Category Archives: Governance

Essays on the topic of governance, American government, and American foundation documents. Politics – campaigning and political statements – is a different category.

An Alternative Constitution

Our Constitution, the Constitution for the United States of 1789, sucks.

There. I’ve said it.

It’s hard for me to admit that our Constitution sucks. I wrote an essay, way back when, translating our Constitution into plain English. At the time I held an underlying assumption that the Constitution of 1789 was a pretty good document, a reasonable design for a government. After all, it worked (more or less) for 240 years. It didn’t work perfectly; there were horrors, slavery, especially, and its bastard son Jim Crow. There were other failings. In spite of those, at the time I wrote my essay, our Constitution had allowed us to make some progress. Black people are formally acknowledged to be people with the same nominal rights as other people, nobody can own them and they can vote. Legislated Jim Crow has been abolished, and the sneakier, non-legislative forms of it seemed to be abating as well. Women can vote, and are increasingly being recognized as equal participants in America.

But now it all seems to have gone off the rails. Armed paramilitary gangs swagger in the streets threatening citizens. A candidate just ran for US Senate on a platform and lifelong record of Christianist Theocracy, right out in full public view, and only lost (and just barely) because he is a publicly acknowledged pedophile. Police routinely kill unarmed citizens, particularly black ones, with impunity. Tens of thousands of Americans are murdered with firearms annually, many of them in mass groups by total strangers.

A foreign nation has been brought in by our sitting Congress and new President to install and help operate a psuedo-democratic racist theocratic plutocracy. In full public view. As seen on TV. Two thirds of America knows it. Our Constitution does not give that roughly 65 percent of Americans any peaceful means to throw the bums out, for instance in an unscheduled election. If all else was good in our Constitution, that one flaw can now be seen to be fatal.

Another serious flaw in our current government as constituted is the unitary co-equal Presidency. A powerful co-equal executive branch is not consistent with representative government. But the Presidency is nowhere near as destructive as the most deadly flaw in our Constitution: the inclusion of semi-autonomous states represented as quasi-nations in our Federal government.

The Senate exists as the “voice of the states.” States should have no voice. States are not living conscious entities which require representation in the national government. Voters within the states, counted equally nationwide, are the only legitimate voices which need to be heard in government by the people. Parochial competition between states harms the nation as a whole. An incredible amount of money is wasted annually on interstate competition for employers, businesses, and jobs. Our system of semi-autonomous states has blown up once, horribly, and is chronically on the verge of doing it again. Semi-autonomous states made the Civil War possible. Slavery made it inevitable.

Granted there has to be some form of local government. You can’t run a big country entirely from the top. Picking up the trash, paving back streets, and many other tasks are best done locally. That said, our current form of local government based on semi-autonomous states is untenable. The states have too much power to interfere with national governance. It is not reasonable to enable a local power to decide whether to participate in a national medical care system, nor to choose or limit which citizens get to vote. National laws apply nationally.

We got the Constitution we have because 13 literally and absolutely separate sovereign nations – the former colonies – had to be sweet-talked into giving up much of their sovereignty. One result is that little states (at that time little sovereign nations) like Delaware and Rhode Island got as much effective power in national legislation as did major concentrations of people and enterprise like New York and Pennsylvania. The names have been changed but the principle still applies, as is particularly visible in our Senate and Electoral College. Originally slave states also got extra representation in government, but fortunately slave states long ago ceased to exist.

We can no longer succeed as a competing aggregation of semi-autonomous semi-nations. Either we are One Nation, Indivisible, as we are expected to piously intone at public events, or we aren’t. As currently constituted and governed we aren’t. I don’t think there has been a year since at least 1980 when there wasn’t some state threatening to secede. Maybe since 1865. It’s getting louder and louder.

It’s not the Electoral College that prevents representative government in the United States, it’s semi-autonomous states and the Senate. The resulting vastly unequal representation, aggravated by an attitude of every state for itself, makes impossible any democratic balance in any law written, any budget, any debt, any public service.

The Senate has got to go. The Electoral College goes with it. That, by itself, will let a lot of wind out of the semi-autonomous states problem. But not all of it.

The Federal government must finance and run its own elections. The unabashed public squabble in various states over how they can best disenfranchise entire classes of voters speaks for itself. It has gone on since the first election. The Fifteenth Amendment failed to stop it. The civil right laws of 1965 did too. Enough is enough.

Self government at a national scale is a representative process. The people elect representatives who gather in structured groups to hammer out agreement on how to best care for the voters’ shared needs. A legislature is inherently the primary functional unit of representative government. Gathered legislators make all laws, levy all taxes, create and fund all agencies, write all budgets, decide all priorities, create and pay all debts, and must be held to account by voters for their actions. The most appropriate chief executive to carry out the legislature’s decisions is one selected by the legislature for that purpose, typically known as a Prime Minister. The executive’s one critical function is to put the will of the people, as expressed through their representatives, into action.

The President should be a figurehead, like the Queen. We should send her or him to the funerals of world leaders. Have her give a State of the Union Speech. Make suggestions to Congress.

The only way to run a representative government for the benefit of the citizens is to have the representatives right out in front, legislating, governing, and looking the people in the eye.

Every single highly prosperous developed country on earth today with broadly equal, predominantly healthy, happy citizens is a parliamentary republic. Parliaments stand right up in front of voters and do everything that gets done. Parliament chooses the everyday chief executive, because Legislatures run republicsIt cannot be any other way. Rule by one person is not a republic, it’s a monarchy. Mon means one.

If the chief executive (Prime Minister) and the rest of Parliament can’t agree on a path for government and pass legislation accordingly, new elections are held. If a Parliamentary government fails to function the voters replace it. Serious governments do not indulge in gridlock or government shutdowns. People who govern themselves responsibly do not permit it.

Around the world, nations with unitary, co-equal Presidencies are in all cases poorer, weaker, have poorer health outcomes, and are less stable than nations governed by a Parliamentary system with legislature and legislative executive / Prime Minister. Yes, I include the United States. Our supposed riches are, today, accessible to fewer than 1 out of every 10 Americans.

Our system is not working. Other systems do work, none perfectly, but many better.

Here’s what I propose:

  • Unicameral (one chamber) legislature, with 601 representatives. (House plus Senate currently puts us at 535.) Call it The People’s House, as they originally called our House of Representatives. Or call it Congress. It is, in accepted terms, a Parliament.
  • The chief executive and head of government is the Prime Minister, selected by majority vote in Parliament.
  • Aside from the Judiciary, all Cabinet, agency, and diplomatic positions will be filled by the House, as nominated by Prime Minister, or through normal channels established by the House.
  • All 601 districts for Parliament shall be compact, as uniform as possible, drawn using the best available technology to create a body representative of the voters at large. Post-census redistricting will be nationwide, by majority agreement of all parties in Parliament. Local governments will not participate in drawing districts. District maps will require approval by majority vote in every party represented in Parliament to take effect. State lines will not be considered when drawing legislative districts.
  • Congress / Parliament may make no law or rule preferring any political party over any other party, currently existing or not, in elections, access to polls or voters, or representation in the legislature.
  • The first Congress / Parliament will meet under Robert’s Rules of Order. The legislature may subsequently make its own rules of procedure by majority vote of all parties represented.
  • 60 percent of voters can call a nationwide election at any time. Votes calling for Elections (only) may be made electronically. All seats in Congress / Parliament will be contested at every election. There is no fixed minimum term, with a 5 year maximum between elections. No term limits except having to stand for reelection.
  • Federal government funds all elections. Money is not speech and will not be treated as such, in any way at any level.
  • The President shall be “Head of State” but not “Head of Government.” The President shall be directly elected by popular vote every five years without regard to national or legislative election dates. The President may be called on to represent the nation in formal Affairs of State, The President may serve unlimited terms. The President may address the People’s House from time to time to suggest legislation for national needs as she or he sees fit. The People’s House will consider the President’s suggestions in public debate. The President’s sole formal power in government shall be nomination of national judges.
  • The Judiciary shall be independent from any other branch of government. The President shall nominate judges, subject to People’s House confirmation. Each nominee will receive  an up-or-down vote by the entire House unless she or he withdraws from consideration.
  • There will be no presumed right to present lies as facts or news.
  • Since law enforcement and national defense are legitimate duties of government, there will be no presumed right for the people to own or possess firearms. Parliament may, but is not required to, create legislation to extend this privilege to citizens on a case-by-case or systemic basis.
  • All citizens are registered to vote at the same time they get their Social Security Card, typically at birth, in infancy, or at naturalization. Each citizen over the age of majority, by Social Security number,  may and will be expected to vote once in every election. There may be sanctions for failure to vote.
  • Election days will be national holidays.
  • All votes for all offices will be rendered on paper and available (at minimum) for hand counting.
  • This Constitution may be amended by the following process:
    • A majority of votes of all parties represented in the Congress / Parliament at the time is required to propose an amendment.
    • Ratification by 2/3 of voters is required to accept any proposed Amendment.
  • No religious law or rule may be applied by government. No religious text or belief will be taught to any person under government auspices. Religion is an individual prerogative and will not be encouraged or discouraged by government.
  • A person as defined under this document is understood to be a human being, born and living. No other entity shall be considered a person in terms of rights or citizenship.
  • No law or practice may disadvantage citizens relative to one another on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual preference, or previous conviction or incarceration.
  • Persons in the United States may not advocate or encourage the armed overthrow of, rebellion against, or violence against, the government of the United States. No person may take up arms against any agent of the United States Government for any reason whatsoever.
  • The United States under this Constitution retains all lands, properties, funds, debts and obligations of the United States under the previous Constitution. The United States shall manage its real and other property as Congress / Parliament directs.
  • The right to be secure in persons, properties, relationships, and private consensual sexual behaviors shall not be restricted.
    • Property shall not be taken for public use without fair payment. Restricting specific uses of property as directed by Congress / Parliament will not be construed to constitute taking.
    • The right to privacy in reproductive choices shall not be infringed.
  •  Medical care will be understood to be a human right. No resident in America will be allowed to suffer or die by reason of denial of normally available medical care. No resident shall suffer financial hardship as a result of medical care.
  • Free speech shall be subject to the following limitations:
    • Hate speech and threatening speech are not protected.
    • Speech advocating the overthrow of, rebellion against, or violence against the United States shall not be protected.
    • False commercial advertising is not protected.
    • False political advertising is not protected.
    • A reasonable standard of fact will be required of all programming presented as news or public fact.
  • Individual and group religious beliefs and practices are entirely protected but may not be used as a basis for public policy.
  • The people shall have right to petition the government for redress of grievances. This petition may be taken to the courts for resolution.
  • The people may gather or associate freely. Violence is not protected.

The current preamble is as good as can be created:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Personal speech, broadcast speech, hate speech, and empirical lies must be carefully addressed by the framers of the full text of the next Constitution. No nation can govern itself successfully without reliance on empirical fact as a basis for decision making. Hate speech destroys societies. That said, freedom of opinion and personal expression must be protected. It will require great care to clarify a set of workable, fair practices.

This is a broad overview. The idea of a republic is as a system for representative self government. Abraham Lincoln defined the ideal republic perfectly: Government of the people,  by the people, for the people. Currently there is no pretense of such a thing in the United States.

How would we get from where we are to the new Constitution? I’m not sure. However, there is currently a move afoot to call a Constitutional Convention. True, the move is mainly rooted in the depths of the far right fringe, financed by desperate, emotionally starving,  unquenchably grasping rich white people, but – we outnumber them. By a sizable margin.

I’d recommend we keep our eyes open, and plan for all contingencies.

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To Keep and Bear Arms

The Second Amendment reads,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Standard Disclaimer 1 and Standard Disclaimer 2 apply to this essay.
This essay assumes the reader is familiar with the 2nd Amendment and its root definitions in the base Constitution. Details here. (~500 words)

It is worth noting that the Second Amendment does not guarantee any right to own arms. As a light weapons infantryman in the war in Vietnam I “kept” and “bore” arms, but I did not own them. The United States Government armed me; the United States Government owned the arms I kept and bore.

The Constitution specifically provides that Congress will “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia…” (Article I Section 8 paragraph 16, part). Yes, this is the Militia – the only militia – guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

The original plan was that each state would have a militia, designed, organized, armed, and disciplined by Congress, with officers and training provided by the states. The militia was to be available for Congress to call up for national service at time of need. Some people feel that the National Guard as organized fills exactly those requirements and is, in fact, the Constitutional Militia, and there is a case to be made that they are correct. However, the word “militia” is not included in any National Guard enabling legislation. There is disagreement.

It is obvious that the current situation, with self-selected individuals arming themselves with weapons of war, sometimes in vast stockpiles, is (A) not working, and is (B) not supported by any reading of the words of the Second Amendment and the Constitution which it amends. Advertising and opinion writing to the contrary are powered by widespread ignorance of the documents themselves.

How would a rational society proceed from here?

One option would be for Congress to follow its Constitutional mandate to organize, arm, and discipline a militia which it might call up at times of need. There are such times. Right now today the United States is recovering from 3 major hurricanes, numerous destructive wildfires, and has serious civil unrest in at least one city. A well regulated militia, a body less formal and military than the National Guard but more broadly based and differently trained than local law enforcement, could be useful.

Following is a description of such militia, its possible day-to-day operation, and its integration into 21st Century America.

First, membership would be voluntary. There would, of course, be limitations. Citizens who wished to join the militia in their respective states would be expected to apply, to sign up, and to adhere to published standards of behavior. A person cannot join a church, a town council, The Boy Scouts of America, the Masons, or any service organization without satisfying basic standards and requirements; it would be absurd to envision a well regulated militia which did not operate under the same accepted societal norms.

As compared to, for instance, the military reserves or the National Guard, physical requirements would be far looser. Old people could join. Overweight people could join. There would be no gender limitations. Handicapped people could join. This is not a war fighting organization; the nation is well served in that capacity already. There is no reason an elderly, infirm, or wheelchair bound citizen could not render useful service in a militia.

A background check to eliminate people with histories of violence, serious crime, or serious mental illness would be required, and each member would be required to agree to follow the militia’s rules, accept its discipline, obey the officers, and swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

I would expect to see training exercises one weekend a month, but probably without the annual two week commitment associated with Reserve and National Guard membership. Perhaps one or more weekday evenings a month would also be given over to training. As a volunteer, citizen organization, there would have to be reasonable provision for members to have regular lives. It might be required, for instance, that a member attend at least 80% of training events each year. Training should focus as much on citizenship training as on armed activity training. A well trained, well regulated militia could be a good source of public information on local laws and the specific, actual Constitution (as averse the the mythical, magic-name-to-conjure-with Constitution that makes up so much public discussion today.)

I would expect each militia to maintain an ongoing shooting and firearms safety training program. Many people enjoy shooting, and militia training events would provide a safe, organized outlet for this activity. Remember, these people have specifically joined in order to be those who are, as a well regulated militia, selected by society to keep and bear arms on behalf of the public.

I would expect to see legislation that when militia units were called to service of their states or the nation, their employers could not deny the time off nor take it from their vacation or annual leave.

Provision would have to be made that, when militia were called up for service, members’ wages would be covered, either by government or by their employers. Details are best left to Congress to sort out specifically. Again, organizing, disciplining, and arming the militia is one of Congress’s basic Constitutional obligations.

Yes, this might place modest hardship on employers. It is not too much to ask that, in order to operate in a prosperous and law abiding nation, a business carry a certain share of the nation’s burdens.

What might a militia, called up for service, do? What specific actions?

We already have police. We already have a National Guard. It would be a waste of time, money, and energy to replicate their services. So what is not being done now that might be usefully done by a militia?

Militia might, in case of natural disaster, be assigned to stand guard over buildings to prevent looting. It is an unfortunate fact of life that, under even the worst of circumstances, some people will act to make other people’s losses even greater. Looters are among this portion of society. But the militia, properly organized, would likely be a vast organization. Remember, the militia is made up of essentially all law abiding citizens who want to keep and bear arms. Unlike the smaller police or National Guard units, there should be enough militia members in any state to go stand literally in front of every building in a city that might attract a looter, not quite shoulder to shoulder but within sight of one another, up and down every city block. Only a well regulated militia could turn out such manpower.

Besides protecting private property, in any natural disaster there is a huge amount of work to be done, errands to be run, stuff to be stacked, moved, and handled, communications needs to be served. There are often sandbags to fill. Well trained, willing, available militia members could almost always be put to good use.

Natural disasters are common, devastating, and increasing. Now would be a perfect time to improve our ability to respond to them.

One of the specific, Constitutional duties of a well regulated militia is to suppress insurrections. If, for instance, a group like the Bundy family should invade and hold by force of arms another public wildlife refuge, a well regulated militia could be dispatched to stand guard, every ten feet if need be, all the way around the perimeter of the event, and see to it that no food, water, or other supplies were allowed to enter or leave. Organized law enforcement and fighting forces (again, police and National Guard) could deal with the perpetrators themselves while the militia suppressed the insurrection by denying them needed supplies.

Civil unrest – the right to peaceably assemble and object to government actions and policies – is a Constitutionally protected activity. Destruction of property is not. So once again, while police see to law enforcement, a well regulated militia might stand side by side at property lines just as they would after a disaster and prevent Constitutionally protected protest from degenerating into riot and looting. Once again, by sheer force of numbers, a militia might be the ideal entity to protect property during times of tension.

In order for a militia to perform these needed public duties they would have to be well regulated and well trained indeed. None of the Constitution’s verbiage is waste or filler. We have a societal need which is not being fulfilled.

One would also expect local militia groups to participate in public life, march in parades, stand honor guard at events, and otherwise help to provide a constant visible reminder that American society is all one people, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Congress has the Constitutional obligation to arm the militia. States have the obligation to appoint officers and train them. How might the militia be armed?

As we have seen, the militia is not an adjunct to our war fighting organizations, so there would be no reason to arm them with war weapons. War weapons have specific design characteristics which set them aside from civilian weapons; it is dishonest to blur the differences. That said, a woman guarding a building against looters is more convincing if she is armed, and the Second Amendment specifically states that her right to be so shall not be infringed. I would propose deer rifles or shotguns, with perhaps a five shot or so capacity.

It would be not unreasonable for militia to be armed with sidearms as well. Revolvers would be particularly well suited for this purpose, being simple, tough in harsh environments, and reliable. The militia is not a war fighting force; modest firepower in serious arms would be entirely sufficient.

It might be sensible, as an example, to arm each militia member with a .357 magnum revolver and a .357 magnum lever action carbine rifle. One standard ammunition round for all militia services, and militia armed with weapons which, at extreme need, would provide all the deadly force required for any reasonably close quarters action.

Once again, the specific decision on this latter item would be up to Congress, but unless Congress specifically wants to enable mass murder by rogue militia members I would think they would want to choose arms appropriate to the job at hand. Like any public armed entity, militia arms and ammunition would need to be standardized across the force.

Would militia members be the only Americans permitted to own guns? I would hope not; I would think not. Nearly all nations worldwide make provision for hunters and legitimate sport shooters to have access to guns for their sports. I personally would be gravely disappointed to have to give up my .22 rimfire rifle that I use around the farm. I am not aware of any mass murder in American history that was perpetrated using a .22 rimfire rifle; they are simply not deadly enough.

That said, all civilized nations provide sensible, firm limits on gun ownership. There would not be an assumption of some absolute right for any American to own any quantity of any sort of gun they might wish. The Second Amendment does not even imply, let alone state outright, such madness.

If America chooses the observe the Second Amendment to the Constitution as an organizing principle of our society (and it appears that we do) it only makes sense that it should be the actual Second Amendment, to the actual Constitution, as actually written. Either the right to keep and bear arms arises directly from the Constitution, or it is a murderous fiction make up out of whole cloth.

As a people we need to decide.


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Second Amendment in Constitutional Context

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This is an excerpt from a longer article (here) for specificity in reference. 
I realize this topic has been litigated to the Supreme Court and long argued about. This article  specifically reproduces the actual words of the Constitution by Article, Section, and Paragraph, with one reference to a dictionary definition. I use

Most Americans know the words. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights.

As an amendment to the original Constitution, it refers to and takes its meaning from that portion of the original Constitution which it amends. In other words an amendment becomes part of the original document.

The “well regulated Militia” referenced in the 2nd Amendment is not an abstract, otherwise undefined armed group. The militia is defined clearly in the base Constitution. Once again, the Second Amendment to the Constitution begins

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,

Under the Constitution the Militia is primarily a creature of Congress and the States. The first reference to it is in Article I Section 8. Article I creates the Congress; Section 8 spells out several of Congress’s specific powers and duties. Paragraph 15 says,

“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”

The Militia works for Congress. There are no self-employed militias in the United States.

The next (16th) paragraph continues to define Congress’s duties regarding the Militia:

“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;”

If Congress didn’t organize it it’s not a militia.

If Congress didn’t arm it it’s not a militia.

If it isn’t trained according to discipline prescribed by Congress it’s not a militia.

During such times that the militia might be activated for duty in service to the country, Congress directly governs them. The President commands their day to day operations as will be seen below.

(This is an example of what was meant by “checks and balances.”)

Article II of the Constitution creates and defines the position of President. Section 2 defines his or her powers and obligations. The first paragraph of Article I Section 2 begins with

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;…”

Notice that the President only commands the militia after Congress calls them up.

Every mention to the Militia in the United States Constitution is discussed above. Four in the base document, one in the Second Amendment. There are no other references or definitions to a Militia in the United States Constitution.

Any meaningful discussion of the place of the Second Amendment in our society absolutely must be based in the Constitution’s actual, existing words. That’s where the Second Amendment is.

Now that we know what the Second Amendment and Constitution say, here is a suggestion how to build on it. To Keep and Bear Arms.

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Let’s Make Some Laws

Just for fun, pretend that non-Republicans (many of whom refuse to call themselves Democrats for reasons too complex to go into here) elect an entire governing majority in the United States. Say, 227 members of the House, 64 Senators, and a President of your choice. Then what?

For starters, in order to elect a House majority, voters in districts in a sizable number of states would have to elect non-Republicans. Exactly what the distribution of states might be would depend on how the voting played out. 

If we won every district in CA, we would still need 174 more. Throw in every district in New York, we’re still 147 short. Sweep Illinois and we need another 129. The second and third most populous states, Texas and Florida, have 65 Representatives between them, and there is not much likelihood of not-Republicans taking a majority of those 65. Any way you shake it, it will take numerous Representatives from lesser populated states to get the required minimum. That would have to include dreaded Red States.

And given that there are two Senators from each state it would take an absolute minimum of 32 states to give us 64 Senators. Again, depending on distribution, it might take more than 32 states but not less.

Astute readers might wonder why I picked those particular numbers, 227 and 64. It’s partly arbitrary. It takes 218 Representatives – Members of the House – to elect a speaker and pass a bill. Given that no two humans agree entirely, I put in 9 more than the minimum to improve the odds of getting a majority vote for our proposals.

Technically it only takes 50 Senators plus the Vice President to pass a bill, but traditionally our Senate has allowed minorities to block most actions. It takes, at a bare minimum, 60 Senators to pass any bill which has opposition, and getting 60 on board can be difficult. As an example, one of the reasons the ACA doesn’t offer a public option is because there were exactly 60 not-Republican (58 Democrat, 2 Independent / Socialist) Senators who would vote for any sort of health care bill at all, and not all 60 were willing to support a public option. So for the sake of this essay I have given us 64 – room to lose a few and still get things done.

I am proposing real numbers. The minimums I give here are absolute. Any group, by whatever name you call them, party or faction or – I don’t know what other terms might apply – any group must muster 218 votes in the House, and 51 (or 60 in case of opposition) in the Senate, to enact any idea or policy into law.

That means that Representatives of some number of Americans who choose to not live in crowded states or megalopolises absolutely must actively support and vote for any law or it will not pass. There is a vast number of Americans living crowded together in huge cities and urban corridors, but not enough to legislate for the nation.

Under our Constitution, in order for any bill to become law, it must satisfy a majority of the members of the House of Representatives, a majority of the Senators, and satisfy the President. If it doesn’t satisfy the President it must satisfy two-thirds of all the members of the House and Senate. My imaginary numbers for the two chambers do not reach the two-thirds threshold for either House. But that shouldn’t be a problem, because we have both Houses and the Presidency. Just like the Republicans do now. It would surely work at least that well.


So we want to make some laws. What laws do we want to make?

Based on what I read on Twitter I’d say the number one priority of most not-Rs would be “get rid of the Electoral College,” but that’s not a law, that’s an amendment, and they’re harder.

First, the proposed amendment has to be passed by 2/3 of each House of Congress. The very optimistic numbers I have proposed here don’t give us 2/3 of either House. But presume, just for discussion, that both Houses choose to pass it.

The next step is ratification by 3/4 of the states. That’s 38 states. All but 12.

California contains more people than the smallest 21 states combined.

If I were betting my own money, I wouldn’t bet that 9 of those 21 states would vote to give up their amplified voice in Presidential elections in order to please the people of California. If at least 9 didn’t so vote, the amendment would not pass. Period. You can’t get to 3/4 without them.

Another popular – and important – desire is to get the power of money out of our political process. Reverse the Citizens United decision. That’s another amendment. While there is less obvious reason for small states to stand together against that one than there is against repealing the Electoral College, I’m not that confident. I suppose it is remotely possible. To even find out Congress would have to pass the 2/3 of each House threshold.

You could make a convincing case that our Constitution is irretrievably flawed, but I don’t think a reasonably non-Republican Congress and Presidency would be in a position to fix it. I’m going to disregard amendments for the duration of this essay.

What could we realistically fix with conventional legislation? Remember, we have the power. Anything the President will sign, my hypothetical Congress has the power to pass.

My recommendation would be to begin with a strong Voting Rights Act to repair the damage done by recent Supreme Court decisions. In the first place it would be fair. Racial equality in voting is a long held, but not yet realized, goal for America’s republic. The 15th Amendment, ratified in April of 1870, was an attempt to codify that Americans have the right to vote regardless of race. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before it had been swept under a carpet of lies and tricks, poll taxes and rigged tests. We tried again 95 years later, and for a short time that attempt appeared to have been successful, but forces of racism, white supremacy, and wealthism have whittled away at it until today we have returned much of the way back to the bad old days.

We not-Republicans have a fifty-plus year tradition of being the party of racial equality. For fairness we should pass a voting rights act with teeth. Beyond fairness, it is clear that the Republican party has, for now at least, a pretty solid lock on the racist / white supremacist vote. If we wish to remain competitive in the quest to govern the United States, we have to insure that our voters can go to the polls and vote. Not all our voters are blocked by racial voter suppression, but too many are.

Continuing on the voting rights line, we should and could immediately legislate that election day is a National holiday. We could and should legislate other policies which insured widespread access to the ballot box, from extended voting hours to registration based on Social Security number.

Additional legislation to prohibit racial and otherwise biased gerrymandering would be equally important.

If we had, for just one Congress, entire control of the legislative process, as we did during 2009 and 2010, the fairest, smartest thing we could possibly do would be to guarantee all Americans access to the ballot box, with as unbreakable legislation as we could possibly fashion.

While it would take a Constitutional Amendment to directly overturn Citizens United, it is possible that Congress could pass a law that the terms “speech” and “money” as used in the Constitution were exactly as defined in the standard dictionaries of the English Language. If the Supreme Court did not overturn that law, a challenge to Citizens United would be possible without an amendment. It is obvious that the Citizens United decision is the most destructive single act by a Supreme Court since at least the Dred Scott decision. A wise Congress and Executive would do everything in their power to overturn it by legislation, as averse to amendment.

I propose the above recommended legislation to restore the United States government to some semblance of Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” If the people writ large are not allowed to vote, they cannot govern themselves. The government “of” them will not be either “by” them nor “for” them. Voting is the foundation.

Unfortunately, voting can only assure this ideal government to the extent that it is informed voting, based at least broadly on fact and on the legitimate powers of government. Roughly half of the American people today literally believe things which have no basis in fact, and disbelieve provable, empirical fact. When a sizable portion of the electorate votes against a candidate based on the accusation that she is secretly running a pedophile sex business out of the basement of a pizza restaurant which has no basement, the entire process of holding elections is invalidated.

Congress has passed laws requiring truth in commerce, and forbidding outright lies in commercial advertising. Electing a government is no less important than choosing a toothpaste or an automobile; Congress has every right, long established, to establish reasonable limits on free speech. Our Congress, our majority, must be used to prohibit the promulgation of outright lies as news. We can do this.

From the early days of electronic media to the Reagan Administration the United States operated under a Fairness Doctrine. No broadcast media outlet could operate as a house organ for one political party. Ronald Reagan halted that doctrine.

Congress could, and should, restore it.

The United States, and indeed the world, faces major, possibly existential, threats, and in spite of that I have spent over 1500 words so far addressing only legislation insuring fair governance for the nation. That is because without fair governance the people cannot work toward solving broader, real problems. The reason that oligarchs have seized control of our government is because they know that only government can address national and worldwide problems, and they do not want those problems addressed. So now that we have (hypothetically) provided for a fair government, what next?

I would propose that the biggest problem, external to our right to govern ourselves, is global warming. It is already here; it is having the predicted violent effects. We need to do two things about it: we need to address surviving it in the short term, and we need to move quickly toward halting the increase of heat energy stored here on earth. This is possibly the greatest threat humans have ever faced. While we do not know exactly what the outcome of increasing temperatures and available free energy might be, we know for certain that the ecosystems with which we evolved are those which exist and operate at the current energy and temperature levels. Rather than argue about what the resultant, different, higher energy ecosystem might look like, we should do everything in our power to preserve the one that has supported us for the recent few hundred millennia.

Global warming is a bigger threat to human civilization as we know it than any other we have ever faced. Virtually no approach to it is too extreme. Look at the changes the United States made in our economy and lifestyles at the onset of World War II. Global warming is a bigger deal than World War II. The question is not whether we will have to change our lives; the question is whether we choose the changes or have them imposed on us.

I have written some essays on particular avenues I would recommend we take, facing this inescapable, obvious threat. I am only one man and have no claim to particular expertise and specifically no claim to omniscience. I cannot see all the possible solutions. America has some brilliant people, scientists, legislators, designers, sociologists, It is imperative that a Congress with the interests of a majority of the American people in mind make a top priority of modifying our current lifestyle to minimize the damage and suffering caused by global warming weather, and of moving us away from a carbon-emission based economy. We have already jumped off the bridge; the question now is whether we open the parachute.

Having discussed a few laws I would recommend, consider for a moment what it would take to pass them. Let’s consider legislation to provide relief in advance for global warming damage.

Coastal states are obviously threatened by global warming. By a quick count, there are about 18 coastal states of the lower 48, plus Alaska and Hawaii makes 20. We have already established that we must have Senators from 32 states, so at a minimum we have 24 Senators whose states do not have anything to lose if coastal states are flooded. Taking the House, elections are by district, not by state. There is no guarantee that a Representative from, say, upstate New York is totally committed to spending tax money to protect Manhattan Island from flooding. Nor is there any guarantee that a Representative from the Central Valley of California is deeply concerned about sea level rise in Malibu.

There is an old saying attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” (Sausage makers object, saying this isn’t fair to their industry.) Even if we have not-Republican legislative majorities, the needs and desires of the individual legislators are going to differ. The legitimate needs of the voters in the differing legislative districts are going to differ. It might be possible to get widespread agreement on legislation to improve the honesty and fairness of our voting system, since each and every not-Republican member of Congress could see advantage for themselves, but when it comes down to spending money to alleviate and reduce global warming, it is reasonable to expect every single member of Congress to say, What’s in it for my district? That is, after all, why we vote for members of Congress: to represent us. Not some vague “Americans” but: us.

Remember: 218 Representatives must agree to pass any bill. The member-elected Speaker of the House must, in most cases, agree to bring a bill to a vote or it will never get voted on regardless of how many individual Representatives might favor it. It is highly unusual for a bill in Congress to get voted on unless a majority of the controlling committee approves. An absolute minimum of 50 Senators plus the Vice President must agree to pass a similar bill. It is not unusual for it to take a minimum of 60 Senators to even bring said bill to a vote.

Legislation is a messy process. Observe the paralysis of the United States Government under Republican control in 2017. So far they have been unable to enact nearly any significant legislation whatsoever aside from a few critical bills to keep the insane President from giving away the store while they were out of town. They have not been blocked by Democrats, but by members of the same party.

This legislating business is harder than it looks.

Could we not-Republicans elect majorities in both houses? Under current conditions among our ranks I am not that confident, but it is possible.

If we succeeded in electing majorities in both houses could we accomplish anything with our majorities? Given, again, the current condition among our ranks, I am dubious.

Politics, it has long been said, is the art of the possible. In modern, disputatious America, is anything possible at all?

Supporting essays:
Global warming
Addressing Global Warming
Rational Transportation
A Repairman Looks At Weather
and others, see Table of Contents, No Package Deals

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The View From Here Late August, 2017

This is a work of speculation. I do not have any sources; I do not have any inside knowledge; everything I'm looking at today you can probably see on Google whatever day you're reading it.

Say Mueller goes to the Supreme Court with incontrovertible evidence that the Executive and Legislative branches at the highest levels engaged in careful systematic fraud and treason with Russia to, in the gentlest possible terms, install themselves as a Russia-friendly government in the United States. Then what?

From here as I look out over possible futures I see many. It is like sitting at the hub of a wheel and looking down the spokes. I am not offering a prediction; I am painting you a picture. I’m not trying to tell you that things are now or are going to become some specific way because I don’t know. What I am saying is, the things I see could support these results.

I am of the opinion that the end of the Constitutional Presidential system republic which was the United States is in the past, not the future. The country we knew is already over. It no longer exists. I have written of the event which, in my opinion, marked the end of the First Republic. If you haven’t already you can read that essay here, as well as one speculating about the people involved, here. 

I’m not going to bore you with details of all the ways the Executive Branch is blowing off not only established norms but the clear instructions in the Constitution. It’s out there. That follows the overthrow of a Democratic President by a Republican Congress. The only intervening event was an election during which Russian propaganda was disseminated over a complicit media by our governing oligarchy in cooperation with the Trump Organization and the elected Republican Congress. Senate Majority Leader MItch McConnell told President Barack Obama to shut up about it and he did. This last is not in dispute: it is a matter of public record. Not by any stretch of language or meaning could we be said to be living under the Constitution. The Republic is not here today.

From here one possibility is that the forces of good led by Bob Mueller III find evidence and trigger some action that frees us from the entire coup; I don’t think that is very likely but it is possible.

It is also possible that Mueller takes incontrovertible evidence of Trump coordination with Russia to Congress and they say, Yeah, so what? and go on about their business. No impeachment. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds: Congress is already looking at incontrovertible evidence. They’ve got most of the same documents Mueller has. They’re OK with it.

What next? Would he take it to the Supreme Court? I believe that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction but I’m just reading the Constitution. Lawyers were made expressly to argue about this stuff and I’m not one. But say he does, and the Court takes it, and he’s got the whole ball of wax. Say Mueller goes to the Supreme Court with incontrovertible evidence that the Executive and Legislative branches at the highest levels engaged in a careful systematic fraud and treason to, in the gentlest possible terms, install themselves as a Russia-friendly government in the United States.

Taking that road further, say that the Court finds for the republic and calls for new elections, appoints George W. Bush and Bill Clinton as caretaker President & Vice President, and fires Congress pending new elections. A bunch of particularly corrupt members of Congress – McConnell and Ryan and their cronies – would be, at a minimum, banned for life from public office, but the rest would be allowed to run again. Without some institutional memory it would be much harder.

That would be my personal ideal outcome. Except: What if they all refused to leave? The orange guy is currently living in blissful disobedience of a court order that he not block American citizens on Twitter, and everybody says, (hold your nose and make your voice weird) “Oh, that’s Trump.” and ignores him ignoring the court. His pardon of Joe Arpaio was a dictator’s thumb in the eye to the concept of an independent judiciary. One member of the Supreme Court is also a member of the coup. Nobody can stop him.

Nobody can stop him because our Constitution is fatally flawed: there is no provision to keep a President and a Congress from working together to take America private. If the easiest way to accomplish that is by signing up with Russia so be it. I suspect that it wasn’t technologically possible to have done this in 1800. With today’s money, computers, and communications it’s not only possible, it’s almost inevitable.

There’s an assumption that if the Supreme Court fires them they’ll leave. I’m not that confident. When he stops being President he’ll probably go to jail. Ryan and McConnell too I would think. Along with a bunch of others. I doubt if they’re up for that.

If they all (Trump, Ryan, McConnell, Trump’s pet generals) look at the Supreme Court and say, Nope – then what?

Then either they stay in command or the military throws them out. If they don’t leave by their own power it will come down to force. Historically Presidential System Republics tend to end in military coup. If we step into that morass it will be grim, but I’m going to proceed from here based on the assumption that even if that happens an almost genetic memory of self government will eventually win over and we will throw the bums out. I’m going to tag that – the throw the bums out day – as point A. I’ll come back to that.

Another whole possible road follows from some power – Mueller or Congress or even the Supreme Court – taking out Trump or even the whole Executive Branch but leaving the original Congressional Coup in place. Things may quiet down, but the republic is still over. We’ll be Red China, more or less, with a semi-command economy worked by technoserfs, governed by a self selected Central Committee. Or a Russia variant. Or Mexico. One party rule, abject poverty and incredible wealth, with a big empty space in between. We already have one characteristic of Soviet Russia in our economy: as they used to say in Russia, “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” America hasn’t had a raise in 40 years. Most people have had a cut in pay. It shows.

If the Congressional Coup stays in place, McConnell and Ryan and the Koch Brothers will stuff some other, hopefully less colorful, stooge in there and we’re still an oligarchy. The Republic is still gone.

In that case – Trump out, the Republicoup Congress in – elections are probably hopeless. Every dictatorship on Earth holds elections. You let the people you want to vote, vote. They elect you. Return to top.

I do a lot of rooting for elections, but personally I don’t expect to see the formation of a functional, actually voting, Democratic coalition big enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and take Congress back amidst the propaganda storm. I like to root for it because it is theoretically possible and would be a wonderful outcome. Please do go vote for Democrats, it might work. But otherwise…

There’s no telling how long it will last. In Mexico they’ve been doing it for I think ninety-some years. One party oligarchy, sham elections, the people get so poor they’ll risk their lives to come to The United States to make a little bit of nothing doing hard dirty work. Well, before Trump’s Troopers. Amongst the poverty Mexico has at least one candidate for Richest Man on Earth plus a handful of other billionaires, most of whom are professional criminals but that’s to be expected. We could go that way. We’ve got a good running start. But.

But say Americans in large numbers notice they’ve been had. The bottom 2/3 to 3/4 of everybody really are natural allies. Believe it or not, we and the rednecks ought to be voting for the same things. We’re all getting screwed together. Many everyday Americans have fallen for a propaganda storm that has turned them against one another. Mostly it has been done by focusing on religion, race, and guns. The Central Committee might just come and take away their guns after they are no longer needed to intimidate the rest of us. Or we might study and outwit the Propaganda War. I don’t know. It may be, by whatever road we travel, we all reach point A. We throw the bums out. We get past it. I feel confident that eventually we will, again based on history. People have stood up to kings since at least 1200 or so. So once we get to point A, once we throw the bums out, then what? Now what?

The last guys who threw out the king and the nobility wrote a Constitution. We might try that. Here’s a rough draft.

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A Well Regulated Militia

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Everybody knows those words. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights.

More lies have been told about that simple sentence than about anything else in American history with the possible exception of sex and gas mileage.

The most pernicious lie of all is that the 2nd Amendment somehow justifies the people in taking up arms against their government. The framers of the Constitution did not write in a clause that said it would be acceptable for the citizens to murder them while they went about the business of governing the new nation. Forget that.

As of when this screenshot was taken this tweet had been retweeted nearly 8,000 times.

Senator Rand Paul, of the governing Republican Party in the United States, sent this tweet: He claims that he was quoting her, but the format of the tweet doesn’t look that way to me. But it’s real: his account sent it. Real men don’t make excuses.

Steve Scalise is paying the price. Rand Paul, some Fox News TV “judge”, and a million other Conservatives, all stood together and held the gun that forever changed Steve Scalise’s life. His wounding is in their hands. Some dim bulb took Rand Paul’s word, and Rush Limbaugh’s word, and Alex Jones’s word, that he had a right to do it, and shot at his government. It’s called Stochastic Terrorism

In the first place, all that fancy talk about overthrowing tyrants isn’t in the Constitution. It’s in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson meant those other tyrants in England. (Of course, Rand Paul meant those other tyrants the Democrats.) At no place did Jefferson mean to imply that the same rules would apply to the Good Guys, the United States Government that they were fighting a war to create, after the Revolution was over. To say so is the purest form of lie.

The blurring of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution undermines the stability of the nation. It is a serious failure of education and a powerful tool in propaganda. The Declaration of Independence is specifically a challenge to the validity of government by King and Parliament over 13 faraway colonies. The Declaration of Independence was written to justify the colonies’ overthrow of that government.

Not this government.

The Constitution was written to create, codify, and hopefully operate into perpetuity this government. The United States of America.

The Declaration of Independence does not apply to the duly constituted government created after the Revolution. I have had dozens (at least) of misinformed people tell me that the the 2nd Amendment was written specifically to permit the overthrow of the United States government by force of arms; that the Constitution says so. I think that these people, without exception, believed that they were telling the truth. Violent overthrow of the government, these people believe, would be not a side effect of the Second Amendment but literally the framers’ reason for creating it. We are to believe that the framers, in Philadephia in the summer of 1787, said to themselves “we’ll make this Amendment so that if we annoy the people between elections they can come with guns and kill us all.” I cannot express how absurd this is.

The American people have been told, over and over, that they have a Constitutional right to overthrow their government by force of arms. Rand Paul, a sitting Senator told them that, on his United States Senate Twitter account which exists for official communications with his constituents.

Why would an average American even think that his Senator was lying to him?

Many of the people who have told them this currently are the government. Most of the remainder support the current government in various media and financial ways. By a marvel of misdirection that same government, the Trump Regime working together with the Republican Congressional Coup (with propaganda support from most of commercial media) has flipped the 2nd Amendment propaganda upside down and backward: Now they are saying that the 2nd Amendment gives some portion of the American people the Constitutional right to enslave the rest, to conquer all the people who would otherwise vote against them, again by force of arms. People who call themselves (but are not) militias claim a Constitutional Right to march down the streets of our cities in their camouflage suits and bulletproof vests with their (maybe semi-) automatic rifles and their war paraphernalia and order us around and kill one or two of us.

The President of the United States, The United States Congress, and most of the United States’s allegedly free press sees that same redefined Constitutional right in flaming letters written across the sky and bows down before it.

The party controlling the government today and the people who own over 99% of the money and media outlets in this country have spent 40 years pushing that lie. We are, today, in grave danger.

I have claimed that there is no Constitutional right to overthrow the government or enslave other Americans by force of arms. Why, then, do we have the 2nd Amendment, and what is a militia, anyway?

The “well regulated Militia” referenced in the 2nd Amendment is not an abstract, otherwise undefined armed group. The militia is defined clearly in the base Constitution. The 2nd Amendment, written after the base document, has its foundation in the Constitutionally defined militia.

Under the Constitution the Militia is primarily a creature of Congress and the States. The first reference to it is in Article I Sec 8. Article I creates the Congress; Sec 8 spells out several of Congress’s specific powers and duties. Par 15 says,

“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”

The Militia works for Congress. There are no self-employed militias in the United States.

The very next paragraph continues to define Congress’s duties regarding the Militia:

“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;”

If Congress didn’t organize it it’s not a militia.

If Congress didn’t arm it it’s not a militia.

If Congress doesn’t discipline it it’s not a militia.

During such times that the militia might be activated for duty service to the country, Congress would directly govern the militia.

If the state of Virginia did not appoint officers for, and train, those thugs on the streets of Charlottesville, they were not a militia.

As envisioned under the Constitution, the United States of America did not have a standing Army. The only somewhat permanent army would be the Militia, organized by Congress but operated by States except in times of invasion or insurrection, when Congress (only) could call them up, after which the President would command them.

Article II of the Constitution creates and defines the Presidency. Section 2 defines his or her powers and obligations. The first paragraph of Article I Section 2 begins with

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;…”

Notice that the President only commands the militia after Congress calls them up.

Why does some huge majority of Americans think that little bands of armed thugs are militias? Because virtually every reporter in my lifetime has told them so. The thugs in Charlottesville were reported to be one or more militias. The difference is not a semantic quibble. A militia is an armed force in service to one of, or all of, the United States. A militia is to serve and protect the United States. These bands of thugs are specifically threatening war against the United States. Some – the Bundy mob comes to mind – have taken up arms against the United States more than once. The difference is as significant as the difference between birth and death.

The groups on the streets of Charlottesville may have been called militias by every TV and radio station and every newspaper in the country. If not, it was close. They were not, by any definition of the term applicable in the United States, militia.

Those groups were one of the following:

  • Armed gangs
  • An insurrection

If in fact the United States had a militia – and some believe that the National Guard is exactly that, our Constitutional Militia – it would have been Congress’s duty to call them out to preserve the peace in Charlottesville. Again:

“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”

The thugs on the streets of Charlottesville, VA, on the 11th and 12th of August, 2017, were not militia. They were an insurgency. Congress, every single member sworn on their honor to uphold and defend the Constitution, failed their duty and violated their oath.

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Government Tasks / Actions

This page is not so much an essay as a reference. I recurrently need this information inserted into something else I am writing; rather than write it a thousand times I am going to put this doc here to link to.

There are some 330 million Americans. The United States covers 3.797 million square miles / 2.27 billion acres of land and water.

The Government of the United States has responsibilities to every one of these citizens over every single acre. The government’s duty to the citizens, per the United States Constitution (2 separate mentions) is to “…provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare…”

Virtually none of the things the government does are specifically spelled out in the Constitution. It’s not that sort of a document. Instead, we were given the above broad statement plus, under the specified powers of Congress, the following instructions:

1: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, DutiesImposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all DutiesImposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

(16 specific groups of responsibilities, and)

18: To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

So that is how the Government of the United States came to perform, among other things, the following specific tasks:

The Federal government manages and maintains over 164,000 miles of highway, among the over 4 million miles of highways and byways in the United States.

The Federal government built, regulates, manages, and maintains over 12,000 miles of navigable, freight carrying waterways. There are 29 locks and dams on the Mississippi river and another 21 on the Ohio. Waterway freight is the most energy efficient freight system in America. The vast majority of the United States’s agricultural exports travel down government built and maintained waterways.

The entire United States, every square mile, is covered by air traffic control radar. Every square mile of radar coverage is monitored by 15,000 living, human, federal employees, 24 hours of every day.

If that radar and those air traffic controllers were not there the 87,000 daily flights of the United States air transportation and freight system would have to shut down immediately. The only alternative would be mass carnage in the skies and on the ground.

It appears that not even the Pentagon knows exactly how many military bases the United States Government operates worldwide, but here is a map of the nations where we have a military presence.

GPS satellite network

We have satellites in space; we have submarines beneath the oceans of the world. We have nuclear powered aircraft carriers ranging the oceans of the world.

The GPS in your phone or your car gets its location information from satellites launched, maintained, and operated by the United States Government.

The Department of Energy is responsible for the safety and security of enough nuclear weapons to end human life hundreds of times over. I have seen the number of nuclear warheads the department is responsible for variously reported as 64,000, 77,000, fewer and more. I’m not sure anybody knows exactly. Besides the active nuclear weapons the Department of Energy manages three nuclear laboratories and all the fissionable material and nuclear waste in the country, with the objective of keeping it out of the hands of our enemies. One small error could spell the end of one or more large cities.

Besides all this the Department of Energy is responsible for cleaning up the nuclear wastelands left over from over 50 years of nuclear weapon design, testing, and manufacture. This government agency decontaminates and decommissions nuclear facilities which have outlived their usefulness and attempts to keep the radioactive materials out of the water, land, and air which American citizens require to live.

Just one Federal agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, operates and maintains some 340 major dams in the American West, providing drinking, irrigation, household and commercial use water for virtually the entire half the nation between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, along with outdoor recreation for millions of Americans each year.

Before the Bureau of Reclamation existed nearly all the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean – the western half of the country – was sparsely populated desert. This desert could not support any more people than it already had because there wasn’t any water to drink, to wash in, or to grow food. Republican President Teddy Roosevelt got Congress to create the Bureau of Reclamation with the idea that the west could be turned into farmland. With the exception of California’s Central Valley that’s not exactly how it turned out.

The cities that make up today’s US West could not exist without the Bureau of Reclamation. Not only could they not have been built, they could not exist for one week, starting right now, if the Bureau of Reclamation were shut down.

Aerial view of the Phoenix downtown skyline with the midtown skyline behind as well as North Mountain and other mountains in the background.

Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles – gone. If the Bureau of Reclamation were shut down overnight, there is no guarantee that Phoenix could even be evacuated in an orderly fashion before water stress hit. All the water, all the time, every day, that makes these giant cities possible, is delivered by the federal government through taxpayer-supported plumbing.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has been providing flood control for private property in the Mississippi and Sacramento River valleys since 1928, including tributaries of the Misssissippi, which include such rivers as the Missouri and the Ohio. The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers alone count for some 4,000 miles of flood control structures (with the Missouri, by the way, slightly the longer of the two.) The Missouri River is impounded in six places along its main stem, vast lakes over a thousand miles in total length.  These six dams provide flood control, electric power generation, recreation, and irrigation water for people from Canada to St. Louis. They are, needless to say, parts of the Federal Government.

That’s just one river. The Corps of Engineers manages flood control and water projects across the nation, from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Columbia River. Each of these major systems is comparable to the description above.

When that flood control fails (which it always has done from time to time) the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) comes in and feeds people, houses them, and keeps them alive. While FEMA is the butt of a million jokes, it has also saved easily a million lives.

The United States Government provides assistance to farmers across the nation and has since the Lincoln administration. This assistance comes in the form of insurance, land management information, research, educational materials – if you’re not hungry and thank a farmer, thank the Federal Government too, because they’ve been helping that farmer produce since the Civil War.

Besides assisting farmers the United States Department of Agriculture inspects for safety and cleanliness the meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and egg products eaten by American consumers. Without an equivalent agency, China a few years ago experienced mass child deaths caused by contaminated milk. The United States government works to prevent events like that from happening here.

Federal Civil Service employees maintain the runway lights on every major airport in the United States.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) invented the Internet.

The United States Government interacts on behalf of its citizens with the other 194 nations on Earth. Our State Department maintains 307 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world, where besides interacting with the local governments they provide services and assistance to US citizens should they find themselves in need or distress.

The government operates 168 VA Hospital / Medical Centers and 1,053 outpatient facilities, caring for some 8.9 million veterans a year. (As of July, 2016)

The Food and Drug Administration inspects and assures safety of food, drugs, our blood supply, nuclear medicine products, medical devices, cosmetics, and animal and veterinary medicines. Before the FDA we had snake oil salesmen and “medicines” containing mercury.

About 35.3 million, or over 10%, of Americans use Corps of Engineer recreational sites and facilities every year. The Corps provides and manages over 12 million acres of recreational land, with 4,263 separate sites at 423 different projects. The corps maintains over 55,000 miles of shoreline, 91,000 campsites, over 4,600 miles of trails, almost 3,500 boat ramps, and one-third of all the freshwater fishing in the United States. Corps lakes host 20,000 fishing tournaments a year.

The Corp, at its recreation facilities alone, has about one billion dollars worth of fixed assets. There are 500 private businesses operating concessions on Corps lands, 350,000 jobs associated with Corp-operated recreation, and 18 million dollars spent every year by visitors enjoying the facilities.

The United States government shares operation of an international space station 250 miles above us, rounding the earth every hour and a half, moving some 17,000 miles an hour. Although private contractors now get paid for providing launch facilities to move scientists and material up and back, without the federally operated space station up there they wouldn’t have much business.

The Meals on Wheels program provides over 215 million meals a year to some 2.5 million homebound Americans.

The federal government operates 102 federal prisons and employs about 120,000 law enforcement officers.

The United States Postal Service provides letter and package pick-up and delivery service to every address in the United States. The Postal Service operates 31,585 post offices, at least one in nearly every city and town in the nation. Postal employees visit nearly every address in the entire nation every day, six days a week, to deliver mail and pick up any outgoing mail the resident may have. The Post Office directly employs over half a million career employees.

It is interesting to note that, of all the services in this list, the Post Office is directly required by the Constitution. “Establishing Post Offices and Post Roads” is one of the 16 Congressional responsibilities I skipped over earlier in this essay. In spite of this, Congress has semi-privatized the Post Office and indulges much public hand-wringing over the cost of providing this required service to Americans.

The United States government owns and manages some 640 million acres of land. The United States already owned land before the Constitution was written, and this ownership, like the Post Office, is expressly provided for in the Constitution, where Article IV Section 3 par. 2 reads,

2: The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

The United States government secures over 5,500 miles of land border with neighboring nations and 12, 383 miles of coastline which, with its twists and turns,actually consists of over 95,000 miles of shoreline.

This list only scratches the surface of federal government activities and responsibilities.

The United States Government is big. It is always going to be big. The United States is a big country.

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Congressional Dereliction of Duty


I have read several comments in the past few days stating that Donald Trump, as President of the United States, has a duty to defend the United States from invasion, and that his refusal to take any action regarding Russia’s past and ongoing cyber invasion of the nation is a failure to do his duty.

He is a failure in every way, but under our Constitution repelling invasions is not his duty.

In Article I of the United States Constitution, in Section 8, which specifies responsibilities of Congress, the 15th paragraph reads as follows:

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

This is the only reference in the Constitution to enforcing the laws by force of arms, to suppressing insurrections, and to repelling invasions.

Repelling invasions is a clear Congressional responsibility.

The Congress, if they were to honor their Oath of Office and obey their Constitutional direction, would be passing legislation to deal with the Russian invasion.

  • They would address Russian hacking
  • They would address the public dissemination of hacked materials
  • They would address the security of voting which, although a State task, is done under the auspices of the Constitution.

These are bare minimum actions which Congress would take. There are undoubtedly more which, if Congress were faithful, they would feel necessary.

Every intelligence organization in the United States has specifically told Congress that we have been invaded.

Virtually every intelligence organization among our allies in the Western world agrees. Many have said to publicly.

The 115th Congress is acting in complete, total, and unceasing disregard for their Oath of Office. The United States Constitution is not, as of this date, in operation by any measure.

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Constitution, Why and What

It appears from here that many Americans have a very strange view of their Constitution.

The United States Constitution, although frequently mentioned in our public discourse today, seems to occupy a spot in the public mind somewhere between holy writ and Delphic oracle. People attribute to it all manner of meanings, concepts, and statements that simply aren’t there. People also assign profound meaning to certain things expressly because they are not in our Constitution, claiming to understand the founders’ intent in terms of what they did not write. This is bizarre.

What the Constitution is, and all that it is, is a detailed manual of the design, structure, and operation of the United States Government. More on that soon.

Theoretically most Americans have at least a vague idea of how and when we came to have this particular document, but allow me to  touch on the historic high points briefly.

The same Continental Congress which adopted and signed the Declaration of Independence wrote and adopted a document called the Articles of Confederation, which was an attempt to codify the relationship between the 13 independent colonies who were joining together to fight the coming war.

Union between the colonies had never existed before except through England, Parliament and King. They were 13 separate colonial nations agreeing to join together and throw off their shared colonizing power. When Thomas Jefferson wrote about “my Country,” as he often did, he meant Virginia. He used the terms almost interchangeably. Maryland was no more part of his country than France was. So the Continental Congress wrote up a paper that said, in short, we’ll do this together but nobody can tell any of us anything. We are equals. Each of us is independent states, which in 1776 meant nations, but we’ll fight this war together and afterward, we’ll meet from time to time and talk.

The United States won the revolution. They threw off the English. Afterward they operated as 13 independent nations for 10 years, by which time the political leaders in each of those 13 states knew that the nation they had attempted to create was not working. A broad overview can be found on Wikipedia here and in histories of our nation.

So they trudged back to Philadelphia to work the issues out. The stated plan was to fix the Articles of Confederation so they would work. The articles turned out to be, like a poorly designed and rotting building, harder to fix than to replace. Instead, the 50 to 90 (roughly) men spent that summer designing a new government which would bind these 13 formerly free and independent nations together as subordinate units under one nationwide federal government. The government they designed was unlike any which existed, or had ever existed, anywhere on earth.

As might be expected with Version 1.0, there were a few bugs.

They did not write poetry. They did not write philosophy. They wrote a detailed how-to manual. After they finished the manual they wrote one great piece of philosophical prose, the Preamble to the Constitution for the United States, but the preamble is the only artwork in there.

The Constitution says, in a nutshell:

First, in Article One: The Congress will run the country. They will make all the laws, spend all the money, raise all the taxes. Congress will raise and equip the Militia, in a nation without a standing army. (The Constitution provides that no money can be appropriated for an army for longer than two years.) Congress will decide if and when the new nation will go to war. Congress will have the power to remove by impeachment and conviction any member, elected or appointed, of any branch of the federal government including their own.

The Constitution gives Congress these specific powers, and others, plus the world’s biggest fudge factor: Congress may pass whatever laws they might need to provide for the general Welfare and the common defense.

The Constitution lays out in detail what the two Houses of Congress will be, how they are formed, how long they serve, how often they must meet (at least one day a year). It provides an overview of the process of electing Congress , which has been amended some. General housekeeping is in there, like how often we’ll have censuses in order to apportion Congress among the states, plus the shameful and legendary pro-slavery “3/5 of a person” clause, long amended out of operation but still there to read.

There is quite a bit of text specifying how the Congress will function, including that both houses may make their own rules.

Also in Article I is the express rule that officers of the United States may not take anything of value from any foreign government. This is to prevent larger and wealthier nations from bribing United States officials. It is not at all complicated. It says, No foreign nation, king, or prince may give any gift, pay for services rendered, or title of nobility to any member of the United States government. It was the framers’ way of making sure our weak new government did not get bribed into subjection by some foreign power.

Article Two of our Constitution creates and defines a President and specifies his powers.

The President will oversee the Congress, but he can’t overrule them. If he doesn’t like a bill they have enacted it he can force them to reconsider it, and require that they pass it by 2/3 majority in order that it become law. He cannot veto it outright; if 2/3 of both houses agree that some bill should be law they can enact it over the President’s objections.

The Constitution expressly provides that the President shall be the public face of the United States to the world. He (now it can also be she) speaks for us to all people and negotiates all agreements. The Senate can say yes or no on an agreement with another nation, but only the President may negotiate it.

The President is required to tell Congress from time to time how the nation is doing, and what laws they ought to pass to help it do better.

The President appoints all judges, ambassadors, and certain other public officials. The Senate has the power to “advise and consent” to the appointments. The Constitution doesn’t address lunacy like a Senate just refusing to seat any judge a President might appoint because they are denying that President his Constitutional power; our Founders were more-or-less honest men and didn’t foresee a time when we would be governed so dishonestly.

After Congress sends us to war the President commands our forces. He (or, again, she) is Commander in Chief.

And finally, the President of the United States is charged with seeing that the laws Congress passes – specifically all the laws – be faithfully executed. This is what makes the President look so powerful: He or She has the Constitutional obligation and power to make every single American obey every single law Congress ever passed.

It’s absurd, of course. No single human has the reach. However, even an approximation makes him look like a Pretty Big Dog.

Article II also contains the rules for electing a President.The electors are in here, although technically the term Electoral College is not. There have been numerous attempts to eliminate the Electoral College by amendment; none have succeeded. The Electoral College is a deep and emotionally charged topic; I am not going to address it here beyond acknowledging its existence.

Article II contains a second clause about taking money from governments, a clause that applies expressly to the President: The President will be paid a salary for his services, and otherwise may not receive any money in any way from the United States government or from any state government.

While the first emoluments clause was to prevent bribery, this clause prohibits theft by corruption. A President would be in a unique position to steer treasury money to his own pocket so the framers specifically prohibited that.

There are some other details but that is the main focus of the President’s job.

Article Three creates a supreme Court (lower-case “s” in original) and gives Congress power to create lesser courts. It provides that judges will serve “during good behavior.” Then our Constitution grants our supreme Court jurisdiction over absolutely everything that ever happens period. Congress has the power to do anything; the supreme Court has the power to undo anything.

The supreme Court has jurisdiction over “all cases” in “law and equity.” No limits whatsoever. The supreme Court is the final judge over Fact and Law. The supreme Court has specific, Constitutionally spelled out authority over all cases where any state or the United States is involved, over all cases on land or sea, everything. The supreme Court has absolute jurisdiction in the United States.

The rest of the Constitution is simple rules for managing a nation made up of semi-independent states, defining in broad terms what those states may do and may not do, and for doing things like amending itself. Our Constitution states that the nation through its government owns its land and owns its debts. There are important issues there. The only way to actually know the rules of life in America is to read the Constitution; that’s where they start.

The entire document, although written a long time ago, is easily understood by anyone who reads at the level expected of a high school graduate and who possesses a decent vocabulary. A dictionary is useful to refresh the reader on moderately archaic but still clear terms like emolument. The Constitution is not a bunch of mumbo jumbo that only Learned Attorneys and Judges can understand. It was written by reasonably clear thinking people in as clear a language as would express their instructions. The Constitution for the United States is every American’s property; having at least a working knowledge of it could be said to be a responsibility of every citizen. Particularly now, in 2017, when so many fictions about our Constitution float unchallenged through the ether and the people running our government appear to operate above or immune to our laws, it behooves Americans to learn their Constitution.

The Constitution is not philosophy, it is instructions. And it most expressly is not some “string of pearls” from which one can pluck free standing phrases of wisdom. The Constitution – the original, pre-Amendment, pre-Bill of Rights Constitution, is one coherent whole document spelling out the details of one coherent and complete national government. The Congress does not exist without the President. Neither exist without states, and elections. Our nation does not exist without an independent judiciary. The Constitution is one thing, which must be viewed in its entirety to have any meaning whatever. Then after one obtains a grasp of the entire Constitution  one can use it as a source for verifying specific rules applicable to specific parts of our national structure. One can say, I think that particular rule is somewhere in Article III, and look it up to make sure. These are the rules of the game, just like the rules of poker. Or bridge. The Constitution is the Hoyle of nationhood.

Governing, being a nation, is like any other human activity: one can either agree on rules or squabble endlessly. Constitutions are rules for the activity of being a nation.

The above is drastically shortened from the full scope of the Constitution. There are few if any wasted words in the long document. I’m just trying to give the reader a feel for what’s in there. These men from these 13 separate nations gathered together and designed a nation, by designing one top-down, sovereign government. Now they had to go home and sell their neighbors on the idea of giving up their hard-won independent sovereignty to this new single nation. Not everyone agreed. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a big fan of the idea at all, and people listened when he talked.

That’s how all that slavery crap got in there. I’m not making excuses for slavers, but they wrote this thing in 1787 and needed to get a bunch of slave-owning independent sovereign nations to sign on. Or not. So they protected slavery from any amendment or outlawing for 20 years. Our past has its ugly parts.

The rules at the start were, if any 9 states ratify this Constitution, those 9 states are a nation. The rest of you can come or not; your choice.  All 13 ratified it.

This history matters today. Our existence as a nation is being widely challenged, by Americans, some of them perhaps well meaning. The very idea of a national government is again being challenged, expressly by the party that is running it as well as by other people. The idea of a federal government which had authority over all states and all people in the nation was never universally accepted.

Before ratification there were Federalists, who get mentioned frequently these days, and Anti-Federalists, who have mostly vanished. Thomas Jefferson was an Anti-Federalist. When the Federalists won the election he accepted that and participated to the best of his ability as Secretary of State and as President.

The men of the Constitutional Convention were so busy designing a government that they forgot to even specify what rights the people would have, i.e. limits on that government, The first ten amendments, – the bill of rights – were an afterthought. Important, but still, not the original focus. Just: write the rules for a nation and a national government, which are inseparable.

We had another round of the Federalist : Anti-Federalist argument, with gunfire, about 80 years later. We call it the Civil War. Yes, the Civil War was about slavery, but the way it expressed itself before the shooting started was in terms of states being free of the impositions of a national government. The resultant entity after secession took its name from the name of our governing document before the Constitution. calling itself the Confederated States. The justification of the war was the states’ alleged right to disassociate themselves from some busybody government who was going to take their slaves away from them. No more of this All One Country crap, we’re going back to being independent nations. With slaves.

Look around you. The concept of one sovereign nation is being challenged from both sides.

My side is legalizing pot and telling the Federal government to buzz off. The other side is working on a Jim Crow / Taliban south and midwest. Both sides, alas, have blown off the concept of Federalism.

I am a Federalist. I admit it. I think in order to survive we need to retain one Constitutional republic from sea to shining sea, out into the Pacific Ocean and almost to Russia.

If we are to succeed, it would be best we do so under our existing Constitution. Not because it’s perfect, but because it’s a set of rules everybody can read and agree on, it has functioned reasonably well for almost a quarter of a millennium, and it’s already there.

If the reader wishes more detail on our Constitution, I offer the complete text, with simple translation into modern English, here: The Annotated Constitution,

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