Archive for December, 2011
written in part by Matthew Krahn
Adopted initially on September 17, 1787, the US Constitution and its twenty-seven amendments enacted between 1791 and 1992 are the supreme law of the land. They create “balance of power” between three co-equal branches of government (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial), limit the power of the federal government, empower the individual citizen to maintain control of government officials, and create a series of individual rights that government cannot remove.
The Preamble to the US Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Creating Legislation: An Overview
1. A member of the community or a council member has an idea for a law.
2. A council member proposes or introduces the idea.
3. City council members (or village trustees) often form a committee to evaluate the proposed law, or assign the proposal to an appropriate committee. This step is not required.
4. A public hearing is required for some ordinances, such as zoning ordinances. Citizens must have at least 10 days notice of the hearing.
5. The members of the committee vote on whether or not to adopt the ordinance.
6. The committee recommendation goes to the Council. A majority of the Council must approve the ordinance for it to pass. Usually the mayor or village president does not vote except in the case of a tie.
7. The mayor or village president can veto an ordinance, but only if it
1) Creates liability against the city
2) Provides for spending of money
3) Involves selling any city property
8. The members can override the executive’s veto with a 2/3 vote.
The detailed process for how a bill becomes a law can be complicated and tedious. The system of checks and balances is designed to make sure that there is significant agreement before a new law is enacted.
1. Where does a bill start?
An individual or group gets an idea for a new law or a change to an old law.
2. What is a bill?
An idea that is written as a proposed law.
3. After a bill is drafted, Representatives (either Congresspersons or Senators) propose a bill in the House or Senate.
4. The bill is read to the representatives on the floor of the House or Senate (a proposed bill must be read into the Congressional record three times before it moves forward).
5. The bill is sent to the appropriate House or Senate committee (For example, an issue dealing with education would be sent to the Education Committee; an issue dealing with the interstate highway system would be sent to the Transportation Committee).
6. The committee holds public hearings on the bill where individuals or interested groups can give public comment or testimony on their opinions of the bill.
7. The committee debates and votes on whether to approve the bill and send the bill back to the floor (with or without amendments), or to “kill” the bill by keeping it in committee for further debate.
8. If the committee approves the bill, it goes to the floor of the originating house where it is read a second time. At this point, any amendments made to the bill are debated by the members of this house of Congress.
9. After the debate is finished, the bill is read a third time. The members debate again, and vote on the bill.
10. If the first house passes the bill, it goes to the second house (for example, if the bill started in the House of Representatives, it would then go on to the Senate).
11. The whole process starts over again in this second house.
12. If the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, the bill is sent to a conference committee made up of members from both houses to try and reach a compromise on the bill. Both houses must then agree to the compromise by majority vote.
13. If both houses agree on a final version of the bill, it goes to the President for his or her signature.
14. The President can sign the bill into law or veto the bill.
15. If the President vetoes the bill, it is sent back to Congress. Congress can then re-vote on the bill. If each house of Congress votes to override the veto by a 2/3 majority vote, the bill becomes a law.
Voting is a Right, not a Privilege
Election Day in the United States of America is the day set by law for the election of public officials, initiatives and referendums. For federal offices (United States Congress, President and Vice President), it occurs on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November in even-numbered years; the earliest possible date is November 2 and the latest is November 8. Presidential elections are held every four years, elections to the United States House of Representatives are held every two years, and a US Senator runs for election every six years. General elections in which Presidential candidates are not on the ballot are referred to as midterm elections. Many state and local government offices are also voted upon on Election Day as a matter of convenience and cost savings. Election Day is a civic holiday in some states, including Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Wisconsin.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.
As I discussed in chapter 1, perception is reality. Each individual will interpret laws and the role of government differently, depending on his/her political goals. The progressive focuses on “establish Justice” and encourages equal rights for all individuals. The conservative focuses on “provide for the common defence” and “powers not delegated to the United States… are reserved to the States… or to the people (10th Amendment).” Conservatives encourage a strong military and a federal government with limited powers. I will irritate many people with this next statement. Both interpretations are correct. Over the years we have given voting rights to all races and both genders. And we have been victorious in many armed conflicts, including: Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.
The Constitution is a flexible design that allows for various interpretations. As a matter of fact, the US Constitution is a direct result of compromise. Back during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there was a dispute between large states and small as to how many representatives a state may have. Large states wanted proportional representation in which larger states would have more representation. Small states wanted equal representation in which all states have the same number of representatives. A compromise was reached and the House of Representatives and Senate were born. The House conforms to proportional governance whereas the Senate conforms to equal governance. For a bill to pass the legislative body and be advanced to the President for a signature, both houses have to agree on a final version.
Individuals vote for the President and Congressional members. It is through this method that government officials stay in tune with their constituencies. If a government official does something that the general public disagrees with, that person runs the risk of losing his/her position. This, in theory, is how the federal government is supposed to work.
The Constitution, its amendments, our representatives, and the laws we enact, are just a reflection of the society as a whole. I described in chapter 4 what makes the United States of America great and unique. It is our value system and our culture. And it is this American culture of generosity, hard work, and personal liberty that keeps everything moving forward in a positive direction.
Introduction to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States
David J. Bobb
Director, Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship
Lecturer in Political Science, Hillsdale College
When in 1863 Abraham Lincoln began his address at Gettysburg battlefield with the phrase, “Four score and seven years ago,” he reminded his fellow citizens that their cause in the Civil War was also the cause of 1776. In the year of America’s birth, Lincoln stated, “Our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
By recalling the year 1776, in which America declared its independence from Great Britain, Lincoln reminds us that the Constitution of 1789 stands upon the principles of our Declaration of Independence.
America’s bedrock principles are liberty and equality. The American understanding of their relationship was revolutionary, for the American Revolution was a revolution of ideas.
The Declaration affirms the revolutionary idea that all human beings are created equal in their possession of “certain unalienable rights.” These rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They are given to human beings by “Nature’s God”—not by government. Because the government does not give these rights to human beings, the Declaration argues, no government can take them away.
These “natural rights” are an individual’s most precious property, the American founders believed. Government’s primary purpose is to protect these fundamental rights.
The Declaration, drafted by the 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson, is an indictment of a government that had betrayed its purpose. Instead of protecting his subjects’ rights, King George III routinely violated them. Rejecting their status as subjects to a king who had become a “tyrant,” Americans declared to the world that they now stood proudly as citizens of a new nation.
Citizenship requires self-government above all else. Americans, James Madison wrote under the pen name Publius, “rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”
The United States Constitution, of which Madison is rightly called its “father,” is the written result of America’s early “political experiments.” Drawing from their own colonial experience and the history of other regimes through the ages, the framers of the American constitution founded a new regime—a regime of liberty.
The regime, or form of our government, is republican. Its end, or purpose, is liberty. A republic as framed in the American Constitution is founded on the people’s consent. It requires not that the people rule directly but rather that they are directly responsible for electing their representatives. These representatives, in turn, are responsible to the people.
Asked about what kind of government the secretive Constitutional Convention of 1787 had produced in its long summer deliberations in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin famously responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Keeping a republic requires the people to keep the government’s duties limited. For that reason the Constitution delineates the duties of each branch of government—legislative, executive, and judicial. Ensuring that liberty would be protected required a regime in which the powers of government were separated. Any other arrangement threatened liberty.
“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,” Madison, writing as Publius, argued in the Federalist, the authoritative defense of the Constitution he co-authored with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.
Madison’s concise definition of tyranny draws upon the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It also is indebted to what Hamilton called a “great improvement” in the science of politics.
Like Madison’s definition of tyranny, the Constitution is the product of wisdom both ancient and modern. At its inception it was revolutionary in its innovative combination of these ideas with uniquely American political institutions. Even today, as the longest enduring written constitution in the world, the American Constitution remains revolutionary.
“Citizenship requires self-government above all else.”
The American framers affirmed the ancient wisdom that for liberty to last it had to be consistent with order. Human beings are by nature enough inclined to evil that they cannot be entrusted with unlimited power. Human beings are by nature good enough that, when their passions are properly checked, they can govern themselves.
The rule of law, the framers believed, is the best response to this mixed nature of human beings. Power must be divided—between the branches of government, and between the national, state, and local governments—to prevent tyranny. No human being is above the law. The Constitution ratified in 1789 established that neither the new chief executive nor the new justices of the Supreme Court were above the law.
Some early Americans argued for further limiting the power of the federal government by amending the Constitution to include a Bill of Rights. Others insisted that specifying rights retained by the people was ill-advised, for doing so would imply that unlisted rights were unprotected rights. Despite these differences, and owing much to Madison’s prudent statesmanship, the First Congress produced ten amendments that offered a specific but not exhaustive list of rights retained by the American people—and the states. Early Americans agreed on a point frequently forgotten today: rights ultimately are not born of a “parchment barrier.” The Constitution’s structure secures our liberty, but our rights are authored by our Creator.
“Here, sir, the people govern,” Hamilton stated at the Constitutional Convention. Washington, the peoples’ first president, gave a living lesson to his fellow citizens of the power of humility before the law. “The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon,” Washington declared in 1795.
“Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course,” Madison wrote of those who fought the American Revolution. American citizens of every generation honor the nobility of that new course, the American founding fathers taught, by never abandoning the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the regime of liberty for which these documents stand.
Operation Code Name Geronimo – Book about the death of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seal Team 6
Osama Bin Laden (أسامة بن لادن) or (أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن) was killed within 90 seconds of the US Navy Seals landing in his compound and not after a protracted gun battle, according to the first account by the men who carried out the raid. The operation was so clinical that only 12 bullets were fired.
The Seals have spoken out because they were angered at the version given by politicians, which they see as portraying them as cold-blooded murderers on a “kill mission”. They were also shocked that President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden’s death on television that same evening, rendering useless much of the intelligence they had seized.
Chuck Pfarrer, a former commander of Seal Team 6, which conducted the operation, has interviewed many of those who took part for a book, Seal Target Geronimo, to be published in the US this week.
The Seals’ own accounts differ from the White House version, which gave the impression that Osama bin Laden was killed at the end of the operation rather than in its opening seconds. Pfarrer insists bin Laden would have been captured had he surrendered.
“There isn’t a politician in the world who could resist trying to take credit for getting Osama bin Laden but it devalued the ‘intel’ and gave time for every other Al-Qaeda leader to scurry to another bolthole,” said Pfarrer. “The men who did this and their valorous act deserve better. It’s a pretty shabby way to treat these guys.”
The first hint of the mission came in January last year when the team’s commanding officer was called to a meeting at the headquarters of joint special operations command. The meeting was held in a soundproof bunker three stories below ground with his boss, Admiral William McRaven, and a CIA officer.
They told him a walled compound in Pakistan had been under surveillance for a couple of weeks. They were certain a high-value individual was inside and needed a plan to present to the President.
It had to be someone important. “So is this Bert or Ernie?” he asked. The Seals’ nicknames for Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are a reference to two Muppets in Sesame Street, one tall and thin and the other short and fat. “We have a voice print,” said the CIA officer, “and we’re 60% or 70% certain it’s our guy.” McRaven added that a reconnaissance satellite had measured the target’s shadow. “Over 6 feet tall.”
When McRaven added they would use Ghost Hawk helicopters, the team leader had no doubt. “These are the most classified, sophisticated stealth helicopters ever developed,” said Pfarrer. “They are kept in locked hangars and fly so quiet we call it ‘whisper mode’.”
Over the next couple of months a plan was hatched. A mock-up of the compound was built at Tall Pines, an army facility in a national forest somewhere in the eastern US.
Four reconnaissance satellites were placed in orbit over the compound, sending back video and communications intercepts. A tall figure seen walking up and down was named “the Pacer”.
President Obama gave the go-ahead and Seal Team 6, known as the Jedi, was deployed to Afghanistan. The White House cancelled plans to provide air cover using jet fighters, fearing this might endanger relations with Pakistan.
Sending in the Ghost Hawks without air cover was considered too risky so the Seals had to use older Stealth Hawks. A Prowler electronic warfare aircraft from the carrier USS Carl Vinson was used to jam Pakistan’s radar and create decoy targets.
Operation Neptune’s Spear was initially planned for April 30 but bad weather delayed it until May 1, a moonless night. The commandos flew on two Stealth Hawks, code named Razor 1 and 2, followed by two Chinooks five minutes behind, known as “Command Bird” and the “gun platform”. On board, each Seal was clad in body armor and night vision goggles and equipped with laser targets, radios and M4 rifles. They were expecting up to 30 people in the main house, including bin Laden and three of his wives, two sons, Khalid and Hamza, his courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, four bodyguards and a number of children. At 56 minutes past midnight the compound came into sight and the code “Palm Beach” signaled three minutes to landing.
Razor 1 hovered above the main house, a three-story building where Osama bin Laden lived on the top floor. Twelve Seals climbed onto the roof and then jumped to a third-floor patio, where they kicked in the windows and entered.
The first person the Seals encountered was a terrified woman, Osama bin Laden’s third wife, Khaira, who ran into the hall. Blinded by a searing white strobe light they shone at her, she stumbled back. A Seal grabbed her by the arm and threw her to the floor.
Bin Laden’s bedroom was along a short hall. The door opened; he popped out and then slammed the door shut. “Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo,” radioed one Seal, meaning “eyes on target.”
At the same time lights came on from the floor below and bin Laden’s son Khalid came running up the stairs towards the Seals. He was shot dead.
Two Seals kicked in Osama bin Laden’s door. The room, they later recalled, “smelled like old clothing, like a guest bedroom in a grandmother’s house.” Inside was the Al-Qaeda leader and his youngest wife, Amal, who was screaming as he pushed her in front of him.
“No, no, don’t do this!” she shouted as her husband reached across the king-size bed for his AK-47 assault rifle. The Seals reacted instantly, firing in the same second. One round thudded into the mattress. The other, aimed at Osama bin Laden’s head, grazed Amal in the calf. As his hand reached for the gun, they each fired again: one shot hit his breastbone, the other his skull, killing him instantly.
Meanwhile Razor 2 was heading for the guesthouse, a low, shoebox-like building, where Osama bin Laden’s courier, Kuwaiti, and his brother lived.
As the helicopter neared, a door opened and two figures appeared, one waving an AK-47. This was Kuwaiti. In the moonless night he could see nothing and lifted his rifle, spraying bullets wildly.
He did not see the Stealth Hawk. On board someone shouted, “Bust him!”, and a sniper fired two shots. Kuwaiti was killed, as was the person behind him, who turned out to be his wife. Also on board were a CIA agent, a Pakistani-American who would act as interpreter, and a sniffer dog called Karo, wearing dog body armor and goggles.
Within two minutes the Seals from Razor 2 had cleared the guesthouse and removed the women and children.
They then ran to the main house and entered from the ground floor, checking the rooms. One of bin Laden’s bodyguards was waiting with his AK-47. The Seals shot him twice and he toppled over. Five minutes into the operation the command Chinook landed outside the compound, disgorging the commanding officer and more men. They blasted through the compound wall and rushed in.
The commander made his way to the third floor, where bin Laden’s body lay on the floor face up. Photographs were taken, and the commander called on his satellite phone to headquarters with the words: “Geronimo Echo KIA” — Osama bin Laden enemy killed in action.
“This was the first time the White House knew he was dead and it was probably 20 minutes into the raid,” said Pfarrer.
A sample of Osama bin Laden’s DNA was taken and the body was bagged. They kept his rifle. It is now mounted on the wall of their team room at their headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia, alongside photographs of a dozen colleagues killed in action in the past 20 years.
At this point things started to go wrong. Razor 1 took off but the top secret “green unit” that controls the electronics failed. The aircraft went into a spin and crashed tail-first into the compound.
The Seals were alarmed, thinking it had been shot down, and several rushed to the wreckage. The crew climbed out, shaken but unharmed.
The commanding officer ordered them to destroy Razor 2, to remove the green unit, and to smash the avionics. They then laid explosive charges.
They loaded Osama bin Laden’s body onto the Chinook along with the cache of intelligence in plastic bin bags and headed toward the USS Carl Vinson. As they flew off they blew up Razor 2. The whole operation had taken 38 minutes.
The following morning White House officials announced that the helicopter had crashed as it arrived, forcing the Seals to abandon plans to enter from the roof. A photograph of the situation room showed a shocked Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, with her hand to her mouth.
Why did they get it so wrong? What they were watching was live video but it was shot from 20,000ft by a drone circling overhead and relayed in real time to the White House and Leon Panetta, the CIA director, in Langley. The Seals were not wearing helmet cameras, and those watching in Washington had no idea what was happening inside the buildings.
“They don’t understand our terminology, so when someone said the ‘insertion helicopter’ has crashed, they assumed it meant on entry,” said Pfarrer.
What infuriated the Seals, according to Pfarrer, was the description of the raid as a kill mission. “I’ve been a Seal for 30 years and I never heard the words ‘kill mission’,” he said. “It’s a Beltway [Washington insider’s] fantasy word. If it was a kill mission you don’t need Seal Team 6; you need a box of hand grenades.”