Many States, Not Very United

If you asked them, most Americans would say that winning the Revolutionary War was the crucial step in the creation of the United States. The 13 colonies became a new nation once the British went home. Anyway, that’s the impression you’d get from the Wikipedia article about the Treaty of Paris, which put an end to the war eight years after the first shots were fired: 

The Treaty of Paris, signed in Paris by representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War. The treaty set the boundaries between the British Empire and the United States, on lines “exceedingly generous” to the latter…. Only Article 1 of the treaty, which is the legal underpinning of United States’ existence as a sovereign country, remains in force.

But this is what Article 1 of the treaty says:

His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, [etc.], to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.

Listing all thirteen “sovereign and independent states” from New Hampshire in the north to Georgia in the south is an odd way to refer to a new nation. It made sense, however, because at that point the thirteen colonies considered themselves to be separate states or nations. The “United States” referred to the thirteen countries loosely joined together by the Articles of Confederation:

I.

The Style of this Confederacy shall be “The United States of America”.

II.

Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

III.

The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare…

In his book The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, the historian Joseph Ellis says we should think of the United States at the end of the Revolutionary War as something like the European Union. I’d add that it was more like the EU plus NATO, but the point is that the people we call “Americans” considered themselves to be citizens of their respective states, not U.S. citizens. The colonists had banded together to win their independence from Great Britain. Having succeeded, they were willing to remain part of a “league of friendship”, but nothing more. Having won their freedom from a distant, centralized government, they didn’t want another one, even if the capital would be Philadelphia instead of London. 

After what became known as “Shays’ Rebellion”, an armed anti-government uprising centered in western Massachusetts, some feared that the “league of friendship” would fall apart. According to Ellis:

[Some expected] the complete collapse of the confederation leading to civil wars between the states and predatory intrusions by European powers, chiefly Great Britain and Spain, eager to carve up the North American continent… The more realistic scenario was dissolution into two or three regional confederacies that created an American version of Europe. New England would become like Scandinavia, the middle states like western Europe, the states south of the Potomac like the Mediterranean countries.

The New England press enhanced the credibility of such prophecies, observing that the attempt at a national union was obviously a failure because regional differences made political consensus impossible. The only option was a union of the five New England states, “leaving the rest of the continent to pursue their own imbecilic and disjointed plans”.

It should be noted that even during the writing of the Articles of Confederation, the state of South Carolina threatened to walk away over the issue of slavery, a threat that was finally carried out when South Carolina seceded from the Union 80 years later.

Looking back, John Adams wondered how the colonies had ever agreed on anything:

The colonies had grown up under conditions so different, there was so great a variety of religions, they were composed of so many different nations, their customs, manners, habits had so little resemblance and their intercourse had been so rare, and their knowledge of each other so imperfect, that to unite them in the same principles … and the same system of action, was certainly a difficult enterprise.

Considering America’s subsequent history, including the regional conflict that led to the Civil War; the continuing resistance to Federal law in the southern states during Reconstruction and into the 20th century; the current division between consistently “Red” and “Blue” states; the popularity of right-wing news media that cater to a desire for “alternative facts” in opposition to what’s reported in the “mainstream” media; and the bizarre fact that we hold 51 elections, separately administered by the individual states, in order to elect a President, it’s fair to say that creating a United States that’s truly united continues to be a “difficult enterprise” and may never succeed.

Why Humanity Destroyed Itself?

Submitted for your consideration, a brief video from The School of Life. They’re an international company dedicated to teaching emotional intelligence. If an asteroid or pandemic doesn’t get us first, how will we do ourselves in? They don’t provide the details, but they’re probably on the right track.

Do Your Damn Job!

Ezra Klein of Vox published an important article this week. It’s called “How To Stop An Autocracy” and includes one of those very long subtitles: 

The danger isn’t that T___ will build an autocracy. It’s that congressional Republicans will let him.

Klein begins with a surprising statement:

There is nothing about the T___ administration that should threaten America’s system of government.

Why? Because the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution didn’t want anyone to have too much power:  

The Founding Fathers were realistic about the presence and popularity of demagogues. The tendency of political systems to slip into autocracy weighed heavily on their minds. That power corrupts, and that power can be leveraged to amass more power, was a familiar idea. The political system the founders built is designed to withstand these pressures… The founders feared charismatic populists, they worried over would-be monarchs, and so they designed a system of government meant to frustrate them.

That’s the system we all learn about in school called “checks and balances”.

So why, then, are we surrounded by articles worrying over America’s descent into fascism or autocracy?

One reason, of course, is the President and the goons who carry out his orders or know how to push his buttons. At this point, that goes without saying.

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The more important reason, according to Klein, is that there is no evidence so far that Congress will do its job:

The president can do little without Congress’s express permission. He cannot raise money. He cannot declare war. He cannot even staff his government. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to compel T___ to release his tax returns, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to impeach T___ unless he agreed to turn his assets over to a blind trust, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to take T___’s power to choose who can and cannot enter the country, they could. As [David Frum] writes, “Congress can protect the American system from an overbearing president.” He just thinks they won’t.

It’s unlikely Congress will protect us from the T___ administration because of an historical development the Founders didn’t foresee: the overriding importance of political parties. Klein quotes an editorial from The Salt Lake City Tribune:

All that stuff about the constitutional separation of powers, each of the three branches of government keeping a wary eye on the other two, doesn’t mean very much if it is taken seriously only when Congress and the White House are held by different parties… 

The Constitution assumes that human nature will push officials of each branch of government to jealously guard their own powers, creating a balance that prevents anyone getting up to too much mischief. But when elected officials are less interested in protecting their institution than in toeing the party line, it all falls apart.

That’s why we need to keep the pressure on our Senators and Representatives as the months go by. Klein concludes: 

… it is in Congress members’ districts — at their town halls, in their offices, at their coffee shops — where this fight will be won or lost….The real test will be in 2018 — Democratic turnout tends to plummet in midterm elections, and overall turnout was historically low in 2014. The result, as political scientist Seth Masket writes, is that Republicans are more afraid of their primary voters than general election voters. Their behavior will change if and when that changes.

And that should change. It should change in 2018, and it should change thereafter. Congress is more powerful than the president. It comes first in the Constitution for a reason. The public should demand more of it, and care more who runs it….

In the end, it is as simple as this: The way to stop an autocracy is to have Congress do its damn job.

Speaking of which, our Congressman, Leonard Lance, is one of the 24 Republicans in the country who represent a district that Hillary Clinton won. That means he’s more vulnerable than most of his colleagues. He’s also a perfect example of what’s wrong with Congress. From Wikipedia:

In the 2016 presidential election, Lance … was a strong supporter of [T___], for which he was criticized by the editorial board of The Newark Star-Ledger for becoming part of T___’s “cancer” in the GOP. The editors lamented that Lance was one of the GOP’s “saddest cases”, undergoing a transformation from principled environmentalist and man of integrity to being a toe-the-line party regular.[8] Lance’s 7th district was gerrymandered in 2011 to benefit the GOP… 

Yet he looks like such a nice guy. He could be one of your favorite teachers from high school.

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Today, Rep. Lance announced his first town hall of 2016. Only residents of New Jersey’s 7th congressional district will be admitted. I hope he’s ready for some quality feedback.

PS – As I was about to publish this, I saw that the Republican who heads the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who spent millions of tax dollars “investigating” the Benghazi incident, and who is one of the subjects of Klein’s excellent article (worth reading in full), is holding a town hall in his Utah district tonight. I hope he was ready for some quality feedback too: 

13-Second “Do Your Job!” Video Direct from Utah

It’s Confirmed: Every Single One of Us Can Grow Up To Be President

The remarks below were delivered this morning by someone who, with help from the Founding Fathers, FBI Director Comey, Vlad “the Impaler” Putin and many others, grew up to be the 45th President of the United States. The occasion was an event marking the beginning of Black History Month:

Well, the election, it came out really well. Next time we’ll triple the number or quadruple it. We want to get it over 51, right? At least 51.

Well this is Black History Month, so this is our little breakfast, our little get-together. Hi Lynn, how are you? Just a few notes. During this month, we honor the tremendous history of African-Americans throughout our country. Throughout the world, if you really think about it, right? And their story is one of unimaginable sacrifice, hard work, and faith in America. I’ve gotten a real glimpse—during the campaign, I’d go around with Ben to a lot of different places I wasn’t so familiar with. They’re incredible people. And I want to thank Ben Carson, who’s gonna be heading up HUD. That’s a big job. That’s a job that’s not only housing, but it’s mind and spirit. Right, Ben? And you understand, nobody’s gonna be better than Ben.

Last month, we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. It turned out that that was fake news. Fake news. The statue is cherished, it’s one of the favorite things in the—and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, and we have Dr. Martin Luther King. But they said the statue, the bust of Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is. Very unfortunate.

I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.

I’m proud to honor this heritage and will be honoring it more and more. The folks at the table in almost all cases have been great friends and supporters. Darrell—I met Darrell when he was defending me on television. And the people that were on the other side of the argument didn’t have a chance, right? And Paris has done an amazing job in a very hostile CNN community. He’s all by himself. You’ll have seven people, and Paris. And I’ll take Paris over the seven. But I don’t watch CNN, so I don’t get to see you as much as I used to. I don’t like watching fake news. But Fox has treated me very nice. Wherever Fox is, thank you.

We’re gonna need better schools and we need them soon. We need more jobs, we need better wages, a lot better wages. We’re gonna work very hard on the inner city. Ben is gonna be doing that, big league. That’s one of the big things that you’re gonna be looking at. We need safer communities and we’re going to do that with law enforcement. We’re gonna make it safe. We’re gonna make it much better than it is right now. Right now it’s terrible, and I saw you talking about it the other night, Paris, on something else that was really—you did a fantastic job the other night on a very unrelated show.

I’m ready to do my part, and I will say this: We’re gonna work together. This is a great group, this is a group that’s been so special to me. You really helped me a lot. If you remember I wasn’t going to do well with the African-American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and lots of other things, we ended up getting—and I won’t go into details—but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who had run in the past years. And now we’re gonna take that to new levels. I want to thank my television star over here—Omarosa’s actually a very nice person, nobody knows that. I don’t want to destroy her reputation but she’s a very good person, and she’s been helpful right from the beginning of the campaign, and I appreciate it. I really do. Very special.

So I want to thank everybody for being here.

End quote (courtesy of The Concourse).

In other news, it’s been revealed that the 2006 film Idiocracy somehow incorporated documentary footage from the future. More here.

Idle Thoughts, Small Actions

As we get further away from that horrific night in November, most of us are probably thinking less about why the Electoral College went the way it did (go to hell, Comey!). We’re also thinking less about the way things might have been. Instead, we’re freaking out about what’s happening now and what’s coming our way.

I haven’t been to any marches or demonstrations yet, but like many of us, I’ve contacted my members of Congress more than ever before. Today I called one of our Senators, although he’s a Democrat, to thank him for delaying a committee hearing on one of T__’s dangerous cabinet selections and to encourage him to do whatever he can to stop the appointment of a racist ideologue as Attorney General (that’s the jerk even Republicans thought was unqualified to be a Federal judge).

People are saying that Congress is being inundated with complaints about the monster(s) in the White House, so it was reassuring that getting through to one of my Senator’s offices wasn’t easy. The line was busy at his office near me, so I called his office in Washington. I was about to leave a message when a recording said his voicemail was full and couldn’t take any more messages. So then I called his remaining office, which is in a less populated part of our state. A nice young woman immediately answered the phone. She assured me that she’d transmit my message to Washington.

Some activities are less immediately practical than contacting Congress. Fantasizing, for example. I’ve entertained the usual fantasies, of course, such as T___ suffering a debilitating stroke or a fatal fall down some White House stairs; a benign military coup leads to a do-over election; and my favorite, that very smart, very kind beings from outer space take control and put us on a more reasonable path, one that includes single-payer health insurance and a fix for global warming. I’ve had a few other fantasies too.

One is that Rupert Murdoch, the evil billionaire who will be 86 next month, finally kicks the bucket and a more reasonable mogul or two purchase The News Corporation and 21st Century Fox. That would inevitably lead to entities like Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post becoming reputable organizations again, cutting off the stream of Murdoch-owned right-wing propaganda that has poisoned our democracy in recent years.

Another is that the CEO of Twitter,  Jack Dorsey, known to Twitter-ites as “@Jack” and who has contributed to Democratic politicians, admits that allowing T___ to have an official Twitter account presents a clear and present danger to the rest of us. It would be fine to let Donnie tweet as much as any other deranged right-winger, but he shouldn’t have a verified account that identifies him as “@realDonaldT___” or “@POTUS” (the President). That way, whenever Donnie transmitted his latest lie or insult, it wouldn’t have any effect on anyone but a small circle of nitwits. Nobody could possibly believe it came from the actual President of the United States.

Yet another of my fantasies involves the U.S. Senate. There are now 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats or Independents in what used to be a relatively reputable legislative body. If three of those Republicans were to declare themselves Independents and vote with the Democrats, the Republicans would be the minority again. They’d only have the House of Representatives to play with. Of course, controlling the Senate wouldn’t allow the Democrats to get much done (that’s in the official rules), but they could make sure T___ and his allies did less damage.

Finally, now speaking of other people’s fantasies, I recently took a tiny step toward correcting the fantastic beliefs of the sorry individuals who inhabit the Fox News and Breitbart websites (Breitbart is the far-right, white nationalist outfit that tells T___ what to do). It’s extremely unpleasant to visit those two sites, so I don’t recommend this to everyone. But I now leave the occasional comment, just to let some of them know there’s a real world out here. It’s rather like descending into Plato’s cave and removing the chains from poor souls who have never seen the sun or the sky. It’s a very dirty job, but we’re living in times that require direct action.

One Week and Floundering

Eight days ago, before the inauguration, we already knew a couple of things (roughly quoting Richard Yeselson of Dissent):

  1. Our new President is an authoritarian, mentally-ill ignoramus, uniquely unfit and dangerous.
  2. The Republican Party is morally and intellectually bankrupt.

Given (1) and (2), I can’t think of anything since the inauguration that’s been more than a mild surprise. Given who he is and who his fellow Republicans are, what did we expect?

I’ll mention a few things anyway:

He gave an interview to a TV network other than Fox. Many observers thought he came across like a crazy person. One said it was the scariest thing he’d ever seen. Although many of his supporters probably enjoyed it. There’s a transcript of the interview here.

He’s still using Twitter and his outdated, easy-to-hack phone. He still spends a lot of time watching television and occasionally tweets in response to what he just heard, sometimes repeating exact phrases. One reporter said the tsunami of leaks from the White House make the President sound like a “clueless child”. I think he sounds more like an angry old fool with a severely damaged ego.

He has signed some executive orders, as new Presidents always do. For the most part, these have been aimed at impressing his supporters and may never amount to anything (he can’t get billions of dollars to build a wall by issuing an executive order). An exception is the one that will limit funding for overseas healthcare providers (the abortion “gag-rule”). It’s even worse than similar orders issued by other Republican Presidents. (Vice President Pence, who is an extreme foe of abortion rights, probably had a lot to do with it.)

Of course, that terrific replacement for the Affordable Care Act that he promised to announce in a day or two hasn’t been announced yet. But someone in the administration did take a concrete step regarding the ACA: they canceled an advertisement intended to get people to sign up for health insurance by the January 31st deadline. 

Meanwhile, The Washington Post obtained a secret recording of Congressional Republicans talking about the Affordable Care Act. It demonstrates what we already knew: they don’t know what parts of the ACA to repeal or what to replace those parts with. It’s great to hear them speak honestly for a change, so I’ve attached some choice excerpts at the bottom of this post. 

On the impeachment front, the President isn’t bothering to hide his eagerness to cash in on his new position. He doubled the membership fee at his Florida resort from $100,000 to $200,000; announced plans to build several more hotels in the US; and only plans to stop immigration from Middle Eastern countries where he doesn’t do business or doesn’t plan to (Iran bad; Saudi Arabia – where the 9/11 hijackers came from – good). A lawsuit has already been filed against the President regarding his foreign business dealings. You can read an explanation by one of the lawyers involved here and can see the formal complaint here.

Finally, the President’s spokesman announced that Mexico would reimburse us for the Wall sometime in the future, but in the meantime, companies that import stuff from Mexico (like fruits and vegetables, beer and cars) would pay for the wall through a new 20% import tariff. After it was pointed out that the tariff would be passed along to American consumers in the form of higher prices, the proposal was discounted as merely one of several ways we, not Mexico, could pay for the Wall, which, by the way, Republican politicians in Texas aren’t crazy about anyway.

As a result, and maybe in recognition of the fact that the Executive Branch of our government is now in the hands of knavish fools and foolish knaves, the President of Mexico canceled his visit to Washington.

Oh, and the President wants an investigation of the 3 million people, all of whom he knows voted for his opponent, because that’s how many more people voted for Hillary. Buenas noches, amigos.

As promised, excerpts from the Washington Post article based on that secret recording:

[A Representative] worried that one idea floated by Republicans — a refundable tax credit — would not work for middle-class families that cannot afford to prepay their premiums and wait for a tax refund…

[Another said] “It sounds like we are going to be raising taxes on the middle class in order to pay for these new credits.”

 … A freshman congressman … warned strongly against using the repeal of the ACA to also defund Planned Parenthood…

Of particular concern to some Republican lawmakers was the plan to use the budget reconciliation process — which requires only a simple majority vote — to repeal the existing law, while still needing a filibuster-proof vote of 60 in the Senate to enact a replacement….

… They did not have a clear plan on how to keep markets viable while also requiring insurers to cover everyone who seeks insurance.

[A Senator asked:] Will states have the ability to maintain the expanded Medicaid rolls provided for under the ACA, which now provide coverage for more than 10 million Americans, and can other states do similar expansions?

[A Representative] worried that the plans under GOP consideration could eviscerate coverage for the roughly 20 million Americans now covered through state and federal marketplaces and the law’s Medicaid expansion: “We’re telling those people that we’re not going to pull the rug out from under them, and if we do this too fast, we are in fact going to pull the rug out from under them.”

They are also still wrestling with whether Obamacare’s taxes can be immediately repealed, a priority for many conservatives, or whether that revenue will be needed to fund a transition period.

And there seems to be little consensus on whether to pursue a major overhaul of Medicaid — converting it from an open-ended entitlement that costs federal and state governments $500 billion a year to a fixed block grant…. doing so would mean that some low-income Americans would not be automatically covered by a program that currently covers 70 million Americans.