Topic: my books
I'm not writing about politics right now--too depressing! The hope for the world is in the Church.
Success! Kansas voters overwhelmingly approved Constitutional Amendment Question No. 2 yesterday!
Mental illness is no longer equated with crime in the state constitution!
Article 5, section 2 of the Kansas Constitution now reads:
Disqualification to vote. The legislature may, by law, exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or commitment to a jail or penal institution. No person convicted of a felony under the laws of any state or of the United States, unless pardoned or restored to his civil rights, shall be qualified to vote.
The state constitution thus obviously authorizes the state legislature to disenfranchise anyone who is being treated for any mental illness diagnosed by a properly licensed medical provider--even common depression or "religious psychosis" (a daignosis some would apply to anyone who is serious about religion). But just as disturbing is the fact that this constitutional provision also includes all mental illnesses in the same class as crimes. That is, it treats all mental illnesses as ongoing crimes, punishable, should the legislature so choose, by the loss of the right to vote.
The mischief that might be possible under the current langauge in only a slightly more toxic political climate is also noteworthy. The same legislature that could deny psychiatric patients the vote because they are diagnosed (for legitimate therapeutic reasons) with schizophrenia or common depression could also deny the vote to citizens who are diagnosed by properly-qualified medical personnel for political reasons with such contrived maladies as "religious psychosis," "pathological socialist thought disorder" (remember the McCarthy era?) or "homosexual behavior disorder." I consider leaving this invitation in the state constitution dangerous.
However, Constitutional Amendment Question No. 2 will give Kansas voters the opportunity to remove the words "mental illness or" from this section of the Kansas Constitution, and so to remove mental illness from the same constitutional class as crime.
It's about time. Vote yes on Ballot Question No. 2.
Further information about the ballot question can be found in this Ballotpedia article.
It's not hard to answer the question the press has been raising in recent weeks about why the Obama coalition collapsed. It collapsed because it abandoned its foundation of actually trying to collaborate WITH the public.
During the campaign and the transition, the emphasis was on networks of small, local groups that asked for input on major public issues and gave the appearance (false, as it turned out) of actually tring to listen to public input. The form of the campaign and transition got large nmbers of people to work for the President by giving the foot soldiers an effective illusion of real influence. It appeared the candidate, later the President-elect, was actually listening.
But something went wrong shortly after the inauguration. The President stopped listening, even to the public input he had appeared to receive so well before the inauguration. On issue after issue, once Congress was in session, he preferred politics as usual--though with a Democratic majority that hasn't been seen in some years--over the real change in the very way of doing things in Washington he had previously seemed to promise. Admittedly, he was aided in reneging on his apparent promise by a Senate which could not do ANYTHING without 60 votes, where the President's party only had 59. Nevertheless, he stopped listening.
This is not to say that the local groups were disbanded. No, they were preserved, to the extent they could be held together, and the individuals who had enrolled in them to this day continue to receive several e-mails per week urging them to contribute money or contact members of Congress to implement the President's program. (I know. I receive these e-mails!) But the President has quit listening to the small groups, and now focuses on his party's corporate benefactors.
One result of this has been an economic recovery program that very quickly stopped trying to help distressed individuals in favor of an application of the Democratic version of trickle-down economics. The underlying theory of the Democratic version of trickle-down is the same as the Republican version--if we give enough money to our big corporate friends, eventually they will let some of it trickle down to create some jobs. Only the list of big corporate friends and the preferred means of making the gift differ, a little bit, between the two parties. (Republicans tend to favor relieving their friends of taxes others pay, whereas Democrats tend to favor taxing everyone and giving the money back to their friends directly). The problem with trickle-down, in either partisan form, is that the bigh corporate friends of those in power are only too happy to use the money to create jobs in other countries, where labor is cheaper. So the effort to build employment through trickle-down is doomed to failure until American labor "catches down" with labor in the Third World. This is not what the President's supporters wanted, if he had really been listening two years ago.
Another result of this was the health care reform package that was actually enacted. While it has many good aspects, fundamentally it is designed not to provide affordable health care to normal people but to guarantee the profits of the health insurance industry. Its centerpiece is its requirement that everyone buy the health insurance industry's product after 2013. The industry, meanwhile, is to be left free to collusively set the price of that product. (The indutry kept its anitrust law exemption). This also is not exactly what most of the President's supporters expected two years ago.
These are only two examples of politics as usual winning out, and the President not listening to the people who elected him. It is not hard to see why his defunct coalition is not helping him keep control of Congress this year.
This posting is in response to the Yahoo Finance article entitled "The Middle Class in America is Radically Shrinking. Here are the Stats to Prove it." The problem identified is that the American middle class is disappearing, resulting in a polarization of the US population into the very rich 1 or 2 percent and the 99 percent poor service sector servants. The Yahoo commentator, it seems to me, has a part of the cause right, but has not completely identified the causes. The prmary cause, as I see it, is the transition from the historic situation in which the economy was run by rich people to the current situtation in which the economy is run by rich corporations.
There was a reason the framers of the Constitution, and nearly everyone in the Federal and various state governments in the U.S. until about 1870, deeply distrusted corporations. In the early days of our republic, corporations could be created only by a special act of Congress or a state legislature, and were created only for carefully limited purposes for a set period of years. The framers distrusted corporations because they are not human. Individual wealthy people, like the framers of the Constitution themselves (all of whom were wealthy and influential men) have consciences and normal human ties to their community and nation. Corporations are artificial people that have no conscience, no ties to the community, and no motives except their own continued existence, expanding power, and, above all, profit. We are seeing the fruit of going completely and unreservedly corporate in the destruction of our middle class and the impoverishment of almost all of us for the benefit of immortal corporations.
See my Warning Concerning Idolatry, first posted October 8, 2000, for a related warning about trust in corporations. I've been saying this for some time!
Observant Muslims offer Salat prayers five times a day, repeating the same core prayer each time, with some variable additions from the Qur'an. At the heart of the Salat prayers is Al Fathihah, the first Surah of the Qur'an, which I present here in Yusuf Ali's English understanding:
(1)In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
(2)Praise be to God,
the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
(3) Most Gracious; Most Merciful;
(4) Master of the Day of Judgment.
(5) Thee do we worship,
thine aid do we seek.
(6) Show us the straight way,
(7) The way of those on whom
Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace
Those whose (portion)
Is not wrath,
and who go not astray.
Qur’an, Surah 1.
I believe as Christians we should pray that, as our Muslim friends, and Muslim world leaders, pray this prayer sincerely, God would graciously answer their prayers. In this regard, note particularly ayas 6 and 7: "Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray." On its face, this is a prayer for wisdom, a prayer to be shown the right way.
Of course, the Bible speaks to prayers for wisdom. James tells us that "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." James 1:5 (KJV). This text doesn't distinguish between Christians and others, it says that God is willing to give wisdom to anyone who asks. The next few verses explain that the only qualification for asking and receiving direction from God is being willing to listen and obey:
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
Bible, James 1:5-8 (KJV).
Bible, James 1:6-8.
God promises wisdom, if we will follow it. But He doesn't give advice.
Jesus himself also said that the only qualification for knowing the truth is willingness to follow it:
Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
Bible, John 7:16-17 (KJV).
Bible, John 7:16-17 (KJV).
So, it would appear that, as Muslims pray to be shown the straight path, we should pray that God will answer these prayers. May the best understanding of God win!
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save. When their spirits depart, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them--the Lord, who remains faithful for ever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien, and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever...
Psalm 147:3-10a (NIV).
My constitutional question is this: Is it within the enumerated powers of Congress to delegate to a group of private corporations the power to lay and collect a Federal tax for their own benefit?
Now that all proposals for real health care reform are officially dead, I will raise a constitutional question that I would not have dared to raise while there was still any chance of real reform. I support real reform, and would not wish my constitutional question to prevent it from occurring.
It seems to me that all of the proposals that were on the table after the death of the public option, by requiring almost everyone to purchase health insurance from private corporations, created taxes for the benefit of those private corporations--the health insurance companies. That the payment of premiums was to have been, in effect, a tax for the benefit of the insurance companies is demonstrated by the fact that, under all proposals, nonpayment of premiums was to be subject to punishment by the federal government, starting with administrative monetary penalties (collected by the IRS!) and progressing to the threat of criminal prosecution and imprisonment. The political rhetoric often likened the tax to the requirement to maintain proof of insurance to be licensed to drive. However, that analogy breaks down because no one is actually REQUIRED to maintain auto liability insurance on threat of criminal penalty. One only need maintain auto insurance if one chooses to drive--and it is possible to live without driving (many people do it). The health insurance tax was to be made a condition of simply living. The choice not to drive is not at all analogous to the choice to commit suicide.
I will grant that such a tax for the benefit of the insurance companies by itself would clearly have been within the powers of Congress under its taxing power (Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 1) and the "necessary and proper" clause (Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 18) IF the proposal had been for the Federal government to collect a tax, in an amount set by Congress, and pay the proceeds over to the health insurance companies to provide coverage.
However, none of the proposals that died after the Senatorial election in Massachussetts did this. Instead, all of them merely required individuals to pay the insurance companies directly, in an amount to be determined by the insurance companies themselves. Moreover, the insurance companies and their premium-setting processes would remain regulated by state law, rendering the amount of this tax geographically non-uniform. But the most potent objection to this arrangement is simply that it would have given the insurance companies, private entities, the power to determine the amount of the tax without any further action on the part of Congress, that is, the power to lay and collect a tax enforced by the federal government.
According to Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution:
The Congress shall have power
To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States...
The Constitution gives the power to lay and collect taxes to Congress--and only to Congress. The Sixteenth Amendment gave Congress the power (formerly denied it by Art. I, sec. 9, cl. 4) to impose proportional income taxes on individuals, but it did not change the fundamental principle that only Congress may lay and collect Federal taxes. Neither did it change in any way the requirement of Art. I, sec. 7, cl. 1, that all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House of Representatives and be concurred in by the Senate. So bills setting tax rates are to originate in the House, also pass the Senate, and be signed by the President or enacted by Congress over his veto. (Art. I, sec. 7, Cl. 3).
Congress has in the past on several occasions attempted to delegate some of its Constitutional powers to the Executive Branch, and been rebuked by the Supreme Court for attempting to do so. Perhaps most relevant to this discussion is the Supreme Court's opinion in Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998), in which the Court invalidated the Line Item Veto Act--which directly involved Congress' powers to raise and spend money--as impermissibly delegating Congressional powers to the President.
If Congress may not delegate a part of its power to spend tax revenues to the President, it seems inconceivable that the courts would permit it to delegate a part of both its taxing and spending power to private corporations that are not subject to the will of the electorate at all. (Remember the great slogan of the Revolution: "Taxation without representation is tyranny!")
These constitutional objections would be competely eliminated by going to a Federal single-payer system (which I have supported). Under a single-payer system, Congress would both levy the taxes to support health care and determine how to appropriate the resulting revenues.
These constitutional objections would also probably be overcome by a system in which individuals could choose either private insurance or a public option. Such a system could be analogized to a uniform tax, from which individuals could exempt themselves by taking the appropriate actions (purchasing private insurance). Much of our present income tax law already operates in this way.
But if I were a gambler, I would wager money that the only, or nearly the only, part of health care reform that WILL survive the Massachussetts election will be the requirement that nearly everyone buy health insurance--at whatever rates the insurance companies want to demand. The companies will gladly let this part of the proposal pass, because they really WANT the subsidy!
The story of the modern American who had the misfortune of living among the Israelites during the lifetime of Moses is found in the Bible in Numbers 25. The Moabites, and, as is stated later, the Midianites, attempted to defeat Israel by seducing its young leaders--first into sexual immorality with foreign women, then into worship of their new girlfriends' gods. The result was predictable: "and the Lord's anger burned against them." Numbers 25:3. Because God's wrath was burning, there was a plague among the people. Numbers 25:8.
God instructed Moses to end the plague by exposing publicly the men who had joined in worshipping false gods, and commanding the judges to put these men to death. Numbers 25:4-5.
Nevertheless, a family leader named Zimri brought a Midianite woman to his family right before the eyes of Moses while the people were mourning. Numbers 25:6.
However, it is Flavius Josephus who adds a description of what Zimri said on this occasion that makes him sound like a true modern American:
"Yes, indeed, Moses, thou art at liberty to make use of such laws as thhou art so fond of, and hast, by accustoming thyself to them, made them firm; otherwise, if things had not been thus, thou hadst often been punished before now, and hadst known that that the Hebrews are not easily put upon; but thou shalt not have me one of thy followers in thy tyrraanical commands, for thou dost nothing else hiterto, but, under pretense of laws, and of God, wickedly impose on us slavery, and gain dominion of thyelf, while thou deprivest us of the sweetness of life, which consists in acting according to our own wills, and is the right of free men, and of those that have no lord over them. Nay, indeed, this man is harder upon the Hebrews that were the Egyptians themselves, as pretending to punish, according to his laws, every one's acting what is most agreeable to himself; but thou thyself better deservest punishment, who presumest to abolish what every one acknowledges to be what is good for him, and aimest to make thy single opinion to have more force than all the rest; and what bI do now, and think to be right, I shall not hereafter deny to be according to my own sentiments. I have married, as thou sayest rightly, a strange woman, and thou heares what I do from myself as from one that is free, for I truly did not intend to conceal myself. I also own that I sacrificed to those gods to whom you did not think fit to sacrifice; and I think it right to come at truth by inquiring of many people, and not like one that lives under tyranny, to suffer the whole hope of my life to depend on one man; nor shall any one find cause to rejoice who declares himself to have more authority over my actions than myself."
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Ch. 6 (W. Whiston, Tr.) (italics added).
While the writings of Josephus are not Scripture, Josephus' account of Zimri's speech shows Zimri to be a true American, concerned above all things with what he wanted, felt, and believed to be right. Zimri's self-centered attitude is highly prized in America.
Moses, however, did not prize Zimri's attitude, and neither did God. The plague among the people ended when Phinehas, son of Eleazar the high priest, followed Zimri into his tent and put a spear through Zimri and his new wife together. Numbers 25:7-9.
Two pages on the site hosted "behind" this blog have been modified, one substantially, the other one only slightly. The two pages are:
Some Biographical Information about Ian B. Johnson, which is links to biographical information.
Clear Creek (Iowa) Bible as Textbook Referendum, 1981, which presents the text of a historic document in which I was involved, with some discussion and links.
The curious are invited to look at these pages and guess which one was changed substantially, and which one was changed only slightly!
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