Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Giving us back a right that was never theirs to take away

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down a ruling, by a five to four margin, that extends the Heller decision that recognizes the Second Amendment as an individual right nationally (rather than just in the unique legal situation of Washington, D.C.). For those of us who are supporters of the Second Amendment, this decision was a “Well, duh!” decision, an obvious recognition of an obvious right. That the Second Amendment is an individual right and not a reference to the National Guard is not as intuitive to others who have an irrational fear of guns, or more specifically an irrational fear of law abiding citizens owning guns.

That raises the question, is the Second Amendment an individual right as affirmed by the Supreme Court (and liable to be “unaffirmed” if one of the five majority votes changes their mind or is replaced) or was the Second Amendment never intended to preserve the individual right to own firearms. First, what does the Second Amendment say?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

That is admittedly a little clunky in terms of the language employed. Some people emphasize the first part “A well regulated Militia” and others the second part “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”. So what did the Framers intend? To answer that let’s look at the other 9 articles in the Bill of Rights to give us a picture of what the framers had in mind.

The first amendment clearly is an individual right. It protects the right of individuals to practice religion without governmental approval, as well as the right of the individual to assemble peaceably and to take grievances to the government. Even the right of the press to be protected is a right that is given to an entity outside of the Federal government.

The third amendment prevents the government from quartering soldiers in your home.

The fourth amendment protects individuals from illegal search and seizure.

The fifth amendment deals with due process for individuals under the law.

The sixth amendment gives individuals the right to a criminal trial by jury as well as guaranteeing a speedy trial in his or her own locale.

The seventh amendment likewise deals with trials, but in this case has to do with civil trials where the amount in question is more than $20.

The eighth addresses the amount of bail required, that it not be excessive as well as prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

The ninth amendment protects individual rights not specifically spelled out in the Constitution, i.e. there are other rights that are not spelled out in the Constitution that are nonetheless the rights of the people.

The tenth amendment is more of a blanket amendment that defers all powers not specifically delegated to the Federal government to the states and the people. In an age of a Federal government that has placed this country into debt to the tune of more than $10 trillion dollars in spending on areas that are not Constitutionally mandated to the Feds, the Tenth Amendment might as well be stricken from the Constitution because it is by and large ignored.

What is the big, overall theme of the Bill of Rights? It is clearly a protection for individuals against the encroaching power of the government, protecting individual rights while at the same time limiting the power and scope of the government. The Bill of Rights is a check against a government that overreaches by spelling out very specific rights that we enjoy in this country. It is also clear that the Bill of Rights are individual rights, not rights of states or municipalities. So when read plainly, the Second Amendment clearly is protecting the right of the people, i.e. individual citizens, to keep and bear arms. This is consistent historically and contextually and as such the only rational interpretation is that the Second Amendment was put in place specifically to protect the right of citizens to own private firearms, an ownership that was pivotal in the independence that led to the drafting of the Constitution in the first place. The framers knew full well that an armed citizenry overthrew the mighty British army and subsequent tyrants have recognized this as well. There is no surer sign of a tyrannical government than the willingness of that government to disarm the populace.

What is sad, as many commentators have already pointed out, is that four justices who serve for life on the United States Supreme Court based on their keen judicial minds saw fit to vote against the clear language and intent of the Constitution on this issue in order to appease their own ideological prejudices. The people of the United States shouldn’t have to come before the Court, hat in hand, to beg it to recognize the very rights that are specifically laid out in the Constitution and are in place by the express design of that Constitution. This nation wouldn’t exist without the Constitution and the Constitution was expressly drawn up to limit the power of government, not to dole out minor rights to the people at the whim of the government. Our government is supposed to serve by the consent of the governed, not the other way around.

One can only assume that the “reasonable limits” language in the decision will be clung to opponents of the Second Amendment and will lead to years of laws designed to challenge the boundaries of this decision. There is nothing more frightening to a certain segment of the population than law abiding citizens, the ones who grant the government the power to govern, possessing a firearm. The people that I know who are law abiding gun owners are the least likely people to commit a crime with a firearm and yet for some people they are a dangerous group that needs to be controlled, regulated and ultimately disarmed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Shut them all down

Interesting editorial from Mona Charen, writing for National Review on the Nevada Senate race where GOP candidate Sharron Angle has called for the elimination of the Department of Education. Harry Reid is pouncing on this under the mistaken impression that Americans love it when their government pours tax dollars down a sinkhole year after year with no results. As an aside. Methinks that Harry has spent way too much time inside the Beltway and is wildly misjudging the mood of the electorate this year. I am not sure that anything is off the table for many voters. There is a current of hopelessness and anger in the country that is potentially very dangerous and I think a lot of politicians are going to be rudely surprised this fall. Anyway….

In the real world, when an institution fails over and over it goes away. Or at least they used to in the pre-bailout days . Today politically connected groups feel entirely justified in demanding the government help them out with taxpayer funds when they fail. Generally speaking though, if a business is run poorly or has a product no one wants they go out of business or are taken over by a more successful competitor. In the District of Columbia we fund departments based on the name on the building and little else. Department of Agriculture? Support the farmers! Department of Commerce? Support small business! Department of Education? Support the kids. It is the rare politician who will ask the hard questions, well the not so hard question actually, like “Is the Department of Agriculture actually helping farmers?” or “Is all of that money we spend on the Department of Transportation improving transportation in the U.S.?”. Lest you think I am being unduly harsh toward those selfless public servants at the U.S. Department of Education, take a gander at some numbers.

The Department of Education was created as a straight political payoff to the teachers’ unions by Pres. Jimmy Carter (in return for their 1976 endorsement). According to the National Center for Education Statistics, DE’s original budget, in 1980, was $13.1 billion (in 2007 dollars), and it employed 450 people. By 2000, it had increased to $34.1 billion, and by 2007 it had more than doubled to $73 billion. The budget request for fiscal 2011 is $77.8 billion, and the department employs 4,800.

All of this spending has done nothing to improve American education. Between 1973 and 2004, a period in which federal spending on education more than quadrupled, mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress rose just 1 percent for American 17-year-olds. Between 1971 and 2004, reading scores remained completely flat.

Comparing educational achievement with per-pupil spending among states also calls into question the value of increasing expenditures. While high-spending Massachusetts had the nation’s highest proficiency scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, low-spending Idaho did very well, too. South Dakota ranks 42nd in per-pupil expenditures but eighth in math performance and ninth in reading. The District of Columbia, meanwhile, with the nation’s highest per-pupil expenditures ($15,511 in 2007), scores dead last in achievement.

Gasp! You mean to say that giving a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. more than $70,000,000,000 a year has not led to improved education? That in fact by almost every measure American public education has gotten worse academically, more bloated administratively and more dangerous to students and teachers? That there is not a direct correlation between spending and education, that spending X dollars doesn’t invariably yield Y units of education? Say it isn’t so! Just look at the org chart to the left and try to figure out what any of these departments within the DoEd have to do with education. The WH Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities? The Office of English Language Acquisition? What does that even mean? Don’t we already have the English language, do we need to acquire more of it? Here is what the WH Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities “does” for American education.

The Board issues an Annual Federal Plan for Assistance to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to the President on participation by HBCUs in federally-sponsored programs; provides advice to the Secretary of Education and makes recommendations in reports to the President on how to increase the private sector role in strengthening HBCUs, with particular emphasis on enhancing institutional infrastructure and facilitating planning, development, and the use of new technologies to ensure the goal of long-term viability and enhancement of these institutions. Members are appointed by the President and include representatives of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, other institutions of higher education, business and financial institutions, private foundations, and secondary education.

So they don’t actually “do” anything but generate a bunch of reports that get filed and never looked at again. Outstanding! The Department of Education is a sinkhole, a money pit. No one wants to cut funding because then you are accused of not thinking about “the children”. There is nothing to gain politically from cutting spending and everything to gain politically from rubber stamping increases year after year. Funding the DoEd amounts to an easy political chip for politicians. It makes the teachers unions happy. It makes parents happy. It is great for everyone except the kids who get minimal benefit from the spending but are left with the future to bill to pay. It is analogous to a kid getting a huge present for their birthday only to find that the box is empty except for a credit card bill in their name.

I don’t think Sharron Angle is thinking big enough. I think we should lock down every department in Washington D.C. and make them justify their existence before they get one red cent of tax money. Is that so crazy? Corporations must report annually to their shareholders, shouldn’t we expect at least that much from our government? The rule should be that no department gets a free pass from year to year, much less an automatic increase in funding. Every department must have a reason for every dollar they spend with a measurable goal and if they fail to meet that goal, on time and on budget, then they lose their funding. It is insane to give a bureaucracy money intended to accomplish something and then when they fail to accomplish their goal respond by giving them more money. Little wonder we are $13,000,000,000,000 in debt with little to show for it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Arthur Laffer is still the man

Some common sense economics from Arthur Laffer in today's Journal regarding taxation

People can change the volume, the location and the composition of their income, and they can do so in response to changes in government policies.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the nine states without an income tax are growing far faster and attracting more people than are the nine states with the highest income tax rates. People and businesses change the location of income based on incentives.

Likewise, who is gobsmacked when they are told that the two wealthiest Americans—Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—hold the bulk of their wealth in the nontaxed form of unrealized capital gains? The composition of wealth also responds to incentives. And it's also simple enough for most people to understand that if the government taxes people who work and pays people not to work, fewer people will work. Incentives matter.

Oh my, who wants to listen to common sense these days? So if you make it easier to not work, more people will...not work? Huh. You need to read this editorial.

Most people who are rich didn't get there by being stupid and those who have the means to shift their wealth around to avoid taxes will do so. Obama and his cronies are promising to soak the rich but when the rich respond by moving their money into something with lower tax exposure, guess who is going to get left holding the bill for Obamacare, the "stimulus bill", state and municipal pension bailout, union payoffs, "climate change", etc.? You are. Congratulations, under Obama you are about to become part of the "rich"!

Now fork over your wallet.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Making the most of the BP oil spill

No one on the left wants to miss out on a good crisis. Nothing better than using a disaster that threatens the nation to push an agenda. Never let a good crisis go to waste! Economy is in the doldrums? Push a massive pork barrel spending bill through, never mind the debt! Health care costs skyrocketing? Jam through an immensely unpopular, expensive and unfunded health insurance plan! Public debt exploding at an unprecedented rate? Borrow more and spend more, it has to get better sooner or later! A tragic accident that demands national attention in the Gulf? Use it to paint capitalism as a failure!

There is nothing more inane than those who label the BP oil spill as a failure of the free markets. Was the Chernobyl disaster a failure of the free markets? Did an overweening government prevent that disaster? As a little history lesson, Chernobyl happened in 1986 during the last days of the Soviet Union. It is not as if the communist dictatorships in the former Soviet Union or in present day China or North Korea have been “green” regimes. Accidents happen. They happen in communist countries and they happen in free market countries. It is going to take more than Barack Obama “thinking about it” to make it stop spewing oil and it is ridiculous that up until recently he has gotten a free pass from the media, the same media that scorched President Bush for not “doing something” about New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The world’s most powerful nation with the biggest navy by far in the world and the most innovative minds anywhere is standing around on the shore and shaking our collective fists at the ocean.

What is ironic is that when something happens that people want the government to get involved in and that it makes sense for the government to get involved in like an oil leak in the ocean, the government has by and large been a big fat failure. Rather than seeing that as a warning sign, liberals want to give the government even more control over things that the government has no business in and that people don’t want them interfering with (i.e. health care). Far from an indictment of the free market, this disaster and the subsequent impotence of the world’s sole superpower is an indictment of the ability of the Federal government to solve our every problem. It cannot solve even one leak in the ocean, how can we expect it to cure the economy and keep every American healthy for free?

I wish liberals would take their collective heads out of the sand. Maybe they could cram them in the hole in the Gulf. That would be a win-win for everyone.