Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Conversation With Anthony Weiner

A few days ago, Congressman Weiner was videotaped during a deeply passionate argument with his colleagues in the House over a bill that would add $3 billion to an already existing fund set up to compensate the heroes of 9/11 and their families. As some of my friends would know, I am deeply passionate about things too. One of the most passionate issues to me is the ongoing, generational usurping of authority by Congress and our various presidents the past 150 years or so. One of the compelling stories from Congressional history surrounds then congressman Davy Crockett. I won't go into the story to any large degree. But if you don't understand the full scope of the conservation below, then please Google Davy Crockett and the Georgetown Fire and read the story for yourself.

Below is the full conversation I have had with Rep. Weiner. It is ongoing. So I will add to this as it continues. But I want to say first, that I deeply respect Rep. Weiner for engaging me in this conversation. He has no obligation to do so. And the fact that I am clearly in opposition him and am not a member of his constituency would clearly free him from any sense of obligation to respond. Just because you might disagree with his responses, as I clearly do, please do not begrudge him his opinion. He has my respect for responding and continuing to respond. He is courageous for putting himself on the line like this and deserves the respect any civilized opponent should be granted.

John Manuola August 5 at 6:46pm
If you can somehow find the source of the quote I am about to share with you, then perhaps you might also find the historical context of the quote and realize that you have not the right nor the authority to appropriate one dime of the public treasury for the sake of some charitable inclination you might have and we might agree with.

"Mr. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

"Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

Anthony Weiner August 5 at 6:58pm Report
Charity? really? is that what you call compensating people for their service to our nation? nope, its a debt. thanks for taking the time to write.

John Manuola August 5 at 7:05pm
As Congressman Crockett later said when discussing the issue from which I quoted, if this is a debt, where is the bill? If this is a debt, WHY is Congress debating it? There are appropriate offices within the government from which these families could present their bill and receive compensation. If there is a debate as to whether their bill, should they present one to the appropriate office, is legitimate, there are courts to adjudicate the legality of their claims. CONGRESS, Mr. Weiner, has no place in debating a debt supposedly owed another person.

Anthony Weiner August 5 at 7:19pm Report
yes, why are we debating it? exactly the right question. this should be beyond debate. in fact, a law was passed to compensate those lost in the act of war on 9/11. but what we didnt know then is that many would die by degrees later. so we need to amend the law.

John Manuola August 5 at 7:32pm
And I ask again, what debt was owed to ANY of these families. Is there a debt we owed them? You and your colleagues from generations past, are quick to compel the American taxpayer to pay some supposed debt without regard for the limitations placed upon you to dole out money from the public treasury. No one, in their right mind, would suggest that the families of fallen heroes should be aided in their losses. That is not the point. The question is, by what authority do you and your colleagues decide that it is YOUR place to decide to compensate anyone in that or any similar position USING OUR MONEY? If you can play upon the emotional support of the people to justify usurping authority you do not have to help these people, what is to prevent you from doing that same thing to use a trillion dollars of public money to help some other segment of society that you deem to be worthy of that money? Or what is to prevent you from sending $300 million to help the people suffering from an earthquake in another country? Or to send tens of billions of dollars to help some organization that YOU or some one of your colleagues deems to be worthy of help..such as oil companies (Republicans use this power to help their oil buddies) or unions (as is being debated right now in the House)?

But once again, I remind you, your powers are innumerated, specific and limited. If there is no legal debt owed to be paid from the public treasury, then you have no authority to dole out our money for the benefit of ANYONE. I do think it is time for you and your colleagues to remember that your powers are limited, no matter what Congressman Stark may say.

Anthony Weiner August 5 at 7:49pm Report
our obligation as taxpayers emerges from the service that the responders did for the taxpayers. is that distinction not clear to you? the power of congress to repay those who served our nation is clearly enumerated. there is no legal debt until we pass the law.

John Manuola August 5 at 8:08pm
whoa, wait just a minute...these people were not employees of the United States. They were employees of the City of New York. Were they not compensated for their employment? Did they and/or their survivors not receive benefits to which they were legally due? Where did their acts on 9/11 oblige anyone to pay them or their families a dime of our money to them? AGAIN, if there is a legitimate debt, where is the bill? You can play upon my sense of charitable obligation all you want, sir, but until you show me a document legally obliging anyone to compensate them for anything they did on that day, your argument is empty and without legal basis. If you wish to rant and rave that we, as a people, should dig deep into our own pockets to help these brave people then please do so. I would be pleased to offer what I can. But do not tell me that we owe a debt when there is no bill to show that we do.

I would suggest, sir, that contrary to your argument, there is no debt here at all...not any legally binding debt at all. For all your rhetoric, you are doing little more than attempting to compel support for nothing more than a legitimately charitable cause.In that regard, I will make you the same challenge that Congressman Crockett made to his colleagues. I will donate one week's worth of my own pay to whatever legitimate charitable organization has been established to help this people. If you will do the same and if you will stand before the House and make the same challenge to them.

Anthony Weiner August 5 at 8:12pm Report
they are sick because of their service to the country. the obligation is from that service. the legal basis comes in the law. the law is what is being passed by congress. the power for which is clearly enumerated in the constitution. which of these sentences is causing you problems.

John Manuola August 5 at 8:25pm
what power do you have as a Congress to establish a NEW debt where none existed before, sir? I see NOTHING in the Constitution authorizing you to oblige America to a new debt where none existed before. If the Constitution did provide you with authority to establish a new obligation where none existed before, then it would be unlimited the power you would have to abscond with the entirety of America's wealth for the sake of whatever obligations you and your colleagues might feel compelled to create where none previously existed. If this, sir, is your argument, there is no wonder why we are now in the financial state that we're in. It would explain how you and your colleagues, both present and past, have felt justified in spending billions upon of OUR dollars on what amounts to little more than charity. I would argue, sir, that if you, and people like you would simply use you pulpits to inspire the American people to donate to help everyone of these 'causes' you would find that not one single person in need would lack for the help that they need. The charitable hearts of Americans is without limit. We know how to help when those in need come knocking on our doors. We don't need our Congress to compel us or to usurp authority they were NEVER given to use our money against our will to help these people or anyone else. You, apparently, do not trust the American people to help those whom we know need our help. Well, we, sir, do not trust you to do it for us. Which is why, sir, our founding fathers NEVER gave you that authority.

Anthony Weiner August 5 at 8:29pm Report
"establish a new debt"? you mean pay for something? when we buy a tank die we "establish a new debt"? when we decide to create a farm program did we "establish a new debt"? you are allowing yourself to get tied in knots by this phrase. congress decides how to spend taxes. we are doing that here. you may not like the decisions but the notion that congress cant spend money collected in taxes begs the question : ok, then who can?

John Manuola August 5 at 8:35pm
Do you really think that Congress' power to spend the money that it collects in taxes is limitless?

Anthony Weiner August 5 at 8:38pm Report
no, its limited by presidential veto and judicial review. now to you sir, if congress doesnt have the power, uh who does?
John Manuola August 5 at 8:46pm
So the only limit to your power to spend our money is the President? What about the limits places upon you by We The People, through the Constitution?

To answer your question, one does. If Congress collects more money through taxes than it has the authority to spend, then it is obligated to return the money or retain it for another occasion when it DOES have authority to spend it.

Think of this way, sir, if I gave $100 to my employee and told him to go buy supplies for the office. If he only spends $50 on supplies for the office, just because I gave him $100, does not authorize him to spend the other $50 in whatever manner he deems appropriate.

That, sir, would be stealing. Or at the very least, imprudent, since I would clearly fire him for spending money he had no authority to spend.

Anthony Weiner August 5 at 10:24pm Report
you missed the other limit above. judicial review. the constitutional limits are interpreted by the courts. see marbury v. madison. that is the limit. if not the representatives of the people - the congress - then who?

John Manuola August 5 at 11:27pm
I did not miss it, I simply ignored it in anticipation that you would bring it back up, along with Marbury, to justify your point that somehow Congress can do whatever they want so long as "daddy" SCOTUS doesn't find out and ground us. However, the absence of judicial review of and for every act of Congress does not afford Congress authority it never had in the first place. To mere fact that "daddy" SCOTUS has not said that you cannot do this or do that is not de facto authorization to do so. The Judicial Authority of the courts does not exceed what it, too, has been granted by we the people. And they, honestly, cannot rule on cases not brought before them. And we both know that people like you would simply demonize anyone who dared to bring a case before the Supreme Court challenging Congress' authority to provide financial relief for those heroic people from 9/11 or those suffering from the massive earthquake in Haiti. We also know that the courts have essentially become political, anyway, loaded with judges designed to re-enforce the political agendas of their appointees.

Anthony Weiner August 6 at 4:34am Report
ok, so the congress doesnt have the right to spend and the courts dont have the right to review. so i your view of our republic, who has these rights? ive aked a few times.

John Manuola August 6 at 10:45am
You sound disappointed, Congressman. But it is not unsurprising that you misinterpreted what I said. I said Congress' authority to spend is limited (remember the employer with the $100). You are clearly authorized to spend our money, just not indiscriminately. You have your authority, don't step outside that authority, please.

As for the courts, their jurisdictional is clearly delineated in the Constitution as well. But if you recall from what I said, its not that the courts can't rule as to the constitutionality of something you folks in Congress's just that 1) their rulings are becoming more and more political (and this comes from both sides...I am not taking sides on this one) and 2) they can't rule on something if a case has not been brought before them. Which, even when a case does come before the SCOTUS it takes years, often, to get there....and costs far too much money for the average person to spend to do it.

This, of course, is why Jefferson and Madison, years after the Constitution was written, advocated the states' use of nullification with regards to laws created by Congress, enforced by the President and even ruled on by courts unfriendly to the Constitution. I can provide you with information on what they said about state nullification if you doubt me. But somehow, I don't think you really care what the Founding Fathers thought about the Constitution. I get the feeling, sir, you're one of those people who thinks the Constitution is often outdated and irrelevant to today's world and far too much of an inconvenience.

But to specifically answer your question about who has the "rights". Strictly speaking Congress has no "rights"...they have "delegated authority" which means, if you insist using the word "right", that you have the "right" to do exactly what you've been told to do in the Constitution and NO MORE.

In my not so humble opinion, the biggest problem with Congress (and the President), now and in the past, is your arrogant belief that you somehow have the right to do whatever you wish, so long as you can con your constituents into believing you're the best person to keep doing what you're doing. Congress has become that employee I used in the earlier example...gone unchecked...for decades. Well, sorry, Congressman, the gig is up...we the bosses have had enough.

You may not personally find yourself without a job come November, because there are enough people in your district who have forgotten what exactly you were sent to Congress to do and are actually happy that you spend their money with limitless abandon. But should you keep your job after this fall, you will be finding yourself welcoming a WHOLE LOTTA of new folks in Congress next January...and they will not be left there unchecked. America is awake, finally, sir, and we will not be going back to sleep again anytime soon.

Anthony Weiner August 10 at 10:21pm Report
so you dont believe in judicial review? so who decides when congress acts outside the constitution? you?

John Manuola August 10 at 11:02pm
Do you read what is written or just play the pity party routine all the time? A judicial review is not the ONLY means by which the unconstitutional acts of Congress or the President are determined to be unconstitutional. The states have the power of nullification and we the people have the ultimate power of civil disobedience.

"An unjust law is no law at all", said St Augustine, providing the foundation of civil disobedience movements across the globe. If a law is not really a law at all, it is argued, one has a right -- even a duty -- to break it. Martin Luther King articulated this view in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws".

You see, Mr. Weiner, the Founders didn't leave it to just you guys in the national government to keep yourselves in check. You don't get to make the rules, execute them and let the people YOU put on the courts judge their constitutionality, without other means of protecting the rights and powers of the states and we, the people.

Yes, the courts do have judicial review. Yes, the President has veto power. Yes, Congress can override a presidential veto. What happens, Mr. Weiner, when Congress has both chambers of Congress, the Oval Office and it takes millions of dollars and years of litigation to challenge your unconstitutional laws in the courts? That's where we are right now. You don't get to just do whatever you want, sir. You will soon find that out.

Anthony Weiner August 11 at 9:23am Report
so you believe we do have the right to act and voters have the right to not to reelect. thats more like it. class dismissed.

John Manuola August 11 at 10:45am
Wow, talk about showing your elitist colors, Mr. Weiner. I am not alone in suggesting that the only thing you have "taught" me is that you are little different than a teenage boy who figures out to how manipulate what his teacher, or boss, or parent tells him into whatever he wants to believe. Clearly you walked into this conversation thinking that you have the power and authority to do whatever the heck you want as a Congressman, so long as no one with greater power than you stops you. And you weren't about to be told any differently by some cake-eating peon. But let me "teach" you something, Mr. Weiner. You see, we, the people, ARE more powerful than you. That's what our Founders were trying to tell you in that document you find so terribly inconvenient. You don't have the right, nor the power, to manipulate the words in that document, like you manipulate my words, to make them agree your opening premise. What a sad statement regarding the quality of our country's education that someone supposedly so educated and intelligent doesn't even know the fundamentals of how to engage in a logical debate. You can go back to screaming and making the veins in your forehead bulge out. We're least until you figure out how grow out of your zit-filled petulance.

Anthony Weiner August 11 at 10:52am Report
i have been patient with your long path to the place i started. you now agree with me that congress has the right to do things you dont agree with. understanding our constitution and our republic is essential civic responsibility. perhaps you expected that your incoherent screed would be met with acquiescence. sorry pal, you are not the only one with beliefs. oh and one more thing - dont over use "we" when speaking about your views. it sounds a bit, uh, pompous.

John Manuola August 11 at 11:58am
Although it would suit me to contend with your statement with words of my own, Mr. Weiner. I shall refrain from taking any further position of insult and merely remind you of the story with which I began this conversation. A few months after Davy Crockett voted, along with most of his colleagues, to provide financial relief for the victims of the fire in Georgetown, he was back in home district campaigning for re-election when he ran across a farmer by the name of Horatio Bunce. Below is Crockett's account of that conversation. I challenge you, Congressman Weiner, to read this accounting in its entirety.

BUNCE: "Yes I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine, I shall not vote for you again."

CROCKETT: "This was a sockdolager...I begged him to tell me what was the matter.

BUNCE: " ’Well, Colonel, it is hardly worth-while to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest.
…But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is.'

CROCKETT: " 'I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, for I do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any constitutional question.’

BUNCE: “ ‘No, Colonel, there’s no mistake. Though I live in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?’

CROCKETT: " ‘Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did.'

BUNCE: " ‘It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. 'No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.' "The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.'

" 'So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.'

You, see, Congressman Weiner, you are not at power to do as you please in Congress. Nor are you at liberty to do as you wish, so long as the Judiciary doesn't tell you otherwise. Nor are you free to simply interpret the Constitution as you wish. Instead, you are obligated to know its content fully and the spirit and intent of that content completely. You are obligated to refrain from attempts to manipulate its meaning for the sake of a cause that might otherwise be an honest and worthy focus of your passion...but is outside the scope of your authority.

Here lay the conclusion of our debate: you may be able to convince the people of your constituency that the passions and causes you endorse are within the scope of your authority to legislate, but you have not convinced me. You are fortunate I do not reside in your district. For you would not have my vote for the same exact reasons that Horatio Bunce gave Colonel Crockett. And unfortunately for me and for your constituents, I have severe doubt you will enjoy the same epiphany experience that Colonel Crockett experienced upon meeting Mr. Bunce. For indeed, Crockett was an honest man. And in being such, was open to being humbled and corrected by even a simple farmer. He never again voted for such spending bills as he did with the Georgetown Fire...and often stood in opposition to them. Would that even a few of the men and women in power, such as yourself, would take it upon themselves to experience anew the humility so absolutely necessary for such persons of power to truly be the servants of the people that they most assuredly entered politics to be.

I leave you with that, sir, in hopes that you will also accept my sincerest expression of gratitude that you would take the time to debate such a timely issue as this with someone not even of your constituency. Although our debate became the tiniest bit heated on occasion, I respect you for putting yourself on the line like this.

AT THIS POINT, dear readers, I am pretty sure the conversation is over. I truly doubt Mr. Weiner is going to change his position and I frankly don't think he has a leg to stand on if chooses to continue the path of "logic" he is taking. I do find it interesting that this conversation validated some my ongoing views about the majority of politicians in Washington. Namely, that they are primarily petulant, elitist, arrogant and dismissive. But I also believe, as Horatio Bunce did, that most of them entered politics with honest motivations. What we need to do is make sure that we are ALL this generations Horatio Bunce...knowing the Constitution ourselves and keeping our representatives true to its intent and meaning.

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