Value of the U.S. Constitution

Typically I don’t read Slate.com, for a variety of reason, but a friend of mine brought a recent article of theirs to my attention. The article of course being where judge Richard A. Posner states he doesn’t see any value to spend “decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution.” His point comes as a sidenote at the end of the brief article, but he goes on to elaborate his reasoning, claiming “Eighteenth-century guys, however smart, could not foresee the culture, technology, etc., of the 21stcentury. Which means that the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the post–Civil War amendments (including the 14th), do not speak to today.”

This comes as shocking to many Americans, especially those that the constitution dear to their heart. The federalist spirit is still alive and well, the belief that for a properly functioning government we need a strict reading of the constitution. That’s where we get the modern term “constitutional conservative” people like to identify as. To clearly show the severity that some people take it to, it’s hard to forget former House Majority Leader Tom Delay’s statement that “God wrote the constitution.” These sentiments have been echoed constantly throughout our nation’s history, but conservatives have come to expect strong constitutional convictions ever since the Reagan era, to a near religious level. In fact in a speech in 1987 Reagan said about the constitution “It is a human covenant, yes, and beyond that, a covenant with the Supreme Being to whom our founding fathers did constantly appeal for assistance.”

Somehow the constitution of the United States has been elevated to the status of a religious document in the minds of many Americans. Obviously Richard Posner’s statement directly conflicts with this.

If Tom Delay really believes that God wrote the constitution, then by his rationale the constitution must be a perfect document (assuming he believes God is perfect). Which is absurd to believe, because the very fact that we have amendments is enough to admit that the constitution is not nearly perfect. And these were some very glaring mistakes too, causing changes in everything from the abolition of slavery, to changing congress meeting dates from December to January.

But the real question still stands at of how much validity the constitution has in these modern times. Theoretically the ability to add amendments should keep the constitution relevant in response to new events, however, it can be notoriously difficult to get a new amendment passed. And even so, there is the obvious problem that perhaps something passed may turn out to be wrong. The constitution was not crafted by God, which leaves room for an extreme error in human reasoning which could result in any number of inappropriate legislature.

Ultimately the constitution is political philosophy put into practice, and therefore the original document represents the consensus of political philosophy at the time. Or, at the least what could be agreed upon at the time. With this reasoning I would like to see more leeway to changes based upon the contemporary philosophical opinions. This sounds obscure, but I promise it has very real effects.

Perhaps the best example of this idea is the FDR’s proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights” to secure economic rights. Roosevelt proposed this idea in 1944 after his State of the Union address, likely as a response to the earlier depression that his administration was famous for confronting. A full video of the rights can be found here, but the Second Bill of Rights would include in his own words:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

There would have to be some definite tweaks to this list, and a few updates to fit with modern times, but otherwise these seem like basic human rights which the constitution does not provide.

My point here is that FDR’s Second Bill of Rights was the culmination of events that happened throughout the Great Depression and this was his conclusion to prevent another such disaster. This is the type of liberty a congress should have to insure the freedom of all Americans and to effectively respond to new issues. However, with this sort of liberty there is always the chance of the power being abused. So to counteract this I’d propose that for every amendment and new legislation that congress outline their exact logic behind the changes, in a step-by-step geometrical fashion. This way we can have a government truly based on reason while encouraging the questioning of our own philosophical groundwork.

 

 

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Criticism of the Sanders Campaign

The 2nd Democratic debate last night revealed some interesting things about the Democratic Party. Each candidate had their own moment, for Sanders it was the quote “I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower“, and for O’Malley it was calling Trump an “Immigrant-Bashing carnival barker” and oddly enough for Clinton, it was using 9/11 to justify taking corporate donations. But it was about all that was expected.

Many of the  internet polls after the debate showed Sanders to have won the debate by at least 70%-90%, but many still proclaim for the average viewer that Clinton won the debate. This comes at an unfortunate time, the latest poll shows that in the early voting state of New Hampshire Clinton leads by 21 points, just last months Sanders was leading. The results are similar in Iowa, while Sanders and Clinton were tied at one point, Clinton now leads by over 18 points.Read More »

Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

After the night of fury and chaos in Paris, the world is still dazed. It’s being reported that 129 people were murdered, but with many more still injured and in critical condition. President Francois Hollande called the attacks an “Act of war“. And although the French government has only just begun to identify the attackers (You can read the passport nationalities further down in the Reuters article) ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attack. It is too early yet to know anything for sure.

This attack comes just months after the ruthless slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo office in France. Using the recent past as a guide, it is possible to make assumptions on the aftermath of the attack.

What was unique about the Charlie Hebdo attack was that since it specifically targeted the magazine, the event sparked a wave of free speech sentiment. But what was typical about it was the jailing of 69 people that spoke differently by the French government, most notably the French comedian Dieudonne. This was mostly ignored. Alongside of this came the rise in right-wing fascist activity in Europe, calling for the removal of Muslim immigrants. Of course a surge of Nationalism took place in many other groups as well.Read More »

Analysis of Luck

The phrase “I’m feeling lucky” is a phrase that is not just misused, but also doesn’t really make sense. In gambling, people often rely on using their luck to guide them through a game, or even worse, to justify entering the game in the first place. People can claim to have either good luck or bad luck, but only when something good or bad happens to them. It takes an analysis of the term ‘luck’ to understand why.

When people do claim that they have good luck, often times it is a mystical claim. The phrase admits that their being is outside of their control, and the forces they claim to provide them with either good situations, or bad situations. If a person loses a hand in poker he may say “Oh I have bad luck,” instead of “Oh, I shouldn’t have played that hand,” the second phrase which assumes the blame to be on the person instead of the idea of luck. One reason people may claim to have bad luck is to shift the blame from themselves to the mystical force of luck.Read More »

B.B. King Tribute Event

Today the city of Memphis put on a tribute concert in W.C. Handy Park just off Beale Street for the late B.B. King. There was a light rain up until 11 a.m. when the concert started, then picking up later in the show with a brief downpour. The rain didn’t seem to bother the lighthearted crowd, in fact a few of them were dancing in the rain in front of the stage. I was lucky enough to get a second row seat in front of the stage, seeing how the first row was reserved for family and friends of B.B.

LucilleBefore the show and whenever the rain lightened up, Lucille and one of B.B.’s amps were displayed on the front of the stage, and of course a crowd gathered in front all madly taking pictures. There was barely a hint of mourning in the crowd. Everyone was in good spirits, drinking beer and discussing old stories of B.B. and other blues artists. There was a slew of speakers including the mayor of Memphis, and my personal favorite being B.B. King’s drummer Tony Coleman. Mr. Coleman went on and told stories of when he first met King and what a great man he became of it, and even did a pretty good impression of King too. Afterwards he went back and played drums with the rest of the All-Star band and Coleman sang lead on “The Thrill is Gone”.

The very last performance was done by Bobby Rush, a long time friend of B.B. At the end of the tribute Rush came out and said a few words for King and read a verse from the bible. As the last tribute of the day Mr. Rush pulled out his harmonica and did a lone performance of “When the Saints go Marching in.” The crowd sang along and when it was over we all marched out to Beale Street and waited for the hearse to arrive.

Crowds gathering on Beale St. for the procession.
Crowds gathering on Beale St. for the procession.

It was emphasized throughout the concert that B.B. was a man of love and that’s how we should remember him, and that’s just how it was. In the crowd we were all friends. There was no fear or discrimination, no cruelty or selfishness, we were all there not to mourn his death but to celebrate his life. While waiting for the procession to come through someone pointed out to me that the it’s hard for a crowd to gather that large in Memphis without a riot starting. Even though I’ve been a lifelong fan of King, I’ve only lived in Memphis a few short months. It was easy to see the tragedy that struck the city and it was the only thing that could have unified the people in such a way.

Eventually the hearse came through carrying B.B.’s body following a brass band playing in the street. Once it passed, the crowds dispersed with most going home or a few sticking around for some shopping and grabbing a bite to eat. Many of the speakers and performers could be seen walking around Beale Street in the shops and restaurants, all of them happy to stop and talk about the blues. Within the hour it was clear when the event had died down, and it was time to go home.

Graffiti on the wall entering W.C. Handy Park.
Graffiti on the wall entering W.C. Handy Park.

For B.B. King

King

It’s not the greatest way to start the day by waking up and seeing a text that says B.B. King died. But still life goes on. If I had my choice I would have stayed home under my covers and listened to his early work all day, but life goes on and that wasn’t an option.

Until this morning, I never realized how much of an influence B.B. had on me. I was maybe 13 at the time, still trying to learn to play AC/DC songs on guitar when it just wasn’t working for me. My fingers didn’t move like that. Of course I wanted to play guitar and that was the only music I listened to. So I searched on Youtube to explore my options and this came up. That’s B.B. King playing Blues Boy Tune live. There was something about it that changed me. Here was this man, fairly old, sitting down to play guitar. I didn’t know much about him except he didn’t look like any guitar player I’d ever seen, but those first four notes killed me.

The beautiful tone and they way King holds his vibrato, it really was like nothing else. He was a man putting so much passion and soul into his work it’s a wonder his being wasn’t bleeding out of him. That’s the first time I heard soul put into art over technique. B.B. changed it all for me. I switched up my style and played nothing but blues from there on out.

I heard the King and then I went back some. I picked up some Muddy Waters, Son House, Lightin’ Hopkins, Bukka White, Sonny Boy  Williamson, really any blues I could get my hands on. But still it all led back to B.B. and nobody else had quite the same effect on me. Later I got into the British Invasion and The Rolling Stones, but I’ll talk about that another time.

He really was a true performer. He worked for every dollar he made, it was reported that there were times when he’d do over 300 shows a year. He continued performing right up until a few months ago when his body couldn’t take it anymore, and that was really the end for him. If you haven’t read B.B’s autobiography you really should. I own it and it’s a must read for any of his fans. For albums of his I would recommend to start with Singin’ the Blues (my favorite track being 3 O’Cock Blues) and then go to Completely Well, which holds the famous song The Thrill is Gone.

To give some scope of the influence he had here in Memphis, today many of the schools flew the flag at half-mast. The people are shattered, the world truly lost a great man today. But just remember, B.B. King may have passed away, but Lucille will never die.