Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't Repeal Health Care Reform

Last week I received a document from my health insurance company about "important changes" to my policy in 2011. Most of the changes fell under the heading "revisions to your benefits due to the recent passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

My life time maximum is changed from $5 million to an umlimited amount.

My mental health coverage is changed from $10,000 (without a period of time given) to unlimited lifetime coverage. (Imagine how fast you could burn through $10,000 even if that was an annual amount.)

My children (if I had any) are covered up to age 26.

I don't have to worry about pre-existing conditions.

I don't have to worry about them cancelling my coverage when I get ill--they can cancel only if I don't pay my premium or if I'm abusive to an "in network provider."

How incredibly ignorant of the American people to buy the Republican lies about this legislation. All of these changes are to protect me and my family, and to prevent the worst insurance industry abuses. Wake up America!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Redacting the Constitution

The Republicans read the Constitution on the House floor, as promised, but they didn't read it as written. They skipped the passages that have been altered by amendments, such as the passages that count slaves as three-fifths of a person. This was an intellectually dishonest action, but perfectly constructed politically. All the legions of uninformed people watching Fox will believe that the Constitution was divinely written, since there doesn't seem to be any sections that have needed to be changed.

As I said below, the main purpose was to position the Republican Party as the defender of the Constitution, and they just showed how hollow their stance is.

The New York Times editorial today had this to say about the Republican charade:

Members of the House might have thought they were bringing the Constitution alive by reading it aloud on Thursday. But they made a crucial error by excising its history. When they chose to deliberately drop the sections that became obsolete or offensive, and which were later amended, they missed a chance to demonstrate that this document is not nailed to the door of the past. It remains vital precisely because it can be reimagined...The reading was conceived so that Republicans could demonstrate their fidelity to the document and make it seem as though Democrats had abandoned it...The effect of Thursday’s reading, in case anyone was actually paying attention, was to wrongly suggest that the document was seamless and perfect, as if carved in marble rather than stained with sweat and American blood.
Yale Law Professor Jack M. Balkin wrote in his blog that reading the Constitution as a whole would remind us that it is a work in progress:

The Constitution is not perfect. Nor are our political institutions. Nor are the American people. But we can take pride in our Constitution precisely because we Americans have continually sought to improve the Constitution, our institutions, and ourselves over time. We have not always been successful in these efforts. We have made many mistakes along the way, and we have committed many injustices. We continue to do so to this very day. The point rather, is that by creating this great experiment in self-government-- the United States Constitution-- we have committed ourselves to achieving a more just, free and equal society under law and we have adopted our Constitution and amendments to it as a way of realizing those commitments in history. It is a task that began with the founding and continues to this very day. It is a task that is never finished.

Reading the entire Constitution is a way of reminding ourselves that the Constitution is always a work in progress; that it has been flawed in the past and probably is still flawed in the present; that what we have now before us is not necessarily the final version of the Constitution, but that the Constitution can always be improved and that it must be improved; that no matter how much our political institutions may have failed us in the past, and no matter how much we have failed ourselves in the past, political redemption is always still possible; and that We the People of the United States can still always strive for a more just, more free, and more equal country-- what the Preamble of the Constitution calls a "More Perfect Union."

Reading the entire Constitution-- including its oblique references to slavery--is a way of engaging in proper humility about the products of flawed human beings, but it is also a way of expressing faith in eventual improvement. If the Constitution once allowed great evils, and now it does not, perhaps someday we will be able to recognize the current evils it still allows, and ameliorate them as well.

Reading the entire Constitution should not be an act of shame that politicians avoid. It should be an act of hope.
I'd like to see progressive politicians standing up and claiming the Constitution for liberals as Mr. Balkin does so eloquently. See my post below, "Progressives Need to Claim the Constitution."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blowing Bubbles

Recently I read a history of capitalism called "The Relentless Revolution," by historian Joyce Appleby. Ms Appleby gives a nice concise list of the financial crises we have endured since the beginning of Reaganomics and the dismantling of the post-Depression regulations:

Before the world recession of 2008-2009, the market’s stumbles had grown ever more frequent and painful, starting with the crash of 1987, followed by the junk bond crisis of the late 1980s, the 1989 sinking of the savings and loan industry, the Japanese depression, the Asian fiscal crisis of 1997, the Long-Term Capital Management near-default of 1998, the bursting of the dot-com bubble of 2000, the Enron and WorldCom debacle of 2001, climaxing with the rippling losses from the mortgage-based securities debacle in 2008.
There were no financial crises in the United States between 1940 and 1987. There were recessions of course, but crises had been eliminated by financial industry regulations. Once those were removed with the ascendency of conservative free-market fundamentalist economic theories, financial crises began up again.

And it looks like we are already working on blowing up the next bubble. The Goldman Sachs investment in FaceBook was evidence of that, according to William Cohan in the New York Times:

With Goldman’s investment in Facebook, we have a front-row seat to the process by which Wall Street creates and inflates financial bubbles. This bout of hysteria involves not only Facebook but other Internet companies including Twitter, the gaming site Zynga, the social buying site Groupon and LinkedIn, another social networking site. The valuation of these companies has soared in the past two years, leading some to worry that the American people bailed out Wall Street so that we could relive the Internet Bubble of 1999.
In the article he goes on the list the many ways that Goldman Sachs will profit from this deal, as "investor, salesman, money manager, I.P.O. underwriter," while adding almost no value and creating nothing.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Progressives Need to Claim the Constitution

In recent years conservatives have laid claim to the U.S. Constitution; they act as if they alone uphold the principles contained within our founding document. Of course it’s only gotten worse in the last two years with the Tea Party. This week Republicans have announced they are going to read the entire Constitution aloud in the House of Representatives the first day of the new Congress, and I’m sure it’s going to be a circus since every representative is going to want his or her chance to grandstand for the cameras.

When many liberals think about the Constitution they seem to only discuss its undemocratic and unliberal aspects: slavery was sanctioned, women couldn’t vote, only white male property-owners could vote, etc. But there are many points on which conservatives are mistaken about the Constitution and I think it would be to the progressive movements’ advantage to challenge conservatives on this issue.

I think it’s time for progressives to reclaim the Constitution.

I’m no scholar of the Constitution, or even a historian, but I’ve read many books about our nation’s history, including one about the writing of the Constitution, “A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution,” by Carol Berkin.

There are a number of points progressives can make. First, conservatives are always arguing that we need to adhere to the “original intent of the Founders” as if the Constitution were a sacred document written by God that can’t be modified in any way. The authors of the Constitution would have been astounded that anyone would think that way.

I can give several reasons for this opinion. Just for starters, what we now call “The Constitution” is our second constitution, written to replace the Articles of Confederation, which was our original governmental document. Within a few years after the Revolutionary War was over it became clear that the weak national government allowed under the Articles could not solve the enormous problems facing the new nation.

The Articles of Confederation had been written by many of the same men who gathered for the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Constitutional Convention was made up mostly of self-chosen men who thought there needed to be a more powerful central government. Those who didn’t think the Confederation needed to be changed stayed away.

In fact, Ms. Berkin calls it a coup d’etat: The men who gathered in Philadelphia in May 1787 “gathered behind locked doors and bolted windows to overthrow the legitimate government established by the Articles of Confederation and, by writing the Constitution, to stage what can only be called a bloodless coup d’etat.”

But the main point is this—our Founding Fathers’ first try at inventing a government lasted ten years from when it was written until when it needed to be completely redone.

Secondly, the Constitution contains an article (Article V) explicitly stating that all parts of the Constitution can be amended, except for the slavery clauses (which had to stay in effect through 1808) and the right of all states to have an equal vote in the Senate. If we wanted to amend the Constitution to eliminate the presidency, as crazy as that may sound, we could. Clearly, the authors of the Constitution saw that there could be the need to change all aspects of our government to deal with changing circumstances, and as a result left virtually every clause open to revision.

In addition, most of us are unaware that there was substantial opposition to the Constitution during the ratification process. These opponents were called Anti-federalists, and among them were some, like Thomas Jefferson, who today we consider to be one of the Founders of our nation. Jefferson was particularly nervous about the presidency. Ms Berkin writes, “He predicted that Virginia would reject the Constitution—and gave no indication that he would regret it. As Christmas 1787 neared, Jefferson confided to a friend, ‘As to the new Constitution I find myself nearly a Neutral…’”

Many people were opposed to the ratification of the Constitution because it did not include a bill of rights, which was a common part of state constitutions at that time. James Madison introduced twelve amendments during the very first Congress under the new Constitution, and ten of these were passed and ratified. In other words, the Constitution was amended ten times within the first year of its existence.

I don’t think any of the men who participated in the writing of our Constitution would think twice about the need for revision considering all of the changes that have occurred in this country since 1787. The Constitution was written before the invention of railroads, electricity, the internal-combustion engine, and the telephone. It was written in a much more agrarian age, just as the industrial revolution began. In fact, they would probably be surprised at how little we have changed it.

One of the reasons the Tea Partiers and conservatives like the Constitution is that it gives a lot of power to the states. But as I mentioned above, one of the main reasons the men gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 for the Constitutional Convention was because the weak national government was not working.

We forget that after the Revolutionary War the thirteen colonies became thirteen sovereign nations, joined in a very loose confederacy. The Articles of Confederation declare that “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The states competed with each other—they were individual nations vying for dominance. Each state imposed tariffs and trade barriers and had its own currency. Interstate commerce was difficult and expensive.

The Articles gave the Confederation the power to declare and make war, but little else. The Confederation had no separate executive branch, no independent judiciary, and no upper chamber in the legislature. There was one assembly in which each state had a single vote, regardless of its size. To insure that the Confederation would stay weak, the Articles denied it the power of taxation.

Technically the Confederation may have been responsible for the common defense, but because there was no funding mechanism for the national government, the ability to defend the national interest—against the British who still had forts on the western frontier, the French in the southwest, Native American tribes, and pirates marauding merchant vessels in the Mediterranean—was extremely limited.

Interestingly enough, it seems like this type of Confederation is what the Tea Party members want to go back to, a nation of allied states with a federal government responsible only for defense, and no ability to tax. It didn’t work in 1785 and it sure wouldn’t work today.

Lastly, many people don’t realize that the U.S. Postal Service is specified in the Constitution. The authors saw the value that a widely available postal service would provide to a thriving national economy. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 empowers Congress to “establish Post offices and Post Roads.” Clearly the Founders were not adverse to the federal government building infrastructure; there just wasn’t much of it to build in the pre-industrial 18th century. Today if someone suggested a nationally-run telecommunications system they would be denounced as socialist.

The most important point, however, is that the Founders expected the Constitution to be amended as needed. During the summer of 1787 the Constitutional Convention was riven by disagreements and many participants feared they could never finish the job. When it was done they feared it would never be ratified. Further, none of them expected this government to last forever. Benjamin Franklin noted that “with luck and wisdom they would produce a government that could forestall, for a decade perhaps, the inevitable decline of the Republic into a tyranny of one, a tyranny of a few, or a tyranny of the majority.” The delegates were mainly concerned about the effect of greed and lust for power, which, they felt, could corrupt anyone.

We have modified the Constitution seventeen more times since 1789, and many of these have been the result of new ideas about inclusiveness and democracy: the end of slavery (XIII), direct election of Senators (XVII), and women’s right to vote (XIX) are prominent examples.

Progressives should embrace the idea that the updating of our Constitution to adjust to new ideas and understandings was the original intent of the Founders.