Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Riviera of The Communists Fifteen Years After The Fall Of The Iron Curtain

Whether you just want to relax or you're looking for a gentle cure for a specific ailment,

a spa with natural spring thermal water is a perfect holiday choice.

     (The largest thermal lake in the world that is suitable for bathing is located at Hévíz, Hungary)
The only 5-star hotel in Hévíz, formerly known as the Rogner Hotel & Spa Lothus Therme, is now operated by Accent Hotel Management.
The hotel, now trading under the name Lotus Therme Hotel & Spa, awaits guests with the same staff; from 15 October 2012 the new GM will be Ms Erzsébet Pusztai.

With little exaggeration, you could say that all you need to do is push a stick into the ground anywhere in Hungary and up would come thermal water, most likely with some kind of curative properties. The geological features of the Carpathian Basin are such that the earth's crust is very thin, so waters rise easily to the surface. Hungary is a land of more than 1,000 hot springs and enough spa facilities to accommodate 300,000 people at the same time! RudasThese spas are located in big cities and smaller towns throughout the country. Some are simple thermal baths serving the local community.

The Romans, no strangers to the good life, were the first to take advantage of this naturally occurring phenomenon, but Budapest also offers some of the finest examples of the "Turkish Bath" found anywhere. Today, a couple of contemplative hours in the local baths are part of the daily routine for many Hungarians - particularly those with arthritis, breathing difficulties and muscle pains.
Despite their popularity with tourists, taking a dip in the baths remains a uniquely Hungarian experience.
There are many stereotypes about Hungary: goulash, beautiful women and an impenetrable language, to name but a few...
But leave them at home – if you know where to look, Hungary is a secret garden of healing and wellness.

The Romans were the first to fall in love with Hungary, but certainly not the last… It is said that wherever they went, they built, and where they built, they bathed.

They knew of salus per aquam (“healing by water”) and made maximum use of this natural treasure.

 More than two millennia have passed, but the thermal water is showing no sign of running dry.
Today's uses of the therapeutic water bear little resemblance to those of the Roman Empire. Thermal water is now recommended for a wide variety of conditions, from the scourge of the modern age, stress, to joint pain and gynaecological or skin complaints.
Whatever the ailment, Hungary's healing garden has just the cure. Patients are spoiled for choice not only in terms of the wide range of wellness spas and resorts equipped according to the highest medical standards, but also when it comes to accommodation – there is something for all tastes and budgets. Whether you chose one of the famous cities, such as Budapest, Eger, Esztergom, Szeged or Visegrád, the opulent vineyards of Transdanubia, or the holiday capital of Lake Balaton, there is something for everyone.

Need any more convincing to spend a relaxing holiday in one of the sunniest and most hospitable countries in the world? Browse this web blog and learn more about the centuries of bathing culture that awaits you wherever you go in Hungary!

The word, massage, originally came from the French masser. It is the act of kneading, rubbing, stroking or tapping the body in a planned and controlled way. Massage has a relaxing and at the same time activating effect on the tissues and muscles. It invigorates the blood supply, restores the skin and lymphatic functions. Breathing deepens. It is advisable to have infrared thermo-therapy prior to taking a massage.

Different forms of massage should be applied for different problems and therapies: classical massage, acupressure, relaxation massage, lymph draining massage, foot reflex massage, connective tissue massage, brush massage, underwater pressure massage and meridian massage.

 The word, spa, derives from the abbreviation of the Latin ‘sanus per aquam’ (health through water). In fact the term holds particular significance in Hungary, famed as the land of thermal and medicinal waters. Today medicinal baths, wellness centers, clinics and health hotels use the beneficial effects of water in a whole variety of ways, from the pearl bath through Kneipp treatments all the way to health-oriented spa regions. The word spa has become an international term in the area of whirlpool- and sauna baths, swimming pools, steam baths, beauty farms and wellness centers.

The River Danube once formed the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire – the area today known as Transdanubia was at that time the province of Pannonia. Its capital was Aquincum (from the Latin aqua, meaning water) in what is now Budapest. Archaeologists have unearthed 21 Roman baths in this area: remains of fine mosaics remind us that bathing has been part of this region’s culture for over 2,000 years. Hungary fell to the Turks in the 16th century. Is it possible that the Ottomans invaded – and stayed for 150 years – because they were attracted by the abundance of thermal water?! Some of the Turkish baths they built during their occupation – including those in Eger, and the Rác and Rudas in Budapest – are still functioning today.
The Baths and Wellness Centre at Gyula is situated in the mature grounds of a stately home, next to Hungary’s only medieval brick-built castle. Many country mansions have been restored and converted into luxury hotels, and the best of these offer a range of modern health-related services and facilities. Guests staying at the country-house hotels in Parádsasvár,Röjtökmuzsaj, Hőgyész and Bikal can expect to be treated like royalty!
Budapest - Spa City
So beautiful is Budapest that several areas of the city have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites – including the romantic Danube riverscape and the Parisian boulevard of Andrássy út. Over 100 of Hungary’s mineral springs emerge in Budapest, and half of these feed the city’s thermal baths. Two of the grandest bathing complexes – the Széchenyi and the Gellért– date from the turn of the 20th century, when many large-scale architectural projects were commissioned to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the Magyar Conquest.
Unique Places
The largest thermal lake in the world that is suitable for bathing is located at Hévíz, in western Hungary.

The water temperature never drop below 79°F/26°C – even in the depths of winter – and the lake is surrounded by hotels and sanatoria.
Miskolctapolca, in the northeast of the country, boasts a unique cave lake. Situated on a geological fault line on the edge of the Bükk Hills, it is the site of both cold karst- and hot-water springs.
There is also a new spa hotel at Egerszalók; the steaming terraces of snow-white calcium crystals on the green hillside are a spectacle to behold.

Whether it's peace and quiet you're after or a calendar full of things to see and do, Lake Balaton is here to satisfy your every need.

Smooth waters and fresh wines, sand and surf, fishing and frolicking, splashing and sailing, concerts and clubs, partying and paddle boating, beach volleyball and biking, elegant castles and sleepy villages, beautiful landscapes and crystal clear air, Lake Balaton has it all.

The highlights on the northern shore of Lake Balaton include romantic strolls along the pretty  streets of Balatonfüred oozing 19th century charm and hiking to the top of Tihany for a breathtaking view of the lake in the lavender scented air.

Just a few million years ago geysers spouted hot water into the air on the Tihany peninsula.

Take a hike on the lunar landscape near the Inner Lake to see the evidence. Just a short ride from here to the west, between Balatonudvari and Örvényes, you'll find one of the most spectacular golf courses of Hungary, Royal Balaton Golf & Yacht Club.
The volcanic slopes further west along the shore are the perfect terrain for refreshing white wines.

Badacsony is a perfect spot for hiking, but a local myth makes it even more worthwhile for couples.

 If you and your loved one sit on the Rose Stone with your backs to the lake (it's hard to turn away from the view, we know), legend has it you'll be married within a year.

Now that deserves a toast, right?

Explore the many wine cellars and their fabulous wines

and mouth watering dishes until you find your favourite one.

Behind the basalt mountain of Badacsony you can find the fairytale valley called the Káli Basin. Visit its lovely quiet villages and move on to the mineral waters at Kékkút, source of Theodora Quelle waters.
At the western peak of  Lake Balaton, you will not only find the source of health in the largest natural medicinal thermal water lake in the world at Hévíz, but also one of the three largest baroque palaces of the country, the Festetics Palace in Keszthely.
     If you like great contrasts, after the grandeur and elegance of the palace, don't miss out on the area's tiny jungle, the Little Balaton. It's paradise for endangered plants and for birds, with tens of thousands arriving as if for an annual convention at migration time. Patient birdwatchers have counted 250 species, of which 100 nest here and 27 are protected.

The southern shores of Lake Balaton will lull you with their quiet charm. This area became the Riviera of the Communist countries.

The Socialist government installed in Hungary after World War Two went to great lengths to develop social tourism for the workers. This led to nationalization of the existing facilities, expropriation of lands and villas, and the establishment of holiday camps.
      During the Communist Era after the Iron Curtain descended on Eastern Europe, Lake Balaton was the main locale where German families from the East could meet with their relatives from the West without complications.

Small towns oozing character, showcase living traditions of arts and crafts, spas and wineries,; exquisite castle hotels and the largest walnut plantation in Europe.

But your trip to Lake Balaton won't be complete without visiting the party capital of the area, Siófok.

For those who like crowds, Siófok is the holiday resort par excellence.

The lakeside beaches are overlooked by villas, hotels, campsites, restaurants, discotheques, and shops for clothes, jewelry, bags, and souvenirs.

 Development in Siófok really exploded in the 19th Century after the construction of a railroad line. It became more readily accessible to the residents of Budapest looking for cool relief from the crowded city. The city boundaries expanded several times along Lake Balaton to accommodate the steadily increasing numbers of visitors.

      The landscape on this side of Lake Balaton provides a wealth of treats for visitors.

There are thermal baths, beaches, vineyards, wines and folklore to satisfy every taste. There is also the abundance of natural landscapes with the flora and fauna of a Garden of Eden.
        This region has played a major role in the development of tourism in Hungary and it is still one of the major drawing attractions.

After Budapest this is the most heavily visited area in Hungary. The vast majority of the tourists are German. And German is the most widely spoken foreign language in the Lake Balaton area.

 After chilling out on one of the many lidos or practicing your wakeboarding moves on the silky smooth water during the day,

this small town caters for all your partying needs with club complexes and beachside pubs where dancing on the tables is the norm,

and everything in between.

The Hungarian Baths Association has announced that from this year, 9 October has been declared the Day of Hungarian Bath Culture.
For the first time, more than 50 baths have joined the initiative offering a 50% discount on admission. Lectures presenting the history of Hungarian spas and baths will also be held at the facilities.

The central message of the country for the forthcoming years will be “healing Hungary”, announced Mr Balázs Botos, deputy state secretary of the Ministry for National Economy. Hungary has all the potential to render health tourism as a breakthrough point, he added.
In the next few years, the Hungarian message will focus on physical and mental health, but “with the help of gastronomy, the quality of life and tourism services will also improve”. To achieve this, more support should be given to the catering industry, the politician added. In order to improve the possibilities, the demand and the offer should be more balanced. Problems include the lack of restaurants offering traditional gastronomy values, fresh Hungarian ingredients are often missing from the menu and the education system is also out of date.

When Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi was asked if he believed in extraterrestrials, he replied:
"They are among us, but they call themselves Hungarians"
This small country is one of the oldest European countries, situated in the middle of the continent in Central Europe.
Hungarians speak a language and form a culture unlike any other in the region: this distinctiveness has been both a source of pride and an obstacle for more than 1100 years.
This is the country
- which boasts one of the world's most beautiful cities: Budapest, the "Pearl of the Danube"
- where 2000 year old Roman ruins and 400 year old Turkish monuments can be found side by side
- where Central Europe's largest fresh water lake - Balaton - is located, providing natural paradise for its visitors
- where hundreds of therapeutic mineral springs gush up from the depths
And there is something else that keeps bringing visitors back to us - the legendary Hungarian hospitality.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Judge In Love With His Secretary Tries To Send Her Husband To Jail

A West Virginia judge was arrested Thursday, August 22, on accusations that he engaged in a scheme over five years to frame a man authorities described as a romantic rival through a series of increasingly corrupt measures.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury, the sole circuit judge in Mingo County, faces two counts of criminal conspiracy for his alleged plots to arrest and imprison the husband of his secretary, with whom Judge Thornsbury allegedly had an affair starting in early 2008, according to a federal indictment released Thursday.
Judge Thornsbury, 57 years old, was released on bond but couldn't be reached for comment, and his attorney didn't return a call for comment. A person answering the phone at the judge's office declined to comment. He is expected to enter a plea at an arraignment next week.
The indictment alleges that Judge Thornsbury tried to plant illegal drugs underthe pickup truck of the secretary's husband, whom the indictment identifies only as "R.W.," some time after the judge's secretary ended the alleged affair in June 2008, but that he couldn't convince an associate to go through with the plan.
Then, the indictment alleges, the judge asked state troopers to arrest the man for thefts of scrap metal he didn't commit, and in 2009 installed a business associate and county official as the foreman of a grand jury to issue subpoenas seeking documents that could be used to indict him. The plan ended after a company receiving one of the subpoenas revealed the ties between the judge and the foreman, the indictment says.
Judge Thornsbury also tried to use his influence to have his secretary's husband imprisoned for six months after the man was the victim of a 2012 assault, the indictment alleges.
"He corrupted the system of justice in Mingo County for his own nefarious purposes," Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, said at a news conference in Charleston.
According to the indictment, the secretary, Kim Woodruff, worked for Judge Thornsbury through the spring of 2009. Michael Callaghan, an attorney for Ms. Woodruff and her husband Robert, praised the criminal indictment. He confirmed that there had been a "romantic relationship" between Ms. Woodruff and the judge.
Mingo County, along the southern edge of the state bordering Kentucky, has a history of political corruption. In the 1980s, it gained notoriety when many low-level government officials were convicted of crimes from theft of public funds and bribery to jury tampering.
Legal experts, however, said they believed the indictment was unprecedented. "Obviously, this is just an indictment but what's alleged is disturbing," said Robert Bastress, a law professor at West Virginia University.
"We certainly have had corruption in the state and had judges act out of line, but a steady effort to try to undo somebody through the office of a circuit judge is pretty extraordinary," he said.
The Supreme Court of West Virginia filed a complaint against Judge Thornsbury with the state judicial investigation commission, and said that two judges were prepared to begin work in Mingo County Friday to handle cases.

Feds Widen Probe Of Doctors In Potentially Large Scale Disability Fraud Scheme

Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) are approving more claims for disability benefits in 2013 than in previous years. A federal probe in 2011 revealed wide spread disparities in the approval rates of different states and among ALJs in the same office. The chances of being awarded disability benefits appear to be influenced by the State one lives in and the ALJ who is assigned to hear your case. Your chances increase dramatically if the medical doctor who examines you files a report stating that you cannot work because of a physical or mental impairment that prevents you from sitting for long periods of time or from concentrating on specific job assignments.

Disorders of the back are the most common type of physical impairment. Physical evidence of a condition that can reasonably be expected to result in a serious impairment is easy to ascertain.  Mental impairments are harder to prove than physical impairments. They are more subjective. In the case of an allegation of a mental impairment, judges are forced to rely more heavily on the expert opinion of a trained mental health professional, usually a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.
Federal investigators on Wednesday, August 21, searched six facilities in Puerto Rico as part of a broadening probe into potential widespread disability fraud.
Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Social Security Inspector General's office (SSIG), among others, searched five doctors' offices and one other location as part of their sweep, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney said. The spokeswoman wouldn't comment further, saying it was part of a continuing investigation and that the six search warrants were sealed.

Doctors play a big role in determining whether people qualify for federal disability benefits because their recommendations often sway state disability determiners and Federal Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) working for the Social Security Administration. Criminal investigators have been looking into whether doctors were paid to improperly create documents detailing applicants' inability to work.

The federal investigation into disability fraud was launched in 2011 after a page-one article in The Wall Street Journal revealed widespread disparity in how some states and U.S. territories implement the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. The chances of winning benefits could vary widely based on where someone applied for benefits, even though standards are supposed to be uniform.

In 2006, just 36% of initial applicants in Puerto Rico were awarded benefits. In December 2010, the award rate had jumped to 69%. By 2010, nine of the top 10 U.S. ZIP Codes for workers receiving disability benefits were on the island.

At the time, SSA officials said the high number of recipients and the high award rate was due to the island's weak economy and a lack of adequate health care for workers.
The program is overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in Baltimore, but the State Disability Determination Service (DDS) is responsible for performing an initial screening to determine eligibility. Social Security officials said in 2011 that Puerto Rico had rigorous standards and a virtually nonexistent error rate.

The characteristics of Puerto Rico's beneficiaries differed from other areas. In addition to the large clusters in certain zip codes, federal data showed that 33.3% of Puerto Rican beneficiaries qualified because of "mood disorders," a rate that is at least 10 percentage points higher than any U.S. state.
Disability examiners and federal judges say mental disorders are harder to measure. decisions are often based on medical opinions contained in Consultative Examinations (CE) issued by doctors to make a determination.

 This probe that has been ongoing for two years.  Federal authorities have made 68 arrests in Puerto Rico alone.

The inspector general from the U.S. Social Security Administration has stated that prosecutors have now also charged a former Social Security employee as well as three doctors with having taken part in assisting individuals in making false disability insurance claims. They worked to help individuals to falsely claim that they were too injured or sick to be able to work.

Disability InsuranceIn return, the suspects were allegedly provided a certain portion of the disability insurance payments of the scammers.

Typically, the cuts that they received from the disability insurance payments ranged from $150 to $6,000. Among those who were charged, dozens included individuals who had actually made these fake claims. The arrests come on the heels of an investigation that had been conducted by the Wall Street Journal in 2011, which looked into unusual claims that were being made in Puerto Rico.
This case also draws attention to an increasing problem that the federal government is currently facing, which is the ballooning disability insurance payments within a program that has standards that are notoriously soft regarding the actual definition of what a disability actually is. For instance, in 2011, when the investigation began from the news paper giant, the federal payments in that program reached $190 billion.
It has been suggested that the reason that disability insurance payments have been growing as quickly as they have – now paying out to over 14 million Americans – is that it has become a sneaky safety net for individuals who are unable to find adequate jobs, but who desperately need to make an income, as the average annual payment is up to twice the income of employment at minimum wage. Another contributor to the growth is that the average age of the workforce is getting higher, and older individuals have a higher risk of experiencing health problems.

SSDI was designed as a way to provide benefits for people who can't work because of mental or physical health problems, and Americans can qualify for benefits because of ailments ranging from severe back pain to terminal cancer. A lifetime of benefits, including access to Medicare, can cost the government about $300,000 a person.

The program became a safety-net-of-last-resort for millions of Americans during the recent economic downturn, including many who had collected unemployment benefits and had hoped to return to the workforce. SSDI had 7.6 million beneficiaries in 2003, and that number swelled to 10.9 million by the end of 2012. More than 200,000 of the beneficiaries are in Puerto Rico, according to federal data.
SSDI paid out $136.7 billion in disability benefits last year, almost twice as much as the government spent on food stamps. The vast majority of people who receive disability benefits never leave the program to return to the workforce.

 (By Damian Paletta, WSJ)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Liberty Amendments

Mark Levin’s new book, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring The American Republic is out, and it proposes an ambitious set of Amendments to the Constitution:
"I undertook this project not because I believe the Constitution, as originally structured, is outdated and outmoded, thereby requiring modernization through amendments, but because of the opposite — that is, the necessity and urgency of restoring constitutional republicanism and preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathon. This is not doomsaying or fearmongering but an acknowledgment of facgt. The Statists have been successful in their century-long march to disfigure and mangle the constitutional order and undo the social compact."
So starts the book. Which then goes on to analyze where the country has gone wrong constitutionally and to propose the following constitutional remedies:
  • An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Members of Congress
  • An Amendment to Restore the Senate
  • An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices and Super-Majority Legislative Override
  • Two Amendments to Limit Federal Spending and Taxing
  • An Amendment to Limit the Federal Bureaucracy
  • An Amendment to Promote Free Enterprise
  • An Amendment to Protect Private Property
  • An Amendment to Grant the States the Authority to Directly Amend the Constitution
  • An Amendment to Grant the States the Authority to Check Congress
  • An Amendment to Protect the Vote
(Mark Levin's new book, The Liberty Amendments, with my yellow stickies.)
(Mark Levin’s new book, The Liberty Amendments, with my yellow stickies.)
I’m not going to go through each of these proposals. For that, buy the book (!) or if you want a synopsis, see Jeffrey Lord’s review at The American Spectator.  Joel Pollak also has a review at as well as a detailed interview.
Rather, I’ll try to put it in context.  (I guess I gave it away in the post Title.)
As I was pondering how to write up this review, I saw a lot of Twitter chatter about an article by Stephen Moore at The Wall Street Journal, The Budget Sequester Is a Success:
The biggest underreported story out of Washington this year is that the federal budget is shrinking and much more than anyone in either party expected….
This reversal from the spending binge in 2009 and 2010 began with the debt-ceiling agreement between Mr. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in 2011. The agreement set $2 trillion in tight caps on spending over a decade and created this year’s budget sequester, which will save more than $50 billion in fiscal 2013.
As long as Republicans don’t foolishly undo this amazing progress by agreeing to Mr. Obama’s demands for a “balanced approach” to the 2014 budget in exchange for calling off the sequester, additional expenditure cuts will continue automatically. Those cuts are built into the current budget law.
In other words, Mr. Obama has inadvertently chained himself to fiscal restraints that could flatten federal spending for the rest of his presidency.
The sense I get from reading the entirety of Levin’s Amendments is that they effectively are constitutional sequesters meant to restrain the runaway extra-constitutional expansion of the federal government without deferring to human nature.  Fundamentally, the proposed amendments are a firm check on the well-documented inclination of those with federal power to expand federal power.
The Constitution enumerates the powers of the federal government.  But, as Levin documents in his book, that enumeration has been largely eviscerated by politicians and judges who are beyond reach.  So Levin proposes constitutionally imposed term limits for Congress and the Supreme Court.  Politicians have a strong incentive to spend other people’s money to buy votes which corrupts the entire process, so Levin proposes Spending and Taxation limits.  The other amendments address similar problems.
As Levin states in his interview with Pollak linked above (emphasis mine):
And I’ve concluded that Washington is incapable of reforming itself, which should seem fairly obvious. After all, it has designed the federal Leviathan, which is getting bigger and more aggressive.  And I was thinking: What has this federal government become? It is not a constitutional, federal, or representative republic, as our Framers understood those institutions. I believe the federal government is increasingly operating outside the Constitution and that we are in a post-constitutional period. This is how justices, presidents, and members of Congress are able to concoct and then impose such monstrous laws as Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, among thousands of other laws and rules every year, on an unwitting population.
I’d have to think through the “what ifs” of some of these proposals, such as repealing the 17th Amendment.  Considering that the unions control the legislature in my formerly home State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, I’m not sure empowering the state legislature to appoint Senators is an improvement.
I view these proposals less as a set of likely constitutional amendments, given the difficulty of the process, and more as a set of principles by which we must insist our elected representatives live.
A good use for the book would be to bring it to Town Hall meetings this summer and get your Representative — Republican or Democrat — to commit to where he or she stands on these principles.
Just hold up the book as you start to ask your question, and watch the faces of the politicians grimace, because they know what’s coming.

 The Liberty Amendments consists of a well thought-out program of amendments (offered as a starting point for discussion and modification), combined with a political strategy that could (at least potentially) work: using a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states. As Article 5 of the Constitution reads:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

In Chapter One of the Book, "Restoring the American Republic (also the subtitle of the book itself), Mark lays out his case that judicial precedent and politics have in effect altered the Constitution the framers intended us to have, and restoring a constitutional republic as originally envisioned is going to require some extensive amending. Fortunately, Mark has posted this chapter online for all to read. I urge readers to click on the link and see the case that Mark makes.

The actual program of amendments, each analyzed in a separate chapter, should be read by all who see in this bold and visionary program a way to rescue our republic before it falls, as it surely will if present conditions continue to develop as they have been since the progressives first gained power. Sure, it is easy for me to point out how difficult it is to accomplish the passage of calls for a constitutional convention in 34 states. But take a look at a map of the red states, and then imagine the sort of grass roots movement Mark calls for, one energized and focused on local legislators. And keep in mind that state legislatures would gain enormous resources and power, should something like the program of amendments be ratified. Self-interest, properly checked and balanced, is the essence of our founders' wisdom, and legislative self-interest is a factor worth keeping in mind.

The chapter titles indicate in broad outline the nature of the constitutional program Mark has in mind:

An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Members of Congress

An Amendment to Restore the Senate (repeal of the 17th Amendment establishing direct elections, provisions for replacement of senators before the end of their terms, and establishing the right of a state legislature to remove a senator upon a two-thirds vote).

An Amendment to Establish Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices and Super-Majority Legislative Override

Two Amendments to Limit Federal Spending and Taxation (limiting the federal government to outlays not exceeding 17.5% of GDP, and limiting total federal tax collections from any source to no more than 15% of a person's income). I must confess that I found reliance on specific numbers troubling here and in a few other amendments because there is so much room for manipulation in calculating GDP and income, or in determining the value of certain dollar amounts included in other amendments.  But Mark makes very clear his is not the last word on this or any other subject, but merely a proposal to get people thinking about an entire package that counteract the transformation of the federal government into a colossus never imagined by the founders.

An Amendment to Limit the Federal Bureaucracy (automatic sunset for all department and agencies if they are not legislatively reauthorized, mandatory congressional authorization of any regulation imposed by bureaucrats if the economic burden exceeds $100 million).

An Amendment to Promote Free Enterprise (redefining the Commerce Clause to a specific grant of power limited to preventing states from impeding commerce among the states, and preventing Congress from regulating commerce within a state).

An Amendment to Protect Private Property (curbing abuses under the Takings Clause).

An Amendment to Grant the States Authority to Directly Amend the Constitution (allowing two thirds of the states, voting for the exact same language, to amend the Constitution, and providing a six year time frame within which the passage must be secured).

An Amendment to Grant States Authority to Check Congress (three fifths of the state legislatures may overturn acts of Congress or larger impact executive orders, within 24 months, with no judicial review permitted).

An Amendment to Protect the Vote (requiring photo ID for voting in person or via mail ballot and prohibiting electronic voting).

My summaries of the gist of each amendment ignore finer points in the text of each, not to mention in the discussions Mark presents.

Conservatives badly need to come together on a vision for America that can be presented to the American people as a way out of our dysfunctions that multiply with each growth of federal power. If Mark Levin succeeds in kicking off a grassroots movement to restore the constitutional balance, he will have performed a historic public service.

Theodore Koehl siad in "The American Thinker":
Top conservative radio talk show host, attorney and constitutional scholar Mark Levin announced the pending release of his new book, "The Liberty Amendments, Restoring the American Republic," this past Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during his regular broadcast. The book due out on or about August 13th of this year is sure to be well received and thoughtful exegesis regarding our Constitution, and in keeping with his best selling, "Liberty and Tyranny," as well as the more recent, "Ameritopia."

Levin previewed an argument under Article Five of the United States Constitution which expresses how the Constitution can be changed through the amendment process by using the traditional passage of a proposed amendment by two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate; then on to the several states for ratification. Once three-fourths of the states have ratified the proposed amendment, the approved Amendment becomes part of our United States Constitution.

What Levin also said was that the States could also propose a convention to add a specific amendment or reject a current amendment by calling an Amendment Convention. This convention would have no bearing on the existing framework of the Constitution, but would only affect the addition or subtraction of an amendment at hand.

Levin reported that under Article V of the Constitution, two-thirds of the several states could form a convention on their own through actions initiated through their own state legislatures. Once an amendment is successfully proposed, it could be ratified by approval of three-fourths of the legislatures of the several states, and then imparted into the Constitution.

The Founders placed this alternative method of amending the Constitution as an end-around the possible tyranny of an all-powerful federal government. The Founders knew the federal leviathan could never be completely trusted with policing itself and therefore gave ultimate authority to the states to make changes when they deemed it necessary.

Mr. Levin is correct in his assessment of the rights of the several states and their people to control their government, at every level. This contributor suggested a similar course of action in an article published by American Thinker on July 7, 2013 titled, " How to Repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments," where the proposal was made that the several states could initiate repeal of amendments by their respective legislatures voting to de-ratify or otherwise invalidate those current amendments.

Again, when two-thirds of the several states have filed an instrument to invalidate either the 16th or 17th Amendments, another vote takes place in many or all the states to approve or disapprove the amendment. Once three-fourths of the several states have voted to approve the proposed change, notification is presented to the Archivist of the National Archives for inclusion into the Constitution.

While some have expressed concern that a full Constitutional Convention is needed to effect changes outside the traditional Congressional process, Levin demonstrates this theory is not necessary and may be done by state's initiatives through their various legislatures in keeping with the people's wishes. An Article Five Amendment Convention is possible and maybe needed if the federal system continues to act outside its limited and strictly enumerated authority.

This author submits that accepting differences in paperwork processing, the states de-ratifying of any existing amendments are tantamount to the same as an Article Five Amendment Convention.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Another Homosexual Marriage Splits

When Jason Dottley and his husband ended their marriage last year, neither bothered to hire a lawyer because the couple agreed they had nothing to fight over.
“Lawyers are what you get when things get difficult,” Dottley figured.
He had no idea just how difficult getting a same-sex divorce would be.
Dottley, an actor and singer, filed for divorce in April 2012 in California, where the court system was unfamiliar with how to handle his case. He eventually sought an attorney’s advice after growing frustrated with the numerous delays.
“The lawyer I hired really couldn’t offer much help,” he said. “His advice was basically, you can either keep plugging away or you can pay me to plug away, but until the courts figure out what they’re doing, I can’t speed this along for you any more than you can.”
It’s a story familiar to a growing number of same-sex couples, even as the gay community continues to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision in June to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. Many hope the ruling will encourage more states to legalize gay marriage, which is currently only legal in 13 states as well as the District of Columbia.
In happier times: Dottley and his former husband, Del Shores, in 2010.
Getty Images file
In happier times: Dottley and his former husband, Del Shores, in 2010.
But because gay marriage is relatively new — Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it in 2004 — same-sex couples trying to get divorced have found their attempts come with high price tags and other expensive sacrifices in the few states even willing to grant them.
“Gay and lesbian couples have had to be pioneers," said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, an advocacy group devoted to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender legal issues. "Until things get familiar, even in states like New York, where same-sex couples can marry, initially there will be a sense of, 'How do we do this?'”
Time together: Reality vs. legality
Many same-sex couples were together for years, even decades, before they were allowed to marry. That can be an expensive problem in a divorce, as most courtrooms will only divide assets starting from the time a couple actually got married.
“A same-sex couple may have only been married for so many years, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t married in their hearts for much longer — and already co-mingled their assets or bought property together,” said Carolyn Satenberg, a New York-based family law attorney who has worked with many couples in this situation.
That’s what happened to Margaret Wenig. The New York-based rabbi got divorced earlier this year from a woman she married in 2008, and with whom she had registered as a domestic partner in 1996.
“But for the 17 years prior to our civil marriage, we lived as if we were married,” she said. “We raised children together, we merged our finances, we made each other the beneficiaries of our pensions and life insurance policies and in our wills.”
The two women were also executors and health care proxies for each other, and gave each other power of attorney. When they split, however, the court would only divide assets accumulated starting from when the couple married in 2008.
“Our divorce has not only been an emotional and financial nightmare for us but for our adult children and members of our extended family as well,” Wenig said.
While the cost of divorce varies by city and state, Satenberg estimates that a traditional, heterosexual divorce in New York typically costs in the neighborhood of $10,000; Wenig said her divorce cost her over $120,000.
Location, location, location
Last week, Minnesota and Rhode Island became the latest of only 13 states to legalize same-sex marriages. Because so few states recognize gay marriages, same-sex couples have often traveled some distance to make their unions official, and don’t live in the states where they got married.
Jason Dottley and his former husband Del Shores, pictured in 2008 when they obtained their marriage license.

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Jason Dottley and his former husband Del Shores, pictured in 2008 when they obtained their marriage license.
Since divorce is usually granted to couples by the state where they live, states that do not recognize gay marriages typically won’t grant a divorce to a couple whose marriage they view as unlawful. That means individuals would have to return to the state where they got married to get a divorce, but that can be a financial and personal hardship, since many of these states have at least a 6-month minimum residency requirement for divorce applicants.
Sometimes, the decision over whether to grant divorce is also subjective.
Last year in Ohio, for example, where gay marriage was banned by constitutional amendment, a Columbus judge granted two men a divorce. Days later, another judge in the same court denied a divorce to a lesbian couple on the grounds of jurisdiction, pointing to the state’s ban on gay marriage.
'Layers of cost'
Sommer said her organization has seen an uptick in requests from courtrooms across the country seeking additional briefs because they want to be sure they’re taking the right steps. But that extra work keeps the meter running for attorneys of couples trying to get divorced.
Satenberg estimates that same-sex couples usually pay twice as much for divorces as their heterosexual counterparts. Triple the price if children are involved.
“By default, either one or both of the parents are not the biological parent. And that brings in an entirely new set of legal problems if the couple hasn’t taken the appropriate steps to secure legal standing,” Satenberg said. “Some couples think, ‘Oh, we love each other. We’re going to stay together forever.’ They don’t really think, ‘I should adopt my son, I should adopt my daughter.’”
Federal income tax laws also can complicate matters. Same-sex couples splitting property or assets may get zapped with a federal gift tax that doesn’t apply to straight couples.
“Heterosexual marriage has been a part of our society for as long as we’ve been a country, and therefore our case law reflects those issues, and divorces and lawyers can navigate through a pretty well defined area of law,” Satenberg said.
“But when there are no clear answers, lawyers need to spend more time making motions. They need to craft legal arguments where none have previously existed because this is a new area of law.”
Dottley got married in California in October 2008 during the brief window when the state allowed gay couples to wed. But when he started to seek a divorce in 2012, he found himself tangled in paperwork immediately.
“They would repeatedly say, ‘Well, wait a minute. We have to create a whole new form to incorporate same-sex marriages into this dissolution process,” he said of his interaction with the legal system. “A good 50 percent of the delays were from the court not knowing how to handle things.”
Dottley says he watched as many heterosexual friends experienced a much smoother divorce process. "No else was going through what I did at the time," he said.
Finding a lawyer familiar with the specialized practice of gay divorce can be expensive, so it helps to find someone sympathetic to the cause.
Ohio attorney Tom Addesa has successfully handled several same-sex divorces in Ohio, and charges a bargain $1,500 flat fee to handle uncontested same-sex divorce cases. He said a straight couple might pay about $5,000 if he were to charge his regular $250 hourly rate, but that a gay couple would pay far more because of additional documents he would need to prepare.
Gay couples are also more likely to have their divorce applications rejected, Addesa notes, which can lead to appeals, easily adding another $10,000 to the bill depending on how much work that entails.
“Those are layers of cost that straight couples never have to worry about,” Addesa said.
The stigma of starting over
Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami attorney who works primarily with gay and lesbian families, said it’s time for the nation to start addressing divorce laws for same-sex couples. Otherwise, some people may start to disregard the law altogether.
“What some couples are doing, and it’s really frightening, is saying, ‘Well, I live in Florida, and marriage isn’t recognized here anyway, so what’s the difference? I’m just going to get married in this new relationship. The other one — who cares?’” she said. “Well, I’m sorry, that’s bigamy.
She tells those individuals that if the relationship meant enough for them to get married in the first place, then it was real enough to get out — legally.
“I feel like I’m pissing on everybody’s marriage parade when I talk about divorce, but you can’t, as a pragmatic, family lawyer, avoid it,” she said. “Sometimes, a divorce is a beginning of a bright new chapter for people.”