Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: Our Lost Constitution

by Senator Mike Lee

            In this important book, Senator Lee makes his opinion crystal clear in the subtitle: "The Willful Subversion of America's Founding Document." So strong an opinion would be difficult to prove. Not only must he prove that the Constitution has been subverted, but that it has been done willfully. However, Lee brings to the task a commendable expertise not only on law and jurisprudence, but also broad knowledge of minute details of history. His understanding of law began early, for his father was the "founding dean of BYU's law school" and later solicitor general of the United States. This background and his own study engendered a profound respect for the Constitution of the United States.

            Lee's book is divided into two parts: "The Lost Clauses" and "Reclaiming the Lost Clauses." The lost clauses include "Origination" (all revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives), the Legislative Powers Clause (only Congress may legislate), the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment (searches and seizures), and the Tenth Amendment (states' rights).
            Lee's method is to recount in detail the how and why those clauses found their way into the Constitution, the tensions among the various states, and the compromises that made the solutions palatable if not comfortable for all the states. He then explains in equal detail the how and why those provisions have been subverted.
            Typical is the chapter on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." As originally understood, this applied to the U.S. Congress, not to the states. The established churches of several states were not affected, but the clause prevented the U.S. Congress from establishing a national church. The federal government continued to encourage and often fund various religious activities.

            The change came in 1947 from the pen of Justice Hugo Black, the former Alabama Klansman who held a lifelong hatred for the Roman Catholic Church. Black extended the establishment clause to apply to the states and applied the "wall of separation" phrase from a letter by Thomas Jefferson as if it had the force of law. In a later opinion he forced removal of a voluntary religious education course from public school property. Litigants and later courts have taken the situation downhill from there.

            The other "lost clauses" receive similar treatment. The Reclaiming section has chapters on court action, legislative action, power of the purse, and action by individual citizens. The individual can become knowledgeable of the Constitution and influence the attitudes those around him, leading eventually to electing officials who respect the Constitution. Lee concedes that this will be the work of decades, but holds it well worth the sustained effort.
            From the subject matter described, one might think that Lee's book is heavy reading. But instead it is written in conversational style and tone. Lee's personality comes through the writing as a likable person most of us would be happy to know. Readers may disagree with some of Lee's evaluations of current situations, but they will come from the book much better informed on some of the most important provisions of our Constitution and their history.
 --Reviewed by Donn Taylor 

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Are You Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

Have you ever wondered if you're in the right kind of work? In my case, as with most of the rest of you, that work is writing. And believe me, it is work. I don't need to remind any other writer how difficult it is to make it in the publishing world. By "make it," I'm referring to being published, recognized for our labors, perhaps even make a few dollars. More on that later.

I've mentioned before that I attended an art residency in Maine last summer, and that I often took a break from writing to wander the grounds and take pictures. The little guy in the picture caught my eye and for me, at least, summarized the writing life perfectly. Considering where he took root, he has no reasonable expectation for success. (Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.) Yet there he is--thriving.

Many of us are planted, for the moment at least, in a less-than-hospitable place to write. We have jobs, a spouse and children to nurture, and perhaps, as in my case, you're a caregiver to grandchildren. There are outside activities--community work, church, sports, and friends--to consider as well. Finding time to write, edit, submit, edit some more, write some more, market, and all the other myriad functions of a successful writer is next to impossible.

Yet we do. We do because the urge to thrive is strong. We find ways to use our circumstances to our advantage. We ignore the near impossibility of being a well-known, sought after, world-renowned author and forge ahead anyway. Maybe most importantly, we recognize that we may never reach the pinnacle of the publishing world, but that makes us no less important or talented. We still have a message for our readers. Our work is valuable whether it reaches two people or two billion people. Just as the little pine tree sprout will probably never become a towering pine, we may never become Pulitzer Prize winners. Yes, recognition and money are nice rewards for our efforts, but too often talented writers are left in the dust and never achieve those rewards.

So what do we do? We settle ourselves down in the dust, find a place to take root, and do our best to thrive. Eventually the dust clears and sometimes the rock and the hard place we're caught in crack just enough to let us make our move. In the meantime, we write. We influence others with our words. We thrive where we are planted.

Why? Because it's what we do.

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