The Written Peace: Open Forum of November 5, 2007
Given its completion and completeness, I should be announcing it tonight, right?
Wrong! It's not ready, yet. It just isn't.
My patience with my own trepidation is really wearing thin. I was grumbling to myself while standing in line for groceries this morning. Fortunately, I was at a discount grocer, so my behavior wasn't out of the ordinary. Neither, of course, was paying for my food with loose change.
I think the announcement will come within the week. Most of the hard work has been completed, and all that remains are a few details only partially within my control in the short run. You will see what it's all about soon; and the more I write about it, the more I'm going to convince myself that it will never be ready to show to the world. Let me stop right there, then, on the matter lest I get even less sure of myself about what I've done.
I was going to publish a brief article as a follow-up to a comment I made over at Big Brass Blog. A discussion was developing about President Bush's likely plan to attack Iran and the mechanisms at the disposal of Congress to thwart his last, grand stroke of war mania. My comment was this:
Unfortunately, while there may or may not be an easy way to attempt to stop Mr. Bush from attacking Iran, the President has a trump card. He has used it once before, as have several other Presidents in recent history.
Congress could not stop him even if it were to cut off all funding for military operations in the entirety of the Middle East. Congress could not stop him even if its members were to suddenly move aggressively to impeach him in the House of Representatives and subsequently convict him in the Senate.
Aside from the all too painfully obvious point that neither action will be taken by the Congress, neither action would matter anyway to whether or not the President could lawfullyand with the full funding he would deem necessary to the taskcarry out an attack of any scale he chose on Iran.
Note, by the way, the word "lawfully" in that last paragraph. That's right: he's used this mechanism before, and Presidents before him have, too; and that means any effort at this point to challenge the constitutionality of the statutory basis of what he would do would be in vain.
Unfortunately, since writing that comment, I have decided against writing a full-blown post on the matter because I have found more than a few very recent articles that have already noted the means to which I was referring: the Feed and Forage Act of 1861. In summaryand somewhat oversimplifying the way the Act worksthe President of the United States can command of the U.S. Treasury such funds as he in his own judgment deems necessary to finance a military action. Mr. Bush invoked the Feed and Forage Act in 2001, and other Presidents have invoked it, as well. By the standards of actively used American law, the Feed and Forage Act is an antique; and it is potent. It is also a curious relic, the kind of law that easily could have been eviscerated in the time right after the Vietnam War and Watergate, when the Congress was in the mood to ensure that the Executive Branch could not act unilaterally, particularly with respect to military adventurism.
Yet, there it is: the Feed and Forage Act of 1861, a veritable beast of burden that can carry a President of the United Statesany President, responsible or roguishright into the nation's bank vault to scoop up the money necessary for a military adventure.
Note this: absent a vote to repeal Feed and Forage, Congress cannot stop Mr. Bush from exercising his authority under it; and absent a lawsuit to determine the constitutionality of the Act, the courts will not get involved.
To the first possibility, the Congress would have no taste whatsoever for killing a law used by all manner of Presidents going clear back to Mr. Lincoln, who certainly merited such a privilege for dealing with wartime funding crises. Surely, no member of Congress in his or her right mind would speak up against a President as great as the fellow in the stove-pipe hat, this despite such minor foibles of his as when he showed his dismissal of the privilege of habeas corpus for the enemy combatants of his day and his even more dramatic contempt of the incumbent Supreme Court's lawful injunction that he respect that ancient right.
To the second possibility, the Supreme Court of our day is certainly not of a timber that would pose as a fortress against the on-rushing tide of the ascendant unitary executive. The timber of today's Supreme Courtand a growing number of lower federal courts, as wellis better suited to serve as walking board material for the inexorable march of this republic to some rather lousy form of authoritarian state that cannot even muster a decently intelligent leadership to take it down the merry path to bankruptcy and irrelevance.
Yes, our collective, running sum of fears is about to add another subtotal to the balance at the Neo-con Madness Sale. And just to send you into an absolute hissy-fit of frustration, suffer me this reiteration: nothing lawful can or will be done to stop the United States from attacking Iran. Nothing.
Enough about that.
I have a whole slate of big articles I'm preparing, but two are of utmost import because they are articles offering major policy initiatives that any good progressiveand even a few moderate conservativesought to consider, if not wholeheartedly embrace. I am far from being able to lay down either concept in sufficient detail in a major article, but let me tell you the basic outline of each of the two ideas.
Policy Initiative One: The American Child Health Insurance Act
Every child born a citizen of the United States of America will be vested by the U.S. Treasury with a medical savings account holding the sum of $250,000. This program will be an entitlement regardless of the means of the parents or other guardian, and funds from it are usable by the same rules that apply to medical savings accounts as they are currently defined under relevant federal law. Parents or other guardian may purchase private or public insurance in the form of a major health plan that supplements or provides an umbrella. Any funds that remain in the account when the child reaches the age of majority roll over into a medical savings account under his or her own name. This program would be financed by a general payroll tax similar to the Medicare tax now in existence.
I am having a devil of a time getting an honest fix on what the level of such a tax would have to be to make the program actuarially sound, although it looks right now to me as if it would have to be in the range of two percent of gross income. That's pretty brutal in a country so addicted to low-low taxes and constant, pandering promises of still more tax cuts on top of those low-low taxes.
Another giant point to make is that, no, this doesn't "solve" the "healthcare crisis" in America; in fact, it will make it worse because it will give people money to throw at the spiraling cost of healthcare. To deal with that issue, complex, parallel legislation would be required, first, to force absolute pricing transparency on every healthcare provider in the nation and, second, to amend the rules for tax-exempt expenditures from medical savings accounts so that only cost-efficient spending would not result in taxability of funds so disbursed.
And finally, dealing with the healthcare needs of the general American population is most certainly not the aim of this initiative: this is to make sure every child in this country has the same access to the healthcare available. It is not about welfare for the poor, and it is not about a giveaway to those who do not need a giveaway; it's about establishing a standard of public policy that every child should grow up with the same right to be well to the extent that medical science can do that. With no apology to Jack Kennedy and his fine-sounding rhetoric, it is high time that we stop asking kids what they can do for their country before we show them what their country is doing for them.
Policy Initiative Two: The Homeowners' Mortgage Guarantee Trust Act
Few are the articles that go on about the current mortgage lending crisis in which mention is made of the fact that anyone who takes out a mortgage with a loan-to-value ratio of 80 percent or more is forced by the lender to purchase mortgage insurance. This shows up in a borrower's payments as a premium charged as a pass-through by the lender from a mortgage insurance company like MGIC, the Mortgage Guarantee Insurance Corporation. Essentially, what this insurance does is guarantee the lender that any difference between the disposal value in liquidation of a house and the balance on the loan will be covered by the mortgage insurance policy. That's right: lenders force their mortgagees to purchase and pay the premiums on an insurance policy that completely protects the lenders: if a mortgagee defaults on the loan and subsequently has the property taken by the lender, that lender is covered for any "loss" in selling the property to pay off the loan. In other words, mortgagees and their families are being displaced by the millions, their credit records are being ruined, their lives are being radically disrupted, their kids are getting all kinds of harmed by the disruptions to their sense of place and well-being; and through all of this financial human tragedy, the lenders are coming out smelling like roses because the people to whom they lent the moneythe people from whom they ultimately took the propertyindemnified them with real money against material loss.
This needs to stop. That means legislation requiring lenders to bear the risk of their own credit-making decisions. More importantly, it means parallel legislation requiring that lenders stop shaking their mortgagees down for insurance premiums to protect the banks and, instead, start requiring that mortgagees purchase insurance to cover the payments in the event of financial difficulties. The particulars of how this kind of insurance would work are complicated, but the general outline would be something to the effect that the insurance would perform under certification by a third-partyprobably governmentaladministrative system that would assess when a mortgagee had reached a point where the mortgage payments were an essential component of overall insolvency. In such event and determination, the payments would be taken over in whole or in part by the insurance provider, and a clock would begin for the mortgagee: after a certain number of months, the house on which the mortgage existed would have to be put up for sale, and if it didn't sell at the outstanding balance of the mortgage by the end of a pre-determined number of additional months, the insurance carrier would purchase the property at the outstanding balance of the mortgage and pay it off. This would, of course, leave the family without its home, but it would provide for a considerable amount of time in which the borrower could get back into shape financially, and even if he or she couldn't, the resulting loss of the home would not wreck the person's credit rating and future prospects for borrowing to get something more modest and less costly in terms of payments.
Obviously, this initiative needs a lot of work to make it feasible, but it's a darned sight better, even in this unshaped form, than anything I've seen on the table so far from any politician of note.
Enough of the policy initiatives.
It's time to let the regulars here at this dive have their say on anything and everything. This is an open forum, so write as you wish. If the material above isn't enough grist for the mill, have a look at this picture and this picture of my cat Gabriel and his little sister Matilda. Yes, they're both Manx cats, and Matilda is the little sister of Gabriel. She was born on the Fourth of July, just a little more than one year after Gabriel.
Anyway, say what you have to say while I work in the back room on scraping some of the old coffee out of the espresso maker so we can have some decent drinks around here. I'll have to have someone go out to the shed and haul in that barrel of potato chips I got last month at the discount snacks warehouse. I just hope the lid stayed sealed on that barrel; it upsets me when people start fussing about finding mice rummaging around in the potato chips. Come to think of it, I get more upset when people compliment me on serving meat with the potato chips.
I should charge something for the protein supplement.
The Dark Wraith kicks the dance floor lights into high gear.