Sunday, September 29, 2013

Liberty Amendments vs. Localist Solutions on Spending

A friend of mine asked me to read "The Liberty Amendments" by radio talk show host Mark Levin.   I was dreading it, but I complied.   I still cringe as I read it, because it seems like such snake-oil, but there is an upside too.   The answers presented in "Localism, A Philosophy of Government" are so much more elegant and make so much more sense that it should serve as encouragement to localists everywhere.  I mean, if that is an example of what the "best" competing ideas there are out there look like, then it just confirms that we are on the right track with localism.

That's just my opinion though.  What matters to you is your opinion, not mine.   So I'd like to compare examples of the two approaches so you can decide for yourself.    I already did that with an article comparing Levin's answers vs. the Localist answers on the subject of how to curb an over-reaching federal judiciary.  

Regarding spending, Levin suggests an amendment limiting federal expenditures to 17.5% of GDP, with an across-the-board cut of 5% every year Congress fails to authorize a budget.  Congress has not authorized a budget in years, they have been operating off of "continuing resolutions".   In addition, it attempts to impose a balanced budget.    It would require a three-fifths majority vote in Congress to suspend any of these restrictions.

Two things come to mind right away.  One is that restricting Congress to spending 17.5% of a number that they get to make up is no restriction at all.   Few believe their unemployment numbers, less believe their inflation numbers, why in the world would one expect them to reliably report a number which limits their spending?   They get to decide how long their own leash is.

But this blunt-instrument approach to the problem does nothing at all to fix a system which rewards politicians who "bring home the bacon".   It does nothing to open up our election system and get better people into office.    A requirement that three-fifths go along with increases in debt or spending will not be that much harder to attain than the present 2.5 fifths plus one vote, because that is the kind of people we have in our system.

Giving shysters, sociopaths, and assorted other low-lifes better instructions does not cause them to behave better. The real problem we have to address is how to get better people in office, not creating laws so perfect that even scoundrels will be made to behave. Scoundrels don't care what's written down on paper. When the problem is that they ignore the limits placed on them in the current constitution, placing more limits on them in that constitution cannot be the solution.  We need to focus on changing the rules so as to make these people easier to replace, not give them better rules to follow.

Localism proposes eliminating the "First past the post" method of electing winners so that people will be free to vote their conscience without fear of "splitting the vote."   Parties would be institutionally separate in each state, and most corporate and out of state campaign contributions would be banned.  These changes would permit the swift rise of other groups if the two traditional parties did not better respond to the desires of the grass roots.    The intent of these rules is to have political parties answer to the people of their own state, not be cogs in a vast machine ultimately funded by global corporations.   

I have seen people struggle all of their adult lives trying to "take back" a national political party.  Now they are old and gray and they are further from their goal than ever before.  The parties at the national level don't serve the people as individuals, but rather are a form of collectivism.   Parties are not mentioned in our constitution, but they have become the means by which men are elected who have eviscerated it.  

Levin does not even address the issue of how to make political parties more answerable to the citizens, rather than taking on a life of their own whereby they even agree on many issues, leaving citizens no effective choice on those issues.   He does not address how to get better people in office (other than a term limits amendment that is indiscriminate in operation and which has proved of limited usefulness in states where it has been implemented). He is only thinking of how to lay down enough rules to turn scoundrels into decent men.

The fundamental problem is that each Congressman has every incentive to rob a Peter who can't stop him in order to pay a Paul who can help them.   They go other places to find money to pay their places.  The primary "other place" they go to these days is the future.   These swindlers use debt to buy your vote with your children's money.   The solution here is not to marginally raise the number of congressmen needed to pull off such a crime, but rather to deny the federal government any power to contract debt whatsoever.     

In a localist society, the national government cannot borrow money.  They would have to go hat-in-hand to the states to ask them to issue debt or provide aid on their behalf.    If they wanted to borrow one trillion dollars, they would have to ask each state to borrow or provide their share of the money and give it to the federal government.  Each state would be able to issue bonds, but the feds would not.  

Are you thinking that this would make it almost impossible for the national government to borrow money unless there was a major war or other legitimate national emergency?  I think that's kind of the idea.  It completely reverses the current dynamic, where the feds borrow money against future taxpayers and give some of it to the states.   As it stands now, state governments are all for such a scam, because they use the money to buy love, and the next generation is not around to defend itself from such looting.   State governments are all too happy with the feds borrowing money in order to give some of it to the states.   They will be far less enthusiastic to borrow on their own account in order to give it to the feds.

The same thing goes with taxed money.  Each congressman wants taxes raised in other states to be spent in their states.  Its the old "if you are paying, I will have the filet mignon" idea.    The only solution is to have everyone pay their own tab as much as possible.  Suddenly, everyone can make do with the chicken salad!   In localism, the feds are only allowed to spend money on a few listed items (like our constitution does now, but its ignored because they have so much power in other areas they can get away with ignoring it).   Even military spending is split up as each state maintains its own ground forces.   Not only will this tamp down on excess military spending, but it will make it a lot harder to sustain unpopular foreign interventions.   The judicial reforms in localism will help ensure that federal employees (the Supreme Court) don't slowly expand the power of their employers over time.  Perhaps most importantly, the power to create money is denied them as well, since history shows that governments consistently abuse this power over time in order to keep spending.

Leven is trying to find a way to keep the Leviathan state, the global empire, while somehow protecting the citizens from the financial consequences of such.   It can't be done.   You have to set things up so that there can be no leviathan, not find chains enough to shackle the monster.

I was also amazed that Levin did not address the Federal Reserve in his amendments.  Oh, he made a brief mention about how they enabled big government, but they get a complete pass in his amendments.   Without addressing the issue of money, the amendments he suggests are all but meaningless.   Bad men find ways to get around good words anyway, but without restrictions on the creation of fiat money, the way is obvious.    The federal government can simply print all the money they want, paid for by the hidden tax of inflation, to grow their operations.   

Localism is a more serious answer because it addresses the issue of government abuse of money.   History has shown that governments consistently abuse their power to create money over time.   I don't want to open a whole new subject, but until you can stop government from debauching the currency you cannot stop government over-spending.  Localism deals with this important matter extensively, Levin just skits it.  

A Reset is Coming

Firefox over at the Daily Paul offers us this mathematical analysis...
"Almost 9 trillion in total local, state and federal spending
Almost 16 trillion in total GDP
Somewhere around 150 million working adults
Total government spending including deficit spending accounts for 56% of GDP, and pure deficit spending alone is almost 25% of GDP.
Doing the math, assuming the above numbers, it comes out to about $59,900 in PURE taxes for every working person in America just to pay for the total local, state and federal spending. This is ~5,000 dollars more than America's median income in PURE TAXES.
$59,900 with a 260 day work year (5 days a week).. this comes out to around $230 per working day per worker just to pay for the spending, not including paying off the debt principal or personal living expenses and debt."
How is this debt going to be paid?   Its not, obviously.  It is going to be defaulted on, either outright or via massive inflation of the currency.  The ruling class knows it.  They are not even trying to fix our underlying problems.   Instead they appear to be sucking as much out of the host (the USA) as they can for them and their friends before it dies.
The only people still trying to fix it are a few grassroots patriots out in the heartland, and the handful of honest statesmen they have managed to insert into the terminally corrupt system.   While I admire their patriotism, I hope that most of them soon realize that the government is not the country.   The people are the country.   Even if the government fails, we will still have a country.  
There is a reset coming America.   I don't say we should do anything to bring it about.  Indeed, I would stop it if I could because it will be painful, but there is nothing we can do to stop it at this point.   Our present ruling class has made it inevitable with their highly destructive and dishonest policies.   See the math above.
That's why I believe activists should start devoting a lot more time to local and state politics than they do to national politics.   Sure the feds get all the media attention, but they are also the most insulated from change, and that ship has already hit the iceberg.   It takes a lot of maturity to ignore what the media is mostly talking about and quietly work to identify competent patriots to draft to run for local office.   It takes even more maturity, and real work, to help them win it, but that's the best use of what time we have left.   That's what is going to allow some places to hold it together when the rest of it all goes to pieces.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Levin vs Localist Solutions on Stopping Judicial Tyranny

So I am reading "The Liberty Amendments" by Mark Levin, because a friend wanted me to, and because, like Denny Crane, its "kind of a big deal" right now. Of course I am biased towards Localist solutions, so it is not surprising that I find Levin's proposals to be less satisfactory than those proposed in Localism, A Philosophy of Government.  I expected that, but I did not expect the size of the gap.  I mean, the localist way of dealing with it just seems a lot better.  But who cares what I think?   Read on and see what you think.  

I could name almost any problem he tries to solve and show how localism is more likely to really fix it.  For this piece though I will just pick one of the big subjects both attempt to reform and compare the two:  Judicial over-reach, some would say tyranny, is a serious problem in the United States. It is a weakness in our system which must be corrected if we are ever to really be a self-governing nation rather than a nation which has an elaborate facade of self-government. Levin lays out the problem quite well in his book. It is his solutions which are inadequate, especially compared to the comprehensive, integrated approach to the problem advocated in Localism.

His solution is to give a super-Majority of Congress or state legislatures the ability to void Supreme Court decisions for a period of two years after they are made, and to limit justices to twelve years terms. First a word on term-limits. The primary advantage of term limits in allowing the people to take back control of the government is that the establishment might not have a deep enough bench of quality insider tools fill every office if there is a rapid turnover. That means that term limits will work very well at the state legislative level, be a marginal improvement for Congress, and not work very well for Senate. The Supreme Court is the apex of power, and it is not even elective.

 Term limits won't help improve the Supreme Court to any noticable degree because the system can easily come up with enough sell-outs to fill the openings. How much of a deterrent is a twelve year cap for a group of people who don't usually get the job until they are well into their 50s and will get a good retirement for life after those twelve years anyway? It sounds good, but as applied to the Supreme Court is it a non-solution.

Even the idea of giving state legislatures an over-ride is far less than meets the eye, and it has a significant downside. If impeachment is a scarecrow because it is so hard to do, then this will be an even smaller scarecrow. It is basically just as much trouble as impeachment, with less reward because you are only voiding a single decision instead of removing the tyrant who made it from power. The tyrant can always keep making the same decision on the next case, because it is much easier for them to make a ruling than it is for two-thirds of the state legislatures to come to an agreement within a two year period regarding a case which might only seem to affect one of their number at the time.

Since many state legislatures only convene once every two years for such issues, it would be all-but impossible for them to pull this off within the prescribed time period without numerous special sessions. Since the negative repercussions of these decisions are typically not fully known for years afterward, this too would be a non-solution. Add to it that having this unworkable procedure technically available would short circuit healthy state nullification movements. The media would pound home that since there is a tool available to void court decisions in the constitution, any other way to do the same thing would be against the constitution.

Compare that to the elegance of the Localist Solution. The solution section on the judiciary in Localism, A Philosophy of Government is about two pages long (though many pages in other chapters outline the problem well). Yet in those two pages lies, in my opinion, an exponentially superior solution to the problem Levin describes. 

First, the federal judiciary is only allowed judicial review for federal law, not state laws and practices as regards a state's own citizens, except as those laws and practices impact the ability of citizens to leave a state or keep ownership of their property within it. Even in such cases, a permanent federal judiciary is not used. Whenever the Federal government takes a state to court, the judges which are to decide the controversy are drawn from a rotating panel of state judges selected by Governors for a two year period. The federal judges only decide controversies between the states, not between a state or states and the federal government.

In addition, while the advice and consent of the federal Senate would still be required, the President cannot nominate anyone they might choose, but rather each Governor can nominate one person and the President must choose from that list. But what if one of the Governors is simply a tool of the President of his party? 

The integrated approach of Localism addresses that too, in another chapter. By law, political parties who work to elect candidates for federal office must be separate organizations, with different officers, than those who work to elect candidates for state and local offices. No state executive would be an official of the same party that the president was in. At most, they could be a rank-and-file member. That, plus insisting on run-off voting for all offices will break the back of the two-party duopoly that has taken turns driving this nation into fiscal and moral ruin.

Limiting the ability of the federal judges to meddle in the affairs of the states as it relates to their laws as applied to their own citizens is the real solution- not adding a clunky, unworkable process that with great effort tries to undo the inevitable over-reach one ruling at a time.   The down side?  State governments might do things that you or I don't approve of.    States will have more latitude than they do now to determine the limits of individual rights.   Some may be looser than some people would like, and some might be more restrictive than some people would like, but in no case would any portion of the population be required to stay there and live under those rules if they did not want to.  In addition, there is another important deterrent to the abuse of the freedom that localism offers state governments...

The localist solution to states treating their citizens unfairly is not to make FEDGOV the great arbiter, subjecting all states to its one viewpoint, but rather to subject governments everywhere to the free market.   Not only could citizens leave a state, but counties could change states, or a group of counties could leave a state and form their own state, provided a few parameters were met.    The knowledge that states could lose a region full of people they treated unfairly will induce them to tread lightly.   In addition, in a measure short of succession from a state, counties and cities could vote to lessen the penalties for violations of given state laws when arrests are made within their boundaries.

The last deterrent of localism for a state which will not behave as a constitutional republic is to expel that state from the union, and under localism there would be a framework for the other states, not the central government, to do so.  The only other option is sending in people with guns to try and force them to do it Washington's way.   This is expensive and counterproductive both at home and abroad.

Levin's "solutions" won't solve anything.   The fact is that we can either make the federal courts the one decider for the nation, and thus the effective rulers of our former republic, or we can structure our nation so that for almost all issues there is no one "decider" and let the free market punish and bring to heel those state governments which do not rule to the liking of those they are supposed to be serving.   Will more local mistakes be made if more freedom is allowed?  Perhaps, but such a system has built in course corrections.   When a national system makes such mistakes they are made for all, with no recourse short of revolution.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I Smell Another Rat

"I small a rat"- Founder Patrick Henry on why he did not attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787

The hero further complained, "The Federal Convention ought to have amended the old system, for this purpose they were solely delegated: the object of their mission extended to no other consideration."

By "the old system" Henry meant the "Articles of Confederation", which served as the original constitution of the thirteen colonies. Did the original Convention which produced our present constitution exceed their original authority? You don't have to be a constitutional lawyer to be able to decide for yourself, you only have to be able to understand one sentence of English. The applicable act of the Confederation Congress reads thus: A Convention of delegates should meet “for the sole purpose of revising the articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.”

Notice that the above call to convention uses the Articles of Confederation and "federal Constitution" interchangeably. It does not say they are to render "a" federal Constitution that is adequate, but rather render "the" federal Constitution adequate. That is, the Articles of Confederation. The original constitutional convention began as an "amendments Convention" which wound up writing an entirely new document when they were only originally authorized by the Congress to amend the Articles of Confederation. In other words, it was supposed to be similar to what writer Mark Levin is calling a "Convention for the purpose of proposing amendments" or "Amendments Convention". People who are worried that such a convention could "run away" have a historical precedent for such a fear- the convention which produced our own constitution.

Micheal Farris and others have attempted to argue that the phrase "render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union" to mean they had permission to not only propose a package of amendments to the then-existing constitution, but to propose a new one to replace it as well. I guess you have to be a constitutional lawyer to train your mind to the point where you cannot understand the plain meaning of that phrase. It did not say "render a federal Constitution" but rather "render the federal Constitution". That is, the articles of Confederation, which was the existing federal Constitution of that time.

That is also the only interpretation of that phrase which makes any sense at all when compared to the first part of the sentence it appears in, which said the convention was " for the sole purpose of revising the articles of Confederation". Just in case there is any doubt, it further specified that the convention was to provide "such alterations and provisions therein." Therein where? In the Articles of Confederation. Read the key excerpt two paragraphs above again if you have any doubt. In my mind there is none, Farris has it wrong.

So I agree with Patrick Henry. It was a run-away convention. The convention was very controversial at the time, five of the original thirteen states conventions ratified it with 55% of the vote or less even with tremendous pressure on them to do so. That does not make the Constitution illegal, it just means that they exceeded the scope of their call, as might happen again should we have a very similar "Amendments Convention" under Article V (though the convention which produced our constitution was not an article V convention per se because obviously article V had not been drafted yet). So the anti-federalists were right on that point. And that was not the only thing that the anti-federalists were right about. History has shown them to be correct in almost all of their warnings. The promises of the federalists that we would be a nation with a central government whose powers were "few and defined" relative to the states have not been kept.

Now some of the same people who got blind-sided when the Republicans in our state (Arkansas) legislature helped the Democrats implement Obamacare in this state just sound so confident that an "Amendment Convention" can't get out of control because it will be run by, drum roll please........the same legislature which just knifed them. Why, the state legislature is controlled by Republicans and Democrats, and when have either of those two groups ever led the country astray? Of course we can trust them to not screw up an "Amendments Convention." If any of you do not understand I am speaking with great sarcasm here, please stop voting.

My point is that there is plenty we can do to fix our real problems, like a broken candidate selection system, that can be done without amending the constitution. And furthermore, until those things are done we will not have a legislature accountable to us enough to trust with such a convention anyway. Understand that I am not against the idea of an Amendments Convention in principle, but not until we fix our candidate selection system so that the people running it will be people actually representing us instead of the political apparatus which is ruining America. Here is my prior piece on why these are the wrong amendments, and some things we need to do first.

Even if we could trust our state legislatures to advance Levin's amendments and no others, they won't work as advertised, because giving shysters, sociopaths, and assorted other low-lifes better instructions does not cause them to behave better. The real problem we have to address is how to get better people in office, not how can we make a law so perfect that even scoundrels will be made to behave. Scoundrels don't care what's written down on paper. When the problem is that they ignore the limits placed on them in the current constitution, placing more limits on them in that constitution cannot be the solution.

But let's say we live in an alternate universe where we could, and where we had faithful state legislatures. Even in this fantasy universe, we still won't get such amendments through because the federalists stole a march on the anti-federalists when drafting Article V. It is Congress which gets to issue the call to convention, it is they who decide whether it is ratified by "conventions" or by the state legislatures. Who decides who gets to be a delegate at the amendments convention? The article is silent on that, but it does say Congress is giving the call, and it will take only one federal employee (a judge) to determine that they get to decide. Do you think I will get to be a delegate under that scenario? Do you think you will be? We will see conventions run by "community organizers" before we see that. If any amendment, any words on paper, really could turn dishonest men into honest ones then the plan will still fail because the dishonest men get to decide on what amendments may be considered for ratification, and to some unknown extent even who votes to ratify those words into the constitution.

I share your frustration with where this nation is heading and I don't argue that such a convention should never be used, but rather I argue that we have much work to do first.   We ought to do that work instead of expending more energy and effort trying to take a short cut which will only get us further lost. I implore my countrymen to by guided by reason, virtue, and honor as we begin the hard but worthy work ahead.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Wrong Time, Wrong Answer, Wrong Amendments (No to Levin's Con-Con)

Radio talk show host Mark Levin has authored a new book called "The Liberty Amendments" in which he proposes that the states demand an Article five Constitutional Convention to propose a series of amendments.   It is a terrible idea, not in principle perhaps, but as he wants it.    The day may come when we need a constitutional convention, but not in our current environment, and not for those amendments.  Even if such a convention resulted in the amendments Levin proposes, and only those amendments, it would do little to solve our underlying problems.

We are in times that are frustrating and even scary for people who really understand what is going on. Many of us have figured out that the federal government does not represent us anymore.   In a time like that, people are looking for an easy way out, a magic bullet, to help them and their family escape the pain they know is coming.   When a national media figure proposes a solution like this people tend to lunge for it, because they want there to be a relatively painless solution so badly.

Henry Ford once said that opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.   The same can be said for efforts to reform government.  People look for short-cuts to reform because the real opportunity for reform is dressed in overalls and looks like work.    It is a lot easier to hop on a band-wagon than to build your own wagon.   The easy thing is to take a ride on a band wagon pre-produced for you by a life-long beltway media figure coming to you nightly on federally licensed radio stations.

The only problem is that no mater what the driver tells you, that wagon is not going to take America any place you really want it to be.   That mass-media manufactured band-wagon itself will not fundamentally change this system, because it is a product of it.    The ruling class knows that the country is very frustrated with it, and they want us to expend that frustration, energy, time, effort, and money on yet another wild goose chase.  One that will either not fundamentally challenge their mis-rule or perhaps even be used to help it along.

Some may say, "Oh, but we have to do something now.  We don't have time for any true grass-roots network solutions, it is an emergency!"    Indeed it is an emergency as regards to the behavior of our federal government, but the "we have to do something" line has a very poor track record of doing anything that makes things better.     Panic makes for poor policy.    If it is too late to save the current federal system, then it is too late, and spending what little we have left of our time, energy, and effort on a non-solution, a single hoped-for magic bullet, will not change that.

Perhaps our little remaining time would be better spent making sure our own state and local officials are just and wise so that we can better weather the coming disaster where we live.  At some point, it makes more sense to quit spending all of your effort trying to wrest control of the helm of the Titanic, and instead start making sure your family has access to life boats which are sound.  You understand that in many areas, the population has no idea the system needs reform and no inclination to change it at any rate.  Amendments are not going to save them from themselves, only the 2 x 4 of reality is going to bring them to their senses.

Most of the debate over whether we should pursue Levin's plan centers on the question of whether a constitutional convention can be "hijacked" for purposes beyond the scope intended by those grassroots people who first got the ball rolling on it.   Of course it can.   The idea that such an attractive target, with so much power at stake in one central location, will remain confined strictly to the wishes of those back home who originated the idea is completely unreasonable.   The chances of a hi-jack may be low, or they may be high, but they will not be zero.   I think they will be high.   As a rule, the more power you have at stake in a distant central location, the greater the chances that this power will be used in a way not anticipated by or agreed to by those far away from that location.   This is the whole problem of Washington in a nutshell.

But since there are plenty discussing this aspect of the matter, that will not be the focus of my plea to you today.  Judge for yourself on that aspect of it from their writings.   Rather I will concentrate on another aspect of this controversy: that even if we could pull off a constitutional convention with negligible risk of a hijacking, and passed every amendment Levin proposes and no others, nothing would be fundamentally changed in Washington.   His answers are non-answers.  They more resemble "controlled-opposition" in which the frustration with the ruling elite's mis-rule is shunted off into a (for them) safety-value which will not seriously impede their looting of the nation.

If our national problem is that the ruling class is ignoring what is written in the constitution, then adding to that writing cannot be the solution.  If our leaders are not listening to us, then giving them new instructions will not matter.    Ultimately, what is written on paper is only as good as those tasked with reading what is written on that paper.   Personnel is policy.

There is absolutely no substitute for putting good people in charge.  Right now, we have a system which puts bad people in charge, which rewards sell-outs.   And that system is what has to change.  I am becoming increasingly frustrated by activists who cannot see that.  All the efforts spent on petition drives, convention drives, mass rallies, appeals to sell-out politicians, and all those other expensive distractions are diverting from what should be our primary effort: building a network of local independent candidate selection committees that is completely detached from any national party system which can elect candidates who answer only to the people in their district, not any national label.  In the past, I have deferred to some of my fellow activists out of respect for their efforts and been roped into some of those others things.   Now, after all those other approaches have failed, its time to try the Localist solution.

Our candidate selection system is broken, especially on the national level.    The control is centralized in two major parties, both of which have been captured by moneyed global interests.   Levin's proposals do nothing to break the two-party cartel.  Scraping the "first past the post" method of determining election winners in favor of some sort of run-off system (preferably instant run-off voting) would go a long way towards breaking the duopoly which has taken turns driving this nation into fiscal and moral ruin.    And this can be done at the state level, we don't need a constitutional convention to start electing our public servants using a run-off, just like the parties do in their own primaries or when electing their own officers.

If Levin were a serious outsider looking to bring our corrupt dysfunctional political system to heel, he would get behind run-offs, and especially instant run-offs, and other ideas which would bring real competition to the system.    It is competition which will produce excellence in the marketplace, not a list of amendments which try to force corrupt people in a corrupt system to behave better.   They don't want to behave better, that is not where the money is.   We need to make it easier to replace them, not a little harder for them to be corrupt.

A survey of his amendments reveal half of them to be little more than gimmicks that would be just as easy for our ruling class to ignore as they have the rest of the document.    When you have dishonest people, they are going to find a way around the rules.   His one amendment would limit government spending to 17.5% of GDP, but its the government itself who gets to say what the GDP is!

They don't tell the truth about unemployment rates, nobody with any sense believes their inflation estimates, so why is telling them that they are limited to spending 17.5% of a number that they get to make up going to stop them? And remember, when they borrow money and spend it, they count the spending as something that "stimulates" the economy and somehow contributed to "growth" in our GDP, which would then allow them to spend even more.    Traditionally, they just declare certain spending to be "off-budget" at any rate.

Another amendment Levin proposes is that federal taxes be limited to 15% of income.  Never mind that the United States got by just fine with no income taxes at all on individuals, except the Northern states during the Civil War, until 1913.    A federal income tax still gives the federal government permission to snoop into the lives of every American.    It still turns state governments against their own citizens because money taxed from the citizens by the feds can be used to bribe the states to act in ways the federal government wants them to, even if the citizens themselves would prefer a different outcome.   But the biggest flaw of all in this is that Levin's amendment would do nothing to eliminate the biggest tax of all- inflation.

Levin does not address the issue of the Federal Reserve and the debt-based fiat dollar.   That issue is so fundamental to any real reform that a failure to include it is a flashing red light indicating that Levin is not with us, he's with them.   The ability to print money out of thin air is essential to the growth of government.   It is the source of financing for all of their other schemes.   With the printing press in a fiat backed dollar, they do not have to tax the dollars that you earn, they can suck the value out of those dollars even as they sit in your wallet simply by printing more of them.

When the Federal Reserve was established a bare 100 years ago, $20.62 could buy you an ounce of gold.  Today, it takes $1,400 dollars to do so.   The dollar has lost a lot of value.  Where did all the value go?   It got sucked out of existing dollars and put into new ones they created and gave to their friends.   As long as we have our present monetary system, the tax rate is whatever they want it to be regardless of Levin's amendment because inflation is a hidden tax.

Levin's idea to make income tax filing day the day before election day is such a gimmick that I don't even feel the need to refute it, but I will say a few words about his proposal to reduce term limits to twelve years.  While I am favorably disposed toward term limits, I don't imagine they will solve any fundamental problems.  We have had them in our state legislature for decades, and while it brought new blood into the system, it has not solved any fundamental problems and it will solve even less on the federal level.  Congressmen can give away enough of your money in 12 years to become a "lobbyist" whose real function is to show the newcomers how nice the special interests can be to congressmen who keep the spice flowing.

A true market-based approach ( in addition to run-offs which would allow for multiple contenders without fear of "splitting the vote"), would be to let them serve as many terms as the voters wanted to keep them, but expand the number of congressmen until there was one for every 70,000 citizens (about one tenth the current number, but still double the number represented early in our history).    It is the size of the districts and the expense of running such a large campaign which keeps many grassroots contenders from taking on special-interest sell-outs.      We want to lower the "barriers to entry" in the business of taking out congressmen who don't serve their constituents.  Such a large congress would be hard to herd, hard to maintain in party discipline, and hard to buy off because of the large number of people they would have to bribe with enough funds to make them all nearly unbeatable in an election campaign.

While some of Levin's ideas have merit, such as repealing the direct election of Senators or allowing a super-majority of state legislatures to overturn federal laws, or having sunset provisions of federal regulations unless renewed by congress, none of them address the real fundamental issue of a broken candidate selection system.   Our current state legislatures are not going to step on federal toes too hard, because they are part of the same party system that feeds into the federal government, and because they gladly take dollars from the fed's printing presses.  

Most of what the feds are doing wrong are things they have no authority to do under our current constitution anyway.   We don't need a constitutional convention for states to practice nullification or interposition, it has been a doctrine of our nation since the founding and the roots of it are in our constitution now.  We just need states and localities with the grit to exercise their existing authority.

Giving them additional powers to stop the feds won't help if the root problem is that they don't want to resist the feds because of party loyalty or federal bribes, or simply lack of courage.   In addition, sixty percent of the states should not have to agree the feds are exceeding the authority of the compact by which the states established the Union (the constitution).   If the feds step on the toes of Texas for example, then Texas should not have to count on Massachusetts coming to their defense.

But his proposal will be ineffective for reasons beyond that.   It would be ineffective even if we had generally good state legislatures.   Most state legislatures meet so infrequently that they would have to call special sessions to stop wrong-headed federal initiatives within the time frame Levin suggests.   Think of how long it took most people to see the problems with the Patriot Act, the NDAA, Real ID, No Child Left Behind, and even with Obamacare new problems are coming to light.    The norm is that America does not discover just how awful these laws are until after they have been in place a long time.

Levin's proposal would only allow state legislatures to shut the barn door after the livestock was gone.   It would actually legitimize the state's compliance with bad federal laws because technically they would have an explicit process by which states could veto federal law, thus implying other approaches are not the constitutional way to do so.   It would short-circuit the growing nullification and interposition movements in the states, which I suspect is what the establishment is really after.

The same can be said with the sunset provisions for regulations.   Congress is not going to end regulations when the lobbies for the big corporations which fund their political parties are writing them.   It is just like asking congress to vote on the debt limit.  When the time comes, they always blink.    I can see this actually hurting consumers because they will end regulations which legitimately help people while maintaining others which only help the big players in a given industry keep out the small fry with significant barriers to entry.   Again, personnel is policy.

Levin sees what the country knows, that power is too centralized in our current political system, but his answer is to empower the same system, the same people, with more tools to check the growth of their own power.   The real answer is to give the people more tools to break the system which has captured our nation's government.  That starts with changing a broken candidate selection system.   We don't even have control of our court houses and state legislatures.   It is unwise to believe we should focus on fixing Washington when we have not even fixed things here at home yet.

 Real reform won't happen at the federal level first, nor can it happen at a single power nexus point, like a constitutional convention which will be an attractive target for co-option.  Face it, the bad guys have the big media and political guns in this fight.  It does not mean that we can't win, but it does mean that we have to adjust our tactics accordingly.  Like a nation which cannot match its opponent tank-for-tank or plane-for-plane, we must resort to the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare.

We can't put our chips on a single knight in shining armor.  We must be like a swarm of bees against which even the biggest of big guns is useless.   This means we change the nation not from the top down, via a Con-con, but from the bottom up, in the form of a multitude of local grassroots groups which end-run the party system and back their own independent candidates for the state legislature and local offices (like this example).

Only once the local governments and state legislatures are truly representing the people again, instead of just ambitious supplicants of a DC-based political machine, can we hope to press Washington for real change.      This is not a high-profile, glamorous counter-proposal which can be accomplished in a single election cycle.  Like most opportunities, its dressed in overalls and it looks like work.