"The US Constitution Is Over 2 Centuries Old and Showing Its Age"

Article V’s provision for a convention of states is the Constitution’s safety valve, a last resort when the ordinary functions of politics are obstructed and the pent-up pressures grow too great. Its purpose was to prevent the kind of constitutional coup d’état to which the framers themselves resorted when the existing system proved unresponsive during a crisis. As the delegates in Philadelphia knew, it was precisely the growing sense that the Articles of Confederation could not be amended that sealed their demise.

In the late 19th century, the New England poet and journalist James Russell Lowell warned against thinking of the Constitution as “a machine that would go of itself.” Without regular maintenance, it would sputter, stall, break down. Today, our government is a malfunctioning mess, and it will not fix itself. If we don’t open the safety valve soon, the machine will explode.

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"Alexander Hamilton's Trickle-Down City"

The real Alexander Hamilton’s “American values” were more like those of Pence and his boss than the ones endorsed by the musical. One wouldn’t know it from the play—or, for the most part, from its source, Ron Chernow’s feted 2004 biography, which the musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, famously picked up at an airport bookstore—but Hamilton was a professed enemy of equality and a fervent believer in the transfer of wealth and power from ordinary people to the elite: a bastard, as the first line of the musical calls him, in more ways than one. At Hamilton’s urging and under his supervision, the drivers of the American Revolution, spying the democratic promised land in the distance, slammed on the brakes, executed a nimble three-point turn, and sped off in the direction they had come—back toward empire, exploitation, and arbitrary rule.

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"Will the Los Angeles River Become a Playground for the Rich?"

“LA is America—only worse,” Andrew Kopkind wrote in these pages after the Rodney King riots of 1992, quoting activist and Mother Jones cofounder Paul Jacobs. That’s true not only of the city’s social tensions, but also of its relationship to the natural environment. Smog-befouled Los Angeles, the Eden that paved over its garden, is a symbol of the patterns of development that have led to rising seas, intense droughts, and furious storms. The late-1930s decision to euthanize the river rather than revive it represents the more general choice that the United States took in the 20th century: growth over sustainability, industry over ecology. This explains the allure of the plan to restore the Los Angeles River: If you can green it there, you can green it anywhere. The lost future may yet be regained.

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"The Powerful Example of the Jewish Abolitionists"

During the mini-Civil-War known as “Bleeding Kansas” in the mid-1850s, three Jews accompanied John Brown on his raids against pro-slavery settlers. The archives of the American Jewish Historical Society contain a 1903 letter in which one of them, the Viennese-born August Bondi (another veteran of the 1848 revolution), recalled an exchange between himself and Theodore Wiener during one of the posse’s first attacks. As they followed Brown up a hill to assault a Border Ruffian camp, Bondi wrote, “Wiener puffed like a steamboat, hurrying behind me. I called out to him, ‘Nu, was meinen Sie jetzt.’ [‘Now, what do you think of this?’] His answer, ‘Was soll ich meinen, sof odom muves.’ [‘What shall I think of it? The end of man is death.’]”

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"This Long-Lost Constitutional Clause Could Save the Right to Vote"

An important tool remains unused, all but forgotten in a dark and dusty corner of the shed. Dating back to Reconstruction, it has the great merit of being already enshrined in the Constitution. According to Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, any state that denies or abridges the right to vote for any reason must have its congressional representation reduced in proportion to the number of citizens it disenfranchises. Arguably the most radical clause in the Constitution, it was designed to remake the government and the country. It has never been enforced.

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"Burning Down the House: On the Chelsea Hotel"

The hotel’s purchase and renovation has not happened in a vacuum. Successful artists and the tourists who nibbled at Bard’s bait often put down roots in the hotel or its environs, occupying space and locking up capital—cultural and financial—then unavailable to younger artists who had not yet found success, as well as to those who never would but nonetheless provided “added color and dimension to life,” as Lough condescendingly writes. In his Guardian piece, Byrne referred to “those of us who managed years ago to find our niche” as incidental exceptions to the atrophying of culture in New York City, obscuring the reality—obvious to those of us without $4 million penthouses—that they, and not “figures like Mayor Bloomberg,” are the arboreal giants jealously blocking their own progeny from the sun.

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"Tammany Kindness"

No politician or reformer felt threatened by Tammany because it was a harbinger of what was to come. Rather, Tammany was despised by the elites—and is rightfully disparaged now by the inheritors of a history they wrote—because it had imported to the United States that structure of political and economic relations which the reformers believed had never existed in the New World and therefore did not require a revolution to overthrow. Golway’s defense of feudalism is worth reading, not for what it says about “the creation of modern American politics,” as promised in the subtitle, but for what it says about the liberal imagination today.

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"Should Voters Decide If We Go To War?"

The idea can be traced back at least to the Marquis de Condorcet, a radical democratic philosopher who died in 1794 while imprisoned for opposing the execution of King Louis XVI, and Immanuel Kant, who argued that if given the power to decide whether the country should go to war the people would “consider very carefully whether to enter into such a terrible game.” It was occasionally raised in the 19thcentury United States, including by an ardent California pacifist suggesting, in 1864, that citizens be required to vote on whether to continue the civil war and that both yes-voters and abstainers be conscripted into the Army if war were approved. After 1914, when the country appeared on the verge of being dragged into the Great War in Europe, much of the pacifist community at the time — an overwhelmingly genteel bunch — rallied around the proposal as the only way of keeping the U.S. out. “Let the people rule,” former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan wrote in his weekly magazine, the Commoner. “Nowhere is their rule more needed than in deciding upon war policies — nowhere would their influence be more salutary.”

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