Benghazi? Benghazi?

Wednesday, December 11, AD 2013

10 Responses to Benghazi? Benghazi?

  • The woman is a lawyer-lobbyist whose book consisted of representing a range of state-dependent sectors (social work, education, medicine) both in transactional law practice and to the New Hampshire state legislature. My guess would be that representing the medical sector was paying the bills and that representing the social work industry was where her heart was. Foreign policy was never in her skill set and I would wager she is not interested.

  • To Rep Hank Johnson’s defense, I think he was making a feeble attempt at a joke. In doing so he joined Al Gore and Sarah Palin in the ranks of politicians who will be forever followed by misunderstandings.

    This display by Rep Ann Kuster is of a different order of magnitude. One hopes that the people of New Hampshire will give her the time to pursue the social work she apparently so loves.

  • Tom,
    You are indeed a very kind man to so characterize Johnson’s statements. I like to think of myself as kind too, but just can’t quite convince myself that you’re right.

  • End of video: Just put the mic down. Put it down now. LOL!

    Tom D, Um yea. A joke. I think that is Biden’s excuse for everyone of his displays of stupidity. “Stand up Chuck!” And yes, Palin was right. You can see Russia from Alaska. Our acute investigative mainstream media sent real reporters to the far reaches to Alaska just to make sure. No word on an investigation into the likely hood of Guam capsizing. It could capsize any day now.

  • I would like to point out that Sarah Palin never made that statement, true as it may be, that you can see Russia from Alaska. It was made by a comedienne on Saturday Night Live. The low information crowd ever after believed the actress was actually Sarah Palin.

  • You’re right, Bill, and the same low information crowd still thinks that Dan Quayle believes that Latin Americans speak Latin.

  • Bill Sockey, That is incorrect. She said you could see Russia from Alaska. SNL turned her comment into “And I can see Russia from my house.” Her original statement to ABC News is “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska,” which sounds far more intelligent than what SNL’s version.

  • Representative Kuster demurred to discuss Benghazi because she did not consider it to be located in the Middle-East, the region which she was there to discuss. Her perception of mere geography is incidental to the over-arching fact that events in Libya are inextricable from any evaluation of events in the Middle-East. Foreign affairs may not be her forte but she certainly revealed a foible at this event.

  • Kyle, thanks for pointing out the correct history of the Sarah Palin comment. It shows how unbelievably unhinged certain people became during the 2008 election.

    I think a similar thing happened to Al Gore. I don’t think that he ever claimed to have invented the internet, but he was certainly a tech-minded politician who did sponsor legislation to further develop the internet. BTW, I consider Gore to be one of the great tragedies of American politics: a good and intelligent man who sold his soul to Planned Parenthood and then to the Clintons. His devolution from 2000 on was just the fruit of his moral errors.

    I think that your introduction of Biden is a bit of a straw man argument, but I can’t disagree with your comments about him. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a straw man really is a straw man. Biden is so off the scale it is impossible for a voter to know when to be charitable and when charity would be stupidity. Remember the Star Trek episode with the twin but opposite Kirks? Imagine the same thing happening to a politician, and you’d get Joe Biden and Spiro Agnew.

  • Mike, yes, Dan Quayle was another politician who got criticized for episodes that were harmless, and some of which were possibly attempts at humor.

The Congress Party Needs to Step Up

Saturday, July 14, AD 2012

The frequency with which the Obama administration has gone rogue and completely ignored Congress’ will seems to increasing at an exponential rate. I fear that by the end of the campaign Obama will be issuing executive fiats on a daily basis. The latest: gutting welfare reform.

The landmark welfare reform law President Bill Clinton signed in 1996 helped move nearly 3 million families off the government dole — the result of federal work requirements that promoted greater self-reliance.

Yesterday the Obama administration gutted those federal work rules, ignoring the will of Congress by issuing a policy directive that allows the Department of Health and Human Services to waive the work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. “The result is the end of welfare reform,” wrote Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley of The Heritage Foundation.

Surely there was a provision in the legislation that permitted the president to grant such waivers, right? Yes. And no.

Today the Obama administration issued a dramatic new directive stating that the traditional TANF work requirements will be waived or overridden by a legal device called a section 1115 waiver authority under the Social Security law (42 U.S.C. 1315).

Section 1115 allows HHS to “waive compliance” with specified parts of various laws. But this is not an open-ended authority: All provisions of law that can be overridden under section 1115 must be listed in section 1115 itself.

The work provisions of the TANF program are contained in section 407 (entitled, appropriately, “mandatory work requirements”). Critically, this section, as well as most other TANF requirements, is deliberately not listed in section 1115; its provisions cannot be waived. Obviously, if the Congress had wanted HHS to be able to waive the TANF work requirements laid out in section 407, it would have listed that section as waivable under section 1115. It did not do that.

Remember all those crocodile tears during the Bush years about the unitary executive? Leaving aside the fact that critics completely misrepresented the doctrine and its application, it seems the left has no problem with a president truly implementing the unitary executive doctrine. Only this time instead of the President being supreme within the Executive branch, he is evidently supreme over the entire federal government.

There will of course be no repercussions from this action. While it might be cathartic to pound the keyboard about the spineless Republicans, no amount of caterwauling can change the fact that the overwhelming majority of Democrats will ensure that no corrective action is taken. It was hard enough to get a contempt vote in the House against Eric Holder. Do you think the Democrats will really allow a serious investigation, or even more?

And that’s a true pity. There used to be a time when partisan identification was almost secondary to institutional concerns. Congressmen valued the independence and authority of their own branch of government, and simply sharing party affiliation with the president didn’t prevent Congressmen from jealously guarding their prerogatives. Inter-branch rivalries were an essential element in safeguarding our republic. Today that is gone. The same committee (Oversight) that has been commendably fastidious in investigating Fast and Furious will lay down like neutered dogs should Mitt Romney win the presidency. The committee was sure loath to investigate President Obama when controlled by Democrats two years ago.

This is truly a bi-partisan issue. Congress has completely abandoned its role as an independent, co-equal branch of government. The very fact that we are so consumed by the presidential campaign is a sad reflection of how pre-eminent the presidency has become.

Congressional Democrats should be just as furious as Congressional Republicans over Obama’s actions, regardless of how they feel about the policy. Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress as a whole regained a sense of institutional pride and reasserted their place in the federal framework? Sadly that’s as realistic an expectation as hoping that John Boehner will become John Rambo.

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21 Responses to The Congress Party Needs to Step Up

  • Thomas Jefferson, “The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.”

  • But, he’ll put you on a morphine drip when he decides you’re to old for spend for your health care because dead people don’t vote.

  • An interesting campaign tactic by Team Obama. This ties in nicely with advertising food stamp availability on novella commercials on Spanish language stations. The Obama campaign is running explicitly on a platform of ever increasing government dependence. Well, since Obama has made a complete hash of the economy, I guess life as a perpetual dependent and guest of the US taxpayer is the best he has to offer in order to attract voters.

  • I would not look forward to the prospect of agricultural policy being dictated by some latter-day Jamie Whitten. I think your post is misconceived. Congress has ample regard for its institutional prerogatives, it is just that they are jealous of privileges that are discretely beneficial to each as individual actors, not of powers which aid in the execution of constitutional function. Congress could do a great deal, and has done flat nothing, to contain the misfeasance of the appellate judiciary. This last has been ongoing for nearly 60 years.

    I will offer an alternative hypothesis: we suffer from an almost comprehensive loss of a sense of common spaces and common rules. This loss is not at all symmetrical and a great deal of our political contention can be understood as a struggle between those who recognize common spaces and common rules and those who have a reflexively proprietary attitude toward all elements public life and understand law as a tool to be used in power games.

    You can see how this plays out practically. Consider the try-every-door process by which occupational guilds are harnessed for the culture wars. The American Bar Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are two organization which can for this reason no longer be taken seriously. Earlier this year, we saw it taken to its witless extreme when a conference of high school yearbook and student newspaper staffs was treated to a ‘key-note’ speech by an obnoxious professional pooftar. We have standard-issue Democratic pundits (e.g. Prof. KC Johnson) arguing that appellate courts have a moral responsibility to manufacture and impose on the rest of us ‘gay’ ‘marriage’. We have a professor at the University of Texas who conducted a perfectly ordinary piece of longitudinal research being subject to an investigation for misconduct because of a letter of complaint from a fag blogger. The courts are ours, the news rooms are ours, the arts and sciences faculties are ours, the public schools are ours, the professional guilds are ours.

    And the legislative bodies. Remember Peter Jennings referring to the 1994 federal election as a voter’s temper tantrum? Does that make any sense at all? You have competitive elections, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, right? To the Democratic cognoscenti, evidently not. The laws passed by that Congress are not binding because control of that body had been stolen from its rightful owners. Hence this asinine order.

    The order is also an indication of the degree to which the Democratic Party is a vehicle for the helping professions. Actually resolving, containing, and ameliorating social problems is of no account. Erecting public bureaucracies of helping and caring is the real show, all staffed with salaried employees who are relieved of the necessity of working for supervisors in commercial enterprises (which produce goods and services people will voluntarily purchase).

  • George Will’s take years ago on the lodestar of the Democratic Party:

    Leave no Social Worker Behind.

  • This is a clarion call to the men and women of the United States of America: make a stand NOW. You must make a peaceful and civil stand now! When you stand you shall stand upon the Constitution. We The People must say enough is enough! We have had enough of the Executive branch going around the Legislative Branch.

    President Obama’s motivations matter not. The results of his actions matter not. The methods that Obama has used to impose his will are unacceptable. We have a Law and limits on Executive power for a reason. Look at the DOMA Law, the Immigration issue, and not this welfare issue. The more people there are on welfare, the less money there is for everyone on the welfare rolls. By allowing the States to ignore the searching-for-work requirement yes more people will jump on the welfare rolls. This will mean less money available for them and the people already on the welfare rolls.

    The Law excluded the Search-for-Work requirement from being waived for a reason. Now, without
    Congressional action, President Obama and his administration has rewritten the law. In doing so he and his admin. have violated the checks and balances. They have made law without the consent of the Legislature.

    He may have the purest motives. His motives don’t change the fact that he is acting more like a Ruler than a Leader. Who do YOU, the People, want running the USA? A ruler or a leader:

  • These people don’t care about the poor. They care about control.

    Their goals are not so much socio-economic reform. They are intent on replacing the ruling elites, of course, with themselves.

  • This is a huge deal. A lot of things that get coverage in an election year aren’t, but the legal and practical impact of this unilateral decision is huge.

    The problem is, during what’s called the “silly season” of a political campaign, everybody denounces everything equally loudly. The president says that the private sector is doing just fine, and the conservative politicians and bloggers make an outcry. Every jobs report, an outcry. Something like this that really matters, the same people are going to gripe about it, but will anyone else notice? Every time one side makes a fuss, the other side denounces them as just making a fuss – and they’re often right. To this day I can’t figure out if Fast and Furious or Holder’s contempt charge really mean anything. I wish there were a way to underline the things that really matter.

  • Pingback: Obama guts welfare reform by fiat « Profoundly Catholic
  • Art Deco: “I would not look forward to the prospect of agricultural policy being dictated by some latter-day Jamie Whitten. I think your post is misconceived. Congress has ample regard for its institutional prerogatives, it is just that they are jealous of privileges that are discretely beneficial to each as individual actors, not of powers which aid in the execution of constitutional function. Congress could do a great deal, and has done flat nothing, to contain the misfeasance of the appellate judiciary. This last has been ongoing for nearly 60 years.”
    Start with Executive Order Rural Councils 13575 Which arrogates to the Executive Branch the power to come onto private farms (without permission or invitation or notice) and dictate and/or confiscates, unless it approves of the way the farm land is utuilized. In the Jubilee Year the land was to rest. The land was to lay fallow and the people were to eat of the aftergrowth. Rural Councils will confiscate every piece of private property in America.
    In other Executive Orders, Obama has ordered the Judicial Department to enforce all Executive Orders fifteen years old. Clinton placed all free lands and waterways under the exclusive control of the Executive Branch of Government.
    All free lands and waterways, all public property is owned in joint and common tenancy by each and every citizen in whole and in part.

    “I will offer an alternative hypothesis: we suffer from an almost comprehensive loss of a sense of common spaces and common rules.”
    And rightly so,…because the sense of common spaces and common rules have been wrenched from our freedom, leaving every American citizen with words without meaning or substance and not protected by law . What good is a feel good law that requires no response from our elected officials or a law that has already been abrogated by an Executive Order?

  • Phoenix Matthias:
    I read your website and there is a well balanced exposition of the truth.

  • Rousseau warned of this long ago

    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home: when it is necessary to meet in council, they name deputies and stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it…

    The better the constitution of a State is, the more do public affairs encroach on private in the minds of the citizens. Private affairs are even of much less importance, because the aggregate of the common happiness furnishes a greater proportion of that of each individual, so that there is less for him to seek in particular cares. In a well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies: under a bad government no one cares to stir a step to get to them, because no one is interested in what happens there, because it is foreseen that the general will will not prevail, and lastly because domestic cares are all-absorbing. Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse. As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State, “What does it matter to me?” the State may be given up for lost.”

  • Pretty soon, people will decide to stop working & just go on welfare but, of course, many of us wouldn’t choose that option. There’s nothing wrong to be on welfare if it is necessary but to give a waiver to job requirements is pandering to those people, encouraging them to vote for him. Every week, he panders to groups by giving away taxpayers money. There’s no stopping this guy unless he is defeated in November.

  • Michael,

    Military conscription was only the norm in this country from 1940 to 1973. We had a great deal of history before and after that and have so had since. It would be impractical to attempt to run any but the smallest municipalities through town meetings, which is why it is not done.

  • I’ll just add that nothing that has happened in this country over the past century or so is due to not following Rousseau closely enough. Quite the contrary.

    I would certainly never suggest that Congress needs to oversee the policies it votes for. That’s what the Executive Branch is for. All I ask is for Congress to take heed of its own institutional independence. It’s a fool’s hope, I know.

  • This post has a tag called Checks and Balances.
    I loved learning that checks and balances were part of this government. I had confidence that our government could not go far off from logic and reason, went about the things of life, until I started hearing the words ‘deficit’, ‘deficit spending’, and most lately 2008 ‘bail outs’, ‘national debt’, numbers in trillions, not to mention social engineering and legislation of same.
    Looking forward to ‘cut back’ and ‘balancing budget’ especially by means of checks and balances because currently there is no apparent scale, order, logic or reason that has any virtue.

  • All I ask is for Congress to take heed of its own institutional independence. It’s a fool’s hope, I know.

    But they do take heed of their institutional independence, just not in the service of the integrity of the law or political process. Their taking heed is Jamie Whitten dictating who can use the washroom at the Agriculture Department, dozens of appointments held up on the whim of Richard Shelby, Daniel Rostenkowski and Barney Frank writing favors for their clientele into federal tax law and banking law, federal district courts and prosecutors’ offices reduced to dumping grounds for patronage, Ted Stevens being Ted Stevens, and watersheds being mauled in the service of press releases and brochures.

  • On the way home from Mass this morning I read the bumpers stickers: “Praise Dog”, “Obama 08”. Begging for our civil, constitutional, unalienable rights, is not working. The only strategy is IMPEACH, IMPEACH, IMPEACH. IMPEACH Brennan and Blackmun posthumously, for violating the Supreme Court’s constitutional commission to uphold the inviolable right to Life in Roe v. Wade. Stupid does not get compensation. IMPEACH Obama before Obama gets another turn at being the INFANT BUTCHER. IMPEACH Obama before Obama arrogates to himself the power to annihilate the human person in body and soul, eradicate the U.S. Constitution and replace it with the Marxist Manifesto and impose a one world government under the world bank. IMPEACH Obama for taking the oath of office to uphold the Constitution and delivering it into the hands of unelected individuals and himself to destroy the sovereignty of the American citizen, the sovereignty of the American Nation, the Sovereignty of the Supreme Sovereign Being and the Holy Catholic Church. When God is attacked, every human being, as the creation of God, is attacked. When the Catholic Church is attacked, all human beings are attacked.
    People cannot defend themselves against such unjust laws as Obamacare, Prayer ban, and infanticide because there is no law in these impositions of lies and crime. Legalizing crime is not possible. Decriminalizing crime is not possible. Crime against God and man are criminalized in our founding principles. Obama must be IMPEACHED, so that those demons praising dog wrongfully and refusing to praise God rightfully cannot rule in America.

  • Oh, Did I say IMPEACH? Power is the only language Obama understands. IMPEACH NOW BEFORE BLOODSHED.

  • You could have also mentioned the Chief Justice who in his Obamacare decision made it clear that John Marshall was overstepping his bounds when declaring that the SCOTUS had the duty to review the Constitutionality of Executive and Legislative Branch actions.

    This is what happens when local and state politics are marginalized. In the past pols had to answer to their state parties. When their Federal service ended they almost always returned to their State. This gave a certain practical and psychological independence to Congress people serving at the Federal level. Now they are all creatures of a national media and fundraising system that can either lift them or hound them wherever they go. So blue dog Dems willingly walked the plank since they would at least get to be bundlers and lobbyists or media types in the future.

  • When a president signs a bill or passes a law that is not constitutional he commits perjury upon the oath that he took to uphold the TRUTH, the whole TRUTH and nothing but the Truth and the Constitution for the United States of America, “so help me God”. When any representative or senator votes for a bill or passes a bill or law that is unconstitutional, he too, commits perjury against his oath of office. In both cases, because these elected officials represent their entire constituency, especially the president of the United States of America, these people commit treason against the nation, our founding principles, their constituency and their oath of office. IMPEACH

They Said If I Voted for John McCain the U.S. Would Engage in Endless Middle East Conflict with No Concern for Congressional Approval

Thursday, March 8, AD 2012

And they were right.

For those who didn’t watch the video, skip to about the 3:35 mark where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta responds to a question about creating a no-fly zone over Syria.  He states that the administration would seek international approval and then inform Congress about its actions.

That’s right – international sanction for military action would take precedence over Congressional authority.  And that makes complete sense, because in the United States Constitution it clearly states right there in Article I, Section 8 that international bodies shall have the power to declare war and therefore bring the United States into armed conflict.

Oh.  Wait.  It’s Congress that has the power to declare war.  Silly me.  But we live in an international age, and if the Supreme Court can rely on international law in order to decide cases, then by golly the President of the United States should be able to commit American troops to armed conflict with a nice note from the U.N. or some other international body.

And at least he’ll be nice enough to let Congress know.  Maybe he’ll text Speaker Boehner about it, but only after he gets off the phone with Sandra Fluke.  Priorities.

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5 Responses to They Said If I Voted for John McCain the U.S. Would Engage in Endless Middle East Conflict with No Concern for Congressional Approval

  • I think this might become a major issue:

    “WASHINGTON — The US offered to give Israel advanced weaponry — including bunker-busting bombs and refueling planes — in exchange for Israel’s agreement not to attack Iranian nuclear sites, Israeli newspaper Maariv reported Thursday.

    President Obama reportedly made the offer during Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week.

    Under the proposed deal, Israel would not attack Iran until 2013, after US elections in November this year. The newspaper cited unnamed Western diplomatic and intelligence sources.

    Netanyahu said Monday that sanctions against Iran had not worked, adding that “none of us can afford to wait much longer” in taking action against Iran’s controversial nuclear program.”

  • Paul and Donald, et. al.,

    If the attacks on Libya without congressional approval did not become a major issue, and Solyndra did not become a major issue, I would not hold my breath.


  • No one cared about Libya Jonathan because it was a no casualty war, and most members of Congress thought that it was a good idea to take out Khaddafi. I think that this story is quite a bit different. It is all over the conservative blogosphere already and Fox is running with it. Let us see what happens.

  • Ahh, Donald. That’s just my “Federalism and separation of powers” idealist showing up again.

  • Well, as a side note to all of this. I think it’s an awful idea to insert ourselves into Syria.

    From all the reporting I have seen Christians generally support Assad only because what comes after him would be much worse. I think the Christians on the ground understand as bad as Assad and the Alawites have been they can only look forward to an even worse oppressive Islamic government taking hold. They see what is happening in Egypt and the Coptic Christians.

    Syria: bishop says government must crush uprising

    Maronite Patriarch: Violence turning Arab Spring into winter

It’s In There Somewhere

Tuesday, January 10, AD 2012

I can’t tell you how many times that, when I’ve asked someone to cite the constitutional authority for the point they are arguing, they vaguely give me an Article and Section number without explaining how said article justifies their favored course of action.  Well, you will all be happy to know that our representatives in Congress are not any better at offering specifics.

At the beginning of the 112th Congress, as part of an effort to inject more transparency into the legislative process, the House adopted a rule requiring that each bill be accompanied by a Constitutional Authority Statement.  The purpose of the rule was to expose the cavalier attitude of those members who desire to legislate ‘just because they can.’

Well, after a year of legislating under this rule, it appears that we are in serious need of accountability measures to provide some clarity and specificity to the authority statement.  Otherwise, the rule will be regarded as yet another “transparency” gimmick of Congress.

Republican congressional staffers combed through almost 3800 bills and joint resolutions that have been introduced this year, in an effort to gauge the clarity and specificity of the Constitutional Authority Statements.  For the most part, the results are pretty pathetic.  Here are some of their key findings:

  • Overall, 945 bills contained authority statements which do not reference a specific power granted by the Constitution.  Many of these merely cited “Article 1” or “Article 1 Section 1” “Article 1 Section 8.” In other words, they just cited the fact that Congress has the power to legislate, but failed to divulge which constitutional power or specific clause is supporting their legislation.
  • There were 732 bills which only referenced the commerce clause, 660 which only referenced the general welfare clause, and 321 which mentioned the necessary and proper clause without reference to a previous Constitutional clause to which the necessary and proper clause might apply.
  • In total, there were 2658 Constitutional Authority Statements that were either questionable or vague.  That represents roughly 69% of all bills and resolutions introduced in the 1st Session of the 112th Congress.
  • While more of the vague citations are attributable to Democrat bill sponsors, many Republicans were lax in offering meaningful authority statements.  Almost as many Republicans used the inexplicit commerce clause as Democrats.

This highlights a number of problems with both Congress and our understanding of the Constitution in general.  First of all, attempts to reign in Congress are almost always futile because Congressmen are adept at skirting around clear legislative language.  After all, we’re dealing with a bunch of lawyers – both on staff and in Congress itself.  Lawyers are masters of finding, and then abusing the fine print.

But let’s not just chalk up to maliciousness what we can also chalk up to laziness.  Yes, these are all smart people, but they’re also lazy.  When staff drafts legislation* they don’t have enough time to be rummaging around 100-year old, dry old documents like the U.S. Constitution.  They can vaguely remember their Con Law class and some decision handed down by some FDR-appointed judge that says that the commerce clause covers that, and so VOILA!  Constitutional justification.

*: And, by the way, make no mistake about it – it’s Congressional staff that writes legislation.  Do you think Congress critters are the ones hammering away at their laptops drafting this minutiae?  Of course not.   Do you really think they’re busy putting together 2,000 page documents?  Uh uh.  No, we are governed by 30 year olds fresh out of law school who are just biding their time until they get a job with a K Street firm that will lobby Congress on the labyrinth legislation that said staffer just penned.  Meanwhile, the people who actually have to vote on these bills have, at best, skimmed them, trusting their personal staffers to give them the gist of what is written on paper.  Just what our Framers envisioned, right?

Finally, let’s be honest – the FDR appointed judge probably just muttered something about the commerce clause in the ruling, offering barely much more substance than the Congressional staffer.  Over the years the judiciary, through the beneficence of broad interpretation, has often stretched Constitutional meaning beyond the breaking point.  If staff were inclined to beef up their Constitutional Authority Statements, we would be no more satisfied with the end result.  It would still likely be utter malarkey, just better sourced and more specific-sounding malarkey.

Still, I think this exercise has one useful purpose.  We all knew that Congress was just making it up as it went along, and now we have written proof of that.

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8 Responses to It’s In There Somewhere

  • Defeated Illinois Democrat Congressman Phil Hare explains how most Congresscritters view the Constitution:

  • The Constitutional Authority Statement requirement is the most naive think I’ve ever heard of. It’s the kind of thing a high school US government class would come up with as the foolproof solution to legislative overreach. Other similar ideas include requiring legislators to read their bills aloud or keeping all bills under three pages. It’s a problem with populism in general. People are literate enough to know there’s a problem but not literate enough (or humble enough) to know that the obvious solutions are useless. Conservative thought should, in theory, be less susceptible to this sort of thing but a conservative frame of mind is not the same as political conservatism.

  • “The Constitutional Authority Statement requirement is the most naive think I’ve ever heard of. ”

    Oh, I’ve heard much more naive things than that RR. Now in regard to the Constitution the most dangerous thing I have ever read was said by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in 1907 when he was Governor of New York (Hughes would later resign from the Court and run for President on the Republican ticket in 1916): “We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is, and the judiciary is the safeguard of our liberty and of our property under the Constitution.” Of course this turns the supreme governing document of our country into a tabula rasa for lawyers wearing black robes to write what they wish. I can think of few thoughts on the Constitution further from the intent of the drafters of the Constitution. The truly dangerous thing of course is that most judges and attorneys would agree with this as both a statement of fact and something desirable.

    Another Hughes quote explains much of the convuluted development of Constitutional law in this country: “At the constitutional level where we work, ninety percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.” What an excellent explanation for Roe v. Wade!

  • ” . . . , promote the general Welfare, . . . ”

    And, we know from reading the Federalist Papers and the minutes and the assorted writings of the Framers that they wrote that in order to provide cover for community organizers.

    “The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.” Albert Camus

  • An expansive understanding of the commerce clause power is pretty much settled law, and cannot be so easily dismissed as the idiosyncratic understanding of “FDR appointed judges.” Even the most conservative jurists acknowledge this. Scalia may look for a slightly more meaty nexus between a piece of legislation and interstate (or foreign) commerce than Breyer, but the concept that Congress can enact what amounts to police power legislation as long as there exists some significant interstate commerce effect is not only well-established, it is consistent with the text and impossible to police otherwise without examining legislative motives — something impractical. Neither Bork nor Scalia object to this, though I believe Scalia continues to reject the dormant or negative aspect of the commerce clause (but this is completely different). This is not to say that the Framers actually envisioned a legislative branch with such robust powers — they probably did not; but they allocated such powers all the same. The Framers did not envision Marbury v Madison and its implications in consigning tremendous policy powers to the “least powerful branch” either, but Marbury was rightly decided nonetheless. The consequences of legal documents — contracts, wills, statutes or even constitutions are never perfectly anticipated by their architects.

    That said, this does not mean that Obamacare does not present serious constitutional questions. Surely the imposition of an affirmative requirement to purchase a product or service that is not contingent on any voluntary act such as choosing to drive a car presents a fair constitutional question insomuch as it seems to suggest that Congress can prohibit a decision to *not* engage in commerce. But most federal laws, however imprudent and counterproductive we may think they be, are not unconstitutional.

    Just as liberals have a well-developed tendency to believe that any state legislation they do not like must violate the federal constitution under some contrived theory or another, conservatives tend to believe that any federal legislation they do not like must somehow violate the federal constitution. They are both wrong. For better or worse, the constitution gives pretty wide latitude for legislatures, state and federal, to express the will of voters through legislation. Congress may well do harm by its activism, but for the most part such activism is not of constitutional moment; judicial activism on the other hand is — when courts strike down legislation as unconstitutional all too oftern they are simply acting as super-legislatures substitution their own policy preferences for those of legislatures.

  • Congress may well do harm by its activism, but for the most part such activism is not of constitutional moment; judicial activism on the other hand is — when courts strike down legislation as unconstitutional all too oftern they are simply acting as super-legislatures substitution their own policy preferences for those of legislatures.

    Congress overstepping constitutional limits is no less egregious than the Courts doing it simply because it is the democratic branch. All three branches are bound by the same Constitution. This is why I don’t like the phrase “judicial activism.” I’ve made this comparison before, but think of two Supreme Court cases – Wickard v. Filburn and US v. Lopez. Both cases were based on Congressional reliance on the commerce clause. In the former, SCOTUS made a leap of logic in order to uphold legislation that was based on at best, a tenuous connection to the commerce clause. In the latter case, SCOTUS overturned legislation that it deemed unconstitutional because it did not really rise to the level of interstate commerce. Which decision was the correct one? The latter. Yet, that would be decried as activism based on the definition given above. The fact of the matter is that both cases involved Congressional acts of constitutional activism, but only in one case did SCOTUS act as an accomplice.

    Mike is correct in noting that not all bad legislation is unconstitutional. And, similarly, not all constitutional legislation is wise. Sometimes we do get lucky and there’s something that comes along that is both bad policy which also happens to be unconstitutional – like the individual mandate.

    But this is all besides the point. Even if we concede that this requirement is naive, wouldn’t it be nice for Congressional staff to at least make an effort to constitutionally justify their proposals? I’m not asking for 100 page briefs. I just want something a little more substantial than “uh . . . . commerce clause.” Say why the commerce clause (or 14th Amendment or whatever) allows for a certain action. Even if you’re wrong it’s still something more substantive than what we have now.

  • I just don’t see what good that would do. You can’t limit the courts ability to consider other arguments so it’s not a legally binding limitation. So you can mock it but you can do that anyway.

  • Paul, I don’t disagree about the seriousness of Congress overstepping its constitutional authority. I just think it rarely does. Wickard is perhaps the high water mark of Congressional regulation of interstate commerce. While a close call (and personally offensive) it is probably correctly decided. The purpose of the legislation was to drive up the price of wheat — clearly within the clause’s ambit — and the Court was correct that home production and consumption is inimical to that objective. Lopez was probably also correctly decided. When Congress is going to use the commerce clause to effectuate a social/police power objective it must at least articulate some economic/commerce clause rationale — something it did not do in connection with the gun legislation the Court struck down.

Social Security is Not a Ponzi Scheme

Thursday, September 29, AD 2011


Top Ten Reasons Why Social Security is not a Ponzi Scheme:

1.  Ponzi scheme participation is voluntary, unlike Social Security where participation is mandatory for most citizens.

2.  Ponzi scheme participants usually receive brightly colored reports telling them how much illusory interest their investments are earning.  Social Security participants make do with drab annual reports.

3.  When a Ponzi scheme goes bust the perpetrators can be sued for damages.  Good luck suing the Feds after Social Security goes belly up!

4.  Participants in a Ponzi scheme do not lose their claim against the perpetrators upon death, unlike people who die prior to receiving a check from Social Security.

5.  Ponzi schemes usually have few to no solid assets that can be seized by participants.  Social Security has endless IOUs signed by Uncle Sam.

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27 Responses to Social Security is Not a Ponzi Scheme

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  • If it wasn’t for SS, I’d be homeless. I paid in, now collect. What’s wrong with that?

  • Joe,
    First, I don’t think SS is really a Ponzi scheme as such (because the government can always insure payment by raising taxes or printing money), but it is a very poorly designed defined benefit plan in that it is not funded by what retirees paid into it but by what current workers can afford to pay. This can be workable if the commitments are fairly modest since demographic changes such as the number of workers, life expectency, etc. can be accommodated for modest committments, but our committments are not remotely small. Also, for many decades we have consistently enriched benefits for those who paid in amounts that were actuarily based on smaller benefits. Most retirees today are receiving present value benefits with far in excess of their present value payments. That is nothing more than a redistribution of wealth from workers to retirees. There is no moral basis for this whatsoever. It’s just a money grab from by the politically powerful.

  • Well, Mike, when you get to be my age you look at things differently. I worked full-time nearly 50 years and it was the only way I could “save” toward retirement. I, along with millions of others and their employers, was forced to contribute. Had the money been invested wisely, like a private plan, it would have paid dividends and been able to make a profit and sustain itself. SS is not broke. That is a myth. It’s been raided over the years and mismanaged but there is enough in the kitty to pay everyone entitled even with an aging population.

  • Raise the retirement age! When SS was started life expectancy was about 63. Retirement age should be raised to 70+. If you want or need to retire before then, it’s up to your own savings and/or family. This is going to create some extreme inter-generational bad feelings if folks my age (32) have our taxes raised to keep SS solvent when we’re trying to raise our families. Most of my friends under age 45 don’t think SS will be there for them when they retire. I give as much credence to those “statements” that come in the mail from SS as I do to sweepstakes junk mail.

  • “I paid in, now collect. What’s wrong with that?”

    For you it is doubtless a good deal Joe. For my kids it is a very bad deal indeed. The essence of any Ponzi scheme is that the first in line reap a fairly good return and the last in line end up with the empty sack. Of course my kids will do far worse than the empty sack since they will have huge bills to pay for the privilege of holding the empty sack, something that does not happen in regular go-to-jail Ponzi schemes.

  • “SS is not broke. That is a myth. It’s been raided over the years and mismanaged but there is enough in the kitty to pay everyone entitled even with an aging population.”

    There is nothing in the “kitty” Joe. Social Security taxes go into the same pot as regular income taxes, and is paid out from the same pot. Social security is broke because the federal government is broke. All the talk over the years about social security lock boxes and investments is the sheerest blue smoke and mirrors.

  • Pacem, Joe and Mac,

    I think SS yet brings in more FICA tax receipts than it pays out in benefits. Today, it is not “broke.” OTOH, if the gubmint had to comply with ERISA . . .

    Soon enough, SS will need to pay out of liquidating its “assets”, i.e., nonmarket US Treasury debt. In order to pay from that source, our congress of baboons will need to tax someone or print money (inflation is a tax).

    And, there just aren’t enough millionaires!

  • Don, et al…When have you ever heard a government — national, state or local — say that it had too much money? Or a surplus? Practically never. We are always being told that we’re “broke” and “can’t afford” this or that, but there always seems to be money there for foreign aid, fighting dubious wars, pork projects, you-name-it. It’s the same old mantra designed to keep the hoi polloi in a state of perpetual fear or distracted from other problems.

    Secondly, the implication that somehow those who paid in early are now reaping unfair benefits is bogus because the dollars that went in were worth a lot more than they are now. The dollar I put in the kitty in 1960, factoring in inflation and devaluation, is probably worth 20 cents today. No one ever got rich collecting SS, believe me. It’s a safety net and an essential one. Would I have been wiser to invest that money on my own? Probably. Would I have done so regularly? Probably not.

    The “government” is supposed to be We the People, not some separate entity. It is all of us, acting collectively for the common good and “general welfare.”

    Years ago, when I was walking the streets of NYC one day, I had three dollars in my pocket and was approached by a bum asking me for a dollar. I gave it to him because I had 3 and he had none. So, even with 2 in my pocket, I still had one more than him. To me that was an act of charity. I didn’t ask him what he was going to do with the dollar. Isn’t Christianity about compassion? I don’t see much when it comes to taking care of either the very old or the very young in America any more.

  • “It’s a safety net and an essential one.”

    It’s a welfare program Joe, plain and simple. The average recipient today makes about $60,000 more in benefits, after adjusting for inflation, over the dollars paid in. Earlier generations reaped a much larger bonanza. Future generations will pay in far more than they ever receive back, and this generational unfairness will utlimately lead to the repeal of social security. People simply will not stand for paying 17 cents on the dollar which is what will be the social security rate be around 2035, probably much earlier due to Social Security using rosy economic projections.

    “Social Security expenditures exceeded the program’s non-interest income in 2010 for the first time since 1983. The $49 billion deficit last year (excluding interest income) and $46 billion projected deficit in 2011 are in large part due to the weakened economy and to downward income adjustments that correct for excess payroll tax revenue credited to the trust funds in earlier years. This deficit is expected to shrink to about $20 billion for years 2012-2014 as the economy strengthens. After 2014, cash deficits are expected to grow rapidly as the number of beneficiaries continues to grow at a substantially faster rate than the number of covered workers. Through 2022, the annual cash deficits will be made up by redeeming trust fund assets from the General Fund of the Treasury. Because these redemptions will be less than interest earnings, trust fund balances will continue to grow. After 2022, trust fund assets will be redeemed in amounts that exceed interest earnings until trust fund reserves are exhausted in 2036, one year earlier than was projected last year. Thereafter, tax income would be sufficient to pay only about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2085.

    Under current projections, the annual cost of Social Security benefits expressed as a share of workers’ taxable wages will grow rapidly from 11-1/2 percent in 2007, the last pre-recession year, to roughly 17 percent in 2035, and will then dip slightly before commencing a slow upward march after 2050. Costs display a slightly different pattern when expressed as a share of GDP. Program costs equaled roughly 4.2 percent of GDP in 2007, and are projected to increase gradually to 6.2 percent of GDP in 2035 and then decline to about 6.0 percent of GDP by 2050 and remain at about that level. ”

    Anyone who is below 35 and who thinks social security will be there for them when they retire is very much mistaken.

  • “Secondly, the implication that somehow those who paid in early are now reaping unfair benefits is bogus because the dollars that went in were worth a lot more than they are now. The dollar I put in the kitty in 1960, factoring in inflation and devaluation, is probably worth 20 cents today. No one ever got rich collecting SS, believe me. It’s a safety net and an essential one. Would I have been wiser to invest that money on my own? Probably. Would I have done so regularly? Probably not.”

    First, you are dead wrong in your present value assumption. Since you are retired, you should have the time to look it up — this stuff is hardly a secret and has been true for a long time. In fact, that is the true “raiding” of the system.
    And it is wrong to tax hard-working young people trying to raise their families simply because you were not wise enough to save. I know one young man who makes $29.5K per year and is saving $5K. He lives very frugally, and does not have much, but he would be insulted at the suggestion that he was impoverished.
    As far as a safety net is concerned, that is the key. The dirty little secret is that Social Security is not a forced savings system at all. It is simply a transfer of money from the currently young to the currently old. Do you seriously think that the first recipients got back the money they had paid in? Not a chance. They had hardly had the chance to pay in anything before they promptly retired and received a wonderful return funded by the then current workers. This system works nicely if (i) the number of workers per retiree is stable and (ii) the payouts are enriched only if the payroll taxes are increased to pay for it. We have done the latter why the tax is so much higher today than it used to be when you first started paying in, but we have not accounted for the latter.
    And Joe, your charity toward the “bum” was no doubt well-intentioned, but it is pretty weak compared to what many other people who participate on this forum have done and do all the time — I would not brag about it if I were you. Folks who want government to take the lead in dealing with poverty almost always use that as a way to justify their intention that “other people” pay for it. Read “Who Really Cares” by Brooks. It will open your eyes.

  • Mike, I wasn’t holding myself as a model of charity. I was never any good at handling money as everyone else on this forum appears to be.

  • I think a lot of the issue with the “ponzi scheme” description has to do with how the Social Security program actually works versus how it was sold to the American People.

    The original sale was based on the idea that it was a forced savings/social insurance regimen in which people “payed in” and “got back” their benefits later. This is the way my grandmother (intensely loyal to the Democrats up through JFK and then to the Republicans starting with Nixon) always described the system, and no argument could shake her basic conviction that it was like a good, old fashioned savings account with the money safely in the government’s “lock box”.

    The problem is that the government “saves” the money by lending it to itself. It then goes off and spends the money in the happy assurance that it’s promise to pay itself back is “savings” sitting in the bank.

    The way people my age (30s) tend to look at social security is, to my mind, a lot more realistic. It’s a system whereby the government takes money from those who are working and pays it out to those who are retired. Given that most of us don’t want to live in a society in which many of the old are indigent, this seems like a relatively good idea. Though if one accepts the idea that it’s basically a welfare scheme it seems like one would heavily means test it. Why should Warren Buffett be drawing a Social Security check?

    The trick is, to those who think that Social Security works the way my grandmother did, it really is a Ponzi scheme. After all, the definition of a Ponzi scheme is pretty much that it pretends to be a savings/investment program while in fact it’s using the contributions of new “investors” to pay out distributions to earlier ones.

    If, on the other hand, one simply accepts it as a welfare program, it simply is what it is and a few tweeks would probably make it a lot more sustainable than it is — though the demographics of the country are going to make it more and more painful as the decades pass.

    After all, a Ponzi scheme wouldn’t be a fraud if people understood that their money was going to be used to pay off earlier members that that their future pay offs would rely on finding future investorys to “pay in”.

  • If you remove social security, you’ll simply have more people on welfare. Last year the average social security check nation wide was $1177 a month which is $14,124 a year….or the budget of an abstemious Carthusian monk who does not have cable or internet or property taxes or a car and it’s insurance.
    If you could find stable 5% bonds (and you cannot) a person would have to save $282,480 to earn that income in those bonds on their own if social security ended. There are numerous job holders who will never save that and don’t have pensions….unless society pays them more: diner waitresses, janitors, parish receptionists, small factory assembly workers, retail non owners (like people who work in bakeries, flower stores etc.), auto parts delivery men, small business truckers etc., dish washers in restaurants.
    The Amish take no social security because grandparents live with the younger generation who have many children who help with the farm….and they have no cable, internet or autos with insurance….nor do they have medical insurance but the community chips in for hospital stays.
    Heck….they’re like our Carthusians as to budget.

  • Good post, Darwin, but I’d clarify an important distinction between two phenomena. First, there never was a lock box system. People who retired right after SS was made effective received payments even if they had only paid into it for a single paycheck. The only way that can happen is for the current workers to pay for current retirees. The system was never designed to allow for workers to build up savings sufficient for defined benefit payouts. Accordingly, the system resulted, quite predictably, in huge current surpluses for many years simply because the number of workers was so much greater than the number of retirees who had paid in. The federal government, quite sensibly perhaps, invested that surplus in federal government bonds, which is the same thing as saying it loaned the surplus to the federal government (itself) to pay for operating expenses (i.e., the deficit). It is this latter practice that many folks (Joe presumably) consider “raiding” SS, but in truth no other investment would have been safer. The idea that the surplus would have been invested in the private sector was never seriously considered to my knowledge. SS currently holds huge IOUs from the US gov’t, which will almost certainly be paid one way or another, but it still won’t be enough simply because the money being paid in is not sufficient to cover current obligations, which means we are eating away at the surplus which eventually will disappear, at which point SS will not be able to pay its obligations unless it is restructured. In addition to Mrs. Zummo’s option (which is very sensible of course), other options include reducing benefits, means-testing benefits, and increasing taxes. All have political and economic risks. Delaying benefits would be politically palatable only if its effect is phased in well into the future, I think, unless the delay is just a year or so. Reducing benefits would present genuine hardships for many people who depend on SS for getting by, regardless of the fact that in many cases these persons have no one to blame but themselves for their situation. Means-testing would risk the viability of the system to the extent it becomes exposed as a welfare program rather than a forced savings program. It would also be somewhat counter-productive in that it would encourage workers to save less in order to make sure they qualify. Increasing taxes on current workers in order to pay for retirees who failed to save (because they were not good at handling money — gheesh) creates huge political and moral issues, especially since demographics will not allow current workers to participate in the system in a meaningful way when they retire. The system was terribly designed, and we should phase out of it over time the best we can.
    There are no easy answers. The system was poorly designed from the beginning.

  • Bill, you are right in that eliminating SS would mean more folks go on welfare, but make no mistake — that would be a much cheaper option. It just would not be especially fair for all the folks who have been paying in believing that they were earning a defined benefit and who also have been responsibly saving for retirement. Also, it should be remembered that flawed as it is and was, SS was never designed or even marketed as anything other than a *supplemental* retirement income program. The idea that it is supposed to be enough to live on is and always has been nonsense believed only the irresponsible who rationalize not saving. In addition, I take issue with your sense of who can save. Most households in the US are saving far less than they could or should. Their neighbors who are saving are choosing to delay gratification, and those who choose otherwise should not be expected to eat their cake and still have it.

  • Mike
    But in the occupations I named, those are people who live on the edge and probably are going bare on medical insurance which in NJ for example is about 7K for a single and 12K for a family.
    Once they are hit with an unusual bill, they finance that on their credit card and probably pay the minimum monthly for a decade. Let’s say a Bodega owner in Hoboken with a family of four has medical at 12k a year with a $2500 deductible and as a result nets 29k yearly after medical in an area with $1300 a month rents to live in danger crimewise.
    One robbery at his Bodega or on the street in which he gets shot but lives but then has engine trouble two months later….and he and his family are behind the 8 ball for years paying Chase
    over 20% on the credit card he used for the deductible and the engine job. Will he save $282K in his context? No. You are thinking of the baby boomers making 60K a year and buying wave runners and such and saving an average amount that is half of their yearly if we are to believe some figures. And we should be alarmed if those people have no pensions but if many of them have pensions, we should look at the savings equivalent of those pensions (which pensions I know are vanishing outside government for younger workers).
    Which would you rather have if your family has 90year old longevity in their genes….a pension of 30K a year or an IRA of 1 million dollars during a two percent stable principal time period? The 1 million IRA at 2% is $20,000 income per year and if you touch the principal, that
    declines. I’d take the IRA but you can see how incredibly good the old private pensions were and still are for a myriad of government workers. Teachers getting 60K a year pensions now is the equivalent of an IRA of three million dollars at 2% wherein the older person doesn’t touch the principal because now he fears nursing home costs taking what he wanted to leave to children and grandchildren.
    The Hoboken Bodega owner is just hoping to get through the day without three thugs with hoodies and glocks turning over his “We’re Closed” sign.

  • Bill,
    As you suggest few workers today have pensions outside the government. And government pensions are generally woefully underfunded due both to being too rich and to poor investment performance, just like everyone else this decade. The reason that corporations stopped giving pensions is simply that they could not accept the risk of underfunding. The only way to manage that risk was to overfund, but tax laws make that difficult for sound reasons, and over-funding makes US workers massively expensive. The more sensible option is for each family to accept its own financial responsiblity, but the reality is many don’t. For reasons beyond my understanding, many people are not as smart as squirrels, who notwithstanding their tiny squirrel brains manage to save nuts for each winter. There is some logic therefore in having a forced savings system, but such a social contract decision is best effectuated by government rather than private employers. Social Security could have been such a system, but it wasn’t because such a system would not have allowed for payouts to be made to workers who functionally never earned them. Your assumption that payouts for today’s retirees would have been better had employers retained our old defined benefit plan system (i.e., pensions) is false. Those payouts must be funded by the savings set aside by the companies, and such savings would be no more actuarily sound today than those set aside for state and local government workers, and for the same reasons. Like states and cities, companies would be stuck with massive underfunded liabilities and facing insolvency, except without the power to tax.
    It is true that some families do not make enough money to save for retirement, but studies confirm that the vast majority of families with inadequate savings are simply over-consuming. In most cases they will be fine in retirement (at least by sensible standards), though with a considerably reduced standard of living.
    And don’t get me started on our so-called underpaid teachers ….

  • Hmmm… in four middle aged men in the US right now are below the poverty level. I just think you might be overstating the size of the spendthrift wave runner crowd. We just had thousands of flooded homeowners from hurricane Irene incur large bills in NJ to repair homes they cannot sell because the hurricane showed their homes to be vulnerable beyond their expectations. It boggles my mind that government zoned these areas for residences….and then people like new Chinese friends of my daughter in law bought there/ repaired their house once already and now must do it again. And they are up the creek because they believed in the zoning wisdom of Caesar and they were new here from Taiwan. Now they have a permanent cross unless they take a Fed offer of buyout if their town is included. I agree with your values but we differ on the number of people who fall behind from prodigality. But stats cannot really answer the nuances. I hear stories of men who were divorced by their wives and fall very far down financially or women who were deserted with four children and receive no help thenceforth from the man. Stats may report them someday as insufficient savers without mentioning the descents they suffered. Near me by two miles on a subway station platform, a Merrill Lynch manager with a wife and three children at home waiting… stood waiting for a train and a schizophrenic ran up behind him and stabbed him multiple times with a kitchen meat cutting knife to death and poor people from that area chased the man down and held him for police. Think of the financial descent of the widow aside from the existential personal bereftment even if he had life insurance. She most probably had a large mortgage and large property taxes. Stats may one day report her as not having saved….without telling us she had three children to send to college alone.

  • We all have our stories and experiences, Bill, and while I have some responses to yours I have not the time. I’ve wasted too much today, which is why I’m still at work and will be for another couple hours. But I’m very skeptical of your one in four datum though. And by the way, I have a property in a hurricane zone and buy flood insurance (expensive!) since most hurricane damage is flood rather than wind. It would never occur to me to do otherwise.

  • Don

    Interesting facts about Social Security.

    The constitutionality of Title II of the Social Secury Act per se, the operating title, has never tried. Reportadly some one challenged it seriously enough that the government offered settlement so large the judge required them to accept it.


    The Social security commission that is in charge of the Social Security System consists of the Secrataries of Treasurey and Health and Human Services and the Commissioner who is also the executive head of the agency. All serve at the pleasure the President.

    There are multiple conflicts of interest in that arrangement. It is hjard to see how directors of a private fund with similar arrangements would not be continually fighing off civil suits and possible fraud and failure of duty criminal charges.


    SS was sold as a social Insurnce plan like a life insurance policy or non government retirement benefits.

    However it was set up form the beginning with no legal connection between the FICA tax and SS benefits. Paying FICA taxes does not give a property right to benefits. Legally benefits are an entitlement like welfare.


    When it was set up the interst rate paid to the SS trust fund was 0. In the fifties the Republicans forced and amendment to pay interest. But the interest rate is always below the average rate the government pays on it’s debt.

    One of the reasons I started blogging was to improve my writing. If you promise not to laugh to hard one of my first effors was on
    Saving Social Security.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • The closer you look at Social Security Hank, the worse it gets.

  • You like SS. You’re gonna love Obamacare.

  • SS is a Ponzi scheme in the same way that taxation is theft. If it were done by a private citizen, it would be illegal but it’s a legitimate government function. The “Ponzi scheme” designation does help to highlight the system’s poor design though.

    Talk of whether it’s technically “broke” isn’t very helpful. It’s unsustainable without reform. There are no easy solutions. Raise the retirement age? You want 69-year olds to find jobs? Their old job let them go at 65 because they’re hurting productivity. That life expectancy has increased doesn’t mean people can work that much longer. Never mind the fact that increasing the retirement age hurts the young as they’re crowded out of a job thanks to seniors working longer.

    I would roll all welfare programs including SS into a single means-tested tax credit. Reforming SS shouldn’t plunge anyone into poverty.

  • After reading these posts, I better start shopping for a good brand of dog food. Let’s use that SS money for a few more star war weapons. That will make the ultra-conservatives happy.

  • Classic Joe. You are going to be eating dog food because people realize social security is a scam. No Joe, you will get your welfare checks from the Government until you die, and it will be left for future generations to clean up the mess. You didn’t set the policy, you had no choice but to pay in, and you would be a fool not to take the money, but please do not deny the problem simply because you have the long end of the stick.

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Unilateral War Making by the Executive (Updated)

Friday, June 17, AD 2011

The Congress shall have Power . . . To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; – Article I, Section 8

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. – Article II, Section 2

It’s not a good feeling agreeing with Dennis Kucinich.  Finding myself on the same side of an issue as Kucinich makes me seriously reconsider my opinion.   But as they say, even a bind, deaf, paralyzed, rabies-afflicted squirrel finds a nut every now and again.

It’s less distressing to disagree with Charles Krauthammer.  He’s usually spot on, but he tends to go off the rails when it comes to foreign policy.  Not always, mind you, but in Krauthammer you can see the legitimate difference between neoconservatism and traditional conservatism.  Last night he had this to say about the War Powers Act and President Obama’s war hostilities kinetic military action in Libya:

KRAUTHAMMER: I understand why Congress wants to retain prerogatives, as does the president. I’m not surprised that Durbin would act this way. I am surprised that so many Republicans are jumping on the war powers resolution. They will regret it. If you have a Republican in office, you have isolationists Democrats trying to restrain his exercise of his powers under constitution and the Republicans aren’t going to like it.
I would not truck in war powers resolution. I have also think the administration’s defense of what it is doing is extremely week and misguided. Obama’s answer essentially is well, the resolution is out there. But it’s not relevant because it isn’t really a war, which is absurd.

BAIER: We’re not in hostilities.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right. What he should say I, like my other predecessor, I do not recognize the legality of this act and its authority over the presidency. That’s where he should make his stand.

BAIER: When he was Senator Obama he spoke the opposite.

KRAUTHAMMER: And as a president he is implicitly supporting the resolution saying it doesn’t apply here. It implies if it were a real war, as he pretends it’s not. I have to comply. No president ought to do that.

I agree with him with regards to Obama’s duplicity.  I also share his skepticism about the War Powers Act.  But he’s wrong about the rest.

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14 Responses to Unilateral War Making by the Executive (Updated)

  • Obama criticized Bush for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then he does worse in Libya, and uses the Orwellian phrase, “Kinetic Military Action.” But the main stream media and the proudly liberal won’t see this hypocrisy, or seeing it, won’t acknowledge it.

    If the news media acts this way now so far from the 2012 election, then what will happen as the election draws nigh? Is there any hope of defeating this godless man of murder and depravity?

  • I have no doubt that the War Powers Act is an unconstitional infringement on the powers of the President as Commander in Chief. I also have no doubt that, absent an emergency, any President who goes to war without Congressional authorization is a fool.

  • It is only an issue if the president has an (R) behind his name.

  • I see this as two issues:

    1. What does the Constitution mean? Difficult question.

    2. What is the de facto law? Easy. The President can ignore the War Powers Act and do whatever he wants outside the US for as long as Congress will pay for it. That’s always been the de facto law.

  • The War Powers Resolution seems to be another attempt by the legislature to codify Retroactive Ratification. Alexander Linn suggests that it is a “realigning” of the war powers, that “in passing the Resolution, Congress sought to set parameters on the Executive’s ability to commit military forces to combat. The Resolution codified limitations on the ability of the executive branch to initiate unilaterally or to engage in military hostilities.” The form of the resolution itself suggests that Congress’ efforts were expended more to “define” than “realign.” (Alexander C. Linn, International Security and the War Powers Resolution, 8 Wm. & Mary Bill of Rts. J. 725 (2000).

    The Resolution affirms that the President, acting as Commander in Chief, my direct military action after a Declaration of War or with specific Statutory Authorization. Since both of these circumstances are spelled out in the Constitution of 1787, they cannot be a “grant” of such authority to the President. He already has such authorization. Only with the addition of a “national emergency created by an attack upon US interests” did the legislature stray beyond the established grounds of the original constitution.

    Congress asserted a check on this last point in that the President was thereafter required to “consult” with Congress “in every possible instance” before deploying troops and regularly through the deployment. Loose construction of the Resolution aside, this last point seeks to capture the breadth of presidential inroads on legislative powers. There is a close corollary to Retroactive Ratification in the consulting requirement, but the up-front determination of when a “national emergency created by an attack upon US interests” occurs. Critically, the limitations proscribe no particular type of presidential war power exercise, not even those exercised against Americans at home such as were illustrated in Korematsu, Kimball Laundry, and Youngstown. Linn suggests that “[n]otwithstanding that the President’s modern control over war conflicts with the Framer’s intent, the problem is not the increase in executive power. There are compelling reasons the Executive to hold a quantum of war power that contradicts the Framers’ intent.” Linn seems to suggest that the Constitution itself is not the benchmark of presidential power. This is to say that our constitutional jurisprudence, however muddled, holds the keys to limiting the powers of a runaway executive.

    Even Hamilton would have cringed at that notion.

    The War Powers Resolution places on the Executive the burden only that he must report what he has done to Congress within 48 hours and the need for deployment, the constitutional and legislative authority, the scope, and the duration of hostilities thereafter. More significantly, the President receives a 60 day “grace period” during which he can engage in military action without authorization and an additional 30 days if there is an “unavoidable military necessity.” If Congress fails to order the executive to pull back, their acquiescence can go on indefinitely.
    It does not appear that the War Powers Resolution places any new burdens on the President since our written constitution and our constitutional jurisprudence already placed similar limits on the executive. Perhaps the Resolution is little more than a touchstone for public discourse. If so, it serves more to subtly illustrate the underlying constitutional principles that the Congress is, by the text of the Constitution, the preeminent institution of government and that, however much presidential powers may lay claim to law making powers, he is still bound by an older order.

  • If the War Powers Act is unconstitutional it is because it delegates too much power to the President to initiate hostilities, not because it impinges on his powers as commander in chief.

    The practical reality, of course, it much as RR stated.

  • Congress only has the power of the purse over the military. The President is clearly commander-in-chief under the Constitution of the military. Congress has no more power to instruct the President as to what may be done with the military than the President has power to compel Congress to appropriate funds for the military. Congress of course, whenever it wishes, has the power to deny funding for specific military operations. Since this is difficult to do politically, we have flapdoodle like the War Powers Act, which is a simple attempt by members of Congress to avoid the heavy lifting of denying funds if they wish to terminate a military operation.

  • The item that is missing from most every discussion is just what is a “State of War”. A Declaration of War creates a State of War. There has always been lawful armed conflict existing outside a formal State of War. The War Powers Act attempts to deal with involvement in armed conflict outside of a formal State of War.

    1. A Sate of War can only exist between two independent countries. Declaring war is recognizing the other party as an independent country. The big example from American History is the Civil War. The North never declared war on the South, doing so would have recognized the legitimacy of the southern states succession. Instead Congress declared the southern states were engaged in an insurgency against the proper government.

    2. A State of War is between two countries as a whole every citizen of one is an enemy of the every citizen of the other. Take Libya, whatever the goals are we are supporting a faction in civil war we are not saying that evey Libyan is an enemy of every American.

    3. A State of War can only be formally ended by a peace treaty. It is somtes commented that a formal declarion of war is not so much an authorization to fight but a refusal to talk and let the issue be settled by arms.

    A declarations of war is clearly inappropriate for intervening in acivil war such as Libya. Given the nature of a State of War, modern nuclear weapons and the wording of the UN Charter formal declarations of war are pretty much obsolete.

    The clear meaning of the Constitution is that only Congress has the ability to declare a formal State of War.

    Lawful conflict outside of a State of War falls into a rather fuzzy boundary between Legislative and Executive powers. The War Powers act could only work with good faith cooperation between Congress and the President which we don’t have. The problem now is that th President did not seek that coopeation.

  • I hadn’t thought of that Hank, but wouldn’t it be better if we used a more literal definition of “state of war” as this would probably be more true to the founders’ meaning; keep in mind this is a term they don’t actually use. I can see your point though, about undeclared military excursions throughout early US history.

  • Ike

    Thank you. The definition I gave has been customary international law for several centuries, it can’t be ignored and is probably what was meant by the framers since almost all wars then were declared. I think there is in practice a domestic law “state of war” which applies in cases where a formal declaration is not appropriate. The War on Terror and Iraq War resolutions created this for their respective actions, but there is no resolution for Libya. Thus a problem.

  • Once hostilities commence, Congress has limited authority other than the purse, as Don said. It’s before hostilities commence where Congressional power is at its height, and that’s what I am concerned with here.

    Hank raises a good point, worthy of its own post. Modern warfare is certainly something different than what existed at the time of the Framing. So where do we draw the line? To me it boils down to this question: are we comfortable with the Executive taking unilateral action of this nature? Occasional air strikes are one thing, but in this specific situation where America has pledged military support to a long-term (not just a few strikes) military engagement, even if it’s another country’s civil war, Congress ought to approve before we proceed (or continue). No, this is not a declared war in the traditional sense, but it crosses the line into an area where it is within Congress’s legitimate Constitutional authority to intervene.

  • “Congress only has the power of the purse over the military.”

    You need to reread the constitution.

    Being the commander in chief doesn’t mean you have plenary authority to initiate hostilities (the commander in chief of Canada, for example, is Elizabeth II). If you look at the original understanding of the constitution it is quite clear on this point. The President has the authority to repel invasion, but to actually initiate hostilities he needs congressional approval. In practice it hasn’t been that way for a long time, but the same could be said of many other constitutional provisions.

  • “In practice it hasn’t been that way for a long time,”

    That will do for the understatement of the week! Whatever the initial intention of the Framers was, from the beginning the Constitutional provision granting to Congress the power to declare war has not acted as a restriction on the power of the President to use the military, as amply demonstrated by Presidential use of the military during the first 20 years after the drafting of the Constitution to wage war against Indian tribes, google battle of Fallen Timbers, foreign powers, France and the Barbary Pirates, and internal insurrections, the Whiskey Rebellion. If any of the Framers said a peep against any of this, all done without a formal declaration of war, I am unaware of it. A wise president will make certain that Congress supports such efforts, but it is clearly not required under the Constitution that he obtain such approval from the Congress, let alone seek a declaration of war, before using the military to engage in a war.

  • This is why I said it’s better seen as 2 separate issues, the academic question of constitutionality and the reality of the de facto law.

    On most other issues, one can sue to enforce the Constitution so the academic and the practical are one and the same. But how to conduct foreign affairs is a political question which the courts do not entertain on the merits. It extends, not only to military matters, but diplomatic as well (see, Goldwater v. Carter). Courts have heard and dismissed these kinds of cases before. Scalia, when he was on the DC Circuit, wrote the decision in Sanchez-Espinoza v. Reagan dismissing a war-powers-based challenge to US intervention in Nicarauga on the grounds that it was a “nonjusticiable political question.”

2 Responses to Congressional Amnesia

Elections Have Consequences – Tax Cut Edition

Thursday, December 9, AD 2010

I’ll leave it up to others on the blog to discuss the merits of the compromise on taxes and unemployment benefits recently reached between President Obama and Congressional Republicans.  For what it’s worth, I’d probably vote for it were I a member of Congress (shudder), but I do think that the Republicans could have pushed a little harder on certain measures.

What fascinates me as a student of American history are some of the reactions, and also some of the reactions to the reactions.  First of all,  Congressional Democrats have rejected the measure in a non-binding caucus vote.  This has caused Jim Geraghty to ponder:

I understand the White House line is that today’s rejection is part of the “normal process.” Really? Is it normal for a majority of the president’s own party to vote against deals he makes?

Normal?  No.  But I think this is a positive development in a way.

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4 Responses to Elections Have Consequences – Tax Cut Edition

  • Actually, I do have one idea: Bring ALL the troops home, cut military spending in half, close 700 bases around the world and raise the draw bridges.

    Without getting into the merits of this idea, do you really believe that this would save $5 trillion?

  • Paul, “compromise” may be de riguer in politics and “another example of the Constitution in action,” as you put it, but in other spheres of life it is an ugly word.

    The Irish poet Yates once wrote, “You know what the Englishman’s idea of compromise is? He says, Some people say there is a God. Some people say there is no God. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two statements.”

    And, from George Jean Nathan: “A man’s wife is his compromise with the illusion of his first sweetheart.”

  • Well Joe, we can go on pretending that the President of the United States is not a Democrat, and therefore the GOP would be free to push whatever policies it so chooses, or we can wake up and smell reality. The tax cuts are going to expire in 21 days, and do you have another means by which to convince a President I’m willing to bet you’d consider a socialist to allow the tax cuts to continue?

  • I am apolitical, Paul. I have no love for either party. These fiscal bookkeeping games are beyond my ability to grasp, nor anyone else’s. Administrations for decades have been fine-tuning tax policy and the result is always the same: the haves get more, the have-nots less. I have no solution, of course, and I don’t think it lies in any one philosophy, left or right. As a collector of Social Security solely, it has no effect on me either way and I have no inheritance to leave upon my demise.

    Actually, I do have one idea: Bring ALL the troops home, cut military spending in half, close 700 bases around the world and raise the draw bridges. We’d save $5 trillion and could have universal health care, buy a new car for everyone who didn’t get one from Oprah and still have enough left over for a pretty good weekend in Vegas.