06/29/2011 archive

The Constitutional Game of Chicken: The Debt Ceiling & The 14th Amendment (Up Date)

The 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution:

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.

Republican economist Bruce Bartlett, who believes that the Republicans are playing with “the financial equivalent of nuclear weapons”, argues that Section 4 renders the debt ceiling unconstitutional, and obligates the President to consider the debt ceiling null and void.

. . . .I believe that the president would be justified in taking extreme actions to protect against a debt default. In the event that congressional irresponsibility makes default impossible to avoid, I think he should order the secretary of the Treasury to simply disregard the debt limit and sell whatever securities are necessary to raise cash to pay the nation’s debts. They are protected by the full faith and credit of the United States and preventing default is no less justified than using American military power to protect against an armed invasion without a congressional declaration of war.

Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that the debt limit is statutory law, which is trumped by the Constitution and there is a little known provision that relates to this issue. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.” This could easily justify the sort of extraordinary presidential action to avoid default that I am suggesting.


Constitutional history is replete with examples where presidents justified extraordinary actions by extraordinary circumstances. During the George W. Bush administration many Republicans defended the most expansive possible reading of the president’s powers, especially concerning national security. Since default on the debt would clearly have dire consequences for our relations with China, Japan and other large holders of Treasury securities, it’s hard to see how defenders of Bush’s policies would now say the president must stand by and do nothing when a debt default poses an imminent national security threat.

Mr. Bartlett is not alone, Garret Epps, journalist and professor of law at Baltimore University, agrees and proposes the President should give a speech declaring, ‘The Constitution Forbids Default’.

Democratic members of the Senate, too, have begun exploring the possibility of declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional:

“This is an issue that’s been raised in some private debate between senators as to whether in fact we can default, or whether that provision of the Constitution can be held up as preventing default,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), an attorney, told The Huffington Post Tuesday. “I don’t think, as of a couple weeks ago, when this was first raised, it was seen as a pressing option. But I’ll tell you that it’s going to get a pretty strong second look as a way of saying, ‘Is there some way to save us from ourselves?'”

By declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional, the White House could continue to meet its financial obligations, leaving Tea Party-backed Republicans in the difficult position of arguing against the plain wording of the Constitution. Bipartisan negotiators are debating the size of the cuts, now in the trillions, that will come along with raising the debt ceiling.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that the constitutional solution puts the question in its proper context — that the debate is over paying past debts, not over future spending.

“The way everybody talks about this is that we need to raise the debt ceiling. What we’re really saying is, ‘We have to pay our bills,'” Murray said. The 14th Amendment approach is “fascinating,” she added.

Let the games continue.

Up dates below the fold.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just thttp://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/06/28-1o the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day. Scroll down for the Gentlemen.

Courtney E. Martin: For Undocumented Immigrants, Activism Can Invite a Deportation Threat

The contentious debate over immigration was given a human face last week when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a New York Times Magazine article. In a very personal essay, Vargas detailed his journey from boyhood in the Philippines to a prestigious journalism career in the United States. Vargas admitted to breaking a number of laws to conceal his citizenship status over more than a decade of working illegally for a range of high-profile publications, including the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and The New Yorker. The essay quickly rose to the top of the “Most e-mailed” list at the Times and landed Vargas, and his compelling story, on a major media sites over the weekend.

Vargas’s personal story is vital because it complicates the usual terms of the immigration debate: outsiders vs. insiders, deserving vs. undeserving, legal vs. illegal. After all, one can’t help but see Vargas, though undocumented, as the consummate deserving insider-an American Dream hero incarnate, transcending race and class boundaries to make a real impact through his reporting. It’s nearly impossible to see a picture of the goofy adolescent, who watched “Frasier” to better his English or hear the story of his choir teacher’s admiration for him, and think “criminal.”

Katrina vanden Heuvel: 29 Miners and Massey’s Coal Crimes

It was Easter Weekend 2010 when 33-year-old Gary Quarles-a skilled miner with 14 years experience and a father of two- and an “up and coming” miner, Nicolas McCroskey, 26, were having dinner with a friend. They said that “something bad was going to happen” at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine where they worked.  

That Sunday, Quarles also confided in a close friend he’d known since childhood.

“I’m just scared to go back to work,” he said. “Man, they got us up there mining and we ain’t got no air. You can’t see nothing. I’m just scared to death something bad is going to happen.”

The next day, a powerful explosion tore through two and one-half miles of the mine, killing Quarles, McCroskey, and 27 of their fellow miners. Men like Carl Acord, 52, who had worked the mines for 34 years and was a proud member of the “Old Man Crew”; Jason Adkins, 25, who had won all-state honors in football and basketball in high school; Cory Davis, 20, who had followed his family into the mines; US army veteran Steven Harrah, 40, devoted to his wife and six-year old son; Dean Jones, 50, leaving behind his wife and a son with cystic fibrosis; Roosevelt Lynch, 59, a miner for over 30 years and a substitute teacher, as well as a basketball, football, and track coach; Vietnam vet Benny Willingham, 61, a coal miner for 30 years who was five weeks away from retirement; and so many more.

Laura Flanders: How Corporations Award Themselves Legal Immunity

Whether it’s in your employment contract or the paperwork for a cell phone, it’s odds on that the small print says you can’t sue

Worried about the influence of money in American politics, the huge cash payouts that the US supreme court waved through by its Citizens United decision – the decision that lifted most limits on election campaign spending? Corporations are having their way with American elections just as they’ve already had their way with our media.

But at least we have the courts, right?

Wrong. The third branch of government’s in trouble, too. In fact, access to justice – like access to elected office, let alone a pundit’s perch – is becoming a perk just for the rich and powerful.

Take the young woman now testifying in court in Texas. Jamie Leigh Jones claims she was drugged and gang-raped while working for military contractor KBR in Iraq (at the time, a division of Halliburton). Jones, now 26, was on her fourth day in post in Baghdad in 2005 when she says she was assaulted by seven contractors and held captive, under armed guard by two KBR police, in a shipping container.

Beverly Bell: Monsanto in Haiti

HINCHE, Haiti, June 27 – Last week, thousands of farmers and supporters of Haitian peasant agriculture marched for hours under the hot Caribbean sun to call for more government support for locally grown seeds and agriculture.

The demonstration was organized by the Peasant Movement of Papay and other farmer associations, human rights and women’s groups, and the Haitian Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA), the Haitian online agency AlterPresse reported from the march. The official theme of the peaceful demonstration was “Land Grabbing is Endangering Agricultural Sovereignty.”

Singing slogans like “Long Live Haitian Agriculture!” and “Long live local seeds!” the crowd – wearing straw hats and red T-shirts – wound its way on foot, donkeys, and bikes through this dusty provincial capital. The demonstration ended at a square named for farmer Charlemagne Péralte, who lead the “Caco” peasant revolt against the U.S. army occupation from 1916 until 1919, when U.S. Marines assassinated him.

Kay Tillow: One Montana County’s Medicare-for-All Coverage

As the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare, here’s a prescription to clean up the whole mess.

Back when he presided over the Senate’s health care reform debate, Max Baucus, chairman of the all-powerful Senate Finance Committee, had said everything was on the table – except for single-payer universal health care. When doctors, nurses, and others rose in his hearing to insist that single payer be included in the debate, the Montana Democrat had them arrested. As more stood up, Baucus could be heard on his open microphone saying, “We need more police.”

Yet when Baucus needed a solution to a catastrophic health disaster in Libby, Montana and surrounding Lincoln County, he turned to the nation’s single-payer healthcare system, Medicare, to solve the problem.

George Zornick: Debt Ceiling Theatrics Get More Dangerous by the Day

Republicans have been playing a double game with the debt limit debate. On one hand, it’s hard to imagine GOP members of Congress actually blocking a measure that would raise the debt ceiling, because that would lead to sudden, dramatic reductions in government functions: there might not be money for Social Security payments, Medicare checks, military salaries and more. Worse, confidence in US Treasury bills would be seriously wounded if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by August 2, meaning economic catastrophe. Voters would blame Republicans for this economic catastrophe, polls show, and House Speaker John Boehner was warned by Wall Street executives in no uncertain terms that he could not allow this situation to occur.

Ari Melber: Cuomo’s Big Problem in 2016: Democrats

After New York’s historic gay marriage vote last week, the national political media has begun speculating about the presidential prospects for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Right now, in fact, Cuomo is drawing more national media attention and more Google searches than at any other point in his governorship.

So reporters and regular people are zeroing in on Cuomo. But put aside the historical significance of the gay marriage vote, and anyone who follows New York politics knows the prospect of Cuomo as a popular Democratic primary candidate in 2016 is a joke.

Robert Dreyfuss: Memo to Obama: Talk to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

The Obama administration ought to resist calls from neoconservatives and hawks, including the ever-hawkish Washington Post, and opt for dialogue with Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria.

It’s a difficult problem, but the fact remains that there’s little or nothing that President Obama can do to force regime change in Syria. (In other countries, too, it’s not so easy. In Libya, three months of a US- and NATO-led war have failed to topple Muammar Qaddafi. In Bahrain, where the United States has lots more leverage and contacts, the royal family there is resisting change.)

Take The Money And Run

After receiving a $10 billion of tax payer money in the financial crisis bailout and making a record $2.7 billion profit in the first quarter of 2011, Goldman Sachs will lay off 1,000 American workers and out source their jobs to Singapore.

The jobs in Singapore are likely to be “high-paying, skilled positions in sales and investment banking,” the same types that are likely to be cut in the firm’s domestic operations, according to one person with knowledge of the matter. This person added that the firm has recently briefed people in Washington about the new overseas jobs because it “is afraid of the fallout” as it plans to slash $1 billion in costs over the next year — a move that will mean a significant, though still undetermined number of layoffs across its operations, though people close to the firm expect the biggest hit to come from the US. Goldman also plans a much smaller expansion in its Brazil unit and in India.

Last year, the Republicans in the Senate, aided by Sen Joe Lieberman and four Democrats, blocked a bill that would have ended tax breaks for companies that shift American jobs overseas. Over the last decade these mega corporations have laid off nearly 3 million American while hiring 2.4 million overseas. These jobs are not low tech jobs as these companies claim but but jobs held by highly educated workers who never expected to find themselves among the unemployed.

Pet Peeves


Attentive readers know that I maintain several email accounts to categorize my contacts and anonymize myself.  I mostly keep them with Yahoo since Google data mines the contents and sells it.

“Oh, there’s absolutely no way to pick up personal information out of our aggregates.”


The acceptable inconvenience I tolerate for my privacy illusions is the necessity of renewing with activity each account every month.  If you don’t show up and at least read your mail Yahoo flushes you and recycles your user name.

What I find unacceptably inconvenient is their persistent and arbitrary upgrades despite your expressed desire to simply keep your current service.

It’s planned obsolescence of the worst sort, change for the sake of nothing.  There is no improvement in functionality, no new features, they just shuffled the skin to make it harder to read and less intuitive to use by putting your most common tasks several more button clicks away at the bottom of layers of nested menus.

Together with the new News format it causes me to despair of computing altogether (despair of computing) and want to bash rocks against each other to create glyphs and pictograms.

Hey, at least it’s aerobic exercise.

On This Day In History June 29

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge.

June 29 is the 180th day of the year (181st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 185 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1928, The Outerbridge Crossing and Goethals Bridge in Staten Island, New York are both opened.

The Outerbridge Crossing is a cantilever bridge which spans the Arthur Kill. The “Outerbridge”, as it is commonly known, connects Perth Amboy, New Jersey, with the New York City borough of Staten Island and carries NY-440 and NJ-440, each road ending at the respective state border.

The bridge was named for Eugenius Harvey Outerbridge (sometimes pronounced “ooterbridge”) the first chairman of the then-Port of New York Authority and a resident of Staten Island. Rather than call it the “Outerbridge Bridge” the span was labeled a “crossing”, but many New Yorkers and others mistakenly assume the name comes from the fact that it is the most remote bridge in New York City and the southernmost crossing in New York state.

It is a steel cantilever construction, designed by John Alexander Low Waddell and built under the auspices of the Port of New York Authority, now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which currently operates it.

It opened simultaneously with the Goethals Bridge on June 29, 1928. Both spans have similar designs. Neither bridge saw high traffic counts until the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964. Traffic counts on both bridges were also depressed due to the effects of the Great Depression and World War II.

The Outerbridge Crossing carried 32,438,000 vehicles (both directions) in 2006, or approximately 90,000 each day. Tolls are collected in the eastbound direction only. In early 2009, the cash toll was $8 for passenger vehicles. Users of E-ZPass pay a toll of $6 during off-peak hours (outside of 6-9 am and 4-7 pm).

In 2003, the Port Authority raised the speed limit for the three inner E-ZPass lanes at the toll plaza from 15 mph to 25 mph, separating these lanes from the rest of the eight-lane toll plaza by a barrier. Two years later, the tollbooths adjacent to the 25 mph E-ZPass lanes were removed and overhead gantries were installed with electronic tag readers to permit E-ZPass vehicles to travel at 45 mph in special high-speed lanes.[9] Motorists using the high-speed E-ZPass lanes cannot use the Page Avenue exit, which is located immediately after the toll plaza.

In recent years, the bridge has undergone numerous repair jobs as a result of the high volume of traffic that crosses the bridge each day.

The Goethals Bridge connects Elizabeth, New Jersey to Staten Island (New York City), near the Howland Hook Marine Terminal, Staten Island, New York over the Arthur Kill. Operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the span was one of the first structures built by the authority. On the New Jersey side it is located 2 exits south of the terminus for the New Jersey Turnpike-Newark Bay Extension. The primary use for this bridge is a connection for New York City to Newark Airport. The bridge has been grandfathered into Interstate 278, and named for Major General George Washington Goethals, who supervised construction of the Panama Canal and was the first consulting engineer of the Port Authority.

A steel truss cantilever design by John Alexander Low Waddell ], who also designed the [Outerbridge Crossing. The bridge is 672 ft (205 m) long central span, 7,109 feet (2,168 m) long in total, 62 feet (19 m) wide, has a clearance of 135 feet (41.1 m) and has four lanes for traffic. The Port Authority had $3 million of state money and raised $14 million in bonds to build the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing; the Goethals bridge construction began on September 1, 1925 and cost $7.2 million. It and the Outerbridge Crossing opened on June 29, 1928. The Goethals Bridge replaced three ferries and is the immediate neighbor of the Arthur Kill Rail Bridge. Its unusual mid-span height was a requirement of the New Jersey ports.

Connecting onto the New Jersey Turnpike, it is one of the main routes for traffic between there and Brooklyn via the Staten Island Expressway and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was completed in 1964 the Goethals Bridge never turned a profit. The same happened to the Outerbridge Crossing. The total traffic in 2002 was 15.68 million vehicles.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann

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Watch live video from CURRENT TV LIVE Countdown Olbermann on www.justin.tv

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Afghan central bank chief flees to US

By Katherine Haddon, AFP

3 hrs ago

Afghanistan’s central bank governor has resigned and fled to the United States, saying his life is in danger over a corruption probe targeting influential figures connected to the government.

Abdul Qadir Fitrat said his decision to speak out in parliament about the near-collapse of Kabul Bank, the war-torn country’s largest private lender, had placed him in peril.

In April, Fitrat named high-profile people allegedly implicated in a near $1 billion scandal involving off-the-books loans at the troubled bank, which handles the pay of thousands of Afghan civil servants.