Hillsdale College Free Course on the Federalist Papers: One Question

Larry Arnn has offered a free course on the Federalist papers, and I have just finished the first lecture. This is good stuff! And Free! You too can sign up for these things for free, and their magazine Imprimis sends out one guest lecture per month to 2.3 million people. We love the stories about Martin Diamond and Harry Jaffa in the Question and Answer period.

Mr. Arnn considers the Federalist Papers to be the greatest American work of Politics, and possibly the greatest political work ever written. If I were a student in his class, one question I would ask is whether the Declaration of Independence is not at least equal to the Federalist Papers as a work of political theory. The Federalist Papers argue that we should accept this constitution, but the Constitution did not yet have a Bill of Rights. There is very little said in the Federalist Papers about the Bill of Rights. Madison assumed, wrongly, that the structure of the government would prevent it from doing what it had no power to do. But, of course, Jefferson, who was over in France at the time, wrote Madison a famous letter arguing that while some constitutions do not need a bill of rights, this one does. And now all Americans for the most part agree, and we could not imagine a Constitution with only Habeas Corpus and a couple other rights provisions.

This constitution allowed slavery, and apparently allowed a fugitive slave law. These were of course compromises with some states. But could one, for example, swear the oath required of adjunct faculty to uphold The Constitution if we were compelled to help enslave others in any way? Could we swear this oath prior to 1808, or just prior to the Civil war? The law required us, here in Michigan, to help return fugitive slaves, rather than to help the escapees in the underground railroad. Liberty (according to Montesquieu) consists in part in not being compelled to do anything wrong, and for the rest, not being forbidden from doing what is right. So the constitution, and hence the Federalist Papers, is a bit of a compromise.

But the Declaration is much less of a compromise. What we call the second sentence of the Declaration contains four assertions which make up more than half of the political theory that makes America great. The Bill of Rights spells out and codifies these assertions regarding, first, the equal creation, and second, the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The third assertion states that “To secure these rights” is the purpose of government, and government derives its just powers from consent. And of course, whenever a government becomes destructive of these ends, we, the spirited Americans, will put an end to it, and institute a new.  So we surely can amend the constitution to correct our little problem regarding gerrymandering and campaign finance.

As Lincoln, borrowing from the Biblical book of Proverbs, wrote, the Declaration is like apples of gold, while the Constitution is like a filigree of silver. I would ask Mr. Arnn if he believes in this, and what bearing he thinks this has on our current Fourth Amendment questions, and the excesses of the un-elected parts of the executive branch. How does this effect our slide toward tyranny on the issues of surveillance, property seizures, campaign finance, prescription drug and insurance fraud, jailing of fathers, police shootings, and the control of the internet by marketing forces that we are unwilling to limit, to the point of causing a crisis in national security? We will torture, but we will not say no to the lobbyists from Google and Facebook when national security is at stake? What does he think the Federalist Papers have to say about how there is no oversight, accountability and meaningful recourse when executive powers are abused?  And when political rights are prostituted to employers and information brokers?

Obama Republicans

Recently, the President has been criticized regarding Iraq, for being too reticent to intervene in certain ways. So it seems to us a good time to express the Centrist Libertarian view of the Obama Republicans.

Myself and my father are two, people with basically Republican views who just love Barak Obama. He has all the wrong policies, we say, and yet we find ourselves defending him in speech. The reason, to try to state it, is that his constitutionalism has saved many lives, and this is the first job of the president. A related reason, also regarding our last blog, is that he has tried to say “We do not torture,” and said “it seems we tortured some folks.” But let me first explain how we say he has saved lives.

Remember the flap about the Mosque near the site of 9/11, or that minister fellow who was about to burn some books? He called the fellow up on the phone, and asked him not to do it, and the minister fellow obeyed his president. Many lives were saved. And the mosque thing, no one even remembers what happened. They probably did it the American way, and bought the mosque people out, if they do not want a mosque there that badly. For the truth is of course that in American, one can be Islamic if one wishes. This is the very liberty the terrorists struck against, and here it is. And we can also be Christian if we wish, and we know deep down that our very liberty to be Christian depends on our liberty to be Islamic if we wish, and to uphold the rights of all U. S. citizens.

Our reticent policy in Iraq was set before Obama took office, as we were trying to get out, and leave things as much as possible to the Iraqis themselves to decide and govern. Unfortunately, Isis, or then Al Qaeda, saw that they could inflame the differences of Sunni and Shiite to spark civil war, and indeed, no one, America or the president, was able to respond sufficiently. With the Russians advancing across the Ukraine, and American involvement provoking hatred, we have tried to help the sovereignties of the Middle East to deal with their own military problems, though where Al Qaeda is involved, these are our problems, whether America recognizes it or not.

On Health care we say that something clearly had to be done, though the result is indeed unconstitutional. We cannot force anyone to buy anything in America, though this is done with car insurance and other scams (I currently pay way over one dollar per mile for insurance to drive, an anomaly due to extreme poverty). So Obama and the Democrats did something, and now we have some basic health care, though the constitutional problem has been postponed, and is next to be addressed. People like me may now live long enough to benefit our nation by screaming about insurance fraud and prescription drug abuse, property seizures and campaign finance, gerrymandering and all the other blatantly obvious vices that will destroy our nation if we do not get up and do something. We are already impoverished through the recession caused by the failure of integrity in the housing industry, while the rich tell us our poverty is our own fault, to justify that Republican cold heart. Why not take our cars when they break down, and then wonder, “where is that middle class?” Let congress take payments to corrupt the internet, then wonder why four people have a trillion dollars while everyone else is their slave!

And on immigration, Barak is reluctant to deport people, and doing all he can, though nations must have borders. My Representative thinks executive action here is unconstitutional, and that may be. But we cannot send children, for example, back to Guatemala. My policy is that we must help out to restore the rule of law in these nations, rather than use them as pawns in our foreign policy, so that these people have a nation to return to. Our drug habit in America has helped to turn these governments into tyrannies on our border, and the least of our problems caused by tyrannic neighbors will be the refugees.

There are other examples too where the constitutionalism of Obama has saved  lives. He spoke for about fifteen minutes after the Baltimore riots, reminding the looters that the police have a responsibility to protect the rights of the store owners to their property, and reminding us of peaceful protest. These are issues above the flaps that occupy congress in partisan gridlock, but they are the more important things.

That, basically, is the reasoning of the Obama Republicans, the Independent centrist libertarians who come to guide the thought of America now, whether the two parties take up our constitutionalism or not. Now we hope Barak will restore the Fourth and Fifth Amendments by supporting oversight, accountability and meaningful recourse against the looming tyranny of the executive agencies.

Frontline on Torture: An Open Letter to Congress

To the Honorable Tim Walberg:

Last night, I watched the public television show Frontline about the recent incidents of torture, and then the documentary about the 1971 break in at the FBI office. These are the things on which Americans should write Congress.

Again we follow Senator McCain on the torture issue, but we notice that the story ends in a standoff, where CIA people (Mr. McLaughlin) are arguing that the program be continued because it is useful for security, and Senator Feinstein saying “183 times!” We can work on this theoretical impasse.

The truth that torture might in the most extreme circumstances imaginable be justifiable has left an opening, or opened up a hole, into which our nation, obeying its instrument, the CIA, has fallen. We must answer the argument and the assurance that American lives were saved and that torture is therefore justified. In these cases, even of Zubayduh and Mochti, the torture was not justified.

The CIA was not certain that Mr. Mochti had information that would immediately save American lives, and they were eventually given false information, and went on a witch hunt in Montana.

The CIA argument is based on a point of prudence in foreign policy, that the most incredible sounding particulars can be the right action in certain extreme circumstances. The example is if a child were kidnapped by two, and one had one of them, and knew he knew where ones child was being held and tortured. Any means of getting the information from a guilty and uncooperative kidnapper might be justified, or be the right action. Sometimes this is formulated as the teaching that “the ends justify the means,” which I think is a Marxist formulation. Further, we care less, about torturing a torturer, and must remember that murder is still murder if one murders a murderer, and in law, till sentencing, it is all the same. At least the CIA is still arguing on the basis of the good of the nation. What of when this is no longer the case? Is it not as though evil likes to loosen our abhorrence at certain particulars, first by examples where these things may be justifiable, and then taking away the ends in light of which it seemed, well, yes, to save the world, I would commit adultery, so the commandment is not a universal prohibition. Did the law ever claim that sort of universality? We all know what it means, “Thou shall not Kill.”

This theoretical truth has left an opening into which our nation has fallen like a chasm.

These cases in foreign policy are not even close to the standard of proven guilt and certain saving of innocent lives. That much is demonstrated by the fact that no imminent plot was uncovered by torturing even either of these men.

Machiavelli is the fellow who argues for evil in the pursuit of power by appealing to the extreme instances, where almost anything is justifiable. We are supposed to be reconciled to him because he does not in the end advocate the most extreme and imprudent cruelties, but only the prudent cruelties. I spent a couple years reading these things, though of course do not understand them much better than common sense. Leo Strauss, in his Thoughts on Machiavelli, may have the best book on these things.

We are hearing the same argument regarding surveillance and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, that national security and the saving of American lives justifies absolutely anything. As we have seen, in the Media case from 1971 and elsewhere, the argument regarding national security is being routinely and dangerously abused, or cited when there is not the security issue there is said to be.

In the kidnapping example, one then finds the child who is in truth about to be harmed, and the truth is told. It may have been justified, but one is demonstrably certain. In the CIA cases, not only were they not certain, they were wrong. John McCain said “I think that’s all torture, good luck” and walked out. He is referring to the Court decision that the executive was bound to follow the Geneva convention.

The argument that these extreme things save lives ignores the truth that there are other legal and right things we could have been spending our efforts upon that would have saved even more lives, without the disastrous consequences of violating our principles as a civilized nation. There is not only the fact that that other, more ingenious ways of spending our intelligence dollar might be even more effective, but also, there is a long and a short term to security interests. I am afraid that by listening to the agencies flatter the fear of the people, we are sacrificing long term to short term, and more apparent security interests. The long term loss in the trust in our nation will in fact cost even more lives, not to mention the voluntary cooperation we might have gained had the interrogation stopped with the Islamo-sympathetic method of Al Soufan. In the Frontline show, Mr. Soufan was an Islamic interrogator who knew the Koran, and may have been able to persuade even Zubayed and Mochti, and trick them where they could not persuade them. It is when they brought in the psychologists, one will notice, that things became ugly.

Psychology and education in general must remain free despite the agencies wish to use these things too for “security.”

Mankind, throughout the history of political thinking, always thought popular government was impossible, and the American democratic republic proved them wrong. They always thought a nation had to have a state religion, and we proved them wrong. Nations throughout history have mostly been governed despotically, and tyranny always argues that its terrible actions are justified by being necessary. Federalist 1 says we are going to do something different. The most gruesome things we study in history all happened because some tyrant thought that only fools act for anything except power. Until the Bush administration, we had for the most part been proving them wrong. We are confirmed in having supported John McCain in that important primary election, and point out that these things would not have occurred had he won. Senator McCain might even now show us the way out, in what must become our penance for yet another national sin, if we would follow him.

I have been told by an assistant to my representative that Congressional oversight of the agencies has never been done. He is apparently too young to remember the Church committee. But look what happened to Mr. Church regarding his career! And Mr. Carson (who, along with Rand Paul, we now lean toward supporting) thinks that if one is rich, it is a proof that they are wise, like Socrates and Jesus (not), as rich as Solomon (not).

Was anyone in the FBI ever held accountable for the illegal actions revealed by the Media break in? Telling St. Martin that he had 34 days to do something, not to mention the other things they did? And were we Michiganians not proud of our Senator Phil Hart, who said his kids had been telling him these things about his government, but he did not believe them? No one, not the one who ordered the action, is ever held accountable, and this is what must change, in the very interests of national security, and in both the long and short term. A free America governed by our 545 or so sovereign office holders, the President, Congress and the Supreme Court together, is probably unconquerable, if we stay within our bounds. A post-constitutional America, governed by the Agencies, who have the information, the internet, the spying, the arms, the lawyers, the arguments and the long term offices, well, Vegas might not give you even money on that one!

Jeb Bush on Iraq

In one of those put-them-on-the-spot moments, Jeb Bush was asked about Iraq. He first said that he would have gone in, then a few days later changed his statement, saying he was reluctant to disagree with his brother. So, as an amateur politician again, I’d like to try to respond to the question, somewhat as I hope I would if I were on the spot like a candidate.

But everyone thinks I am wrong in not assuming that the faulty intelligence about WMD was the reason for that phase of the war. The debacle ended the political career of Colin Powell- remember him? The intell was delivered, apparently, to assure a unanimous vote in the U. N. committee, when we did not need a unanimous vote, for the reasons indicated, which existed prior to the faulty intell. Once again, the assumed reason is not the correct reason. I used to say over beer, as talking to friends, that my opinion was “explicative Saddam.” He was a very bad tyrant. His delight in torture and the murder of opponents was pronounced. His methods were inventive, and cruel. We used to include that no two persons could whisper a comment to one another in Baghdad without being heard- but this is nearly true of us now. And with that, I will return to my more usual political publications, on the Bill of Rights and domestic issues.

I never understood the most common opinion about Iraq, which assumed that we went in because we thought there were certain weapons there. George Bush the first ought have followed up the Gulf war removing Saddam, even thou this was beyond the U. N. mandate. Twelve years later, Saddam violated the terms of the peace by disallowing U. N. inspectors, and this is why I would, or might have gone in. The tyranny of Saddam was to be passed to his sons Udai or Kusai (whichever committed rather than avoided fratricide). He also harbored the terrorist N., who had offered sizable cash awards to the families of those who would commit suicide bombings against Israel. And he attacked Kuwait, which unopposed would have left a tyrant who held the fourth largest army in the world to seize on quarter of the world’s oil. Our enemies and detractors my be correct in a way to say cynically that these things are about. But going in, it was not an option to leave and allow Al Qaeda to defeat us strategically, by attacking Shiites and intentionally sparking civil war. Indeed, if we were going to do this, we perhaps should not have gone in to begin. We are at war with Al Qaeda wherever they are, because they declared war on us, and until we persuade them to un-declare this, we have no option but to fight. Surely they understand- what would they do if they were in our position? This, too, means that when the Al Qaeda splinter group took over the opposition to Assad in Syria, we were at war with them, whether we recognize it or not.

But the fundamental foreign policy regarding Iraq is that we had a chance to give them a constitution, and we blew it. Failing that, The three groups that are going to have trouble living together- the Sunni, Shiite and Kurd, must each have their own nation. It is up to these three whether they want to live in a united Iraq badly enough for them to try to live together. But a federal system, where each of these three have constitutionally balanced powers to assure their fundamental rights, is the only possible arrangement. Our bungling, in part by our decision as a nation to pull out when we did, allowed us to be beaten strategically. As a nation, we must become more serious about these things. We may have caused 200,000 deaths among the people of Iraq. Do we care? Only a few months ago, there were almost daily bombings there in which as many were killed as our own Boston bombing, and as a nation, we did not care. The news of these nearly slipped off the T. V. screen, while Al Qaeda was succeeding at sparking the civil war.

That is what I would have said, but that is perhaps why I do not represent anyone, and could not ru for any office. It is nice to hide out here in my ivory tower at wordpress, where it does not matter if no one “likes” me, I can tell the truth.

Police: A Critique from the Center for Mr. Bouchard

   Mr. Bouchard has come on the news to counter the criticism of police from the “far left” and the “far right,” saying that they need more support, for example training facilities. Have, then, a critique from the center. Without oversight of the executive, police cannot do their job, and are placed in even greater danger. If Police brutality goes without recourse, their bosses will be the brutalizers, because they will not be able to set examples of virtue to be followed, and clean their departments of the tough guys who follow the current fashion of winking at the law while enforcing it on others. If the rich do not care about the poor, the whites do not care when these things are perpetrated on the blacks, soon it will be your problem, and larger problems still, so that they will wish for the old days when we had these small problems. If police violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments routinely, because they do not understand the Constitution and have never read Federalist 51 or the Bill of Rights, they will lose the ability to conduct genuine investigations. If police conduct property seizures and take over judicial functions, protected by organized crime and the vice or greed of the municipalities, paying off judges to rule that they can in fact seize property without due process of law for their own profits, splitting the money with their brother in law who owns the legal chop shop, well, they just might be able to afford training facilities to perpetuate this ignorance. If police raid folks following the law, as occurred in Kalamazoo county, openly steal from them and then, when it is publicly agreed that this has occurred, nothing is done, and are given unconstitutional laws to enforce, as occurred in the U. S. for some 80 years on the Marijuana issue, it may be more difficult to enforce laws that do concern the violation of the rights of citizens, such as muggings, rapes and murders. If their locations and personal information are for sale because we have prostituted our internet to corporate interests, their job may be a bit more difficult as well. A whole police department had their computers seized by extortionists, and the FBI had to tell them to pay if they ever wanted to see their information again. Their congressmen had taken campaign money from the internet companies, who see only short term interests of their own, then find it is too late when the cyberhackers use the prostituted information. Oh, they didn’t think of that when ignoring the Bill of Rights for a few more bucks. If they courageously brutalize the poor and take their property while winking at organized crime, their jobs may soon not exist at all. If more money is spent surveying political writers than they ever get back in taxes, they may need to find a new source of funding, and new writers to uphold their interests. If they are allowed to slander and there is no recourse in the courts, they may wind up in a circumstance like the suburbs, where we have killed all the honeybees because bees sting, and now the bees have been replaced by the Bald Face Hornet, who swarm so badly they can kill a child, and produce no honey. And if police cannot distinguish between working for a tyranny and working for a free government, they may soon be unburdened of the distinction.

   Mr. Peters, Gary Peters, the Michigan Senator who ran for governor, had some comments in the news that showed he might understand the issues of police brutality, property seizures and the need for training, I bet he might have done something about the governor’s police beating up on the poor while the criminals take a wink, but maybe not, maybe the result would be the same.

   Mr Bouchard and others do not seem to realize that something new has happened in American politics after Boston, when our majority decided that the constitution could be set aside for these very important concerns of security. The police began to interfere with the liberty of citizens without due process and probable cause. This is new, and if we do not address the change, there will be more incentives like Baltimore until we do address it. The people in a majority cannot change the constitution, and this is why: Fear makes us shortsighted, and we find our small problems, like the stinger of the honeybee, are manageable with a little thought and patience, while the problems that replace them, like heads of a Hydra, Plato wrote, are much more difficult to manage. I am afraid we have sprayed out bees with overwhelming and thoughtless force, the American way, and now our children have not only hormonal poisons from the pesticides, but Bald Faced Hornets.

The Fourth and Fifth Amendments and Meaningful Recourse

NPR, on the Dianne Rehm show, has just aired a nice debate on the provision of the Patriot Act that did not really authorize the collection of all phone data as relevant, but rather, relevant data. Yea, not all searches are warranted, but only warranted searches. The one on the show who spoke for liberty gave a very nice summary of the James Otis issue, as is also on Wikipedia and my politics page, in the Fourth Amendment article. The Fourth Amendment is surprisingly fundamental.

Here is what is not being said. When there are abuses, something needs to happen, and currently there is no recourse, or nothing happens. Abuses are ignored, and there is no recourse-no lawyers to take federal cases, and no money to sue, as though everyone, Congress included were so afraid of ISIS and so intimidated by the NSA, convinced that the meaningful recourse which alone can protect liberty in these extra-constitutional times were itself the big danger to liberty. These times demand that we be able to hold complex thoughts, and the old patriotism which requires that no questions be asked is what is now outmoded. The participants in the debate mentioned oversight, but there was not a word about accountability and meaningful recourse. Both intelligence committees of congress say oversight of this sort, pertaining to the Bill of Rights, is not their job, and refer one to the agencies themselves, who of course treat questions of rights and the abuse of power as seriously as the police did before Baltimore. What happens when government surveillance destroys a life, not to mention the schizophrenic effect on the nation of total surveillance? Is there voluntary reporting of harms by the executive officers themselves? Like “Oops, we made a mistake, and we will do what we can to make it up to you, while correcting our system so that we do not harm the Americans, who hold the fate of liberty for the world now in their hands?” Or, “Since we do not want to make America weaker, we will voluntarily report when we think our surveillance and interference have caused harm that was not warranted.” And failing this voluntary recourse, is there a way for congress to respond, when the executive will not? For you, my reader, must know that it is the very essence of covert activity that it go undetected, making recourse usually in principle impossible.

And have we not heard the adage the executive officers have been telling themselves for twenty years now, that “what people do not know cannot hurt them?”

In order to comment on the NPR website for this show, I would be required to give information that will then be sold, by Google, Facebook, Twitter or Discus.

Are you listening Rand Paul? Ben Carson? Barack Obama? We insist on meaningful recourse. Now.