Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Constitution

GREAT READ - By Jill Lepore

“It is written in an elegant, clerical hand, on four sheets of parchment, each two feet wide and a bit more than two feet high, about the size of an eighteenth-century newspaper but finer, and made not from the pulp of plants but from the hide of an animal. Some of the ideas it contains reach across ages and oceans, to antiquity; more were, at the time, newfangled. “We the People,” the first three words of the preamble, are giant and Gothic: they slant left, and, because most of the rest of the words slant right, the writing zigzags. It took four months to debate and to draft, including two weeks to polish the prose, neat work done by a committee of style. By Monday, September 17, 1787, it was ready. That afternoon, the Constitution of the United States of America was read out loud in a chamber on the first floor of Pennsylvania’s State House, where the delegates to the Federal Convention had assembled to subscribe their names to a new system of government, “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.”

Then Benjamin Franklin rose from his chair, wishing to be heard. At eighty-one, he was too tired to make another speech, but he had written down what he wanted to say, and James Wilson, decades Franklin’s junior, read his remarks, which were addressed to George Washington, presiding. “Mr. President,” he began, “I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them.” Franklin liked to swaddle argument with affability, as if an argument were a colicky baby; the more forceful his argument, the more tightly he swaddled it. What he offered was a well-bundled statement about changeability. I find that there are errors here, he explained, but, who knows, someday I might change my mind; I often do. “For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better Information, or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.” That people so often believe themselves to be right is no proof that they are; the only difference between the Church of Rome and the Church of England is that the former is infallible while the latter is never wrong. He hoped “that every member of the Convention who may still have Objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own Infallibility, and to make manifest our Unanimity, put his name to this Instrument.” Although the document had its faults, he doubted that any other assembly would, at just that moment, have been able to draft a better one. “Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.”

Three delegates refused to sign, but at the bottom of the fourth page appear the signatures of the rest. What was written on parchment was then made public, printed in newspapers and broadsheets, often with “We the People” set off in extra-large type. Meanwhile, the secretary of the convention carried the original to New York to present it to Congress, which met, at the time, at City Hall. Without either endorsing or opposing it, Congress agreed to forward the Constitution to the states, for ratification. The original Constitution was simply filed away and, later, shuffled from one place to another. When City Hall underwent renovations, the Constitution was transferred to the Department of State. The following year, it moved with Congress to Philadelphia and, in 1800, to Washington, where it was stored at the Treasury Department until it was shifted to the War Office. In 1814, three clerks stuffed it into a linen sack and carried it to a gristmill in Virginia, which was fortunate, because the British burned Washington down. In the eighteen-twenties, when someone asked James Madison where it was, he had no idea.

In 1875, the Constitution found a home in a tin box in the bottom of a closet in a new building that housed the Departments of State, War, and Navy. In 1894, it was sealed between glass plates and locked in a safe in the basement. In 1921, Herbert Putnam, a librarian, drove it across town in his Model T. In 1924, it was put on display in the Library of Congress, for the first time ever. Before then, no one had thought of that. It spent the Second World War at Fort Knox. In 1952, it was driven in an armored tank under military guard to the National Archives, where it remains, in a shrine in the rotunda, alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

Ours is one of the oldest written constitutions in the world and the first, anywhere, to be submitted to the people for their approval. As Madison explained, the Constitution is “of no more consequence than the paper on which it is written, unless it be stamped with the approbation of those to whom it is addressed . . . the people themselves.” Lately, some say, it’s been thrown in the trash. “Stop Shredding Our Constitution!” Tea Party signs read. “Found in a dumpster behind the Capitol,” read another, on which was pasted the kind of faux-parchment Constitution you can buy in the souvenir shop at any history-for-profit heritage site. I bought mine at Bunker Hill years back. It is printed on a single sheet of foolscap, and the writing is so small that it’s illegible; then again, the knickknack Constitution isn’t meant to be read. The National Archives sells a poster-size scroll, twenty-two inches by twenty-nine inches, that is a readable facsimile of the first page, for twelve dollars and ninety-five cents. This item is currently out of stock.

Parchment is beautiful. As an object, the Constitution has more in common with the Dead Sea Scrolls than with what we now think of as writing: pixels floating on a screen, words suspended in a digital cloud, bubbles of text. R we the ppl? Our words are vaporous. Not so the Constitution. “I have this crazy idea that the Constitution actually means something,” one bumper sticker reads. Ye olde parchment serves as shorthand for everything old, real, durable, American, and true—a talisman held up against the uncertainties and abstractions of a meaningless, changeable, paperless age.

You can keep a constitution in your pocket, as Thomas Paine once pointed out. Pocket constitutions have been around since the seventeen-nineties. The Cato Institute prints a handsome Constitution, the size and appearance of a passport, available for four dollars and ninety-five cents. The National Center for Constitutional Studies, founded by W. Cleon Skousen, a rogue Mormon, John Bircher, and all-purpose conspiracy theorist, prints a stapled paper version, the dimensions of a datebook, thirty cents if you order a gross. I got mine, free, at a Tea Party meeting in Boston. Andrew Johnson, our first impeached President, was said to have waved around his pocket constitution so often that he resembled a newsboy hawking the daily paper. Crying constitution is a minor American art form. “This is my copy of the Constitution,” John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, said at a Tea Party rally in Ohio last year, holding up a pocket-size pamphlet. “And I’m going to stand here with the Founding Fathers, who wrote in the preamble, ‘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 including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ ” Not to nitpick, but this is not the preamble to the Constitution. It is the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence.

At some forty-four hundred words, not counting amendments, our Constitution is one of the shortest in the world, but few Americans have read it. A national survey taken this summer reported that seventy-two per cent of about a thousand people polled had never once read all forty-four hundred words. This proves no obstacle to cherishing it; eighty-six per cent of respondents said that the Constitution has “an impact on their daily lives.” The point of such surveys is that if more of us read the Constitution all of us would be better off, because we would demand that our elected officials abide by it, and we’d be able to tell when they weren’t doing so and punish them accordingly.

Pop quiz, from a test administered by the Hearst Corporation.

True or False: The following phrases are found in the U.S. Constitution:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

“The consent of the governed.”

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“All men are created equal.”

“Of the people, by the people, for the people.”

This is what’s known as a trick question. None of these phrases are in the Constitution. Eight in ten Americans believed, like Boehner, that “all men are created equal” was in the Constitution. Even more thought that “of the people, by the people, for the people” was in the Constitution. (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, 1863.) Nearly five in ten thought “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was written in Philadelphia in 1787. (Karl Marx, 1875.)

About a quarter of American voters are what political scientists call, impoliticly, “know nothings,” meaning that they possess almost no general knowledge of the workings of their government, at least according to studies conducted by the American National Election Survey since 1948, during which time the know-nothing rate has barely budged.

The Constitution is ink on parchment. It is forty-four hundred words. And it is, too, the accreted set of meanings that have been made of those words, the amendments, the failed amendments, the struggles, the debates—the course of events—over more than two centuries. It is not easy, but it is everyone’s. It is the rule of law, the opinions of the Court, the stripes on William Grimes’s back, a shrine in the National Archives, a sign carried on the Washington Mall, and the noise all of us make when we disagree. If the Constitution is a fiddle, it is also all the music that has ever been played on it. Some of that music is beautiful; much of it is humdrum; some of it sounds like hell.”

Jill Lepore is a professor of history at Harvard. “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” is her latest book.

HAPPY 241 BIRTHDAY - Last night, these fireworks exploded as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra played its annual patriotic celebration at Conner Prairie Amphitheater in Fishers, Ind.

2018 WATCH: Republicans have again found their boogeyman: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, is out with new polling from 11 Congressional districts showing Pelosi's popularity is underwater. The lesson: Expect Republicans to employ the same tactic they have been using since 2010: make Pelosi a key issue in ads in states like California, Florida, Montana and Nebraska.

Days until the 2017 election: 127.

Days until the 2018 election: 491.

JULY 1 - Gov. Jerry Brown stripped California's tax collector of most of its power last week, in what The Los Angeles Times called "the most dramatic shake-up of the California Board of Equalization in its 138-year history." It doesn't get any easier from here, either. State officials are trying to get a replacement agency up and running by July 1 - also known as Saturday. The California Justice Department has been investigating staff and members of the elected Board of Equalization, for matters like putting $350 million in sales tax revenue into the wrong accounts. "The governor signed a bill that pares the state board from an agency with 4,800 workers to one of 400 employees, shifting the other staff engaged in the collection of sales and excise taxes to a new California Department of Tax and Fee Administration."

The Tax Foundation lays out the seven states implementing tax changes on July 1, which is the traditional start of their fiscal years. Among the highlights: Indiana's corporate tax ticks down to 6 percent, Colorado hikes its tax on recreational marijuana to 15 percent, Tennessee decreases its sales tax on groceries by a penny a dollar and five states watch gas tax increases go into effect.

POTUS - Days to hit a 60% disapproval rating:

Carter: Never
Reagan: Never
H.W. Bush: Never
Clinton: Never
W. Bush: 1,756
Obama: Never
Trump: 144

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to Dan Aykroyd (65) Oakville, Ontario, Canada; Lisa Looney ….famous Blackboard scholar; Olivia Munn (37) Malibu, CA.; Ross Perot (87) Houston, TX.

B OF A PAY DAY - Because of an astute investment made in Bank of America six years ago while the bank was struggling, Warren Buffett is about to make a quick $12 billion and become the financial institution's largest shareholder.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway will exercise warrants in Bank of America allowing it to acquire 700 million common shares at an exercise price of $7.14 each, or about $5 billion.

At Monday's closing price, that stake is worth more than $17 billion.

Berkshire will also become the bank's largest shareholder.

SECOND QUARTER MARKET - The Nasdaq was up nearly 4 percent second-quarter gain. The Dow was up 3 percent and the S&P was up 2.4 percent for the quarter. On the eve of the start of the third quarter, all three measures were sharply higher in the first six months of 2017.

MEXICAN PESO ON THE RISE - The Mexican peso rose to its highest level in more than a year against the dollar Monday, leading this year's rally in emerging-markets currencies that had fallen around the time of U.S. presidential election.

The peso rose 0.7 percent against the dollar on Monday, with little in the way of news to drive the move. It was the latest leg of the peso's 16 percent rally against the greenback in 2017. One dollar bought 17.87 pesos.

SUMMER TREAT - Strawberry "Cool Brûlée

This deceptively good, summer-easy dessert has a topping of yogurt and whipped cream with raw sugar that looks like creme brulee, but requires no cooking.

2 cups sliced strawberries
8 teaspoons demarara or turbinado sugar (raw sugar), divided
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt

Divide strawberries among four 8-ounce dessert dishes. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon demarara sugar over strawberries in each dish.
With electric mixer, whip cream to soft peaks. Fold in yogurt and spread evenly over strawberries.
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the remaining demerara sugar over each. Cover and chill for 2 to 6 hours.

Makes: 4 servings - Hands On 20 mins - Total Time 2 hrs

AMERICA’S CUP - America's Cup Back to the Kiwis: With a mixture of ingenuity and national pride, Emirates Team New Zealand got back up after a gut punch for the ages and came to the Bermuda Triangle and ripped the America's Cup right out of tech tycoon Larry Ellison's hands.

Ellison, the Silicon Valley maverick worth an estimated $62 billion, watched the humbling defeat from a chase boat and later shook hands with his crew. He was joined by New Zealander Russell Coutts, the CEO of Oracle Team USA who suffered his first defeat in six Americas Cup finals. It was Coutts who first won the America’s Cup for the small sailing-mad island nation, skippering Team New Zealand to a five-race sweep of Dennis Conner off San Diego in 1995.

POWER FIVE – We are at the half way point of the major league baseball season, here are our top five clubs through 81 games:

1). Los Angeles Dodgers (55-29) Rink Rats preseason pick
2). Houston Astros (56-27) Rink Rats preseason pick
3). Washington Nationals (48-34)
4). Arizona Diamondbacks (52-13)
5). Boston Red Sox (47-35) Rink Rats preseason pick

SEASON IS OVER FIVE – We are at the half way point of the major league baseball season, here are our bottom five clubs through 81 games:

5). Detroit Tigers (36-45) Rink Rats preseason pick, to win it all!  L
4). Oakland Athletics (35-47)
3). San Francisco Giants (33-51) Rink Rats preseason pick
2). San Diego Padres (34-48)
1). Philadelphia Phillies (27-53)


MLB Game of the Week (July 8) – Milwaukee Brewers (45 – 40) at the New York Yankees (44 – 37). As we head into All Star week the Brew Crew is in first place in the National League Central, but, Yanks are tough at home, they win this one 5 – 2.

Season to Date (44 - 21)

ON THIS DATE – McDonald’s menu July 1971

MARKET WEEK - The stock market has been on a tear this year and more gains may be ahead, according to what some say is the oldest market indicator on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones industrial and transportation averages hit all-time highs on Monday, confirming each other's upside trends and triggering a "buy" signal in the market, according to the "Dow theory."

The theory was created by Charles Dow in the early 20th century (after whom the two indexes above are named after) and it examines the relationship between the transports and industrial averages. Simply put, it states that major trends must be confirmed by both the transports and industrials indexes. Confirmation of a trend higher sends a "buy" signal in the market; one of a trend lower sends a "sell" signal in the market.

The fundamental basis for the theory is that transports stocks are considered the backbone of the economy and so if they are doing well, then the whole economy must be doing well, the thinking goes.

DRIVING THE WEEK – After celebrating July Fourth, President Trump leaves Wednesday for the second foreign trip of his administration. He heads first to Warsaw, Poland, then to Germany for the G-20 meetings with the world's most powerful leaders. 

Progressive activists are preparing to carpet bomb Republican senators in their home states with health care protests this week. The Left sees the July 4 recess as an urgent opportunity to kill the GOP repeal-and-replace effort, which is floundering in the Senate.

Tonight at 7 on HBO, from director Alexandra Pelosi, HBO Documentary Films presents ... "The Words That Built America" — passages of the Constitution read on-camera by ...
... every living president (Trump, both Bushes, Carter, Bill Clinton, Obama), 50 senators (including McConnell and Schumer), three Supreme Court justices (Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer), six vice presidents (Pence, Biden, Cheney, Gore, Mondale, Quayle) and 11 House members (including Speaker Ryan, John Lewis and Leader Pelosi, the director's Mom). Plus Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger and more.

On top of that, Hollywood and media stars of both parties read the Declaration of Independence (Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hannity, Caitlyn Jenner, The Rock, Megyn Kelly, Rosie O'Donnell, Kid Rock, etc.), and grade-school students read the Bill of Rights. David McCullough narrates.

Next Blog: Relax harder.

See you on July 10, Adios.

Claremont, California

July 4, 2017

CARTOON OF THE WEEK – Chris Christie: From Here to Eternity

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