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Saturday, January 28, 2006

We Spent $352 Billion In FY05 And It Bought Us NOTHING

The Right may be on the wrong side of History but their strategy to turn back the clock is as patient as it is brilliant. But it's also immoral if not downright criminal. The $352 BILLION the federal government pissed away in FY05 on a single line item which bought We The People NOTHING proves it. That amounts to about $1200 per person.

For the past 3 decades the Right has been engaged in a number of strategic offensives. The each key element of their strategy serves two purposes... building up the Right while diminishing the Democrats.

One offensive is to defund the Democratic Party. The Right intends to accomplish this though free trade which will undermine labor unions. Another is though tort "reform" which is designed to undercut trial lawyers. Last by attacking public schools which are heavily unionized. All these groups are big contributors to the Democratic Party. These policies have the added benefit of serving the needs of corporations, capital, and social conservatives.

Another offensive is to hijack the federal judiciary by installing radical right-wing judges. The intent here is to challenge the legal basis for the social safety net and as a political pay-back for the social conservatives who are determined to use government to impose their notions of morality on the nation.

The last is to "starve the beast". During the 2000 campaign Bush promised to strengthen Social Security by protecting the surplus and paying down debt. In reality his real intent was to continue the Right's offensive to sabotage government revenues though grossly irresponsible tax cuts. After all, it costs the Right nothing to steal money from future taxpayers to buy votes today anymore than it does to craft bills that benefit special interests. Again, such policies serve a dual purpose. They bring home bacon to the GOP's wealthy and business constituencies while depriving the Democrats of funds for programs that benefit their constituencies. Tom DeLay wanted to go further with the K Street Project and make government kick-backs to GOP donors a quid pro quo. Just look at the goodies written into the Medicare Drug bill for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. The payback was so juicy the true cost of this bill had to be hidden from Congress.

Why do I consider the Right's intent and their policies criminal? Because the GOP has chosen to use fiscal irresponsibility as a political weapon. Since Reagan, the radical right of GOP has been determined to sabotage government finances by creating massive deficits thus more debt. To this end they would prefer to piss away TRILLIONS on interest, some $352 BILLION in FY05 alone, rather than ever see that money spent to help the American People. Given the Right's true intent, it's no surprise Bush was determined to sabotage revenues just when Clinton reached a surplus... and before any debt was paid down.

Interest on the debt is without a doubt the biggest waste of public money in the federal budget. Yet despite the shocking size of this budget item, no Party raises this as a political issue no doubt fearing its potential volatility. Generally both parties prefer to gloss over the complexities of what's on and off budget... as well as the budget numbers themselves, leaving everything abstract. To do otherwise might expose the Right's Big Lie that all waste is to be found in puny programs like Public Broadcasting or the National Endowment For The Arts. Not that the Democrats are much better. Kerry's 04 deficit reduction plan hid a trillion in trust fund borrowing over 5 years.

For budget issues such as interest on the debt to become a potent political issue these immense numbers have to be made less abstract. I can envision two ways to do this. First is to compare that $352 Billion to the budgets of some well known agencies. For instance in FY05 the entire NASA budget was $16.244 Billion. The entire FY05 budget for National Institute of Health (NIH) was $28.8 billion. Combined this amounted to only 12.8% of the money wasted away on interest.

There's another way to bring the message home... though simple images. I have to thank http://www.crunchweb.net/87billion/ for the inspiration behind this exercise.

There's an old expression that a billion here and a billion there and soon you're talking REAL money. So just how big a pile of cash is $352 billion?

Using a micrometer I found a dollar bill is between .0044" and .0050" thick a differential no doubt cause by the high pressure intaglio printing process. I used the average of .0047".

A dollar bill is 6.125" x 2.625" x .0047" slightly different from the numbers used at Crunchweb. That means...

$1.00 bill = .0755671 cubic inches.

$22867.09 can fit in a cubic foot... at least mathematically.

$1 Billion....... 1000000000 / 22867.09 = 43,730.968 cubic feet of cash.

FY05 interest on the debt was 352.350,252,507 Billion.
(source = http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opdint.htm)

352.350,252,507 Billion = 15408617.6 cubic feet of cash.

Taxpayer money wasted on FY05 interest would cover a baseball diamond (90' x 90') to a height of 1920'. The World Trade Center Towers were "only" 1368' tall.

Taxpayer money wasted on FY05 interest would cover a basketball court (94' x 50') to a height of 3278.4'

Taxpayer money wasted on FY05 interest would cover an entire NCAA football field (including end zones and sidelines... 160' x 360') to a height of 267.5'

But the interest on the debt is merely a sideshow in the GOP's criminal sabotaging of government finances. What about the debt Bush has run up?

According to http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov on January 20th 2001 when GW Bush took office the national debt was $5,727,776,738,304.64. As of January 26th 2006 the national debt was $8,190,567,748,779.48

In five years George Bush raised the national debt by $2,462,791,010,474.84. That's $2463 BILLION.... an average of about $492.5 Billion a year.

If Bush's debt to date is = $2462.791010474 billion = 107,700,234.87 cubic feet of cash.

This would cover a baseball diamond (90' x 90') to a height of 13,296'

Bush's debt would cover a basketball court (94' x 50') to a height of 22,915' That's a pile of tightly packed $1.00 bills 4.34 MILES high!

Bush's debt would cover an entire NCAA football field (including end zones and sidelines... 160' x 360') to a height of 1869.8'

Back in fall 04 at the Kerry Forum I repeatedly suggested this would make a great 15 second TV campaign ad if aired during football games.

Once these abstract debt numbers are brought down to human scale, the criminal irresponsibility and contempt the GOP has for the nation are painfully evident. But never underestimate the human capacity for self-deception. The Orwellian Right will find some way to justify these crimes and the True Believers on the Right will slop it up like Jim Jones' Cool-Aid.


ulTRAX

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

If The Right Opposes The Right To Privacy... Let THEM Repeal The 9th Amendment

In the last article I stated my belief that Democrats have a narrow view of constitutional rights which at best is marginally less restrictive than that of the radical Right. While both major parties at least seem to agree the Constitution protects enumerated rights... though not always what they mean... the Dems go a bit further in looking to recent court rulings that found some constitutional basis for unenumerated or penumbral rights such as the right to privacy and the right to choose.

Sadly the Democrat's dedication to these rights is not a matter of principle, but seems to be in direct proportion to how vocal constituency groups are in the Democratic coalition. If the Democrats DID support the concept of non-enumerated rights they would insist government must try all LEAST restrictive means first in dealing with legitimate social problems. For instance they'd bring to the war against drugs the same common sense standards used in fighting social problems associated with alcohol: laws would target real social problems while protecting the rights of responsible users.

In a recent web discussion about strategies to protect unenumerated constitutional rights such as privacy and the right to choose, someone suggested the Democrats should advocate amendments to guarantee these rights.

I could not disagree more.

Even if some amendments were ratified, there will be an endless list of other rights the radical Right would love to restrict. Even the concept of one person/one vote is under attack! As if the current Democratic strategy isn't already on shaky ground, this amendment proposal perpetuates that defensive posture and dooms the Democrats to endlessly pursue amendment after amendment. If they don't... and if Griswold or Roe are overturned... what's the fallback position to guarantee these rights on the FEDERAL level? There is none. The issues will revert to the states resulting in a patchwork of conflicting laws.

Democrats are making a strategic blunder of monumental proportions by basing their arguments on stare decisis... previous court rulings. They need to aggressively reframe the debate and this requires going on the offense to find in the Constitution a broader source of rights as the REAL legal basis for the right to privacy and the right to choose.

I believe the Democrats and their political allies like MoveOn should dust off that long-ignored, but all important, ninth amendment which says:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Rightly the 9th is the REAL basis for such basic but unenumerated rights as privacy and the right to choose. This should NOT be that difficult a case to make given what James Madison wrote about the intent of this amendment. I posted his thoughts in the previous blog article.

Yes these unenumerated rights are largely in the minds of the beholder which may be why the Democrats historically have avoided the 9th. But given how our system delegates powers from the People to the states and federal governments... and how the 9th guarantees rights are retained by the People... then it's clear Original Intent placed the burden of proof on GOVERNMENT to find a legal justification to restrict rights... not for the PEOPLE to constantly fight for rights that government never should have been restricted in the first place.

In politics conceiving a good offense is just the start. The Right MUST be effectively put on the defensive. My suggestion... by insisting the right to privacy or to the right to chose are already protected not by court rulings but by the Bill of Rights itself, Democrats should stake out a position and coordinate talking points that if the Right opposes these unenumerated rights, their ONLY constitutional option is to repeal the 9th amendment.


ulTRAX

Monday, January 09, 2006

Democrats Undermine Their Own Position in Fight For USSC

The Right has been working feverishly these past 25 years to turn back the clock in America. One key front in that effort is to hijack the federal judiciary. On the face of it, their position sounds somewhat reasonable. The doctrine of Originalism states that judges should interpret the Constitution as the Framers intended. Yet this doctrine is the fig-leaf that hides the Right's true intent to undermine the right to choose, other rights derived from the unenumerated right to privacy, as well the entire New Deal social safety net. For more on this do a web search for the "constitution in exile" movement.

With the Samuel Alito hearings now under way it's time to ask are Democrats really doing all they can to stop another radical right-wing justice like Scalia or Thomas from getting on to the USSC? Or is the Democrat's game plan fatally flawed?Are they concentrating on tactical issues on how to stop some nominees at the expense of a broader strategic effort to counter the Right? I believe they are. Missing from their efforts are attempts to move beyond their targeted constituencies in the pro-choice, pro-affirmative-action, pro-environment movements to educate the broader public on the dangers to the Constitution itself if radical Rightists take control of the Supreme Court. This strategic failure leaves the Right's claims to merely want to restore the Constitution unchallenged.

When it comes to the issue of rights... say the right of unenumerated privacy, Democrats have the immense weight of the 9th and 10th amendment on their side....

9th: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10th: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

As to original intent of the Bill of Rights and particularly the 9th, James Madison wrote:

"It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow, by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution."
SOURCE: www.usconstitution.net/madisonbor.html#Sec5
"
Madison wrote in a letter to Jefferson explaining why he didn't at first believe the omission of a Bill of Rights in the original Constitution was of much consequence:

"I have not viewed it in an important light --
1. because I conceive that in a certain degree ... the rights in question are reserved by the manner in which the federal powers are granted."
SOURCE: http://www.constitution.org/jm/17881017_bor.txt
"
Since the Constitution was based upon the premise that government was only permitted specific powers granted by the People, Madison believed the rights of People would never be in jeopardy. The 9th amendment places the burden on GOVERNMENT to prove there's a legitimate social need before government can restrict individual rights. It does NOT place the burden on citizens to fight the government to establish a right which Constitution by its nature, bolstered by the explicit wording of the 9th amendment, already protects.

Sometime in our history this original intent was lost or found inconvenient.

Democrats seem to ignore this clear wording of the 9th amendment and the historical evidence on original intent, and seem preoccupied with stare decisis, those previous court rulings that "establish" rights... cases like Griswold v Connecticut and Roe v Wade.

Worst... Justices like Scalia want to further bastardize the Constitution. Scalia believes that unless a right is specifically enumerated... it does not exist. His only concession to expanding rights is to suggest those now deprived of rights can legally establish them though the legislative or amendment process.... something he knows can take decades if not generations. He believes it is not the role of the courts to rule that governments have unjustly violated rights.

If his views on rights aren't extreme enough... Scalia also has no use for the 10th amendment. Instead of government only having powers that have been granted it, Scalia believes it is free to do anything that is not prohibited. If no one thought of prohibiting the government from issuing a national ID card... Scalia believes it's permissible. Here's a critique of Scalia from the Right by Sheldon Richman:

"Scalia here is saying that the government legally may require everyone to carry an ID unless the people amend the Constitution to prohibit Congress from enacting such a measure. His point is painfully clear: the government can do anything unless the Constitution expressly forbids it. No surprise here; Scalia has long made his views known. They are horrifying nonetheless.

His views are based on an incorrect — indeed, a pernicious — notion of what the U.S. Constitution was and is supposed to be. In fact, he stands the Constitution on its head. Instead of a document that protects individual liberty by reining in government power, Scalia would make it one that protects government power by reining in individual liberty."


SOURCE: http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0206c.asp

In the long run Democrats have made a strategic blunder by failing to expose the hypocrisy in the doctrine of Originalism and counter it with a similar over-arching philosophical approach to Constitutional law. They need to educate the public and inoculate them against the Right's game plan. Yet even when Kerry had the ear of the nation during the 2004 presidential debates, he stayed with traditional Democratic appeals aimed at particular Democratic constituencies and Republican women who want to protect the right to choose.

Tactically I believe that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee need to rethink their game plan. Alito will be well coached and his interactions with sympathetic senators will be choreographed for the cameras. He can also hide behind judicial ethics which requires nominees not give any clear answers about any specific issue might come before the courts lest they seem not to be impartial. While the latter can provide ample room behind which to hide his true judicial philosophy or political bias, a closet Originalist can't dodge a more general discussion about the original intent of the 9th and 10th amendments.

Sadly, Democrats don't have much more respect for the 9th than Scalia or Thomas... and it's putting all our rights in danger.


ulTRAX


For primary historical material on the origins of the Bill of Rights please visit this outstanding site: http://www.constitution.org/dhbr.htm

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Who Mourns American Democracy?

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) writes: "A flourishing democracy presupposes citizens who care, who are willing to take part, and capable of helping to shape the common agenda of a society. Participation, whether through the institutions of civil society, political parties, or the act of voting, is increasingly being seen as an essential prerequisite of any stable democracy."

By that standard American democracy is on life support. According to IDEA during the 1990s, the US ranked 140th of 163 nations in voting turnout. On average, over the past 30 years 61% of the voting age population (VAP) have NOT participated in federal mid-term congressional elections! But just because the majority of citizens stay away from the polls meaning and the ruling party often represents about 19-20% of the citizens, does not mean the system will collapse. As long as the press, the major parties, or the public are not concerned, the system can continue to limp along on its own momentum. Yet that lack of concern shows a certain disdain for democracy itself.

The ability to fix what ails our system is entirely dependent on understanding the problem. Yet, despite the seriousness of the situation, real reforms are not on the radar. Those in the political mainstream such as http://www.yvoteonline.org/ and http://www.vanishingvoter.org/ try to engage young voters while the political parties concentrate on minor reforms like Motor-Voter to make voting easier, campaign finance laws to get money out of politics, and verifiable black box voting etc. All are of the above are desirable but all also miss the mark. What those who back these mainstream efforts refuse to acknowledge is that in our system we can have:

100% citizen participation
100% public financing
100% vote count accuracy

....and a candidate rejected by the People can still become president... and 17.6% of the population will still get a 52 vote majority in the Senate. Together they can hijack the federal judiciary and enter the US into international treaties opposed by the majority of the nation.


In a democracy the purpose of an election is to accurately measure the Will of the People in order to guide the direction of government. So if election losers can take office, and the minority can rule, what purpose do elections serve here in the US?

In a world where 86% of the other democracies have higher VAP participation than the US, it's not unreasonable to ask whether there's something about our American system that creates disincentives to voting.

Anyone who values basic democratic principles as the basis for self-government would immediately see four layers of dysfunctionality in our system:

The first is that our winner-take-all election system does not accurately measure the Will of the People. There are better systems that include instant run-off voting and proportional representation. As a result, many Americans realize that their votes just don't count. Voting their conscience might never get them any representation. Many Americans are just tired of voting the lesser of the evils. And with no run-off provision, a divided majority can lose to a united minority resulting in minority rule.

Second... the above election system has given rise to our two party system. No it wasn't handed down on a slab. It's an accident of history. Sizable political minorities may exist nationally but can never muster a win in any district or state. The result is those citizens are perpetually deprived of representation. So neither does the election accurately measure, nor does the political system reflect, the Will of the People. Many citizens are disgusted that our "2 party" system offers so little choice and the parties refuse to deal with important issues.

Third, if the above wasn't bad enough, our system can be both un- and anti-democratic. It contains a number of vote weighting/dilution schemes that give SOME citizens bigger votes at the expense of others. It now gives 15% of the population 50% of the Senate seats. The anti-democratic EC can overturn the Will of the People and impose upon the nation a candidate who was REJECTED in an election. In a curious twist, the smallest 38 states needed to pass an amendment only contain about 38% of the population. Whenever there are vote weighting schemes there is the possibility of minority government. House and Senate rules compound the problem. Rules that permit seniority privilege give the constituents of SOME senators and members of congress more power than others. Gerrymandering can permit the minority party to hijack the House of Representatives. In 1991 the Texas Democrats rigged the state to get 70% of the votes with about 50% of the votes. Tom DeLay merely reversed that. We now have a situation where candidates are picking their voters.

Last, the federal system is virtually reform-proof. The Framers provided no protection against demographic trends giving a dwindling minority in the small population states increasing powers. Right now mere 3.8% of the population in the 12 smallest states can block any amendment.

As a result I suspect most Americans are stuck between the Jeffersonian ideal of self-government they learned in grade school, some need to put the Framers on a pedestal... and the reality of how poorly our system actually allows self-government. What's the point in having an election if it doesn't accurately measure the public will? Without either major party or the press discussing real reforms and given the inflexibility of our system, citizen apathy is a pretty reasonable response.

Sadly, the Democratic Party, where democratic reforms SHOULD be originating, prefers to game our anti-democratic and dysfunctional system rather than promote true democratic reforms.

revised: 3-13-08

ulTRAX