The humorist Sam Levinson once quipped, "A goat also has a beard, but that doesn't make him a rabbi." Lurking about a half-centimeter beneath the drollery was an obvious bit of wisdom: that looks can be deceiving; that form can easily obfuscate substance.
Never has Levinson's one-liner been more telling than today, the era of mass mendacity. To wit, just because a "fact" winds up in eighty bazillion e-mailboxes doesn't make it true. And yet, for many, the mere fact that the same "fact" or set of "facts" appears on hundreds -- if not thousands or tens of thousands -- of internet sites gives it at least the patina or veneer of verisimilitude. And, if one begins receiving the same email, breathlessly recounting the same "fact" or set of "facts" over and over and over, that patina can easily metamorphose into reality.
Case in point: the so-called "28th Amendment to the U .S. Constitution."
Over the past two years, I have received the following email from no fewer than 75 people:
Warren Buffett, in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one of the best quotes about the debt ceiling:
"I could end the deficit in 5 minutes," he told CNBC. "You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.
The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it.That was in 1971... before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.
Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise. In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.
*Congressional Reform Act of 2011*
1. TERM LIMITS:
12 years only, one of several possibilities:
A. Two Six-year Senate terms
B. Six Two-Year House Terms
C. One Six-Year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms.
2. NO TENURE/NO PENSION:
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
3. CONGRESS (PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE) PARTICIPATES IN SOCIAL SECURITY:
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
4. CONGRESS CAN PURCHASE THEIR OWN RETIREMENT PLAN, JUST AS ALL AMERICANS DO.
5. CONGRESS WILL NO LONGER VOTE THEMSELES A PAY RAISE:
Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
6. CONGRESS LOSES THEIR CURRENT HEALTH CARE SYSTEM AND PARTICIPATES IN THE SAME HEALTH CARE SYSTEM AS THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.
7. CONGRESS MUST EQUALLY ABIDE BY ALL LAWS THEY IMPOSE ON THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.
8. ALL CONTRACTS WITH PAST AND PRESENT CONGRESSMEN ARE VOID EFFECTIVE 1/1/12.
The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work. If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.
Wow . . . where to begin? I have responded to this email more than two dozen times, generally beginning by saying that it has "more holes than a pound of Swiss Cheese. " Permit me to "shave the goat's beard," thus proving that we are not dealing with a "rabbi."
The one bit of truth in the above is that Warren Buffett, in a July 7, 2011 interview with CNBC conducted by Becky Quick did indeed voice the quote about "ending the deficit in about five minutes." However, the rest of the email that so many of us have been receiving again and again and again, has virtually nothing to do with Mr. Buffett. He has never asked "each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people . . ."
What is now being called "The Congressional Reform Act of 2011," has been circulating on the Internet for the past two years. It was originally called "The Congressional Reform Act of 2009." Despite the fact that it is presented as a proposed 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it has never been put forward by a single member of Congress. It is merely a form of Internet-based politicking -- a bearded goat masquerading as a rabbi.
Let's take a look at some of the specifics:
First and foremost, although a Constitutional Amendment could conceivably be passed without Congress voting on it (see Article 5), the chances of such an omnibus measure being enacted are precisely two: absolutely none and a lot less than that.
The issue about term limits, although understandable given the public's almost total disdain for our legislative branch, is a truly bad idea. The workings of Congress are not easily learned. Heck, it takes a couple of months to learn the quickest way from one's office to the House or Senate floor, let alone how to draft a bill, the proper procedures in floor debate, and the difference, say, between a "continuing resolution" and a "private petition." Under terms of the so-called "28th Amendment," Congress would wind up being run by the staff; they would be the only ones on the Hill to possess both the know-how and the institutional memory. And, being unelected, they are even less sensitive to the will of the people. Additionally enacting strict term limits pretty much guarantees that an even higher percentage of those running for office will be the truly wealthy -- those who can afford to self-finance . . .
No Tenure/No Pension: The truth is that members of Congress cannot retire with full pension after serving merely one term. Period! The size of one's Congressional pension is determined by a number of factors, the most important of which is the length of one's service. There are a handful of cases in which a person was elected to congress at a very young age, served several decades and then retired (or was defeated) while still relatively young. They will collect quite a bit in terms of retirement benefits over the rest of their natural life. However, this is the extreme exception, not the rule.
Paying into Social Security: Since 1984, all members of Congress have been required to pay into Social Security. (There are a few exceptions both inside and outside of government, but not for members of Congress.) Prior to 1984, the members of Congress did not pay into the Social Security Fund because they participated in a separate program for civil servants. That all changed in 1983 with the passage of Public Law 98-21.
Some members of Congress participated in the older Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS); others in the newer Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS). Regardless of which system they participate in, their pensions are funded by a combination of tax provisions and contributions from the participants. Members of Congress in the FERS plan must pay 6.2% of their salaries (up to the Social Security wage base of $106.800) into Social Security, as well as 1.3% of their full salary (currently $174,000 into the Civil Service and Retirement Disability Fund.
Congressional Health Plans: Members of Congress do purchase their own health plans. At the time of the most recent health care debate, there was an erroneous assumption that congressional efforts to establish a "public option" for health insurance would have required everyone (except members of Congress) to participate in a new federal insurance plan. The proposed legislation (which eventually failed) would merely have required everyone (including members of Congress) to have health insurance that met minimum benefit standards. The bill that did pass in March 2010 stated that "Members of Congress and congressional staff" will only have access to plans they created by the health care bill or offered through the exchanges established by the bill. In other words, they are pretty much in the same boat as everyone else . . .
Congress Must Abide By All Laws: Public Law 104-1 (the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995) made a variety of laws related to civil rights and workplace regulations applicable to the legislative branch of the federal government. Section 201 specifically prohibits sexual harassment, as well as harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Nonetheless, there are many emails which posit that members of Congress cannot be arrested for sexual harassment. There are also rumors that the children of members of Congress are exempt from paying back students loans. This is also a fabrication.
All contracts past and present are null and void as of 1/1/12: This is patent nonsense; Congress (and perhaps the Supreme Court under truly unique circumstances) is the only body empowered to make past contracts "null and void." The only way "all contracts past and present" could be overturned is if an entirely new House and Senate -- one having little institutional memory -- were to be elected. And as things go, that is simply never going to happen.
And so, the next time you receive the email about Warren Buffett urging everyone to pass along the proposed "28th Amendment" you might remember the words of Sam Levinson: "A goat also has a beard, but that doesn't make him a rabbi." Just because its on the Internet, that doesn't mean it's true.
Additionally, you may just wish to send out a link to this article . . .
©2011 Kurt F. Stone