Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Proposed 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

On this 226th anniversary of the United States Constitution, I'm re-posting my suggestion for a new amendment. I realize it won't go anywhere, but I still think it's a good idea. Many so-called "Originalists," who insist that Justices on the Supreme Court should interpret only exactly what is written in the United States Constitution and no more, fail to recognize that nothing in that sacred document gives the Supreme Court the right to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. Activist Chief Justice John Marshall-- legislating from the bench--assumed that right in the Marbury v. Madison Case; and that is all the more reason I contend that it is undemocratic for the Supreme Court to reach decisions by a simple five/four majority when overruling the two other co-equal branches of government.


Oh, no! Not another nut attempting to tamper with the Constitution! Don’t people realize that our Republic has endured so long in part because our Founding Fathers bequeathed to us an elegantly sparse Constitution? Why clutter it up with unnecessary amendments!

At the outset, I must confess, I am not a supporter of the amendment to protect the flag. Yes, I do revere the flag of the United States of America. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were raising and lowering the flag at my maternal grandfather's summer house in the Thousand Islands on the Saint Lawrence River near Alexandria Bay, New York. We had an elaborate ceremony at the beginning and end of each day. We were extremely diligent not to let the flag touch the ground. We folded it carefully in military triangle fashion. (Curiously, I recall some regulation, which specified that burning was the only lawful way to dispose of an old, tattered flag). My grandfather had been a staunchly conservative Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania during the New Deal. I am one of his two namesakes. He and I would most likely have disagreed on most issues; but admiration for our flag is one on which we did agree. (Then there are the mythic images of Iwo Jima, Fort McHenry, and ‘Old Glory’ on the moon).

My reason for opposition to the proposed amendment is: despite the opening words of the Pledge of Allegiance, I do not consider that I actually pledge allegiance to the flag— a piece of cloth— instead, I pledge allegiance to the country, to the constitution, to the concepts which establish our liberty. And one of those concepts is freedom of expression as protected in the First Amendment. I consider the proposed flag amendment to be so much political posturing. I'm not aware of any current outbreaks of flag burning. But even more important than protecting the flag, is redefining a proper balance between the three branches of the Federal Government.

Recently, there have been a number of five-to-four decisions by the Supreme Court, which ruled several U.S. laws to be unconstitutional. On the face of it, it seems to me, that a one-vote majority, by a supposedly third co-equal branch of government over-ruling legislation passed and signed by two other co-equal branches of government, is structurally out of balance. But you say, doesn’t the President, as a majority of one, have the authority to veto legislation passed by the two houses of Congress? Yes, but Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution clearly defines a procedure for the Congress to override the President’s veto by means of a two thirds vote in both houses.

The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has no such specific procedure defined in Article III. Section 2 of Article III apparently gives jurisdiction over Laws of the United States to the Supreme Court; but it wasn’t until fourteen years after ratification— a time when many, if not most, of the original framers were still alive to be consulted about their intent— that the doctrine of judicial review was asserted in the 1803 decision by Chief Justice John Marshall in the seminal Marbury v. Madison case.

The doctrine of judicial review is clearly established, so why consider a constitutional amendment on the matter 205 years later? Let me offer an example. It wasn’t until 126 years after the assertion of a Vice-President to be called “President” instead of “Acting-President” when succeeding in mid-term, that an amendment clearly defined what had already been established in practice. That was done in Section 1 of the 25th Amendment ratified in 1967. Had William Henry Harrison died in the last year of his term rather than near the end of his first month in office, Vice-President Tyler might have been content to have been addressed as “Acting-President” (as, indeed, Vladimir Putin did in the Russian Republic). Forty-seven months was apparently too long. Besides, Tyler held the office, and so appropriated the title. The precedent was set and used six more times before the 25th Amendment legalized the title as part of the procedure for selecting a new Vice-President. So here goes my proposed amendment for clarifying judicial review.

28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America


Section 1. The Supreme Court of the United States retains authority for judicial review of all United States Laws as passed by the two houses of Congress and signed by the President, or passed by two thirds override of a Presidential veto.

Section 2. To render a United States Law unconstitutional, the Supreme Court of the United States must decide by an affirmative vote of at least two thirds of the justices on the Supreme Court.

Section 3. This amendment does not apply retroactively to previously adjudicated cases, nor to other jurisdictions enumerated in Article III.


Under the current configuration, a two-thirds vote by the Supreme Court would be six to three— or two to one— surely a more powerful and a greater moral authority for overturning legislation than a simple majority. Linda Greenhouse, in her report about the May 15, 2000, five-to-four vote overturning the Violence Against Women Act, wrote in the New York Times published May 17, 2000,that the decision in the United States v. Morrison represents the “…court’s new federalism jurisprudence….: holding Congress to its limited and enumerated powers.”

The problem is, there is no countering limited and enumerated power defined for the court, itself, in the matter of judicial review of legislation. For all the criticism of the so-called activist Warren Court, many of its most controversial decisions were passed unanimously. This proposed amendment falls short of that, but is an attempt to set aright a structural imbalance between three co-equal branches of government; so that a single Supreme Court Justice would not be able to invalidate an established law simply by majority vote.

Granted, I might regret some future five-to-four vote, which would not prevail because of this new amendment. So be it. The procedure, at least, would be appropriate; and a more proper balance, established between the three branches of the Federal Government.

Rob Bell

San Francisco

Robert F. Rich Bell
Grandson of The Hon. Robert F. Rich
Member of Congress
16th Congressional District of Pennsylvania 1931-51

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


(Grito de Dolores) Independence from Spain declared on September 16, 1810. The Grito de Dolores ("Cry of/from Dolores") was the battle cry of the Mexican War of Independence, uttered on September 16, 1810 by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato.

Hidalgo and several educated criollos were involved in a planned revolt against the Spanish colonial government, and when the plotters were betrayed, he declared that war should be waged against the Spaniards. Just before the dawn of September 16, 1810, Hidalgo ordered the church bells to be rung and gathered his congregation. Flanked by Ignacio Allende and Juan Aldama, he addressed the people in front of his church, encouraging them to revolt. The exact words of the speech are lost; however, a variety of "reconstructed versions" have been published. Hidalgo is believed to have cried: "Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe [a symbol of the Amerindians' faith], death to bad government, and death to the Spaniards!" The Battle of Guanajuato, the first major engagement of the insurgency, occurred 4 days later. Mexico's independence would not be recognized by the Spanish crown until September 27, 1821, after a decade of war.

The United Mexican States (Spanish: Estados Unidos Mexicanos), commonly known as Mexico, is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2 million square kilometres, Mexico is the fifth-largest country in the Americas by total area and the 14th largest independent nation in the world. With an estimated population of 109 million, it is the 11th most populous country. Mexico is a federation comprising thirty-one states and a Federal District, the capital city.

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica many cultures matured into advanced civilizations such as the Olmec, the Toltec, the Teotihuacan, the Maya and the Aztec before the first contact with Europeans. In 1521, Spain created the New Spain which would eventually become Mexico as the colony gained independence in 1821. The post-independence period was characterized by economic instability, territorial secession and civil war, including foreign intervention, two empires and two long domestic dictatorships. The latter led to the Mexican Revolution in 1910, which culminated with the promulgation of the 1917 Constitution and the emergence of the country's current political system. Elections held in July 2000 marked the first time that an opposition party won the presidency from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Spanish: Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI).

Image &

There's a bronze statue of the priest Hildago in Dolores Park, San Francisco, just a few blocks from my flat.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Battle of Britain 1940


The Battle of Britain (German: Luftschlacht um England or Luftschlacht um Großbritannien, literally "Air battle for England" or "Air battle for Great Britain") is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The objective of the campaign was to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), especially Fighter Command. The name derives from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons: "...the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin."

The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date. From July 1940 coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth, were the main targets; one month later the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed the Luftwaffe also targeted aircraft factories and ground infrastructure. Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing tactics.

The failure of Germany to achieve its objectives of destroying Britain's air defences, or forcing Britain to negotiate an armistice or an outright surrender, is considered its first major defeat and one of the crucial turning points in the war.If Germany had gained air superiority over England, Adolf Hitler might have launched Operation Sea Lion, an amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain.

Images &

When I first moved to San Francisco in the early 70's, Grace Cathedral hosted a Battle of Britain service sponsored by the British Legion. It was a grand and solemn affair with bagpipes and military bands, followed by an elaborate tea downstairs. I sang in the choir for this service for several years. I can't remember when they stopped commemorating the event-- possibly in the late 1980's.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

ARTHUR WELLESLEY, 1st DUKE of WELLINGTON ~ c.April 29/May 1, 1769 ~ September 14, 1852

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, KP, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (c. 29 April/1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852), was an Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman, and one of the leading military and political figures of the nineteenth century.

Born in Ireland to a prominent Ascendancy family, he was commissioned an ensign in the British Army in 1787. Serving in Ireland as aide-de-camp to two successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland he was also elected as a Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons. A colonel by 1796, Wellesley saw action in the Netherlands and later India where he fought in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the Battle of Seringapatam. He was later appointed governor of Seringapatam and Mysore.

Wellesley rose to prominence as a general during the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic Wars, and was promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the French at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Following Napoleon's exile in 1814, he served as the ambassador to France and was granted a Dukedom. During the Hundred Days in 1815, he commanded the allied army which defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

An opponent of parliamentary reform, he was given the epithet the "Iron Duke" because of the iron shutters he had fixed to his windows to stop the pro-reform mob from breaking them. He was twice Prime Minister under the Tory party and oversaw the passage of the Catholic Relief Act 1829. He was Prime Minister from 1828–30 and served briefly in 1834. He was unable to prevent the passage of the Reform Act of 1832 and continued as one of the leading figures in the House of Lords until his retirement. He remained Commander-in-Chief of the British Army until his death in 1852.

Image &

Saturday, September 13, 2014

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG ~ September 13, 1874 ~ July 13, 1951

Arnold Schoenberg (13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) was an Austrian and later American composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School. He used the spelling Schönberg until after his move to the United States in 1934 (Steinberg 1995, 463), "in deference to American practice" (Foss 1951, 401), though one writer claims he made the change a year earlier (Ross 2007, 45).

Schoenberg was known early in his career for successfully extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic traditions of both Brahms and Wagner, and later and more notably for his pioneering innovations in atonality. During the rise of the Nazi party in Austria, his music was labeled, alongside swing and jazz, as degenerate art. In the 1920s, he developed the twelve-tone technique, a widely influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale. He also coined the term developing variation, and was the first modern composer to embrace ways of developing motifs without resorting to the dominance of a centralized melodic idea. Schoenberg's approach, both in terms of harmony and development, is among the major landmarks of 20th century musical thought; at least three generations of composers in the European and American traditions have consciously extended his thinking and, in some cases, passionately reacted against it.

Schoenberg was also a painter, an important music theorist, and an influential teacher of composition; his students included Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Hanns Eisler, and later John Cage, Lou Harrison, Earl Kim, and many other prominent musicians. Many of Schoenberg's practices, including the formalization of compositional method, and his habit of openly inviting audiences to think analytically, are echoed in avant-garde musical thought throughout the 20th century. His often polemical views of music history and aesthetics were crucial to many of the 20th century's significant musicologists and critics, including Theodor Adorno, Charles Rosen, and Carl Dahlhaus.

Schoenberg's archival legacy is collected at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna.

Image &

Friday, September 12, 2014

Battle of Vienna ~ September 12, 1683 ~ Origin of the Croissant

Years ago, back in the 1960’s and ’70’s, there was an SF Chronicle columnist named Charles McCabe. I remember a particular column of his that must have been from the late ’70’s. I can’t locate it now, but think I still recall much of it.

McCabe was staying at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong on the Kowloon side. (I had had tea there in October, 1977; so I think the column was written sometime after that.) Anyway, McCabe had breakfast brought up to his room. He remarked that there was a copy of the London Times, a single red rose in a bud vase, a pot of strong French roast coffee, and.... a perfect croissant. The column went on to discuss the glories and origin of that marvelous breakfast pastry.

It goes back to the second Turkish invasion of Vienna in 1683. (The first invasion in 1529 was conducted personally by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. But after a siege of several weeks, he retreated without capturing the city because of illness and approaching winter. Legend is that coffee was introduced to Europe when the Turkish forces— in their rushed retreat— left whole and ground coffee beans behind with their provisions.)

Anyway, our tale deals with the second Turkish invasion in 1683 (when Charles II was King of England, and Louis XIV, master of Europe).

According to Wikipedia: The large-scale battle was won by Polish-Austrian-German forces led by King of Poland Jan III Sobieski against the Ottoman Empire army commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha.

The siege itself began on 14 July 1683, by the Ottoman Empire army of approximately 90,000 men. The besieging force was composed of 60 ortas of Jannisaries (12,000 men paper strength) with an observation army of c.70,000 men watching the countryside. The decisive battle took place on 12 September, after the united relief army of 84,450 men had arrived.

McCabe related that the Turks attempted to undermine the walls around Vienna by digging a tunnel and planting explosives before the arrival of the relief army commanded by Polish King Jan Sobieski. (The wall was where the Ringstrasse is today in modern Vienna.)

According to McCabe, some Viennese bakers had their ovens inside the walls, and heard the Turks’ tunneling. After the bakers warned the military authorities, the Viennese dug a counter tunnel and confronted the Turks and bought time for Sobieski’s arrival to save the day.

In commemoration of the event, the bakers created a new pastry in the shape of a Turkish crescent. So why is a Viennese pastry considered quintessentially French today? Well, when Marie Antoinette became Dauphine of France, she brought along her favorite Viennese pastry chef, who introduced the croissant to France and from there to the world.

According to another legend, even the origin of the bagel can be traced to the same battle. Supposedly the shape of the bagel commemorates the styrrups of King Jan Sobieski’s cavalry. Imagine that: two staples of modern breakfast originating from the same event!

The Austrians, Germans and Russians should have remembered and have been very grateful to Jan Sobieski. Perhaps they were— even as they partitioned Poland the following century.

When my brother Sherry (Sheridan) worked at the embassy in Paris in the early 1980’s, I visited him over my birthday. Just before returning to San Francisco, my sister-in-law Sallie helped me buy ten fresh, out-of-the-oven, croissants from a bakery near their apartment in the Place du Pantheon. We carefully wrapped them in slightly damp paper towels and plastic wrap, and I delivered them to my flat-mates and co-workers the next morning. Fresh croissants from Paris! But not quite – you really must eat croissants within a few hours – and to my thinking, there is no finer morning pastry.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2001

The September 11 attacks (often referred to as 9/11, pronounced nine-eleven) were a series of coordinated suicide attacks by Al-Qaeda upon the United States on September 11, 2001. On that morning, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and many others working in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours, destroying nearby buildings and damaging others. The hijackers crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania, after some of its passengers and flight crew attempted to retake control of the plane, which the hijackers had redirected toward Washington, D.C. There were no survivors from any of the flights.

In total 2,974 victims and the 19 hijackers died in the attacks. The overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals of over 90 different countries. In addition, the death of at least one person from lung disease was ruled by a medical examiner to be a result of exposure to dust from the World Trade Center's collapse.

The United States responded to the attacks by launching a "War on Terrorism", invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaeda terrorists, and enacting the USA PATRIOT Act [of very questionable legal and constitutional justification, and already planned before the attacks]. Many other countries also strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation and expanded law enforcement powers. Some American stock exchanges stayed closed for the rest of the week, and posted enormous losses upon reopening, especially in the airline and insurance industries. The destruction of billions of dollars worth of office space caused the economy of Lower Manhattan to grind to a halt.

The damage to the Pentagon was cleared and repaired within a year, and the Pentagon Memorial was built on the site. The rebuilding process has started on the World Trade Center site. In 2006 a new office tower was completed on the site of 7 World Trade Center. The 1 World Trade Center is currently under construction at the site and at 1,776 ft (541 m) upon completion in 2011, will become one of the tallest buildings in North America. Three more towers were originally expected to be built between 2007 and 2012 on the site.

Image &
Below is a Repost from last year

Today is the [thirteenth] anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001. We had a Liquidator (specialist for completion of paper processing) at work named America, and I remember how upset she was when our Port Director waited several hours before sending us home. America stormed out before we got authorization. I think we finally were let go when it was reported that the Transamerica Pyramid was a potential target and was only two blocks away from our building. That apparent paralysis was similar to the response after JFK’s assassination, when my Junior High School principal waited an equally long time before allowing us to leave. I remember how my Dad picked me up in his car when I was half way home. There were no cell phones, of course, so there had been no coordination between us. He just wanted to find me.

On 9/11 Dennis had been called at home not to go into work at Lang’s Estate Jewelry. The first thing he did when I got home from Customs was to go to Sam’s, our Jordanian-American corner grocer at 23rd St and Valencia. Dennis wanted to let Sam know that we didn’t blame all people of Islamic faith. Then Dennis felt compelled to go grocery shopping. He wanted a free-range chicken and fresh produce.

Then of all things, Dennis and I went looking for a new refrigerator. But remember, while Dennis was working full time, we seldom had a day off together except for holidays. He worked Saturdays, and I was busy with church choirs almost all day Sundays. Dennis was diligent to arrange his various medical appointments on his regularly scheduled days off, usually Thursdays. As sick as he was the last few years, he took very little time off work. That’s another reason he was bitterly resentful when he was let go from Lang’s after their robbery on Sutter Street. (That’s quite a story for another time). He probably had a better attendance record than all the other employees!

As it turned out, being let go was a real blessing. It gave us almost three years with the most time we had ever had together. It also allowed Dennis to be in Iowa frequently for his Dad, Walt, and later to settle his Dad’s estate.

As we commemorate the horrible and tragic events of [twelve] years ago --that changed our country forever--it’s curious that one of my memories of that day was the purchase of a new refrigerator. Of course, like the assassination of President Kennedy, 9/11 was an event that people who experienced it will remember for a lifetime-- where they were and what they did.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)