Saving Us From Nothing

“What are you doing, Dave?”

        —Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

I suppose nothing should surprise me anymore.

I read last week that the Department of Homeland Security is getting into the business of fighting “climate change.”  Not EPA. Not NOAA.  Homeland Security.  You know, the federal agency created in response to terrorism that has all the guns and armored vehicles, and whose stated “vital mission” is “to secure the nation from the many threats we face.”

Under the guise of ensuring “disaster resiliency,” DHS has started conducting studies on the resilience of infrastructure such as roads and the electrical grid, and how to protect against what it claims are rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion.  Apparently, all of this stems from a heightened awareness in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as though Sandy was in fact caused by “climate change.”  I can only assume from that chain of logic that there were no major hurricanes prior to the 1930s when evil mankind started to bake the planet.

Tell that to the 8,000 or so people killed by the Category 4 hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900 (Sandy, by contrast, was a Category 2 storm when it made landfall in the northeastern U.S.).

I’ll get to the “climate change” thing in a bit.  Let’s first just think for a minute about this.  DHS is worrying about polar ice caps and sea levels at a time when the border is so porous that investigative reporter James O’Keefe—the guy who brought down the ACORN scam—was able to wade across from Mexico, unmolested, while dressed as Osama bin Laden.  And if you think that’s not a significant issue, consider that the government is in the process of putting up a massive residence hall to house thousands of illegals on a 50 acre tract outside of San Antonio.  Or if strain on infrastructure is a concern, how about the 85,000 students speaking 85 languages other than English now crowding Las Vegas schools?  Or the fact that in Nashville—not exactly right on the border—the school population is now 20% Hispanic.  And because we’re not deporting the few people who do get caught and some 70% of them don’t show up for their immigration hearing, 40,000+ people a year are disappearing into this country even after DHS had them in custody. That, of course, is on top of the nearly a million a year we don’t catch.

The fact is that the immigrant population, legal and illegal, is at an all-time high, and DHS is doing essentially nothing to control it.  And before you start on me with the predictably ridiculous cry of racism, or the we’re a nation of immigrants tripe, I’m not against immigration or immigrants. What I’m against is uncontrolled immigration.  We have no idea who is coming into this country.  300,000 people in the last 3 years have come here from predominantly Muslim countries.  If even 10% of them accept some or all of the violent tendencies of the militant Islamists and sharia law—and as I’ve demonstrated before, that percentage has the potential, if not likelihood, to be considerably higher—we’re talking a group roughly the same size as the entire ISIS fighting force that’s sympathetic to a worldview that wants to impose sharia law and kill—literally—everyone who disagrees, and they’re already here inside the U.S.

And DHS does nothing, choosing instead to play around with barometers and weathervanes.

Not only is DHS essentially ignoring its most basic security function, but it’s diverting its attention and resources to a man-made climate change fantasy that is so politicized and bogus that even the founder of Greenpeace had to resign and distance himself from it.  Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan does an excellent deconstruction of the data (to get all his slides and then some, look here), and it is interesting because he focuses less on cause/effect and the fraud and conflicts of interest (although he gets into those), and more on the magnitude of the observations in a historical context, even if you accept the alarmists’ data at face value (for detail on why you shouldn’t, watch here).  Among his points are these nuggets:

  1. Recent CO2 increases are insignificant, and not necessarily bad.

The “climate change” panic focuses on CO2 emissions.  Why?  Because if CO2 emissions are endangering the planet, then Government can regulate and tax all human activity, including breathing.  Rutan points out, however, that if you take a longer view of history than the 100 – 200 years typical of alarmists’ “analysis,” we are in fact in a period of relatively low CO2 levels.  During the age of dinosaurs, atmospheric CO2 levels were 6 – 8 times what they are today, and not only was the planet not catastrophically overheating, but it was immensely more fertile and covered in foliage than it is now.  Higher CO2 is better for plant growth and life in general.

Furthermore, the levels that have the alarmists all in a tizzy are miniscule.  The CO2 limit for confined spaces according to OSHA is 0.5%.  The average CO2 level over the time life has evolved on this planet has been about 0.3%. The level of increase the alarmists want you to be afraid of is something like 0.04%.

And because it’s only man-made CO2 that we can control, it’s worth noting that greenhouse gases make up only 2% of the atmosphere, and only 3.6% of that 2%  is CO2; 96.4% of greenhouse gases are something other than CO2 (mostly water vapor—you know, the stuff that turns into rain).  Of that 3.6% that is CO2, only 3.4% is caused by humans.  So man-made CO2 comprises a grand total of 0.12% of all greenhouse gas; 99.88% of all greenhouse gas is something other than human-emitted CO2, despite Al Gore’s mansions, private jet, and SUV.

  1. Any recent warming is neither unusual, nor a significant threat.

Rutan takes a similar tack when he looks at the data for temperature.  Alarmists focus on the last 100 – 200 years to argue that there’s a sudden and dangerous spike over the last century after what they suggest was an otherwise stable global thermometer since the dawn of time.  But as Rutan points out, even if you accept the alarmists’ data, that claim needs some broader context.

First, consider that the seasonal temperature fluctuation on earth (hottest summer day vs. coldest winter night) is about 200 degrees.  The average U.S. city experiences temperature changes of over 100 degrees over the course of a given year, and 25 – 30 degrees or more on any given day. In other words, the temperature changes fairly dramatically all the time.  The alarmists are all worried over temperatures that they “project” will rise about 3 degrees globally over the next 100 years.

Even if we assume that’s going to happen, this is not unusual behavior for the planet, and it long predates Man, much less planes, trains, and automobiles.  The fact is we are in a temperature trough relative to the last 2 million years.  But even focusing just on that trough over the last half-million years, according to Rutan we find that every 85,000 years or so we get a temperature spike; the rest of that time was ice age.  Over the last 11,000 years—pre-dating civilization, so you can’t blame it on Man—the earth has been in one of those ice age recoveries, but it is the longest, most stable, and coolest of those non-ice age periods.  And even within that “spike,” we are nowhere near the hottest time in history, the history of Man, or even in recorded history.  The earth was significantly hotter during the time of Moses, the time of the Egyptians, and the time of the Romans than it is today.  Yet it, and we, are still here.

This is what your Department of Homeland Security is spending its time and your money on.  It’s not securing the border, and it’s not deporting people who cross it illegally, even as ISIS is actively saying it plans to initiate attacks within the U.S.  Instead, it’s chasing rainbows in an attempt to protect you against nothing.

So I have two questions for you to ask yourself:

One, what do you think they’re really doing?

Two, do you feel safe?

**************************************

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This marks the 250th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  In my wildest dreams I never thought we’d get this far.  Thank you so much to all of you who have stuck with me and given me so much encouragement.

Advertisements

Ask Not At Whom The Gun Points

 

“Mr. Ambassador, you have nearly a hundred naval vessels operating in the North Atlantic right now.  Your aircraft have dropped enough sonar buoys that a man could walk from Greenland to Iceland to Scotland without getting his feet wet.  Now, shall we dispense with the bull? . . . It would be wise for your government to consider that having your ships and ours, your aircraft and ours, in such proximity is *inherently* dangerous.  Wars have begun that way, Mr. Ambassador!”

       —Richard Jordan as National Security Advisor Jeffrey Pelt in The Hunt for Red October

 

March, 1770.  Large numbers of armed British troops have been occupying Boston for nearly two years.  The soldiers are not there to prevent some foreign force from harming those British citizens, but to enforce the Townshend Acts—a series of heavy taxes on imported goods—against them.  In other words, they are there as the muscle to make sure the people of Boston did what the King and Parliament in London said.

On March 5, a squad of these soldiers opens fire on a crowd during a confrontation outside the Old State House.  Five civilians are killed.  The event will later come to be known as the “Boston Massacre,” and it is among the flash points that will lead to the American Revolution.

It is also the almost inevitable result when a tyrannical central government turns its military against its own citizenry in an attempt to impose its will by force.

July 2, 2008.  Then-Senator Barack Obama, campaigning for the Presidency, gives a speech in Colorado Springs in which he called for a “civilian national security force” on the same scale as the U.S. military:

“We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set.  We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

Come again?

[As an aside, this statement alone should have illustrated that the man is completely ignorant or an idiot.  At that time, the U.S. military employed about 2.5 million people in and out of uniform, and was spending at a clip of over $700 billion a year, some 20% of the entire budget, and multiples above what the rest of the world, including our allies, spends combined.  And he was proposing to create out of thin air a second organization “just as powerful,” and “just as well-funded.”]

But back to the subject, just what is a “civilian national security force,” and what is its mission?  Is it to defend the U.S. against foreign threats?  Is it to project power and protect U.S. interests abroad?  Ask yourself these questions in light of Obama’s 2008 comments as you consider the following.

May 30, 2014.  We have previously covered the fact that over the last couple of years non-military branches of the federal government have been stockpiling billions of rounds of ammunition, military-grade weaponry, armored vehicles, and bullet-proof portable checkpoint facilities.  You could almost make the case for a small amount of that at DHS, which at least has a counter-terrorism function.  But why are huge amounts of guns and ammo being gathered at the Social Security Administration, or at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?  Why are S.W.A.T. teams—yes, I said S.W.A.T. teams—being formed at federal agencies like:

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Education
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Office of Personnel Management

Your government is stationing armed troops among us, right under our noses.  Against whom are these non-military agencies being mobilized?  It can’t be against some external threat, because that’s already the function of the existing U.S. military that’s so under-utilized it’s being downsized.  That leaves only one alternative:  they’re being mobilized against us.

Why?

Draw your own conclusions, but I’ll make a few observations:

The Social Security Administration handles a gigantic pool of money, and while at least theoretically in IOU form that pool is currently earmarked for distribution back to the people who contributed it, what would happen if the government unilaterally decided to renege on those IOUs?

The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity for most of the Southeastern U.S.  What would happen if it closed its 11 coal-fired power plants, thus unemploying a huge number of coal workers, and likely resulting in the rationing of electricity?

The Department of Education is poised via Common Core to nationalize the U.S. education system.  What would happen if someone didn’t want to be, um, “educated”?

The Department of Agriculture and the Fish & Wildlife Service are heavily involved in the promotion of biofuels and regulation of endangered species.  Both efforts involve the potential seizure of vast swaths of land in the name of ensuring sufficient ethanol feedstocks or preserving this, that, or the other critter.

The Office of Personnel Management has, among its tasks, responsibility for conducting background investigations for background checks.  In other words, they’re in the business of collecting information about U.S. citizens.

NOAA has satellites, boats, and airplanes.

And with the exception of TVA (and even that’s federally-owned), the common thread running through all of these agencies is they are under the direct control of the Executive Branch, headed by people appointed directly by the White House.

Rusty, that’s crackpot conspiracy-theory nonsense.

Maybe so, but then I challenge you to come up with a legitimate benign alternative explanation.  And even if it is, let me add another piece of the puzzle.

In 2010, the Obama Administration issued DOD Directive 3025.18 (updated September 2012), Defense Support of Civil Authorities, authorizing the deployment of U.S. military assets to respond to domestic situations, including troops engaging in the use of force.  The document itself actually has its roots in the 1950s, and at its core is a reasonable defensive-preparedness tool.  The current iteration of the directive authorizes federal military intervention on U.S. soil “when necessary to protect Federal property or functions.”  That in itself is pretty vague and open to a wildly broad interpretation.  But it gets worse.

In addition to authorizing the deployment of troops, the 2010 document also authorizes the loaning out of military assets, including weapons, ammunition, vessels, and aircraft, to requesting agencies.  Prior to 2010 I can’t find any reference to the loaning out of military hardware.  Moreover, while the predecessors to the 2010 directive spoke in terms of providing assistance to “civil authorities”—i.e., state and local governments—as best I can tell the 2010 document for the first time expands the universe of those who can request combat assistance to “qualifying groups,” which means non-governmental bodies as determined by the Secretary of Defense.  In other words, under the guise of protecting federal property or “functions,” or otherwise where it is determined safety or security support is needed, the U.S. military and its assets are now subject to being deployed or loaned out on U.S. soil to anyone Chuck Hagel (or whomever Obama appoints) says.

Imagine the Sierra Club—or the DNC—being able to requisition a combat division, or at least borrow a few thousand military-grade rifles and a couple million rounds of ammo.

Your real military is being gutted, while Obama and his ilk do everything they can to disarm you.  Meanwhile unaccountable tentacles of the Executive Branch are arming themselves, and what’s left of the military is being authorized to deploy domestically at the behest of non-governmental entities.  The federal government is spending more time and effort preparing to defend itself than defending the borders against foreign invasion; it’s easier for a Guatemalan kid to get into Texas from Mexico than it is for a U.S. Marine.  It deploys all kinds of assets to rescue kidnapped Nigerians or find disappearing Malaysian airplanes, and it falls all over itself to feed and house illegals; but it can’t be troubled to lift a finger to rescue embattled Americans in Libya, or to free Americans or their spouses imprisoned for apostasy by Islamo-fascists in Iran or Sudan.  It cries bloody murder when an American has the temerity to expose the fact that it’s spying on ordinary citizens, yet broadcasts its schedule for withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan to the world.   Everyone on earth is entitled to the protection of the U.S. government except Americans.

Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly made famous the statement “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Indeed.

The Coming Enviro-Nazi Revolution

You don’t need a weatherman

To know which way the wind blows

          —Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

 

Before I get into today’s material, let’s refresh our recollection on a couple of pertinent provisions of the Constitution (you know, that silly little document that’s only the supreme law of the land).

Article I, Section 1:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States[.]

Article II, Section 2:

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur[.]

Pretty straightforward.  Congress and Congress alone has the power to make laws.  And any treaty—an international agreement or compact, according to Black’s Law Dictionary—requires the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

Those are the rules by which we’re supposed to be playing in this country.

With those in mind let’s look at today’s catalyst.  Fox News reports that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is launching a new initiative to expand its role in driving a global “green” agenda.  Albeit couched in vague and often sweepingly meaningless language, the purported scope of this initiative is vast, and the level of hubris (ignorance?) it displays is mind-boggling.  Witness this example from its statement of objective on disasters and conflicts:

“11.8  Disasters and conflicts.  As a part of United Nations system-wide strategies for natural and man-made disaster risk reduction and preparedness, crisis response and recovery, UNEP will build national capacity to use sustainable natural resource and environmental management to: (a) reduce the risk of natural and man-made disasters[.]”

Really?  The U.N. is going to reduce the risk of natural disasters?  You mean somewhere amidst the champagne, caviar, and hookers they figured out how to stop earthquakes?

Glory be.

More seriously (because I don’t normally take the U.N. all that seriously (can’t think why)), I want to focus on a specific piece of the UNEP initiative that I find particularly disturbing.  One of the explicit objectives is to expand the U.N.’s role in pushing its view of the “green” agenda via the legal process.  In other words, the U.N. wants a say in the creation and enforcement of law at the national level.  Consider the following “Indicators of achievement” regarding UNEP’s program of “Environmental Governance”:

“Increase in the number of legal and institutional measures taken by countries to enforce the rule of law and improve implementation of internationally agreed environmental objectives and goals, with the assistance of UNEP.”

“Increase in the number of countries that undertake a review of, and adopt recommendations for, enhanced compliance with, and enforcement of, international environmental obligations[.]”

“Increase in the number of initiatives and partnerships of major groups and stakeholders in support of the development and implementation of national and international environmental law, with the assistance of UNEP.”

UNEP wants to work to increase the number of (a) legal measures countries take to enforce the rule of law, (b) countries that adopt UNEP’s recommendations for compliance and enforcement of international environmental rules, and (c) initiatives in support of the development and implementation of national environmental law.  And all this flows directly from UNEP’s express strategy “to support coherent international decision-making processes on the environment, support development and implementation of environmental law, norms, and standards[.]”

In the U.S., as I have discussed at least here, here, here, here, and here,  we already have a serious problem with an arguably unconstitutional and undeniably unaccountable EPA running out of control.  But think about the implications of an unholy marriage of EPA and the U.N. in light of UNEP’s stated strategy.  And if you think it can’t happen, I have to tell you that we are in fact already heading down that path.

In 2011, EPA entered into a “Memorandum of Understanding” with UNEP reciting their intent to cooperate on matters of environmental policies.  Although it includes disclaimers that it is not intended to create law and does not constitute a binding agreement, this document smacks of an international treaty, yet as far as I know the Senate has never passed on it as required under our Constitution.

But it gets worse.

Among the areas where EPA has agreed to cooperate with UNEP is “the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws.”  EPA itself wasn’t supposed to be developing any laws in the first place; that is a power delegated to the Congress.  Yet under the guise of “regulations”—which get enforced, including criminal penalties, just the same as “laws” in the form of statutes passed by Congress—EPA has in practical fact been legislating for decades.  Now we have EPA agreeing to cooperate with UNEP in that practice, thus inviting U.N. participation in the creation of U.S. law, entirely bypassing Congress in the process.

If you thought taxation without representation was bad, try legislation—read: governance—without representation.

Possibly more sinister, buried in the details of this “cooperation” in the development of environmental law is a little thing called the “Global Judges Program.”  Uh oh.  This program under UNEP’s Division of Environmental Law and Conventions is explicitly aimed at conscripting the international judiciary to advance the “green” agenda on behalf of the U.N.:

“The goal of this programme of work is for DELC to carry out, on a cohesive, structured and sustained basis, national activities . . . for strengthening the role of the judiciary in securing environmental governance, adherence to the rule of law and the effective implementation of national environmental policies, laws and regulations including the national level implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.”  (emphasis mine)

The problem, of course, is that the international community in general, and the U.N. in particular, have a verrrry different view of the proper role of the judiciary and what “rule of law” means than has traditionally been the view in the U.S.  Outside of radical Progressive circles, the proper function of a judge in the U.S. at least used to be seen as being to apply the law as written by the appropriate legislative body.  That’s it.  And by “rule of law” we meant that the judge is to discharge this function dispassionately and objectively without regard for who the parties before the bar are, or what the “desired” outcome might be—the law is what it is, and the outcome it generates also is what it is.

For Progressives in the U.N. and EPA, however, the role of judges is to advance agendas by creating policy and law via judicial decree.  “Rule of law” is whatever a given judge says it is at any given time.  Now the U.N. wants an active role in pushing U.S. federal judges to serve in exactly this manner, creating and enforcing law in accordance with the U.N.’s “green” worldview, and EPA has agreed to cooperate in helping them achieve this.

This is a serious issue.  You don’t elect anyone at the U.N., and it operates outside the limitations of the U.S. Constitution.  Ditto EPA.  You don’t even elect federal judges.  Yet this combination of unelected and almost completely unaccountable powers is moving to create laws binding on you, and that will affect you and your very livelihood.

The U.N. was never intended as a government (at least not out loud).  It was intended as a forum for discussion and resolution of disputes without resort to world war.  But it is increasingly assuming the powers of a global government under the guise of environmental protection, and this is what’s really at the heart of the bullcrap global cooling/global warming/climate change/climate disruption hoax.  “Protection of the environment” can then be used as a justification for inserting government and law into any aspect of existence, and with the U.N. already controlling most of the “scientific” message on environmental issues, any resistance can conveniently be labeled “deniers” of “settled science”—an oxymoron in itself—and brushed aside like yesterday’s newspaper.

If we cede that sort of sovereignty, it’s over.

A Tale Of Two Books

I remember when, I remember, I remember

When I lost my mind

There was something so pleasant about that place

Even your emotions had an echo in so much space

And when you’re out there without a care,

Yeah I was out of touch

But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough

I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?

            —Gnarls Barkley, Crazy

 

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE DISCUSSES MATURE THEMES.  READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED

 

I saw these two stories separately, but h/t to Glenn Beck for helping me make the connection.

Meet Giovanni Rubeo, a Fifth Grade student at Park Lakes Elementary School in Broward County, Florida (yes, that Broward County).  It seems that his class sometimes gets “free reading” time during first period.

Well, by now we know that some are more free than others, and you can see the next part coming a mile away, can’t you?

Young Master Rubeo had the audacity to break out his new Bible—a gift from his church—as his choice of reading material.  His teacher, one Swornia Thomas, caught him red-handed with the inflammatory, racist, homophobic, and otherwise patently offensive literature, and ordered him to put it away.  In a voicemail to Giovanni’s father, Mrs. Thomas explained that “He [Giovanni] had a book, a religious book, in the classroom.  He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom.”

The horror.

Imagine for a second the global outrage and rioting that would have erupted had the book in question been the Koran (also—so I’m told, anyway—a “religious book”).  We’d have petitions in the U.N. for sanctions, and President Obama would probably have had to dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to Florida to genuflect before some Imam just to stem the carnage.

The school district later clarified that Giovanni was of course allowed to read his Bible before and after school and during lunch, but conveniently made no mention of the “free reading” period during class.  Mrs. Thomas, for her part, has apparently refused to comment, although the schoolteacher’s husband reportedly told CBS Miami “She ain’t got nothing to say to you . . . get the [expletive] out of my yard.”

I’ll just let that speak for itself.

So we have a public elementary school teacher telling a Fifth Grader that he’s not permitted to read “those books”—i.e. the Bible—in her classroom.  Keep that in mind as we move to the next story.

Meet William Baer, whose daughter is a 14 year old Freshman at Gilford High School in Gilford, New Hampshire.  He learned that his daughter was assigned to read the book 19 Minutes by Jodi Picault.  The book’s defenders claim it has “important themes,” that it’s thought-provoking and appropriate for 9th graders, and that it’s been assigned at the school for years.

Among these “important themes” about which it’s appropriate for a public school to provoke 14 year olds to devote so much thought is an unbelievably graphic sex scene—one could read it as rape, in that the girl at one point says “no” although she soon becomes an enthusiastic participant—complete with a description of climax and ejaculation.  As Beck pointed out on his radio program, the book’s account is so graphic that if you filmed it as written and gave the film to a 14 year old, you’d be arrested for distributing pornography to a minor.  Even to read it on the air he was forced to substitute euphemisms in many places.  It was that bad.

Now, I’m not about censorship, for all I know the book may very well have some redeeming academic merit; Atlas Shrugged, and even the Bible have sex scenes, albeit not nearly in the same titillation universe as this one.  But to not only make this book available but in fact compel 14 year olds to read it without notifying parents first or providing an alternative assignment is beyond shocking.

And I haven’t even gotten to the good part.

When Mr. Baer learned of the book and its contents, he was understandably concerned, and he took his concern to a meeting of the school board.

Where he got himself arrested.

Yes, arrested.

For what heinous crime, you ask?  He exceeded the two-minute speaking limit.  Yep, he went over his two minutes, so a police officer put him in handcuffs and hauled his ass to jail.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.

I am, of course, taking a little bit of dramatic license here.  Mr. Baer was asked to stop or leave, and apparently he dared the officer to arrest him, so you might argue that he brought it on himself.  But that’s really beside my point.  Hold these two situations next to each other and ask what it says about where we are as a society.

On the one hand we have a child—a child—attempting to use his free reading time to, I don’t know, read freely.  But he is precluded from doing so because his choice of literature happens to be the Bible.  How ridiculous is that?  There is no contention that he was preaching or proselytizing; he wasn’t trying to win any converts, and he wasn’t disrupting class.  He was just reading his book—a book that not that long ago would have been required reading in most households in the U.S., and that is still a fundamental academic tool for understanding history and Western literature (try reading Milton or even Lord of the Rings without a grasp of the Bible).

There is no conceivable objection to a child using time designated for reading to read his Bible.  The book itself isn’t objectionable as long as you don’t force it on others.  Any appeal to “separation of church and state” is simply moronic—(a) the concept doesn’t exist in the Constitution, contrary to ignorant common belief, and (b) the proper 1st/14th Amendment application is the preclusion against government entities—like a public school, Mrs. Thomas—from erecting any barrier to the free exercise of religion.  Yet here we are, with a teacher telling an 11 year old he is forbidden to read the Bible in her classroom.

One wonders if he’d been OK had his choice of reading been 19 Minutes, Playboy (only for the articles, of course), or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

On the other hand we have a public school forcing a child—yes, a child—to read material that includes scenes better suited for the erotica aisle, or hidden behind brown paper wrapping.  If you choose to allow your kids to read that kind of stuff, that’s not for me to judge; Ms. Picault, the author of 19 Minutes, brags that she reads that book to her own kids, and I think it tells you all you need to know about her that she would not only expose them to that material but wants to share in it with them.  Ew.  But when the school makes it a mandatory assignment without telling the parents, it deprives the parents (and the school assumes for itself) of the right/responsibility of determining what is/is not appropriate for their own kids.  I know my daughter better than the school district does, and I know better than they do what she’s ready to handle.

I damn sure know I want a say in to what my kids are exposed, and at what age.

But this is where we are now.  Children are forbidden to read the Bible, but forced to read what amounts to porn.  And if a parent objects too loudly (strictly speaking, too long), they go to jail.  There are people out there—people in charge of your kids—who actually think this way.

Think about this as you watch the debate over Common Core—a favorite of Jeb Bush’s, by the way, and that tells you all you need to know about him—which is essentially a nationalization of academic curricula.  You know, because everything else we nationalize works so well.  If you think it’s bad now, what’s it going to look like when your kid’s school curriculum isn’t even determined by your local school board, but by some bureaucrat from California?

Or New Hampshire.  Or Florida.

The Curious Case Of Cliven Bundy

 

Take another shot of courage

Wonder why the right words never come

You just get numb

            —The Eagles, Tequila Sunrise

 

I’m going to be a little controversial today.

You may have seen the recent standoff between Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management.  Bundy has for years grazed his cattle on what is ostensibly federally-owned land and refused to pay the per-head fee for doing so after the land was officially closed off to protect an endangered tortoise (how closing the land only then to re-open it for a fee protects the tortoise escapes me).  Recently his ranch was surrounded by armed federal agents, his cattle were confiscated and some of them killed under circumstances that have yet to be explained fully.  Only after scores of armed private citizens came to Bundy’s aid did the government back down and give his cattle back (what was left of them, anyway).

Last week Bundy was back in the news, this time for comments he made about blacks.  Discussing his recollection of driving past a government housing project in North Las Vegas, Bundy said:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro . . . in front of that government house door was usually open and the older people and the kids—and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch—they didn’t have nothing to do.  They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do.  They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.  And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?  They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton.  And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?  They didn’t get no more freedom.  They got less freedom.”

[And then of course there’s the part that CNN, the New York Times, and the rest of the media edited out:  “They got less family life, and their happiness—you could see it on their faces—they wasn’t happy sitting on that concrete sidewalk”  The media also didn’t report his preceding comments on the Watts riots: “People are not happy, people thinking they don’t have their freedoms, they didn’t have these things and they didn’t have them.  We’ve progressed quite a bit from that day until now, and we sure don’t want to go back.  We sure don’t want the colored people to go back to that point.”  But I digress . . .]

Tea Party types who had come to Bundy’s defense quickly ran for cover, denouncing Bundy’s statements (as edited by the media) as racist.

I’m not so sure.

Mr. Bundy’s choice of words certainly leaves something to be desired (although I seem to have missed the memo that “Negro” and “colored” were no longer just antiquated but were now considered racist and offensive—maybe someone should inform the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), but let’s bear in mind this man is a rancher, not a professional orator.  And if we’ll calm down a second, step back and examine what he actually said, maybe—just maybe—we’ll see that he has something of a point.

First, Bundy was not advocating slavery, nor was he stating affirmatively that blacks were in fact better off as slaves. He did not attribute his observations to some imagined inherent racial inferiority, and he did not blame blacks themselves for their situation.  He was posing a rhetorical question—“I’ve often wondered . . .”—not stating an opinion, and while his comments are stated in terms that are obviously too global, I think they can be understood as a clumsy attempt to use hyperbole to illustrate something about the black condition, particularly as it relates to poor blacks.

Consider the following:

No one can deny that housing projects exist.  And while not all blacks live in government housing, they in fact occupy the projects in grossly disproportionate numbers.  According to HUD, although blacks make up just 13% of the population, 48% of government-subsidized households are black.  While we’re on the subject of government subsidies, note that 40% of welfare recipients and 24% of food stamp recipients are black.   There is nothing racist in this observation, it’s simply the statistical fact: relative to their proportion of the population, blacks receive more government subsidy assistance than the population as a whole.

Bundy said that the people he observed in the projects had nothing to do.  This is not shocking: if you’re in a government housing project, you are most likely poor, and there is a disproportionate likelihood that you are unemployed.  This is particularly so if you’re black.  Black unemployment in fact has long exceeded the national average by a wide margin.  As of last month, “official” unemployment among blacks was 12.8%, roughly double the national rate of 6.9%, and considerably worse than it was prior to LBJ and the Left’s “war on poverty.”  Bundy referred more specifically to young blacks having nothing to do; unemployment among blacks 16 to 19 currently sits at 30.9%, four-and-a-half times the national average.  These figures obviously have a direct effect on poverty, which impacts 27% of the total black population.  Again, this is not a racist statement; if you are black, particularly a young black, statistically there is a much higher chance that you are unemployed, poor, living in government housing, and receiving some form of welfare.

That’s not racist.  That’s just a fact.

Bundy then remarked that blacks—again, his context was his observation of poor blacks in government housing—abort their babies and put their young men in jail.  Well, do they?  Black babies are aborted at a rate of 41 per 1000 women.  That’s more than double the national average of 18, and by some estimates over 13 million black babies have been aborted since Roe, the equivalent of eliminating 30% of the entire current U.S. black population.  This is exactly as Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger envisioned it, as she expressly intended her organization’s abortion function as a means of racial cleansing.  Blacks also make up nearly half of the total U.S. prison population, and 1 in 3 black men can expect to serve prison time during their lives.  We can debate whether blacks themselves put those black men in jail; the cause isn’t as important here as the statistical fact itself that a disproportionate number of blacks are incarcerated.

Carrying the domestic analysis further, while the rate is dropping, teen pregnancy among black girls remains more than double that of whites.  72% of black children live in single parent households.  And blacks are wildly more likely than whites to be the victim of violent crime, almost always at the hands of another black.

So to recap, blacks in the U.S. are significantly disproportionately likely to:

  • Be poor
  • Be unemployed
  • Receive government subsidies
  • Be impacted by abortion or teen pregnancy
  • Grow up in a single parent home
  • Spend time in jail
  • Be the victim of violent crime

There is nothing racist about making the observation; these are simply the statistical facts of the black condition.  I think we can all agree that these are not good things, and there is almost surely a relationship between them.  And this, I think, was the essence of the point Bundy was trying—however inartfully—to make: that blacks would be better off with meaningful jobs that allowed them to get off government assistance and out of government housing, and with that maybe improve the other aspects of their domestic circumstances.

But let’s assume for a second that Bundy’s statements in fact are racist.  Why does that—as the media and Left have been trying to claim—render all the substantive points and questions raised by his standoff with the BLM illegitimate?  If someone is a racist does that mean that they are a crackpot and wrong an all issues, all the time, under all circumstances?

To be sure, Bundy’s substantive case against the BLM has problems.  He has in fact—he freely admits this—not paid the grazing fee, to the tune of over $1 million.  Although his argument that in the charter creating the State of Nevada the United States obligated itself to sell all federal land back in 1864 has some facial appeal, in context it has issues:

Sec. 10.  Five percent of subsequent sales of public lands by United States to be paid to state for public roads and irrigation.  And be it further enacted, That five percentum of the proceeds of the sales of all public lands lying within said state, which shall be sold by the United States subsequent to the admission of said state into the Union . . . shall be paid to the said state[.]”

Bundy and his supporters point to the language “which shall be sold by the United States” to argue that the federal government had a duty to sell all federal holdings.  And that is a fair reading.  The problem is, the word “shall” has been frequently misused in legislation in this country, up to and including the Constitution itself.  The title of Section 10 refers to “subsequent sales,” and this suggests that the “which shall be sold” language was really intended simply to refer to those lands that the United States sells if it sells them, rather than imposing an affirmative obligation to do so.  Even so, legitimate questions remain:

  • Why does the federal government still own more than 80% of all land in the State of Nevada?
  • If it’s federal land, and therefore publicly owned, why isn’t it open to all without a fee?
  • Why is Senator Harry Reid, who is supposed to represent the people of the State of Nevada (actually he’s supposed to represent the State itself, but the 17th Amendment killed that) vocally taking the side of the federal government against one of his own constituents?
  • Why does the BLM need to show up with helicopters and dozens of armed agents (including snipers) carrying military style weapons to collect a bill?
  • And while we’re on the subject, why are so many non-military federal agencies (EPA, NOAA, U.S. Postal Service, Department of Education) arming themselves?

Racism or no, what we do see here is more overkill from a federal government out of control.

Counting Diminishing Blessings

Nuke:              How come you don’t like me?

Crash:            Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem.  But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem.  You got a gift.

Nuke:              I got a what?

Crash:            You got a gift.  When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt.  You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.

           —Tim Robbins as Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, and Kevin Costner as “Crash” Davis in Bull Durham

Are you comfortable?

Do you have enough to eat without having to scratch your subsistence out of the dust?  Are you able to read at night by virtue of fixtures and appliances powered by electricity available to you at the flip of a switch?  Can you travel essentially anywhere, using a privately-owned vehicle that can transport you safely and quickly over distances of hundreds of miles in a day?  Are you earning an income by working for an organization that produces goods people want or need (or for an entity that provides valuable services to such organizations)?

I’ll wager that the answer to every one of those questions is Yes.  But chances are you have rarely, if ever, considered the root source of those blessings.

That you enjoy the comforts of living in the most wealthy society in the history of man is not an accident.  Your abundance, your modern conveniences, your economic prosperity (yes, prosperity, even given the extended recession) are all fruits of a harvest sown by the seeds planted for us by the founding generation.  The freedom of self-governance and self-determination they left us is directly responsible for the development of the United States into an economic and industrial power; and regardless of your relative station in life here, you are far better off for it than you would have been otherwise.

It is the single greatest gift any human being has ever bestowed on another.

Consider for a moment the price your ancestors paid to give you that gift.  With no money, no training, no experience, no supplies, and few weapons to speak of, they dared to take on the most powerful professional military force the world had ever seen up to that time.  They left everything, and risked everything.  They suffered through Northeastern winters with essentially no shelter, and inadequate clothing.  They ate their shoes.  And their dogs.  25,000 of them died, representing a loss of 1% of the total population at the time;  to put that in perspective, if we had to fight that fight today, we’d see 3.2 million dead—1,095 casualties every single day for eight years—more than double all the American dead in all the wars we have ever fought combined.

Why did they do this?  What possessed them to seek a forcible divorce from Britain, and embark on so radical an experiment at such great cost?  Well, we don’t have to wonder about that, because in the Declaration of Independence they told all the world for all time why they did what they did.  But look at some of their specific complaints and consider whether we are faithfully preserving that which they left us.

As Jefferson put it, the colonists’ core issue was “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism . . .”  “Despotism” is the abuse of government through the consolidation of unlimited sovereign power in the hands of one man.  Hmmmm.  And Jefferson listed specific examples of this trend of despotic behavior on the part of the British monarch and his minions; see if any look familiar. 

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them . . . taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments . . . suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.  You mean like a President effectively amending or repealing legislation such as FUBARCare, the CLASS Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, or the Immigration Reform and Control Act through unilateral executive orders and refusals to enforce all or parts of the laws as enacted by Congress, and imposing burdens on States over their objection?  You mean like repeatedly suing States to stop enforcement of State laws on matters such as border security?

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.  How about a President engaging in endless governance-by-crisis, marked by perpetual stalemates born of his absolute refusal to negotiate so much as a single comma on anything?  How about habitually summoning legislators to his mansion to be lectured like so many unruly schoolchildren?

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.  You mean like EPA?  OSHA?  IRS?  NSA?

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.  Would that we had the Army amongst us.  Instead we have the NSA tapping our phones and reading our emails, while a heavily armed DHS patrols our streets in armored vehicles and “monitors” Tea Party rallies.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.  We have the opposite: a President who has affected to render the military impotent and wholly subject to him and his ideology, while all dissent is purged.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.  Have you met the U.N.?

[P]rotecting [troops], by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.  The present administration has gone to great lengths to ensure that no one in it is held accountable for anything, ever.  Eric Holder in Fast & Furious.  Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice in Benghazi.  Lois Lerner in the IRS targeting episode.  Kathleen Sebelius with FUBARCare.  The White House always runs its own “investigation,” inevitably concluding that there was no wrong doing.  Nothing to see here.  Move along, Citizen.

[I]mposing Taxes on us without our Consent.  FUBARCare’s individual mandate penalty is a tax, when this President told us there wouldn’t be any new tax in it.  “Stimulus” and “Quantitative Easing” are stealth taxes in that they devalue the money you have, such that while you have the same number of dollars, you can’t buy as much with them today as you could yesterday.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us[.] This President is an endless font of race-baiting and class-warfare mongering.  He was a vocal supporter of the Occupy movement.  Divide and conquer

So many of the founding generation’s specific complaints enumerated in the Declaration find close parallels today, which means we’re slipping back into the very situation the Revolution was fought to eliminate.  How cheaply are we giving back that which they paid so dearly to leave to us?  Perhaps it’s come to us too easily; perhaps if we’d had to pay some of the cost to earn the freedoms we were bequeathed, we’d be more reluctant to see them taken from us.

We would do well to remember that we do not hold clear title; we are but life tenants, holding those freedoms in trust for the future generations that own the remainder.

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Bureaucracy

 

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

            —The Beatles, Carry That Weight

 

Meet John Pozsgai.  

Mr. Pozsgai was a felon.  He did time in a federal penitentiary for acts he readily admitted he committed, but went to his grave refusing to acknowledge as wrong. 

But let’s back up.

John Pozsgai emigrated to the United States in 1956 as a refugee from the communist regime in Hungary.  He learned a trade as a mechanic, and eventually became self-employed.  He didn’t exactly become John Rockefeller, but Mr. Pozsgai was a living embodiment of The American Dream.

In the 1980s, Mr. Pozsgai was living in Morristown, Pennsylvania, across the street from an illegal car dump.  But he saw the potential some hard work could bring, so in 1987 he bought the 14 acre lot in hopes of cleaning up the site and developing it for use in expanding his truck repair business.  And with the blessing of local officials, he proceeded to do just that, removing thousands of old tires and tons of rusting hulks from the property.  He then brought in clean fill and topsoil in preparation for developing the site.

There was just one problem.

Somewhere along the way, Mr. Pozsgai’s work cleaning up his private property at his own expense caught the attention of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, who were more than a little put out that they hadn’t been consulted.  And they began making all sorts of enforcement demands under the Clean Water Act that he stop bringing in fill and that he “restore” the site—yes, by turning it back into a dump. 

Now, you might be asking yourself what cleaning up an old dump has to do with the Clean Water Act, and you’d be right to do so.  In order to squeeze the regulation within its power under the Commerce Clause, Congress had to tie EPA’s authority to “navigable waters,” the idea being that waterways useable for commercial traffic have potential effect on interstate commerce.  But through judicial creep, the idea of “navigable waters” has been expanded to include “wetlands,” which basically means anything EPA says it does.  In Mr. Pozsgai’s case, even that idea was stretched to the impossibly thin.

Mr. Pozsgai’s lot bordered on a drainage ditch that, when there was anything in it, fed a stream that was a tributary to the Pennsylvania Canal, which fed into the Delaware River and back in the 19th Century had been used for commercial traffic.  What does that have to do with the property?  It seems that some of the tires on the lot had blocked the drainage ditch, which would occasionally cause the ditch to back up and artificially flood Mr. Pozsgai’s property.  Of course, once he removed the tires, the flooding stopped, but no matter;  EPA cried WETLANDS!, and thus the entire property was subject to federal bureaucratic control.

EPA ordered Mr. Pozsgai to stop “discharging pollutants”—read: putting clean topsoil on the surface of his private property—onto the “wetlands,” and to put the tires back.  They put him under video and air surveillance.  When he did not comply, they arrested him, and searched his home for weapons.  They charged him with criminal violations under the CAA, and he was eventually sentenced to three years in prison and fined over $200,000.  At the time that was the most severe criminal punishment ever imposed under the CAA.  The sentence was later upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  United States v. Pozsgai, 897 F.2d 524 (3d Cir. 1990). 

Mr. Pozsgai came to this country to flee the oppression of a communist regime.  He made himself productive, and built a life.  Then the United States federal government, through the abusive overreach of an unelected bureaucracy, branded him a felon and put him in prison.  He spent a year-and-a-half in jail, another year-and-a-half in a halfway house, and five years on probation.  As a result, he could never legally possess a gun in the United States, and for a time he was forbidden from voting.  He was bankrupted, lost his home, and even his ability to earn a living was forever impaired.

All because he cleaned up a dump and put clean topsoil on his own private property.

And his experience is not unique or a relic of the 1980s.  Mike and Chantelle Sackett bought a 0.62 acre lot in Priest Lake, Idaho, where they planned to build a house.  When they began bringing in clean fill material, they received a cease-and-desist order from EPA—a precursor to an enforcement action—without a hearing.  The Supreme Court recently overturned a Ninth Circuit ruling and held that the Sacketts did not have to wait for EPA to arrest them before they could challenge EPA’s jurisdiction.  Sackett v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 566 U.S. ___ (2012).  Meanwhile, their private property remains a hostage of the system.

These are not the industrial polluters or environmentally-sensitive navigable waterways to which the CAA was directed.  Did we really need to spend the resources to prosecute a couple all the way to the Supreme Court because they wanted to build a home?  Did we really need to send a man to jail because he cleaned up an illegal dump?

But this is what happens when Congress abdicates and turns over control to an unelected bureaucracy.  No one is holding the reins, and there’s no one to pull back and tell them they’ve overstepped their mandate, that they’ve gotten too big for their britches.  Like Audrey II, they’ve metastasized out of control into an all-consuming beast with an insatiable appetite for power.

And it’s the liberty of individual citizens that ultimately suffers.

You Can’t Fix Stupid

Dunning:        You do know there’s a “surcharge” for any arms deliveries to countries that are embargoed by the United Nations?

Matheson:      For every problem, Monsieur, there is a solution.

            —Richard Dreyfus as Alexander Dunning, and Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson in RED

Last week my local Sugar Land Sun ran an interesting op-ed piece by Roy Kent dealing with the intersection of sports and government.  Apparently the scourge of head injuries in football has gotten the attention of Texas legislators, and Representative Eddie Lucio (D-Harlingen) has filed a bill to limit high school and middle school programs to one full contact practice per week.  I’m guessing Representative Lucio wouldn’t have made it as one of Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys.”  While I appreciate the sentiment of wanting to protect kids, Representative Lucio’s proposal raises several concerns.

As an initial point, it seems that, like so many things that spur legislative cries for urgent action, the football head injury issue isn’t the catastrophic epidemic you might think from Lucio’s bill.  A study by the American Football Coaches’ Committee on Football Injuries, NCAA, and National Federation of State High School Associations indicates that the rate of fatalities directly related to participation in football (invariably associated with head/neck injuries) was 0.18 per 100,000 participants at the high school level in 2011 (roughly the same incident rate as being struck by lightning in the U.S.).  And that rate has dropped steadily since the mid-1960s.  I understand that Representative Lucio is concerned with the cumulative impact of repeated concussions and the like, but using fatalities as a kind of proxy statistic the data suggests that the “problem” isn’t as widespread as he might lead you to believe.

Moreover, the sense of urgency may be misplaced.  Consider that automobile crashes are consistently the leading cause of death for 13-19 year olds.  In 2010 there were approximately 3115 such fatalities, a rate of about 10 per 100,000, or some fifty times that of football.  Why, if we’re going to look at urgent action to protect kids, are we focusing on football instead of cars?

Lucio’s proposal also has practical problems.  How on earth are you going to enforce a limitation on full contact practices?  Just defining what constitutes “full contact” is problematic; policing it is worse.  This is Texas, home of Friday Night Lights, where football is unquestionably king.  High school programs here are already notorious for skirting limitations on the number and duration of practices, either through “voluntary” supplemental workouts, if not just outright ignoring them.  We scarcely have the resources to monitor and address the very real problems of truancy and dropouts.  Adding to the oversight burden only makes that worse.

In fact, you could make a case that Representative Lucio’s proposal would actually be counter-productive.  One of the contributing factors to head injuries in football is blocking and tackling technique, which cannot be adequately taught and practiced outside of a full-speed, full-contact environment.  Further, the ability to withstand contact in games without injury—what the players call being in “football shape”—only comes with regular contact in practice.  Coaches have every incentive to minimize injuries in practice, and they manage their practice routines with that in mind.  But they also have an incentive and a responsibility to ensure that their players are physically prepared to participate, and that requires contact.

The fact of the matter is that football is a rough collision sport.  Injuries will happen.  Now, I’m no doctor or physicist, but it seems pretty obvious that the main variables affecting the occurrence of head and other injuries are the speed of the collisions and the mass (size) of the bodies colliding.  You want to reduce injuries?  Slow the players down by returning to leather helmets or at least taking away their face masks; a player is going to be much less enthusiastic about launching himself head-first at maximum speed when he’s no longer so protected that his head is effectively a weapon.  And shrink the players themselves.  It’s not that long ago that Chicago Bears offensive lineman William Perry was nicknamed the “Refrigerator” because of the relative novelty of an NFL player weighing 300 pounds; today, my alma mater Allen High School won the Texas AAAAA Division I state championship with a roster that featured one 300 pounder and seven others weighing in at over 270, and that’s not uncommon.  Pare the players down by instituting maximum weights by position; say, 240 pounds for linemen, 190 for backs and linebackers, and 175 for everyone else.

But here’s the thing.  You can do all of that through rule-making by the sport’s governing body.  It doesn’t require legislation, and this is really the rub of the matter.  Lucio’s proposal is yet another example of a chronic pathology in Congress and statehouses: legislators who feel compelled to legislate something, anything, in order to justify their existence.  But rather than doing the dirty work of making difficult and responsible choices on issues that matter—because those things carry political risk—they instead search for feel-good issues that pose little risk and solve little in the real world, but create the impression that they are taking action like a true leader.  The result is nonsense that accomplishes nothing but increasing government intrusion in the interest of protecting us from ourselves:

  • forced posting of calorie information on restaurant menus;
  • banning of large sodas;
  • regulation of school lunch contents even when packed from home (yet curiously virtually no nutritional regulation over the diets of those on food stamps, so apparently we are more concerned about what food you spend your own money on than on what food other people spend your money on);
  • mandatory “dead man” switches on lawnmowers;
  • child-proof (read: adult-proof) caps on medicines, vitamins, and even mouthwash;
  • mandatory warnings on cigarettes, alcohol, etc.

Instead of passing a damn budget, Congress spends its time threatening to investigate college football’s bowl/ranking system.  Or boxing scoring.  Or steroids in baseball.

You cannot legislate common sense, and this was Kent’s central point in his Sun op-ed.  Yes, there are problems out there; some are very real and urgent, and others not so much.  And the world has its dangers and risks, whether they be to life and limb, to financial security, or to happiness and mental health.  Those risks can never be eliminated—and many cannot even be mitigated—by passing yet another law or regulation.  We could make a lot of progress by actually focusing on the bigger-ticket items, and leaving the minutia of day-to-day living and managing its risks to those of us who actually do that living and have to deal with those risks.  That, friends, is what “liberty” is.

The answer isn’t always legislation.

The New Obamacare Trap

“Relax,” said the night man, “we are programmed to receive.”

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

            —Eagles, Hotel California

I know then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told us we’d have to pass Obamacare to find out what’s in it.

But wait ‘til you get a load of this.

Most of the discussion over the last couple of years about Obamacare has centered on the individual mandate and the contraception coverage requirement.  But while the public attention has been focused on those issues, somewhat under the radar most of the attention of the benefits professionals who have to understand and implement the mechanics of Obamacare has been focused on the obligations the new law places on the employers who will have to provide most of the mandated coverage.

Without getting too deep into the weeds, under Obamacare, all employers with 50 or more full time employees (“full time” defined for these purposes as 30 or more hours per week) must offer health care coverage meeting minimum federal standards.  Any that don’t must pay a fine of $2,000 per employee after the first 30.  This was always the first problem with Obamacare and the President’s outright lie that “if you like your coverage you can keep it,” because in many instances it’s cheaper for the employer to pay the fine than to provide the coverage.  With this as the new environment beginning in 2014, some businesses will make the very rational, and in some cases economically necessary, decision to drop coverage—coverage their employees may well have liked—in favor of simply paying the penalty.

But in some lower-margin industries like the restaurant business, even paying the penalty simply isn’t a viable financial option.  Well, if you’ll look again at the defining threshold for triggering the requirements, there are a pair of obvious alternatives for businesses that find themselves in that situation.  One is to lay off employees until they get below 50 (or, for a growing business, stop hiring at 49).  The other is to cut employee hours to a maximum of 29 hours a week so they’re not “full-time.”  Either option gets the business under the threshold of 50 full time employees such that the mandate doesn’t apply.  And many businesses—Dardens Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster), and some Wendy’s and Taco Bell franchises, among others—are now starting to do precisely that.

As an aside, notice the perverse “unintended” effect here.  Employees in these businesses are typically low-income people: fry cooks, waiters, etc.  These are the very people Obamacare was supposed to help by getting them employer-sponsored coverage.  Instead, as a direct consequence of Obamacare not only do they not get the employer-provided medical insurance they were promised, they’re having their already low incomes reduced by having their hours cut or losing their jobs altogether.  With lighter or nonexistent paychecks, they’ll then be shunted off into Medicaid under the individual mandate.  Of course the real irony here is you know the majority of these people voted for this crap.

Be careful what you wish for, ‘cause you just might get it all.

There’s a similar phenomenon happening in the medical device industry, which employs some 400,000 people in the U.S.  Now, these are typically higher income earners, but the essential problem is the same.  Medical technology companies are faced not only with the mandate to provide coverage or pay the penalty, but effective the first of this year they also must pay an additional 2.3% excise tax under Obamacare.  In response, publicly traded medical device companies cut 7,000 jobs in 2012.  A recent survey indicates that 62% of those surveyed plan additional layoffs or reduced hiring in 2013.  All to offset the tax.

Well, it appears that all this hasn’t been lost on the Obama administration, and it’s not going to let them get away with it.  The IRS has now released a 144 pages of new regulations that included an announcement that measures would be coming to stop employers from taking these steps to avoid the impact of the Obamacare employer mandate.  What does this mean?  It means the IRS will begin levying penalties against employers who initiate layoffs or reduce hours in order to get below the thresholds that trigger the mandate/penalty dilemma.

Of course, all of this only applies if you’re already over the 50 full-timer limit; if you have only 49, none of it matters to you (as long as you don’t grow your business).  As a result, you could see an Olive Garden with 50 employees facing tens of thousands of dollars in federally-mandated additional costs, while the Chili’s next door with only 49 employees incurs none of those costs, and the Olive Garden has no way to correct the competitive imbalance; once over 50, always over 50 (at least as far as the fines are concerned).

So here’s the trap in which some businesses will now find themselves caught:

  • The government requires them to provide health insurance they can’t afford.
  • If they don’t provide it, they’ll have to pay a penalty they can’t afford.
  • If they try to trim staff so the law doesn’t apply, they’ll have to pay a different penalty they can’t afford.

That doesn’t leave many options, and the simple fact is that some businesses won’t be able to afford any of it; they’ll be forced to close.  I expect more than a few business owners who could afford the penalty will refuse to pay it and close out of spite.

This is truly terrifying.

Many of us on the Right, like voices crying in the wilderness, tried to warn about this.  You now have a federal government that although it lacks the power under the Commerce Clause to compel you to engage in a commercial transaction, it can tax you if you don’t.  That same federal government is forcibly imposing costs on businesses, then threatening to impose fines if those businesses try to restructure themselves to get out of it.  We gotcha now.  And here’s the really sick part:  Obama and the Democrats created this Frankenstein’s monster of a health care law, and now the administration is sending the IRS after people to fine them for acting under the terms of the law as Obama and the Democrats wrote it.  Not only are they over-regulating, but now you can’t even avoid their laws/fines by complying with them.

Obamacare is a disaster.  It is a vicious assault on individual economic liberty and religious freedom.  It is an unconscionable abuse of the Constitution.  It will prove to be a strangling albatross around the neck of the economy.  And not only will it never achieve the stated objective of providing health care insurance to [pick your number] of uninsured Americans, it will actually be counter-productive to that end.

We’re caught in a trap; we can’t walk out.

Form Over Substance

“I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight.  It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either.  ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance.  Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

            —Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Rocky

 

One of the better columnists out there is Charles Krauthammer, and it is a rare occasion indeed when I dare to disagree with him.

This is one of those times.

In his latest piece at Jewish World Review (h/t to my buddy Brutus), Krauthammer argues that there is no real fundamental split in the GOP; that the divide is simply a matter of tactics, rather than one of substantive philosophy on policy.  One camp, as Krauthammer views it, is committed to fighting the President and the Democrats on shrinking government and reducing spending, even though they only hold a majority in one half of one branch of government.  The other camp—that of the GOP establishment (Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader McConnell, et al.)—views resistance as futile, and therefore eschews the fight in favor of capitulation.

Krauthammer takes the view that the latter position is the only practical alternative.  Either way, he says, the GOP is going to lose on the budget/debt issue, and if they press the issue and stick to their guns they’ll not only lose but take the blame for being obstructionists.  So rather than lose and come away with egg on their face, he argues that the pragmatic approach is to accept that you can’t govern from this position, and offer a watered-down short term proposal that cannot be refused.

In other words, roll over and punt.

I hold Mr. Krauthammer in the highest regard, but respectfully I could not disagree more on this one.  First, the situation as he describes it in fact does reflect a fundamental substantive split.  Either you hold to a conservative fiscal philosophy or you don’t.  If you do, that’s not subject to compromise (or, in this case, all-out abandonment) simply because 51% of the country (or, more to the point, 51% of the votes that got counted) elected Obama.  There are those in Congress who actually do stand on conservative principles; the GOP establishment simply isn’t among them.

Second, Krauthammer’s position that even if you resist you’ll end up losing depends on his assumption that at the eleventh hour even the resistance will be forced to cave in.  Why?  If you’re going to resist, resist.  If they have the votes to pass something over your objection, let them do so; then they own it and you can rub their noses in it before the public when it fails, something you can’t do if you’ve capitulated, because they’ll cast the policy as bipartisan.  If they don’t have the votes, then you’ve won by stopping a bad policy—it’s not a loss if nothing happens.  It’s OK for Washington to stop.  A legislature doesn’t HAVE to legislate.

Third, I think Krauthammer may be being a little naïve here.  There is no middle ground compromise to be made, and no offer that cannot be refused.  Obama and the Democrats have made it clear that they are not going to negotiate on anything.  It is a fool’s errand to try it.  Look back to the original debt limit discussions in 2011: the entire thing consisted of Boehner making revised offers and Obama telling him to “spit higher.”  The result, of course, was the “compromise” that led to the current problems with the debt ceiling, budget sequestration, and the “fiscal cliff.”  That’s just how it’s going to be with this President if you try to meet him in the middle.

Finally, Krauthammer’s concern over the GOP “taking the blame” is misplaced.  What is the nature of this “blame”?  Public opinion.  But what is that, really?  Nationwide polling asking about a global opinion of the GOP as a party is almost totally irrelevant, particularly now that we’re out of the Presidential election cycle.  Nobody in Congress, particularly in the House, represents the nation, or Gallup; the President is the only one elected on that scale.  Each member of the House is elected by the 750,000 or so citizens of his or her district.  The job of a Representative is precisely that: to represent the interests of those people, and no one else.  It’s not their job to compromise or go along to get along.  And it’s certainly not their job to concede the interests of the people in their district simply because they are not part of a governing majority.

And this is the real rub with Krauthammer’s argument (and it particularly irritates me, because he knows better).  He’s effectively accepting the premise that this country is a true democracy, that we operate on an absolute majority rule basis, and that anything 50%-plus-one wants, they get without opposition, dissent, or even discussion.  That, of course, isn’t the way our government was designed to operate, and in fact Krauthammer’s premise defeats the very point of that mechanism.  Rather than a true democracy, we have a constitutional republic, where power is distributed among three co-equal branches of government, and the legislative power is divided yet further into a bicameral (two houses) body.  The system is specifically designed to promote debate and opposition, and to protect the minority from the whim of the majority.

But all of that is lost if you simply punt because it’s more pragmatic to recognize that you can’t pass anything of your own when you’re in the minority.  If you’re not going to oppose when you’re in the opposition, then why bother showing up in the first place?   We could just say that everything was decided on November 6, and now the Democrats get to do whatever they want for the next two years; they can legislate via teleconference among their own caucus, and we don’t even need to convene Congress.

I’ve been making this point from the very beginning of Chasing Jefferson.  You don’t fight only the fights you can win; you fight the fights that need fighting.  You stick to your guns, and if you go down, you go down swinging.  Rather than worrying about being blamed for obstructionism, the Republicans need to re-learn how to present their case to the public.  The current leadership can’t do it.

The Democrats are going to do what they’re going to do.  The GOP doesn’t need to accommodate them.  It needs to be able to explain that, explain who owns it, and explain the cause-and-effect when it goes bad.