The Story on Sequestration

Sequestration is originally a legal term for the seizure or confiscation of property to prevent it being disposed of or destroyed before its ownership could be resolved.  The term was altered by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget act of 1985 to mean automatic spending cuts that kick in if the deficit exceeds a specific dollar amount.

If Sequestration kicks in at the beginning of March the following automatic spending cuts will take place:

A 10.0 percent reduction in non-exempt defense mandatory programs.

A 9.4 percent reduction in non-exempt defense discretionary funding.

An 8.2 percent reduction in non-exempt non-defense discretionary funding.

A 7.6 percent reduction in other non-exempt non-defense mandatory programs.

A 2.0 percent reduction in Medicare funding.

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For links for this story, click here.

I do not know that I am really upset in any fashion about the military side of this sequestration.  Not that sequestration itself is a good thing, but this kind of drastic cutting of defense spending I see as a positive thing.  We spend way too much on our military.  We are now and have for the past decade plus spent far too much for defense of the nation.  We spend 41% of all defense dollars on the planet.  What foe is, and foes are so large as to necessitate that kind of spending?

I see none.  Al-Qaeda, while a foe and a strong one, is not so strong a foe as to make necessary that kind of spending. Neither is North Korea that strong.  Neither is Iran.  No one  is.  So as far as those spending cuts go, I am all for them.

But the sequester doesn’t do just that. If it did I would whole-heartedly support it.

I do not.

The sequester will hurt a great many people by cuts to non military programs and  job cuts in many important government programs.

Sequestration would undermine education in a great many ways, from cutting funding for state grants and after-school programs. And funding for special needs children of all varieties to would suffer as well.  The agriculture departments ability to inspect food would be compromised.  The EPA’s ability to oversee environmental risks both at home and on the job would be compromised.  FEMA would not be able to respond to crises nearly as well due to lack of economic resources. And programs like unemployment and food stamps that protect the poorest of us from abject poverty and starvation would be curtailed as well.  There are a great many other programs affected by the potential sequestration that I have not mentioned.  A great many.

And those cuts would not only be a travesty and a sin, but would greatly impede this nations ability to simply function on a daily basis. The world, expensive as it is to live in, would become even more expensive.

And whom do we have to blame for all of this?

In 2011 we had a rather severe potential economic crisis on our hands. Yes it was completely self-inflicted,  by recalcitrant Republicans that were in the process of holding the economy hostage during the debt ceiling crisis.

You do remember that, right?

That Republicans in the house of representatives were not willing to budge and were willing to let the nations debt go into default, thus abandoning one of their major constitutional duties, unless something were done to curtail spending.  And that was where the concept of sequestration came into being during the Obama administration.  It was a way to get something done that would pass muster in the house.

All 218 Republicans voted for it.  No Democrats voted for it. And there is a reason that happened like that.  Democrats knew that it would hammer the economy and negatively affect millions of Americans.  Republicans didn’t care about that.  All they cared about was cutting spending, they cared not a lick who that would hurt or how much damage it would do to the economy and this nation.

Now the Republicans, seeing that their chickens are coming home to roost, that sequestration is wildly unpopular, are trying their level best to blame the President. And as we know, he really had no other choice when this first came up but to offer up something like this to save the economy.  It was the actions of the Republican controlled house that forced the Presidents hand when the house GOP held the nation hostage with the debt ceiling back in 2011.

But the issues here are not just with what the sequestration can do.  It is the attitude both sides are taking going into negotiations here.  Both sides seem to think that the other side  will be seen as being to blame for whatever happens here, which tells me that both sides will be willing to sit on their hands and simply let this happen.

I hope I am wrong about that.  The amount of damage the sequester will do is far too much for a nation just coming back from the great recession to handle.  It would cause recession 2.0 and I don’t think anyone wants that.  We’ll see if we get what we need, or what they want.

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Campaign Contributions to be Revisitied by the Supreme Court

In January of 2010, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,  the Supreme court ruled that portions of the McCain-Feingold act (BCRA) along with the Michigan Campaign Finance Act and one other court ruling were unconstitutional, in that they restricted political  expenditures by corporations.

In an upcoming case, the Supreme court will decide in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission whether individual caps on contributions are constitutional.  The current caps that exist state that an individual may not give more than $46,200 to  federal candidates over a 2 year period and that individuals may not give more than $70,800 to other political entities , such as national and local political parties and non party committees, such as 501(c)(4) organizations.

The CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development Co., a man named Shaun McCutcheon, wanted to give over a 2 year period according to the Reuters story a total of $55,500 but was not allowed to because of the legal restrictions placed on individuals by federal law.  The story goes on to state that the rationale for the legal challenge, as delineated by Mr. McCutcheon and the RNC’s counsel in this case, James Bopp,is as follows:  Federal limits on individual donations force those that want to give more to go outside the system and give to superpacs rather than to the candidates they wold prefer to give to.

I want you to look closely at that last sentence.  While not Mr. Bopps words (to read them go to the Links page for the link to read them yourself) they accurately speak what Mr. Bopp said.

When I roll that thought around my head, I am greatly dismayed by what I see.  In large part because it would give wealthy people a more direct route to the halls of power than they already have. And they already have a huge advantage over the poor in this nation.

If the court agrees with McCutcheon here what will happen to the electoral process?  I am not sure.  The man, McCutcheon says he only wanted to give a few thousand dollars more than the legal limit.  But the court is not restricted by the wants or needs of that one individual. The worst case scenario, and the one I think both parties, Democratic and Republican alike are rooting for is to completely do away with individual limits.

The legal challenge to the law does NOT seek to amend the number of dollars that individuals may give. What it seeks to do is completely wipe the law off of the books and make the specific portion of law that limits individuals contributions unconstitutional.

The rub here is simple.  If McCutcheon wins this case what is bad now about campaign finance will become worse.  If he wins, then millionaires and billionaires will, until new legislation is passed, be able to buy elections lock, stock and barrel.

And will we be able to fix this should the system break this way and take power from the people?  Let me put it this way; Have we been able to fix the damage done by Citizens United in the courts and Congress?

About that much.

So the answer is simple.

Nope.

And who gets pinched out of the scene there?  The little guy.  This would be yet another blow to freedom for the poor and disenfranchised in this nation. We will become even more than we are now a nation where money is speech.

And if money is speech, does that not make poverty silence? How can people like us, the millions who live paycheck to paycheck, keep up?

We won’t be able to.

And there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

Hope they don’t do it, we can only wait until the Supreme Court decides this in the next session, which begins in October.

Have a nice day.

A Roundabout Way to Kind of Make a Point

Pic of the day, part i: The Intervention of the Sabine Women, By Jacques Louis David

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At every step one has to wrestle for truth; one has to surrender for it almost everything to which the heart, to which our love, our trust in life, cling otherwise. That requires greatness of soul: the service of truth is the hardest service. What does it mean, after all, to have integrity in matters of the spirit? That one is severe against one’s heart…that one makes of every Yes and No a matter of conscience.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

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A roundabout way to kind of make a point:

There are commercials that air on New York radio that are propaganda. Plain and simple. Pollution of the airwaves, care of those enemies of freedom, clear channel. Overkill you say? They are the ones that broadcast nationally Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck’s radio show, Sean Hannity, and a great many other conservative radio programs. They have had some liberal shows on, but dropped them to air sports instead, despite good ratings.

Light fm 106.7 in New York is one of those stations. It is a light music station that touts its variety of music, while playing the same 15 or 20 songs on a three hour rotation. Clear Channel sucks from one end of the spectrum to the other and everywhere in between. There is nothing but bland crap music on that station, but weak crap on the radio is another article for another time.

These people have an agenda, and the ads that air there show it. One of the ads has New Jersey Governor Christie and his attempt to whitewash the truth about his tax cut for the wealthy, planning to make it look like the “Corzine Democrats” are trying to fuck New Jersey when it’s that fat bloated sack of shit Christie that’s doing the fucking. Uses the term “Corzine Democrats” several times while at the same time calling the bill he is trying to ram through the Jersey legislature bipartisan. Bullshit is a better term.

Then there’s the beverage ban commercial, brought to you by Pepsi, Coke and Snapple. The one with “real” new yorkers. The real fake ones that sound like people who are faking New York accents. Which fucking drives me nuts.

Now before I begin talking against next commercial I need to say that I am not for the ban myself. It makes no sense for the Mayor to stop people from doing that which they want just because he doesn’t think it’s right. That is silly. If people want to drink a lot of crap in a large container, let them. I see no reason to drink one of those fucking behemoth things, but I see no reason to ban it either. Seems dumb.

That said, I am opposed to large corporations jumping into the fray to try to stop this. The ad in question makes it seem like all New Yorkers are being oppressed by the Mayor because he wants to ban large drinks. But that is not what the ban is about. The ban isn’t about choice, it’s about sugar intake. At it’s base the Mayor, wrongheaded as he usually is, has a point here. New Yorkers and Americans in general take in too much sugar. It’s unhealthy. And that is what the mayor is trying to do something about.

He’s an idiot, so he does it wrong, but he’s trying to look out for us.

I don’t like the Mayor doing this, out of principle. I don’t like Coke and Pepsi fighting this on the airwaves without some kind of counterpoint from somewhere. Pollutes the entire subject. And lobbying groups like the one putting these ads out don’t belong using the airwaves, and by extension us, the way they use congress to put out pro-business propaganda. Especially not under the clearly false guise of having our freedom of choice taken away from us.

I can still vote for whomever I like. I can still eat and drink what I want. He isn’t banning Coke, Snapple and Pepsi from the city limits.

Someone needs to step up and make the point that the mayor should be making if this is the fight that he wants to fight.

Sugar is the issue. Not the drinks themselves.

Obesity, insanely fat and unhealthy people who don’t have to be like that is the real issue.

Oh and the other thing that people are missing. The beverage ban would NOT ban large drinks outright. It would only stop their sales at restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums. If I wanted to buy a buttload of 3 litre bottles of soda at Pathmark in my neighborhood after the ban, I still could.

People protested this too. They take away your 4th amendment rights and you sit at home and watch the ballgame, but try a partial ban on big sodas and everybody takes a giant shit all at once and lose their friggin minds and take to the streets…. When did our priorities go so wrong?

So…

The ad sucks. Roundabout way to make that point, but I had fun doing it. And I got to say the Mayor was wrong, that the people at Pepsi, Snapple and Coke suck, Governor Christie is a fat bloated sack of shit, and that Clear Channel communications is evil. That’s 4 for 4 in my book. And that bold Italicized sentence has a point all it’s own.

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Pic of the day, part ii: The Oath of the Horatii, by Jacques Louis David

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What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding.

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral sense

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That’s it from here, America. G’night.

On First Reading

Pic of the day:  Bennington Battle flag

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Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.

James Madison, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 1788

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I am in the process of reading the supreme courts ruling in the case National Federation of Independent Business v Sibelius.  I have to tell you it is an interesting read.  And not without twists and turns.  I can see why CNN and Fox were quick to say that the law was being overturned.  Much of the beginning statement was reasoning for the individual mandate to be overturned.  And the reasons were soundly thought out and reasonable.

Curious I should say that, seeing how I am very much for this law, personally.  I was much in line with Chief Justice Roberts rationale against using the commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause to constitutionally validate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, once I read it.

The rationale against the law when looked at from these arguments is entirely reasonable.  I personally think he is right because in light of those arguments, it is a creation of power above and beyond the mandate of congress.  These two instances (commerce, and necessary &  proper) are both there to protect already enumerated powers, laws that already exist.  The health care law overstepped those bounds and created powers that did not exist before, and because of that the Chief justice shot those arguments down.

But the taxation argument saved the Patient protection and Affordable care act.  Despite the fact that the law calls the penalty for not getting health insurance a “penalty” and not a tax, the court said that they would simply look at the penalty as a tax, because the law is enacted in such a way that the penalty is actually paid like a tax, and is in fact collected by the IRS, and, according to the court, “the payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance.”

And payment is not intended to induce the purchase of health insurance, and there are no negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance.

Says so right in the writ of certiorari.  It’s on page four.  Click here to read the entire thing.

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The one thing I have not seen is the actual amount one would have to pay should one not have health insurance.  I have heard from some fearful right wingers that there will be jail time for those who do not buy health insurance.  Which is just plain silly. There will be no jail time for anyone not according to the law that I read, and that law is the same one that Justice Roberts signed off on.

Partially.

He did say that stripping states that do not comply with the law of their medicare benefits was “Dragooning.”

Can’t say that I disagree as far as that goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.  The states that simply turn their backs on the people who would be helped by this law won’t agree with Justice Roberts here.  And neither do I.  There are abuses that the state can heap upon the individual, just as the federal government can, and this was meant as a protection from the states “dragooning” the citizens of those states who turned their backs on this law, against the will of the electorate and would make them suffer with sub-standard medical coverage.

I would much rather see a state government made to suffer some harm than to see it’s citizens health unnecessarily compromised due to purposeful disregard of a federal law that does not impinge on my freedom, which this does not.  Mind you complete loss of their medicare coverage was a bit much. Some other penalty could have been brought to bear that would have stood the constitutional test.  The law would have survived untouched if not for that major misstep by congress.

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Pic of the day:  Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender by, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison, in a letter to W.T. Barry, 1822

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That’s about it from here, America.  G’night.

Droning On

Pic of the day: Portrait of a man with a Lute, by Hans Holbein the Younger. This is here because Han Holbein never painted a predator drone once. Damnably rude of him, being inconveniently born 500 years or so early.

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I must say, extreme justice is an extreme injury: For we ought not to approve of those terrible laws that make the smallest offences capital, nor of that opinion of the Stoics that makes all crimes equal; as if there were no difference to be made between the killing a man and the taking his purse, between which, if we examine things impartially, there is no likeness nor proportion.

Thomas More, Utopia; ch.1

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As you are no doubt aware, the FAA was ordered in February to allow the use of drones in the same airspace as regular air traffic to monitor and surveil the citizenry. They have until 2015 to do so, but guidelines are already in place to allow UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) to fly here. And if you were not aware of these events by all means read this link, and this one to get yourself up to date.

Now as you can imagine there are legitimate concerns about abuse of privacy with these things spying on us without our knowledge or consent. So, as a public service here is a list of the jurisdictions, towns, and organizations that have requested UAS access which are listed as active:

Arlington Texas Police Department

The City of Herington, Kansas

North Little Rock Arkansas Police department

Darpa

Eastern Gateway Community College, Ohio

The Gadsden Alabama Police department

Georgia Tech Research Institute

Kansas State University

Mesa County Sheriff’s office, Arizona

Miami-Dade County Police department

Middle Tennessee State University

Mississippi Dept. of Marine resources

Mississippi State University

NASA AMES Research Center

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

New Mexico State University Physical Sciences Lab

Ogden Police Department, Utah

Ohio University

Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana

Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Florida

Seattle Police Department Headquarters, Washington (note: The city of Seattle was not even aware that the police department had requested the use of drones until a reporter asked the city council about it.)

Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, Texas

Texas A&M University – TEES (Texas Engineering Experiment Station)

Texas State University-San Marcos

University of Alaska

University of Colorado

University of Connecticut

University of Florida

Utah State University

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

US Air Force

US Army

DHS-CBP (Customs & Border Protection)

DHS-Science & Technology

Dept. of Energy – Idaho National Laboratory

Dept of Agriculture -Agricultural Research Service

Dept. of Interior-National Business Center/Aviation Management

United States Department of the Navy

United States Marine Corps

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On top of that there is a list of companies that want to fly drones as well. That list can be read by clicking here.

Now, I can see why the Marines and the Airforce and DARPA and a few others would want to use the damn things. Training and the like, one presumes. And some cities might be able to use them, granted that they are used with very stringent rules regarding exactly who can be surveilled and who cannot, and the exact purposes and uses of these things. Border states dealing with illegal immigration, that’s almost a given that they’ll be used there.

But universities? And that damn many of them? Why the hell would eastern gateway community college need a fucking drone for? Some kid outside his dorm sparkin’ up a spliff and you want to drop a smart bomb on him or something to send a message? Srsly, I don’t get that. I will eventually, just not tonight.

The one that bothers me the most, because they are a bunch of useless goddamn idiots is Homeland security, AKA Government security theater. These people have never once justified their existence, never done a single thing worth a damn, and now they want drones? Please. Let them prove they can control their budget and do their actual jobs before you give them so much as a radio controlled monster truck.

And that list is sure to grow as time goes on.

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Our job as citizens, especially in the places where they are going to be authorized, is two fold.

One to is keep pressure on both local and federal governments to make certain that they stay within well defined boundaries within the law and do not for a second move outside those boundaries. That they do not touch our privacy if we have done no wrong; that they do not randomly surveil the citizenry; that they let the public know exactly what has been surveilled and how. If we are footing the bill for this, we have the right to know what exactly is being done with it.

The other is to prepare for the moment that they stray past those lines. And you know they will, no matter how high minded the aim, someone somewhere will goof, will go too far, do too much. That is when we have to speak with one voice against the abuse of our liberty. It is bad enough that these benightedly evil things are going to be used in the United States of America to keep an eye on things

For our own protection, of course. Which is a damned lie, but that is another matter for another time.

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That’s it from here, America. G’night.

More Random Thoughts

Oil is at the highest prices they have been at in a long time.  Brent crude is up over $121 a barrel.  Why?  Iran.  They have cut oil supplies, having decided to cut off both French and British companies.  They also happen to be in the middle of a major dispute with Israel.  And Iran has warships in the Mediterranean off the coast of Syria. Close enough to help Assad in Syria if they like, or reach Israel should they feel the need.

Prices will continue to go up so long as they continue to act as provocatively as they are.  Do we get to see the additional craziness of Iran shelling the citizens of Syria that are fighting against Assad, the man who is killing his own people for demanding anything even vaguely democratic?

Or shelling Israeli targets?  One wonders.

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Pic of the day: The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders of the Apocalypse, By Albrecht Durer

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There is a law that is under consideration in Virginia that says embryos will have the same rights as “other persons”. Really?  They are people, with the same rights and responsibilities as “other persons?”

So, when will these lazy fucking Virginia embryos start pulling their own damned weight and get fucking jobs?

Fucking hippie embryo fucks.

To be serious tho, these god-damned self important right wing ass clowns with delusions of gender superiority are a pain in all moral Americans asses.  Abortion has been around for thousands of years. You cannot legislate it away, or make people more moral with legislation.  That has been tried.  It has unquestionably failed.  This will simply push abortion underground.  You will kill young women for mistakes.  You will kill your own daughters trying to save their children.

You cannot stop people from doing what they want to do.  Morality cannot be legislated, you cannot make godless people fear God.  No legislation can make any of that happen.  None.

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Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99% of them are wrong.

H.L. Mencken

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Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson both belong in the Baseball hall of fame.  They were both among the best players to ever play their sport.  For that alone they belong in.  How can any sport that doesn’t have it’s best individual performer at the games most basic level in it’s “Hall of Fame” be meaningful in any way whatsoever?  Hitting is the most basic thing a player does in baseball, that and pitching.  If Rose isn’t in the Hall, the hall itself, with it’s exclusion of him, becomes a meaningless institution.

And if Rose belongs in, how can you keep Joe Jackson out?  He did the same thing, gambled on his team, and he unlike Rose admitted it.  He said he did it, and was ashamed of it by all accounts.  Should we not let this great player who was taken advantage of by gamblers much to his detriment into Baseballs hallowed halls where he belongs for his other feats on the diamond? How do you keep a man with a career average of .356, who struck out only 158 times in over 1300 career games out of the hall of fame?

Even if it was so, these guys are too good to be out of the hall of fame.

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I copied Jackson’s style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He’s the guy who made me a hitter.

Babe Ruth

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That’s it from here, America.  G’night.

Section 4

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, section 4

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The debt ceiling has been used by both sides of the political divide in order to try to protect it’s agenda while at the same time using it as agitprop against the other party.  But there is an argument that is far above the political crap that has been going on here.  The argument is that section 4 of the 14th amendment of the constitution protects the government from defaulting on it’s debt.  It makes the point that the government is obliged to pay it’s debts.  To ignore our debt, or to let the debt ceiling lapse (for lack of a better term) causing the government to default is unconstitutional.

Both sides of the political debate have made this point, albeit to themselves more or less. It is no surprise then, that the combination of bumping into the debt ceiling, and the breakdown in negotiations due to the political hostage taking that the political right has been foisting on the American people, has brought this argument to the fore.

Any attempt by congress to even attempt to drop the ball here is blatantly and simply against the law, entirely unconstitutional. Any argument that allows our debts to go unpaid goes against the law of the land, of the Constitution of the United States itself.

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Viddy of the day: Breakingviews: U.S. default argument–it’s unconstitutional.  The first two minutes are about the debt ceiling argument, the second half is about tech stocks.  Good stuff.

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I do find it curious, but not surprising, that with this little piece of knowledge about the 14th amendment floating around that there are people, even people in the know, who continue to argue about this subject like the debt ceiling is somehow important.  How could it be, if the law simply states that DEBTS GET PAID, NO IF’S ANDS OR BUTS?  I find it curious indeed.

But then again, with the amount of arguing that people have been doing on this subject, and knowing that when people invest that much sweat into an argument, they are generally loathe to give that argument up, it isn’t a surprise that this debt ceiling horse-crap has lasted as long as it has.

Most people usually think they are right simply because they hold an opinion.  Usually up until the point that the wrongness of their points are rubbed, figuratively, in their faces (and sometimes even that won’t suffice.)  So, it really isn’t a surprise that the debt ceiling, as an argument used to score political points, or as anything but the anachronistic thought that it is, is still here.

One wonders why those who knew this, who thought about this issue in it’s proper light from the beginning didn’t simply scream this from the mountaintops.  I for one never even thought about reading the constitution when thinking about the debt.  Silly me.  Why I do not know.  Perhaps because I was reading this as a news and economic event, rather than in it’s true light.  Which is that it is a legal matter.

That is what I get for attaching myself too closely to my normal sources of information.

And this whole story begs other questions, on which I may write on at a later date, one which I will ask but not answer, not yet anyway.

Why have we worked with and lived with the idea of a debt ceiling for the better part of 90 years, when it is clearly unnecessary horse manure, when it hasn’t kept us from spending, hasn’t made us more fiscally responsible, and hasn’t had any real legal strength since it’s inception?

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That’s it from here, America.  G’night.