Last Saturday Evening, my wife and I took a break and watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  It is a movie from the late 40′s that was given to us by friends.  Neither of us had ever seen it.  We both enjoyed it and it made us think of times gone by.

Most striking to me was the hard-working Italian immigrant family that was able to move out of their tenement apartment into a new home of their own.  It made me think about the Italians and the Germans and Poles, etc. who immigrated here 100 years ago.  Most are today part of the society just like those who came over on the Mayflower.  They have no distinct disadvantages or, for that matter, advantages in making their way in American Life.

The Martini Family moving into Bailey Park - thanks to Treehugger.com

The Martini Family moving into Bailey Park – thanks to Treehugger.com

When they arrived, they did not speak English.  They did not know our customs.  Their clothes were different.  But, they knew that they needed to learn our language and customs if they were to fully enjoy the freedoms of this nation.  To my knowledge, there were no ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. Ballots were printed in English since to become a citizen one was required to have a working knowledge of our official language.  The immigrants learned the language and our customs.  They had to.

Unlike our government today, in the last century (at least the first half of it) our government treated immigrants like normal people.  If they were good and/or talented workers, they could get and hold a job. They paid taxes and obeyed the same laws as everyone else.  Special programs to assist with food, transportation, education, health care, etc. did not exist.  All members of our society were free and independent to do what they thought was best for them, within the laws of the land.  Most chose to learn the English Language.  Most took whatever jobs they could get until they could find something better.  They saved and planned and made a better life for themselves than the lives they left in Europe or Asia or Africa.  It wasn’t easy, but they were better for effort.

Somehow, they managed to survive and thrive and integrate into the American society.  Doesn’t that indicate that we don’t “Need” all the government programs that we now have?  Is it not possible that we are actually taking away incentives to integrate into our society and making it a slower, longer process for immigrants?  Couldn’t we spend our tax dollars more effectively?  Or at least overspend our income a bit less?

I also really liked the welcome that was given to the Martinis by Mary and George Bailey.  they gave them a loaf of bread, so they will never know hunger, salt so that life will always have flavour and wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.  Nice.  Can’t recall welcoming any new neighbors that way (but we do give them a bottle of our wine).

My apology to those of you who expect to see a new post to this blog weekly or more often as was the case previously.  I’ve not been able to pull the trigger on many posts for a while, not that I haven’t started a few posts (8 drafts in the past three weeks – all even less complete than this).  There is so much going on, particularly in Washington, DC, that I just don’t really know where to start.

Maybe it’s time to get back to the main theme of this blog – Responsibility.

We Americans are a very fortunate people in that we (still) have certain freedoms.  However, with those freedoms come responsibilities.   For example, we believe that we have the right/are free to vote for the candidate of our choice to represent our views in directing our government.  Should we fail to vote, or should we fail to inform ourselves prior to voting, we will not have lived up to our responsibility and could lose this right/freedom.

Our elected leaders have been given power by virtue of being duly elected to office.   And, that power is generally defined by the Constitution such that there are limitations and checks and balances to that power.  With power comes the responsibility to wield the power in a just and legal way for the benefit of those who gave them the power.

Today we have a crisis of power abuse and lack of responsibility.  We have elected leaders to whom we have granted huge powers to effect our lives and many, if not most, of them have failed to live up to the responsibilities that go with the power.  And, many of them have usurped power beyond the limits set by the Constitution.

For illustrative purposes, here are some examples of elected leaders not living up to their responsibilities and/or usurping power not granted under the Constitution.

LBJ taking oath on board Air Force One - courtesy of usliberals.about.com

LBJ taking oath on board Air Force One – courtesy of usliberals.about.com

Take Lyndon Johnson who used an Executive order in 1965 to require contractors to the Federal Government to create programs to hire increased percentages of ‘minority’ workers.  The political climate at the time meant that there was no successful challenge to the constitutionality of this clearly legislative action.  The Constitution states that legislation (creation and modification of laws) is the purview of the Congress.  By creating a ‘law’ that suppliers and contractors must follow, Johnson was acting as a legislator, not an executive.  He was usurping power not granted in the Constitution.  It was the responsibility of the Congress to thwart this power grab with any means at its disposal, including Impeachment.  Congress did not live up to its responsibility.

Mr. Obama has done the same thing as Mr. Johnson did, by changing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  When he ordered the employer mandate (to comply with the law) be moved from 1-1-2014 to 1-1-2015, he modified the law.  He acted as a legislator.  He was usurping power not granted in the Constitution.  “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” – Article 1, Section 1 of the Constitution.   Not only was he changing a law (a legislative function, not an Executive one), but, he was also changing taxation of the citizenry, another power clearly reserved for Congress.

Under the Presentment Clause (Article I, Section 7), after a bill has passed both Houses, but “before it becomes a Law,” it must be presented to the President, who “shall sign it” if he approves it, but “return it,” (“veto” it) if he does not. Nothing in this clause authorizes the President to amend or repeal a bill.

Congress, for its part, has not lived up to its responsibility to protect its constitutional duties from the other branches of government.  “The House of Representatives…shall have the sole Power of Impeachment. -Article I, Section 2, Clause 5.   Why has Congress not lived up to its responsibility?

Members of Congress swear an oath,

      “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Sounds to me like our Congress Members are not living up to their Oath.  Same goes for the President.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  “…he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed,”

Celebrate our Veterans and what they have done to help preserve our freedoms and thank them for their service on November 11.  Below are four brief video messages that I think are appropriate for the day.  I hope you enjoy them.  And while you are at it, say thanks to a veteran on 11-11.

See my related posts here (11/18/2011),

here (11/09/2010), and,

my favorite, here (11/11/2010).

thanks to telegraph.co.uk

thanks to telegraph.co.uk

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Do you remember when Nancy Pelosi said, “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it?”  That’s the dictionary definition of a Stool Sample…. Pretty well sums up Obamacare, doesn’t it?

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To help save our economy, the Government will announce next week that the INS will start deporting seniors instead of illegals in order to lower Social Security and Medicare costs.  A side benefit is that seniors are easier to catch and won’t remember how to find their way back home.

••

In case you are having a rough day, here’s a stress management technique recommended in psychological journals.     It really works and will make you smile.

1. Picture yourself lying on your belly on a warm rock that hangs out over a crystal clear stream.

2. Picture yourself with both your hands dangling in the cool running water.
3. Birds are sweetly singing in the cool mountain air.
4. No one knows your secret place.
5. You are in total seclusion from that hectic place called the world.
6. The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.
7. The water is so clear that you can make out the face of the Congressman you are holding underwater.
(See it worked: You ARE smiling, and you feel better already – much better!)

••

“That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people:  If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.  If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.” -  Barack Obama, in a speech to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009.

“And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you.  It hasn’t happened yet.  It won’t happen in the future.” – Obama, remarks in Portland, Ore., April 1, 2010, after the bill was signed into law.

This last joke was on all of us.  And it’s a cruel joke, not humor.

Jimmy Hatlo was the famous San Francisco cartoonist who wrote the strip, “They’ll Do It Every Time.”  It was among the most popular strips from about 1929 until Hatlo’s death in 1963.  The strip often focussed on the things that people in power did that caused problems for the rest of us.  The strip kept running until 2008.  Hatlo was so popular that he attracted imitators, the most successful of which was “There Oughta be a Law.”  It was written by Harry Shorten and Al Fagaly.  It ran from 1948 until 1984.  Both strips were funny but in a way which made you think that you might be guilty of the same thing as the strip’s characters.

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There Oughta Be A Law

There Oughta Be A Law

A typical There Oughta be a Law strip showed someone not living up to their responsibilities or not respecting the rights of others or just being pig-headed.  The panel usually concluded with  someone shaking his or her head and saying “There Oughta be a law.”  The cartoon got its material from its readers.  It regularly solicited its readers to submit their pet peeves and used those as the basis of each strip, giving credit to the contributor of the idea.

So, in a roundabout way, Jimmy Hatlo, through his imitators Fagaly and Shorten is responsible for today’s belief that every transgression warrants a law and all problems can be solved by just writing another law.

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ObamaSignature

President Obama and his Democrat controlled Congress fully believed they could fix everything that was wrong with our health system.  They thought there oughta be a law so they created a law and were able to pass it.  Now, like most laws written to solve a problem, Mr. Obama and the Democrats are hard pressed to really understand the problem, let alone solve it.

I wonder, and time will tell, if instead of creating a huge law, building new bureaucracies, and radically changing the country’s health care system, what might have happened if they had taken off the books about a dozen existing laws that have proven to be counter productive instead.  Here is an example of a law, not unlike Obamacare, that proved to be an overreach as I believe Obamacare is already proving to be:

The Volstead Act of 1919 – it was the huge law of its day to promote public health, just as the ACA (Obamacare) is today.  It was the implementation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.  You know of it as Prohibition, as it was the Federal Law that outlawed the consumption of Alcohol.   During the almost 14 year experiment, the unintended consequences of the law created huge problems for the society that far outweighed the ‘health benefits’ envisioned by those who passed the law.  Not the least of these unintended consequences was the fact that the law led the people to disrespect the law and the lawmakers.  The law was filled with special exemptions and exceptions – loopholes to allow the powerful to continue to have access to the liquor they wanted.  At one point, the American Medical Association began to lobby against the law and then they presented a bill that would remove the limits on the amounts of various spirits that could be consumed by any individual.  The AMA questioned, in public, the Legislator’s ability and qualifications to let them determine the therapeutic value of any substance for the health of the average person.  All this is not unlike the ACA.

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norml_remember_prohibition_

The 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act were repealed by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution in 1933.  Will this be the fate of Obamacare?

What do you think?

One Million Views! Wow!

One Million Views! Wow!

Hard for me to believe, but today, or at the latest, early tomorrow, this blog will have received over 1,000,000 views.

I think its time I either start posting more often or move on to something else.  What do you suggest?

Thanks to money.cnn.com

Thanks to money.cnn.com

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My friend Eric in Brazil sent me the idea and I have modified the letter from our government below:

Email from the NSA (National Security Agency) to all taxpayers:

We regret to inform you that our illegal dragnet surveillance of domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans has ground to a halt because of the current government shutdown.

We request that everyone refrain from using email, social networking media, blogs as well as making phone calls since our ability to spy on you has been impacted by the actions of a dysfunctional Congress.

Please do your part in this National Time of Need.

Thank you for your support.”

I appreciate the humor, making fun of our government, but, there is always truth hidden in humor.   You don’t make fun of Jimmy Durante’s big nose because it is small and unnoticed.  Comedians make fun of Congress daily because Congress, on a daily basis, says and does things that are humorous, yet they are real and have an influence on how most of us live our lives.

Don’t think that’s true?  One of the best straight lines in the history of mankind is, ” We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”  It was delivered, by the way, with a straight face and all seriousness by then Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  What a gold mine for comedians.  Yet the truth is that we knew almost nothing about the new health care law (Obamacare) until well after it was passed by the Democrat Majority in Congress.  The fact is that we still know little about what the consequences of passage of that bill will be.

The press, today, is filled with articles about how much the shutdown will cost us, how much the taxpayer will have to pay to right this wrong.  I contend that the opposite is true.  Congress will not pass any new and costly laws while things are “shut down.”  Except for the huge number of automatic spending programs, a great number of other programs will cease to operate and will save us untold amounts of money.

I think it may be good to just stop everything long enough to see what we truly need and what is icing on the cake.  What do you think?

My good friend, Jim, with whom I regularly correspond (mostly about forms, functions and effectiveness of government) wrote the following to me a few days ago.  Please read it and comment.

So, just for a Thought Experiment, consider a simple constitutional amendment: that federal laws are not binding upon individual states.

What a changed picture that would present!  Suddenly all national efforts would be organized on a voluntary, state-by-state basis.  If we want a standing military, interstate highways or air traffic control, we would be signatories to those agreements.  We would raise and spend our own taxes, at the lowest practicable level, and contribute to higher levels of hierarchy at our option – something like the Swiss government.

The consequences would be mind-blowing: those governments which feel like supporting people who have never worked – and who never plan to work – would be perfectly free to do so, and citizens who approve of that could simply move to such a blue state and indulge their impulses to their heart’s and pocket’s content.  Those who believe that charity begins at home would move to a red state, while those who feel good about giving their money to anyone who claims to need it would move to a state of like-minded choice.  Presidents could fulminate, declaim, admonished and abjure to the patience of the listener, but those who were not persuaded could safely ignore the political and financial machinations of self-appointed moralists – much in contrast to our present situation.

I expect that for a while two Americas would coexist – each with a freedom unknown for many generations now.  All kinds of social experiments could flourish; the guinea pigs would always be volunteers.  Perhaps we would all learn a great deal; it would be a nobly practical experiment for the entire world.  But I predict that the one which would last would be the more Spartan one of self-sufficiency, self-responsibility and individual choice.  Perhaps regrettably, I augur that Blue America would go the way of the Oneida Society.

Importantly, several vital precepts of our founders would be revived, principally “consent of the governed.”

This would be most American and most patriotic – for those whom that matters.

The rest could hang themselves on their own noble intentions – with our blessings!

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Constitution

Just a note, about the idea of an Amendment to the Constitution.  To date the Constitution has been Amended 27 times, 10 of which were done almost immediately upon ratification of the Constitution, the “Bill of Rights” ratified in December of 1791.  There are four ways to legally amend our constitution:               1.  Proposed by Congress and ratified by State Legislatures – this is the default method and has been the path to amendment for all but one of the 27 Amendments to our Constitution;  2.  Proposed by Congress and ratified by a State Convention.  This has been used once on the 21st Amendment;  3.  Proposed by a Convention of the States and ratified by the State Legislatures – has never happened;            4.  Proposed by a Convention of the States and ratified by State Conventions – has never happened.

Since the United States is technically supposed to be a Federal Republic, it is worth considering the current relationship between the many self governing states and the Federal Government.  Today, in my view, it is a union of independent states that is ruled by the whim of the Federal government with little choice available to the various states.  My definition of a Federal Republic suggests that neither the States nor the Federal Government can change law or policy which directly effects the other without the consent of the other, yet, the Federal Government daily makes new laws or new bureaucratic rules that effect the States without the States’ consent.

And then there is the sticky matter of “States Rights” as described in the 10th Amendment, “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.”  It can be argues that the Federal Government has taken many of the rights that are “reserved to the States respectively.”

Do you think such a 28th Amendment would help reign in Federal Government spending and the growth of Federal Government?  If the Federal Government did shrink because of a 28th Amendment, would the same size and cost of government just be shifted from Washington, D. C. to the States?  Would that be a bad thing?

I have a hard time with my ‘elevator speech’ about the Cement Trust.  For me it is one of those things that defies the simple description/explanation.  Having said that, I’ll give it a go anyway…. well not exactly an elevator speech, but a brief outline of the Cement Trust.

The Cement Trust is the brainchild of Bruce Christensen, the General manager of Cart-Away Concrete Systems in McMinnville, Oregon.  On January 12, 2010, in the area surrounding Port Au Prince, Haiti, literally thousands of buildings collapsed after a relatively mild earthquake (6.9 on the Richter Scale), killing almost 300,000 and making well over a million homeless.  Very poor quality concrete and poor construction methods produced buildings with barely enough strength to hold up their own weight, but definitely too weak to withstand the forces of the earthquake.  The people of Haiti lost all faith in structures made of concrete.  They did not trust cement based construction.

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thanks to WTNH.com

thanks to WTNH.com

Bruce started up a WordPress blog, Cement Trust, which soon had hundreds reading and commenting on his many posts.  Bruce’s purpose was to shine a light on the worldwide problem of poor quality concrete, especially in the poorest countries of the world.  Outside of the developed economies, concrete is typically mixed with shovels on the ground with almost no consistency and usually more water and less cement that is needed to make a suitable structural material.

Within months, literally hundreds of charities had ‘invaded’ Haiti and were attempting to rebuild the nation.  Though most were well meaning, they were doing little more than setting up the next disaster.  Most are mixing concrete with shovels on the ground, using too much water and too little cement in the mix and are creating the same poor quality concrete that was at the heart of the 2010 disaster.  Though many people are working on the issue individually, there is little recognition of the significance of the problem.

In places like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, building collapse is such a common event, it is treated like we treat fender-bender auto accidents.   They don’t warrant mention in the press.  India has literally dozens of building collapses involving fatalities each year.  In poor areas of the world, human life is not as valued as in the developed nations and living with dangerous structures seems just natural, part of life (and death).

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from livedifferent.com

from livedifferent.com

It is interesting that Concrete is the second most used commodity on earth, after water, and yet almost no one gives it a second thought.  Some cities have raging debates about whether or not to flouridate water.  Drinking water quality is a major concern in much of Africa and literally dozens of major non-profits are addressing the issue.  However, do an internet search for non-profits working to rid the world of poor quality concrete and you will likely find none.

Bruce had talked with hundreds of concerned individuals and many concerned companies, and agencies over the past three years and determined that what was needed now was some action.  Early this year he began the planning for the Cement Trust Symposium, a meeting of thought leaders on the subject who would plot a course of action determined to cure the world’s poorest concrete.

My bet is that you knew little about this problem.  I hope to post the results of the symposium within a couple of weeks.  It was a two day gathering of some of the brightest and most committed people you could ever meet and I think a plan is evolving from it that will make it possible to: “Improve the Quality of Cement-based Products in Developing Countries” (the Cement Trust Mission as developed at the Symposium).

Follow this blog for more on this.

Last week, my friend Dave sent me a letter written by a Sheriff Mike Scott from Fort Meyers, Florida with the following intro:
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Gentlepersons:
        I received this from a friend. I don’t necessarily agree with it.  I would be interested in any comments you might be willing to share as a thinking exercise.
        Please do not shoot the messenger,                                                        David.

Here is the letter
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followed by one of the responses that Dave received from Mr. Carlos Campbell who wrote a piece for his blog as his response.  Carlos Campbell’s Post
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I wrote back to Dave with my opinion which follows:
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Dave,
 
First thanks for sending the letter.  Second, thanks for asking my opinion.  Third, thanks for sending the Carlos Campbell post.  I will start watching his blog.  It looks interesting.
 
I liked Carlos’ post and found it an interesting and generally well written piece.  It, of course, comes from a point of view different from mine since I am not black.  However, I don’t find the post terribly relevant to the question of the letter from Sheriff Scott.
 
In my opinion, Sheriff Scott was writing to decline an invitation to attend and to financially sponsor an event.  In his response, he gave reasons which I found compelling, to neither attend nor fund the event.
 
Carlos’ post was an argument that black youth are treated in a biased manner in our society and also was an argument for less biased treatment of black youth, especially within our justice system.  It did not address the key points stated by Sheriff Scott in his letter declining the invitations from the NAACP.  In fact, it was a strong opinion about how black youth are treated in our society that, it seems to me, Carlos wanted a larger audience for and chose it as his response even though it was not very relevant to the letter.
 
To my mind, Sheriff Scott was not saying that the Martin/Zimmerman trial was properly or improperly decided. What he did say is that the NAACP was wasting its time, both locally and nationally by focussing on this case rather than working on the problem of black on black violence that is both more prevalent and more significant than the Martin/Zimmerman trial.
 
I think Scott is right.  It is easier to blame others or point to injustices than to work to fix what is wrong in our society.
 
I think Campbell is wrong when he claims President Obama set the right tone when he spoke at a White House Press Conference on July 19, 2013.  The tone I heard was one that cast doubt on the local and state police and the state justice system.  It was a tone filled with the explanation of the great differences between black youth and all others in our land.  It was a dividing tone, not a uniting one as I heard it.  Mr. Obama twice compared himself with Travon Martin and growing up as a black in our society – a very disingenuous claim from a man raised in Hawaii and Indonesia as a person of mixed race in majority mixed race areas. Mr. Obama also stated he hoped we would use incidents like the Travon Martin death to encourage our better instincts rather than to heighten our differences, yet his entire presser was a discussion of the differences, how difficult they are and that we needed to solve the problem caused by bias.  In other words, at least in my view, Mr. Obama was heightening the differences, for political gain.  
 
In my view, Mr. Scott wrote an appropriate letter and pointed out good reasons for not wanting to support the NAACP until it saw fit to use its power to address major societal ills rather than make than gain political capital from high profile cases like the Martin Zimmerman Trial.
 
Tom

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