It’s Sunday, why not try a sermon?

I have never been one to hide my beliefs (well, when traveling abroad I have been known to refer to myself as Canadian). I was raised as a Christian, Southern Baptist, and my pastor when I was very young preached that we should examine something before pledging our lives to it. So I did. I left the church, but I did not leave God.

I read the Bible, cover to cover, and did not see any of the people I saw at church. I understood who Jesus was, and what he was trying to teach, and saw few of his messages reflected in the teachings of “Christian” religions, and when they were, it was merely lip service. I could see them in other religions, and examined those more deeply. In the end, sometime in my twenties, I decided to follow Jesus’s teachings, calling myself a “Zen Baptist.”

Of all religions, I tend to be more critical of “Christians;” they have the instruction book and don’t follow it. This morning, I had to correct a member of my Belgian Beer Enthusiasts group for berating a Buddhist. The other member had posted a picture of his wife, a Buddhist, and the Christian went on about how she was going to have trouble getting into heaven. Determining the fate of someone’s soul is not the duty of a Christian, that job is specifically held by God. Rather than get into a prolonged discussion, I just reminded him that it was a Beer group, he could share his religious views elsewhere.

I have often said “If you can read a Stephen King novel, you can read the New Testament.” There really is no excuse not to read the teachings of a group with whom you aspire to spend eternity. Yet the majority of Christians have only opened the book to read a verse along with the congregation on Sunday. They have no sense of context. Many will repeat the phrase “Judge not” with their own interpretation of what it means. For one thing, it is only the first two words of a sentence. The full verse, recorded in the book of Matthew as the first three verses of the seventh chapter are “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” The message is you will be judged by the standards to which you hold others.

These are the reasons a good friend of mine rejected Christianity. He would say “There are too many contradictions.” What he meant was the practice often contradicts the lessons. I have heard Priests admonishing their parishioners to carry the love of the service outside the doors of the church, questioning how they could commune with each other in church and then curse each other in the parking lot. Christians often do not follow in Christ’s footsteps. Maybe if the Priest championed reading the Bible rather than the snippets included in the mass they would have a better feel for what Jesus had been saying; but of course that might allow them to read the ninth verse of the twenty third chapter of Matthew,”And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

I am also an American, and hold the Constitution as an instruction manual on how to operate the country. The first amendment has taken quite a beating lately. It reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is where the idea of separation of church and state comes from.

Our current president does not appear to have read the constitution, or just feels as if he is not bound by it. My own thoughts lean towards the latter. The organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) is a watchdog group which focuses on the First Amendment, protecting the populace from government intrusion in religious matters; they have been very busy lately. When I suggested this group to my father, who tends to feel Christianity is under attack, he flatly refused. My father is a good man, but he can not quite get the idea that the same rule which prevents government funding of proselytizing the Christian faith also prevents government funding of proselytizing Islam; it is in fact the very core of the First Amendment. Fairness is not appreciated by someone who feels they are under attack, even when they represent over seventy percent of the populace.

I don’t expect anyone to believe as I do. I have little way of knowing, because I make no attempt to drag others into my beliefs. I met one the other day, he happens to be a doorman at my building. He usually carries a bible, and is very quiet. I asked what religion he followed, and in his quiet way he said “I don’t, I follow the teachings of Jesus.” It felt nice knowing I am not alone. I am exceptionally tired of all Christians being portrayed as the one third of us who are evangelical as they most certainly do not believe as I do, nor do they follow Jesus’s words. In Matthew’s tenth chapter, Jesus says in the fourteenth verse “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Simply put, if someone doesn’t want to hear you, shut up and walk away.

What troubles me most is the vast number of Christians who propagate ideas which have no basis in the words of Jesus. I repeatedly hear I should not judge all Muslims by the actions of Daesh, but most folks judge all Christians by the actions of Evangelicals. It can be difficult, I tend to judge all Atheists by the actions of their leaders, but some of them are nice people.




The whimpering end of democracy

I was born in America (although I frequently claim Texas as my native country), and from early in my life I was inundated with the message I live in a Democracy. First problem, America is a Democratic Republic, we grow up believing a lie about our government; repeating it as a defense of the majority. As we mature, and learn to appreciate minorities, a certain cognitive dissonance starts to grow. Part of our Western background is absolutes, balance is a foriegn concept.

In my youth, part of my education included classes in “Civics,” or the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. Sometime in the seventies, Civics classes were deemed unimportant, and dropped from most curricula.

For almost fifty years, two complete generations, Americans have not been taught the basics of how government works. This explains how millions of people called for the impeachment of the president on the day he was elected, not comprehending that an actual offense had to take place first; that is, an offense greater than “I didn’t vote for him.”

Then when an impeachable offense took place, millions more did not understand that impeachment is a process, and that it does not end in removal from office. It ends in a trial, a trial in which the jurors decide to either weigh the evidence or vote according to their party.

Had the president been found guilty, he still would not have been removed from office. Like a trial in real life, once guilt has been determined, then sentencing is considered. Think of a murder trial, few of those found guilty are sentenced to death, or even life imprisonment.

As a political strategy, impeachment is equivalent to investigations, they sound scary but there is no reason to expect a particular outcome.

The one spectacular event in the impeachment of president Trump was that Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican, voted against the president. No senator had ever voted against a president of their own party before. The partisan nature of the process was highlighted by the only non-partisan vote.

How many Americans took note of that? My guess? Seven.

The campaign for the 2020 presidential election rolled right through the impeachment hearings, and there were lessons to be learned there as well.

For some reason, Iowa is the first contest, a “caucus” rather than a “primary.” It is still an electoral process, the “one man one vote” part of the Democratic Republic, and although the process sounds rather bizarre, it is captured quite well here by Reuters.

For some reason, the Iowa caucus is held as an important indicator of the November election, even though Iowa is in no way representative of the American population, and is held eleven months before the election. People can change their minds in eleven months. Sometimes it only takes eleven minutes.

In this case, and perhaps indicative of the ways in which Iowa represents the general population, one voter did change her mind after casting her vote, and wanted to withdraw it.

After “deliberating” about the choice and available candidates, and working her way through the tedious caucus process, this voter changed her mind because one of the most reported aspects of the candidate had missed her research until after casting her ballot, and she felt it was important enough to display to the nation her Homophobia. Pete Buttigieg is gay. Married to a man. Publicly, flagrantly, and the one thing that made him stand out when there were over twenty candidates, but she had missed it. This is the thoughtful reflection applied to a candidate for president.

That “one man one vote” bit carries the implication that you only get to vote once. She missed that too. Nonetheless, after a fiasco illustrating the failures of the Democratic National Convention, Pete Buttigieg won.

Speaking of those failures, do not take the impression I am suggesting the Republican party has not been easy to mistake for a Keystone Kops episode, which brings up another whimper.

I no longer claim membership in any party, they are simply two sides of the same coin.

In our Democratic Republic, those votes given to each of us rarely express our desires. Very few folks vote for a candidate, they vote for a party. The same people who decry partisan politics are partisans themselves. Democrats will point out the stupidity of their opponents who just “pull the big R lever,” while at the same time chanting “vote blue no matter who.”

What are the side effects of this whimpering death of a process we have celebrated so widely?

For one, Americans not only can’t handle the truth, they don’t expect it. Anyone can say anything and because it is accepted by what to that person is “a large number of people,” it must be truth. Twitter is considered a “news source” by the same people who laugh at one of its reporters for broadcasting from the toilet in the middle of the night. Nurses, who have been trained to understand the scientific method, become dedicated opponents of vaccinations. People feel comfortable dispensing diagnoses without any medical training. Rather than a search for truth, questions are submitted for a diversity of opinions. It is as if they just don’t want to be correct.

It is dragging me down. I find the uninformed exhausting, because I can either explain every part of their wrong ideas and be considered arrogant, or listen in silence as they display their ignorance, transmitting it like a virus to the uninformed majority. I can’t help them; it is frustrating. As I age, the frustration is having physical effects, I write it off as having developed in another world; I am the foreigner here. Is this the fate of age?

I often think of John Houseman as Mr. Wabash in the film “Three Days of the Condor,” speaking to a rising section chief.

Mr. Wabash : I go even further back than that. Ten years after The Great War, as we used to call it. Before we knew enough to number them.

Higgins : You miss that kind of action, sir?

Mr. Wabash : No, I miss that kind of clarity.


A day of firearms in America

Yesterday, 24 March 2018, was a day of firearms. Groups of children marched in the “March for our lives,” the latest anti-gun movement. I went to a gun show, and saw families shopping together. My cousin in law in Texas taught his five year old grandson gun safety.

Earlier in the week, the police in Princeton NJ murdered a man at the local Panera, which is now covered with signs blaming everyone except the Princeton Police Department. Apparently the NRA is responsible for the lack of negotiation skills in the upscale sanctuary city.

I do not believe it is correct to say “everyone is passionate about their position on guns.” The anti-gun nuts lose their passion a week or so after each tragedy. They dig the spotlight, but the actual work of overturning the Constitution is of little interest. Personally, I find it difficult to argue with people who are arguing based on emotion, they rarely bother to learn anything about the subject and lack civility. Their self awarded moral superiority tarnishes rapidly under the light of reality.

Remington Model 12 pump action .22 caliber

So while the kids were marching to ban guns, I went to a gun show. I’ve been to many, they are common. The rifles I would like seem to be overpriced, but I did pick up some cases and ammunition. I had a nice conversation with a young man who was choosing a shotgun for his daughter. She’s eleven years old, and very slight of build, but from what her father says she is very good at Trap shooting. It brought back pleasant memories of shooting with my daughter, who was a natural marksman. I spoke with a couple of young men who were selling Remington Model 12 rifles (one I am interested in). This was the first rifle I owned, at about twelve years old, but today they sell for as much as twenty two hundred dollars. We agreed it is a dependable small caliber rifle, but they had no intention of lowering the price, which was about average among the dealers present. I had a couple of conversations with dealers and other customers about the other rifle I was looking for, the Lee-Enfield model 4 in .303 British.

Lee-Enfield model 4 .303 British

It is difficult to find the Enfield with it’s original stock, and it just doesn’t feel right with modern wood. My last one had seen service in Korea, I sold it when money was tight after my second divorce, they go for between six hundred and seventeen hundred dollars now.  I still have cartridges in .303 British, and it is the most battle proven military rifle in existence, having seen service since WWI; the Afghani’s used it to repel the Russians in the 80s. My oldest daughter could put five rounds into the ten ring at one hundred yards with it when she was twelve.

There was a nice couple selling home made soap, they had some molded into the shape of a pistol which they said they sold out of in December, and plenty of other friendly people selling gun related objects.

My cousin’s husband used the day to teach his grandson gun safety. Because that is what responsible gun owners do. Even though his guns are safely locked away, little Noah may come across other firearms as he grows up, and needs to understand how to handle them safely. Intelligent people teach their offspring to respond to potential dangers with knowledge rather than fear. There is always the possibility Noah will grow up to be anti gun (although in this family it is unlikely), but he will always be safe.

Noah learns to handle a rifle

Meanwhile, in this wonderful Democratic Republic, crowds of children were encouraged to march in protest against gun ownership. Even the Pope got involved, maybe because he realized that America is not a theocracy and wanted someone who might be listened to speaking. Fear of guns is not far from fear of the dark. The unknown is scary, and to children, responsibility is scary. Congress, who only weeks earlier were calling on soap manufacturer’s to make their products less appetizing to children, is now being asked to listen to the wisdom of children.

As the logic twists further, the goal of this movement is to tell congress to listen to children because they have not listened to adults. They have listened, just not to people proposing violations of the Constitution they swore to uphold. The path to an amendment modifying the second amendment has not changed in two hundred and thirty years. It has not been approached, rather laws infringing on the right to bear arms have faced challenges in court, and routinely failed. All that has to happen is to pass an amendment and have it ratified by two thirds of the states, then the laws can change. Unfortunately, those wishing to ban guns pass laws which criminals do not (by definition) obey. Changing the Constitution would at least keep guns out of the hands of honest citizens, but that approach has not been tried.

Panera Bread in Princeton

Following the murder of Scott Mielentz by Princeton police, locals protested bread. Had Scott been a member of a minority, the town would have burned, but because he had financial troubles he was cast as an outsider, and the police exonerated by the locals. I have no sympathy for the Princeton police, they have the money and time to be properly trained.

The facts of the event are fairly straight forward. Mielentz was suffering from PTSD, which put him beyond the understanding of a police force that has never been exposed to trauma. He walked into Panera with a handgun, which some reports have referred to as “brandishing a gun.” Everyone in the store left, leaving Mielentz alone. Police blocked the streets for blocks around the store, and schools, some miles away, were placed on “lockdown.” For five hours, the police claim to have “negotiated” with Mielentz, with his only expressed statement that he be left alone. As shift change neared, Mielentz was killed by a single shot through the window, the only shot fired during the event. Mielentz posed no immediate threat, so the circumstances of the incident must be presented to a grand jury composed of 23 civilians for independent review by state law. If there is Justice in the state of New Jersey, the officer responsible will be tried for manslaughter at the very least. But expecting justice in New Jersey is foolish.

The signs outside Panera spoke directly to the children’s march, but I don’t suspect anyone was paying attention. “NRA there is blood on your hands” could have been crafted by my ex-wife, who ranted incessantly on Facebook after the Stone Douglas incident with the same words (with the opportunity  to respond turned off because that’s how you show how passionate you are, making statements that no one can respond to). There are a couple with AR-15s on them, which is most likely the weapon the police used. There is a sign which reads “Guns kill, not save” in which they misspelled “Police” as “Guns.” Lots of calls to end violence following a largely non-violent event. Oddly, there were no signs at the Police department.

America is a wonderful country, with a government restrained from tyranny by a perfect Constitution. I say perfect because built into the Constitution is a format for revising it. We realized people should not be property and enacted the thirteenth amendment. We realized that our former slaves were not equal until they could vote and enacted the fifteenth amendment. Fifty years later we realized that women were equal in rights and enacted the nineteenth amendment. If the populous was truly interested in banning guns, an amendment could be proposed nullifying the second amendment. So far, nothing.

In the meantime, we may react to the “gun problem” in many ways. Some will fight to ban guns, others will fight to protect the right to bear arms. I cannot think of a single instance in which a solution was reached by shouting, so civil discussions would be the best path to pursue, which requires education. Banning guns which do not exist helps no one. Banning guns based on how they look works the same. If gun owners are so stupid, how is it they understand the features of guns and the anti-gun nuts do not?

All of us need to treat our opponents with respect. Of course, if we really respected each other, guns wouldn’t seem nearly as scary, because the people owning them wouldn’t be as scary.


The war to end all wars

One hundred and two years ago, in July of 1914, the first tendrils of the flame which would become known as The War to End All Wars were sprouting. It was not an accurate name, later it was referred to as the first World War, even before we started numbering them, because it was recognized the world was at war. About 4600 years earlier, the first recorded war, the Battle of Ur, involved the world of the time. There is little doubt there were wars before that, the desire to write was never as strong as the desire to kill.

Humans have always been at war with each other, there have been more than one hundred major conflicts since the War to End All Wars. It can be difficult to tell when one ends and another begins, the “first World War” began as a conflict between Serbia and Croatia, which continues today despite numerous “peace treaties.” The latest spark being when the cases each had against the other for genocide were dismissed in February 2015. The Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831), in his book On War, calls war “a continuation of politics carried on by other means;” the Serbians and Croates always seem to find those means so something should be happening over there soon. And in Syria, The Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Israel, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, and The United States of America.

Yes, I am hearing the call here in the states. Credible calls which I shall not spread less I be accused of sedition. Hatred and mistrust is at an all time high in the states, look at a political candidate, the one who you won’t vote for, and realize that person’s supporters feel the same way as you. Their candidate has been unfairly vilified, the process was rigged against them, there are multiple conspiracies against them, and the other (your) candidate is the worst being to ever cobble together 46 chromosomes.

I am quite accustomed to hearing young people talk about revolution. I refrain from laughing out loud, they are often passionate, but direct action has no safe spaces.  When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they said “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They understood the meaning of their words, they had lives, fortunes, and honor to pledge. The rumblings I am hearing today come from such people.

Recent events have been disturbing. Using a variety of ruses, the Bill of Rights has been under attack. In California, a law criminalizing speaking against climate change failed to pass, but the Department of Justice is considering civil actions to bypass the first amendment. The second amendment is dying the death of a thousand infringements. The third amendment, prohibiting forced quartering of soldiers, is in question in a case arguing that forcing land owners to allow government designated endangered species habitat is a violation. The fourth amendment has been all but overruled by the NSA. The fifth and sixth amendments, guaranteeing due process and listing rules of evidence and testimony, have been bypassed not only with drone strikes enforcing the death penalty against uncharged American citizens, but also in calls to use “no fly lists,” secret documents compiled without evidence, as reasons to deny second amendment rights. The seventh amendment, guaranteeing a speedy trial by jury, has not applied to the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay or victims of countless other renditions, both within the continental United States and elsewhere. The eighth amendment, protecting against cruel and unusual punishment, was saved by a filibuster, narrowly preventing drone strikes on American soil. They are currently used on foreign soil to avoid renditions, which can cause bad public relations; better to kill than imprison. The ninth and tenth amendments have simply been ignored, as the federal government created new rights, sometimes (as in the case of Same sex marriage) overruling the voice of the people who passed contradicting laws by referendum. The president has scoffed at separation of powers with his statements of “I have a phone and a pen,” essentially saying “I can do whatever I want, nah nah nah.” The corruption revealed in the FBI and DOJ deny our intrinsic faith in the rule of law, and in any power the Constitution might still hold. Rules are meaningless without enforcement.

The calls for rebellion have many sources, the tinder already glowing. The first war encompassing the world started with a botched assassination in Sarajevo, the American revolution was sparked by a tax on a breakfast beverage.

The horns are blowing with the winds of change.




The diversion of diversity


Hi there. There’s been quite a bit going on lately, I’ve been taking notes, there is a lot to write about, but I will start with this week.

The Supreme Court of the United States revised the meaning of the word “Judicial” to include “Legislative.” In a five to four ruling, the court removed the right of the states to determine who may be married. There is nothing in the Constitution addressing marriage, nonetheless the narrowest of majorities decided the fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause applied to sexual orientation.

What this means is even if your state decided through the democratic process to not allow same sex marriage, your state must not only recognize marriages performed in another state, it must allow such marriages to be performed within the state. While I have no issue with same sex marriage, I am strongly opposed to the way it has been forced on the states.

I was last married in a Quaker ceremony. Only two states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, allow Quaker weddings, but they are recognized throughout the world. Would it be appropriate for the Supreme Court to force every state to allow Quaker ceremonies? The Quaker church does not have the political clout (nor would it accept such) of the LBGT community, and is not interested in forcing its practices on others. Following the tactics of the LGBT community of late, will Catholic priests be forced to perform same sex marriages, in the manner bakers and photographers have been forced to participate in an event which runs against their personal moral code?

Human rights means respecting each other as individuals. It goes against human nature, xenophobia is an evolutionary advantage. The mature Homo Sapiens should be capable of supporting rights different from its own, xenophobia is the primal fear acceptance equals assimilation. It appears such a primal fear is warranted lately, lack of support for a cause is labeled fear of that cause. Socially, we are regressing. Forcing people to participate in something they are morally opposed to creates much more resentment than asking them to simply accept its existence. Texas is suggesting they will allow a balance of individual rights and Supreme Court activism, this is the petri dish to keep an eye on.

The other big story this week is a tangled mess of propaganda, misinformation, and intolerance. A young man opened fire in a church in South Carolina, killing nine people. Cue the politicians. Interestingly enough, gun control wasn’t immediately mentioned, there was a much more appealing subject. Photographs surfaced of the shooter holding a confederate flag, and the church was described as a “Black Church” (Actually it is an African Methodist Episcopal Church or A.M.E.). During all the conversations about racism no one mentioned churches have no color.

The racism angle was used to reinforce the concept the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. It is not. No more than the rainbow is a symbol homosexuality (remember the Rainbow Coalition?). Coexistence is no longer the desire, we must all be the same. The Confederate flag has never had more meaning, representing rebellion by the states over a tyrannical federal government. So of course, the Federal government supports banishing the flag, applying Orwellian tactics to deny rebellion. Democracy is again denied, as activists remove the flag wherever they can, justified by the belief they just cannot wait for the flag to be banned. The next flag in line? Ask Louis Farrakhan, who wants the American flag to come down. Taking down the flag isn’t sufficient for the Black Panther Party, which has made several appeals to “Kill all White people.” Racial harmony anyone?

The trend is alarming. I suspect I am like most Americans, I can get along with anyone who wants to get along. I cannot, however, get along with people who want to tell me how to feel or think. In the same sense I don’t see all Muslims as members of Al Qaeda, I don’t see all black people as members of the Black Panther party. I don’t think all people with alternative lifestyles are pushing an agenda on me. I don’t think all Southerners are racists, and know that many Northerners are. As a White man, I am more likely to have a Black neighbor in the South than in the North.

One year from now, we will be listening to the dozen or so people who would like to be our next president. Listen closely. Are they speaking about equality and fairness, or legislating their beliefs upon everyone? Are they appealing to fear or hope? Please do not waste your vote confirming the winner, vote your conscience. Demonstrate your personal beliefs. Be an American, while we still have an America.




Death and Taxes

This is the eighth chapter of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

We pick up with the first amendment of the twentieth century, the sixteenth to the constitution.

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Perfect for today, wouldn’t you say? During the War of 1812, the first public proposal for an income taxwas made by the secretary of the treasury, but it was never implemented until one hundred years later, on the eve of the first world war. We tried income tax during the civil war, first a flat tax then a graduated tax, and those expired in 1872.

The sixteenth amendment came into being thanks to an attempt to tax income illegally. In 1894, an amendment was attached to the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act that attempted to impose a federal tax of two percent on incomes over $4,000 (equal to $109,000 today). Prior to this, federal funding was through indirect taxes apportioned among the states. In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.(1895), the U.S. Supreme Court declared certain taxes on incomes — such as those on property under the 1894 Act — to be unconstitutionally unapportioned direct taxes.

Enter Justice John Marshall Harlan, who in his dissenting opinion in Pollock wrote “it practically decides that, without an amendment of the Constitution — two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-fourths of the States concurring — such property and incomes can never be made to contribute to the support of the national government.” Lacking a word processor, he was unable to further emphasize this rather obvious instruction to amend the constitution.

After another fourteen years of bouncing ideas of who to tax, the sixteenth amendment passed congress in 1909., and took four years to be ratified by three fourths of the states (thirty six required at the time). Four states, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia, rejected the amendment, and two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, never even considered the amendment.

I think this was an interesting time in American social history. During the years in which the sixteenth amendment was being ratified, the seventeenth amendment, changing the election of senators from by state legislature to popular vote, was introduced and passed congress. It was ratified only months after the sixteenth amendment.

Both of these amendments remove responsibility (and some might say control)  from the state legislatures and gives that responsibility to the individual.

The seventeenth amendment reads as follows;

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”

State legislatures, which had been (and in some ways still are) local centers of power (and the requisite corruption that is chained to power), were no longer as directly tied to federal funding or the election of senators. Senators are supposed to represent the state and its interests, with Members of the House representing the individuals of the state. With these two amendments America took the first steps away from being a union of states and towards being a unified republic. There are positive and negative aspects to this change of direction, and as with all things, those aspects are affected by the the climate presented by society.

In 1912, there were four popular political parties, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, and Socialist represented in the presidential election, and over 239 political parties in existence. Today we recognize two popular parties, treating other points of view as “fringe elements”. With a population of eligible voters in excess of two hundred and thirty million, how can we rationalize a “digital” or “binary” choice? I believe this is the influence of technology on society. We have moved from the “analog” spectrum of multiple points of view to the digital view of “yes/no”, “good/bad”, “black/white”. Add to that basic ego-centrism and you end up with a growing Fascist movement.

We are still growing, and will hit many bumps along the road, but the all or nothing positions that are becoming increasingly popular in every aspect of society have their roots in these attempts to spread political power. The founding fathers were either prescient or lucky in designing a republic which balanced democracy between the masses and the elite, we should keep these missteps in mind as we consider further changes.



“Don’t do what I did”

I smoke. I am one of those weird people who are not addicted to nicotine, are aware of the dangers of tobacco, and choose to smoke anyway. Nonetheless, I have always been impressed by Yul Brynner’s choice to make the above ad for the American Cancer Society.

Yul (Юлий Борисович Бринер) was born in Vladivostok Russia in 1920 and immigrated to America in 1940. Consider that for a moment, he was born just after the first world war and Spanish influenza, then at age twenty he traveled to the other side of the world on the eve of the second world war. Smoking was not only seen as sophisticated, it was a simple treatment for stress, even the Red Cross provided cigarettes to soldiers. Yuliy Borisovich had started smoking at age twelve, and smoked for forty years before quitting in 1971. In 1983 he found a lump on his vocal chords, and just hours before his four thousandth performance of “The King and I” received the test results informing him his vocal chords were fine, but he had inoperable lung cancer.

Yul took a break for radiation therapy and then the tour continued, with another six hundred and twenty five performances. Yul made the public service announcement, which was aired heavily on all American networks just in time for his death in October of 1985. To me, it is the most powerful statement ever.

As I watched the coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial, I felt sorry for Oscar. Not quite as sorry as I felt for Reeva Steenkamp, the woman Oscar killed, but I could see he is filled with grief. He did something that ended a human life and wishes he could undo it. Kind of like Yul.

There has been testimony about South African gun laws. Ownership of a firearm is conditional on a competency test and several other factors, including background checking of the applicant, inspection of an owner’s premises, and licensing of the weapon by the police. Oscar passed the competency test, which includes identifying the correct course of action in “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios. The shooting of Reeva Steenkamp was clearly a “don’t shoot” situation. His remorse does not absolve his guilt. I have a friend in South Africa, and am aware of the fear many people live with. It is a scary place with scary people, arming one’s self is a rational measure. But as we know to varying extents in America, just because it is legal to possess a gun does not mean it is appropriate for everyone to possess a gun, responsibility needs to be assessed honestly by the gun owner, before he walks out of the gun store.

Oscar will most likely spend some time, perhaps the remainder of his life, incarcerated. This will not bring Reeva back, nothing will. If Oscar is sincere about his remorse, I think he should make a public service announcement. It should be aired in every country in which firearms are legally owned by civilians. Here is how I envision it:

We see a still image of Oscar as a child, after his legs had been amputated. Oscar’s voice over is the only sound. He says “Fibular hemimelia took away my freedom when I was less than a year old.” The image shifts to another still of him running in the Olympics “Technology helped me regain my freedom, allowing me to pursue life to it’s fullest.” The image shifts to stills of Oscar and Reeva at a celebrity event, then shifts to a picture of the murder scene. “My irresponsible use of technology took away the life of the woman I love,” shift to video, Oscar in a dingy cell, his prosthetic legs propped against the outside of the bars. The remainder of the video is a slow zoom in on his face as he continues “and cost my freedom as well. Some things cannot be undone, don’t let the irresponsible person with a gun be you.”

That’s my concept, I’d like to see it on the air in America as well. Maybe required viewing when purchasing a firearm.


The field of equality (yes, it’s something of a business) was a cottage industry for most of human history. It has had ups and downs, but stripped down to its basics it appears in the teachings of most major religions.

In America, slavery was abolished in 1863, and during the following one hundred years, the definition of slavery continued to be examined. Without equal rights, slavery is only watered down. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 demonstrated there was still room for improvement in the laws and practices in America, and while it was not a complete solution, it at least pointed out some of the remaining problems.

The issues that slow human progress are typically rooted in ignorance. Both the lack of intelligence among the masses and the ability of those in power to manipulate that lack of intelligence. Well meaning movements have been perverted, and programs that interfere with equal rights have prospered due to clever marketing. I face the frustration of the situation with the attitude of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, You want utopia? You can’t handle utopia.  I have no doubt we’ll get there, but it will be a slow laborious journey.

In America, we fumbled “Equal Rights” into “Equality”. It seems like such a subtle difference, but it isn’t.

All men are created equal sounds very nice, the actual phrase is just a little more complex “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“. We know we are not equal. I am tall, others are short. “Equality” refers to the rights, in this case “negative rights” provided by the government. Negative rights are sometimes called preventative rights, a right which restrains the power of authorities. The right to free speech is the right to not be prosecuted for your speech, thus it is a negative right.

By confusing (or allowing confusion about) the meaning of equality, the quest for equal rights is hampered. Nothing hurts sympathy for a good cause as much as bad representation. Well, one thing. Bad implementation. Affirmative action, the process of discriminating against qualified applicants in order to balance employee diversity, is still discrimination. White people who can’t get a job are not feeling racial harmony when a less qualified black applicant gets the job, they feel justified in their bigotry against black people. Forcing accommodation of minority groups ensures continued resentment.

Not all discrimination is equal. Ask your Jewish friends how they feel about every mass murder being compared to the holocaust, ask a black person over fifty how they feel about every fringe group comparing their “struggle” to the civil rights movement. The Equal Rights Amendment, designed to protect the rights of women, was written in 1923. It was introduced to congress in every session until it passed in 1972. It has failed to be ratified, and has been reintroduced since reaching its ratification deadline. As the amendment addresses the rights of a specific group rather than humans in general, it has little chance of ever being ratified, as the argument it is redundant at this point in time is valid. We don’t each need an amendment for our group in order to be equal.

We can pass volumes of laws, but true equality cannot be legislated. It comes from within, it is determined in the immediate reaction to another. Can we accept someone who is different as having equal rights? It requires a change within ourselves, as we cannot be expected to see others until we can see ourselves. Am I to accept the repugnant as beautiful? That would depend on whether I see myself as beautiful or repugnant. When we are able to appreciate the balance brought by diversity, we will be far more willing to embrace it than we do now, the ability to see the beauty in the differences rather than conformance to a standard.

Equality is horrifying. A universe occupied by perfectly equal elements has no growth. A lack of growth is equivalent to death, or perhaps I have not evolved to the point I can appreciate it. I often envision the afterlife as a state of entropy, so perhaps that is the direction in which I am traveling.

In his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. investigated a society based on legally enforced equality. Strong people had to wear weights to slow them. Intelligent people wore earphones that produced disturbing noises to protect them from coherent thoughts. The beautiful were forced to wear masks. The story is thought provoking (as long as we take our earphones off) and has been produced as a feature length film which strays wildly from the original, and a short film which is more faithful. The audiobook, below, is only twelve minutes long, I highly recommend it as a starting point in exploring the various productions. If anyone knows how I can obtain a copy of the 2006 short film please let me know.

We can do better than we are doing now, but I do not believe we are currently on the path to that better future.


This is the seventh chapter of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

We pick up with the fourteenth amendment. When we look at countries torn by civil war, we often fail to empathize. We were there ourselves, and the effects on society are devastating. Look around you at how passionate people can be about their beliefs, and imagine if the passion increased to the point they were killing each other rather than making snarky comments. Now imagine they’ve been killing each other for four years, taking the lives of three out of ten of your neighbors. Just because someone signed a treaty doesn’t mean it all goes away.

Following the Civil War, the United States went through a period called reconstruction, literally rebuilding the union. The thirteenth amendment was the first step, abolishing slavery, six months later the fourteenth amendment was submitted for ratification. In order to abolish slavery, definitions would be required for some people. The amendment also addresses those involved in the civil war or any future insurrection. It reads as follows;

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article

The first section is one of the more litigated parts of the constitution, containing clauses establishing Citizenship, Privileges or Immunities, Due Process, and Equal Protection. These clauses form the basis for such diverse cases as Roe v Wade and Bush v Gore. When you compare it to the amendments of the Bill of Rights, there’s nothing new here other than the force of the idea of reconstruction, these rules apply to everyone.

Sections two and three address counting of people as people, apportioning representatives based on population of all people rather than all white people, and requiring representatives to have not been involved in insurrection.

Section four is rather interesting. It basically states that the expenses of the the Civil War incurred by the Union will be paid by the newly reunited states, but the expenses of the Confederacy will not, with the allowance any debts incurred by the Confederacy are invalid. The words “The validity of the public debt…shall not be questioned” took me by surprise only because it is established in the amendment. How many times have you heard people refer to some democratization of the budget, as in “I only want to pay taxes if they pay for what I want”. Forty years later in the sixteenth amendment this concept takes force.

The next amendment of the reconstruction era was submitted for ratification just six months after the fourteenth amendment was ratified. During those six months, the first presidential election since the War was held, in which twenty three electoral votes from formerly Confederate states were discarded and only eight Northern states allowed blacks to vote. The fifteenth amendment was determined necessary despite section two of the fourteenth. It reads;

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

While Northerners had assumed allowing former slaves to vote would maintain a Republican majority, they had wished to preserve restrictions denying the right to vote to foreign-born citizens, as did Representatives from the West, where Chinese Americans were banned from voting. The amendment passed with voting defined by party lines, not a single Democrat voting for the amendment.

The first known black voter after the amendment’s adoption was Thomas Mundy Peterson, who cast his ballot on March 31, 1870 in the Perth Amboy, New Jersey mayoral election. Although Blacks had been elected and appointed to local and state offices previously, following the ratification of the fifteenth amendment it would still be one hundred and twenty years before a black governor was elected, Douglas Wilder of Virginia in 1990.

When we consider the difficulties of our own reconstruction, the wounds that still haven’t healed, perhaps we can find some sympathy for nations that have civil wars continuing for centuries. We’re all growing, sometimes it takes a while to heal so growth can continue.

It took another forty years before another amendment was submitted, we’ll pick up there next time.

After the Bill of rights

This is chapter six of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, and Five can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

The Bill of rights is not the entire list of constitutional rights. It is the platform upon which we have expressed a growing recognition of the rights of the people and the limits we place on the Federal government. The first amendment added after the Bill of rights was submitted for ratification a little over two years after the ratification of the bill of rights, and ratified within a year. Of course there were only fifteen states at the time, streamlining the process we face today. Most of the next few amendments were clarifications of existing constitutional provisions.

The eleventh amendment reads:

“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State”.

This amendment is often used as the foundation for what we refer to as “state sovereign immunity”, essentially meaning that you cannot bring suit against the government for the repercussions of a law, in this case extending the protections to states against prosecutions from out of state. The most recent argument was Alden v. Maine in 1999, in which a state was sued for a federal violation. This isn’t something that affects the majority of people directly.

The twelfth amendment addresses presidential elections, again, not something directly affecting the average citizen. From an historical perspective, I find it more interesting to see what it corrects. With the number of states growing (now at seventeen) a number of adjustments were being made, for instance the idea of one star and one stripe on the flag for each state was abandoned. The text of this amendment is rather long, but this is where we started electing a vice president rather than the vice president being the second place winner of the presidential election.

By the time the thirteenth amendment was ratified, the country had been through some major changes. It was now 1865, there were thirty six states, but the year before there had been twenty three states, Nevada and West Virginia hadn’t been recognized as states, and the eleven Confederate states had seceded from the Union. As a response to the issue of slavery which had divided the nation, these words were added to our constitution:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”.

At the time, “radical Republicans” were arguing for a more expansive amendment, as you will see there are loopholes for discrimination in the thirteenth amendment. The alternative version was much more direct:

All persons are equal before the law, so that no person can hold another as a slave; and the Congress shall have power to make all laws necessary and proper to carry this declaration into effect everywhere in the United States

Republicans argued that slavery was uncivilized and that abolition was a necessary step in national progress, Democrats who opposed the amendment generally made arguments based on federalism and state’s rights. The Emancipation Proclamation was of questionable relevance, as it applied to citizens of the Confederacy and not the United States (and under the eleventh amendment was fairly obviously illegal, ignoring the sovereign status  of the Confederacy). States that initially rejected the amendment were Alabama, Kentucky, Delaware and New Jersey.

The definition of slavery continues to be argued today. The definition of “person” is still being argued. Nonetheless. The thirteenth amendment was a turning point in society. Although nations such as The Netherlands and Britain had outlawed slavery within their own borders, they remained the major traffickers of international slaves and exploited slavery in their colonies. Following the abolition of slavery in America, the world view of slavery began to change, and in 1926 the League of Nations addressed slavery, followed by a United Nations resolution in 1948.

The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments were ratified in response to the responsibilities placed on Congress by the thirteenth amendment. The fourteenth defines citizenship, contains the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and deals with post-Civil War issues, and the fifteenth prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude (but not sex, that comes later). These amendments have applications beyond their motivations.

Due to the scope of those amendments, I will address them in the next chapter.





More from the Bill of Rights

This is chapter five of “Know your Constitution”, here are the links for chapters One, Two, Three, and Four.

We pick up with the seventh amendment.

“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law”

This one may seem a little mundane. It has never been “incorporated”, that is to say applied to the states, although every state complies. The twenty dollar limit has never been challenged or changed, allowing for inflation $20 in 1789 is about $526 today.

Important parts of this amendment is the establishment of jury trials in civil cases (which may be waived if both parties agree) and protection of civil findings in higher courts. It is the most straightforward and least disputed amendment.

The eighth amendment has been bandied about quite a bit.

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”.

The purpose of this amendment is to limit the power of judges. While we look at “mandatory sentences” as ways to force judges to hand out harsher punishments, this amendment requires judges to follow precedent, granting reasonable bail rather than using bail as a form of imprisonment before trial, and limiting punishments to a societal norm.

This amendment is most often brought up in reference to torture. While physical torture appears to be covered by this amendment, it is only because torture is unusual. Punishments are judged based on the crime, so while some have been determined to be excessive for any crime, as in Wilkerson v. Utah, in which the Supreme Court commented that drawing and quartering, public dissection, burning alive, or disembowelment constituted cruel and unusual punishment regardless of the crime, but the reality of the amendment’s meaning is that it would be unusual to sentence someone to five years imprisonment for a parking ticket.

The Supreme Court declared executing the mentally handicapped in Atkins v. Virginia, and executing people who were under age 18 at the time the crime was committed in Roper v. Simmons,  to be violations of the Eighth Amendment, regardless of the crime. “Cruel” is applied more often to mental duress than to physical duress. “Unusual” applies to staying within precedent of historical punishments.

The ninth amendment is protection against legalese.

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

Quite simply, “Just because we didn’t mention a right doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”. From this amendment springs all the arguments for interpretation of non enumerated rights. Notice that this is not a limitation of rights, not a “and after a certain time some of these rights no longer exist” statement. This allows for growth and expansion in the recognition of rights.

This idea is reinforced in what was at the time the final amendment, the tenth.

“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.”

This will likely be the amendment cited in states that have legalized marijuana, in that it has been used to remove states from enforcing contradictory federal statutes, in 1998, the Court ruled that the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act violated the Tenth Amendment in Printz v. United States.  The act required state and local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on persons attempting to purchase handguns. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, applied New York v. United States to show that the law violated the Tenth Amendment. Since the act “forced participation of the State’s executive in the actual administration of a federal program”, it was unconstitutional.

These are the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights. Echoing the last few amendments, they don’t cover everything nor were they intended to do so. Another seventeen amendments have been ratified, most recently in 1992.

Our constitution grows, because it is alive. It is vibrant and adaptive, and it never loses its importance.

The Bill of Rights, part three

Yes, the numbering of this series is a bit confusing. This is chapter four of “Know your Constitution”. When I finish with the Bill of Rights and move into the other amendments, I’ll try to work out the titles so they make more sense.

Chapter One, Two, and Three can be viewed through those links. I’ll start here with the fourth amendment.

Despite the current state of affairs I will do my best to remain dispassionate on this subject.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”

As with the other amendments, this was intended to limit the power of government, protecting the citizens against tyranny. You should see from the current administration of this amendment the importance of defending our Constitution.

This amendment has been stretched to support the “Right to Privacy”, although it only protects against governmental searches and seizures. The question we face in America today is “What constitutes a Warrant?”. Presently, a secret (unaccountable) government agency may apply to a secret (unaccountable) court for a secret warrant. How is this possible? Somehow, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is being used to circumvent the warrant procedure for domestic surveillance. Perhaps this will be pursued as an investigation someday, well after 2016.

In the meantime, remember this is an amendment to the constitution, and as such does not apply to third parties, as held in United States v Jacobsen, so if you wonder why the government agencies involved in surveillance so often use third party contractors, wonder no more. As long as our leaders are lawyers, expect case law to be argued using every imaginable interpretation as they attempt to find loopholes in their limitations.

Seizures are not necessarily of property, so the fourth amendment also applies to seizures of people. An arrest is a seizure, and must be warranted (see “secrets” above). People being spirited away in the night is not supposed be possible in this country. Despite this administrations promises to uphold the Constitution as long as it’s convenient, this document was never intended to be convenient for tyrants.

While the fourth amendment protects what you may have said or written in the past from being seized, the fifth amendment protects the government from seizing our very person.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”.

These clauses are designed to limit over zealous prosecution. It begins with a way to slow down the arrest process with Grand Juries. A “secret grand jury” is a perfect example of the letter of the law being met while the spirit is being consciously averted. The double jeopardy clause prevents the government from repeatedly charging an individual with the same crime, forcing the government to have a complete case before prosecution. Were this not in place the government could use successive prosecutions to slowly build a case, and the individual would not rest, knowing that he had never been found “Not Guilty”, just “Not Guilty so far”.

The next is the clause most are familiar with, protection from being compelled to self incriminate. This is where the protection from forced confessions comes from. Each of the clauses so far in this amendment are misused by criminals, but were they not in place, the innocent would suffer from false prosecutions, and the actual criminals would still escape prosecution. We often say it is better that criminals go free than innocents be punished.

The final clause reiterates the third and fourth amendment protections with due process provisions.

The rights of the accused continue to receive protection in the sixth amendment;

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence”

A speedy trial is largely protection against indefinite detainment. Pre-trial detention is punishment for a crime that has yet to be proven, and without limitations, well, there’s a reason we use Guantanamo Bay as a prison for those without constitutional rights.

Without a charge, there can be no preparation of a defense, so the prescriptions for a proper trial (impartial jury of peers, ability to confront accusing witnesses, assistance of counsel), are laid out here. The Fifth and sixth amendments make up the criminal rights made famous by  Miranda v. Arizona, in which a confession was made without the suspect being informed he had the right to not self incriminate. It should be noted that after Miranda‘s initial conviction was set aside by the supreme court, he was retried without benefit of the confession, and was still convicted. Eventually he was stabbed to death, and the only suspect the police had exercised his “Miranda Rights” and remained silent. No arrest was made.

In the next chapter, I should finish with the Bill of Rights, and summarize the significance of these first ten amendments to the Constitution. From there I’ll go over the subsequent amendments.

The Bill of Rights, part two

This is part three of the “Know your Constitution” series.

The previous parts, “Constitutional Rights“, and “The Bill of Rights” may be viewed by clicking those links.

I don’t expect that every amendment to require an article of its own, we’ll see how it goes.

We pick up with the second amendment, “The right to bear arms”. This amendment is short and simple.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. (emphasis on comma mine)

That comma has been the centerpiece of many arguments, which is why I emphasized it. For such a short, simple statement, it has probably been argued more than any other amendment to the constitution. The simplest explanation I can give you goes back to the core of understanding why this document was written, which is limit the powers of the federal government. The Constitution itself is written defining the construction of government, maintaining a system of equal representation and allowing checks and balances to prevent any branch of government from becoming too powerful. The first amendment is yet another check allowing avenues of redress and protest. The second amendment is the ultimate balance, the availability of armed revolt.

Yep, that’s what it’s about. It has nothing to do with hunting, not even for survival. It’s about the survival of the union.

My reading, based on the way the other amendments are written within the Bill of rights, is that militias, the right to keep arms, and the right to bear arms should not be infringed. Without the comma, militias don’t enter the equation.

So what is a militia? It is an independent military force. The Militia Act of 1792 allowed the President to call upon militias to support federal troops, indicating they are independent. The second Militia Act of 1792, passed just six days later, provides for the organization of militias, and conscription of all able bodied men, age 18 to 45. Not for a couple of years, but for the period of twenty seven years, from age 18 to 45. It also provides that each man “provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder”.

Based on 25 grains of powder per round, that’s enough powder for seventy rounds, required by law to be maintained by every man. Considering a guerrilla tactic of free fire rather than controlled fire ranks, a well trained rifleman could get off four rounds a minute maximum.  So that’s enough powder to keep shooting for almost twenty minutes.

Can you imagine if someone were to arm themselves with sufficient ammunition to fire for a solid twenty minutes today? I couldn’t maintain a rate of one aimed shot a second for twenty minutes, but I could certainly use that rate to describe suppressing fire. That would be twelve hundred rounds, filling forty standard thirty round magazines. Just to put things into perspective.

When we consider the reasons firearms are banned, it is because they fit the requirements set forth by the second amendment. Hunting rifles and handguns are not what the amendment addresses. Arms suitable for military use are what are prescribed.

Moving on to the third amendment.

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law”.

In the colonial era, the practice of billeting British troops in private homes was a widespread. One of the complaints against King George III in the Declaration of Independence was “for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us”. Keeping in mind the Constitution is designed to limit federal powers, this is one more instance in which the federal government is likened to an enemy of the people.

There have been very few third amendment arguments, most recently a man in Nevada refused to allow local police to use his home in a surveillance operation,  was subsequently arrested, and is using the third amendment as his defense. It should be interesting to see how that case goes, as local Police Officers are not quite federal “Soldiers”. In Griswold v Connecticut (1965), the third amendment was cited as protecting against government intrusion in a “Right to privacy” defense. The closest case I can find that comes close to a violation is Engblom v. Carey (1982), in which National Guardsmen, fitting the description of soldiers under the Militia act of 1792 (see above) in which a state militia member can be called to federal service, were quartered in homes. In this case, the homes were owned by the State of New York, and were compensation for prison guards. The guards went on strike and the state called in the National Guard to fill in, housing the replacements in the striking guards homes. If you’re on strike do you still receive compensation? The state won the case on a technicality (Immunity of State officials from suit from unknowing violation of the law) so the third amendment complaint is not satisfactorily addressed.

Next we’ll pick up with the fourth amendment, which fits nicely with the fifth. See you then

The Bill of Rights

This is the second part of a series of articles called “Know your constitution”. The first part may be viewed here

The Bill of Rights is the name applied to the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Created a year after the ratification of the Constitution, and ratified two years after that, the Bill of Rights, along with the remaining seventeen amendments that have been ratified, address individual citizens rights. Where the Constitution laid out the foundation upon which the government was built, the amendments provide the barriers to government actions affecting individuals. These are what we commonly refer to as our “Constitutional Rights”.

The preamble to the Bill of Rights reads as follows;

“The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

These rights are recognized by the government’s prohibitions on infringement of them. That in itself is the very first level of interpretation. The tool for interpreting what our “rights” are is the knowledge of why the infringements were prohibited, in other words, “Why isn’t the government allowed to do these things?”. The answer comes from the reasons for the amendments, the Constitution, and the revolution itself. The writers had been oppressed by a tyrannical government, had risked thier lives and fortunes to free themselves from tyranny, and were not about to create another tyrannical government.

There is no significance applied to the order of the amendments, although to me it appears that the first few were indeed listed in order of importance. The first amendment reads;

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

From this we get the concepts “Separation of Church and State”, “Freedom of Speech”, “Freedoms of the Press” including censorship protections, and “The right to protest (or picket)”. The essential tools of revolution are protected in the very first amendment.

Looking for a moment at the interpretations of these rights, we can see some disparities between what is written, and what is interpreted. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is generally interpreted to mean there should be no state religion, no “Church of America” or official religion as in other theocracies. Followed by “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, is taken to mean the government can not only not establish its own church, it cannot exercise any control of churches. It cannot control what religion you choose to follow, or how you follow it (as long as you do not harm anyone or break any other laws in the practice of your religion).

This is our first “problem”. Conflicting rights. What to do when your right to practice your religion conflicts with the governments right to pass laws restricting other behavior?  A good case is Employment Division v Smith, in which an American Indian argued (and won) his position that the use of peyote was a sacrament of his religious beliefs. This opened the door for a number of frivolous cases attempting to protect otherwise illegal behavior as sacrament, which required a violation of the first portion of the amendment. Congress would have to make a law respecting the establishment of religion.

Supreme Court Justice Black observed for the majority of the Court in Everson v Board of Education, that “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church.” It should be self-evident that the exercise of federal power to define a church is equivalent to the federal establishment of a church.

It remains a sensitive area, which is why we have a Supreme Court, to judge individual cases. For most practical purposes, the court has deferred to the Internal Revenue Service in defining religions. The Internal Revenue Code makes no distinction among religions on its face, if it is administered or applied in such a way as to make sectarian discriminations among religions, the application would violate the Establishment Clause. Consequently, the statute must be interpreted so as to avoid an unconstitutional result. Thus the IRS definitions serve as a safe starting point in determining what is and is not a religion.

The preferred direction is to err towards freedom, using the simple rule from Kindergarten “Your rights end where my nose begins”

With the second right, “Freedom of Speech”, restrictions are easier to understand. “Falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater” is a metaphor for speech or actions made for the principal purpose of creating unnecessary panic. First stated in Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.‘s opinion in the United States Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States in 1919, which held that the defendant’s speech in opposition to the draft during World War I was not protected free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Slander and other defamatory remarks are obviously not protected speech.

“Freedom of the press” faces the same restrictions, libel is an infringement on the rights of the libeled. Just this week charges against Courtney Love have made the news, as we test the limits of free speech in the age of Twitter.

“The right of the people peaceably to assemble” is tested every election year. Again, note the word “peaceably”. This does not mean throwing rocks at the police. Having survived the 2002 Republican National Convention, I might argue that “peaceably” should include “bathed”, I didn’t mind when the protesters blocked traffic as much as I minded having to smell them in the subway. The Federal government is walking a fine line with HR 347, which opened (or closed) a new area in a post 9/11 world. Prohibiting access to any area protected by the Secret Service is open to vague interpretations of prohibiting protest, which will no doubt be argued before the Supreme Court in the future. The argument will remain, “was assembly prohibited, or just assembly in a particular place?”

The last section, “the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”, is the very function of the Supreme Court. It is our opportunity to address misinterpretation of the law by the government and abuses of power.

This is our first set of freedoms, the right to believe as we wish, to talk and write about those beliefs, to join together and discuss our beliefs, and to have an avenue of redress if any of these rights are abridged. The essential tools in fighting oppression.

The next section covers the second and third amendments.