Indiana, Article V, and Delusions of Grandeur

Article V of the U.S. Constitution describes a couple of ways to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Amendments may be proposed by either:
#two-thirds of both houses of the United States Congress; or
#by a national convention assembled at the request of the legislatures of at least two-thirds of the states.

To become part of the Constitution, amendments must then be ratified either by approval of:

#the legislatures of three-fourths of the states; or
#state ratifying conventions held in three-fourths of the states.

Congress has discretion as to which method of ratification should be used.

The only amendment that isn’t permitted is to deprive a state of equal representation in the Senate without its consent.

Today, the Indiana Senate adopted SB 224 and 225 concerning a Constitutional Convention.

224 purports to limit a delegate’s authority to duties on which the delegate receives instruction by joint resolution of the Indiana General Assembly. 225 provides criteria for appointing a delegate – the person has to be over 18, an Indiana voter, not a lobbyist, and not a federal official. Votes for the delegate have to approved by majorities of each chamber.

I don’t have any particular objection to these provisions on their own terms. And if the provisions were just introduced in isolation, I wouldn’t mind the legislation as a “be prepared” measure that the General Assembly expected to gather dust over the decades. But it’s not an isolated measure. It’s of a piece with the John Birch Society Kool-Aid we’ve been seeing in the General Assembly lately: the nullificationists, the sovereign citizens, the Constitutional Sheriff’s movement – to name a few. It also comes combined with SJR 18 which tries to call a Constitutional Convention “strictly confined to consideration of amendments concerning the limitation of the commerce and taxing powers of Congress”. (Good luck picking just those two worms out of the can once you open it.)

There is a refusal to recognize that we are ordinary people living in ordinary times. Despite the reality that we have a moderate federal government making incremental changes, we hear cries of tyranny and desperate pleas to “take our country back.” This attitude is akin to — and, I think linked to — evangelical insistence that the end is nigh and persecution is everywhere. The Slacktivist speculates on the reason for the persistence of what he calls the “Christian Persecution Complex”:

[B]y pretending we’re a persecuted minority rather than the hegemonic majority we actually constitute, then we’re also able to pretend that we’re: 1) Noticeably different in our dreams, desires and daily lives from those otherwise indistinguishable-from-us neighbors who share our culture but not the particulars of our faith; and 2) Noticeably and intolerably more virtuous and righteous than those otherwise indistinguishable-from-us neighbors who share our culture but not the particulars of our faith.

My theory, in other words, is that we’ve chosen the illusion of self-righteousness over the actual hard work of becoming the kind of love-driven, love-shaped people Jesus called us to be.

In another context, I offered that it’s OK to be an insignificant part of an enormous universe:

It seems to me that, with some people, there is a driving need to see one’s self as a heroic figure in the consequential drama of one’s life. And that need leads to a view of the world that doesn’t comport with reality which, in turn, leads to interactions with the world that aren’t healthy and which aren’t helpful to others.

In this category, I also see the fervent believer with a personal relationship to God that helps them withstand the persecution that is everywhere while they are engaged in a noble effort to stand against evil; perhaps through a desperate battle to save America by battling its destructive cultural decline.

There hasn’t been a Constitutional Convention in the 230 years or so since our Constitution was adopted. There is no reason to think one is anywhere near the horizon; the Indiana Senate’s call to arms notwithstanding. Our time isn’t more laden with importance than normal. It’s grandiose to think it is. The barbarians are not at the gate. The bills don’t hurt anything on their own (though the resolution is irresponsible), but they look to be symptomatic of disturbing pathology in our political psyche.

In Fairness, It’s Not *All* Mitch’s Fault

I saw a short blog entry (h/t Josh Gillespie) referring to a Congressional Budget Office Report indicating that the 2001 budget projection was off by $11.8 trillion (pdf). The $5.6 trillion surplus we were headed for in 2001 turned into a $6.2 trillion deficit, largely on the strength of ill-advised tax cuts, a new Medicare prescription benefit, and a couple of unfunded wars.

In fairness, I don’t think Gov. Daniels had anything to do with the Medicare prescription benefit. And, really, I wouldn’t be picking on Gov. Daniels for this except that the mythology creeping up around him is that he “balanced the budget without raising taxes.” That mythology would require you to ignore the $2 billion+ we owe the feds because of our grossly underfunded unemployment insurance benefit program. It would also require you to ignore the 16% sales tax increase in Indiana.

The War Council

I’ve mentioned it before, and I will certainly mention it again, the Knight Ridder team, since acquired by McClatchy Newspapers practiced some stand-up journalism with respect to Iraq, asked some tough questions, and did not fall for the ginned up case for war in Iraq as most other news institutions did. (See generally: The Reporting Team That Got Iraq Right).

The tradition continues with Tom Lasseter’s report on the legal team responsible for the framework of detainee imprisonment in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. (A framework that has been rejected recently, at least with respect to the attempted evisceration of habeas corpus rights). This is not policy that comes from military minds who think the detainment framework is a good idea; rather it came from five lawyers high up in the Bush administration: 1) David Addington – Cheney’s chief of staff; 2) Alberto Gonzales – Disgraced, memory-challenged former Attorney General and White House counsel; 3) John “Torture Memo” Yoo – former member of the Office of Legal Counsel; 4) William J. Haynes II – Former Pentagon general counsel; suspected of wanting the military tribunals to operate as kangaroo courts and who abruptly resigned earlier this year; and 5) Timothy Flanigan – former deputy to Gonzales who resigned amidst mounting questions over his role in drafting the administration’s torture policy.

Their attempts to grab power for the President and generally avoid accountability appears to have made a hash of things:

Now it appears that reinterpreting the law to lift legal protections for detainees could backfire. On May 13, the Pentagon announced that it was dropping all charges against Mohammed al Qahtani, a Saudi man held in Guantanamo who’s accused of planning to take part in the 9-11 attacks as the “20th hijacker.”

The official overseeing the case, Susan J. Crawford, gave no reason for the move, which followed the leak of an interrogation log that detailed harsh attempts at Guantanamo to break Qahtani mentally. Among the methods used were forcing him to act like a dog, putting women’s underwear on his head, keeping him in stress positions and accusing him of homosexuality.

Military lawyers attempted to warn the five; dubbed “The War Counsel” but were shut out:

The military legal community complained, to little avail, that the policies hatched with the consent of Bush, Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were replacing decades of U.S. military policy on handling detainees.

When they protested, the War Council shut them out.

“We were absolutely marginalized,” said Donald J. Guter, a rear admiral who served as the Navy’s judge advocate general from 2000 to 2002. “I think it was intentional, because so many military JAGs spoke up about the rule of law.”

And, it goes on and on:

“What they were looking for was the minimum due process that we could get away with,” said Guter, who’s now the dean of Duquesne University’s law school. “I felt like they knew the answer they wanted to hear.”

Romig recalled tense discussions with Yoo in November and December 2001 about setting up military commissions to try detainees.

“John Yoo wanted to use military commissions in the manner they were used in the Indian wars,” Romig said. “I looked at him and said, ‘You know, that was 100-and-something years ago. You’re out of your mind; we’re talking about the law.’ ”

The military commissions that the U.S. used against Native Americans during the mid-19th century were often ad hoc and frequently resulted in natives being hanged or shot.

“As they viewed it, due process is legal mumbo jumbo,” said Romig, who’s now the dean of Washburn University’s law school. “They wanted to get them, get the facts and convict them. … If you’re caught as a terrorist, you’re presumed guilty and you have to prove you’re innocent. It was crazy.”

I just want to quote the whole damned article, which isn’t appropriate, so just go read the whole thing. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I’m not a religious guy. But, I probably get closest to idolatry with respect to my reverence for the Constitution. When you look at history and look at how miserable societies were generally with a dog-eat-dog sensibility that stemmed in large part from might equaling right, you start to realize how amazing our Constitution and system of justice has been. Sure, you can point to any number of bad results, but over all, the civilizing effect of our respect for the rule of law has been astounding. Then you have guys like Yoo and Addington who are willing to piss it all away for momentary (and largely illusory) gain. If I’m wrong about this religion thing, there’s a special place in hell for people like that.

Bush is #1

From a USA Today poll:

Meanwhile, Bush reached an unwelcome record. By 64%-31%, Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. For the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50% say they “strongly disapprove” of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous high, 48%, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974.

On the other hand, it looks like Cheney & Co.’s Iranian drum beat is having an effect:

Tough talk from President Bush and Vice President Cheney about Iran’s nuclear program seems to have generated concern about a potential threat and alarm about the prospect for premature U.S. military action.

That’s probably why you investigate articles of impeachment against Cheney — to muzzle him and remind everybody how wildly incorrect he has been before. (And the fact that once he is incorrect – he steadfastly remains incorrect, asserting claims long after they’re debunked.)

Be Afraid: Geek Wears Light Up Sweatshirt to Airport, faces charges

The AP has a story about a 19 year old MIT student who wore her career day sweatshirt to the airport. The sweatshirt was apparently a circuit board with wires. CNET has a little more information.

Simpson was wearing a black sweatshirt that had a circuit board with wires, green LED lights and a 9-volt battery attached to it. The back of Simpson’s sweatshirt said “socket to me…Course VI,” a reference to MIT’s electrical engineering and computer science program.Simpson is a second-year student in the electrical engineering and computer science department of MIT’s School of Engineering, according to the MIT Web site.

Security investigated her at gunpoint. Said the airport’s commanding officer, “She’s lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue.” According to Declan McCullaugh, she has been charged under Massachusetts “infernal machine” statute.

[F]or prosecutors to win their case, they must prove that (1) Star transported the LED-sweatshirt (2) “with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort.” (3) Also, a person must “reasonably” believe that the LED-sweatshirt was (4) a “device for endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both, by fire
or explosion.”

I don’t have any problem with airport security stopping this girl to see if she posed a threat. But these charges seem ridiculous to me.

Be Afraid: The Schools

Meranda Watling, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, brings us an article highlighting our collective fear for our children’s safety in and around school.

Safety and security in and around schools continue to grow tighter in response to tragedies and threats that weren’t as prevalent a decade ago. Schools require visitor sign-ins and badges, outfit students and staff with IDs and have officers walk the halls on a regular basis.

. . .

“The necessity for this is a sign of the times,” Francis said. “Since Columbine, it has increased every year. Our purpose is to try and do everything we can reasonably do” to protect students.

“Tragedies and threats that weren’t as prevalent a decade ago.” “Sign of the times” — It’s in the newspaper, so I guess it has to be true, but still I wonder. Are tragedies and threats really all that much more prevalent than in the hallowed days of yore? Certainly our perception of risk is greater than it was; but I have my doubts whether the risk is actually any greater. And, yet, statements asserting the increased risk probably aren’t even fact-checked. They’re taken for granted.

I tend to agree with the statement of Ian Green, quoted in the article:

For parent Ian Green, like his daughter, he said he feels safe and thinks schools do enough. He’d rather children not feel needlessly concerned all the time by unnecessary measures.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Nothing will stop it,” Green said. “But how far do you want to go?”

For my part, I get a little irritated with this unstated idea that humanity is progressively deteriorating from some mythic state of grace. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. With respect to safety in schools, there has to be some balance. Yes, we want our kids to be very safe. But, we don’t want our kids growing up in a miniature police state, becoming accustomed to subject themselves to the will of the government in the absence of a specific need.

Eek! Flour!

Hash House Harriers is a drinking club with a running problem. In this organization, “hares” are sent out to mark a trail for fellow route runners – the trail will have some dead ends, false leads, and shortcuts and almost always ends in some sort of beer consumption.

In Connecticut, two hares sprinkled flour in a shopping center parking lot to mark the trail. Apparently, this is a felony.

New Haven ophthalmologist Daniel Salchow, 36, and his sister, Dorothee, 31, who is visiting from Hamburg, Germany, were both charged with first-degree breach of peace, a felony.

. . .

“You see powder connected by arrows and chalk, you never know,” she said. “It could be a terrorist, it could be something more serious. We’re thankful it wasn’t, but there were a lot of resources that went into figuring that out.”

They should probably also round up this guy:

Another example of the consequences of governing through crime. We’re turning ourselves into cowards, essentially. If we get ourselves worked up into a panic over every potential threat, we’re not going to be much of a country. Sure, the potential threats are out there, but you have to weigh them against their actual likelihood. At times, our perception of risk far outpaces the actual risk (and, at times, we underestimate our risk — say, getting in a car, eating frankenfoods, or (probably) doing nothing about global warming.)

Be Afraid: Video Game Addiction

I am launching a new category here at Masson’s Blog – Be Afraid. We’ll see if I maintain it, but it seems to me that media of various stripes specialize in a kind of fear porn where lurking dangers in society are “exposed.” Fear is a useful and powerful emotion that can be hijacked by commercial interests. For a good discussion of some of this, I recommend Douglas Rushkoff’s “Coercion: Why we listen to what “they” say.

Today’s installment is relatively mild. The Indianapolis Star has an article entitled “Online video games can become a virtual obsession.”

Though not officially recognized as a medical condition, game addiction has fostered a tidal wave of anecdotal evidence about people who shun families and careers to devote huge chunks of their lives to games. More academic evidence is cropping up, as well as clinical treatment programs.

As a kid, I spent five years working at our local country club. Perhaps I could recommend a new story to the Star, because there is plenty of family shunning going on at golf courses all over the state.

The article describes a guy who spent an inordinate amount of time playing World of Warcraft, then gave it up when he had a kid. Now he limits himself to less time intensive video games but admits that he’d like to go back to playing. The whole article is cast in the language of addiction. But, to me, it sounds like a guy who was having fun with his hobby to the exclusion of some more sensible undertakings. When the big responsibility came along, however, he stepped up to the plate and started doing what needed to be done instead of what would have been more fun.

The article goes on to talk about those nefarious game designers who make their virtual worlds as addictive as possible. You mean they want to make their product as entertaining as possible? No kidding? Presumably the Star will be following up with tales of book addiction and movie addiction and addiction to escapist fiction in any other media that comes along.

Seems like my entire life, whenever something new comes along, there is some expert breathlessly proclaiming how the new thing means doom . . . DOOOM! I’m pretty sure that damn rock and roll music was going to ruin the Boomers. Before that, presumably, it was color movies and talking movies and the radio and God knows what else.