The Supreme Court Takes On the Second Amendment

The last time the Supreme Court entertained a 2nd amendment case was almost 70 years ago. At that time they focused on minutiae around the concept of a militia, and concluded that the 2nd amendment only applies to types of firearms that would be pertinent to the preservation of a well-regulated militia. They did not address whether the right iself applies to all individuals, or only those belonging to a militia, perhaps assuming that was clear enough in context. Nevertheless, that ruling has bolstered the anti-gun lobby by focusing on the militia aspect of the 2nd amendment, rather than acknowledging the imperative that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Perhaps, this time, the Supreme Court will get it right. Or perhaps not. It’s always a crap shoot when the Supreme Court takes up interpretation of a Constitutional amendment. Once they rule, either all of us win or all of us lose. However, if they’re going to undertake it, better to have them do it now. The next administration may pack the court with liberals who would rule that the amendment doesn’t apply to individuals at all, and only those belonging to a state militia (e.g., National Guard) have the right to keep or bear arms.

Those who argue that the 2nd amendment does not apply to individuals base their argument on the ambiguous wording of the dangling participle at the beginning of the amendment, which refers to “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” It is not clear from the wording in the amendment whether that participle represents a condition upon which the right to keep and bear arms is contingent, or an example of a reason why the right was considered important. Nothing in the text of the amendment specifies that the existence of a militia is a required condition for the people to maintain their right to keep and bear arms. Neither does it say that is the only reason why this right should be protected. It simply mentions the importance of a militia, and then leaves it dangling. The grammatical taboo against dangling participles lies in their inherent ambiguity. Now that the framers of the amendment are long gone, there’s no way to clarify with absolute certainty what they intended, — at least not by simply by reading the text of the amendment itself.

Therefore, to understand their intended meaning, one must look further than that specific amendment, and take into account the context in which it was written, specifically the fact that it was included in the Bill of Rights. The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to secure protection for individual rights from infringement by the government. If all of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights are intended to secure the rights of individuals, why would the framers have slipped one in that had nothing to do with securing the rights of the individual, but rather applied to some abstract collective body?

The same people who want to wield a dangling participle to abridge our individual rights also claim that the term “the people,” as used in the 2nd amendment, does not refer to individuals, but rather to the collective population, or representatives thereof (e.g., the militia). The 4th amendment also refers to “the right of the people” to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure. Would anybody seriously argue that the 4th amendment does not protect the right of individuals to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure, but rather the right of some abstract body that represents the collective population? Perhaps what the founding fathers really meant was that only the police should be secure against unreasonable search and seizure…

Given the context of the 2nd amendment, and its prominent inclusion in the Bill of Rights, it could not be more clear that it refers to the rights of individuals. It would have had to have been included by accident if it truly had the singular characteristic that it, alone among the amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, was not intended to protect the rights of individuals from being infringed by government.

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What’s the Opposite of a RINO?

If a RINO is a Republican in name only, the opposite is someone with traditional conservative values who doesn’t identify as a Republican. Who are these people? Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Independents, and even conservatives who’ve given up on the system and no longer register to vote. My esteemed friend, the Sidewinder, refers to them as apostate Republicans. Most of them wouldn’t be caught dead voting for a Democrat but, for whatever reason, they’re disenfranchised from the Republican party. Some of them quixotically vote for third party candidates. Others, more cynical, don’t vote at all.

Why should Republicans care? After all, these apostates are not true believers. If they did come uninvited to the party, they’d no doubt be disparaged as RINOs. But can the party really afford to be so exclusive? Apostates though they may be, they’re also voters, or at least potential voters, and their numbers are inexorably increasing while mainstream Republicans are on the decline. (Look at the results of the last election, and consider the consequences if that happens again.)

I’m not advocating voting for RINOs, when there are true conservative options. But the last thing the Republican party can afford is to drive the RINOs away. The party can’t continue to view itself as a members-only club, or a church of true believers, while the Democrats set themselves up as a populist block party, everybody welcome, with free food (and healthcare) for anyone who’d rather get something for free than work hard to earn something better.

There are still a lot of people who share the traditional values on which our country was founded. But many of them are drifting away from the Republican center of gravity, and it’s going to take a concerted effort to reach out and draw them in. It’s time to start focusing on what we all have in common, rather than what separates us.

I’m an apostate, myself. I’ve been a libertarian for 28 years (and no, I don’t support Ron Paul). But I’m registering Republican this year because I’m so disturbed by the Democrats’ misguided agenda, and so apprehensive that they will prevail, that I see a real need for conservatives of all persuasions to form a united front to defeat them.

I’m not particularly partial to any of the remaining Republican candidates, but I tend to favor Giuliani. He’s got the strongest position on the economy and on national security, and he has a record of getting things done. (Does anybody remember the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, when Travis Bickle, a New York cabbie, said “Someday a real rain will come, and wash all this scum off the streets?” Well, the real rain did come, and it was Rudy Giuliani.) But, at this point, I’ll support whichever one wins the nomination. An actual elephant would no doubt be best, but even a RINO is better than a donkey bearing a staggering socialist agenda.

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Published in: on January 27, 2008 at 11:01 pm  Comments (7)  
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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I’m so disgusted with the $150 billion “economic stimulus package” that I’m choking on my own thoughts, unable to express them coherently. First there are the rebates. But wait, I’ll save that for later because everybody’s blogging about that and, no doubt, everything I have to say has already been said and said again. (Not that our oh-so-wise policy makers are listening, of course…) But there’s another part to this package that’s tucked away discreetly beneath all the fanfare over the rebates. And that’s the part that addresses the subprime mortgage crises. After all, it’s the mortgage crisis that got us into this mess.

There are two contributing factors to the subprime mortgage crisis.

  1. Fiscal irresponsibility on the part of borrowers.
  2. Fiscal irresponsibility on the part of lenders.

The Democrats want to ignore the first factor, and lay all the blame on the lenders. They call the lenders “unscrupulous” and the borrowers “victims.” But the fact is that record numbers of Americans are going bankrupt and losing their homes because record numbers of Americans overextended themselves during the real estate bubble, taking out variable rate loans with low/no downpayments on houses that were well beyond their means, or taking out second and third mortgages to finance their whims and treat themselves to luxuries they couldn’t afford. They are not the blameless lambs the Democrats croon over. And, if they really were that financially naive, they had no business buying a house in the first place.

Owning a house isn’t a right; it’s a responsibility. A house is the largest investment most people make in their entire lives. Many people never own their own house. Anybody contemplating such a significant, long-term financial commitment ought to have the sense to do a little research and understand what they’re getting into, because they’re betting their family’s future and financial security on their ability to meet this commitment. This is truly a situation where, if you don’t know what you’re doing (and you’re too lazy or complacent to learn), you’d best not do it.

The lenders were irresponsible, too. They should have known that lending more money to people than their credit rating would justify was a stupid thing to do, — especially people who were such bad credit risks that they could only qualify for subprime mortgages. Whatever were they thinking? IMHO, if the lenders were actually putting their own money on the line, they would have exercised better judgement. But, under our current system, the natural incentive to protect their interests is mitigated by the fact that they’re not actually lending their own money. All loans get bundled and bought up by larger financial institutions, so the original lender who makes the decision to lend the money isn’t the one at risk if the borrower defaults. 

And who’s at the top of this lending pyramid? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, sponsored by the U.S. government, are by far the largest mortgage loan aggregators. And then there’s the FHA, whose role it is to insure these loans and guarantee that everybody has an opportunity to buy way more house than they can afford (backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. taxpayer). 

So that’s how we got here. Now that we’re here, the Fed has come up with a plan to “fix” this mess, as part of the economic stimulus package. How are they going to fix it? By doing more of the same, of course. Here are two interesting articles, published three days apart.

Reuters, January 22, 2008

The largest U.S. housing finance companies, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, may report $16 billion in write-downs for the fourth quarter due to the falling value of  their subprime mortgage investments, according to Credit Suisse analysts.

Chicago Tribune, January 25, 2008

The stimulus package contains several features designed to improve the troubled housing market.

It would increase the Federal Housing Administration’s loan limits from $362,000 to $729,750 and those of two federally sponsored entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, from $417,000 to $729,750

The measure would also enable the FHA to become more active in dealing with the direct impact of the housing crisis, permitting more borrowers facing defaults to refinance subprime loans through the federal agency.

Is it just me, or is there something really wrong with this picture?

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Redistribution of Health

Why do I keep picking on poor Mrs. Clinton? Hasn’t she suffered enough (after living with Bill all these years)? I pick on her because she’s a serious contender for the office of President of the United States. And, frankly, that makes me very nervous. It has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman. It has everything to do with her political agenda.

 Mrs. Clinton’s proposed healthcare plan “requires insurance companies to offer coverage to anyone who applies, and bars insurance companies from charging higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions.”1

It sounds great, on the surface. But what isn’t stated is that, if insurance companies can’t deny coverage to anybody, even those who make lifestyle choices that put them at greater risk, and they can’t raise rates for those with greater risk factors, the only alternative left to them is to raise the rates for those who are generally healthy to cover the much higher costs of insuring those who are not. Making the healthy pay more for health insurance so those who use it more can pay less brings to mind a new twist on Marx’s old motto: From each according to their health, and to each according to their infirmity. — But she also promises to make health care affordable for everybody. And that’s where the redistribution of health melds into (surprise!) the redistribution of wealth.

Her plan “offers tax credits to limit health care premiums to a certain percentage of a family’s income. Cost estimated at $110 billion annually, to be paid for by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000.”1

I keep hearing this and, the way it’s always phrased, it sounds like Bush implemented special tax cuts for those earning over $250,000. Sounds kind of like he’s doing favors for his rich buddies, doesn’t it? And that’s exactly what it’s intended to sound like. But, just to be clear, the tax cuts in question apply to everybody, not just to those making over $250,000. What Mrs. Clinton is proposing is to make those who earn “too much” ineligible for them. (And the other Democrats are proposing the same thing.) That was exactly the reasoning behind the Alternative Minimum Tax when it was first implemented in 1969, and only affected 155 taxpayers. In 2000, one million households were affected by the AMT, and it’s projected to be 30 million by 2010. This year, 20% of all taxpayers will be affected by it, some earning as little as $50,000.2

It’s easy to win votes by saying we’ll just get the wealthy to pay for whatever we want. Since there are a lot more of us than there are of them, the Democrats figure it should be easy to garner support for a plan that sounds like soaking the rich to benefit the rest of us. But just remember, there are a lot of other tax cuts they want to eliminate too, and, chances are, some of them will affect you.

1 CNN Election Center
2 Washingon Post

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Published in: on January 23, 2008 at 10:56 pm  Comments (11)  
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Mrs. Clinton’s “Economic Action Plan”

Well, the South Carolina debate sure was a hoot, wasn’t it? I just love cat fights. But before the real fun began, Mrs. Clinton laid out her “economic action plan,” which consisted of the following six points.

  • “I would have a moratorium on foreclosures for 90 days…”
  • “I want to have an interest rate freeze for 5 years…”
  • “Then I think we need to give people about $650, if they qualify, to help pay their energy bills this winter….”
  • “I want to put money into clean energy jobs, green collar jobs,”
  • “and also make sure we have a fund that will help communities deal with the consequences of the home foreclosure crisis,”
  • “and make sure the unemployment system is up to the task.”

Sounds like she’s really thought this through, doesn’t it? But, let’s take a little closer look.

What good will a 90 day moratorium on foreclosures really do? How many of the people who are unable to pay their mortgages today will suddenly get a huge promotion, a new job, or win the lottery within the next three months? Realistically, if their house is about to be foreclosed, delaying it for 90 days is not going to keep them from losing it. What it will do is give them 90 days free rent, where they can stop paying their bills because they know they’re going to lose the house anyway. And, during those 90 days, the house is no longer an “investment” for them, so they have no particular motivation to keep it up. In fact, many people in this situation feel a certain resentment toward the financial institution that’s “kicking them out of their home,” and some may even take it out on the property to get back at the villains who are “doing this to them.” I don’t see how this will help either the economy or the people who can’t pay their debts (beyond giving them 3 months free rent at the expense of the lenders).

And how will a five year interest freeze ultimately help the people who irresponsibly overextended their credit on homes they couldn’t afford? What happens when the freeze is lifted? Are we expected to anticipate that people who had to get sub-prime loans because they had bad credit to begin with will become any more financially savvy or fiscally responsible after having been bailed out for five years? What happens in five years when their interest rates jump up? They’ll be back in the same situation they’re in now. A problem deferred is not a problem solved.

And how exactly will this fund “help communities deal with the consequences of the home foreclosure crisis?” And who’s going to pay for it? We, the taxpayers, of course. The people who manage our finances responsibly will once again be asked to pony up for those who didn’t. No, not asked — the money we earned and saved and managed wisely will be taken out of our pockets to bail out the ones who figured they might as well risk it all because, if worse came to worst, the good old Fed would surely come to their rescue. The fiscally conservative individuals who decided the risk wasn’t worth taking are the ones who’ll get stuck paying the cost of the risks that others took.

Remember the story of the grasshopper and the ant? Well, the ants are tired of storing up food all year only to feed the grasshoppers when the grasshopper party is over. Grasshoppers, get a clue! The ants are fed up. Sometimes I think, instead of a donkey and an elephant, the party symbols ought to be a grasshopper and an ant.    

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Published in: on January 22, 2008 at 11:54 pm  Comments (16)  
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This Little Girl

will make some lucky man a fine wife someday.

 What a cool kid! — You go, girl!!

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Published in: on January 22, 2008 at 11:10 am  Comments (61)  
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Feeding the Needy or Bolstering the Bureaucracy

One reason why many private charities are both more efficient and more effective than government welfare programs is because charities in the private sector are accountable to the people who contribute to them. There’s a significant amount of variance in administrative and fund-raising overhead among different charitable organizations. For example, the American Red Cross spends 6 cents out of every dollar contributed for overhead, while the American Cancer Society spends 31 cents out of every dollar for overhead.* Private charitable organizations are required to make this information available to the public. As a private contributor, you can choose the charities to which you contribute, and make sure you get the best return on your investment for whatever causes you support.

The government, on the other hand, does not publish the percentage of money allocated for social welfare programs that goes to bureaucratic overhead. Given the usual proliferation of bureaucracy in government, I’d be willing to bet that the overhead is pretty high. But you have no way to find out. Nor do you have any choice in the matter, even if you knew.

Nevertheless, there are people who, even while acknowledging that government welfare programs are less efficient and less effective than private charities, still believe the government should appropriate their (and everybody else’s) money to pay for them. Why? They believe that the very fact that it’s involuntary is a good thing. There are two reasons people think involuntarism is good.

  1. They have very little faith in human nature. They believe that they themselves are good, but most other people are not. Consequently, they believe, if the government didn’t force people to support humanitarian causes against their will, they wouldn’t support them at all. What they don’t realize is that empathy is a fundamental aspect of human nature. Empathy is not only the root of conscience, but also of altruism. When we see someone in need, we have an instinctual impulse to help them. However, by delegating that role to the government, we absolve ourselves of the need to take personal responsibility for the welfare of our fellow man. From the perspective of social evolution, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
  2. They want to feel like humanitarians but, if it were left up to their own discretion, they’re not sure they would be as generous as the government is with their money. It isn’t that they have such great faith in the government, but that they’d rather hand over the responsibility to someone else than to accept that responsibility themselves. Then they can feel good about supporting social welfare without having to make the hard decisions themselves.

Unfortunately, the ultimate result of leaving it up to the government is that less of the money spent to aid those in need actually benefits the people who need it, and more of it gets absorbed into the ever-expanding bureaucracy. Private charities have to compete in the free market, where benefactors vote with their dollars.

* Charity Navigator provides comparative data on charitable organizations, incuding how much they spend on actual program services vs. overhead.

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Published in: on January 21, 2008 at 10:44 pm  Comments (22)  
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Giving Away Other People’s Money

People who favor social welfare programs seem to think that they’re acting out of altruistic impulses, and that those who don’t support these programs are uncharitable. There’s a fundamental difference between altruism and redistribution of wealth by the government. Altruism is characterized by an individual acting of his own free will in the interests of others. No matter how magnanimous your intentions, it isn’t altruistic to give away somebody else’s money. Especially when it’s counter-productive.

Philanthropy is intinsically rewarding because being able to help someone in a meaningful way makes people feel good about themselves. That’s human nature. And that positive reinforcement motivates people to increase their generosity. But having something taken from you is not the same as giving. If, instead of being freely given, the same money is appropriated by the government and allocated indiscriminately to people who may or may not be deserving, rather than making the donor feel good, it makes them feel resentful. That, too, is human nature.

Unlike government agencies, individuals exercise judgement in their philanthropy, whether the recipient is a person, a family, or a charitable organization. Even the most altruistic individual doesn’t head down to the nearest skid row and start handing out money to every junkie and bum on the street who’s “less fortunate” than they are. An individual always wants to see a return on their investment. — Not necessarily a return to themselves, but they want the sense of gratification that comes from knowing their “investment” has effected a positive change, rather than subsidizing the status quo.

When one keeps giving money to someone, and they just keep asking for more, eventually one feels like one is flushing money down the pipe, and stops the cash flow. That’s the right thing to do. People are remarkably resourceful, when they need to be. But, for some people, mitigating that need results in prolonging their dependency. Some people are viscerally motivated by the shame of having to accept charity, and feel compelled to prove they’re worthy by striving to better themselves. Others see it as a way to sustain their current level of subsistence without having to make the effort to change.

When charity rests in the hands of individuals, or private organizations that are not legally bound to treat every applicant the same, the way a recipient deals with the assistance they receive effects a kind of natural selection. People who use it to good advantage are apt to receive more. Those who don’t are not.

However, when the government extracts money from us and gives it to whoever signs up for it, as long as they can prove they aren’t gainfully employed, the principle of natural selection is turned on its head. Those who use it to sustain their status quo keep receiving more, while those who use it to pull themselves up and get ahead get less. The insidious aspect of this is the Pavlovian implication it has. — Government social welfare programs reward the very behavior that natural selection (even benevolent natural selection) would rule against.

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Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 11:44 pm  Comments (22)  
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Paraphrasing Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson said:

“A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

NotYourDaddy says:

“Get your hand out of my pocket and leave me alone!”

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Published in: on January 18, 2008 at 1:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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Huckleberry and the Will of God

On January 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson addressed the following words to the Danbury Baptist association in Connecticut.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

On January 14, 2008, Mike Huckabee addressed the following words to a group of Christians in Michigan.

Separation of church and state has become a hot button phrase for many conservatives because of its frequent abuse by the ACLU to thwart the free expression of religion, rather than to protect it. This has driven some conservatives to deny that the first amendment actually establishes a separation of church and state, but Thomas Jefferson was pretty clear about that. So let me clarify that my opinion on this question is based on Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation, not the ACLU’s. (One can twist any precept beyond sense or recognition, but that doesn’t mean the original precept was unsound.)

I revere the principles on which this nation was founded, which define this nation and make this nation great. Those principles were profoundly influenced by the Judeo-Christian heritage of the culture in which our nation was conceived and brought forth. But I would not revere those principles less if had they originated from some other source. They stand on their own, and their merit is intrinsic. We do not need to amend the Constitution to insert God into it.

The reason the founding fathers believed it was important to separate church and state is because there is nothing more personal than one’s relationship with God, and it is nobody else’s business, least of all the government’s. Different religions, and even different denominations within the same religion, interpret God’s will differently. It is not the role of government to be the arbiter of the will of God, but rather to protect the rights and liberties of its citizens. The inherent danger of making the state an instrument of enforcing any interpretation of God’s will is that you end up with Shari’a, rather than representative government. As an inveterate American, I prefer representative government.

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