Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why Did They Write the Second Amendment?

It's interesting to think about why the Founders needed the Second Amendment when the power of Congress to organize the Militia was written in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution:
"To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;"
Gun-rights advocates, please take note: it clearly states here that the purpose of the Militia is to suppress insurrections and repel invasions -- not to overthrow the government.
And, as Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison all wrote, the main reason they wanted Militias was to avoid having a standing army, which was a trademark of tyrannical governments in Europe.
In a 2013 interview, Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, "The Second Amendment has a preamble about the need for a militia ... Historically, the new government had no money to pay for an army, so they relied on the state militias," she said. "The states required men to have certain weapons and they specified in the law what weapons these people had to keep in their home so that when they were called to do service as militiamen, they would have them. That was the entire purpose of the Second Amendment."
So, they needed the 2nd Amendment to ensure that the troops would have arms -- and it also gave them the right to bear arms divorced from the need to get them from the Federal government, which could also take them away. The 2nd Amendment was placing both the right and burden of bearing arms on the people and the states and it was a way to not have to finance it.
And while the 2nd Amendment was clearly about bearing arms in the context of a Militia, there is at least one indication in Hamilton's Federalist Paper 29 that letting the people bear arms also did provide protection against the Federal government in those instances when a large army needed to be called up. This is the quote the gun-rights advocates should be putting on their memes, not the fake George Washington quote they always pass around. Hamilton wrote:
"if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist."
Of course, too long and too complex in thought to fit on a meme or a bumper sticker. Also, not actually written in any law and best read in the context of all of Federalist 29 and Article I, Section 8, but it is the only quote I have seen that gives some credence to the notion that the 2nd Amendment was at least partially intended to arm the people against a tyrannical government in command of a standing army.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Healthy Capitalism

The recent budget battle elevated the profile of Elizabeth Warren and exposed a startling alignment between the progressive Left and Tea Party Right. Conservative bloggers gushed in admiration as Senator Warren expressed outrage over Congress giving banks bailout protection for risky bets:

"I hope that Sen. Warren will run for president in 2016 to force a national conversation on the Washington-Wall Street power nexus," The American Conservative's Rod Dreher wrote. "Hillary Clinton won’t talk about it. You know that no Republican presidential candidate will talk about it (with the possible -- possible -- exception of Rand Paul). We all need to be talking about it. A populist who talks like Elizabeth Warren and really means it is a Democrat a conservative like me would consider voting for, despite her social liberalism."

While there appears to be some alignment on this issue between the far right and left, there is an ideological split underlying the debate. For example, Democrats and Republicans have two completely different responses to the Great Depression. Libertarian conservatives, who control the GOP agenda, didn’t want bailouts and would have preferred to let the banks fail and have America experience another Great Depression.
They believe that the only way for Americans to be free is to learn the lessons of the Depression the hard way, the way our parents and grandparents and great grandparents did. Let the market work the pain through the system, FDR be damned.

So, does Rod Dreher dig Warren because she has a spine? Or, does he actually agree with her call to keep the Dodd-Frank regulation in place? Is there some new breed of moderate conservative commentator emerging?

According to the conservative "no bailouts" line of thinking, if Americans had experienced massive poverty and a Depression due to the housing crisis, that would have been preferable to bailouts. The magical free market and private charity would have cared for all. Trickle-down economics would have eventually created prosperity as benevolent "job creators" let the "invisible hand" pick winners and losers based on their true worth and hard work, freed from the shackles of affirmative action and state-sponsored welfare. It’s a completely ideological argument that has a humanitarian message at its core, even though it is a completely utopian, Ayn Rand fiction-like way to make public policy.

Democrats on the other hand would rather have us not re-learn the lessons of the Depression first-hand, but believe we should learn from the lessons of history and apply government policy like FDR’s, so we can stave off the pain and suffering wrought by a depression.

We don’t want bailouts either and want to create policies like the one in Dodd-Frank that was just eliminated, which will make it less likely that a bailout will ever be necessary.

The point of a Federal regulation like Dodd-Frank and Glass-Steagall is not to create a Big Government takeover, but it is to eliminate pain and suffering, literally the massive starvation and death (and that doesn’t even include the impending fascism) brought by depressions.

Along with regulation, fiscal stimulus is also essential to allowing for a healthy form of capitalism. Stimulus spending in infrastructure and development is temporary, and once the private economy gets back on its feet, public spending can pull back. Why is it so hard for Democrats to communicate that message?

I know very few Democrats who actually want government to stay and grow big. I think most of us just want government that can step in and step out as needed. The thing that most independents fear about Democrats is that we're secretly socialists who want to nationalize everything. I think only about 15% of all Democrats actually want that.

Perhaps a notion of “Healthy Capitalism” is one that Democrats could embrace as it would have broad appeal to independents. Helping voters understand that most Democrats are capitalists who just want the right mix of public spending and regulation to allow capitalism to work could be a winning message. This is what worked in the US from 1932 to 1981, helping most Americans grow and prosper and not just the elite, billionaire class. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Government Is Not the Problem

Anywhere you have a free-rider problem, government and public investments are usually a better solution than private enterprise.

The primary industries where this is the case are:

Police & Defense
Health Care
Roads & Bridges 
Disaster Relief
Space Exploration
Foreign Diplomacy
Food Safety
Environmental Protection
National Parks 
Retirement Insurance
Air Traffic Control 
Savings Deposit Insurance (FDIC)
Poverty Assistance

Everything else should be left primarily to private enterprise. The problem with a devotion to Reagan's old saw, "Government is not the solution to our problem, it is the problem" is that it often translates into the belief that government should only do the first item on the list above. 

And, if you think government should do practically nothing, you mistakenly believe that those of us in the Democratic Party believe that government should do practically everything. 

What if I told you that I and most Democrats believe government is about the right size, we just need to pay for the government we have? Would you believe it? Why not?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Peaceful Transition

It is our long tradition of a peaceful transition of leadership that makes us unique in the world and inspires dreams worldwide of a more democratic and peaceful planet. 

My favorite passage from Obama's inaugural address:

"The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed."

This went hand-in hand with Senator Lamar Alexander's toast at the Inaugural luncheon, when he said:

“There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember. A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy....How remarkable that this has survived for so long in such a complex country with so much power at stake — this freedom to vote for our leaders and the restraint to respect the results. 

Last year, a tour guide at Mount Vernon told me that our first president, George Washington, posed this question: ‘What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? And then Washington gave this answer: ‘Not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world.”

Obama and Alexander each speak to the idea that gun ownership is a right bestowed by our laws and constitution, not the other way around. With each successful, peaceful transition of our presidency, it suggests that the peaceful act along with our laws and government are what the 2nd amendment was primarily meant to protect. 

To keep the peace. It was not primarily intended so we would have guns in order to use them against the government. That makes no sense, especially in light of the government they had just formed. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

American Freedom

NPR recently reported that US college grads have an average of $26,600 in student loan debt. How does that make Americans more free? These grads have far fewer incentives to take risks, try new things, travel or start businesses. How can this be good for private markets?

If you are bankrupted or go into a lifetime of debt because of illness or injury or are denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, you are less free. You are now an indentured servant.

So, progressive taxes that pay for public investments in education and health care make us more free. And, wanting these two industries to be well-funded public institutions, does not mean you want government to run everything else. That is a false choice. Do not buy it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

You Didn't Build That

Only 11% of Americans want communism and Obama is not one of them. Even if he was, most Americans would never allow it. 

If you ignore the part of Obama's Roanoke speech that the Right continually takes out of context and look at the whole speech, I can see how you might interpret it as as too heavy on the praise of government and too light on praise of the entrepreneur.But, you not only have to view each sentence of the speech in the context of the whole speech, you also have to view the speech in the context of the broader political debate taking place. 

And in that context, the speech is simply a thoughtful rejoinder to the false choice Fox News presents every single day: that you are either a statist or a libertarian and there can be no middle ground. 

All Obama is saying in the speech is, look, don't buy this false choice. It is a lie. 

The fact of the matter is that America has always grown with a combination of individual initiative and public investment and it is this combination of independence and interdependence that has made us a great nation, not the singular devotion to and worship of private enterprise that Fox pushes each and every day. 

They are BOTH important, public and private systems, and it is ridiculous to assert that one is more important than the other. We simply need to nurture the balance between the two. 

That is all Obama is saying. Of course private enterprise is the primary driver of jobs and economic growth. That is a given. 

But, the private system works best and creates the most wealth for the most people, when it is properly regulated and taxed to pay for the public investments -- the roads, schools, research programs, loan programs, regulatory agencies and safety nets that make up a public operating system that allows capitalism to work best. 

Without an effective public operating system, we face the situation we are in now, in which the rich suck all the wealth and value out of the economy, do not invest in enough new start ups and technology, do not pay enough taxes to fund proper educations for enough skilled workers and fail to leave enough consumers with enough cash in their pockets to keep the system running with sustainability. 

That is the context of his speech and that is the context of that sentence: you didn't build that. To continue to assert otherwise is to look only at the information that conforms to your bias, while ignoring all information that describes our world as it actually exists.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It Can't Happen Here

Just as many on the Right see Obama as the head of a spear of radical, left-wing ideologues, poised to destroy the liberties granted by the Constitution, those of us on the Left see the Tea Party and Santorum, Bachmann, et al, as the tip of a spear of a radical evangelical movement that seeks to break down the separation of church and state and impose a Totalitarian Theocracy here in the US.

Recent examples include Santorum's queasiness with JFK's statements about separation of Church and State and the radical, evangelical pastor who introduced him last week, ranting about the US as a Christian Nation.

If Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" has provided a guiding cautionary tale for the GOP's brand of small-government libertarianism, then Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" is an equally important text for those of us on the Left who see the emerging threat of an Authoritarian Theocratic regime here in the US. The Nazis seemed civilized, as they sipped fine Rieslings and listened to Beethoven while committing unspeakable atrocity. We should remember that many Germans, including my great-grandfather, a German Jew who fought for Germany in WW I, never believed the Nazis could implement the Final Solution.

A friend of mine on Facebook, Robert Chandler, likes to write that "the impulse of the Left is totalitarian," which ignores the fact that the impulse of any extremist ideology is either totalitarian or authoritarian. The Right fears the collectivist/socialist ideology that underpinned Nazism, and the Left fears the nationalistic, white-supremacist side of the Nazis.

Thus, Chandler's description of Obamacare and Obama as part of a totalitarian takeover plot is not that different from saying US Evangelicals = Islamo-fascism/radicalism. Each description is driven by an assumption that: either; 1)  there is a radical, extreme version of the Left embodied by Obama; or, 2) there is a radical, extreme version of the Right embodied by the Tea Party.

Just as the Right is spooked by Jeremiah Wright, and believes that Obama is the embodiment of the most extreme statements his pastor uttered over the past 40 years, those of us on the Left are spooked by the likes of the Louisiana pastor who introduced Rick Santorum. As the Tea Party sees a Jeremiah Wright, anti-white form of Socialism embodied in the US Presidency, I see the threat of Totalitarian Theocracy in the Tea Party controlled GOP Congress and right-wing militias.

The main difference, of course, is that Obama has not implemented or recommended a single policy that is socialist or statist. While he has, disappointingly, extended many of the authoritarian positions Bush/Cheney implemented with the Patriot Act and the AUMF, he also removed Single Payer and embraced the Heritage Foundation/Mitt Romney approach to health care reform, and he allowed for expanded drilling, oil production and pipeline construction.

So, Obama is a bi-partisan, moderate. But the Tea Party has transformed the GOP into a party driven primarily by extremist social conservatives, embodied in the recent rash of Right Wing state legislatures passing pre-abortion ultrasound bills with "shaming rooms" and the racial-targeting of voter ID laws. Obamacare is not part of a War on Religion, but the Tea Party and its leading candidates and GOP-controlled State Legislatures have initiated a War on Women. While the current US Evangelical movements have merely burned Korans, not beheaded hostages, that does not mean "It Can't Happen Here."

There's a Bill Maher video where he shows that Islamist extremists are much worse than US ones. And that’s true, based on post-KKK US history. But, at the end of the video, he explains that those differences rest on the foundation of a government and politicians that honor the separation of church and state and rights for women.

Those are the rights now under attack by the leading GOP candidates and by the US Congress and GOP-controlled State Legislatures nationally. And that is why Left-wing fears are not unrealistic or absurd, but instead based on evidence, data and recent history -- not the hysterical exaggerations, caricatures and ranting of Fox News and right-wing talk radio.