Sunday, July 31, 2005

A Balancing Act

The executive [President] ...holds the sword...The legislative [Congress]...commands the purse...The judiciary...has no influence over either the sword or the purse...can take no active resolution whatever...liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, [as usurpers] but would have every thing to fear from its union with either of the other departments..." [in usurping power]

The Federalist (no.78, by Alexander Hamilton)

Do you know why a three-legged stool never wobbles? Do you know why roof trusses are made up of lots of triangles? Do you know why we have three branches of government?

These questions may seem unrelated, but they're not.

A three-legged stool never wobbles because, mathematically, it takes three points to define a plane. With four legs, three will be in one plane but the fourth might be in another and so the stool wobbles.

Roof trusses are made up of triangles because the triangle is the most stable (or strongest) geometric shape— it is the only shape that cannot be altered without changing the length of at least one of the sides. If you imagine a square where the corners are all able to rotate, you can push the square to one side or the other and change its shape to a parallelogram. You can take a five-sided pentagon and make it look like the outline of a house. You can take a circle and "squish" it to look like an oval. But you cannot change the shape of a triangle unless you change the length of at least one of its legs.

If you look around at nature, you'll see even more examples of the strength and stability of the number 3. Three primary colors (red, blue, yellow). Three dimensions to any physical object (length, width, height). Three tenses (past, present, future). Three types of numbers (positive, negative, zero). Three forms of existence (solid, liquid, gas).

What does all this have to do with three branches of government, the separation of powers, and the system of checks and balances?

Quite a lot.

While the examples above are physical in nature and appear to pertain more to engineering than to political philosophy, they help illustrate the importance of our three branches of government, and provide an excellent visual illustration of how the political concepts serve to strengthen and support our system of government in much the same way triangles and tripods provide strength to structures in the physical world.

The underlying basis for the separation of powers in government can be found as far back in human history as Aristotle, but the most significant contributions to this concept were made and defined by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, a French political thinker who was a contemporary of our Founding Fathers. Simply put, this principle states that;

“the powers of a sovereign government should be split between two or more strongly independent entities in order to prevent any one person or group from gaining too much power”.

Montesquieu also coined the term “Checks and Balances” out of concern for the prevention of abuse of power. Quoting him on “Separation of Powers”,

"To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the nature of things that one power should be a check on another."

Our founding fathers, all well educated men and very familiar with the political thinkers of the day, took a page or two from the writings of Montesquieu and divided the powers of government into three branches - the legislative (Congress), executive (office of the President), and the judicial (the Supreme Court). Each branch had distinct areas of responsibility, and a role defined to help preserve the checks

(the ability, right, and responsibility of each power to monitor the activities of the other(s))

and balances

(the ability of each entity to use its authority to limit the powers of the others, whether in general scope or in particular cases)

between the other two branches.

In essence, the three branches of government provided the same type of stability to government that the legs of a three-legged stool provide, with the checks and balances serving as the glue holding it all together. Each branch established a three-fold purpose with the following capabilities:

1. To fulfill constitutionally determined roles (law maker, law executor and law interpreter).

2. To insure that the other two branches did not overstep constitutionally determined roles.

3. To protect the rights of the citizens as individuals from both the government and the rule of the majority.

The strength and importance of this structure cannot be underestimated. To continue the example of the stool, if one leg is removed or compromised, the stool becomes unstable. The same thing happens with a government. Our founding fathers knew this, and knew also that the separation of powers was critical to not only maintain the fairness of government, but also to prevent the formation of a tyranny. They said as much, in fact:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

- James Madison, Federalist Papers, Number 47

The "accumulation of all powers" that James Madison warns of cannot occur if we maintain the checks and balances in our system. But when we start removing them, we take the first steps down the road to tyranny. This has become very evident with the virtual elimination of another important check: our multi-party electoral system.

Prior to the Civil War, the US had elected presidents who were members of the Democratic-Republican, Federalist, Whig, Democratic and Republican parties. George Washington had no party affiliation, making him the only "independent" elected to the presidency. The many political parties made it extremely difficult for any one party to control both houses of Congress and the White House, and through the appointment process for federal judges, the Judiciary.

But every president since the Civil War has been a member of either the Republican or Democratic Party. It's taken almost 140 years, but we now are essentially a two party system. While not impossible, it is now extremely difficult for anyone who is not a member of either of these parties to win election, especially at the national level. This is evidenced by the fact that out of the more than 500 members of the 109th Congress, there are a total of two independent candidates and none for the more than 40 political parties that officially exist within the US.

This loss of a truly viable third party has slowly been causing a polarization in this country and since the last election, when control of two branches of the government fell to the same political party, that polarization has become even more pronounced. "If you're not with us, you're against us" is the attitude on both sides of the fence. This allows little room for compromise and without compromise, government will either eventually grind to a halt, or the one party will take over completely by removing the remaining checks and balances, in which case they will have completed the "accumulation of powers" and the journey to tyranny will be complete.

We saw in the first two Characteristics how the Bill of Rights protects every individual's unalienable rights from being trampled by the rule of the majority. And the checks and balances in our political system were designed as additional safeguards to protect unalienable rights from being disregarded by the government. To support the removal of any of these checks and balances is to invite and even condone the violation of the US Constitution. In a very real sense, alteration of the checks and balances serves to weaken the 'glue' that holds the tripod together. A True US Patriot decries the undermining of any of the checks and balances in our political process, especially when such is touted as a necessity to ensure the safety of the citizenry against "our enemies." As Ben Franklin once said;

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Inventing of America

America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, human rights invented America.
- former President and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter,1981

It is inconceivable. More than two centuries after the founding of this nation, whose very creation was based on the unalienable rights of all human beings, basic human rights are still denied to many by our government. High-level officials are using the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of words and phrases to legally justify violations of human rights where they deem it necessary. Such wayward thinking is not only cause for dismay but is detrimental to us all - as citizens, as a nation and as human beings.

Do you remember the simple yet powerful declaration made by the Founding Fathers?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Those words introduced to the world the basic principles upon which our nation was founded. The evolution of our nation through various conflicts both foreign and domestic has brought us, now, nearly full circle. The very principles that led us to initiate a new country, founded upon these beliefs, have been jeopardized.

Less than two weeks ago, we published a reminder – “Ten Characteristics of ‘A True US Patriot’” - to our fellow citizens. With the words of our Founding Fathers in mind, we crafted the second characteristic to read as follows:
A True US Patriot

holds the principles of the Declaration of Independence to be self-evident and defends the rights of others, even when those rights conflict with personal and religious beliefs; believing that all men are created equal, even in times of war, and that human rights apply not only to one group of people or nation, but to all.
The phrase "even when those rights conflict with personal and religious beliefs" not only emphasizes the right to worship or not worship as one chooses, but also recalls that this right and freedom is universal, and religious doctrine is not to be imposed upon nor used to restrict the freedoms of anyone.

This Characteristic also alludes to some of the later Civil Rights advances. During the first years of exploration into the country, Native Americans were wrongly considered by many to be savages. Faux science and religious beliefs were used to legitimize the use of slaves by classifying the enslaved as 'less than human'. Similar reasoning was used to justify the subjugation of women by denying them the right to vote or to own property. We are once again seeing a re-emergence of this line of thinking with respect to gay rights and the treatment of "enemies of the state". These examples demonstrate the dangers of allowing the beliefs of a few to dictate civil law for all: such narrowly-defined beliefs serve to justify laws which oppress and discriminate against fellow human beings.

We must remember that the words of both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were not just thrown together while a bunch of guys were sitting around over coffee. These words were deliberately chosen in order to convey the founding fathers’ belief that every living, breathing human being had these same rights.

It does not say "All citizens of the American colonies" or "of the United States". It says "ALL men"— as in all of humanity.

It does not say "endowed by the God of Abraham". It says "by THEIR CREATOR". The word "their" signifies how the individual defines "creator". "Creator" does not imply gender, religion, or even a deity for that matter. Nature or science or chance can create.

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" means that we are free to live our lives according to the beliefs that make us happy. In other words, to live our lives as we see fit.

The Declaration of Independence also declares, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". The purpose of the government is to protect our right to live our lives as we see fit , and that purpose exists by the will and consent of the people. We gave the government that purpose, and we are the ones who have the right to restrict or remove it.

There is only ONE way in which every single individual on this planet can live their life as they see fit and that is to accept the unalienable responsibility that is the other side of the coin to our unalienable rights, and that is to voluntarily limit our own actions in such a way that they do not interfere with the rights of others to live THEIR lives according to the social and spiritual beliefs that make THEM happy.

That means we don't steal from others, NOT because it is morally wrong, but because it would interfere with another person's right to live their life as they see fit.

An individual may believe that a God dictates all human morality, thereby exercising their right to believe as they choose. In turn, the founding purpose of our nation states that the individual must allow all others the same freedom of choice, even if that choice disagrees with one's own views. We all must recognize that, from another's perspective, our personal beliefs may be considered "wrong", yet we would still want them to respect our right to hold those differing beliefs. Therefore, we must be willing to extend the same rights and respect to others. That is why a True US Patriot “defends the rights of others, even when those rights conflict with personal and religious beliefs”.

Unfortunately, sometimes those who violate the US Constitution are the same people charged with protecting it. As recent government policies, both foreign and domestic have demonstrated, it is important for us to emphasize that the basic principles of humanity apply not only to one group of people or nation, but to all. This acknowledges the intent of the founding fathers when they stated "ALL men are created equal". Unalienable rights and freedoms don't change based on national boundaries, conditions of citizenship, or membership in the same economic or philosophic "club". Neither do the basic tenets of humane and just treatment, the recognition of basic human dignity, or the application of standards of integrity change for any reason.

It is particularly important to remember this during interactions involving those with whom we are engaged in any sort of conflict, whether it be on the personal, national or international level. This is underscored by use of the phrase "even in times of war". Human beings do not stop being human — or lose their unalienable rights — simply because we're on opposite sides of a military encounter. If respect for others, even those we may designate as "enemies", is lost, then our own self-respect is also lost.

Those who treat others as "less than human" make themselves less than human. And, by extension, their fellow citizens.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Unalienable Rights of All

On July 4th, we published a set of Ten Characteristics of ‘A True US Patriot’. Defined by a group of people representing different backgrounds, political affiliations, and philosophies, these Ten Characteristics were not meant to be an exhaustive list, but to serve instead as a base foundation to help counter the misappropriation and misuse of the term.

Having provided a common definition for the core Characteristics, we’ll now examine each point separately in order to clarify them.

The first Characteristic focuses explicitly upon rights and freedoms. It echoes the intent of the Constitution to set the foundation for the ‘unalienable’ rights of people.

A True US Patriot

realizes if the rights of one are violated, the rights of all are at risk, and objects to any attempt to alter the Constitution in order to specifically undermine the rights and freedoms of others, ensuring that the Constitution will never be amended to endorse discrimination of any kind.

The foundations for this point are various.

While the term ‘unalienable rights’ enters our history first from the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, it is within our Constitution that the system of government is defined, and rights are specifically guaranteed. In order to explore the meaning more fully, consider the
Amendment to the Constitution, “Rights retained by the People”.

Boiled down into plain language the 9th Amendment protects our un-enumerated rights. In other words our Founding Fathers realized, even so long ago, that times change, and with change would come new rights that are inherently ours by birth right and that Congress must recognize them as they arose in the public awareness. They knew even then that they could never hope to compile a comprehensive list of all human rights. So they wrote the 9th Amendment as a warning to Congress that they have no power to grant rights that are already ours by virtue of being human beings.

However, in a ‘true’ democracy, the majority has carte blanch to dictate over the minority. This country was never meant to be a democracy, where the majority rules at the expense of others.

We do not live in a true democracy, which, by definition, means that the majority rules all of the time.

Our Founding Fathers realized that in order to protect the rights of every individual, there had to be some limitations placed on majority rule. So concerned were they, they created the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These documents, the foundation for all our laws, decree that majority rules only as long as the majority does not violate the constitutionally guaranteed rights of even one individual.

When a judge or panel of judges rules a law unconstitutional, they are NOT being “activist judges”. In fact, they are simply doing what the judicial branch is supposed to do, which is to protect the rights of EVERY individual from laws that violate their rights guaranteed in the US Constitution.

It doesn't matter how popular a law or resolution might be. If it is unconstitutional, it is up to the courts in our legal system to make such a law null and void. It is their sworn duty and they would be derelict to allow to stand any law that violated the constitutional rights guaranteed each and every one of us.

If we allowed laws based on simple majority rule, then women and blacks might still not have the right to vote. When the rights of one individual are violated by some law, it puts the rights of EVERY individual at risk, especially if such a violation does not go unchallenged. Allowing unconstitutional laws to stand invites discrimination against minorities. For example, by allowing Jim Crow laws to stand, blacks continued to face discrimination even at the hands of law enforcement officials. Today, even the feeble attempt to pass the unconstitutional Federal Marriage Amendment has resulted in a marked increase in hate crimes towards and discrimination against gays.

Our founding fathers wrote a document that was designed to PROTECT rights, not take them away. They could not change social mores overnight, but created a document that would, as society matured and recognized that "all men" meant "all living, breathing human beings," protect the rights of those newly enfranchised minorities. Aside from Prohibition (which was eventually repealed), there's not one instance in which the US Constitution has been amended to deny anyone rights. They created a document that would hold true for a society that was much more socially mature than theirs was. When you think about it this was quite an accomplishment, since they had no real idea what our society would be like in 2005.

Our Founding Fathers KNEW conditions would change, they KNEW they couldn't think of everything, and that's why they made provision to change their work, as needed. However, they made it pretty difficult to make changes because they didn't want the Constitution to go hog-wild chasing every passing fancy. But a MAJOR change in society, such as the eventual recognition that persons of other races are "human" and that women are "human" and THEREFORE possessed of unalienable rights just as they considered themselves to be. THAT level of change is possible to accommodate. However, change should only be in ONE direction: that of protecting rights, not of taking them away.

The rights themselves are unalienable. Attempting to amend the Constitution to take rights away from anybody is misguided and futile. The recognition of those rights is what was accomplished by the Amendments "granting" them. Our rights aren't given or taken away; they are merely recognized or unlawfully with-held.

That's what "unalienable" means. And a True US Patriot recognizes and defends the unalienable rights of all citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Friday, July 15, 2005

US Patriots, United

"I" am actually a composite representative of a (growing) group of concerned citizens who are unaffiliated with any official organizations. We are made up of a variety of people from differing political parties and philosophies who share a common observation - the hijacking and misapplication of key words and phrases toward political goals has caused a deterioration of the core foundational values of our nation.

We decided to address this, and - in light of all the recent back-and-forth accusations of 'un-American', 'traitors', 'treason', and 'true patriotism', we decided to start with our common definition of 'A True US Patriot'. Working together on the Internet, we assembled a list of ten defining characteristics of 'A True US Patriot', and published it at USPatriotsUnited on July 4th. We also coordinated the release of these characteristics on several locations throughout the web, as well as via flyers handed out to the public and faxed to Congress.

If you google the term "A True US Patriot", you're likely to hit the list. It was released without the requirement to link back to the blog, so that folks could freely print and distribute it. Freedom Press reported 57,233 hits just by the end of the day on July 4th - it was just one of the sites where the handbill version was displayed. Within the next two days, it soared to over 100,000. Flyers numbering in the thousands were handed out – numbers are still growing, but approximately 3,000 in the Seattle area alone went out on July 4th, with requests for more. And the folks at MailToBlog cited our efforts and put up a way to help spread these ten principle characteristics.

We intend to continue - first, by reviewing the ten point that we'd defined, in order to help others better understand the points as well as those who contributed, and then by exploring other misappropriated memes, themes, words and phrases.

Our first post in this vein will appear on Saturday, around mid-day. Hope to see you here.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Ten Characteristics of A True US Patriot

A True US Patriot

We, the People of the United States of America, finding ourselves repeatedly misled by those charged with the care and governance of our nation, know that partisan politics have resulted in a serious breach of the public trust.

We have suffered attacks against our Constitutional rights and the founding tenets of this Democratic Republic.
We have suffered the infringement of our freedoms.
We have suffered insult to our honor and integrity as proud citizens.

We will no longer suffer in silence this continued assault that has now passed beyond intolerable.

We do hereby now and forever reject the bastardization of this nation's core principles through this proclamation, and define this reminder to our wayward leaders just what it takes to be a True US Patriot:

1A True US Patriot realizes if the rights of one are violated, the rights of all are at risk, and objects to any attempt to alter the Constitution in order to specifically undermine the rights and freedoms of others, ensuring that the Constitution will never be amended to endorse discrimination of any kind.
2A True US Patriot holds the founding principles of the Declaration of Independence to be self-evident, and defends the Constitutional rights of others even when those rights conflict with personal and religious beliefs; believing that all men are created equal, even in times of war, the basic principles of humanity apply not only to one group of people or nation, but to all.
3A True US Patriot supports the checks and balances within the three branches of government and rejects any attempts to circumvent or undermine them.
4A True US Patriot exercises the right to openly challenge and hold accountable at all times, even and most particularly in times of war, those who do not honor their oaths of office, who purposely mislead the nation, who abdicate responsibility when those in their employ are caught engaging in criminal and unethical activities, and who fail to serve the nation with integrity.
5A True US Patriot recognizes the contributions of the older generation and values the potential of the next, and that in order to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves, our elders, and our Posterity, we must ensure that the basic rights of those we hold dear to access quality healthcare and education is steadfastly supported, uncompromisingly and without discrimination based on race, color, creed, gender, or orientation.
6A True US Patriot believes that human rights are inherent to the human condition and should not be given to non-living entities; the rights of corporations should not equal or exceed the rights of any individual, and the right to fair and equal trade as well as fair and equal pay are a vital part of those expectations.
7A True US Patriot recalls that our citizens consist of the tired and the poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the ‘wretched refuse’, and homeless, tempest-tossed people, and welcomes fair and balanced immigration with managed borders to ensure an open policy while maintaining and increasing security for both those who would call this land their home as well as those who already dwell within.
8A True US Patriot respects the personal religious choices of others, refrains from imposing their own beliefs upon others, refuses to support war in the name of religion, and offers foreign humanitarian aid unconditionally without tying it to religious dogma.
9A True US Patriot knows that due process of law and the protections against illegal search and seizure are core principles upon which our nation is founded, and the respect of an individual's right to privacy and security within their own home is critical to the preservation of our freedom.
10A True US Patriot respects the diversity and culture of all nations, recognizing that our continued success lay not in spite of other nations but in alliance with them in a uniform approach toward promoting the global general welfare.

These ten basic tenets characterizing a True US Patriot can perhaps best be summed up in the words of Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, paraphrased below:
A True US Patriot loves what his country stands for, not necessarily what his country does, and will not shrink from holding America to her ideals¹.


¹ Eric Zorn, The Chicago Tribune, "Durbin should have stood up for his opinion", June 23, 2005.

Our 'leaders' have taken to calling each other 'un-American' and 'un-Patriotic' a lot lately. This list of ten characteristics of 'A True US Patriot' was compiled by a group of US Citizens both here and abroad. Let this list serve to help remind those who serve us that these terms were not meant to be bandied about like a club, bludgeoning opponents into submission.

Write or call the toll-free numbers of all your elected officials— from your local town/city council members to the President of the United States— and tell them about A True US Patriot. Let them know about this blog. Tell them that True US Patriots created this list, together. Ask your newspaper why it hasn't published an article on this subject. Let your friends and neighbors know about it.

Pass it around!

It's time for our elected representatives to be reminded - this is our country, our nation, and they serve both it, and us.

It's time to tell the media that it must live up to the role of champion of the truth, and ask the tough questions.

Thank you.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 01, 2005

In Conjunction with PatriotsAll.Blogspot.Com

Sometimes, even a True US Patriot can lose a marble or two.

This blog is in conjunction with

They may, at some point, become team blogs.

Once the password to "PatriotsAll"'s username is recovered, that is.