Monday, August 29, 2011

Andrew Jackson, The Fundamentalist Constitution, and the Balanced Budget Amendment

The idea of the Fundamentalist Constitution predates the Tea Party. In fact, it was one of the streams that swelled into the Tea Party a few years back. The basic idea is that the U.S. Constitution was written by God, is a continuation of the Hebrew Ten Commandments, and should be interpreted in a manner consistent with 18th century American religious thought. Those who subscribe to this view are also related to or known as "originalists" for the Original Constitution, or "tenthers" because they love the 10th Amendment, which of course was not even part of the original Constitution.

That view is easy to critique, yet is becoming increasingly popular because it fits well with the latter day fundamentalist Christian, free-market Money worshipping, God pits every woman against all approach to society beloved by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and other patriarchs of the anti-federal movement.

I already wrote in The Fundamentalist Constitution, The Tea Party, and Federalist 62, that documentation from that era provides no support for the fundamentalist viewpoint. If anything, originalism in its current state makes a mockery of strict construction of the Constitution, which has always had its advocates and is supported, somewhat, in both the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers.

Reading President Andrew Jackson's first State of the Union address to Congress of December 1829, I found some compelling commentary. I am not a fan of Andrew Jackson.

I am writing my Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson mainly to show how unethical the man was, and how that lack of basic human decency has always been at the core of the Democratic Party. Yet politics makes strange bedfellows. Given enough political issues, I am sure to agree with almost everyone on a thing or two. Jackson told Congress:

"I consider it one of the most urgent of my duties to bring to your attention the propriety of amending that part of the Constitution which relates to the election of President and Vice-President. Our system of government was by its framers deemed an experiment, and they therefore consistently provided a mode of remedying its defects."

God, we are told by Creationists, always gets things right the first time. One creation, no experimenting with evolution. If President Jackson was correct that the framers deemed the Constitution, the blueprint for our system of government, an experiment, then the Fundamentalists have two choices. They can say that God foresaw the need for Amendments, as that would give politicians something wholesome to do. Or they could back off the God Wrote It stuff and argue from the traditional, conservative Strict Construction viewpoint, and so not reveal themselves to be lunatics.

Or they could argue that Jackson was wrong. But then they would have to explain why God let Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans and go on to become President.

While I frequently argue that Jackson was wrong on many issues (and a murderer, adulterer, thief, and yes, a man who made money pitting dogs in fights against one another), I would like to point out that, as a child soldier, Jackson fought in the American Revolution. It is what bent him so out of shape as a youth. When the Constitution was ratified in September 1788, young Andrew Jackson was twenty-one years old. He heard the controversy about whether or not to replace the Articles of Confederation with the new Constitution. He became a lawyer, and he came to know several of the Founding Fathers. Unless he had some reason for lying about it, he genuinely believed that Our system of government was by its framers deemed an experiment.

The experimental method has led to some improvements over time. I certainly don't agree with everything the federal government has done or is doing, but I think that abolishing slavery and giving women the vote were experiments that have gone well. As Jackson wished, after President for Life Franklin D. Roosevelt made a mockery of precedent, now Presidents are limited in how long they can hold office.

So I'm not against amendments. I am against a Balanced Budget amendment. Strangely, the originalists in the Tea Party, and most Republican politicians in the House of Representatives, don't like the fact that the Original Constitution does not call for a balanced budget. I guess God forgot to send a Hebrew accountant to the Constitutional Convention to explain the issue.

Instead, Alexander Hamilton got his foot in the door. The man understood high finance the way Ms. Palin understands sled dogs. The way the Bachmann family understands how to shake down the government for money to house orphans. He actually studied how the British banking system and government finance worked. Imagine that. He engineered a starting off national debt by getting the Revolutionary War debts of the States assumed by the Federal Government. They (the States, or at least their politicians) were happy not to have to pay those debts. They were happy to let the Federal Government impose customs duties and taxes on alcohol and tobacco to pay off those debts.

Nevertheless, Andrew Jackson wanted to pay off the national debt that existed when he assumed the Presidency, which was largely a legacy of the War of 1812 and the intervening recession. Fortunately, an earlier Congress had passed a tariff or duty on imports, providing plenty of tax revenue. The debt was under $50 million (that's right, not billion or trillion) at the time, and about $12 million was paid off in 1829.

When the economy is strong, the federal government should spend less than it takes in and pay down the national debt. During recessions the government should spend more than it collects in taxes. That helps balance the business cycles that result from free market capitalism, and yes, it provides pensions for old people and aid to the sick and disabled. Make that into an amendment, and you can have my support.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Republican Hurricane

Imagine what Hurricane Irene how would affect people if the Tea Party - Republican program for dissolving American government were in full effect.

First of all, most people would have had no warning that the hurricane was coming because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would have been shut down. The Tea Party declared it a waste of taxpayer dollars. Sure, private weather companies could exist and tell their private clients that weather was about to go wild, and the Pentagon would continue to be well-funded and would have its own weather monitoring capabilities. But having a government service that efficiently serves everyone without charging ... that would be socialism.

For most people the first signs of Irene would be their cardboard boxes blowing away. The Republicans want to eliminate taxpayer-subsidized housing, Social Security payments, unemployment compensation, and Medicare. They do want to charge enough local taxes to pay police to keep the resulting 60 million homeless Americans out of abandoned structures, so boxes would be the new McMansions. You might think a family of four or even one would provide enough weight to hold down a box home against the wind, but you are forgetting that food stamps, a socialist evil, would have been eliminated. People would be too skinny to weigh down a box against hurricane force winds.

But why worry about the lazy socialist rabble? Republicans would be fine. The rich would have even more money because taxes would be even lower, and no government regulations would prevent them from industriously creating jobs for the unemployed people of India and Africa. Warned by their private weather services, the rich would simply fly their private jets to Texas to enjoy the Perry drought. If they lose a few servants trying to protect their mansions and yachts from the weather, they could be easily replaced.

Their are rich Republicans and their are religious Republicans; that is the alliance that has crushed (in our imaginary scenario) the socialist Anti-Christ. The Religious, non-rich Republicans who could still afford ammunition would be getting out their Vietnamese-made Kalashnikovs and perhaps a few still-functioning American made relics of when guns were still manufactured in the United States, before deregulation. You might think they would be protecting their homes against the 30 million homeless people in the path of the Hurricane.
No, they would be in a sectarian war. With church-state separation gone, inter-Christian tensions would have risen to unforeseen (except by me) heights. The hurricane would be the last straw. It would be clearly caused by a lack of appropriate prayer. The Baptists would accuse the Methodists and Catholics of praying wrong. As soon as the winds slowed the majority religion in each locality would go out armed and demanding conversion or death. Surviving Republicans would flee to their respective religious enclaves.

The economy would spiral into Depression that made the 1930's Depression seem like Happy Days. Even the U.S. military would eventually collapse, unable to pay its troops. States would secede from the union, and localities would secede from states.

It would be God's anarchy. Meanwhile, the socialist, religiously tolerant states of the world would get along just fine (as the Soviet economy did in the 1930s) and historians would write first drafts of The Rise and Fall of the American Empire.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Barack Obama Responds on Nuclear Dangers

President Barack Obama's nuclear nightmare is not that there will be a Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, or Fukushima in the United States during his presidency. He certainly is not worried that his encouraging the building of more nuclear plants will bring disaster in the future. I know, because the President sent me a letter.

This is the letter I sent to President Barack Obama, handwritten, by snail mail:

Dear President Obama,

Please don't wait for an earthquake.

Please order all U.S. nuclear reactors to be shut down as soon as is safely possible.


William P. Meyers

This is the reply I received:

Dear William:

Thank you for writing. I have heard from many Americans who have been affected by natural disasters, and I appreciate hearing from you.

My administration is working every day to ensure our country stands ready to respond to any disaster or emergency. Our goal is a more resilient Nation, one in which individuals, communities, and our economy can adapt to changing conditions, as well as withstand and rapidly recover from a disruption of any kind. I encourage Americans who are directly impacted by natural disasters to visit for up-to-date information and to access current response and recovery information.
Thank you again for writing.


Barack Obama

Link to image of Barack Obama letter to William P. Meyers

In other words, he instructed his staff to duck the issue. The Obama administration is not just one in a long line of administrations that is desecrating American soil with nuclear power plants. By aligning the Democratic Party with the nuclear power industry, he has restarted the building of nuclear plants. What Obama fears is not a lack of support from people like me, but a lack of support from the corporate security state.

Failing to protect workers, extending a counterproductive foreign war, and rolling up his sleeves to help oil and nuclear power corporations destroy the environment, these are the legacies of the Obama administration.

The only real hope within the electoral system is the Green Party. The Green Party of California is launching a registration drive and fundraising drive right now. I'll admit we are weak, but that is because you have wasted your time and donations on the Democratic Party. If those of you who see the solutions to our problems join us, we will be strong. Together we will stop and reverse the damage to the environment. We will create a strong and just economy. We will withdraw from the imperialist system and enjoy the benefits of a peacetime economy.

And we will definately close down all nuclear plants and store all nuclear material in the safest manner scientists can devise.

Note: Nuclear mishaps occur more frequently than most people realize. See List of Civilian Nuclear Accidents

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taxes, the Tea Party, and the English Civil War

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 is celebrated by American historians, and more recently stamped into our minds by the cavorting of our contemporary Tea Party. While certain citizens of Boston in 1773 believed that they could be taxed only by their local representatives, our Tea Party believes, essentially, that all taxes are bad. In effect the Tea Party is a group of right-wing anarchists, for without taxes it is hard to maintain any sort of government whatsoever.

Of the multiple causes of the American Revolution, taxes were important but probably not paramount. National sentiment and desire for self-government were large factors. But there was a fundamental shift in the attitudes of America's elite between 1770 and 1776. Naturally conservative, in 1770 they mainly wanted to be represented in the British Parliament and perhaps even to be blessed by a knighthood. By 1776 the slave masters of the southern colonies did not want their colonies to be on British soil because slavery had been recognized as a fundamental violation of human rights in the ex parte Somersett ruling in English courts. The New England elite, involved in trade and manufacturing, did not like the limits the British Empire set on their business activities.

Whenever there has been taxation, there has been anti-tax sentiment. Many ancient historical texts mention taxes as a cause of rebellions. In the New Testament the Pharisees speak against Roman taxes, but Jesus refutes them. In English history the Peasant Rebellion of 1381 started when a man refused to pay the head tax. Even in Marxism one of the main talking points is that the Capitalist system has an inherent tax on labor (capitalists expropriate the value added by laborers) that can be eliminated by the proletarian revolution.

As precedents for the Tea Party revolt I would submit the events of the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651, which, along with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, was also the main precedent for the American Revolution. I do not mean to imply that the Tea Party will use violence to achieve its ends, though I cannot rule that out.

The English Civil War is often cast as a battle between the mainstream Anglicans, backed up by Roman Catholics, and the Puritans. Leaving that aside, it is cast as king and nobility versus the House of Commons, shortened to Parliament (which also includes the House of Lords). It also is used as an example of a people's revolt turning into a dictatorship, that of Oliver Cromwell.

Consider how all that reflects the changing economics of the 1600s. The hereditary nobility had prospered and become corrupted with greed and gluttony. Attracted to the Puritans were "the soberer part of the nobility ... with the merchant class and the smaller landowners." [1] Their early embrace of thrift and free market economics was reflected in their Presbyterian disdain for religious authorities, Catholic Pope and Anglican bishops alike. Despite the wealth and power of the nobility, many had mismanaged their inheritances, and tended to live on credit. King James I hated both Presbyterian doctrines and the idea that money could be earned by a man's actions, rather than simply inherited.

James I and his son King Charles I asserted the old Catholic idea of the Divine Right of Kings. This was not just a religious idea, but a rational for absolute power. He handed out monopolies in a variety of goods to the king's friends, causing the goods to cost far beyond what they would have been in a free market. Thus the hard work and thrift of the people was eaten up by the monopolies, taxes, and debauchery of the King and Lords. King Charles had originally called the Long Parliament in 1640 specifically to raise more taxes.

When this civil war began, after a long, complex political struggle, all thought it would be decided in a single battle. The first real battle of the war was Edgehill on October 23, 1642. The forces of Parliament did not win a final military victory until 1651. Even then, the Monarchy was restored in 1661.

Every new government finds itself in the position of needing to collect taxes, if only to pay the police and military needed to exert its own authority. Any money the Tea Party saves by dismantling Social Security, food stamps, and other forms of welfare would simply be replaced by the need to pay an army to suppress the hungry and impoverished population.

Even the creation of the U.S. Constitution was primarily about giving the emerging national ruling class the power to collect taxes. To the extent the Tea Party is not just recycled robber baron rhetoric, they should be attacking the Constitution, not waving it like a flag. The Articles of Confederation are much more anti-tax than the Constitution.

To some extent the Tea Party is a political awakening that has been partially diverted to support the corporate security state program. I am glad that Americans are reading our Constitution. It is a short document, more easily read than the Federalist Papers or Anti-Federalist Papers that provide so much context. At the same time, we are no longer a rural nation governed by an aristocracy of slave owners. If anything, we need to amend the Constitution to align it with our modern reality.

1. Locke, J. Courtenay, "Cromwell and the Puritans", chapter 130 of Universal World History, Wm. H. Wise Co., 1937, page 2153.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

China, Aircraft Carriers, and U.S. Bonds

Before getting to the Chinese aircraft carrier issue, let me point out one very important thing missed by almost all commentators.

Osama Bin Laden triumphed, even though he was dead. His secondary goal, after helping to defeat the old Soviet Union, was to defeat the United States. He never expected to invade the U.S. and force everyone to wear beards and turbans. He used his followers' minimal resources to cause an economic and military collapse. The downgrading of U.S. debt (bonds) by Standard & Poor's was a public assessment of the success of Al Qaeda. Americans spent too much energy on global military dominance, too little energy on building a sustainable national economy. We lost, and everyone intelligent now knows we lost. We could still retrieve the situation by using our democratic system to take power away from the ruling corporate security state, but it looks like we are too stupid and lethargic to even do that. So, on to Chinese aircraft carriers.

The cry babies at the Pentagon, led byLeon Panetta, don't want the Chinese navy to have any aircraft carriers. In their minds Chinese aircraft carriers would shift the balance of power in the China Sea and require a buildup of the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific. Which would require a bigger Navy budget.

The real question should be, given the history of China and aircraft carriers, why don't the Chinese already have a half dozen aircraft carriers? The answer is that China has not been a global military aggressor [Yes, I know, Tibetian nationalists and Vietnamese would disagree]. Of course, any country with a military is in some danger of becoming a military aggressor, but the Chinese Communist Party has a much better history of restraint than the United States Democratic Party does.

China, in the later 1800s and early 1920s, was being torn apart by the Great Powers. In 1914, During World War I, a Japanese proto-carrier, the Wakamiya, lowered 4 seaplanes in the sea, which then attacked German forces in Tsingtao (Qingdao), a German colony in China. No matter how you define the term "first aircraft carrier," by the 1920's these ships were being built by all the great powers, including the United States, Britain, Japan and France. By World War II naval battles were largely won or lost by aircraft launched from the carriers. The Barbaric U.S. attacks on Vietnam were also largely carrier-based.

The United States has been bullying nations with its aircraft carrier based terror bombing for closing in on a century now. Who are Barack Obama and Leon Panetta to tell the Chinese they can't have their own aircraft carriers for defense?

If Chinese aircraft carriers are not for defense, why should U.S. aircraft carriers classified as "defensive?" Aren't they inherently aggressive vessels, used only for war crimes? Including the current war crimes in Afghanistan?

If Panetta and the corporate security state he so proudly serves had half a brain left, they would negotiate a global treaty to decommission all aircraft carriers. Then China would not need to build new ones. Then the U.S. might have some money for schools or to invest capital to create jobs. Or to pay off those bonds that Standard & Poor's and others have suggested are less than sterling investments.

See also: history of the aircraft carrier

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Republican, Democratic and Tea Party Debacle

The rhetoric was shrill, but in the end there was much to do about nothing. The federal government has no plan for reviving the economy, and it has no plan for not going bankrupt down the road a few years. But consumers, business decision makers, and bankers were filled with terror throughout July, making the economy worse, not better. A worse economy results in lower taxes and bigger federal deficits, the opposite of what the Tea Party claims to want.

In yesterday's Disecting the Bull blog, Plenty of Stimulus, intended primarily for investors, I argued that the federal stimulus, on the whole, is plentiful.

Unfortunately, Congress and the President, as a whole, have their priorities screwed up.

Military and homeland security spending were exempt from cuts. There are economists who will tell you that military spending creates jobs, but so does make-work spending. The finished goods from military spending create no value. Also, much of the spending goes to troops garrisoned in our overseas empire, rather than into the American economy. Military and homeland security spending do not help the U.S. compete in the international arena against export powers like Germany, South Korea, and China.

Research and development, science, and education are being cut. Can you spell s-t-u-p-i-d? Sure, education money could be better targetted. We have too many English and film majors, not enough people learning technical, business, and science skills. We have way too many high school drop outs.

Regulatory agency budgets are prime targets for cuts. A lot more Americans are going to die because of lack of enforecement of safety rules than could possibly be killed by international terrorists. Banks won't get examined, impure foods will make it to supermarket shelves, passenger planes will crash in mid-air. Thank the Tea Party for that.

What is truly amazing, though, is that nothing is being done about the families being devastated by long-term unemployment. True, at least until the end of 2011 the federal government will continue to extend unemployment benefits to 2 years (most state allow for 6 months, which is fine in a normal economy or mild recession). Unemployment started rising in 2007. Of course there are food stamps, homeless shelters and Medicaid, but unemployed people are economically unproductive. Talent is being wasted when we need to be competing vigorously against the Chinese and Germans. The Republicans pray to their Holy Trinity, gold, free markets, and capitalism, but while the price of gold is up (don't worry, it's a bubble, it will fall again), our free markets have been rather lax at creating jobs.

It CEO's won't hire, government should take action. Here's what an activist President and Congress would do: impose a 95% income tax rate on CEO's of profitable companies that fail to grow their workforces. Include stock options and other benefits when calculating the tax. My guess: full employment by the end of 2011.

Get the housing market started again by allowing the Federal Reserve to loan directly to credit-worthy home buyers at the same interest rates it charges banks. Oh no, that would be socialism! Better depression, suicide, homelessness, riots, and chaos than a bit of healthy socialism.

You can talk about economics, but in the end an economy is just the aggregate of a bunch of human decision makers. You don't want people to be overconfident, or you get bubbles, but you don't want them to be overly cautious either.

The July Debacle did anything but inspire confidence. Hey hey, ho ho, the Tea Party has to go.