Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Constitutional Dichotomy

“What is a Constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental law are established.” Constitutional delegate William Paterson, author of the New Jersey Plan

What does the Constitution mean? What is its purpose? Is it meant to be followed verbatim or is it a living document? With a few inconsequential exceptions, all Americans revere the Constitution. But people see it differently. Very differently.

Tempest at Dawn
National Constitution Center 

Perspectives on the Constitution generally fall into two classes.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Commentary—The Nightmare that is ObamaCare

“It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”—James Madison

Rube Goldberg’s cartoons illustrated insanely complex ways to do simple tasks.  He could have been a congressman. The Affordable Care Act may be the most convoluted and tortuous act ever passed by Congress. It is not a law to resolve an issue; it’s an odd conglomeration of features to garner support or stifle resistance. Political bribes to vote for the bill got stacked on top of each other until they built a leaning Tower of Babel.

The law is so complex that members of Congress didn’t read it, journalist didn’t read it, and even the major architects of the plan never read the complete bill. Nancy Pelosi famously said they had to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. There are nearly half a million words in the bill itself, and government agencies have already issued millions of words enacting regulations. And this doesn’t count the words written to delay, alter, or tweak the plan. And this is only a small fraction of ObamaCare’s 800+ directives to develop and issue regulations. Be prepared for chaos.

There is a reason few have read the law. It’s incomprehensible. Remember when the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the individual mandate. As most people understand the mandate, you either have the minimum allowed coverage or you pay a penalty or tax, depending on the day. Here is a snippet of the text for the individual mandate.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Commentary—Our Healthcare Quagmire

“It is a duty certainly to give our sparings to those who want; but to see also that they are faithfully distributed, and duly apportioned to the respective wants of those receivers.” Thomas Jefferson

There has never been a time in this country where the destitute were denied basic medical care. Doctors made allowances in their billing, and the poor could find hospital care when needed. Prior to 1986 that hospital might not be close by or provisioned with the best doctors and equipment. In those bad ol’ days, the poor were treated at county hospitals. This changed with passage of The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) as part of a larger bill called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, something many of us are familiar with by the name COBRA. (Some politician once muttered that Americans should be fearful of any bill that contained the word Omnibus.)

EMTALA mandated that hospitals provide emergency service to anyone who showed up at their door, regardless of citizenship, legal status, or ability to pay. Any hospital that had ever billed Medicare or Medicaid was required to comply. (Government-run Veteran Hospitals were excluded, of course.) There were no provisions in the bill for any payments to hospitals for these services.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Commentary—A Truly Ugly Precedent

“It has long, however, been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression...that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary;...working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped.” Thomas Jefferson

It’s actually very seldom that a Constitutional issue is pure black and white. Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell (1934), was one of those rare cases. In an attempt to stem home and farm foreclosures, Minnesota passed a law which allowed a mortgagor to pay court determined rent that was set well below the contractual mortgage amount. The mortgage holder could take no foreclosure action while the rent was being paid.

The Constitution reads, “No state shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.” During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, foreclosures were rampant, and several states had passed laws that impaired contracts by forcing debtors to accept purposely inflated state-generated paper money as legal tender. The result of these laws put a stranglehold on credit markets, deepening difficult economic times. The Framers didn't want this to happen again. Their intent—and the wording could not be clearer—was to preclude the exact type of action that was taken by Minnesota.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Learning about the Constitution

We often hear laments that our politicians no longer honor their pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  This is backward.  The Constitution was never written for politicians.  Our political leaders have no motivation to abide by a two hundred year old restraining order.  Americans must enforce the supreme law of the land. The first outsized words of the Constitution read We the People.  It’s our document. It was always meant to be ours, not the government’s.  It is each and every American’s obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

In order to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, Americans need to understand it. Luckily, there are some great learning tools available. These include an online course at James Madison’s Montpelier Center for the Constitution, Hillsdale College Online Courses, Constitutional essays at Constituting America, and several good books, including The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, Tempest at Dawn, and Decision in Philadelphia.

The Center for the Constitution at Montpelier conducts a series of seminars on the Constitution. For those who cannot attend in person, the Center has created a free course on their website. The interactive online course includes text instructions, video discussions with constitutional scholars, and quizzes to test the student’s knowledge. I have taken the first of seven sessions and found it to be accurate, not politicized, and paced to keep the student’s interest. The seminars and online course were originally designed for teachers, but work well for any inquisitive student of the Constitution. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are available after successful completion of the entire course. The course is free, but it cost $25 to claim CEUs.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Review: Mastermind

The many faces of the 9/11 architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
by Richard Miniter

Some like to dismiss our Constitution by saying that it’s too old to deal with things like modern-day terrorism. The Founders had to handle unrest, political intrigue, and treason. Benedict Arnold almost turned over West Point to the enemy. The Newburgh Conspiracy tested Washington’s mettle as a military commander. Shay’s Rebellion is only the best known of the violent protests that spread throughout the newly formed states. James Wilson and about thirty armed friends held off a riot in Philadelphia that could have ended his life before he helped launch a constitutional republic. The Whiskey Rebellion threatened to upend the fledgling republic operating under the newly enacted Constitution. Barbary pirates kept our first three presidents awake at night. The Aaron Burr Conspiracy showed that political intrigue could undermine a budding republic.

These were only some of the more prominent violent protests and near insurrections. The Founders not only understood the frailties of man, they also had personal experience with a few that actually harbored evil intent. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would not have been foreign to their experience.

The Founders on the Economy

Many think the Founding Fathers were a bunch of old-fogies that lived way before iProducts, and have little to contribute in handling modern economic issues. Those people would be wrong. Today’s biggest problem is a stumbling economy that is not generating jobs. This is only the second time that the American economy has not come roaring back after a downturn. The other time, of course, was the Great Depression, when we were following the same economic policies as we are today.

What would the Founders think about our current economic problems? Here is what they said in their own words.
“The pillars of our prosperity are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise.”—Thomas Jefferson 
“The circulation of confidence is better than the circulation of money.”—James Madison 
“A just security to property is not afforded by that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species.”—James Madison 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Commentary: One of the Founders of the Republican Party has some Advice

Elected and established politicians seem to be at loggerheads over the correct course of action. The country is in a dire state of affairs and it may get worse real fast. What to do? Here’s some advice from one of the Founders of the Republican Party and the first Republican president—Abraham Lincoln.
Matthew Brady Photograph
“Right and wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield? Can we cast our votes with their view and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this? 
Let us not grope for some middle ground between right and wrong. Let us not search in vain for a policy of don’t care on a question about which we do care. Nor let us be frightened by threats of destruction to the government. 
Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it!"
This is from a speech Lincoln gave well before his nomination. At the time, he was a little known regional politician from Springfield, Illinois. The Republican Party was new, and had failed running national hero John C. Frémont for president in 1856. Abraham Lincoln chances of ascending to the presidency under a Republican banner were slight. All that changed in New York City on February 27, 1860. That afternoon, Lincoln had his photograph taken by Mathew Brady, and in the evening, he gave this historic speech at the Cooper Union.