Help Haiti Privately not Publicly

January 16, 2010

The headline said it all, “US takes charge in Haiti – with troops, rescue aid”.  The President announced that “it will take years for America to rebuild Haiti”.  Has anyone in America in the last few days questioned in their minds the above statements?  Essentially, the question is, should the U.S. government provide relief to and rebuild Haiti which has been devastated by this week’s massive earthquake?

The answer is easily no.  We have enough problems of our own.  Now, the do-gooders who will respond to this posting, you know the ones who have no problem using other peoples’ money to rectify the world’s problems, always use their emotions over their head when it comes to situations like Haiti finds itself in right now.  There is no question that millions of Haitians are currently suffering.  When the smoke settles hundreds of thousands of people will be dead and injured.  Hundreds of thousands more will be homeless, orphaned, and truly destitute.  Every capable human being has a moral obligation to do their part to alleviate human misery on the small Caribbean island.  The question is not whether we should come to the aid of our southern neighbors, but how.

For the U.S. government to be involved in these relief efforts raises too many serious questions.  For instance, Uncle Sam has maintained an embargo against Castro’s Cuba for nearly 50 years.  It has certainly brought great harm to the common people in Cuba and their economic well-being.  Of course, the point of the embargo was to expedite the dictator’s fall.  But, what if a natural disaster were to befall Cuba?  Would the U.S. come to the aid of Raul Castro in the name of the Cuban people?  Is Castro’s island nation one natural disaster away from American aid that would negate close to 50 years of U.S. policy meant to impoverish Cuba and overthrow the communists?  Where does our government’s generosity end?

Another issue to consider is the historically corrupt Haitian government.  Why should we support it with our money?  It is no secret that one reason for Haiti’s incredible poverty is because of its government.  For decades, Port-au-Prince has seen one thief after another rule and embezzle what little wealth Haiti has.  Even the current president, Rene Preval is a crony of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  Preval himself once ignored his own parliament and ruled by presidential decree.  In the last election cycle the legitimacy of his win was questioned by poll watchers and the United Nations.  It was odd that in an interview just after the quake he mentioned that the tax office in the capital was destroyed before he said anything about the misery of his people.  Perhaps the building that provides his sustenance is more important to him than the people he was elected to serve.  It would be an outrage if public money from the U.S. was used to rebuild the parliament and presidential palace of a government that historically has stolen from its own people to the point where it has been left powerless to do anything to lessen the suffering of those people in this crisis.  What guarantee do we have that our money will not end up in the Swiss bank accounts of the charlatans that rule Haiti?

Lastly, if Washington is going to rebuild Haiti, what should that look like when it is completed?  Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere.  Is Washington going to rebuild it to its previous condition – a squalid domain replete with shacks, shanties, and schools and government buildings that do not conform to contemporary building codes?  Or is Haiti going to be rebuilt in our image?  Hey, I just had a great idea – let’s propose a Marshall Plan for the entire Caribbean Basin.  Let’s spend billions in the region building houses, factories, and of course government buildings so our neighbors can have full employment and never have to again experience being one natural disaster away from oblivion.  It will also make Washington look good at home by temporarily stimulating our economy and artificially inflating our GDP numbers.
Besides raising serious questions, Washington coming to the aid of Haiti is of course unconstitutional.  Even if you have a liberal (and therefore wrongheaded) interpretation of the Constitution, Congress’ power to “provide for the general welfare” was intended to apply to our homeland and not a foreign country.  Whenever, tragedies like this occur and our politicians offer to have the Federal Reserve print more money to help the victims, I remember the poignant tale originally published in “The Life of Colonel David Crockett,” by Edward Sylvester Ellis:

One day in the House of Representatives a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:
“Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.
“Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.
Simply, substitute Haiti for the widow of the distinguished naval officer and we have another example of Congress and the president going way beyond their jurisdiction under the Constitution.

As someone who has seen abject poverty in Latin America and Africa first hand, all of us share a humanity and have a moral obligation under either your God or the laws of nature to individually address this catastrophe.  The internet makes it simple to give money to whichever charity you feel most comfortable with.  George Clooney and MTV are talking about holding a telethon to raise funds.  The President and Mrs. Obama are appropriately using their celebrity through public service announcements to raise money.  Naturally, people on the ground are also needed to assist with rescue, cleanup, and rebuilding.  There are literally thousands of relief agencies around the world, not just American ones, who are there or could be there soon.  Give to those organizations or donate your time in some capacity.  These efforts would be much more effective than the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. will throw at Haiti.  They will ensure that bureaucrats making six figures don’t eat up a large part of every dollar donated.  Ultimately, private efforts will eliminate the serious questions government aid raises and preserve the Constitution as the Supreme Law of our land.

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Solve Problems, Repeal the 17th Amendment

January 10, 2010

The 17th Amendment (direct election of senators) to the U.S. Constitution should be repealed.  It has done more damage to the integrity of our political system than almost anything else.  It has made it easy for Congress to enact unconstitutional laws, destroyed federalism, which was an important check on federal power, and has ironically given more power to special interest groups over the people it was intended to benefit the most – the common citizen.

Now, on the surface, there were good reasons for the 17th Amendment and I am not about to question the motives of a generation of politicians that also gave us the income tax, Federal Reserve System, and a slew of federal bureaucracies.  The amendment came about because the legislature appointment system was fraught with peril.  There were times when consecutive state legislatures sent competing senators to Congress, forcing the Senate to determine which member was the rightful representative.  It was also tainted by bribery, nepotism, and corruption.  Lastly, it was felt that giving the people the ability to directly choose their senators through the ballot box was a much more democratic process than the legislature appointment process which all too often consisted of backroom deals in state capitals.

However, the politicians of that time, much like our own, did not consider the long-term effects of their actions and were not versed in constitutional doctrine.  Because if they were the 17th would have been met with great resistance.  For one thing, it has led to the enactment of many unconstitutional laws – laws that are within the jurisdiction of the states under the Constitution.  If you read this blog on a regular basis you will recall that Congress has 18 enumerated powers under Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution.  All others, like environmental law, disabled persons’ acts, healthcare, education legislation, and so forth are the domain of state legislatures solely under the 10th Amendment.   Recently, I had someone comment that at the end of Article 1 section 8 it says, “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof” implying that Congress has “other powers” like education, healthcare etc… not specified in that section.  Wrong.  Correctly read, the “other powers” refers to making laws necessary for carrying out duties of the other areas of the government.  An example is found in Article 2 Section 2 where Congress has the power to by law make certain appointments.

The bottom line is that the appointment of senators by state legislatures was set up to prevent the federal government from usurping the powers of the states thereby violating the Constitution.  According to the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, the “enumeration of [federal] powers” in the Constitution would never be sufficient to restrain the tyrannical proclivities of the central state, and were mere “parchment barriers” to tyranny.  He went on to say, Structural arrangements, such as the appointment of senators by state legislatures, were necessary.  What the 17th Amendment has effectively done is make senators agents of the federal government and not representatives of state interests thus eliminating a vital safeguard against federal intrusion into states rights under the Constitution.

Where this is realized the most is in the area of unfunded mandates.  Senators pass all sorts of measures which cost trillions of dollars knowing it will help them get reelected and will be paid for by the Federal Reserve’s monetization of debt.  The states do not enjoy the same luxury as the feds in terms of paying for costly programs imposed on them from Washington.  They don’t have a printing press that will produce devalued currency at will.  If senators were chosen by state legislatures they would be beholden to them and not their parties or themselves for reelection.  Thus they would have to do what is in the best interest of their states alone.  The recent healthcare debacle in the senate would never have been considered let alone passed the way it was passed if senators were still chosen by state legislatures.  In the first place, healthcare at the federal level is unconstitutional because it is a usurpation of states’ rights.  Secondly, the costs (unfunded mandates) it will place on the states would never have been agreed to by senators chosen by state officials.  Thirdly, the 47 senators who did not get sweetheart deals for their states in exchange for their votes could never have supported the measure without something for their constituency.  The unfairness of the process speaks for itself.  The whole process would have broken down before it even got started, thus preventing the catastrophe which will result when the measure is ultimately passed.

Probably the biggest reason the 17th Amendment should be repealed is because it doesn’t serve the constituency it was meant to – the people.  Instead, the amendment serves the political parties and their special interests.  Would there have been huge bailouts for Wall Street under legislative appointment of senators?  Would there have been a healthcare bill passed by the senate which benefits the insurance companies by mandating that all Americans purchase health insurance?  You see senators pass these egregious handouts because they know that those same special interests that benefitted from their largess will be there for them with lots of cash at election time.  The rest of us are left holding the tab.  Under legislative appointment, senators would be restricted from doling out federal goodies unless it benefitted the people in their states and even then those goodies would have to benefit at least 25 other states for them to pass – a tall order to say the least.  Imagine how small our national debt would be!

Repealing the 17th Amendment does not preclude the direct election of senators by the people.  State legislatures would have the power to continue the current system.  Further, we have the communication technology today to uncover the bribery, corruption, and nepotism that may result from a return to the previous system – the Roland Burris case is a good example.  Lastly, put democracy aside for a moment.  Aren’t the state legislators who would appoint the senators elected by the people?  We the people would still wield significant power over those who served our interests in the Senate in Washington.  To return our federal government to its constitutional principles, clean up our financial house, and take back control from political hacks and special interests and return it to the people, the 17th Amendment must go!