Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Obstacle Illusion

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

               from "The Hollow Men"
               by T.S. Eliot

Thought, word, and deed are indivisible.  Yet too often we are oblivious to the obvious.  America is an idea as much as a country, and thoughts placed upon a pedestal--"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"--become ideals.  But much is required to move beyond the nebulous.  And our lack of imagination distorts gravitational fields and affects celestial mechanics.  Thus, separation--between the idea and the reality--causes an eclipse; but fusion, which is triggered by "a more perfect Union," produces sunlight.

I.  Overture

     When the Commander in Chief of the Continental Forces rode up to New England to review the troops of the North and South for the first time, insults were exchanged.  Washington dismounted, as did Billy Lee, a black man, and they knocked heads together because, as the General said, "Discipline is the soul of an army."  But discipline is essential to success in all endeavors, whether military or civilian.  WE THE PEOPLE cannot create "a more perfect Union" by calling each other names.
     Washington's response to the complaints of the Pennsylvania Legislature resonates to this day.

       I can assure those gentlemen that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw
       remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside than to occupy a cold, bleak hill
       and sleep under frost and snow without clothes or blankets.  However, although they
       seem to have little feeling for the naked, distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for
       them, and from my soul pity those miseries which it is neither in my power to relieve or
       prevent.  (Washington:  The Indispensable Man--The Illustrated Edition by James
       Thomas Flexner, 133)

The Commander in Chief knew whereof he spoke.  For he was at Valley Forge with his troops.

     Despite the frustrations and disappointments of dealing with politicians, the General refused to become what he fought against--a despot, which was one of the complaints made against the King in the Declaration:  "He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power."  Instead, he obeyed the orders of the Continental Congress.  Instead of insubordination, he learned from the failings of the Articles of Confederation and, after winning the war, used his influence to make an improvement.

     As a veteran, Washington presided over the Federal Convention that created, in Benjamin Franklin's words, "A republic, if you can keep it."  And such a system can be recognized and maintained if those holding office are, according to James Madison, "derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic."  (The Federalist Papers, No. 39; emphasis added)

II.  Crescendo
     Thomas Jefferson compared and contrasted rival systems.  One is open, the other closed.

       ...(T)here is a natural aristocracy among men.  The grounds of this are virtue and talents....
       There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue
       or talents....  The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the
       instruction, the trusts, and government of society....  The artificial aristocracy is a
       mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its
       ascendancy.  (Emphasis added.)

     The consent of the governed cannot exist without different points of view, which includes individuals and institutions, and if denied free expression--if one side dominates the stage and excludes the other--then even a well-written play and an award-winning performance cannot turn shadow into substance.  But the influence of the artificial aristocracy, referred to as "the political elite" or "the donor class" by the self-styled "mainstream" press, is subtle and insidious and the spawn of intellectual incest--ideology and money--because they need a rationale to justify their actions and have the ability to cast aspersions on whoever dares to disagree.  And so, there are internal contradictions instead of creative tension.  The former conflicts with the latter and James Madison's definition of a republic.

     Sound policy depends upon clarity, and the truth, which helps us to see clearly, is best glimpsed from various angles and put together like the pieces of a puzzle.  Thus, Representatives are chosen by districts, Senators by States, and the President nationwide.  But instead of different points of view brought into sharp focus, America suffers from an astigmatism, blurry vision with attention on the needs of a few.

     The Constitution's prohibition on granting any titles of nobility--a step toward equality--was not about a label but the display of distinctive traits, hereditary succession and an enormous disparity of wealth.  (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 & Section 10, Clause 1)  Otherwise the artificial aristocracy, whether actual or artificial persons, becomes de facto royalty, a way to make the world safe for feudalism or mercantilism, as was the case with the East India Company--an idea whose time has passed.

     The greatest threat to the survival and the success of liberty is the attitude of those who do not comprehend that the United States of America is a country, not a country club.  For privilege tends toward cognitive dissonance--between the idea and the reality falls the Shadow--and the fate of Sisyphus.

III.  Theme

     The nation that masters the interplay between domestic and foreign affairs--with the economy on the cusp--commands the future.  And, in the nature of things, a republic has a better chance of getting the right balance and blend.  But first one has to exist.

     The definition of national security, a sometimes misused phrase, is hardly mysterious and must be properly understood.  Its key elements are in plain sight, as they have been for over two centuries.  That the Framers understood domestic and foreign affairs and the economy are intertwined cannot be denied.  Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 puts Doubt to rest and seals the coffin.  "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, and pay the debts and provide for the common defense and the general welfare of the United States...."

     "Taxation without representation is tyranny" was one objection to be overcome during the Revolution.  Yet there was also opposition when the situation changed, as if to say, "Taxation with representation is terrible."  But after attempts to reach an accommodation failed, President Washington mounted up and reviewed the Militia "called into the actual service of the United States" to put down the insurrection known as the Whiskey Rebellion, making it clear that taxes are the dues of citizenship, and they have to be paid.  (Article II, Section, 2, Clause 1)  For the cry during the troubles with King George III was "No taxation without representation," not "No taxation."

     Taxes were necessary " the debts...of the United States" because, according to Article VI, "All debts contracted and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation."  As Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton noted in a report to the House of Representatives:

       If the maintenance of public credit, then, be truly so important, the next enquiry which
       suggests itself is:  By what means is it to be effected?  The ready answer to which question
       is, by good faith; by a punctual performance of contracts.  States, like individuals, who
       observe their engagements, are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of
       those who pursue an opposite conduct....
            In nothing are appearances of greater moment than in whatever regards credit.  Opinion
       is the soul of it; and this is affected by appearances as well as realities....  (Emphasis added.)

     Alexander Hamilton, the former artillery officer in the Continental Army and aide de camp to the Commander in Chief, gave force and effect to Article VI.  His measures made meaningful the related power "to borrow money on the credit of the United States."  (Article I, Section 8, Clause 2)  He established the good faith of the nation and gave us our good name.

     Now there is a debate over the advantages of debt management versus default, something which was settled in the beginning.  James Madison dismissed "...the pretended doctrine that a change in the form of civil society has the magical effect of dissolving its moral obligations."  (The Federalist Papers, No. 43, JM on "All debts and engagements")  So if the "original intention" was to make our word true, can we act in a way that makes our word worthless?  And should that even be a consideration?  Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment is a reaffirmation of Article VI.  And, therefore, all debts and engagements entered into shall be valid against the United States under the Constitution.

     The link between thought, word, and deed was not broken by those who put themselves on the line.  In the early days, "the common defense" was a meaningful phrase.  Yet, today, some--who never served in the Armed Forces, the Intelligence Community, or the Diplomatic Corps--are all in favor of the common defense, as long as it is the common people who do the defending.  They want to shoot first and ask questions later.  But diplomacy was not a dead letter to President Washington.  The father of our country used the Proclamation of Neutrality and the Jay Treaty to teach his infant how to walk on the world stage.

     Taxes, debt management, and the common defense are the foundation of the general welfare, "the permanent and aggregate interests of the community," to use Madison's words--the very reason a republic exists, and which the Knox Report addressed.  (The Federalist Papers, No. 10)  Universal National Service, as envisioned by President Washington and set forth in that message he had the Secretary of War send to Congress, dealt with more than an order of battle.

       If the United States possess the vigor of mind to establish the first institution, it may
       reasonably be expected to produce the most unequivocal advantages.  A glorious national
       spirit will be introduced, with its extensive train of political consequences.  The youth will        
       imbibe of a love of their country; reverence and obedience to its laws; courage and elevation
       of mind; openness and liberality of character; accompanied by a just spirit of honor.  In
       addition to which their bodies will acquire a robustness, greatly conducive to their personal
       happiness, as well as the defense of their country.  While habit, with its silent, but efficacious
       operations, will durably cement the system....

By strengthening the intellectual and the interior lines of defense, Universal National Service increases the synapses and the sinews of our power.

     National security is about survival, and the ability to adapt involves playing to one's strengths.  Destroying identity is a means of conquest.  For those who do not know who they are offer less resistance.  By definition, a nation of immigrants cannot be an h_ _ _land--a place for a particular ethnic or racial group--also referred to as motherland or fatherland.  But here, we sing The Star Spangled Banner, not H_ _ _land Uber Alles.  "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer" belongs elsewhere.  Thus, a constitutional phrase provides the proper name for the most recent Cabinet post--the Department of Public Safety.  (Article I, Section 1, Clause 2)

IV.  Variations

     The President who had the first income tax fades away as the apostle of tax cuts steps forward.  The party of Lincoln has forgotten him but remembers Reagan.  The party of TR, who supported progressive taxation and the estate tax and conservation, favors the flat tax, hereditary wealth, and denies climate change.  The supposed party of fiscal responsibility is out of touch with physical reality.

     History tells the tale, and the numbers tell the truth.  The purpose of taxation is to raise revenue for Government operations in a manner consistent with the system it supports.  Concentrated wealth, which tends toward monopoly in economics and politics, and usually benefits a minority, is antithetical to a republican form of government that exists to "promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."  Effective taxation provides inoculation against such a threat to national security.

     Sufficient revenue is the first principle of tax reform, not "revenue neutral."  The measure must take into account the Bush tax cuts, the wars unpaid for, the corporations which benefited from them, and then set appropriate rates to restore the status quo ante--the surplus and retiring the national debt.

     In the interest of bipartisanship via a time warp, let us examine progressive and estate taxes.

       No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned.  Every dollar           
       received should represent a dollar's worth of service rendered--not gambling in stocks, but
       service rendered.  The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size
       acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed
       by men of relatively small means.  Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big
       fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective--a
       graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and
       increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

So said Theodore Roosevelt.

     Corporations cannot claim to be persons and then pay less than flesh and blood people because of a privileged position at odds with the Revolution.  And, unlike real human beings, they do not possess "unalienable rights."  But corporations have duties and must pay a head tax so that, regardless of tax credits, they make a minimum contribution.  Furthermore, executive action must be taken in regard to offshore parking and inversions, for they must be viewed as tax evasion.  Senator Sanders's bill to stop corporations from getting Government contracts, when they use a phony overseas address, is another way of getting their attention.

     From 1914-1966, a Wall Street transaction tax was in effect and needs to be reinstated, perhaps based on the average State sales tax throughout the Union.  To prevent a reoccurrence of the events which led to the Great Recession, the President must have standby authority to increase the regular tax by up to ten percent.

     Social Security can be made solvent and sustainable by two related adjustments.  First, adopt a Carter Administration proposal that would use general revenue, if unemployment reaches a certain rate, to make up for the projected shortfall.  Second, raise the income ceiling.  Not doing so makes the payroll tax regressive.

     A critical factor respecting income inequality is ignored.  Too often, taxation is discussed, understandably, in terms of details--rates, credits, depreciation.  But the question of sovereignty must not be overlooked:  Is the GOP's States' rights position a cover for divide and conquer?  For the party that is opposed to centralization of power, specifically, in the Federal Government, whose policies they abhor, has no problem applauding that condition--in economics and politics--when created by a corporation.  Accordingly, there must be acknowledgement and action as to the impact of tax policy in that regard.

     Although the appearance of an issue has been created by the House Republicans' periodic threat not to pass the debt ceiling resolution, their arguments are, upon mature reflection, as empty as the cupboard of Old Mother Hubbard.  In reality, there is no debate, if the words of James Madison and the deeds of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton are accepted as precedent.  On the one side of the scale is the debt ceiling, a statutory provision, the technicality of technicalities and of dubious constitutionality.  On the other is the Fundamental Charter itself, The Federalist Papers, the reports of the first Secretary of the Treasury, and Chapter XIV of the Second Treatise of Civil Government.  Therefore, if forced to choose between the Constitution and the statute, the Executive shall faithfully execute the supreme law of the land.  Accordingly, after giving due notice by a Proclamation on Public Credit to the press and the public and a delinquent Congress, the President would issue an Executive Order on the Means of Extinguishment and invoke the Gephardt Rule which simply stated that the debt ceiling was "deemed to have passed" when a budget resolution was approved.

     Preparation is a prerequisite of survival.  Waiting until the moment of crisis to rely upon one's wits is unwise, and, besides, that era is over.  Although America began with two oceans as a moat, it is rather astonishing how sharp was the vision of those from so long ago.  Now we live in an age when the front lines can be breached in the blink of an eye, and yet their plan for a vast reserve may be the last best hope--Universal National Service.  And while the common defense meant the protection of the Union as a whole, it also concerned that of the several States, as the Second Amendment attests, and referred to a civic duty--active participation in the same.  Among the advantages, the standing Armed Forces would not be left out on a limb; and a nation of Minutemen is a friend of diplomacy.  Their existence speaks volumes about the will.  Without a word, huge reserves, well-trained and highly-motivated, give Putin pause.  Without clearing the throat, China wonders about fifty Commanders in Chief ready to wage guerilla warfare.  And both struggle to comprehend the mongrels between the Atlantic and Pacific who laugh over and over again at their own joke:  What do Americans call 10-1 odds?  A target-rich environment.

     A return to the national security policy of the Framers will be a blessing because of jobs, healthcare, and education; and with alternative service available to conscientious objectors, the New American System picks up where Henry Clay left off.  Beyond traditional infrastructure, the time has come--indeed is overdue--for energy independence, which must revolve around our star and be an Allied project.  Australia and America get more sunlight than any other nations; they are No. 1 and No. 2 respectively.  A grid upgrade would make way for massive use of solar panels, wave generation, and wind power.  The advantages are readily apparent.  Support for electric car stations on two continents will result in reduced carbon emissions, a positive development in regard to climate change.  And all of that can be done with an executive agreement on coordination.  Finally, high-tech infrastructure cannot be ignored, and a Space Trust Fund is the answer.  For the United States must be the world's leading spacefaring nation if our species is to survive and settle the New Frontier so that all mankind may go somewhere over the rainbow.

V. Contrapuntal

     Sisyphus was sentenced to solitary confinement and living the rest of his life as an exercise in futility.  The King of Ephyra, the personification of a conniving politician, was unsuccessful because of his character and a system of nobles and subjects.  In the end, too much depended upon him to achieve balance.  And so, the boulder rolled down the hill again.

     A well-ordered republic is not subject to the whims of a monarch.  For neither individuals nor institutions exist in isolation.  The continuous flow we know as history affects each and they, in turn, influence the current itself.  Relationships are like a river in a republic.

     There is more to being an American than birth in the United States, or through the lineage of one's parents, or by naturalization.  American citizenship is defined by rights and duties, an adherence to ideals even when inconvenient.  Thus, beyond legalities, it is a state of mind.

VI.  Concerto

     Between the motion and the act falls the Shadow.

     The acceptance of power and responsibility defines a leader.  Others need not apply, as Alexander Hamilton explains.

       The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern
       the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not
       require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient 
       impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to
       betray their interests.  It is a just observation, that the people commonly INTEND the
       PUBLIC GOOD.  This often applies to their very errors.  But their good sense would despise
       the adulator who should pretend that they always REASON RIGHT about the MEANS of
       promoting it.  They know from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that
       they so seldom err as they do, beset, as they continually are, by the wiles of parasites and
       sycophants, by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate, by the artifices of
       men who possess their confidence more than they deserve it, and of those who seek to
       possess rather than to deserve it.  When occasions present themselves, in which the interests 
       of  the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they
       have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in
       order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.  Instances might
       be cited in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from very fatal consequences of
       their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men who had
       courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure.  (The
       Federalist Papers, No. 71)

And John Quincy Adams followed Hamilton's advice.

     "...(H)ighly as I reverenced the authority of my constituents, and bitter as would have been the cup of resistance to their declared will, I would not yet have yielded up my trust until the moment when it was taken from my hands; I would have defended their interests against their inclinations, and incurred every possible addition to their resentment, to save them from the vassalage of their own delusions."

     In his Farewell Address, President Washington warned the nation about "the impostures of pretended patriotism."  And republics are placed at risk by those who pose as friends.  For, as Alexander Hamilton reminds us, "...a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask...commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants."  (The Federalist Papers, No. 1)
     The man who would be King has pined for "the good old days" when protesters were beaten with impunity, at least in his mind--and definitely by someone else.  For he is the type of guy that will fight to the last drop of your blood.  But in the good old days, David, Alexander, Scipio, Arthur, Henry V, Napoleon, and Washington were in the field with their troops, a place the gentleman from New York will never be found.

     Strutting and posing does not a leader nor an effective policy make.  Tough guy schtick is entertainment.  Toughness is a quality of the mind empowered by the spirit.

VII.  Obbligato

     There is no statute of limitations on upholding the Constitution, and as veterans, we have a duty to support and defend the supreme law of the land "against all enemies, foreign and domestic."  The last words in the oath are "So help me God."  And, in the beginning, when we were Continentals, till now, as GIs, we have followed the General's example.  Thus, despite the frustrations and disappointments of dealing with politicians, we can use our influence to make an improvement by reminding the nation of the words President Washington had Secretary of War Knox put in a report that, among other things, touched on what was expected of leaders.

     "Therefore, it ought to be a permanent rule, that those who in youth decline or refuse to subject themselves to the course of military education, established by the laws, should be considered as unworthy of public trust or public honors, and be excluded therefrom accordingly."

     Between the motion and the act falls the Shadow.

     Washington, Hamilton, and Knox put themselves on the line.  But if those who did so much to make the United States of America a reality were alive, their Armed Forces ID would not be enough to allow them to vote in certain States, and they would be excluded therefrom accordingly.

     With Photo ID, cleanliness is next to impossible.  Thirty-one POSSIBLE cases of voter fraud out of one billion votes come down to 0.00000003 of 1%.  Ivory Soap is not that pure.  And any politician who stops fellow citizens from voting on such a flimsy pretext is a coward.  After all, what other word describes those who are actually afraid of people who may vote against them?  And no matter how many flag pins they stick in their lapels, these couch potato commandos mock the oath to uphold the Constitution.*

     The-more-patriotic-than-thou-crowd--who never served--needs to be aware that, while on active duty, some of us travelled across borders without a passport.  Our Armed Forces ID and a paper signed by the Commander were enough because of a Status of Forces Agreement.  Thus, a foreign government showed us more respect than some States that do not accept the Veterans ID of the United States Government.^

     To the self-styled "strict constructionists" or "conservatives" who wrote Citizens United, do you know more about "original intention"--which you supposedly favor--than the man who was Commander in Chief of the Continental Forces, President of the Federal Convention, and the first President of the United States?  Washington had Secretary of War Knox send a report to Congress in support of Universal National Service.  In that message, the former artillery officer in the Continental Army stated:  "If wealth be admitted as a principle of exemption, the plan cannot be executed.  It is the wisdom of political establishments to make the wealth of individuals subservient to the general good, and not to suffer it to corrupt or attain undue indulgence...."  (Emphasis added.)  If that does not knock the props out from under Citizens United, what does?  Is there a better argument for public financing of campaigns, free air time for candidates, a strong conflict of interest provision, return of the fairness doctrine, and paper ballots?  Is there a better way to prevent the ascendancy of a mischievous ingredient in government--the artificial aristocracy?**

     The confluence of past and present stems from the opening line of Article I, Section 8.  Their strands are crystallized in the Knox Report, as if frozen in ancient amber like a prehistoric mosquito filled with Neanderthal blood.  For the Washington Administration knew how to avoid extinction by preserving the nation's DNA.

     As a splendid definition is meaningless without words, so the best policy is useless if not executed.  And the manner matters as much as the means and the end.  For as always, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times, and we stand between Olympus and Oblivion.  But a permanent rule gives everyone a stake in the outcome, and a carefully woven web is an excellent way to promote the general welfare--a condition in which no one left behind is a promise, not a platitude.

     "There is," said Linus, "no heavier burden than a great potential."  And so, America carries an Object which dwarfs that of Atlas.  For the high tax of greatness is sacrifice--"our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

(c)2016 Marvin D. Jones.  All rights reserved.







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