opinion. But the door could swing wide open to discriminate, for religious reasons, against all sorts of people. How about fundamentalist Christians who adhere strictly to Jesus’ words about divorce. Imagine if couples that fell outside the Biblical admonition were refused all kinds of service because of a provider’s beliefs? Could an Orthodox Jewish or Muslim checkout clerk at the grocery store refuse service to someone wanting to buy pork or alcohol, and defend against being fired for insubordination based on their religious convictions? Living in a metropolitan area might provide choices on where to shop and seek services. It could a nightmare for consumers who live in rural communities, particularly if their transportation options are limited or non-existent.
Some think it okay for a Christian pharmacist to be able to withhold selling an abortifacient or birth control pills to someone who has a legitimate need, but it’s not okay for a Muslim cab driver to pass by riders who are carrying containers of liquor brought back from a cruise. I actually heard the “react”, Laura Ingraham, assail the Muslim drivers who were doing nothing more than practicing their beliefs.
McKoon’s and Teasley’s law would have a provision that a compelling state interest overrides an individual’s right to discriminate or to harm someone based on a religious belief. Consider, though, how the courts would be flooded with cases trying to decide what in each instance is a compelling interest. Our country has come a long way in establishing rights that weren’t in the original Constitution. Slavery is gone. Women’s suffrage is protected by an amendment, and historic forms of discrimination have been banned. Our economy has become so much stronger because of anti-discrimination laws, laws that include, not exclude. We are a better nation for it. We don’t need to go back in time.
I’m not sure when I first heard someone say they were a “constitutionalist”, but my first memory of it has been within the past ten years. A local political activist claimed to be one, and I asked what it meant. He replied that it is about adhering strictly to the Constitution, although he did not use the term strict constructionist.
Conservatives love to attack what they perceive as judicial activism, but for some inexplicable reason, activism to them only comes from liberal judges appointed by Democrats. While liberals will vociferously disagree with a decision, their criticism is largely directed at a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law. Admittedly, that criticism can be intended as honest disagreement or willful intent to arrive at a predetermined outcome.
Ask a constitutionalist about the Citizens United case that opened the floodgates to money in political campaigns, and they have no problem finding money and speech going hand in hand even though the word money, or an inference of it, nowhere appears in the First Amendment. Conversely, the words “separation of church and state” don’t appear in the First Amendment, but constitutionalists are fond of saying that they do appear in the old Soviet constitution. Despite the fact that religious freedom was circumscribed by our colonial history, articulated by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 in a Letter to the Danbury Baptists, constitutionalists will argue that Jefferson wasn’t at the Constitutional Convention. True, he wasn’t. But he was a Founding Father, and he did communicate from France during the convention with James Madison, a fellow Founding Father and like-minded thinker who is considered the father of the Constitution.
Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” Ask three constitutionalists what due process means, and my bet is that you will get three different definitions. Yet it’s a fundamental right appearing in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Same for explaining interstate commerce. These are just a few examples of many terms and phrases that are not defined in the Constitution, and why we have judges and justices that we trust to bring to bear their honest interpretation of what these things mean.
Among the growing lineup of Republican candidates for president in 2016, we have Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. Huckabee is a former governor, and Carson is a highly esteemed surgeon with no political experience whatsoever. Both have demonstrated that they have no understanding of the Constitution or the Separation of Powers (another term that we associate with the Constitution but which does not appear in it).
Each has stated that the Supreme Court doesn’t make law, that it only interprets it, that only the Congress can enact legislation. Somewhere along the way they missed Fundamentals of American History 101 that began in elementary school and continued through college, that the Supreme Court’s rulings on the Constitution are the law of the land. It’s called Judicial Review, and has been part of our legal structure since 1803. We all have different opinions that we don’t like that emanate from the Supreme Court, but as Justice Robert Jackson said about the court, “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”
Huckabee and Carson fear that next month the Supreme Court could rule that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the validity of gay marriages. Yet both think that Congress can overturn such Constitutional decision, or any other that they have disagreement, with legislation. That argument failed when we had our Civil War, and it failed again in 1957 when Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to Central High School in Little Rock to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.
Whether one prefers a president who is not a lawyer, not a “career politician”, or someone else not of mainstream thinking, is a fair argument. What seems odd is that there are constitutionalists who think that the likes of Huckabee and Carson would be a breath of fresh air, that they would appoint like-minded justices, and selectively execute laws to return us to our Constitutional roots---whatever that means. As I see it, this kind of atavistic thinking would bring us back to different times, times that we have gotten through because we had clearer heads than what we may be choosing from in less than two years.
Until a few years ago I believed that the ballot box was the best way to impose term limits on our elected representatives. Good arguments can be made for the voters to decide whether it’s time for their representatives to go home. Among the more persuasive include that you don’t want bureaucrats who are career civil service appointees being the de facto power in Washington or Atlanta. It takes time to learn the political lay of the land and how to navigate it, and by the time an official is comfortable with it, his time may be up.
In recent years I’ve come to the conclusion that term limits by ballot box is nice in theory, that it is just one moving part in a complicated machine that drives our democratic system, and that the other moving parts are what makes this component ineffective.
The most destructive part in the engine of democracy is our campaign finance system. If you don’t have money the odds are good that you are going nowhere no matter how qualified you are, no matter the strength of your character, your education, experience, and if you earned the Medal of Honor. Yes, there are notable exceptions, but those exceptions are the rarities. In Georgia, Sonny Perdue overcame having no cash, and Guy Milner couldn’t overcome being a loser despite his deep pockets.
Campaign finance reform is desperately needed, but in light of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have opened the floodgates to money, it would probably take a constitutional amendment to achieve meaningful change. The odds of that happening are slim to none. The situation is so bad at present that when presidential candidates fly to Las Vegas to meet one on one with Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate billionaire to get his blessing---and his money---what possible chance does anyone have who doesn’t measure up to this man? Well, they can always appeal to the Koch Brothers, who also hold tryouts to narrow down their choice, and failing that there are other tycoons to appeal to. But you won’t see candidates going out of their way to meet with the average Joe in a community Q & A setting.
I have no problem with politicians who change their views and positions based on facts or other legitimate considerations that contradict what they once believed. What is difficult, though, is figuring out whether the changes are sincere or expedient. Hillary Clinton supported the passage of DOMA (the federal law that allowed states not to recognize gay marriages performed in other states) when her husband was president, and she voted for the resolution to go to war with Iraq in 2003. There are reasons to conclude that her change of heart on both are insincere. Same for Mitt Romney’s seismic changes about gay marriages, embryonic stem cell research, and compulsory participation in a health insurance program. In each instance appealing to deep pockets probably led to the epiphanies.
A recent story in the news reported that the hotel industry is very unhappy with the new five dollar per night room tax to help pay for the Georgia transportation bill just passed by the General Assembly. The article stated that the association of hoteliers plans to pour money into the campaigns of our state representatives next year to get this provision repealed. Normally moneyed interests support like-minded candidates, but in this instance the money is going to the opposition to persuade them to change their minds. Is it unfair to call this legalized bribery?
I am fairly convinced that if we place term limits on our elected representatives, when they hit their last terms in office, they will no longer have financial incentives to vote one way or the other. At this juncture they can vote their conscience without fear of election retribution. This may be just one solution towards ameliorating the out of control money in politics, but without any change in the current system we will continue to get the best people that money can buy. And those politicians will always serve their benefactors. The tax code is Exhibit A in making my point.
Of course there are always going to be other problems created by term limits. One of the obvious is for a special interest to tacitly ensure that a retiring politician has a sinecure waiting for him when he leaves office. For the time being, though, I am comfortable taking it one step at a time, and that first step would be to limit a public official’s time in elected office. We might actually witness the making of a statesmen.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week concerning legalizing and recognizing gay marriages. There are some conservatives who are apoplectic at the thought that marriage might be redefined in a way that goes against their religious views. Then again, in other times in our nation’s history, there were those who also believed that the Bible justified slavery, and that the nation would suffer God’s wrath if the races were allowed to mix and marry.
The good news is that the United States is still going strong despite the never ending cultural wars. Some believe that permitting gay unions and/or marriages, and the legalization of abortion have already brought God’s vengeance on the United States. Recall that the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said that we got what we deserved after 911 because of these two issues, feminism, and other social changes in our society.
Personally, I could care less what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes. No clergy can be forced to perform a gay marriage any more than a Catholic priest can be forced to officiate at the wedding of a couple in which one or both are divorced. I don’t see a slippery slope, as many prominent Christians claim will occur, if gay marriages are legalized. Polygamy, marrying children or even animals isn’t about to happen. There are legitimate state interests that would override such concerns.
For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over gay marriages and abortion, I remain mystified how in reality it would affect any religious believer’s personal life. Yet the scare talk, the fear mongering and appeal to the basest of emotions continues full bore.
In my book the real culture war lies with very different issues. How about the thieves of Wall Street that led to the 2008 financial crisis? Do you hear much talk from the pulpits around the country concerning respected people in communities who commit white collar crimes that devastate large numbers of victims? Not really. I still shake my head in disbelief that Rush Limbaugh defended corporate executives who claimed that the taxpayers owed them bonuses when their financial institutions were bailed out---never mind that they would have gotten nothing but for the bailouts.
Financial greed of all sorts is endemic in our country. The number of people convicted of inside trading probably only scratches the surface. Same for mortgage fraud, healthcare fraud, tax fraud, government contract fraud, and countless other non-violent crimes committed by people we trust. And I include many of our public officials on the federal, state and local levels who undermine the citizens’ faith in government with their crimes. How about campaign finance laws that have in effect legalized bribery? Where is the outcry from those who claim to support our troops when it comes to pressuring our congressional delegation to fund the Sheppard Spinal Center’s special unit that cares for veterans with serious spinal and brain injuries? Why should this be paid for with private donations? Where is the moral outrage that we send people to war with the best weapons but don’t follow through with the best tax paid treatment?
These are just some of the issues I see that have a real impact on the lives of all Americans. I don’t worry about people losing sleep over the liberalization of social issues except for those that just feel it’s their duty to control everyone else’s life. But I do worry when people no longer trust our government at all levels, our financial institutions, the unfair tax code, and when we as a people fail to adequately treat our wounded veterans---among so many social ills. This is the other culture war that is largely silent. And that’s too bad.