Thoughts on Indiana’s “balanced budget” amendment

Another Reddit thread turned blog post, as someone asked how to think about Indiana’s proposed “balanced budget” amendment. You’ll be asked about it on your ballot and it’s not getting much attention. I agree with most commentators that it will likely pass because it sounds good and smart. But here’s my thought process in the context of the Reddit thread:

Libertarians like reigning in government, setting strong limits, and keeping the fiscal house in order. This amendment checks all the boxes.

Libertarians (and I suspect most people) also like smart, efficient government (or at least the idea of it) and treating constitutions like well-respected, protected texts. That doesn’t mean they can’t change, but the spirit of them from history is worth recognizing.

That said, Indiana already has debt-guidance in the 1851 Constitution. Like many states, our Internal Mammoth Improvements Act (mostly canals) bankrupted the state when the economy crashed.

We defaulted on payments in the late 1840s, raised taxes by as much as 3x or more, slashed services, and had no money except to pay interest. Come 1851 our forefathers said, “Never again”. They wrote in rules about how debt was to be used by the State. Some exceptions were to repel rebellion and invasion, for instance. General debt to float a shortfall or two was allowed, so long as it was temporary and we felt secure in knowing we could pay it based on revenues.

That is the sticking point House and Senate R’s today have latched on to. Nothing in the 1851 Constitution says the budget has to be balanced. It just says we have to be smarter about debt. R’s are right in saying the only thing that’s balanced our budgets is our current desire to always do so.

So now I ask: what is the worst case scenario with this new amendment? Really worst case: another civil war where slightly less than 2/3 of the House and Senate don’t agree that it’s a rebellion, we have no money, and we can’t repel the invaders. In other words, the South rises again, a bunch of our legislators think it’s fine and are sympathetic, and this amendment fails to garner the 2/3 Supermajority vote to do anything about it.

What is a more likely worst-case scenario? Another depression or recession where state projects and services are cut. Democrats fear this and say we should go into a bunch of debt for it, but they seem to forget states, unlike the feds, can’t just print money. We’re already bound by the limits of monetary reality anyway.

But we just had a recession, and many others before that, and came out fine. The 1851 language has worked for us for 150 years. Amending it for political points, which is what this seems like, seems unnecessary. And for that reason, I’m voting “no”. The Constitution isn’t a cocktail napkin you just get to add political buzzwords to so you feel better. Fiscal responsibility comes from making hard decisions and leadership, not forced amendments that may or may not come back to bite us in the ass in 100 years.

We already have limits on debt that have worked. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Also for what it’s worth, I don’t like the idea of requiring “supermajorities” for things. That’s not the spirit of democracy. Thomas Jefferson didn’t run around requiring 2/3 of the Continental Congress to establish Independence. Lincoln didn’t run around Congress vying for 2/3 of the votes to free the slaves.

Positioning of hard things

In April 2012 I biked 110 miles in 29 hours. It was the hardest, longest ride I’ve ever done. As someone who was (and still is) a wimp on hills, the steep hills of southern Indiana were ever more challenging. But this ride has had a benefit I did not expect: every other short ride I’ve ever taken is a piece of cake in comparison.

Like cereals on the grocery store shelves, this ride positioned my mind into realizing every other shorter ride wasn’t that hard. The next time I biked in a little rain or a little wind or snow or a hail storm I never thought, “Ugh, this is awful.” No, the 78 miles I did in 6 hours was awful.

I learned the other day this country once had a “scourge” of “sports mania”. Not the kind of sports-watching team-rooting mania we have today, but of people actually doing exercise.

Advancements in bicycle technology in 1890 put America into a frenzy:

From Harper’s:

It is true that women heretofore, here and there, have been trying the machines in an apologetic, shamefaced sort of way, but in this year they have boldly come to the front as riders, challenging male competition, and making a fashion of that which before was an eccentricity. …Women may ride in tights, but it is certain that men will never adopt the skirt. It is too dangerous. Man has not courage to risk the complications of an overthrow in a skirt. 

And the L.A. Times:

… In most of the States of the Union and in all the great cities, the bicycle vote has become a thing to be reckoned with. In New York it has bowled out the granite ring completely. Time was when a residence block couldn’t be paved with asphalt, even if the property-owners were agreed on footing the bill.

… Everybody knows what the bicycle is doing for the good-roads problem…. The most radical of recent legislation is the new Connecticut law (statutes of 1895), which pledges the State to pay one-third the cost of one mile of road in each town each year, if the county and the town will each pay one-third… A better device could hardly be imagined for encouraging road improvement in the poorer regions.

And this mania led Americans to more fitness, more college sports, and a healthier lifestyle. This, in turn, led to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Strenuous Life” speech:

I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.

I try to remember this when I do hard, challenging things. It’s also helpful to remember when I find myself shirking strenuous things — mental and physical — that I know will be good for me. It’s also why I’ve developed less patience and respect for people who continue to wilt at the notion of doing something difficult.

Thoughts on hospitals and funerals

My grandmother died last Monday. We laid her to rest on Thursday between her two children, one of which was my mother. But for the last month or two, I’ve been making repeated trips to Louisville and Salem to visit with her, prepare for the funeral, and ultimately handle her estate. Going through the process as an adult instead of an adolescent like I was with mom, I have a few thoughts.

First, stop treating old people like children. Nurses and doctors would come into my grandmother’s room and call her “Miss Wilma” and always with the same tone as a kindergarten teacher. You do not need to speak to the elderly as if they have a child’s brain. My grandmother remembered every second of everything that was happening to her. Her mind never dulled, she maintained the ability to make her own decisions, and she was never childish. She helped a country fight literal Nazis and you’re talking to her like you would your dog.

Hospitals have to stop pretending they can fix every problem. Of the half-dozen doctors parading in and out of her room for months, only one said what we all knew: her age was working against her, this would likely not end well. All the others were on some Grey’s Anatomy-induced medical mission to fix every problem.

We pay nearly no attention to diet or exercise in this country. Our medical facilities are equally inept. You can’t feed an 84-year-old woman liquid pudding for a month and stand around wondering why she’s losing weight. Likewise, you can’t tether someone to a bed and scratch your head in confusion why they’re not getting up to move around.

Funerals cost a suspiciously round amount of money. Things seem to jump in increments of $1,000 at every turn.

People who show up to funerals had better be dressed for it. I felt like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino as random people paraded through my grandmother’s funeral wearing flip-flops, jeans, t-shirts, and hats. Even the preacher didn’t bother to put on a tie. Have some class — because my grandmother did despite having next to no money nearly all of her life.

Embalming is a weird thing. I don’t know why we do that. Equally odd to me is how we’ve become comfortable sticking people’s bodies into a box in the ground. It’s literally the most terrifying thing I can think of.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter

Confederate States: the original idiocracy

There’s this belief among some people that southern states wishing to secede from the United States in the Civil War were acting not because of slavery, but because of “states rights”. I saw this the other day in a Facebook thread.

I never gave it much thought until I watched Mississippi Burning and thought to look up the succession declarations of southern states. Here are two declarations of why Mississippi and Texas voted to secede (emphasis mine).

Mississippi:

It [The U.S.] has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.

It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.

Texas:

They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition.

They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.

And, finally, by the combined sectional vote of the seventeen non-slave-holding States, they have elected as president and vice-president of the whole confederacy two men whose chief claims to such high positions are their approval of these long continued wrongs, and their pledges to continue them to the final consummation of these schemes for the ruin of the slave-holding States.

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.

State sovereignty is a sugar coating for treason. Southern states did not like the supreme law of the land binding on their states, and specifically their economies.

Yet in an idiotic twist, the Confederate Constitution they ratified all but denied the right of succession. Claims that a state could secede and “do so peacefully” were vague and thrown out. States feared a state might borrow a bunch of federal money then secede and never pay it back.

Further still, southern states took most provisions from the US Constitution en bloc that represented a denial of states rights. Under the Confederate Constitution, no state could, for instance, enter into an alliance, make a treaty, or coin money. John Nicolay wrote years later that the Confederate Constitution, “…represented a sweeping practical negation of the whole heretical dogma of supremacy upon which they had built their revolt.” 

Next time someone fluffs this “state’s rights” line, ask them how they square up Texas’ declared reasons for leaving and joining a worse union.

Wilma Jean Blankenbaker

Just under 18 years ago I buried my mom, one of the two strongest women in my family. Today I will bury the other, my grandmother.

Ms. Wilma Jean Blankenbaker of Salem died the early morning of September 24, 2018 at the age of 84 in Louisville, Ky. Distinguished for her energetic lifestyle, sharp mind, and unwavering love of her children, she will be missed by her friends and family.

Ms. Blankenbaker was born July 31, 1934 in Washington County, Indiana. The daughter of Ruby and Frances Malloy, she lived through fourteen presidents, two dozen wars, a moon landing, a great depression, the birth and death of her children, and numerous adventures with her sisters, brothers, and friends. She remembered every minute of it. She was a member of Canton Christian Church.

With class and humility she leaves behind a grandson, Justin Harter of Indianapolis. Her sisters, Marilyn Bowling, Mary Hellen Glispy and Judy Lyles, and her brother, Richard Malloy, all of Salem, also survive. She was preceded in death by her two children, Raymond Blankenbaker and Donna Harter of Salem, and a sister Dolores Williams of Campbellsburg.

A visitation at Weather’s Funeral Home is pending for Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 2 p.m. with visitation immediately preceding. A burial and graveside service will follow at Mt. Washington Cemetery where she will rest between her children.

Flowers and donations may be made in her name to Weather’s Funeral Home: 106 S. Shelby St., Salem, IN 47167.

Ms. Blankenbaker was gifted with a rare intensity and wholesome pursuit of every moment as it passed. Both her life and death are surely part of the same great adventure. Just as she remembered every one of her family’s births, deaths, and events before her, we will never forget her.