Thursday, October 30, 2008


As of yesterday, the U.S. national debt was $10,530,350,651,098.48. That's almost 10.6 trillion dollars, and 10.6 trillion dollars is the limit which Congress has imposed on federal borrowing. The Secretary of the Treasury has urged Congress to increase the debt limit to 11.3 trillion.

How long do you suppose that will last?

Ten trillion is too big a number to be easily understood. How about this number: you and I and every last man woman and child in this great nation is in hock for $34,525.

Liberal economists used to shrug off such numbers by saying, "We owe the national debt to ourselves, so what does it matter?" Not so, anymore. We owe it to the Chinese, the Saudis, the British. We owe it to all the nations of the European Union. No doubt we owe some of it to Osama Ben Laden's family if not to him.

Back in the Eighties, when Ronald Reagan was President, there was a rather vigorous effort to adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some thirty-two of the required thirty-four state legislatures petitioned the Congress to call a convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment.

Many of the states, and President Reagan himself, were not really intent on getting a convention as contemplated by Article V of the Constitution. They just wanted to threaten a convention, in hopes that Congress would propose a balanced budget amendment and send it to the states to be ratified.

I never thought they were wise. Hoping that Congress would propose a constitutional amendment with real teeth in it is like hoping the fox will guard the hen house. The only realistic path to saving the nation from bankkruptcy is to call an Article V convention.

I know. I know. All the pundits and the academics wring their hands at the mention of an Article V convention. They posit all kinds of horror stories, claiming that a convention can rewrite the Bill of rights. And on and on. Crapola folks. Sheer crapola. An Article V convention can't change a word of the constitution. All it can do is propose amendments. Nothing that comes out of a convention gets into the constitution until Congress sends it to the states and three fourths of the states - 38 - have ratified the amendment.

One has only to remember the ineffectual Graham-Rudman Act to realize how Congress would propose a toothless amendment, even if it were bludgeoned into doing something to ward off a convention.

A real, meaningful, effective balanced budget amendment would have to be simple, clear, and automatic. Here is some language I think worthy of consideration:

"The Congress shall not adopt a deficit budget except in time of national emergency. Members of Congress shall receive no compensation for services rendered during a national emergency."

It will take a convention to get those words into our constitution. Either we are a mature people capable of self government or we aren't. It's time for a gut check.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


The candidates for President of the United States this year have both heralded the need for change in Washington. Both have laid claim to being the better agent for change, and both have railed against 'business as usual' in the nation's capital.

Unhappily, neither candidate has addressed the kind of change that is required if our noble experiment in human governance is to survive on this planet.

Ours is a constitutional, federal, republic. At least that is the form of government envisioned by the founding fathers at Philadelphia in 1789. Unhappily, we have evolved into something else. What exactly is the United States of America in 2008?

Certainly not constitutional. The battle between 'strict constructionists' and 'liberal interpreters' has long since been won by those who expect the Supreme Court of the United States to make pragmatic decisions 'for the good of the country.' Whether it's Roe v Wade or Bush v Gore, the rule is the same. Nose count jurisprudence. Five votes own the constitution. The Supreme Law of the Land is now the Supreme Court of the United States. In the minds of average Americans, the Court's decisions are not final because they are right. They are right because they are final.

Is our form of government still federal, as designed by James Madison and his confreres? Not hardly. One has only to listen to the campaign speeches of 2008 to understand that our national government is expected to legislate on every minute detail of our lives. Our investments, our jobs, our health care, our schools, our sex lives, crime in our streets, pollution in our air, even the air in our tires are all subjects to be regulated, controlled, obliterated or encouraged by Uncle Sam.

Are we still a republic? Alexis DeTocqueville's eighteenth century treatise, Democracy in America touches on the eventual decline of our self government. He perceived that the myopic self interest of voters would eventually lead to the establishment of an omnipotent ruling class that the people would retain in office by a rote exercise of reelection. When members of Congress vote themselves lifetime compensation and then 90 or 95 per cent of them are reelected, DeTocqueville begins to look rather prescient.

Article V of the United States Constitution provides that upon petition of two thirds of the state legislatures, the Congress shall call a convention for proposing amendments to the constitution. When proposed by the convention, each amendment needs the ratification of three quarters of the states. Despite the fact that over four hundred such petitions have been addressed to the Congress, and despite the fact that every state in the union has petitoned for a convention, the Congress stoutly refuses even to hold hearings on the subject.

If the people of the fifty states really want change - real change - an Article V Convention is the right way, indeed the only way, to accomplish it.

Unfortunately, the opinion makers in America, both liberal and conservative, are afraid of true democracy, suspicious of each other, and so divided in their loyalties that the notion of a three fourths consensus on even the most axiomatic principles of representative governance is seen as improbable.

I wrote a law review article thirty years ago entitled Return to Philadelphia. it was plea to use Article V as intended by the founders. That article can still be seen on the web site of the Friends of Article V, I stand by it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


The talking heads on TV are having a field day telling each other what Governor Sarah Palin should say tonight when she debates Senator Joe Biden. None of them have suggested anything near what I would recommend.

For what it's worth, I would advise the Governor to make a statement something like this the first time she gets a chance to talk:

"I am a candidate for Vice President of the United States. The principal duty of that office is to serve as the presiding officer of the United States Senate. Secondarily, the Vice President should support the President and prepare herself for the unlikely, but grave possibility that she may be called upon to assume the office of President.

I am not running for Secretary of State, nor for Secretary of the Treasury, nor for Secretary of the Interior. I do not believe Senator McCain asked me to join his ticket because he thought I was an expert in foreign relations or the economy. I believe he chose me because he felt that I have the temerament, the intellect, the experience, and the heart to be his Vice President.

I was honored, complimented and humbled by his decision. I have the greatest respect for Senator McCain, and while we do not agree on every issue, I believe that I can support his policies with vigor and enthuasiasm.

I believe that I have a strong work ethic. In the few weeks since I was nominated, I have been trying to assimilate a working knowledge of the national issues that are critical in this election, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate them with Senator Biden."

If she starts out with that kind of a disclamer, she will win many, many friends and admirers, thousands of votes, and maybe just win the debate as well.