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.

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I’m With Stupid

If you’re gone, baby it’s time to come home

There’s an awful lot of breathing room

But I can hardly move

            —Matchbox Twenty, If You’re Gone

 

A couple of weeks ago I was traveling on business, and while scrolling the TV channels in my hotel room I had the misfortune of the remote getting stuck briefly on what I gather was a “reality” show featuring the Kardashians—who for my life I can’t figure out why they’re famous or what about them merits anyone’s attention.  Two of them were in the kitchen, where one was preparing some sort of dish in which she was going to eat her own placenta.  That is not a typo, and I didn’t even make it up.  And for the record:  Ew.

But more seriously, this is the sort of garbage with which people are filling their minds?  And calling it “entertainment”?

It got me thinking that this is a real reflection of the root of what is so wrong with this country today.  Consider that among the top rated television programs today, those that aren’t football consist of offerings like The Big Bang Theory—which centers on a bunch of adults who are still obsessed with comic books, fantasy, and video games—and Modern Family—essentially an LGBT propaganda device.  Mix in juvenile remakes of The Odd Couple (Two and a Half Men) and Laverne & Shirley (Two Broke Girls), a half-dozen or so iterations of “talent” shows featuring performers of wildly varying degrees of actual ability, and a few versions of mindless and over-sexed “reality” de-selection shows like Survivor and The Bachelor, and you’ve got the bulk of today’s primetime bill of fare.

I lost 25 IQ points just typing that last paragraph.

It says a great deal when a current ad for the new Playstation 4 video game system features not adolescents, but unkempt twenty-somethings sitting in the wasteland of what had been their video game battleground, eating Taco Bell and taunting their friends for not having bought their new systems in time to arrive before the battle was over.  In other words, instead of pitching their latest toy by showing children in their living room playing a game, Sony features ostensible adults living in a fantasy land (a fantasy land, by the way, in which no one ever suffers any consequences, and even if you die you just go back to the last place you started).  And they do this for good reason: that’s who their market is.

The problem is, these people who spend their adult time watching the Kardashian sisters and playing video games also vote.  And one fears that a growing portion of the voting age population knows more about World of Warcraft than about the Constitution.  Unfortunately, there is evidence to support that fear.

Last year, U.S. News reported on an Xavier University study that showed over a third of American citizens failed the civics portion of the immigrant naturalization test (97% of immigrant citizenship applicants pass).  Among the lowlights: 

  • 85% could not define “the rule of law”
  • 75% did not know the function of the judicial branch
  • 71% could not identify the Constitution as “the supreme law of the land”
  • 63% could not name even one of their State’s Senators
  • 62% could not identify the Speaker of the House
  • 62% could not identify their State’s Governor
  • 57% could not define “amendment”

And the Xavier study isn’t an aberration.  In a 2008 survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute—repeating their results from two previous studies—71% of Americans failed a basic multiple choice test of American history, civics, and economics; the average score was a 49 (I scored a 94, for those who are wondering).  Those with a college education fared no better than those without.  Again in summary: 

  • Less than half could name the three branches of government
  • Only 21% knew that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
  • Only 53% knew that the power to declare war resides with Congress; 40% thought it belonged to the President
  • 27% knew that the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the establishment of an official national religion
  • Less than 20% knew that the phrase “a wall of separation” between church and state comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson; almost half believe—incorrectly—that it can be found in the Constitution.

More and more, the people of this country know less and less about where America came from, the idea of self-governance upon which it was originally based, or the rules framework under which it was supposed to operate.  They don’t know what their rights are, what the source of those rights is, or what mechanisms the Founders established to protect them. 

Or why. 

But they damn sure know who’s in the finals of American Idol.  They know the rules of Survivor.  They can identify Miley Cyrus’ tongue (or whatever body part she’s most recently put on display).  They know how many days Lindsay Lohan spent in jail and rehab last month.  

Look, I understand that the whole population can’t be made up of Rhodes Scholars.  But you can’t expect a democratic republic to function when so many in the voting base that directs it have so little grasp of—or even know they have a personal stake in—how it works.  When people know (and care) more about who is sleeping with whom in Hollywood than they do about, say, Solyndra or Benghazi, they can’t possibly make informed decisions in the voting booth; that is particularly true when they also have no concept of the fact that of those three, two actually affect them and one does not.

But that’s where we are now.  People get more of their information about the world from their Twitter feed and vulgar comedians than they do from actual news sources (in fairness, that’s in part because there are virtually no real news sources left).  That’s why you have a President who spends more time acting hip and cool on Comedy Central, The View, and Letterman than he does answering substantive questions at press conferences, and yet still manages to get re-elected despite his objective record of abject failure.

As a sovereign people, we have abdicated the throne in favor of the boob tube.  The sad truth is too many of us have become too lazy to inform ourselves about what’s going on around us, especially with respect to what people in the District—people who are supposed to work for us, not rule over us—are actually doing.  And too many of us have become too soft or too fearful to engage in the critical thinking necessary for self-governance.  We’re much more interested in bathroom humor and sophomoric sexual innuendoes than in understanding our basic freedoms.  We prefer to experience the repeated death of a fantasy character in a fantasy world over learning about real world current events that affect our real lives. 

Apparently some of us will even watch an overweight moron devour her own afterbirth rather than pick up a copy of the Constitution. 

Speaking in a slightly different context, future President Ronald Reagan warned us in 1961:

“[I]f we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.  Well, I think it’s time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers . . . If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to.  This is the last stand on earth . . . We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”

I fear we may be at that point, dragged into the abyss by the albatross of stupidity and willful ignorance hanging about our collective neck.

Civics 201: What Might Have Been

“Oh, Brad!  Brad, my darling, how could I have done this to you?  Oh, if only we hadn’t made this journey.  If only the car hadn’t broken down.  If only we were amongst friends . . . or sane persons.  Oh, Brad, what have they done with him?”

            —Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

 

God bless my junior Senator, Ted Cruz, for being one of the very few in the Senate GOP contingent with the stones to stand up and try.  I have no idea what John Cornyn—who is all over his website and social media saying he supports defunding Obamacare—is doing leading the effort to stop him.  Voting for cloture and ending Cruz’s filibuster—which requires 60 votes Harry Reid doesn’t have without Cornyn’s help—only allows the Democrats to get to a vote on an amendment adding the funding back in, where Cornyn knows full well Reid does have the 51 votes he needs even over Cornyn’s objection; Cornyn’s Nay at that point is a hollow gesture, and for my life I don’t understand why Cornyn and the GOP establishment in the Senate would be so willing to cast down the only weapon they have left and quit the field.

But looking at the split between my State’s two Senators got me thinking: but for a grossly unfortunate Constitutional turn a century ago, we might well be in a different position today.  So I wanted to backtrack and cover a little history and civics.

Recall that the attendees at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were not sent as at-large representatives of the population.  They were sent as delegations selected by their respective State legislatures, and their specific task was to represent those States as independent sovereign entities.  Indeed, one of the primary sticking points in the Constitutional debates was how these States, particularly smaller ones, would be able to protect their sovereignty once power was ceded to a central federal government.

The Framers’ solution, in their wisdom, was to create a bicameral legislature; two houses, with the Senate being the chamber in which the States, as States, would be represented.  As James Madison explained in Federalist No. 10:

“The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate[.]”

Thus, Article I as originally written provided that the Senate would be comprised of two Senators from each State, “chosen by the Legislature thereof.”   This gave each State as an independent sovereign equal representation within the federal government, embodied in members selected by, and ultimately responsible to, the governments of those States.  That was to be the safeguard of the States’ sovereignty and their retained powers under the 10th Amendment.  That, ultimately, is what federalism is.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Utopia.

Progressives recognized that this structure posed a barrier to the imposition of their agenda.  Wouldn’t it be simpler if they could bypass the buffer of the State legislatures so they could use their populist rhetoric to elect Senators directly by popular vote?  So in 1913 they pushed through the 17th Amendment, which substituted at-large elections in place of the selection of Senators by the State legislatures, and with it eliminated any responsiveness the Senate had to the States as sovereigns.  The entire point of a bicameral Congress was defeated.

So what does this have to do with Obamacare and Ted Cruz?

At 7:05 a.m. on Christmas Eve 2009, the Senate passed a 2,000+ page bill none of them had read by a vote of 60-39; that bill would become Obamacare.  That fact might seem of little importance by itself.  But shortly after the President signed the bill into law in 2010, several States sued the federal government to stop its implementation.  By January 2011, the number of States that had joined those lawsuits or filed their own had grown to 27.  Interestingly, of those 27 States suing the federal government to stop Obamacare, 15 of them had at least one of their Senators vote Aye back in 2009—seven had both Senators vote in favor—22 Ayes in all.  In other words, nearly a quarter of the entire Senate voted in favor of legislation that so upset their home State governments that those States joined in litigation to un-do it.

How different might that Christmas Eve vote have been had there been no 17th Amendment, such that those Senators were representative of, and responsible to, their home State governments?  I have no illusions that you would have seen a much different result for the delegations from Washington or Colorado, both of which have wholly lurched Leftward in recent years.  But consider the State-level environment in the remaining 13 States suing the government to un-do a vote by their own Senators.  Every one of those States—Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin—have Republican governors, and legislatures controlled by the GOP. 

One has to think that under those conditions, a Senate with members subject to selection by those State governments would have yielded a very different vote.  Even if you indulge in the assumption that the Senate delegations for Michigan (2 Ayes), Nevada (1 Aye), and Pennsylvania (2 Ayes) would have voted the same way, you still get a flip of 13 votes, resulting in the bill being defeated 47-52.  You could further assume—although I think it unlikely—that both Virginia Senators would still have voted Aye, and the Democrats still would have come up one vote short.  And recall that the 2009 Senate vote was on strict party lines; the Democrats had no defections, meaning that in a closer or losing vote, they had no arms left to twist.  Meanwhile, Jim Bunning (R-KY) missed the vote, and one suspects if he were going to have been the difference-maker the GOP could have found a way to persuade him to come in from the bullpen.

But for a little-known alteration in the fundamental structure of the Republic, Senator Cruz might not have found himself in the well of the Senate, all-but alone on the front line of a fight he shouldn’t have had to be fighting.

Go get ‘em, Ted.  Some of us citizens are behind you all the way.

Why Syria?

Jones:             I ought to kill you right now.

Belloq:            Not a very private place for a murder.

Jones:             Well, these Arabs don’t care if we kill each other.  They’re not going to interfere in our business.

            —Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, and Paul Freeman as Rene Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark

I am not a pacifist or an isolationist.  But I’ve been wondering for some time why we are bothering with Syria.

Not that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad makes me all warm and fuzzy, because he doesn’t.  I get it that he’s a dictator, and I agree that to the extent his regime is oppressing or even brutalizing opposition factions among his own people that’s a bad thing.  But there’s a serious question being missed in a lot of the discussion over the civil war currently being waged there, and that is: what business is it of ours?

It’s a mistake we’ve made repeatedly over the last 100 or so years, and we don’t seem to learn.

One could argue that the U.S. had little self-interest in intervening in World War I or in the European theater of World War II.  A German victory in either case was not going to pose a threat to the U.S. or to U.S. interests.  Hitler wasn’t going to invade North America, a German-controlled Europe would still have been open for business, and you could argue that (had Hitler confined his Eastward ambitions) the Nazis would have provided just as good a buffer against the Soviets as did NATO.  To be sure, the Nazis were horrific mass-murderers, but it’s not the United States’ job to police that sort of thing on a global basis.  Nothing in the Constitution gives our federal government a mandate to spend untold amounts of taxpayer money and citizens’ lives trying to protect the citizens of other nations from dictatorial tyranny.

At least the Germans were invading other countries, and there is something to be said for helping to defend your allies when attacked.  But in the latter half of the twentieth century and continuing to the present, we have repeatedly involved ourselves in (and in some instances have instigated) other nations’ civil wars. 

In the 1950s it was Korea.  Ostensibly, that was to prevent the spread of Soviet communist influence, although query what real difference the tiny Asian peninsula would have made to U.S. interests.  I guess we might not have Hyundai and Psy today.  37,000 dead Americans later, we have a 60 year old stalemate, with soldiers permanently monitoring a demilitarized zone established by their great-grandfathers.  We repeated the mistake in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, with even worse results.  After some 10 years, billions of dollars, and the loss of 58,000 more American lives, we—due to political failings, not military—accomplished none of what we claimed to be trying to achieve.  The communists overran the south, and to this day are the ruling party in Vietnam.  Adding to the disaster, U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War at least indirectly led to the rise of the charming Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the communist takeover of Laos.

Small-scale U.S. involvement during the 80s and 90s in civil wars in El Salvador, Bosnia, and Somalia yielded ambiguous results at best, but still begged the question what U.S. interest was at issue justifying the expense of blood and treasure?

Fast-forward to the new millennium.  Bush 43 took us into Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaeda in what was initially an arguably legitimate response after 9/11.  But the manhunt soon became a quest to oust the ruling Taliban from power—something almost wholly unrelated to the 9/11 attacks—essentially creating from whole cloth a civil war to replace a regime that was irrelevant to U.S. interests.  The “democracy” we have installed there hasn’t exactly resulted in a replacement government that is all that U.S.-friendly.  Meanwhile, we’ve lost 2,200 American lives (and counting); ironically that’s almost as many as were killed in the 9/11 attacks the Afghan war was supposed to avenge, and nearly a quarter of those losses have occurred since the death of the very man we were there to hunt down in the first place.

Bush 43 also took us back into Iraq, originally to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.  But as in Afghanistan, the original purpose morphed into a quest for regime change, once again basically creating a civil war in the interest of democracy.  And, as in Afghanistan, the government we set about removing from power was all but irrelevant; Iraq had been militarily neutralized in the first Gulf War, and wasn’t a serious threat to U.S. interests, nor was Saddam Hussein particularly destabilizing.  He was a bad guy, but he was a known quantity.  After another 4,400 American deaths, we have no WMDs, and an unstable democracy highly vulnerable to infiltration by radical Islamists.

Although Obama has gotten U.S. troops out of Iraq, we inexplicably remain deployed in Afghanistan now two full years after the original objective—getting Osama bin Laden—was achieved.  And Obama has given varying degrees of support to opposition forces in civil unrest/wars in Egypt and Libya as part of the continuing “Arab Spring,” ultimately resulting in the ouster of established governments.  All of this was undertaken in the interest of promoting democracy; but what about the interest of the U.S.?  Hosni Mubarek in Egypt was a stabilizing presence in the region; he was a reliable ally, and was at least able to coexist with Israel.  Moammar Gaddafi was no friend, but his regime hadn’t been a serious threat to anybody since the late 1980s; as with Saddam Hussein, at least he was a known quantity.  Now both have been replaced by unstable “democracies” run by Islamist majorities heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The lesson from all of this experience should be that attempting to export democracy by force rarely if ever works to our benefit.  None of these examples present a case where U.S. interests were clearly advanced, and in several cases our efforts have been demonstrably counter-productive, if not outright failures.

Which brings me back to Syria.

Our track record alone counsels against getting involved there.  But more to the point, I don’t see what interest we have in that fight.  Assad wasn’t threatening the U.S.; he wasn’t really even threatening Israel.  Recent experiences with Egypt, Libya, and Afghanistan demonstrate that replacing a known dictator with an unknown “democratic” government doesn’t necessarily result in a new U.S. friend.  And while you might argue that it’s a humanitarian thing and he was brutalizing his own people, that doesn’t answer the question of whether that’s an appropriate business for the U.S. federal government. 

Moreover, one of the problems with these conflicts is it is often very difficult to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Witness last week’s story about Assad using chemical weapons against the rebel forces; it turns out it may actually have been the rebels who used them.  And it’s been known for some time that the rebel coalition is infiltrated by elements of al-Qaeda.  

Every time we go trying to make some place safe for democracy and turn people who are not historically or culturally predisposed to self-rule into little Americans, it goes bad.  At the very best, it costs us enormous amounts of money and thousands of lives.  Any meaningful attempt to establish a new government requires a long-term U.S. military presence to prop it up, and even then there’s no guarantee that what you get with the new is any better for U.S. interests than what you had with the old; in some instances—like Syria—the potential downside is actually much worse.

The lesson, as always . . . be careful what you wish for.

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

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Sorry for the absence, but the truth is I’ve been a little tired and needed a break from the fight. 

Farewell, Iron Lady

“Girls, come on.  Leave the saving of the world to the men?  I don’t think so.”

            —Holly Hunter as Elastigirl in The Incredibles

 

With yesterday’s passing of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the truly great figures of modern history.  Mrs. Thatcher was a tremendous political partner with President Reagan in battling the Soviets and global communism.  But she also faced down tremendous difficulties at home in Britain, salvaging a flagging world power drowning in its own self-imposed socialism.  And she was able to do that by staying true to a set of intellectual and philosophical principles, rather than reading polls and blowing with the political wind.  She had guts, charisma, and integrity.  And she will be missed.

I tracked down an address she gave 10 October 1975 to the Conservative Party Conference, and you’ll see she could just as easily be talking to us in the U.S. today.  I’ve edited it for space reasons, but I’ll otherwise let the then-Prime Minister-to-be speak for herself:

Some . . . suggested that I criticized Britain when I was overseas. They are wrong.  It wasn’t Britain I was criticizing.  It was Socialism.  And I will go on criticizing Socialism, and opposing Socialism because it is bad for Britain—and Britain and Socialism are not the same thing.   As long as I have health and strength, they never will be.

But whatever could I say about Britain that is half as damaging as what this Labour Government have done to our country?

Let’s look at the record.

It is the Labour Government that have caused prices to rise at a record rate of 26 per cent a year.  They told us that the Social Contract would solve everything.  But now everyone can see that the so-called contract was a fraud—a fraud for which the people of this country have had to pay a very high price.

It is the Labour Government whose policies are forcing unemployment higher than it need have been—thousands more men and women lose their jobs every day.  There are going to be men and women many of them youngsters straight out of school—who will be without a job this winter because Socialist Ministers spent last year attacking us, instead of attacking inflation.

And it’s the Labour Government that have brought the level of production below that of the three-day week in 1974.  We’ve really got a three-day week now—only it takes five days to do it.

It’s the Labour Government that have brought us record peace-time taxation.  They’ve got the usual Socialist disease: they’ve run out of other people’s money.  And it’s the Labour Government that have pushed public spending to record levels.  And how’ve they done it?  By borrowing, and borrowing, and borrowing.  Never in the field of human credit has so much been owed.

But serious as the economic challenge is, the political and moral challenge is just as grave, perhaps more so.  Economic problems never start with economics. They have deeper roots—in human nature and in politics.  They don’t finish at economics either.

Labour’s failure to cope, to look at the nation’s problems from the point of view of the whole nation, not just one section of it, has led to loss of confidence and a sense of helplessness.  With it goes a feeling that Parliament, which ought to be in charge, is not in charge—that the actions and the decisions are taken elsewhere.  And it goes deeper than that. There are voices that seem anxious not to overcome our economic difficulties, but to exploit them, to destroy the free enterprise society and put a Marxist system in its place.

*  *  *

Our capitalist system produces a far higher standard of prosperity and happiness because it believes in incentive and opportunity, and because it is founded on human dignity and freedom.   Even the Russians have to go to a capitalist country, America to buy enough wheat to feed their people.  And that after more than 50 years of a State controlled economy.  Yet they boast incessantly while we, who have so much more to boast about, forever criticize and decry. 

Isn’t it time we spoke up for our way of life?  After all, no Western nation has to build a wall round itself to keep its people in.  So let us have no truck with those who say the free enterprise system has failed.  What we face today is not a crisis of capitalism, but of Socialism. No country can flourish if its economic and social life is dominated by nationalization and state control.

The cause of our shortcomings does not therefore lie in private enterprise.  Our problem is not that we have too little socialism. It is that we have too much.  If only the Labour Party in this country would act like Social Democrats in West Germany.  If only they would stop trying to prove their Socialist virility by relentlessly nationalizing one industry after another.

Of course, a halt to further State control will not on its own restore our belief in ourselves, because something else is happening to this country. We are witnessing a deliberate attack on our values, a deliberate attack on those who wish to promote merit and excellence, a deliberate attack on our heritage and great past. And there are those who gnaw away at our national self-respect, rewriting British history as centuries of unrelieved gloom, oppression and failure. As days of hopelessness—not Days of Hope.

*  *  *

A man’s right to work as he will to spend what he earns to own property to have the State as servant and not as master these are the British inheritance.  They are the essence of a free economy.  And on that freedom all our other freedoms depend.  But we want a free economy, not only because it guarantees our liberties, but also because it is the best way of creating wealth and prosperity for the whole country.  It is this prosperity alone which can give us the resources for better services for the community, better services for those in need.

By their attack on private enterprise, this Labour Government have made certain that there will be next to nothing available for improvements in our social services over the next few years.  We must get private enterprise back on the road to recovery, not merely to give people more of their own money to spend as they choose, but to have more money to help the old and the sick and the handicapped.

The way to recovery is through profits.  Good profits today, leading to high investment, well-paid jobs and a better standard of living tomorrow.  No profits mean no investment, and a dying industry geared to yesterday’s world . . . The trouble here is that for years the Labour Party have made people feel that profits are guilty-unless proved innocent . . . Governments must learn to leave these companies with enough of their own profits to produce the goods and jobs for tomorrow.  If the Socialists won’t or can’t there will be no profit making industry left to support the losses caused by fresh bouts of nationalization.

*  *  *

Yet the Government could not have destroyed the confidence of the industry more effectively if they had tried deliberately to do so, with their formula of empty promises and penal taxation.   So today what is the picture? Depressed profits, low investment, no incentive, and overshadowing everything government spending, spending far beyond the taxpayers means . . . One of the reasons why this Labour Government has incurred more unemployment than any Conservative Government since the War is because they have concentrated too much on distributing what we have, and too little on seeing that we have more.

We Conservatives hate unemployment.  We hate the idea of men and women not being able to use their abilities. We deplore the waste of national resources, and the deep affront to peoples’ dignity from being out of work through no fault of their own.

*  *  *

Some Socialists seem to believe that people should be numbers in a State computer.  We believe they should be individuals.

We are all unequal.  No one, thank heavens, is like anyone else, however much the Socialists may pretend otherwise.  We believe that everyone has the right to be unequal but to us every human being is equally important . . . The spirit of envy can destroy.  It can never build. 

Everyone must be allowed to develop the abilities he knows he has within him, and she knows she has within her, in the way they choose.  Freedom to choose is something we take for granted—until it is in danger of being taken away.  Socialist governments set out perpetually to restrict the area of choice, Conservative governments to increase it.  We believe that you become a responsible citizen by making decisions yourself, not by having them made for you. 

*  *  *

We Conservatives do not accept that because some people have no choice, no one should have it.  Every family should have the right to spend their money, after tax, as they wish, not as the Government dictates.  Let us extend choice, the will to choose and the chance to choose.

*  *  *

We are coming, I think, to yet another turning point in our long history.  We can go on as we have been going and continue down.  Or we can stop—and with a decisive act of will we can say “Enough”.  Let us, all of us, here today and others, far beyond this hall who believe in our cause make that act of will.  Let us proclaim our faith in a new and better future for our Party and our people.  Let us resolve to heal the wounds of a divided nation.  And let that act of healing be the prelude to a lasting victory. 

Godspeed, Prime Minister.  Tell President Reagan we miss him, too.

Goldfinger

 

I gave you my heart, and I tried to make you happy

But you gave me nothing in return

You know it ain’t so hard to say

Would you please just go away?

            —The Commodores, Sail On

 

Did you know that at one time it was illegal in this country to own gold?  It’s true.

Up until the early 20th Century, our money in this country was tied directly to gold and silver.  Most of it was literally gold and silver coinage.  Paper “money” really consisted of certificates redeemable at any national bank for a specified amount of gold or silver, and thus a paper “dollar” derived any value it had from its holder’s ability to convert it into gold or silver.  In 1900 the Gold Standard Act pegged the value of the dollar at 25.8 grains of .9 fine gold (23.22 grains of pure gold).

The benefit of such a system is that you know your money is always going to have a relatively stable value because it is (or is backed by) physical gold and silver, which have been accepted as currency basically since the beginning of civilization; i.e., gold and silver have always been real money.  The limitation of this system, however, is that because you had to mint your coins out of gold or silver, or be in a position to redeem any paper certificates presented by exchanging gold or silver for them, your ability to mint or print money was limited to the amount of gold and silver you had on hand.  And this poses more than a little nuisance to progressive politicians who like to spend money without having to worry about where it’s going to come from.

With that background, meet Fred Campbell.

In October 1932 and January 1933, Mr. Campbell bought twenty-seven bars of gold (at the time, about $200,000, or $3.4 million in today’s money) which he deposited at Chase National Bank in New York for safekeeping.  On March 9, 1933—just five days after taking office, and building on restrictions originally enacted by Woodrow Wilson—Franklin Roosevelt signed the Emergency Banking Act, which amended the 1917 Trading With The Enemy Act to grant the executive branch sweeping powers to regulate money, including the power to regulate the hoarding or transfer of gold.  On April 5 FDR issued Executive Order 6102, the first of a series of orders that—with extremely limited exceptions—outlawed private ownership of gold, and required all privately held gold to be turned over to the Federal Reserve in exchange for $20.67 per ounce in paper currency.  When Mr. Campbell later tried to retrieve his gold from Chase, the bank—to no one’s surprise—declined to give it back to him.    Campbell was then indicted for violating the executive orders.

The federal district court that heard the case (Campbell v. Chase Nat’l Bank, et al., 5 F. Supp. 156 (S.D.N.Y. 1933)) began by correctly observing that gold and silver have forever been recognized as the basis of trade—as money.  And thus, whether as legally monetized coin or as commodity bullion, gold and silver are necessarily and inherently tied to the concept of money.

But then the court went off the rails.  Because gold and silver are the basis of money, according to the court, they are affected with “public interest.”  Uh-oh.  And because they are a matter of public interest, they must be within the scope of Congress’ “plenary” (total) power to regulate money.  From this, the court then upheld the government’s action of taking Campbell’s gold—his money—as a valid exercise of the government’s sovereign power of “eminent domain” (the power to seize property):

“The frontiers of necessary action by the federal government are constantly shifting, and, as a result, the methods of using federal governmental powers have to change from time to time, and hitherto unused powers have to be invoked to cope with the varied exigencies encountered . . . The incidence of the right of eminent domain, as will be seen from what is hereinafter said, is not, however, limited to commodities affected with public interest, but involves the right of the government to take private property of any kind when it is deemed necessary, by the appropriate authority, for the public good.”

Notice the dangerous thinking embedded in the court’s expansive language.  The limits of the federal government’s power are not fixed, but are instead infinitely flexible to allow the government to take action in response to the self-declared emergency of the moment.  And thus the government’s sovereign power of eminent domain extends to allow it to take anything from you it deems necessary for the public good.  Even your money.

But Rusty, we see eminent domain used all the time to build roads, and the government always has to pay fair compensation for what it takes.

True enough.  But without getting into the argument over whether people who have their land taken from them ever really receive fair compensation, consider that in this instance we’re not talking about a forced sale of land.  Nor are we talking about a taking for use by the general public.  We’re talking about the government taking your money for itself and replacing it with less money (or with what is arguably not even money at all).

Later in 1933 the government, having confiscated all the gold, took it upon itself to raise the exchange rate for gold to $35 an ounce, conveniently allowing it then to sell that gold internationally and claim for itself the profit it denied to the rightful private owners of that gold.  People who were forced to accept $20.67 in U.S. currency in exchange for their gold in effect took an immediate 70% loss, as illustrated in what became some of the “Gold Clause Cases” decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935.  The plaintiff in Nortz v. United States, 294 U.S. 317 (1935) was denied the difference between the value of his gold on the open market and the dollar face value of the currency he was given in compensation for its confiscation.  In Perry v. United States, 294 U.S. 330 (1935), the plaintiff was denied the difference between the gold value of a U.S. Treasury Bond originally payable on its face in gold and the devalued dollar face value of the bond.

For the next 40 years, private gold ownership was illegal in the United States.  Although U.S. currency was technically backed by gold held by the U.S. Treasury, you couldn’t actually redeem it and collect that gold.  In the mid-1960s the Treasury phased out silver coinage.  In 1971 President Nixon officially ended the gold standard; since then, neither gold nor silver have been considered money in this country.  With no tie to an objective value, U.S. currency became “fiat” money—money that has value solely because the government says so.  And because it’s not subject to being redeemed for gold (or silver), the government can then print as much as it wants, because there’s no risk of a run on inadequate gold reserves to back it up.  Of course, like anything else when you increase supply (in this case, by printing more dollars) you drive down its price; in the case of dollars, that means inflation—the same number of dollars buys less than it used to.

Thus, the government was able to take people’s money in the form of forcibly confiscating their gold in exchange for devalued currency.  Then the government was able to take it again (and again, etc.) by printing fiat dollars resulting in inflation that made the paper money that replaced the gold worth less and less.  This illustrates the problem with an unbridled power of the government to just take what it wants in the name of what it says is the “public interest”: your private property is no longer safe.

George Will wrote yesterday about a disturbing case in Virginia where Old Dominion University has commandeered the City of Norfolk to use its eminent domain power to seize private land, not for public use, but for the University’s use.  And although your ability to own gold was reinstated in 1975, there’s precious little to stop the government—potentially by executive decree of the President—from confiscating it again just as FDR did in 1933; only this time they’ll be compensating you not with devalued gold certificates, but with inflationary fiat currency.  Indeed, what’s to stop the government from then seizing your fiat money accounts themselves and compensating you with 20 year Treasury bonds?  We’ll have gone from gold, to gold certificates, to Monopoly money, to IOUs.

What happens when there’s nothing left to seize?

Fiat Out Of Control

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun . . . Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.”

            —Chairman Mao Zedong, The Little Red Book

 

This is scarier than I thought.

Vice President Joe Biden has been meeting this week with his committee on curbing gun violence and various pro- and anti-gun groups.  On Wednesday, he emphasized the urgency of action:

“If our actions result in saving only one life, they’re worth taking.”

Only one life, huh?  To save even one life, it’s worth the Administration taking unilateral action; you sure about that, Joe?

You mean like sending armed help to save Americans trapped in a consulate compound under siege in Benghazi?   Or responding to urgent requests in the weeks leading up to that attack to increase security at that post?  Or closing it (as the British did) months earlier after it became clear that the situation was unstable and dangerous?  Are those the kind of life-saving actions worth taking, Mr. Vice President?

You mean like ending the occupation in Afghanistan and withdrawing instead of leaving troops in harm’s way for some undetermined period of time with no mission?  Or employing whatever means are necessary to obtain information about terrorist plots aimed at killing Americans?  Are those the kind of actions worth taking if they save even one life, Mr. Vice President?

Or do you mean like securing the Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico borders against heavily-armed drug runners (drug-runners armed by your own Department of Justice)?   Is that what you mean, Joe?

How about stopping hundreds of millions in federal funding for 300,000+ abortions a year performed through Planned Parenthood?  Is that what you mean, Joe?

I assume you don’t mean ensuring that a stay-at-home-mom is in a position to stop an intruder and save her children when there’s no time to wait for the cops, do you, Joe.

Apparently some lives and some actions are more worthy than others.

But here’s the scary part.

The above litany demonstrates that these people are not serious about “saving lives,” which of course begs the question what it is they’re really up to.  And that’s what makes this so troubling, because Biden now says that the Administration’s zeal nevertheless to act and act quickly on gun control could include the issuance of undetermined executive orders:

“There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken.  We haven’t decided what that is yet.”

Wow.

I have repeatedly covered this President’s history of power abuse through the unilateral exercise of executive fiat (by decree: it is because I say it is).  But to date that’s been limited to unconstitutional usurpations of Congressional authority by effectively repealing legislation (Defense of Marriage Act), amending legislation (Obamacare (the CLASS Act), No Child Left Behind), or enacting legislation (DREAM Act) by one form or another of executive order.  Now we’re talking about the possibility of the President, acting alone under his sole authority as determined by himself, purporting to alter/restrict/eliminate (pick your verb) a right expressly reserved to the People of the United States in the Constitution.

Let me repeat:  we’re talking about the President limiting or removing a right specifically guaranteed to you under the Constitution, based solely on his own self-proclaimed power to do so.

Of course, nothing in the Constitution grants him that authority:  Article I gives the legislative power exclusively to the Congress; Article II limits the power of the President to executing laws duly enacted by that Congress; Article V provides the sole means of altering the Constitution itself, neither of which include executive fiat.  Yet there he goes (or is at least threatening), and if he can do that, where, exactly, are the limits of his power and who is to enforce them, because they’re obviously not to be found in the Constitution?

Now if that doesn’t have you good and puckered, let’s review a little history.  On November 9, 1938, anti-Jewish riots broke out all over Nazi Germany in response to the murder of a German diplomat in Paris.  This event became known as “Kristallnacht” (“night of broken glass”), and although Jews had been persecuted in Germany prior to this event, Kristallnacht is generally regarded as the beginning of the Holocaust in earnest.

On November 11—just two days later—Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick enacted the Regulations Against Jews’ Possession Of Weapons, which effectively banned all Jewish ownership of guns.  The next day, November 12, the German Jews were fined 1 billion marks to pay for the damage caused during Kristallnacht.  On November 15, Jewish children were expelled from public schooling.  Less than a year later, Jews were being rounded up and shipped to concentration camps.

Some six million Jews were killed.

No, Hitler didn’t come to power by seizing guns, nor did anti-Semitic persecution begin with gun control.  But when it came time to get serious about rounding up and disposing of perceived enemies of the State, one of the very first things the Nazis did was disarm their victims.  And they did it by administrative order—the stroke of a bureaucratic pen—not through the open deliberative process of a representative legislature in accordance with an objective rule of law (i.e., a Constitution).

The Nazi Germany experience is not unique, although it may be the most stark in terms of the temporal relationship between government disarmament and the institution of mass killings of potential dissenters.  There are numerous other examples of public disarmament followed by governmental mass murder of dissenters just in the twentieth century.

  • The Ottoman Empire began instituting restrictions on the manufacture or carrying of firearms in the late 1890s.  By 1915, local Armenian officials were ordered to collect (read: confiscate) quotas of guns, but faced a Hobson’s choice:  meeting the quota proved you were part of an armed conspiracy against the government, while not meeting it proved you were stockpiling weapons.  Either way, you were executed.  Ultimately the Armenian population was rounded up and force-marched to relocation camps in the interior of Turkey.  A million or more died.
  • The Soviets began requiring the registration of firearms in 1918, almost immediately upon taking power.  By 1925, unauthorized possession of guns was outlawed.  Stalin’s political purges and ethnic deportations between 1929 and 1953 led to some 20 million deaths.
  • The Chinese began instituting gun control laws in the early 20th Century.  In 1957, the Communist government banned possession altogether.  Between 1957 and 1976 about 20 million Chinese dissidents died at the hands of that same government.
  • Cambodia likewise had had gun restrictions dating to the early 20th Century.  When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, they didn’t bother enacting a law—they just went village to village and took the guns.  Once the population was disarmed, the Khmer Rouge rounded up the intellectuals (i.e. the most likely potential dissenters), and force-marched them to labor camps.  About a million died.
  • In Uganda, the government banned unauthorized possession of firearms at least as far back as 1955.  By 1969, the country was under the control of dictator Milton Obote, who tightened the ban basically to cover everyone but those close to the government.  Idi Amin took over in 1971.  The Asian population was promptly deported and their property confiscated.  Some 300,000 political enemies were killed.

While it does not involve genocide, even our own history is marked by the efforts of a tyrannical government to disarm a dissenting public.  The first military engagements of the Revolution took place on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.  Any elementary school kid can tell you about Paul Revere riding the countryside to warn the colonists and muster the militias against a column of Redcoats marching out of Boston:  The British are coming!  But recall what it was the British were after:  private guns.  They were going to seize weapons and supplies the colonists had stockpiled at Concord.

The White House’s threat to resort to executive action on gun control is a serious, serious deal.  And don’t hold your breath waiting for John Boehner and this Congress or John Roberts’ Supreme Court to stand up and stop it.  Ain’t.  Gonna.  Happen.

We, the People, are all that’s left.  We have to stand up and stop this, and we have to do it now, before it’s too late.

Join the NRA and your state or local association.

Call or write your congressman and your state reps.

And when it comes down to it, band together and refuse to comply.

Bad Reflexes (continued)

Little Bill:       Well, sir, you are a cowardly son-of-a-bitch!  You just shot an unarmed man!

Will Munny:  Well, he should have armed himself if he’s going to decorate his saloon with my friend.

           —Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett, and Clint Eastwood as Will Munny in Unforgiven

 

I want to expand a bit on the last post, because the issue has really been troubling me.

As you listen to the hysteria from the Left about the need for controls to curb gun violence following the tragedy in Connecticut, what you have to understand is that this debate isn’t limited to, nor is it even really about gun violence per se.  It’s about the continuing viability of the Constitution as a whole, and about all of the individual liberties it is supposed to guarantee.  And what you’re seeing is less of a reasoned and compassionate response to a tragedy than an opportunistic manufacturing of a “crisis” to push (and mask) a broader and more sinister agenda.

Rusty, how can you say it’s not about gun violence?

The Left is pushing a return to the Clinton-era ban on “assault weapons” that was in place from 1994 to 2004.  This ban outlawed civilian sales of certain military-style rifles (defined largely by a list of cosmetic attributes having more to do with sinister appearance than with lethality), and limited the magazine capacity of semi-automatic weapons to a maximum of 10 rounds.  Of course, I made the point in the last post that banning guns doesn’t stop violent lunatics, the majority of whom don’t even use guns anyway.  Taken further, study upon study upon study was unable to conclude that the 1994 federal assault weapons ban resulted in any measurable reduction in gun violence.  Even the 2004 University of Pennsylvania study ABC News has disingenuously characterized as saying the impact was “unclear” concluded that

“We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence . . . And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”

Shockingly, it turns out that violent criminals and lunatics don’t abide by gun control laws.  Moreover—and this was part of my point in the last post—these things the Left seeks to ban actually show up in so few violent crimes in real life that banning them has no real effect.  And surely the Left knows this, which begs the question what it is they’re really trying to achieve, because it isn’t curbing gun violence.  And this question raises two very troubling issues.

The first is one of political precedent.  The Left repeatedly challenges the gun-rights lobby with the question why do you need assault weapons?  You don’t use those to hunt.  But that’s framing the debate in terms of a false construct.  The Second Amendment isn’t limited to hunting or “need”; it doesn’t prohibit infringement of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms for the purpose of hunting,” or of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms that they need.”  The question hunting or of what you in your subjective judgment think I “need” is totally irrelevant.

But not only is the Left casting the threshold test in terms of a qualification the Constitution does not impose, they are then using that false premise to un-do an absolute Constitutional right by legislative fiat.  Unlike many of the “rights” the Left claims are “implied” in or emanate from the “penumbras” of the Constitution, the Second Amendment actually grants an explicit and unequivocal protection of the right to bear arms.  And as with any other provision of the Constitution, the only way to curtail that right is by Constitutional amendment, as provided in Article V.  The Framers understood that there may over time be a need to make changes to the Constitution, but there’s a reason they made that process difficult and cumbersome:  the Constitution was established specifically to protect the fundamental rights of free individuals against infringement by the passing whims of an emotional and fickle majority.

If the government can curb your right to bear arms by mere legislation grounded in a needs-based test that is found nowhere in the Constitution, it can do that with any other Constitutional right, and the amendment process in Article V becomes meaningless.  Indeed, the Constitution as a whole becomes meaningless, because it’s subject to override by anyone who can cobble together a temporary majority in Congress.  Then the federal Beast becomes truly dangerous, because once the government can limit the Second Amendment without going through the Amendment process, there is no limit to the rights it can take away.

Suppose a 50.1% majority in Congress decide that the world would be much safer if it required that we all went to Sunday School, or that it’s becoming too difficult for prosecutors to develop evidence in criminal investigations without being able to compel the accused to testify, or to search homes without a warrant.  Your First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment protections would be no safer than your Second Amendment ones.

So what is it you think the Left is really doing by capitalizing on the emotions in the heat of the moment to press for a legislative restriction of a Constitutional right that doesn’t even address the stated problem?  There’s a reason they are playing to your sense of shock and compassion over a traumatic event, and relying on semantic games that sound reasonable but have no grounding in the Constitution: they are trying to distract you from their real agenda and guilt you into going along with them before you realize the full implications of what they’re doing.

The question you have to ask is: if the Second Amendment goes, how are you going to stop them from taking away anything or everything else?  And this highlights the second major troubling issue in this debate:  your Second Amendment rights are ultimately the only protection you have for all your other rights.

Patrick Henry, arguing against ratification in Virginia, noted the inexorable link between liberty and the ability of an armed public to defend it against the government: “[N]othing will preserve [liberty] but downright force.  Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”  This argument—not hunting rights—is the primary reason the Framers included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights: to provide a final check against a tyrannical government by ensuring that the people themselves were armed and could fight back against that government if necessary.  James Madison in Federalist No. 46 argued that even a federal government with a regular army could not long persist in infringing upon the rights of the people and the States, because unlike in Europe where governments were “afraid to trust the people with arms,” the people of the United States would have “the advantage of being armed.”  Noah Webster, in urging ratification in Pennsylvania, echoed Madison’s sentiment:

“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe.  The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed [and] they will possess the power, and jealously will instantly require the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.”

Supreme Court Justice William Story, writing in his Commentaries on the Constitution in 1833, later confirmed this understanding of the purpose and importance of the Second Amendment:

“The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject.  The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers . . . The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers[.]”  (emphasis added)

There is no doubt that the Framers were deeply distrustful of a central federal government stepping outside its proper bounds; they fought a revolution over precisely that issue, and they weren’t about then to leave it to the good nature and honest intentions of future elected officials to limit their exercise of power.  They built into the Constitution the ultimate insurance policy in the form of a guarantee of an armed citizenry that could resist—by force—a tyrannical overreach of their own government.  Certainly that is a drastic and last-resort remedy, but there is no denying that the Framers intended that remedy to be there if necessary.

This debate is crucially important.  The process and rationale of the Left places the entire Constitution in jeopardy.  And because their target is the Second Amendment, if they succeed there will be essentially nothing left to protect against further usurpations or even total destruction of the Constitution and the individual liberties it is supposed to guarantee.

Texas v. White Revisited (Reprise)

Elizabeth:    Wait! You have to take me to shore.  According to the Code of the Order of the Brethren . . .

Barbossa:    First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so I must do nothing.  And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirates’ code to apply, and you’re not.  And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.  Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner!

            —Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

 

Many of you are aware that the White House has been flooded with petitions seeking White House comment on secession.  The most successful has been one from Texas, which the last time I looked it had received over 112,000 signatures, more than four times the number the White House’s own rules set as the threshold for requiring a response.

I have previously posted about the reasons for maintaining the union having perhaps outlived their utility.  Back in July I posted a discussion on the 1869 case of Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), which is most often cited as the definitive word on a State’s ability to leave the Union.  Curiously, I discovered over the weekend that out of nearly 170 posts that one is now missing from the blog archives.  Make of that what you will, but I thought in light of the petition it was worth re-posting (and more than a little interesting to see what happens to it when I do).

The Reconstruction provisional government of Texas sought to enjoin the Treasury from paying the holders of U.S. Treasury Bonds purchased from the secessionist government of Texas in early 1865.  Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase ruled in favor of Texas, effectively allowing the Reconstruction government to repossess the bonds to sell again, or receive their cash equivalent.  To reach this conclusion, Chase had to find that the Court had “original jurisdiction,” meaning the case could be filed directly in the Supreme Court.  Under Article III, this would only be the case if a State were a party to the suit.  This required Chase to hold that Texas had, in fact, never left the Union, the position long advanced by Lincoln.  Chase ruled that the Union was legally permanent and irrevocable, and therefore any attempt at secession was to no legal effect.  Once a State, always a State.

Let’s examine whether that’s really so.

First, Chase’s decision must be understood in its historical context.  In 1869 Texas and the other Southern States were under military rule as part of Reconstruction—query how you could even have reconstruction if the Union was inherently permanent—following the Civil War.  While there was heated disagreement among various factions in the federal government as to how to go about Reconstruction, there seems little doubt that the highest federal court could not issue a ruling at that time that would have in any way legitimized secession.  In that historical context, Chase all but had to rule that secession was void, and Chase himself tells you up front that this result was a foregone conclusion:

“It is needless to discuss, at length, the question whether the right of any State to withdraw from the Union for any cause, regarded by herself to be sufficient, is consistent with the Constitution[.]”

In explaining the ruling, Chase first made the cursory and unsupported historical observation that the Union was never a “purely artificial and arbitrary relation,” effectively arguing that of course the Union was permanent because the Colonies had always been united by common origin, sympathies, principles, and interests.  Well, this is just not the case.  The thirteen colonies were founded at different times, by people from different places who came here for different reasons.  New York was settled by Dutch traders.  Massachusetts was established by English pilgrims seeking religious freedom.  Virginia was founded by English entrepreneurs.  Much of the South was originally settled by Spanish and French treasure-seekers.  And the Founders’ debates were replete with violent disagreements driven largely by the chasm between the interests of the agrarian Southern States and those of their more urban, industrial, and mercantile Northern allies.  While the Colonies had significant common ground, there were also substantial historical, cultural, and economic differences between them; differences that persist to this day.  Far from being a natural, organic, and same-as-it-ever-was single body politic, the Union in fact had always been a tenuous association of fiercely independent sovereigns.

Chase then looked at the Articles of Confederation’s reference to a “perpetual union,” and argued that because the Constitution was ordained to make the Union “more perfect,” the only way to make that which was already “perpetual” “more perfect” would be to make it more perpetual.  For Chase, “[i]t is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words.”

Um, how about “. . . in order to form a more permanent Union”?

Chase’s reasoning once again lacked both correct historical context and proper textual analysis.  Had the Constitution simply amended the Articles, as Chase appears to have assumed, he would have had a point in that the “more perfect” modifier in the Preamble could be understood as supplementing the existing document.  But that’s not what the Constitution is, and that’s not what the Framers did.  Although the original purpose of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was to amend the Articles, it is well understood that with the adoption of James Madison’s “Virginia Plan” the Framers instead scrapped the Articles altogether and created a new plan of government from scratch.  Indeed, the Constitution nowhere even mentions the Articles.

Furthermore, Article VII of the Constitution provided that ratification by nine States would be sufficient to establish the Constitution “between the States so ratifying Same.”  In other words, the Constitution was only going bind the States that ratified it, the necessary corollary being it would not bind those that didn’t.  And of course the central theme throughout the Federalist Papers was the dangers of States not ratifying the Constitution and instead going it alone.  All of that is nonsense if the Union made “more perfect” by the Constitution was already inherently permanent, as enshrined in the Articles.  Chase’s underlying historical presupposition was simply wrong.

That is not to say that the Articles are irrelevant.  To the contrary, the differences in the language used in the Articles vs. that in the Constitution speaks volumes.  In law we have a basic interpretation principle that when the author of a statute or contract has used a given term to describe a concept in one place, he has demonstrated he knew how to do it when that’s what he meant; thus, when that term is absent in another part of the document, we can presume the author intended not to inject that same concept there.  Chief Justice Chase correctly noted that the Articles referred to a “perpetual union,” so we know the Framers understood how to create permanence when that’s what they meant to do.  But Chase ignores the fact that nowhere in the Constitution do we see the words “perpetual” or “permanent” or any of their variants.  The absence in the later document of this “perpetual” or “permanent” language from the earlier one alone should be dispositive of the question.

But we can go a step further, as the Framers did.  Chief Justice Chase acknowledged that under the Tenth Amendment “[all] powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  This is very specific, and very clear:  unless the Constitution—not the Articles—specifically vests a power with the federal government or specifically removes a power from the States, that power remains with the States or the people.  Period.

Although Article IV grants the Congress the power to admit new States into the Union, nothing in the Constitution delegates to the federal government the power to prevent States from leaving it.  Nor does anything in the Constitution deny to the States the power to withdraw from the Union.  Absent an express grant of federal power or express denial of State power, the power remains with the States or the people.  Indeed, even today we would think it strange that the federal government could prevent someone from renouncing their citizenship if they so chose; if an individual can do that, why not a collective group of them?

The idea that a governed people could not sever their ties with the government that has grown out of control would have been anathema to the Founders.  This nation’s founding premise was that the right to self-determination is inherent and God-given in all people.  It does not derive from, and cannot be regulated or taken away by, any man or any creation of man.  Even the Constitution itself neither created nor can it ever diminish this “self-evident” right.  Because of this, the authority of a government only comes from the consent of the governed, and as such it can only continue as long as that consent continues.  Indeed, this was the fundamental assumption underlying the Declaration:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government[.]”

The reason the Federalist Papers were written is that ratification was going to be a very close call, because many feared the power that the new federal government might assume.  Virginia ratified by a vote of 89 – 79.  New York 30 – 27.  New Hampshire 57 – 47.  Rhode Island originally rejected the Constitution, then ratified it 34 – 32.  These States would never have ratified the Constitution had they understood it to mean a permanent arrangement from which they could never withdraw if their fears of an out-of-control central government came to pass.

What If We Give It Away?

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?

Hot ashes for trees? 

Hot air for a cool breeze?

Cold comfort for change?

Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war

For a lead role in a cage?

            —Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here

 

Sunday I watched the first couple of episodes of the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.  If you’ve not seen it, it’s exceedingly well-done (fair warning: some scenes are pretty graphic in their depiction of the hard realities of 18th century life, and difficult to watch), and although I would certainly side with Jefferson/Madison and against Adams/Hamilton on the federalist debate, John Adams’ central role in our founding is undeniable.

In one scene, Abigail Adams and her children stand on the road in front of their farmhouse outside of Boston giving water to the parade of bedraggled Colonial Militiamen making their withdrawal from the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill.  The men were exhausted.  Limping.  Bleeding.  Dragging their wounded and dead behind them in hand-drawn wagons.  And as I watched the scene and contemplated what these men did and why, I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks.

By way of historical background, Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill sit on the Charlestown peninsula across the Charles River from what today is downtown Boston.  In 1775 the area had strategic significance because from the elevation of the hills it would be possible for the colonists to bombard British-occupied Boston.  On June 17, 1775, British forces took the two hills and pushed the Colonial Militia out of the Charlestown peninsula.  Although nominally a British victory in that the geographic objectives were achieved, it came at great cost, as the British suffered over 1,000 casualties (roughly 1/3 of their total complement in the action), more than double those sustained by the Colonial defenders.

It was following this engagement that the Militiamen were depicted in the scene from John Adams.  Consider for a second what they had just done.  Substantially outnumbered, untrained, under-supplied, un-funded, and for the most part bearing only whatever arms they brought with them from over the mantle in their home, these men left their farms and families to go stand up against the most powerful professional military force in the world at that time.  The British had intimidating uniforms, state-of-the-art military weaponry, plenty of supplies, and professional military training.

Consider further what engaging in this fight meant.  In the 18th century, you didn’t have repeating arms. Muzzle-loading flintlock muskets were one-shot propositions, and reloading meant standing up and remaining stationary for 20-30 seconds while you inserted a powder charge, dropped in a ball and wadding, tamped them all down, powdered the firing pan and cocked the weapon, then raised it to your shoulder to fire.  Once an enemy had closed the distance, there was no longer any time for that; this meant that an engagement sooner or later meant hand-to-hand combat, in this case against an enemy who probably had a bayonet on the end of his musket while you didn’t.  You had to get up close and personal.  You had to get your hands bloody.

How many of us today could do that if it came to it?

History records that the Colonials suffered approximately 25,000 casualties during the War for Independence from 1775 to 1783.  Although it dwarfs the number of casualties we have seen in modern times in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number doesn’t shock us.  But realize that 25,000 casualties would have amounted to about 1% of the total population at the time: the Census Bureau estimates that in 1776 the population of the Colonies totaled about 2.5 million people.  To put that into modern perspective, imagine a war beginning tomorrow that costs 3.1 million casualties over eight years.  That’s more than double the American losses in all armed conflicts from 1775 to the present, combined.

I’ll ask the question again: how many of us today could do that if it came to it?

It’s a high, high price indeed.  So what drove our Fathers to pay it?  What made them pick up what they had on hand to take on the most powerful professional army in the world?  We’re of course familiar with the old grade-school saw that the Colonists were fighting against “taxation without representation,” and that’s true enough.  But there’s more to it than that.

Did the Colonists take up this challenge so that their government could give them free stuff?

Did they pay this price in order to be forced to engage in trade, or to buy a product dictated by the government?

Did they bleed and die to convince their government to prevent them from engaging in commerce or expanding their reach?

Did they make these sacrifices so that their executive could at his whim ignore legislation passed by their elected representatives?

Did they fight to become part of Europe, or to be governed by a new global collective world order?

The answer to these questions, of course, is no.  The Colonists weren’t looking for free handouts from the British government; they didn’t even want the regular troops stationed for defense against the Indians, and that’s at least a legitimate function of government regardless of your political persuasion.  They rebelled against the Tea Act and Townshend Acts, which effectively attempted to use taxation to compel the purchase of excess tea from the British East India Company (sound vaguely familiar?).  They complained about the restriction of trade with the Dutch, and the prohibition of settlement west of the Appalachians (ANWR, anyone?).  They howled at the disbanding of their local assemblies, and the rewriting of their local charters and vetoing of their local laws by royal fiat (see DOMA, DREAM, CLASS, etc.).  And, ultimately, they fought and died to be independent from rule by a European authority, and could barely agree on a central government among the 13 States, much less would they ever have assented to becoming subordinate to a global collective power (see current UN proposals to curtail U.S. 2nd Amendment rights).

Our Fathers not only wouldn’t recognize this place today, I submit they’d be really, really pissed.  They made enormous sacrifices, and paid a huge price in blood specifically to be free from much of what we see today from the District.  How cheaply have we given away that for which they paid so dearly?

And how many of us today could pay that tab again to get it back?