Tuesday, July 31, 2012


He’s no kin of mine, not really. He’s my son’s nephew. My grandson’s cousin.

Chris Monroe is in the army. Over in Afghanistan. He’s a bright young man and a wonderful writer. And heart. Chris has plenty of heart in every sense of that word.

He writes a blog for the folks back home. Take a minute right now to read a couple of them:


I never had the burden – or the privilege – of military service. Too young for WWII, married with a dependent family during Korea, and over the hill when Viet Nam was the theater of battle.

It’s hard for me to understand and appreciate the courage, the commitment and the discipline that are demanded of the young people who serve in our armed forces today.

Like many Americans, I tend to think of war in political terms.

Good wars, bad wars. Smart wars, dumb wars. Undeclared wars and wars against ephemeral things like terrorism that don’t wear uniforms or abide by civilized traditions of warfare.

Tennyson captured the soldier’s creed in his immortal poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

“Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.”

I suppose that’s the way it must be. In order to function amidst the mayhem, to do your job in the face of slaughter you must either be very sure that what you are doing must be done, or else very immune from asking any questions.

But someday they will come home. And some day the 25 year olds will be 35 and 45 and 55.

And they will remember, as Chris Monroe will remember, comrades who didn’t come back, or came home mutilated. Comrades who were like family on a distant battlefield.

Will they ask questions then?

What exactly was it they were trying to do in that Godforsaken place?

What was the President thinking? What did Congress want to accomplish?

Why did we go there? Why did we stay there?

Was it to punish the people who destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon?

Was it to liberate Afghan women and make sure their girls got an education?

Was it to establish a democratic government there? One that would be friendly toward the United States?

Was it to interdict the opium traffic? Or to protect sources of Middle Eastern oil?

Was it all about religion? Or money?

It is trite to say that we live in a dangerous world. Not every tsunami is caused by an earthquake. Slaughter in a Colorado movie theater is as senseless, unpredictable and inevitable as madness and sin.

We cannot prevent a recurrence of 9-11 by watering down the constitutional rights of the American people or invading foreign countries and setting up agreeable governments.

There is no guarantee that people liberated from tyrannical leaders will not install another government equally unfriendly to the United States.

Our constitution was written, among other things, to provide for the common defense. There is nothing in the preamble about manifest destiny. Nothing about going on offense.

It gives the power to declare war to the representatives of the people. To the Congress, not to the President.

Perhaps, some day when Chris Monroe and his comrades have come home, there will be a time for civilized dialog in America. A time to reason why, before we send more young men and women into harm’s way to do or die.

I certainly hope so.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Back in 1969, when I was Chief Justice of Michigan, there had been a scandal involving a judge who wasn’t paying his income taxes. In fact, he hadn’t even filed tax returns for a number of years.

Very embarrassing. As the state’s highest ranking judicial officer, I thought it my duty to set a good example and try to restore some of the court’s good name.

So I filed my tax returns in the County Clerk’s office for public inspection.

The net result was a brief story in the newspapers under a headline that said something like “Brennan Tax Returns Are Boring.”

No other judge followed my example, and that was the end of the noble experiment. I did, however, continue to file my returns publicly as long as I was on the bench.

I got to reflecting on those days in light of the current controversy about Mitt Romney’s tax returns. The Democrats and even some Republicans want Romney to publish all of his tax returns, not just the last couple of years.

I’m not so sure. For one thing, the Romney tax returns are not like mine. They certainly aren’t boring, at least not in the sense that mine are. Mitt Romney is a wealthy and successful businessman. His tax returns run into the hundreds of pages, and doubtlessly contain thousands of details about his business activities.

That, of course, is why his political opponents want them made public. They hope to find a treasure of juicy facts and figures that will bolster the narrative about Romney being a heartless business tycoon.

The Republicans have perhaps a different reason for joining the chorus.

They may feel that refusal to publish the returns could create a suspicion that the tax returns might show something illegal, shady or questionable.

I doubt that. The IRS is part of the executive branch of the federal government. That’s the branch which answers to the President of the United States.

Does anyone doubt that Mitt Romney’s tax returns have been meticulously audited by the IRS for any possible flaws, mistakes, or omissions?

Does anyone doubt that if there were any plausible legal criticism of Mitt Romney’s tax returns, it would already have been known by the White House and leaked to the press?

No sir, the whole thing is political. It’s all a matter of trying to paint a candidate for President as someone who isn’t forthcoming to the American people.

That goes both ways. Here is what I would advise Mitt Romney to do:

If and when he is nominated by the GOP in Tampa, his campaign should tender a box of documents for public release, including tax returns, birth certificate, baptismal records, school transcripts from elementary through University, all passports, copies of all applications for employment, scholarships, or grants, social security records, bar examination records, Bar admission, discipline and resignation records, driver’s license records, draft board and military records and medical records.

To be opened when, as and if his opponent tenders exactly the same records for public inspection.

I sent a similar note to a good liberal friend. He responded by calling me a ‘birther.’

‘Birther.’ That’s a pejorative term for people who question the President’s qualification as a natural born citizen of the United States. It’s supposed to suggest that a person is unreasonably obsessed, maybe a little goofy.

That’s what you do in politics these days. You don’t debate issues, philosophies and ideas. You call names.

Maybe we should just label those who want to see Mitt Romney’s tax returns “taxees.” With a sneer and a giggle.

Then we could put all the birthers and the taxees in a room, lock the door and leave them to decide what the American people need to know about Presidential candidates.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


It’s kind of heady stuff when your very accomplished, professional author daughter calls and asks for your opinion.

It got me thinking.

Maybeth was writing her column for the Washington Times about the latest “Story” book by Annie Leonard. She’s the author of “The Story of Stuff,” a staple in elementary school curricula, which demonizes capitalism.

This one is “The Story of Change.” It advocates a government mandated “new economy” which would put an end to free markets and free enterprise.

Leonard argues that “the purpose of an economic system is to organize human activities in ways that support healthy and resilient human communities and ecosystems for both present and future generations”

Marybeth wanted to know how I would define America’s economic system.

Big order. I gave her a short version about freedom, and she took it from there.

Still, it got me to thinking.

Wikipedia defines Economics as “the social science that analyzes the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.” I would add the words “by human beings.” Economics is all about people.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that human beings are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our Constitution does not mandate an economic system. It is a system of government created by free people for a free people. It assumes that our economic system, to the extent that we have a system at all, is nothing more than the sum total of our individual pursuits of happiness.

The problem with studying economics is that analyzing what people do generally leads to predicting what people will do, which leads to organizing what people do, which leads to telling them what to do.

Everybody wants to control human behavior. Parents, teachers, advertisers, churches, bosses, homeowners associations, city, state and federal governments, the Federal Reserve, the United Nations and God Almighty.

Only God has got it right. He tells us what we ought to do, but then He lets us do whatever we choose to do. It’s called free will. By making us live with the consequences of our choices, He teaches us how to live.

Dwight Eisenhower had a great way of saying it. “We must act in our enlightened self interest.”

That means pursuing happiness according to our own vision, our own ideas, our own personal goals and ambitions, and our own best judgment, then taking the lumps that come with failure and reaping the harvest that comes with success.

Only California has a constitution which asserts that its residents have the right of pursuing and obtaining happiness. That kind of utopian optimism is probably the result of too much sunshine.

Still, the search for collective happiness through collective action is a temptation which fires up a lot of people these days.

The Prophet in Chief of collectivism is the President of the United States. He reminds us that every Horatio Alger had to walk on the public road, get mail from the Post Office, and save his money in a bank protected by the FDIC.

True enough. But the vast majority of people who walk on the public roads, get their mail from the Post Office and put money in an FDIC protected bank don’t start businesses, don’t employ other people, don’t make significant personal contributions to the economies of their state and the nation.

Mitt Romney did.

Mitt Romney knows that the economy of a free people cannot be managed.

Mitt Romney knows that the best economic system is one that is founded on the natural desire of people to pursue their own happiness, one that rewards success and penalizes failure, where every person has the right fairly and legitimately to acquire and accumulate private property and to determine the objects of their own benefaction.

So the issue in November is clear, and it will determine the fate of the nation.

Friday, July 13, 2012


One hour and fifty-six minutes. That’s all it takes to understand what’s happening to our country and how to fix it.

You haven’t the time, you say? Too busy with tweets and twitters? Getting carpel tunnel syndrome just deleting all the news, views and boos that fill your email inbox every day?

So was I until this came along. It’s a documentary about money. Historical, factual, thoughtful and extremely rational.


I suppose one reason I was so impressed with Bill Still’s wonderful video is that he says some things I have believed in my gut for a long time.

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives the Congress the power to borrow money, to coin money and to regulate the value thereof.

I never could figure out why it would ever be necessary to borrow money if you have the power to coin money.

Thomas Jefferson said that if there was one amendment to the constitution that he could write it would be that the United States government is prohibited from borrowing money.

The national debt is now over 15 trillion dollars. We borrow more money to pay the interest on the national debt. Then, we borrow money to run the government.

Makes no sense.

We mint coins and we issue them. We pay no interest on the coins we issue. Why should we pay interest on paper money? We print the bills and sell them to the Fed for pennies on the dollar. Then we borrow it back, pay interest on the face value and give the money we borrowed away. Or spend it.

Makes no sense.

They tell us that the more we borrow, the more money there is in circulation. The ten dollar bill in your wallet says that it is a Federal Reserve note. A note is nothing but an I.O.U. And if you take your note to the Federal Reserve and tell them you have come to collect on the I.O.U., what will they give you? Two fives, ten ones, maybe. More notes. More I.O.U.s.

Makes no sense.

Ron Paul crusades against the Federal Reserve. He wants them audited. He wants them abolished. Like many conservatives, Paul favors returning to the gold standard. The Wizard of Oz video argues that the gold standard is an invitation to manipulation by those who accumulate gold.

In finance, the golden rule is: he who has the gold makes the rules. That’s what has happened in the past.

But the argument against fiat money is also supported by history. If there is no limit to the amount of money that can be printed except the will power of public officials, those officials will sooner or later give in to the temptation to turn the crank enthusiastically until the currency isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

There is a third way. The constitution which empowers our government to coin money should also empower it to issue certificates of legal tender – greenbacks, if you will – in an amount not to exceed a certain multiple of the population as determined by the most recent census.

Money is, after all, just a medium of exchange. The more people there are, the more money is needed. Increasing the money supply to serve a larger population is not inflationary.

The constitution should prohibit borrowing for any purpose, but when Congress declares war, it should be able to increase the greenback ceiling, temporarily.

I’m sure there is much more to be said about this by people more knowledgeable about finance than I, but I submit that the time has come for all concerned citizens to discuss, debate and decide what must be done before we experience the modern version of Greek tragedy.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Couldn't sleep in this morning, as my mind kept rolling over your email.

Lord Acton's famous 1885 quote, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" was not the first such observation. William Pitt made a similar statement to the English House of Lords in 1770.

The Founders of our nation who met in Philadelphia were equally aware of the evils of political corruption.

And they knew that the sin of greed is not unique to the rich and powerful. To be sure, Wall Street is greedy, but so is Main Street. History proves that democracies carry the seeds of their own destruction. When people believe they can vote themselves comfort and security, their collective decisions will bankrupt the government.

Our founders knew that no democracy in history had survived more than 200 years. They didn't trust democracy and they didn't intend to create a democracy.

When the constitution was written, a lady asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government we were to have, and he replied. " A Republic, Madam. If you can keep it."

Article IV, Section 4 of the US Constitution says that the United States shall guarantee that every state shall have a republican form of government.

What is the difference between a democracy and a republic?

In a democracy, the people rule. There are no restraints on the majority. Public opinion is the law.

In a republic, the people are ruled by their elected representatives.

In both cases, the people make the constitution which is the blueprint for government. In theory, constitutions are made by the "whole people" and not just a majority. Some constitutions are created by force, in which case the winning side presumes to speak for the whole people. Others, like our federal constitution, are created by super majority plebiscites.

One problem with a democracy is the attitude that "if the people made the constitution, the people can change it or simply ignore it." In a republic, the officials are sworn to uphold the constitution, which only the people can change.

The United States of America is a unique nation in that it is a federal republic consisting of fifty separate and sovereign state republics. I know of no other modern nation which is so constituted.

The first person to label the United States as a democracy was Woodrow Wilson, who lead us into the first World War "to make the world safe for democracy."

We call ourselves a democracy to be distinguished from totalitarian regimes where dictators come to power and remain in power by force.

More accurately, we are a "democratic republic" that is, a nation wherein the people have agreed to be governed by popularly elected officials who are constrained by a popularly adopted constitution.

I share your concern about the corrupting effects of large amounts of money in politics. The numbers you cite are mind numbing, to be sure. But they are largely the result of the growth of our population.

When a Congressman represents 700,000 people, he or she has to spend a lot of money to be reelected. And so does the candidate who seeks to defeat him or her.

Communication at that level is expensive. TV, mass mail, staffing, expert campaign design and advice all cost money. To suggest that you can cut the cost by forbidding donations or spending is a fool's errand.

And the worst thing to do is to provide public funding for political campaigns. Public funding laws are written by incumbent politicians. Why would anyone think that such laws would not favor incumbent politicians?

Mandatory voting laws are also an illusory benefit. Just watch Jay Leno interview the man in the street and you can see the level of public sophistication about our government. Mandatory voting laws are another reelection guarantee for incumbents. Witness the 99% turnouts in countries ruled by dictators. People who go to the polls at the point of a bayonet are most likely to vote for the guy with the gun.

Enough for now, Harold.