Congress scrambles back up the cliff

Congress stayed up late last night and at 10:35 p.m. voted 257 to 167 to approve the Fiscal Cliff compromise.  And the good thing is that since taxes automatically went up for everyone when the day began, with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, Congressmen could keep their no-tax-hike pledges because their action was now a tax cut; that is, for everyone except those who make over $450,000. Also, people making over $250,000 may no longer claim the personal exemptions on their tax forms, so their taxes will go up slightly, allowing President Obama to keep his campaign promise.

The bill that had already been approved by the Senate also extended the Farm Bill, backing us away from the Dairy Cliff that would have doubled milk milk prices.  The automatic spending cuts that were scheduled to go into effect when the Bush tax rates expired were postponed for two months.  Nor does it raise the debt ceiling.  Nor does it do much for the deficit.  So the battles and brinkmanship will continue.

via Congress approves ‘fiscal cliff’ measure – The Washington Post.

Should we abolish the Constitution?

Louis Michael Seidman, a Georgetown professor of Constitutional Law, no less, argues in the New York Times that we should do away with the Constitution.

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination? . . .

This is not to say that we should disobey all constitutional commands. Freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property are important, whether or not they are in the Constitution. We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation.

Nor should we have a debate about, for instance, how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses. Some matters are better left settled, even if not in exactly the way we favor. Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states. There is even something to be said for an elite body like the Supreme Court with the power to impose its views of political morality on the country.

What would change is not the existence of these institutions, but the basis on which they claim legitimacy. The president would have to justify military action against Iran solely on the merits, without shutting down the debate with a claim of unchallengeable constitutional power as commander in chief. Congress might well retain the power of the purse, but this power would have to be defended on contemporary policy grounds, not abstruse constitutional doctrine. The Supreme Court could stop pretending that its decisions protecting same-sex intimacy or limiting affirmative action were rooted in constitutional text.

The deep-seated fear that such disobedience would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition. As we have seen, the country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity. And as we see now, the failure of the Congress and the White House to agree has already destabilized the country. Countries like Britain and New Zealand have systems of parliamentary supremacy and no written constitution, but are held together by longstanding traditions, accepted modes of procedure and engaged citizens. We, too, could draw on these resources.

What has preserved our political stability is not a poetic piece of parchment, but entrenched institutions and habits of thought and, most important, the sense that we are one nation and must work out our differences.

via Let’s Give Up on the Constitution – NYTimes.com.

But why would we even have a Congress, a Senate, a President, and a Supreme Court and how would we know how long their terms are without a foundational, authoritative plan of government?  How would we protect free speech without some kind of supreme law?  Which would be a constitution?  Yes, Great Britain and members of the Commonwealth do without a written constitution, instead following an unwritten collection of traditional principles.  But for that to work, you would need to have a respect for tradition, which Prof. Steidman, with its dismissal of the “white propertied men” of the 18th century, is hardly encouraging.

Besides, as pointed out by David T. Koyzis (to whom I tip my hat for putting me onto this piece) respect for the Constitution and the consequent rule of law that it makes possible is one of the “enduring traditions and habits of thought” that Seidman wants to replace it with.  (First Thoughts of December 31 has posted three critiques of Seidman’s column.)

Obamacare supports gun rights

So will the NRA rally support for Obamacare?

The words were tucked deep into the sprawling text of President Obama’s signature health-care overhaul. Under the headline “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” was a brief provision restricting the ability of doctors to gather data about their patients’ gun use — a largely overlooked but significant challenge to a movement in American medicine to treat firearms as a matter of public health.

The language, pushed by the National Rifle Association in the final weeks of the 2010 debate over health care and discovered only in recent days by some lawmakers and medical groups, is drawing criticism in the wake of this month’s schoolhouse massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn. Some public health advocates, worried that the measure will hinder research and medical care, are calling on the White House to amend the language as it prepares to launch a gun-control initiative in January.

NRA officials say they requested the provision out of concern that insurance companies could use such data to raise premiums on gun owners. The measure’s supporters in the Senate say they did not intend to interfere with the work of doctors or researchers.

via NRA fingerprints in landmark health-care law – The Washington Post.

For me, the telling part of this story is “discovered only in recent days.”  Has NOBODY read the 124-page  bill all the way through?  What else might be in there?  (If you want to give it a go at reading the thing, here is the bill.)

Happy New Year!

As the country, like a nation of lemmings,  parties its way off the fiscal cliff, let us all wish each other a lucky 2013!

That doesn’t sound very hopeful.  Let’s try that again.  Have a blessed New Year!  “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15).

Dave Barry’s year in review

One of my personal New Year’s Day rituals is to read humorist Dave Barry’s  month-by-month recap of the year gone by.  It’s printed in quite a few newspapers, but it’s often edited down to fit the space.  I believe this is a complete version of Dave’s take on 2012.

Resolve not to use these words in 2013

The problem with slang is that it goes out of fashion as quickly as it comes in.  Few things sound sillier than slang that’s just a little out of date or that is uttered by someone who is not in the group the slang is supposed to define.  Ginnie Graham of the Tulsa World looks at words that gained currency in 2012 but that now beg for elimination:

Adorkable – Even with “New Girl” starring Zooey Deschanel on my DVR, this word has to go.

Amazeballs – Adding “ball” to the end of a word does not make it better.

Cray, or cray-cray – As in “You are acting so cray-cray.” I hear that a lot from my 5-year-old, which makes me crazy enough to get rid of it.

Totes, jelly, YOLO, fro-yo and all other shortened words and phrases – “Totes” means totally, “jelly” refers to jealous, “You only live once” and frozen yogurt” are the others. It doesn’t really save any time not finishing all the words.

Mommy porn – So, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy gave us this dreadful term, once known as romance. Oh, how I miss the sweet Harlequin-inspired descriptions.

Jeah – Thank you Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte for mixing “good” and “yeah” into popularizing this weird one.

Percents – The Occupy Wall Streeters supported the 99 percent and railed against the 1 percent. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney complained about the 47 percent. Math confuses me, so I’m out.

Mains – Refers to a close, tight-knit group of people, such as “My sister is one of my mains.” My sister would also smack me if I said that.

Literally – All English teachers and speakers of correct grammar cringe at Rob Lowe’s “Parks and Recreation” character bastardizing this word. To review, literally means it happened, “I literally turned the channel.” Everything else is metaphorical or figurative.

Actually – Might as well throw this one in, too. Actually is literally just as irritating in conversation. It’s a word overused to speak down to someone.

“Actually, blue is not your color, and I do know the definition of literally,” I said before my sister smacked me.

Artisanal – Some marketing hipster is laughing somewhere that adding this to every food label literally increased sales. Actually, it doesn’t mean anything.

via Ginnie Graham: Some words deserve to get the ax in new year | Tulsa World.

What other words or expressions of 2012 deserve to be banished in the new year?


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