Saturday, December 31, 2011

From States’ Rights to a Smaller Government, an End to a Noble Idea

America was a noble idea with an ignoble beginning.   By this, I’m not referring to those who came here fleeing perceived or real religious persecution in England, to Plymouth.  Nor, am I referring to the even earlier colonizing attempt in North Carolina.  No real noble ideas here, just Calvinist separatist from The Church of England, by way of Amsterdam, whom they found of lax morals, and those hoping to find their riches in Roanoke.  In fact, by the time of the noble idea, the ignobility of what was to be the United States was clearly present, in the form of killing and displacing the indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans.

I'm not even talking about the Declaration of Independence.  This was essentually a declaration of independence of white people from other white people, only.  And, while the declaration didn’t really pertain to African Americans or Native Americans, with these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, the seeds of the noble idea was sown.  I say this despite of the fact my ancestors were slaves, but more importantly, despite that the legacy of slavery, racism, is alive and flourishing in America.  It is written that some of our most prominent founding fathers agonized over slavery, but not so much so that they advocated its end while writing the Constitution, or even so much as freeing the slaves they held.
America wasn’t the noble idea, but with those immortal words, the United States of America was.  Born out of the Age of Enlightenment, the concept of the United States was indeed noble, at least in theory, and on paper, in the form of the Constitution.  But unfortunately, due almost entirely racism and greed, this idea of a noble nation remains, even today, just theory.  Between the first colonies in America and the creation of the United States, greed became firmly entrenched, fanning the flames of states’ rights, leading years later to civil war.  But the theory, the Constitution, and those exalted words from the Declaration of Independence still existed and, thus, so did the noble idea.
The predecessor to the U.S. Constitution, called The Articles of Confederation, was formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.  On the face of it, this distinction seems insignificant.  But, it hints at the difficulties the creation of the Constitution would face.  The term “confederation” suggests voluntary membership.  However, there must have been some concern about how voluntary the membership really was, with the inclusion of the phrase “and Perpetual Union”.  The “articles” coupled with the former title, essentially were the Articles of Federation, which suggests involuntary membership.  Clearly, for the Anti-Federalist, those who feared the diminution of states’ rights, the “and Perpetual Union” part of the title had to go.

The Constitution, as drafted, made the United States a federation, with membership to, and compliance with, the Federal government, involuntary.  It was approved by the Continental Congress on September 28, 1787, a week after the final draft was signed at the Constitutional Convention.  It went into effect almost year and a half later, after the 11th of the 13 states ratified it.  It wasn’t until May 1790 that the 13th of the original 13 states ratified the Constitution.

Why so long before all 13 states bought into the Constitution?  What was the kicker?  After the Constitution went into effect, after ratification by 11 of the 13 states on March 4, 1789, the anti-federalist went to work on codifying the Bill of Rights, or 10 amendments to the Constitution.  About 5 months later, on September 25, 1789, Congress proposed the Bill of Rights, paving the road to “a more perfect union”.  There were three formidable obstacles along the route, racism, religion, and greed.

Looking at the first 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights, one can see that it was intended, by its anti-federalist authors, to provide them with protections from a strong federal government, and to provide some wiggle-room for states compliance with the constitution. So it is ironic that an instrument meant to weaken the federal government, by providing constitutional loopholes for the states, ended up being a vehicle for insuring the constitutional rights for the citizens of states who would be denied those rights.

Here we are, 222 years and 27 amendments later, and those obstacles are as formidable today as they were then.  We must pave over or around these obstacles.  That noble America must be secular, without any religious impositions.  That noble America must be one of respect (and not just tolerance) for all its citizens, regardless of race.  That noble America must not countenance the making of wealth for a few at the expense of the many. That America is still possible because the noble idea, stated in the preambles of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, is hot wired into it.

I asked earlier, “What was the kicker?”  What bought all of the 13 states into the fold?  The real kicker was the inclusion of the 10th Amendment, which states; “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  This amendment was to limit the power of the Federal government over the states.  The United States weren’t so united.  The ambiguity of the amendment has been tested over the years leading to, among other events, the Civil War, and to dispatching federalized troops to protect children exercising their 14th Amendment right to an education.  It is tested, even today.

“States rights” is a tool only used to sidestep the Constitution of the United States, when the Constitution stands in the way of the state’s desire to infringe on the Constitutional rights of that state’s citizens.  As a child of the civil rights era, the term “states rights” has special meaning to me.  However, while no one was looking, a major, and for more insidious, shift in terms happened.  The battle cry “ States’ Rights” became less heard, supplanted by a new battle cry “Smaller Government”.  But the battle being waged by the right wing tells me they are one and the same.

States, finding a strong Federal government, assertive in squashing the states attempt to infringe on the rights of its citizens, found a new strategy, “small government”.  The deployment of this strategy has been with the emphasis on “small federal government".  Under such a weakened federal government, the Constitution becomes almost inconsequential in the individual states, with a federal government lacking the resources to adequately respond.

2012 is not to be taken lightly.  This is a turning point.  We know it and, more importantly, the conservative movement knows it.  November 2012 isn’t an end battle between the progressive movement and the movement of the status quo, but the losers of this battle will only be able to wage a weak insurgency against the winner.  

2012 will answer the question; what will the 28th Amendment be?  Will it be an amendment for a balanced budget, mandated by the forces for a "smaller" federal government, or will it be Bernie Sander’s amendment to the Constitution to exclude corporations from First Amendment rights to spend money on political campaigns?

How resolute are we, as progressives, in winning in 2012? We must be represented at ALL elections, from school board elections to presidential elections.  We must be willing to set aside our desire get it all in a given election and vote for, dare I say it, the lesser of two evils, because the operative word here is “lesser”.  When we forsake the lesser, the greater evil wins.  This propensity of ours to sit out elections because the choices aren’t progressive enough, is what, over decades (even generation) has gotten us to this point where we are merely fighting an insurgency against a formidably entrenched conservative government.  We can change this in 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

American Exceptionalism, Unrealized

One score and two years ago, America reached a crossroad.  With old enemies consigned to history, it was now in the position, to show how the most powerful nation in the history of the world could react to this historic power vacuum. Would it show that such power could be benign, and show how far the world has come since the Roman Empire?  Would it become a good neighbor to the world, and not be feared for its potential to control or conquer it? 

Alas, the road we chose was hegemony, unilateralism, and xenophobia.  With the passing of September 11, 2001, instead of finely focusing our retribution to the country that housed the terrorist, we embarked on the longest war in our history with a country, in Afghanistan’s neighborhood, that didn’t even have a remote relationship to perpetrators of 9/11, Iraq.  A war for no great reason, that came to no great end.  

America’s opportunity to be so much more to the world of the future was irrevocably lost.  Rather than choosing someone to lead us into the future, we chose instead someone to lead us back into the past. Instead of partnering with other developed nations to coach the developing world in democratic principles, the Bush administration, advised by neo-conservatives, concluded that it is their manifest destiny to unilaterally enforce democracy in the developing world, with an evangelical zeal, typical of ideologues.

President Bush with his “have his cake and eat it too” mentality also declared war on taxes, as well as Iraq, exacerbating our ability to pay for our wars and adequately equip our service people.  Resources were stretched so thin, that the war in Iraq was essentially at the expense of what should have been the true beachhead of the war on terrorism, Afghanistan.

Until President Obama, we were, in a desert version of Viet Nam, under equally false premises, and likely to result in an equally similar outcome.  We had forgotten the lesson that Viet Nam taught us.  Unwarranted wars yield only unwarranted death and destruction. 

Americans must come to see that the continued prosecution of an ill advised war, such as Iraq, on essentially the premise that not doing so dishonor those who have fallen so far and marginalizes the efforts of those service peple still embattled, is absurd.  With this reasoning, the death of more is warranted primarily to validate the preceding deaths, is a classic “Catch 22”, making disengagement impossible. 

Serving in the military in a time of war at the behest of your country is always honorable. Fighting, sustaining injury, and losing one’s life, in answer to your country’s call, deserve a level of respect that can never be adequate to the sacrifice.  

Loss of life in the true defense of our nation is never a waste, but in the defense of a truly flawed worldview, is.  This is as true now as it was in Viet Nam.  The outcome of that war was the same outcome had those 55,000 lives not been lost.  I had begun to wonder what the death toll in Iraq would be before we ended up pushing rescue helicopters from our aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf, as we did in the closing days of Viet Nam.

I believe that entry into unwarranted wars by America will not diminish until the children of ALL Americans are compelled by law to participate in these wars, and that when inducted into the Armed Services, rotation into the war zone from non-hazardous duty stations, WILL be a given, and that there will be NO DEFERMENTS and NO LOOPHOLES.  Only then, will the instrument of war be relegated to the absolute last resort, and used for a much less ambiguous concept as “in the defense of our nation”.  Our nebulous objectives in Afghanistan are, at best, dubious.  As such, the above critique applies.

We have to make wars as hard to get into, as they are to get out of.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Navigating the slopes of SOPA

In our attempt to insure copyright law adherence, the U.S. is embarking on passing a law tantamount to other absurd efforts to mitigate some of society’s nagging problems:
"In Colorado Springs, a 6-year-old was suspended under the school's zero tolerance for drugs policy when the boy gave another student a cough drop."
"High school student was suspended days before graduation for having a butter knife in her car."
"An 8 year-old boy was suspended from his elementary school for pointing a breaded chicken finger at a classmate and shouting "Bang!"
Anyone that flies knows the slippery slope of overcompensation.  The “Stop Online Piracy Act” or “SOPA” (H.R. 3261) is such an effort to address the legitimate issue of copyright infringement. 
There is little doubt, the electronic age has indeed opened a can of worms concerning copyrighted intellectual property, and short of awaking in the morning in a utopia, where all honor the intellectual property of all others, we must address it.
But, the electronic age has also provided mankind with access to incredible volumes of legitimately accessible information.  True, some of it is erroneous and questionable.  But, if any of my pre-electronic age research lead me to a brick and mortar library to read, for instance, “Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department” or “The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America”, this would be enough to show that the electronic age doesn’t hold a monopoly on erroneous information.  Information isn’t knowledge.  From information, one culls knowledge.
The most important thing that the electronic age has bought into existence is something the world hasn’t seen before.  This is something that can correct the conditions that slowed, and often stopped, the progress of worker dignity through the ages.  This is the ability to instantly communicate, en masse, the plight of the poor and powerless.  The internet goes a long way to leveling the playing ground between the powerless and the powerful.  The internet is power.  Think Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Moscow, the entire Occupy movement.  And then the on the heels of all of this, SOPA?
The more I read or hear about SOPA, the more I fear a dilution of the internet that would result in an essentially privatized internet where all information is bought and sold, and worst yet, intimidating users from freely navigating the internet, for fear of copyright infringement.
Repressive governments already have their own “SOPA” of sorts, if the citizenry are navigating the internet in a way deemed a national security issue; they simply turn the internet off or turn off access to huge portions of it.
I work in an industry, where due to emerging e-book technology, great effort is being concentrated to insuring and maintaining copyrighted intellectual property rights. Leave it to the parties impacted by emerging technology to first try to marry existing laws to the newly created issues.  Then let the courts address that which needs arbitration.  Where arbitration isn’t possible within the current laws, then highly focused laws can, and should be considered, not creating an overarching law to address this issue.
SOPA is the precipice of a very slippery slope.  The problem is that the times of giving careful consideration in the creation of laws are becoming less and less the case.  It is much simpler to impose zero tolerance, which is the hallmark of conservative thought.  Just look at the election laws being enacted in states across the country to address a statistically insignificant voter fraud issue.  These laws are commonly regarded as “voter suppression” laws.
SOPA, in its present iteration, may appear innocuous.  My fear is that given the current state of the politics in this country, this law could evolve into something that may become commonly regarded as “internet suppression” laws.