Giving up on the Constitution?

CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood recently ran a piece by Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman on one of my favorite topics, the United States Constitution.  He advocates giving up on the Constitution, the gist being that we should take the dusty, tattered, old Constitution out behind the barn and put it down, ol’ yeller style.  To me, as a priest of the religion of the Constitution (an attorney), this would be like the Archbishop or a Cardinal calling for the Roman Catholic Church to abandon the Holy Bible.  Now Sunday Morning is a program I have enjoyed since I was a small child, but this one, opinion section or not, really got under my skin.

Let’s give up on the Constitution? Really? I don’t even know where to begin with where that goes horribly wrong. The Constitution is what separates us from a democracy. Now, you say to yourself, “What could be bad about democracy?”  Well, true, direct democracy has killed every society it has run in. Without a mechanism of restraining the various tyrannies (of the majority, of the powerful, of the ill-intentioned, of the well meaning) and putting drag chains on the headlong advance of direct democratic government, democracies burn bright and the then flame out, sometimes spectacularly and sometimes with a whimper.

A Constitution, however, shifts us to a representative republic (or representative democracy). While not perfect, it is a far better balance amongst the various interests than simply letting the population centers dictate everything.  Do you really think that if CA, TX, NY and/or FL got together in a true democracy that any of us in the rest of this country would stand a chance of having our voices heard, on any issue at all? We have a House based on population, but a Senate based on statehood. And that Electoral College that is much maligned, it makes sure that, to the best extent we can muster, the voices of all the citizens are heard, whether they are in Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, NYC, Florida Texas or my own Kansas.  Without the protections of our Constitutional republic, the tyranny of the majority, actually the tyranny of the population centers, will prevail and those of us in fly over county no longer matter, at all.

In short, the Constitution is what makes us what we are. Whenever any politician, from any party, on any subject, is chaffing under some dusty old Constitutional restraint we need to remember that this is because he is staying off the path of reason and getting into dangerous territory, whether he intends so or not.

Guidolicktenstein’s second post on government assistance.

guidolicktenstein

(This is an article that was written in conjunction with another blog entry I wrote called, “Welfare is sucking this country dry!”  Link: http://wp.me/p2B4s2-3Z)

Some people believe that it is easy to get on Social Security Disability and that you can get disability benefits for any old reason.  I work with folks on Social Security Disability everyday.  I know their stories and how they came to receive that assistance each month.  The system is not as some suppose.

Social Security Disability is determined on one primary issue.  Can the individual be gainfully employed?  Can they work enough in any capacity to support themselves?  The applicants physical health and/or mental health symptoms are examined in light of how significantly they interfere with the applicant’s ability to work.  The standard of impediment and proof are high.

Until the last few years, applying for Social Security Disability was a long, frustrating process.  Each application would take…

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An interesting post about the realities of many recipients of government assistance from a blogger who works with the poor and the homeless on a daily basis.

guidolicktenstein

Recently I read a blog entry by a brainy friend that left me thinking, “Really?”  The article was on the Kansas Lottery and showed how many Kansans believe that (from the beginning) the lottery revenue was promised to go to education.  In actuality…it never was.  Huh?  How can I think something for so many years and it be inaccurate?

Which leads me to the topic of today’s post…Welfare.  I have folks comment on a regular basis about the number of people on Welfare.  Their perspective is that there are a lot of lazy freeloaders on Welfare that are living high-on-the-hog on the government’s dime.

My response is: Huh?  You see I work with poor folks on a daily basis.  I daily work with the very system that would provide said “welfare”.  In my experience, “welfare” is not at all like most folks think!

The first thing I usually ask is: “To what are you referring…

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A blogger expresses his views on the upcoming Westboro Baptist Church’s protest in Ottawa, Kansas.

“Fred Phelps says that God hates fags. Even if we conclude that God hates homosexuality, Phelps’ conclusion is wrong. Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s my model. No matter what others are doing around you…love like Jesus loved.”

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I am such a girl!  I like the show, Glee.  A lot.  Now I could keep it a closet secret, but I don’t care what people think.  I’ll shout it from the mountain tops!  I LIKE GLEE!

Part of the reason that I like this show is because it has characters who don’t have it all together and who struggle with life issues everyday.  One of the characters in the show is Kurt.

In the third episode of season one (about 40 minutes in), Kurt states that he is gay.  It is his first time to tell someone.  With tears, he tells his close friend, Mercedes, in the hallway at their school.

The actor who plays Kurt did a great job with this scene.  He portrays how scary it would be in such a situation.

In episode four, of season one (about 37 minutes and 30 seconds…

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Buttered Toast: KS v. V-J-J (an everyday woman’s experience finding healthcare)

Meg at Buttered Toast wrote a smartly argued piece on the threat to women and reproductive health through her experience as a working mother and uninsured Planned Parenthood client. Agree with it or not, but read it. It will get you thinking: Buttered Toast: KS v. V-J-J.

25 Years Later: The Kansas Lottery and the education funding myth

Playing the lottery is not high on my list of things to do. I’m just not much of a gambler. But this past March, when the lottery prize climbed to $656 million, even I broke down and bought a few lottery tickets for a lottery pool with friends.

We didn’t win.

My losing numbers.

I was in elementary school when Kansans voted to change the state’s constitution to allow for a state-run lottery and horse and dog racing. Ever since I can remember, there has been this popular belief that the proceeds from the state lottery were to be designated for education. Mention the Kansas Lottery to some Kansans, and you’ll get  scowls and shaking fists. “They sold us on the Lottery by promising us it would help fund education,” they’ll say, “but education hasn’t seen a dime.”

So I began my research with a bias against the state for letting Kansans down by promising to use the money for education and then pulling a bait-and-switch once the constitutional amendment passed.

There was only one problem.

It turned out the “educational funding” myth was not true.

The year 1986 was a banner year for the “sin” laws.

Kansans were asked to vote on two pieces of legislation that would alter life in the Sunflower State:

  1. The sale of liquor by the drink
  2. The creation of a state lottery and parimutuel gambling

It’s important to remember where Kansas was in 1986. The legislature was considering trusting Kansans with the ability to use credit cards to buy liquor. You couldn’t order a drink with your dinner at a family restaurant unless the restaurant was a “club” and you owned a membership. Meanwhile, many people crossed into Missouri to buy lottery tickets or drove to Nebraska to make a weekend of betting on the dogs and ponies. Anyone close to the Kansas City area at that time would have crossed the river to shop at the Riverside Red X, where Kansans had been purchasing liquor and illegally transporting it, sans Kansas sales tax stamps, back across the state line for decades.

Kansas was hurting financially in 1986, and they saw how much money Kansans were willingly tossing across state lines and decided they wanted a piece of the action.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons“Dog of Death,” Season 3 Episode 19 – where all of Springfield gets “Lotto Fever” as the jackpot climbs to $130 million dollars. “But there’s already one big winner,” Kent Brockman says during his newscast.  “Our state school system, which gets fully half the profits from the lottery.”

Anchorman Kent Brockman announces Springfield’s Lotto Fever during the news in “Dog of Death,” Season 3, Episode 19.

The shot cuts to the teachers of Springfield Elementary, who are daydreaming about what they’ll be able to do with their share of the lottery earnings. “Just think what we can buy with that money,” Principal Skinner says. “History books that know how the Korean War came out. Math books that don’t have that base six crap in them!”

After the winning numbers are announced, the lottery commission presents Principal Skinner with the school’s earnings: one chalkboard eraser.

A lot of Kansans today feel like Principal Skinner. They envisioned that the revenue from the state lottery would help fund teachers’ salaries (which, in 1986, were well below the national average), repair and upgrade buildings on college campuses, and buy the “extras” that schools wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. When the state began to rake in cash with the new lottery, citizens anticipated big checks being written to school districts and kids playing with new equipment on well-maintained athletics fields. So when it didn’t happen that way, when the schools weren’t the direct beneficiaries of the lottery’s bounty, citizens began to cry foul and wonder how the state had managed to pull the wool over their eyes.

The problem is that the State of Kansas did not propose to use the lottery revenue for education. After reviewing hundreds of newspaper articles from 1986, I can attest that the state clearly articulated that lottery revenue, after paying back the seed money loan from the state and expenses associated with running the lottery, would be used for three purposes:

  1. 60% would go to Kansas Economic Development
  2. 30% would go to the reassessment of Kansas properties for tax purposes
  3. 10% would go to corrections

Every article with politicians who were pro-lottery restated these points, though some didn’t agree completely with the way the money was to be distributed. In fact, the only statement from a state official I could find that even suggested education would benefit from the lottery came from then-Governor John Carlin. According to the July 9, 1986 Hutchinson News, “Carlin said revenue generated by a lottery already was designated for certain areas of state spending — economic development, prisons and reappraisal – but it could free up money for education. But an unfavorable tax  reform bill and the absence of lottery revenue could make things rough for education, he said.”

Did the state change tactics before the election? Based on the newspaper stories I found in the Lawrence Journal-World, the Hutchinson News, the Salina Journal, and several other respected state newspapers, the state never wavered.

Where, then, did the education funding myth originate?

Let’s go back to 1986. Part of Kansas’ desire to create a state lottery stemmed from watching Kansans willingly throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at the lotteries of other states. The California State Lottery was just two years old and a minimum of 34% of its revenue was supposed to be earmarked for supplementing public education funds. The Iowa Lottery kicked off at the Iowa State Fair in 1985. Rumors were circulating that the Iowa Lottery’s revenues were to be used for public education even though this information was not exactly true. As more and more states added state lotteries to their cash flow, the concept that “lottery revenue = educational funding” became ingrained in everyone’s minds.

The situation was further complicated by newspaper editorials.

When the measure to amend the constitution to allow for a state-run lottery and parimutuel gambling was added to the ballot, all hell broke loose.  This was 1986, before the Internet and blogs and facebook and Twitter, and the only option most citizens had to express their views about the upcoming election was through their letters to the editors of their local papers.

Religious leaders argued that liquor and the lottery would turn Kansas into New Sodom; liberals argued that Kansas would be making all of its lottery money on the backs of the poor who saw the lottery as their only hope. Still others, apparently unclear on how the state of Kansas was planning to use the revenues, argued how the lottery had failed to support higher education in other states.

Many of the letters that were in favor of the lottery were not in favor of the way the revenue was expected to be used, insisting that the money should be set aside for public education.

As these sometimes confounding editorials filled a year’s worth of newspapers in most every city in the state, a third source of confusion was introduced: Kansans were asked to vote on an important educational measure which would have dramatically changed the power of the Kansas Board of Education. In 1986, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that as the constitution was worded, the board was completely independent of the state (unlike the Kansas Board of Regents, which ultimately answered to legislature). Kansans would have to pass an amendment to the constitution in order to give the Kansas legislature the ability to have final veto power over the Kansas Board of Education. (Incidentally, this amendment was shot down at the polls.) I believe that introducing amendments for the lottery and education in the same election confused many citizens, who mixed and matched the information until, in their minds, they created a lottery that would support education.

A October 7, 2007 New York Times article, “For Schools, Lottery Payoffs Fall Short of Promises,” outlines the lukewarm success of using lottery revenues to supplement public education expenses. According to the  New York Times, “lotteries accounted for less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the total revenue for K-12 education last year in the states that use this money for schools.”

Kansas, however, vowed to use the money for economic development, reappraisal and corrections. Did the state follow through?

Yes.

Since the first ticket was sold in 1987, the Kansas Lottery has generated a total of more than $1.19 billion in revenues through ticket sales. Of that, roughly 28% is returned to the state in profit (beyond the cost of running the lottery (about 15%) and paying out prizes (about 55%)). In 2010 alone, the Kansas Lottery returned $69 million to the state. While reassessment wasn’t on the agenda these past few years, the bulk of the money continues to go to the Economic Development Initiatives Fund and various prison and juvenile detention funds. The Economic Development Initiatives Fund awards grands to different programs year-to-year, and many programs are run through universities or are connected to education.

In 2003, the Kansas legislature authorized the Kansas Lottery to create the Veterans Games, a lottery whose proceeds would go exclusively to veterans’ benefits, including educational scholarships.

Kansas has managed to stay consistent in its promised use of the Kansas Lottery revenues. What’s more, nearly $11 million of the $29 million awarded to the Economic Development Initiatives Fund involved educational projects. Much to my astonishment, the state of Kansas did what they said they would do with the money and are even awarding a higher percentage of it to educational programs than states whose revenues are supposedly designated for public education. What’s more, the program is self-sustaining and participation is completely voluntary.

There are many ways the Kansas Legislature has let us down. Surprisingly, the Kansas Lottery isn’t one of them.

Amendments On Gay Marriage: Coming Soon To A State Near You?

With all the hubbub (and yes, “hubbub” is a word) in recent years about whether or not marriage between same-sex couples should be recognized by their respective states, North Carolina has taken the next step – backwards, I believe – in bringing the issue further into the light.

Yesterday, the North Carolina legislature passed 61-39 in favor of a state amendment to define marriage between a man and woman as the only union recognized by the state. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/post/north-carolina-gay-marriage-ban-how-does-affect-the-social-and-political-future-of-the-state/2012/05/09/gIQARWNRDU_blog.html) In recent years, many states have challenged their own constitutions that ban same-sex marriage. Kansas, as you may or may not know, already bans same-sex marriage in the state constitution (http://www.kslib.info/government-information/kansas-information/kansas-constitution/article-fifteen-miscellaneous.html). In fact, only eight states in the U.S. specifically allow recognition of same-sex marriage. Many others have laws granting some rights to gay and lesbian couples which are also afforded to heterosexual couples. Sadly, a large number of states still believe it is their duty to pick and choose who receives what rights based on their own personal views.

In the past week, President Obama and his administration have been put in the spotlight for their various views on same-sex marriage. Vice-President Biden came out, for lack of a better term, to voice his support of recognizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Wow, talk about timing. As I am typing this, I found an article online that’s only seven minutes old stating that the President himself has come down off the fence in support of same-sex marriage (http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/09/11621156-obama-backs-same-sex-marriage?lite)

Prior to this, the President has been somewhat wishy-washy about his stance on the issue, forcing me to be somewhat wishy-washy about my support for him in November. Considering it took him this long to voice his opinion, I’m inclined to think it was a politically forced decision. He knows that his prospective opponent is against same-sex marriage. Therefore, it would make good political sense for him to be out in the open about his support for it. Damn, you couldn’t pay me enough to be a politician.

Back to the lecture at hand (perfection is expected so I’ma let ’em understand), the entire issue of banning same-sex marriage is one of religious origin. The bible has been used in several instances to cite God’s supposed disdain for people who prefer sexual relationships with those of the same anatomy. Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Romans are all popular sources for material in the argument to prevent people from being who they are.

Once again, it’s an example of people picking and choosing which parts of the bible are the literal word of God, and which parts are just metaphors up for interpretation. If we were to use the bible as a primary source to base our laws, we would be outlawing and allowing all sorts of things. Shrimp, clothing of mixed fabrics, pork, working on a day when you’re supposed to be praying, having sex during her period (no problem there, folks), and marrying non-virgins would all be illegal. It would be legal, however, to cut of your wife’s hand if she touches your balls (Deuteronomy 25:11), kill your children if they back-sass you, preventing men with severed genitals from entering heaven (Sorry, Lance), scaring the hell out of your children with attempted murder to show your devotion to God, and killing women if they are unmarried non-virgins would all be considered okay.

Bear in mind, I know none of this would be acceptable in today’s society. I’m simply trying to exercise a point in the proper and improper uses of a book written by two thousand year old desert nomads. Great stories? Yeah, sure. Legitimate basis for laws in the 21st Century? Not so much.

If we’re going to raise such a stink about same-sex couples sharing their lives together based on the views of such a book, we at least need to show some consistency. The bible also has some pretty strong words about divorce (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:6-9, Malachai 2:16), but no one seems to be proposing constitutional amendments to ban straight marriage. That’s probably because the bible also points out some contradictions to it’s own views on divorce (1 Corinthians 7:15).

The bible is and should be regarded only as a guidebook for the faithful to use as a metaphor. For someone to take it literally makes me honestly question their morality and devotion to humanity. To say that one group of people is entitled to certain rights while denying to others is categorically wrong. Bigotry wrapped in the word of God is still bigotry.

With regards to state amendments, I see this fight as just beginning. I predict that 2012, 2013, and 2014 will be landmark years in the battle for marriage equality. The way North Carolina has worded their amendment, non-married or common-law married couples will not be recognized as being legitimate. This makes me sad. My aunt and uncle were together for more than 25 years as a common law couple before deciding to be officially married. Does that make their relationship any less valuable?

Does loving someone of the same sex make a person less valuable? Do they threaten the validity of the marriage of others? I have known several gay couples. Not one of them has ever placed my marriage of eight years to my wife in jeopardy. There is absolutely no threat to your personal relationship from the relationship of others. If there was, that just means your relationship wasn’t that strong to being with.

Thanks.