What Are We Teaching?

Marty:            It’s just that another year has come and gone and I’m still doing the same old thing.  Stand over here, trot over there.  Eat some grass.  Walk back over here.
Alex:               I see your problem.
Marty:            Maybe I should go to law school.
—Chris Rock as the voice of Marty the Zebra, and Ben Stiller as the voice of Alex the Lion in Madagascar
Let me say first that college isn’t for everybody.  I don’t mean that as some sort of elitist/racist snobbery—there are plenty of white kids from wealthy suburban families boozing it up as frat house legacies who have no business darkening the door of a university classroom.  What I mean is there are a large number of undergraduate students who lack the desire, scholastic skills, and/or mental horsepower to perform in a college environment.
That said, something about the modern U.S. academy is to a large degree failing our young people in terms of preparing them to function in the real world.  Case in point: a new analysis of government data by the Associated Press reveals that 54% of college graduates under 25 were unemployed in 2011, compared with 41% in 2000.  Many more are underemployed, working outside their field of study in jobs that simply don’t require a college degree. 
As tuitions skyrocket, stories abound of students incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt only to find that at the end of their four years (or however long it takes), there is no job for them to earn the money to pay those loans back.  Typical of these stories is that of Michael Bledsoe, a 23-year-old Seattle resident currently working as a barista for a little better than minimum wage.  “I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” he says, explaining that his job search has dwindled from sending three or four resumes a day down to a current pace of one every couple of weeks.  
The story’s implicit undercurrent is that there must be something dreadfully wrong with the economy—presumably that something is George W. Bush’s fault and only Obama can fix it—for this to be happening.  But what’s interesting here is the study makes the shocking observation that your job prospects coming out of college have a great deal to do with what you chose to study.  There is good demand for college graduates in hard sciences, education, and health, but not so much for those with degrees in the arts or humanities, and the more esoteric you get, the worse your prospects.  Mr. Bledsoe, discussed above, is surprised to learn there aren’t many employers looking for someone with a degree in creative writing (one wonders if his prominent nose ring and nearly dime-sized aboriginal ear piercings might also be contributing factors).
Who knew?
This got me wondering just what courses of study our universities are offering these days.  Looking through the on-line materials for the University of Texas at Austin, I see some gems such as:
Communications Studies  Texas tells prospective students that this major “prepares a student for . . . any job involving interaction with people.”  In other words, we don’t know how, but this major prepares you to do anything.  Really?
Bachelor of Social Work  According to Texas, this major provides the training for students to seek “an exciting professional career and land employment in many different public and private work settings.”  Which ones?  Again, this gives so little specifics that it basically says nothing.
American Studies  This major “is always changing and can accommodate almost any interest or idea . . . If you can dream it up, there’s probably a place for it in American Studies . . . American Studies is so broad, it’s great preparation for work or graduate school.”  I think they could have left out the “work” part.  This looks essentially to be a major in attention deficit disorder.
Texas also offers the obligatory palette of ethnic/sexual orientation self-contemplation majors: African and African Diaspora Studies, Asian-American Studies, Mexican-American Studies, European Studies (I assume this is somehow something different than “History”), Hebrew Language and Literature (not to be confused with the separate Jewish Studies), Islamic Studies (not to be confused with the separate Middle Eastern Studies), Latin American Studies, Scandinavian Studies, and, of course, the ubiquitous Women’s and Gender Studies.  Not just to pick on Texas, I can report that similar offerings appear in the student catalogue at my alma mater, Rice University, and even at the venerable Harvard (which offers classic courses of study like “Urban Education and Leadership”—apparently at the Yard you can actually major in Barack Obama).  One suspects that the menu is very similar at virtually any other American university.
How did we get here?
Somewhere in the Spockian move to shield children from all negative outcomes and encourage them to be and do whatever makes them happyregardless of how impractical or unproductive it might bewe seem to have developed a collective assumption that all you have to do is show up at a college and do your time however you please, and the American Dream will be handed to you as your birthright.  And, of course, Obama is now playing to that assumption as a vote-driver, upping the ante to all but promise that not only will it all be handed to you, but the government will pay for it. 
Let’s understand something.  The idea that in America you’re free to be anything you want to be does not include the idea that society is obligated to make it work for you.  Nobody owes you a college education; certainly not one in whatever perverted art form (apparently vandalizing someone else’s pro-life demonstration by covering it with thousands of condoms now passes as the serious college-level study of art, right up there with welding toilet parts into random shapes) or narcissistic navel-gazing you and a tenured professor manage to agree merits a B.A.  And nobody owes you a job when you get out.  Just because you find Atlantean Language and Literature fascinating doesn’t mean anyone else—other than the professor who taught you—does.  More to the point, your interest in that subject doesn’t make you valuable to a prospective employer.
We’ve discussed this before.  Jobs don’t exist as a matter of constitutional right, and they don’t exist because government creates them.  Jobs exist because someone who owns a business (typically for profit) has a task they need done.  My guess is there simply isn’t much demand out there for someone with a degree in “Museum Studies” (a real major at Harvard).
No, I don’t consider college simply a trade school.  And yes, there is merit to broadening one’s mind for its own sake.  If your life won’t be complete until you’ve spent four years studying the great works of Esperanto, ancient Eskimo ice painting, or social justice and the Yeti, go for it.  But when you borrow $100,000—often from the federal taxpayer—to do it, you need to have a plan for how you’re going to pay it back, because that’s the agreement you made when you borrowed it.  Don’t come to me as the surprised victim of a grand conspiracy by the 1% when you find yourself six figures in debt and unable to pay it back because no one will hire you with a degree in Hyphenated-American Urban Lesbian Studies.

Who Rules?

“This ain’t about justice.  You think this is about justice?  No!  This is about order!  Who rules.  ‘Cause, see, fascism is coming back!”
—Kevin Bacon as Willie O’Keefe in JFK
Here’s a trivia question for you:  who governs the United States?  If you ask this question on the street, my guess is nine out of ten people will answer “the President.”
And they’ll be wrong.
Monday’s Houston Chronicle re-printed a half-page no-byline piece from the New York Times entitled “Obama’s Use of Executive Action Growing,” outlining the Administration’s increasing resort to executive fiat to accomplish agenda objectives Obama can’t get through Congress.
We’re glad you noticed.
Obviously, this is an issue I’ve chronicled many times in this space over the last year.  Attempting to pass it off as simply Obama finally catching up to the normal Presidential exercise of initiative, the piece quotes NYU law professor Richard H. Pildes: “Obama’s not saying he has the right to defy a congressional statute[.]”  I guess Pildes missed Obama partially repealing No Child Left Behind by executive order, re-writing Obamacare by agency rule, and unilaterally refusing to enforce immigration laws and the Defense of Marriage Act through an express policy of inaction by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
What’s scary, though, is the very matter-of-fact tone the article takes with respect to the creep of Presidential authority.  The piece is correct that Obama’s use of executive orders isn’t new—in fact the practice dates back to at least Jefferson.  My concern is the apparent general acceptance of the notion that Presidents can wield original power via the issuance of unilateral edicts.  Worse, the article repeatedly couches the use of executive action in terms of the normal exercise of the “executive power to govern,” or changes in Obama’s “governing style.”  Hell, even Newt Gingrich was out there earlier this week talking about the need to make sure that presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney is “effective both in winning this fall and then, frankly, in governing.” 
University of Chicago political science professor William G. Howell is quoted in the article as saying the concept is “built into the institution of the presidency.”  Harvard law professor Jack L Goldsmith says “this is what presidents do.”  And I fear that among the general population there is widespread acceptance that this is OK, and an assumption that the President in fact has the authority to rule in this fashion.
Well, he doesn’t.
Article II of the Constitution lists the powers of the President, and there are exactly five: (1) the “executive power” (Section 1), (2) the power to act as Commander in Chief (Section 2), (3) the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States (except impeachments) (Section 2), (4) the power to make treaties (with Senate approval) (Section 3), and (5) the power to appoint ambassadors and other public officials (Section 3).  That’s it.  Of these, the only one that needs any definition or further explanation is the “executive power.”  “Executive” means “of or capable of carrying out duties,” or “empowered to administer laws.”  To “execute” means “to carry out or administer.”  To “administer” means “to manage.” 
Carry out.  Administer.  Manage. 
There can be no question that, in vesting the President with the “executive power,” all the Constitution authorizes is for the President to implementlaws.  Nowhere in Article II does the Constitution give the President the power to create laws; creating laws is what it means to legislate, and the power to legislate is expressly vested exclusively in the Congress in the Constitution’s very first substantive sentence.  And the only power the Constitution gives the President to change or omit laws Congress creates is the limited power of veto, subject to override by a 2/3 majority vote.  It is for the President to carry out the laws Congress gives him.  It is not within the President’s commission to enact laws where Congress doesn’t, or to edit or delete the laws Congress does enact.
More to the point, nowhere in Article II do we see any form of the word “govern,” or anything suggesting the concept.  To “govern” means “to exercise authority over; rule, control[.]”  The President was never intended to rule or control anything.  In fact, the Founders deliberately rejected this idea.  The Declaration of Independence catalogued the “train of abuses and usurpations” of an absolute ruler, and the War of Independence was fought precisely to be rid of the despotism that results when total dictatorial power is concentrated in a single head of state.  Suggestions that George Washington be installed as a king were discarded in favor of establishing the presidency as a temporary and specifically limited office. 
No, the President doesn’t govern the United States—or at least isn’t supposed to.
Somewhere we’ve gotten away from the original idea, and have come to consider the President as a ruler, rather than as an executive.  This is not just an Obama phenomenon; he is merely the latest incarnation in a long evolutionary chain.  We now see Presidents behaving like the rest of government serves at their pleasure, as though Congress and the Supreme Court were so many corporate vice presidents reporting to him as the CEO, and the States merely wholly-owned subsidiaries of the all-consuming federal parent.  This was essentially the relationship between King George III, Parliament, and the colonies leading up to the American Revolution.
Why do we put up with this?  Have we become that lazy?  Are we just so ignorant of our founding principles and the basic civic structure actually set forth in our founding documents that we don’t know any better?  If we don’t speak up and get this genie back in the bottle, we’re going to turn around one day and find that it’s 1776 all over again. 
Only this time the Redcoats have tanks and airplanes.  And we don’t.

Into the Great Divide

They got a divorce as a matter of course,
and they parted the closest of friends.
Then the King and the Queen went back to the Green,
but you can never go back there again.
—Billy Joel, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
As a general rule I don’t believe in divorce.
But, my Liberal Honeys, we need to talk.
If you’re honest with yourself, deep down you want me to shut up, not be seen, and certainly not vote—in short, you would really just as soon I weren’t here.  If I’m honest with myself, I feel the same way about you.
The chasm goes way beyond a superficial disagreement on policy or program.  We have fundamentally different worldviews about how things operate, the appropriate direction for this country, and quite often even over right and wrong.  And no matter how much you keep hoping I’ll cave in, or how much I keep praying you will overcome your illness, it’s got to be clear to us both by now that neither is gonna happen.  This isn’t something that can be worked out or negotiated into an agreement.  This is a true case of what we call “irreconcilable differences.” 
There’s plenty of blame to go around.  But the simple fact is you can’t live with me anymore, and I can’t live with you.  A divorce is not only the best thing for us, but it’s inevitable.  And at this point one wonders whether there remains any reason to continue to resist it.
The first dozen or so essays in the Federalist Papers laid out the reasons it was a good idea to get together in the first place.  They can be boiled down to four basic points:
       1.      Protecting against dangers from foreign force (Nos. 2-5);
       2.      Preventing internal dissention, infighting, and factions (Nos. 6-10);
       3.      Regulating commercial relations and providing a navy (No. 11); and
    4.    Leveraging the revenue-collecting ability and other efficiencies of centralized government (Nos. 12 & 13).
But do the concerns that made getting together a good idea in the 18th Century still hold for us in 2012?
The first and primary argument for Union was guarding against foreign force—i.e., national defense.  The idea was that the 13 States would be better able to raise an army and defend themselves as a collective unit than each defending itself alone.  True enough, but consider the situation in 1787.  European powers Great Britain, France, and Spain all had territorial footholds in North America bordering on one or more States.  Not only was the prospect of a foreign invasion real, but control of commercial traffic on the Mississippi River, then the closest thing to a railroad or highway system at that time, was at risk.
Today the threat of armed foreign invasion is nonexistent.  The European powers are gone; the U.S. stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and controls the Mississippi from its headwaters to its mouth.  Does anyone seriously think there’s any risk the Canadians are going to invade?  And the federal government is already not stopping the invasion from Mexico.  The Chinese may buy us out, but they’re not going to launch a flotilla across the Pacific to try a Normandy-style landing outside L.A.  Total Union is no longer necessary for self-defense (and in any event, you on the Left don’t even think self-defense in itself is necessary anymore).
The second major collection of arguments for entering the Union was the prevention of internal strife.  In this regard I submit that the Union has utterly failed.  But more importantly, the safeguard here wasn’t really the creation of a Union as such, but its structure as a republic versus a true democracy.  The idea was that by adhering to a representative form of government, it was less likely that a tyrannical majority would dominate the minority (see No. 10).  Nothing about maintaining a total and permanent Union consisting of all its members is necessary to achieve that end.
The third group of arguments stemmed from the promotion of commercial relations and maintenance of a navy.  Again the issue was the ability to control the Mississippi and defend merchant traffic in the Atlantic, valid concerns in 1787 that just don’t exist anymore.  To the extent these things remain desirable, there is no reason subgroups of States could not do this on their own.  Texas alone had her own navy for a time.
The final group of reasons for total Union consisted of a central government’s ability to collect taxes and supposed inherent efficiencies in that regard.  Suffice to say, to the extent you want to argue that these remain (or ever really were) valid arguments, or that the collection of taxes is a good thing that should be encouraged, I submit them as exhibits A and B demonstrating the fundamental philosophical gulf between us.
The reasons for creating the Union in the 1780s are at best severely diluted in our present time, which begs the question:  Why keep dragging it on?  The only real motivation to resist dissolution is that one party has something to offer that the other wants.  Well, let me be clear that I don’t want anything from you, my Liberal friend.  And if you want something from me—presumably my income to fund your version of Utopia—that’s all the more reason I want a divorce.
Consider this modest proposal.  We could let individual States vote, and I’m happy to do that.  But I suggest moving directly to the following division (and with apologies to my friends in California, Ohio, and New Jersey—this is just kind of how the cookie split to keep it more or less even and contiguous—y’all can come stay with me in Texas)  might be more efficient:
I’ll take Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming.
You take California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
I’ll even let you have D.C. and Puerto Rico, and you can make them States if you want (and even institute Spanish as an official alternative language).  You keep Hollywood, and I’ll keep the military.  Set up your Constitution with gay marriage, free universal healthcare, legalized pot, central economic planning, an end to private property, and whatever else you like.  I’ll set mine up as the Founders originally intended, deleting the racially-charged provisions in Articles I and V, and also deleting the 16th and 17th Amendments, and adding a balanced budget and a strict construction provision.  We give everyone five years to move to one side or the other if they choose, and then at that point we shake hands, and part ways.
We can continue to go on making each other miserable, or we can be adults and admit that this isn’t working.  Hell, I’m even happy to keep having you over for Thanksgiving if you’ll otherwise leave me alone.
Just don’t come begging me for gasoline when your Volt runs out of algae-generated electricity.
EDITOR’S NOTE:  This marks the 100th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  Thanks so much to those of you who have not only kept reading, but have been so encouraging.

Top Ten Predictions If Obama Is Re-Elected

Professor Trelawney:           Your aura is pulsing!  Are you in the beyond?  I think you are!
Ron:    Sure . . .
Professor Trelawney:           Look at the cup.  Tell me what you see!
—Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Friedrich Hayek* . . .
The other day I was mulling some random thoughts about just what may be coming if Obama is re-elected.  So for your consideration/discussion, I offer the following predictions (some of which should be obvious, and some of which you’ll think are crazy):
10.       Serious push for reparations.
All you have to do is look at the people Obama has surrounded himself with for much of his life, and you have to guess that the concept of reparations isn’t far from front of mind.  People like  Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who thinks the United States is the Klan.  Professor Derrick Bell, Obama’s law school mentor, and a chief proponent of “critical race theory,” which holds in essence that the United States and its legal system are so inherently and irretrievably racist that judges must interpret the law differently in applying it to blacks.  Professor Charles Ogletree, another Obama mentor and campaign consultant, who has produced at least eight publications and public presentations on reparations over the last ten years, and nearly forty on race issues including critical race theory.  Van Jones, civil rights activist and supporter of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, has described himself as a “disaffected . . . political radical[.]”  And of course there’s the First Lady, who wrote her college thesis on the plight of black students at Princeton, and had never been proud of her country before her husband was nominated for President in 2008.  With no more elections to face, Obama will be able to speak out loud about what one suspects many of these folks believe they are owed for things that happened long before any of us were born.
9.         EPA regulation requiring complete phase-out of gasoline engines within 10 years.
Obama HAAAATES gasoline—as long as we’re not talking about his motorcade/helicopter/airplane.  Under his watch EPA has already proposed to require U.S. automakers to meet a fleet average of 54.5 MPG by 2025, a standard they are likely to meet the same way they met the CAFÉ standards introduced in the 1970s: by making cars even lighter (read:  smaller and less safe).  With a fresh term, Obama will be able to go for the jugular, and require us all to drive golf carts. 
Of course, with no more coal-fired power plants, I have no idea how we’ll get the electricity to charge them.
8.         Open borders and amnesty.
¡Si, se puede!
7.         More “stimulus.”
All this guy knows how to do other than climb on Air Force One to go play golf is spend taxpayer money.  You can bet the farm that with another four years, we’ll be hearing a lot about the need for more stimulus, more “investment” in the “green economy”—note that $3 billion federal loan recipient First Solar laid off yet another 2000 this week, but who’s counting?—and more government programs and initiatives.  I just don’t know where the additional money is going to come from.
Maybe we can borrow it from Paul Krugman.
6.         Increases in taxes on capital gains and on income above $200,000.
Obama’s already pushing this.  There is no reason to think he isn’t serious about it.  And if the Democrats take over Congress, you can bet this will be very high on their list of items to ram through.
5.         Elimination of 401K eligibility for higher wage-earners, and confiscation of retirement savings.
It’s only a tiny next step from dictating how much you should make (see 6, above) to dictating how much you should have.  Further, Obama’s going to have to find additional sources of revenue to fund at least part of his continuing orgy of spending.  So he’s going to come after your 401K, your IRA, and other retirement assets.  This might take the form of a retroactive “asset tax” on existing retirement holdings, or the collection of deferred taxes on argument that “we can’t afford for you to not pay your taxes anymore.” 
But don’t worry—you’ll always have Social Security to take care of you.
4.         Re-introduction of Obamacare, with single payer.
This, of course, was the way he wanted to do it all along—nationalize medical insurance.  But he couldn’t sell it.  If the Court does as many predict and strikes the individual mandate, that will give Obama the ammunition to go back and say “look, we tried to do it without the government option, and the Court said we couldn’t do it that way.”
3.         Nuclear Iran, followed by major conflict if not world war in the Middle East.
With the ineffectiveness of the U.N. and the spinelessness of this Administration, all evidence is that Iran continues to push towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons.  It is probably only a matter of time at this point.  But with four more years of Obama, Teheran has to know that it faces no serious threat of real opposition to its program from the U.S., and tacit if not overt support from the Russians and Chinese.  Once that happens, either they will use it against Israel, or Israel will have to choice but to take pre-emptive military action.  Either way, at a minimum, there will be full-scale war between the Israelis and most of the rest of the Islamic world—Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, etc.  If the Russians or Chinese get involved, we will have to as well (although with their heavy and growing Islamic populations, it may be 50/50 or worse that our European “allies” will not join us), and then you’re effectively talking about world war. 
Or, I guess, Obama could keep us out of it and let Israel drown.
2.         Federal ban on handguns. 
Obama and the Left are going to come after your Glock.  And your 1911.  And your Beretta.  And your Smith & Wesson.  They’ll call it “Trayvon’s Law,” and if you oppose it you are a racist.  Of course, the NRA and the Second Amendment may have something to say about this.  But the Constitution has never been an impediment to this Administration.  And even with the serious constitutional barrier, watch out if . . .  
1.         The Supreme Court shifts dramatically to the Left. 
Here’s where the rubber really meets the road, in my opinion.  Four justices (Ginsberg (79), Scalia (76), Kennedy (75), and Breyer (73)) are already over 70.  Not to cast aspersions on their health, but it is unlikely that all of them stay on the Court through another four years.  Obviously, allowing Obama to replace Justice Ginsberg and Breyer doesn’t do much to the ideological balance, but allowing him to replace Scalia and Kennedy would.  At a minimum, you would see a shift from a slightly right-leaning 4-4-1, to a solid 5-4 liberal bent, if not 6-3.  This could be even worse if Obamacare is overturned and Obama reacts in Rooseveltian fashion by seeking to expand the Court. 
Imagine the loss of Scalia, and the addition of five more Elena Kagans.  Yikes.  And with what would then be a relatively young Court, we’d be stuck with it for a VERY long time.  For this reason alone, this may be the most significant election of our lifetime.
* With apologies to legendary Texas sports columnist Blackie Sherrod, whose trademark was to begin columns in this fashion, changing the name of the “wondering” subject.

Stand Your Ground

Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down
—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I Won’t Back Down
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Washington Post resident nitwit E.J. Dionne weighed in on the Trayvon Martin shooting, using the case to support a politically expedient call for an end to “Stand Your Ground” laws.  Echoing known Second Amendment scholar New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Dionne says these laws promote a culture of vigilantism, tilting the balance of power in a street encounter in favor of the armed.  Apparently they are concerned that hoardes of us are roaming the streets with pistols stuffed in our shorts, looking for [black] people to blow away. 
The essence of Dionne’s position is clear in his recitation of the line so often repeated throughout the liberal media since the Trayvon Martin case broke: “Stand Your Ground” laws authorize the use of deadly force simply whenever a person “feels threatened.”  And it is this misunderstanding—or deliberate misstatement—of what these laws actually say that fuels the argument from the Left.  “Stand Your Ground” laws do NOT authorize vigilantism, and they do not come into play simply because a person feels threatened. 
The Florida statute at issue in the Martin case is virtually identical to our statute in Texas, and is typical of such laws.  Florida Statutes Section 776.012 defines basic self-defense: a person is justified in using deadly force and has no duty to retreat if he reasonably believes that that force is “necessary to prevent imminent death or bodily harm” or the commission of a forcible felony (i.e., rape).   Section 776.013 then expands on the concept of reasonable belief that force is necessary [in pertinent part]:
(1)        A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using [deadly force] if:
(a)        The person against whom defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle . . . and
(b)        The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
*  *  *
(3)  A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
This statute does not turn citizens into cops, and it doesn’t permit you to walk around town gunning down everyone who gives you the evil eye.  It does two things.  The first is to create a legal presumption that you have a reasonable belief that deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or bodily harm if the person you shoot has broken into (or is in the process of breaking into) your home.  This is the “Castle Doctrine” that says if the bad guy is in your house, we’re going to assume you acted in legitimate self defense; you’re not required to wait for him to shoot first, take the chance of asking him a bunch of questions to see why he’s there, or turn your back and try to crawl out a window, and we’re not going to second-guess you.  For my life I can’t imagine how this is in the least bit controversial.
The second thing this law does is clarify that anyplace outside the home, if you are attacked you are not required to attempt to retreat before you may defend yourself.  Importantly, however, this second aspect does not extend the Castle Doctrine’s legal presumption of reasonable belief in imminent danger.  Outside the home, while you are not required to run before you can use deadly force to defend yourself, you will still bear the burden to prove your self-defense defense. 
This is significant, and it’s a point that rabidly anti-gun people like Dionne miss or deliberately gloss over.  “Feeling threatened” won’t get you there—in fact, even “being threatened” isn’t enough.  To make a self-defense case, you have to prove three things.  First, that your fear was reasonable under the circumstances; hyper-paranoia, or naked racist stereotyping, isn’t going to be enough.  Second, your fear must have been of death or serious injury.  A fear that the other guy was merely going to hit you, or even attack you with a non-lethal weapon such as a taser or pepper spray, is almost certainly not sufficient to support the defense; the guy has to be about to kill you dead.  And third, that peril must be imminent.  That is, the guy has to have the means, ability, and proximity to kill you right now.  Having a knife in his boot 30 yards away from you probably doesn’t put you at imminent risk of death, whereas a knife in his hand 5 feet away probably does.  If he’s not armed, he’d better be physically capable and in the process of beating you to death with his bare hands, or your use of deadly force will be a difficult defense to make.
Further, the “Stand Your Ground” aspect of the Florida statute doesn’t apply if you are in the process of committing a crime.  Nor does it apply if you started it.  So the bad guys can’t use the statute to defend themselves, and the statute doesn’t allow you to go around picking fights.  All this statute does is allow you to defend yourself in your own home, and not require you to run if attacked in the street.
Dionne nevertheless argues, paradoxically, that on the one hand these statutes somehow create confusion for prosecutors and cops, and on the other hand that they weren’t necessary because the common law—i.e., the proclamations of judges—already long recognized the doctrine of self defense.  Of course, if all the statute does is codify existing common law (which is basically true), how could there be any added confusion?  More to the point, why should any of us faced with defending ourselves in a life-or-death situation have to rely for our defense on a doctrine that exists only because a judge somewhere said so, and will continue only so long as future judges adhere to it?  It is common for legislatures to enact statutes that take the common law developed over time in the courts and convert it into a firm statute.  The Uniform Commercial Code, which governs most contracts and financial transactions in all 50 states, is a prime example.  It is worth noting in this regard that in the past courts have in fact required you to make every effort to retreat until retreat is no longer possible before you could defend yourself, which isn’t very helpful if the guy you turned your back on to run from has a gun.  “Stand Your Ground” statutes are intended to make clear that you no longer have to run before you can defend yourself, and to prevent courts from reverting back to that standard. 
There is no doubt that regardless of how it really went down—and we may never know that with complete certainty—Trayvon Martin’s death is a tragedy.  I am not here to defend George Zimmerman, and if he can’t make out his defense, I hope the State of Florida rings him up.  But much as people like E.J. Dionne and Jesse Jackson would like to use this incident as fodder to crucify the NRA or even seek federal anti-defense legislation, Trayvon Martin isn’t dead because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and repealing that statute wouldn’t have changed that outcome.  George Zimmerman would, in all likelihood, have been carrying his weapon that night with or without that statute, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have used it in exactly the manner he did—however that was—without that statute.  And once the altercation began it was no longer a “Stand Your Ground” situation.  If Zimmerman was, as he claims, already on his back having his head beaten against the concrete, he obviously couldn’t retreat no matter what the law said.  Alternatively, if he was the guy on top, as others have suggested, his self-defense defense is no good with or without the statute.  And if Zimmerman in fact pursued Martin and initiated the fight, the Stand Your Ground law won’t even apply. 
This simply isn’t a “Stand Your Ground” case; it’s a self-defense case, and the jury is very much out at this point.

It’s All About The O

Empty prayer, empty mouths,
Combien reaction?
Empty prayer, empty mouths,
Talk about the passion.
—R.E.M., Talk About The Passion
Sorry for my extended dry spell.  I just discovered that my Second Amendment rights afford me a new way to bankrupt myself for fun, so candidly my spare time has been occupied with internet shopping.  That, and nothing in the news has really grabbed me lately.
That said . . .
I see the President is going to force us once again to deal with this nonsense about raising taxes on the so-called wealthy.  Doubling down on a theme he began last Fall, Obama has resurrected his call for implementation of the “Buffett Rule,” intended to cure some alleged inequity in the tax system.  Apparently the most pressing issue now facing the country is the unfairness of our taxes (actually I think I may agree with the President on this point, but in the reverse of what he’s claiming).
How does he continue to get away with pushing the lie that the tax system unfairly allows millionaires to pay less in taxes than the middle class?  They don’t, as I’ve demonstrated here, here, and here.  If you’re talking about taxing wages, the top marginal tax rate—the rate charged on the amount earned above a certain threshold—is 33%, while the marginal tax rate for the median income of about $50,000 is 25%.  If you’re talking about taxing capital gains, that’s taxing risk rewards, not labor compensation.  In other words, capital gains taxes impose a burden on money that’s already at risk through investment; unlike wages, there is no guarantee of an income return at all.  More importantly, while the capital gains rate is 15%, that’s on top of the 35% tax imposed on the corporation in which the taxpayer invested his capital, meaning one who acquires his earnings through capital gains actually has his money taxed twice.  
The bottom line according to the IRS is that the average total tax liability—combined effective tax rate plus payroll and other taxes—is less than 7% for median wage earners, but it’s over 30% for the top earners.  There may be isolated exceptions, and I’ll be the first to agree the tax code needs a gross overhaul.  But taken as a group, the wealthy in fact do not pay less in taxes than the middle class, whether in total dollars, or as a percentage of income.  They just don’t, no matter how many times Obama or Warren Buffett say otherwise.
With the underlying premise itself a demonstrable lie, one has to wonder what it is the President thinks he’s accomplishing by continuing to push this, particularly when he and everyone else knows it has exactly zero chance of passing this Congress.  What dire national crisis is he trying to solve by taxing millionaires?  Clearly we have major problems in this country, so name your hot-button issue: is Obama’s “Buffett Rule” going to solve it?
Obama promised back in 2009 that his “stimulus” would prevent unemployment from rising above 8%.  When that failed and unemployment stagnated well above 9%, he repeatedly told us that he “will not rest until every American who wants one has a job.”  Well, today the official unemployment rate remains above 8%, and 12.7 million Americans are out of work (the real rate, once you include the underemployed and those who have simply given up, is 14.5%, or more like 22.5 million Americans). 
Is raising taxes on the wealthy going to give a single one of those Americans a job?  The answer, of course, is no.  Obama tells us that prosperity has never trickled down from the wealthy, but outward from the middle class; but where does he think those jobs that employ the middle class come from?  Some of the largest non-government U.S. employers include the likes of Wal-Mart (founded by Sam Walton), McDonald’s (built by Ray Kroc), General Electric (founded by Thomas Edison), and Ford Motor Company (Henry Ford).  Half of all non-government employees work for small businesses, the owners of which would be directly impacted by the “Buffett Rule.”   The middle class has jobs because somebody wealthier has hired them to work in their business.  Raising taxes on those people is only going to disincentivize investment in those businesses, which hurts job creation, not helps it.
Budget Deficits/Debt
The current budget deficit is over $1 trillion, a figure it has exceeded every year of this Administration.  The District’s debt is $15.5 trillion and climbing.  Clearly government and its spending habits are totally out of control, a fact to which the Administration is completely oblivious.  Obama submitted a budget this year that increased spending further, and was so bad that it failed in the House by a 414-0 vote.  Not even a single Democrat voted aye.  Not Nancy Pelosi.  Not Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  Not Maxine Waters.  Not Henry Waxman.  Nobody.  One suspects even Obama himself may have signed the transmittal letter “present.”
With spending this out of control, is raising Warren Buffett’s taxes going to reduce the deficit or debt?  Again, the answer is no.  As I’ve covered a number of times, you can tax the millionaires at 100%—take everything—and it wouldn’t fund the District’s spending for even three months.  Even taxing everyone making more than $200,000 a year at 100% would still leave you nearly $2 trillion short of covering current federal spending, much less touching the debt.  No, the “Buffett Rule” isn’t going to touch the deficit/debt problem.
Belligerent Iran & North Korea
Iran refuses to give up its nuclear program; it pinky-swears that it’s only for peaceful electrical generation and not for weapons, but won’t let anyone see it.  North Korea this week attempted to launch what amounted to an ICBM—they said it was for a weather satellite; I guess they don’t have cable and can’t get The Weather Channel—over the Administration’s sternest possible finger-wagging, and will soon be conducting additional nuclear weapons testing.  I’m pretty sure nobody in Teheran or Pyongyang is sitting around saying if only Obama would raise Warren Buffett’s taxes, we’d be able to give up our nukes.
The truth is not only is the underlying premise that the rich pay less—or even less than their fair sharein taxes than everyone else pure fiction, but raising taxes even further does not move the ball one inch on any of the actual problems we currently face.  It doesn’t help us economically, fiscally, or defensively.  It doesn’t cure the apparent catastrophic crisis in women’s health.  It won’t reduce your pain at the pump.  It won’t make Social Security solvent, save Medicare, or pull Solyndra out of bankruptcy. 
Why, at a time when there are real substantive issues, would the President devote so much time and energy flogging an idea that doesn’t have anything to do with any of those issues?  Let’s leave aside policy debate over how best to solve the problems we face.  Obama’s pushing of this “Buffett Rule” should demonstrate to anyone who’s paying attention (and hasn’t already drowned in the kool-aid) something very disturbing about his character wholly apart from partisan agendas:
He’s not interested in solving real problems.
Obama’s sole interest is in keeping himself in power, and to do that he’s all about creating a pithy and convenient narrative he can use to posture his campaign as an “us vs. them” battle.  So rather than actually do the job he was hired to do, he’s spending his time—and your money—trying to divide and conquer with a meaningless and ultimately counter-productive message.  It makes for a good bumper sticker to stir up his Leftist base, but in the end the most it will do is benefit him, personally.  Our problems will remain.
It’s one thing to agree or disagree on matters of policy.  But it should really bother all of us when a President is more concerned with retaining power for power’s sake than he is with actually dealing with the concerns of the day.  This President likes the trappings of the officehob-nobbing with super-Hollywood types, taking his-and-her matching private 747s on exotic vacation jaunts, and plenty of golfbut he shirks the real responsibility of that office in favor of empty and deliberately divisive rhetoric.
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.

Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

“I think he’s quite ill, mentally, and with one half of his mind, he is able to fabricate evidence.  Then by some osmosis he is able to convince the other half that the fabrication is the truth.”
—Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw in JFK
And back to Evil Big Oil.  Again.
I can’t figure out whether this President is simply an idiot, a lunatic, or overtly evil.  What I do know is he’s continuing to perpetuate a lie in his effort to push his populist class-warfare campaign narrative.  What’s frustrating to me is that no one on the conservative side in Congress or among the GOP nominee hopefuls seems able or willing to get out in front and call Obama out on this. 
Last Thursday, Obama—for the umpteenth time—upbraided Congress for not ending what he disingenuously refers to as billions in “subsidies” for Big Oil:
“[Congress] can either vote to spend billions of dollars on oil subsidies that keep us trapped in the past, or they can vote to end these taxpayer subsidies that aren’t needed to boost oil production so that we can invest in the future . . . It’s like hitting the American people twice.  You’re already paying a premium at the pump right now.  And on top of that, Congress up until this point has thought it’s a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry.”
Taxpayer subsidies . . . send[ing] billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry.
Obama makes it sound as though Congress is taking money from you, the taxpayer, and singlign out Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips as special recipients of that money.  Now, the fair first question you might ask in that instance would be what is Congress doing with my money in the first place?  But leaving that aside, I want to focus on how the President is characterizing this.  He’s telling you—over, and over, and over again—that this is a “subsidy,” that Congress is choosing sides by taking money from you and giving it to Big Oil.  And if there were in fact such a subsidy, that’s what would be going on:
sub·si·dy (subʹ sǝ dē) n.  A grant of money, as from a government to a private enterprise.
The problem, as I’ve had to keep explaining over, and over, and over, is there is no subsidy for oil companies.  There just isn’t.  Congress isn’t taking money from you and giving it to Exxon.  The federal government isn’t writing the oil companies a huge check.  There is, in fact, NO money being given to Big Oil either by the taxpayers or by the United States.
What is happening is that oil companies—like any other industrial business in the U.S.—are permitted to deduct certain capital costs associated with drilling, and claim credits for taxes paid to other government on earnings generated abroad.  Nobody is giving oil companies money, and they’re not getting special treatment.  The government is simply not taking as much of the oil companies’ money as it otherwise might.
I’ve addressed this mental pathology before, but you need to understand that it’s no less dangerous just because in this instance it’s being applied to oil companies instead of to you.  The underlying assumption is that it’s all the government’s money in the first place; that’s the only way Obama can claim that by letting—in this case, oil companies—someone keep it, the government is actually “giving” them that money (which is what a “subsidy” is).
Notice also the quick twist Obama makes.  A cursory listen, and you’d think what he’s saying is taxpayers pay too much, and oil companies are making too much profit, so we’re going to reverse that by ending the subsidies.  In other words, he makes it sound like what he wants to do is take money from the oil companies and give it back to you. 
Right on!  People before profits!
But look a little closer.  He doesn’t want to end the “subsidies” and return that money to the taxpayers.  What he wants to do is end the “subsidies”—i.e., take more money from oil companies—and “invest” it in more green energy projects (you know, stuff like Solyndra, Ener1, Evergreen Solar, etc.).  The trouble is, the federal government isn’t supposed to operate as an investment bank.   
Also implicit in Obama’s message is that somehow oil companies are reaping huge profits while getting away with not paying any taxes.  According to the Tax Foundation, between 1981 and 2008, the oil industry paid over $388 billion in income taxes.  During that period, they also paid $1.1 trillion in sales and excise taxes, and $472 billion in severance, property, and windfall profits taxes.  That’s $1.96 trillion just in taxes; $70 billion a year, or about $192 million every single day.  In addition to direct taxes, oil companies also pay millions in bonuses to acquire leases on government lands ($754 million in 2011 to the federal government alone, according to the ONRR) and billions in royalties on production from those lands ($11.2 billion in 2011).
So, where does all that money already flowing to the government come from?  It comes from the oil companies’ shareholders, which include essentially anyone who has a share of a mutual fund in an IRA or 401K.  In other words, the odds are very good that that money is coming from you.  If government raises taxes on oil companies, the oil companies have two options.  They can eat it, which really means returning less to their shareholders—i.e., taking it from you.  Or they can add it to the cost of the crude oil used to make gasoline, which will, of course, increase the price you pay at the pump.  The government has got you coming or going; one way or another the additional money going to the government is ultimately coming from you.
Think and listen carefully when the President pontificates about ending “subsidies” for Big Oil.  At the end of the day, where is the exchange of money really taking place?  To whom is the money being given, and from whom is it being taken?
Come to think of it, maybe Obama’s right and there’s a subsidy here after all.