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.

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