Monday, December 28, 2009

What is Inflation?

We have been taught to think of inflation as rising prices. The image at right conveys this misconception.  But rising prices and inflation are two completely different things.  Inflation is an increase in the money supply.  Generally rising prices are only a consequence of that increase.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

How Government Destroys Charity, Family, and Community

United States presidents in centuries gone by had a healthy respect for the Constitution. Now it receives regular disdain by those who call it "living". The General Welfare clause of the Constitution was placed as a safeguard against government usurping the responsibility (and opportunity) of private individuals and organizations to care for the poor. Now, under the guise of "helping" the poor, charlatans in government, along with their lobbyist friends, have become filthy rich, while families and communities continue to die a slow death.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Some Facts About "The New Deal" You Probably Didn't Learn in High School

One of the worst things about history is that the victors get to write it.  And then it gets promulgated far and wide in government schools throughout the land.  One of the most vicious lies ever told about Franklin D Roosevelt was that he supposedly saved the United States with his "New Deal".  After you read the actual facts, you can continue to like FDR's policies if you wish to, but here's what really happened.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Welfare: How Government Never Creates Problems, but Can Always Solve Them

Governments are notorious for creating problems and blaming them on the free market. The Great Depression is perhaps the most successful of such scams in the history of the United States, only exceeded on a worldwide scale by the machinations of people like Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Adolf Hitler. Caused by government, the Great Depression not only gave the federal government cover for the “benevolent” accumulation of power, but also has successfully (but wrongly) convinced the predominance of Americans that government bureaucrats can take care of our neighbor from afar better than we can from across the street.

A greater crock has not been perpetuated on freedom-loving people since Lucifer enticed a third part of the hosts of heaven to rebel against our Heavenly Father’s plan in our pre-mortal existence.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It Takes a Federal Reserve to Ruin an Economy

Without the Federal Reserve, the American economy would not be in dire straits.  It is primarily the fault of the Federal Reserve that many homes and office buildings sit vacant.  It is largely the irresponsibility of the Fed that resulted in the United States government owning General Motors.  Here's why.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Exposing the Citadels of Freedom to a Slow Death by Strangulation

Just a few years before Ronald Reagan became president of the United States, the Soviet Union was the world's 800-pound gorilla.  Countries across Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America were falling to Communism.  American politicians and beatniks had taken to talking of  losing the struggle to communism.

As Reagan weakened the Soviet Union with his words of encouragement to communism's captives, many Americans worried that Reagan was too boorish and too aggressive.  Yet, suddenly, when the Soviet Union imploded on the wings of his inspirational critique, those same Reagan detractors said they had seen it coming all along.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Utah Ethics Initiative is Redundant and Should Be Opposed

At one time, Utah was in dire need of legislative ethics reform. I've written about it on Simple Utah Mormon  Politics more than once.  Out of such a dearth, the Utah Ethics Initiative was born.  Whether or not the impetus came from the recently proposed Initiative, the Legislature has now remedied or will soon fix most of problems that were identified in the Initiative's text.

The Utah Legislature still needs further ethics reform.  But it no longer needs an Initiative to spur it on.  Because of recent improvement in ethics laws, the Utah Ethics Initiative is largely redundant of existing Utah law.  Utahns should, therefore, oppose the potential Legislative Ethics Initiative for which signatures are now being gathered around the state.

Ethics Commission.  Utah's legislature does not have an independent ethics commission--not yet anyway. That's about to be fixed.  The proposed Initiative states that
Forty states have some form of an independent ethics commission; Utah does not.

But it will soon have such a commission, thanks, likely, to the prodding of the pending Ethics Initiative.  The Utah legislature is currently crafting such an independent commission.  This is only one of several indications that (most of) the reasons for the Ethics Initiative has now been obviated.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
The measure, if approved by the Legislature, would establish an independent five-member ethics commission with subpoena powers. Composed of retired judges and former lawmakers, the commission would serve as a grand jury of sorts, gathering evidence, holding hearings and screening complaints filed against sitting state lawmakers...
It is unclear at this point what form the independent commission will take, but it will almost assuredly be more practical than the verbiage contained in the proposed Ethics Initiative, not containing such mistakes as (1) requiring "respondents"--those against whom complaints are filed--to pay for their own defense and (2) not allowing respondents to be involved in the presentation of evidence of ethical misconduct.

Utah Ethically Challenged?  The Ethics Initiative's intent statement begins with a condescending lie:
It has become evident over the years that the legislature has been unwilling to enact enforceable ethical standards of conduct or a workable process for enforcing its own rules.
At one time in recent memory that statement may have been true, but it isn't any longer, and it wasn't by the time the Initiative took its final form. As will be shown below, much meaningful reform has been enacted by the Legislature.

The Utahns for Ethical Government web site says
These are not radical proposals. Most states already have them. They are common-sense guidelines for ethical behavior in government.
What UEG doesn't say is that one of those "most states" is Utah.  Many of the supposed problems the initiative tries to solve have already been solved.  Ethics reform began before UEG even proposed the current initiative. Yet, speaking with outdated information, UEG tries to perpetuate the fallacy that the Utah legislature is one of the most ethically challenged in the country.  Such tripe gives the impression that the proposed initiative is--whether or not such a thing is true--nothing more than an attack by the Democrat minority in the Legislature on the Republican majority.

Below are some of the laws that were passed in the 2009 legislative session, which further make the Ethics Initiative generally moot.  Click here to see a summary of all of those laws.

Senate Bill 162.  Use of Campaign Funds.  UEG worries that legislators can use campaign funds for anything they want.  A letter published on November 28th, 2009 states:
The best “ethics reform” we get from the Utah Republican-dominated Legislature are feckless, timid proposals that protect the powerful and keep legislators smothered with freebies and campaign cash that they can spread around at will.
 This wasn't even true when UEG began selling the Initiative.  It was already against the law for a sitting legislator to use campaign funds for personal use:
A state office candidate or the candidate's personal campaign committee may not deposit or mingle any contributions received into a personal or business account.
In early 2009, new law made it clear that the only thing a legislator can do with leftover campaign funds after leaving office is to transfer them to someone else's campaign fund.

SB 156.  Gift/Meal Provisions for Public Officials.  The Ethics Initiative would completely ban gifts to legislators.  Is that practical?  An outright ban on gifts to legislators would be easily and regularly violated by almost anyone in the Legislature.  Imagine you were a legislator, and you were asked one of the following questions.  "Sir, would you like one of our pens?"  "Can I buy you a bottled water or a soda pop?" 

Senate Bill 156, passed into law last March, requires all meals, event tickets, cash, and other gifts over 25 dollars to be publicly disclosed.  Under no circumstance can a gift be more than $50.  I personally think $50 is still too much, but it's much better than it was before, and it's a much more practical solution than an outright ban.

HJR 14.  Ethics and Training Course.  The Ethics Initiative would require
a training program for ethical responsibility for all legislators and for all departments and staff of the legislature
The 2009 legislature has already gone that requirement one better.  HJR 14 requires not only legislators and their staffs, but also lobbyists, to complete an Ethics Training Course once per year to ensure that they are thoroughly familiar with Utah ethics laws.  The Utah Office of Legislative Research has been tasked with putting the training course together.

. . .

The proposed Ethics Initiative has served a noble purpose; it got the Republican-dominated legislature off its collective duff to improve ethics in Utah government.  But the Initiative, besides serving a purpose, has some fairly large flaws that even supporters are now admitting.  There is no use or reason to introduce an intiative whose problems are either largely fixed or that is flawed by admission of its proponents.

Once an initiative has been filed with a state election commission and the initiative supporters begin to garner signatures in order to get the initiative on the ballot, it is too late to make changes to the text of the initiative.  Unfortunately, supporters are now agreeing that the initiative has problems, but have claimed that the problems are things that can be corrected by the legislature after the initiative becomes law.

Although they have a ways to go, the Utah legislature has markedly improved its own ethics requirements in the last year or two.  It would be counterproductive at this point to install new laws over the top of ones that are already working.  Much of the Utah Ethics Initiative has become moot.  Much of the rest, such as the initiative's "intent" statement and the establishment of a panel to select commission members, is to condescendingly negative, too broad, and/or too unclear to be of any value.

That's why I oppose the Utah Ethics Initiative.  This break has been mostly fixed.  Let's focus on the things that still need fixing.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Climategate Isn't Just About 1 or 2 E-Mails

If you listen to the US mainstream media, you'd think that the ClimateGate scandal is about 1 or 2 emails.  It's about far more than that.  It's about conspiracy.  It's about intimidation.  It's about intentionally falsifying the data with the help of computer programs. You've heard only a minuscule amount of what Climategate is really about. It's important, however, that you find out just how gigantic is that part of the ClimateGate iceberg that lies beneath the water line.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Iran Contra: So You Thought You Knew the Truth About Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan haters ascribe malice to nearly all of his actions during his eight years as President. That ascription is especially made for his supposed involvement in what came to be known as the Ira-Contra Arms for Hostages scandal.

In reality, though, Reagan's biggest mistake was, in his attempt to make things right, to trust people who didn't deserve to be trusted.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Glenn Beck's "Arguing With Idiots" Has an Idiotic Title, but a Lot of Truth

I have a dilemma regarding Glenn Beck.  He's bombastic, and--as he admits--he's a rodeo clown.  But he's also very intelligent.  His latest book, although poorly named, is full of interesting truths and insights.  Many people hate Glenn Beck.  They challenge his personality and some of the causes that he (jokingly) advocates, but they seldom challenge his facts.

Beck can be very uncivil.  But he speaks the truth.  Is that enough reason to keep paying attention to him?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The IPCC is a Fraud, and Al Gore's Nobel Prize Should Be Rescinded

If you didn't know that the man-made global warming theory was an elaborate hoax, there exists no question about that fact now.  With the uncovering of thousands of e-mails that identify the gyrations that supposed scientists went through to hide real data and to deceive the public, the days of faux scientists promulgating lies about man-made global warming are numbered.  Al Gore, the two-bit, filthy rich snake-oil salesman should be required to return his unearned Nobel Peace Prize, and he should be made to walk as a pariah about the earth until the end of his days.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The General Welfare Clause: Limited Government is About More than Dogmatism

The predominant belief among the Founding Fathers was that the General Welfare clause of the Constitution did not allow the federal government to perform any act or collect any amount of money for whatever it deemed to be the general welfare. That belief, though, was not unanimous among the Founders. However weak the case might be, nonetheless a case can be made, based on the beliefs of such Founders as Alexander Hamilton, that very broad powers are granted to the federal government when it comes to providing for the general welfare.

This reality requires us to defend the "limited" view of General Welfare powers not just as a matter of Constitutional principle, because those who make the opposing case do so using the same Constitution and the words of other Founding Fathers. Those who make the opposite case see our "principle" as mere dogmatism. Our case is made much stronger, then, if we can defend the limited view of the General Welfare Clause from a pragmatic perspective. In other words, many more people will rally to our cause if we can show that our perspective makes sense. Never fear, however--that is becoming increasingly easy to do.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

George W. Bush is Not Ronald Reagan's Legacy

Ronald Reagan did some wonderful things as president.  But he was far from perfect.  Reagan presided over some of the worst moments in American history.  The worst thing about Ronald Reagan, however, was not anything Reagan himself did, but rather his distorted "legacy," created by those who wished to profit from his popularity.  This so-called legacy, embodied in the two-term presidency of George W. Bush, has given both Reagan's supporters and his detractors a far different idea as to who Ronald Reagan really was.

They were very dissimilar.  Ronald Reagan was an imperfect statesman.  George W. Bush was a political freak.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ezra Taft Benson, Ronald Reagan, and the Undying Russian Religious Spirit

Ezra Taft Benson saw it firsthand.  Ronald Reagan knew it was there.  Decades of Soviet Communism could  not quench it.  For what they saw, Reagan and Benson have been reviled.  Reviling does not, however, change the truth.  Through decades of the dark slavery of Soviet communism, the Russian people, along with their fellow Warsaw Pact slaves, illustrated that a firm belief in God cannot be suffocated.

In the Fall of 1959, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, along with family and staff members, toured the Soviet Union.  From the moment he arrived, Secretary Benson requested to be able to visit any  Christian church in Moscow, all the while fearing that his KGB handlers would never allow such a thing to happen.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Constitution and Natural Law

Everything has a law built into its nature.  Our ability to recognize and obey such law is the basis of Natural Law.  Good government ensures that man-made law adheres to natural law.  Government which makes unnatural law in order to benefit one class of citizens (usually the elite) will invariably create more unnatural law in an attempt to pretend that it is righting (or hiding) its previous wrongs.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States both satisfy the predicates of Natural Law.  Natural law realizes its limits and stops there.  The current United States government doesn't.  Natural law finds its equivalent in our founding documents.  Our current national government is natural law's antithesis.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Saving the Constitution Through Provident Living and Civility

The Constitution will "hang by a thread". It has been prophesied. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will play an instrumental part in saving the Constitution. That has also been foretold.

But how will it be saved? Through provident living and civility.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Agreements are Not Treaties. Agreements are Therefore Not Constitutional

The Constitution is very clear on how the United States must go about making commitments to other nations. Every such accord must be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate in order to take effect. This, specifically, is called a treaty. In the last several decades, this requirement has been skirted more and more often. Now, nearly always, an "agreement" is used instead. Sometimes the agreement between the President and another country doesn't even get voted on in congress.

Up until tonight, I had thought that the North American Free Trade Agreement was really a treaty, but that the acronym NAFTT just didn't have quite the right ring to it. The reality, however, is that NAFTA is a mere "agreement", which doesn't have the force of Constitutional validity. The 61 votes that NAFTA received in 1993 did not constitute enough votes for it to become a "treaty".

Article VI of the Constitution says that
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land...
The Constitution carefully describes what constitutes a treaty. In describing the authorities of the President, Article II states that
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur;
If two thirds of our 100 Senators do not concur, then it does not become a treaty. If it fails to become a treaty, then the agreement with foreign nations cannot be binding on the United States or any of the separate states of the Union.

Further confusing the issue is the treaty called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I am unsure of how the voting went when GATT was first instituted in 1947, but, if it hadn't done so before, in 1994 GATT did take on the full force of treaty due to a 76-24 vote in the U.S. Senate. Yet it is still referred to as an "agreement". C'mon--GT3 (General Treaty on Tariffs and Trade) sounds at least as cool as GATT!!

Michael I. Meyerson points out in his book Liberty's Blueprint, that
The treaty provision--with its requirement of approval by two-thirds of the Senate--was meant to be the exclusive means for making binding agreements between the United States and other nations. In the past seventy-five years, however, presidents have taken to using agreements rather than treaties to make binding commitments with other nations.
In the 2003 case "American Insurance Association v. Garamendi", the Supreme Court, by a bare majority, incorrectly decided that an "agreement" signed by President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder could supersede California's Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act, even though Clinton's "handshake" with Schroeder was never even presented to Congress for ratification, let alone voted on.

Why is it that, since 1960, approximately 95% of pacts with foreign nations have been formalized by "agreement" rather than treaty? Because it's much easier. Unfortunately, though, the fact that treaties are mentioned in the Constitution while "agreements" are not makes it clear that one method can be used for forming alliances with foreign governments, while the other method cannot be used, regardless of how much easier it might be.

Interestingly, due to the fact that members of the House of Representatives were to be (and still are) elected by the people at large, the House was purposefully excluded from participation in the treaty-making power. It's all the more ironic then, that--to give modern-day "agreements" a flavor of Constitutionality which they do not deserve--the House of Representatives is almost always included in the voting on agreements that have the good fortune of ever making it to the Congress.

Until the unfortunate advent of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, Senators were appointed by the Legislatures of the States in which they resided. The two-thirds requirement of treaty-making power implied essentially, then, that two-thirds of all the states were in agreement with the president that a treaty should take effect.

So, what's the big deal, you say? After all, currently, agreements are decided by a majority (more than 50%) vote of both houses of Congress. The big deal is that 67 is 34% more than 50. John Jay, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, wrote
Who can think it probable that the president and two thirds of the senate will ever be capable of such unworthy conduct [of making a treaty that is not of general benefit to the United States]?
On the other hand, is it probable to think that the president, with only 51 members of the Senate--or the President all by him/herself--could be capable of such unworthy conduct?

It's much more probable. Look around you. It's beginning to happen all the time.

Monday, November 02, 2009

General Welfare Clause: Did Alexander Hamilton Waffle?

Alexander Hamilton at one point in his political career seemed to have held a very limited view of the federal government's powers, believing that such things as "agriculture and manufacture" were under the purview of state governments. Not long after taking such a stand, he advocated the federal government's role in funding such pursuits. Did Hamilton change his tune? It does not appear so. On the one hand, Hamilton seemed to be advocating that the federal government should have no legislative control over things for which no power had been granted to it, while on the other he seemed to believe that it was okay for congress to appropriate moneys to all of the states generally to fund such pursuits, because funding of such endeavors was within the parameters of the Constitution's General Welfare Clause.

Just two days before Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, he revealed who had written each of the Federalist Paper essays. That day, Hamilton appeared at the law offices of his friend, Egbert Benson. Egbert was away on business, but under the watchful eye of Benson's nephew, Robert, Hamilton strode to the book case, removed a book from the bookcase, placed something in it, and placed the book back on the shelf.
Shortly after Hamilton's death, Robert examined the same book and found [a] sheet of paper inserted between its pages. On this paper, Hamilton had written "Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 54 by J[ay]. Nos. 10, 14, 37 to 48 inclusive, M[adison]. Nos 18, 19, 20, M. & H[amilton] jointly. All others by H."

Liberty's Blueprint, Michael I. Meyerson, p. 4
In 1818, James Madison gave his account of who had written each Federalist essay. His tally was slightly different than Hamilton's. Their accounts did not, however, differ as to who had written essays #17 and #34. Historians agree that both of these essays were written by Hamilton.

On December 5, 1787, Federalist #17 was published in the New York Independent Journal. Therein, Hamilton wrote that:
The administration of private justice between the citizens of the same State, the supervision of agriculture and of other concerns of a similar nature, all those things, in short, which are proper to be provided for by local legislation, can never be desirable cares of a general jurisdiction.
Exactly one month later, the Journal published Hamilton's Essay #34. Hamilton wrote
The expenses arising from those institutions which are relative to the mere domestic police of a state, to the support of its legislative, executive, and judicial departments, with their different appendages, and to the encouragement of agriculture and manufactures (which will comprehend almost all the objects of state expenditure), are insignificant in comparison with those which relate to the national defense.
Four years after that, in his Report on Manufactures, Hamilton might have appeared to be advocating a position diametrically opposed to his stance of late 1787 and early 1788.
...there seems to be no room for a doubt that whatever concerns the general Interests of learning of Agriculture of Manufactures and of Commerce are within the sphere of the national Councils as far as regards an application of Money.
Was that a flip-flop? Maybe, but more than likely it was not. In one instance (Federalist essays #17 and #34), Hamilton discussed the inability of the federal government to govern in areas of a general nature, while in the second case (Report on Manufactures) he dealt with his perspective on that same government's ability to fund such pursuits.

James Madison fervently maintained the position, as he wrote in Federalist #45, that
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.
Contrarily, it appears, Hamilton agreed with Madison in regards to the limitations on federal government's power, but they seemed to disagree on its involvement in funding such activities (and that assumed disagreement may not even be true). To clarify the difference between the governing versus the funding, Hamilton concluded his Report on Manufactures with this:
That the object to which an appropriation of money is to be made be General and not local; its operation extending in fact, or by possibility, throughout the Union, and not being confined to a particular spot.

No objection ought to arise to this construction from a supposition that it would imply a power to do whatever else should appear to Congress conducive to the General Welfare. A power to appropriate money with this latitude which is granted too in express terms would not carry a power to do any other thing, not authorised in the constitution, either expressly or by fair implication.

In other words, Hamilton says, don't object to the funding part of it by improperly inferring that I think the federal government can legislate on anything it might deem to be in the general welfare. Or--more simply--just because you can fund it doesn't mean you can legislate it. Maybe Madison and Hamilton were more in agreement about the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution than has been generally thought.

Regardless of whether the Founders disagreed on the "general ability" of the federal government to legislate as regards the General Welfare, it seems easy to intuit that the Founders, were they alive today, would be unanimous in bemoaning that a great deal of what the federal government funds today is of a very un-general nature, and is therefore unconstitutional.

. . . . . . .

Other Articles in this Series

Sunday, November 01, 2009

General Welfare Clause: Without Limited Federal Powers, the Constitution Would Likely Never Have Been Ratified

It is absurd to imagine that the former colonists, who abhored British attempts to continually centralize governmental power over them, would in turn create a federal government that possessed the same abusive powers. Yet this is exactly what some opponents to the Constitution of the United States were fearful of. It was only after careful assurances that the government's powers were limited and that a Bill of Rights would be the first item of business for the new Congress that several of the largest states ratified the Constitution.

Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York, some of the largest states in America at the time of the state constitutional ratifying conventions, came rather close to not ratifying the Constitution. They wanted assurances that the General Welfare Clause, as written, did not mean that the new federal government could raise moneys through taxation for essentially anything that the government happened at the time to deem as being for the general welfare.

These states were among those which asked for a Bill of Rights, which would ensure, among other things, that the states would still be able to perform the duties that were not expressly granted to the federal government by the Constitution.

In his book Age of Strict Construction: A History of the Growth of Federal Power, author Peter Zavodnyik wrote
The idea that the [general welfare] clause bestowed so broad an authority would have come as a shock to most delegates. They had just spent six weeks debating the enumerated powers of Congress...

...the convention [had already] considered and rejected a broad spending power on August 25... Federalists responded to concerns over the general welfare clause and the rest of the Constitution with the assurance that Congress could exercise only those powers granted to it.

Age of Strict Construction, pages 20-21
The idea that the federal government should be limited by the enumerated list of duties in the General Welfare Clause, although fearfully unclear to many who opposed it, was the intention of the bulk of the founders. For example, James Wilson, in what became known as the Stateyard Speech, spoken on October 6, 1787, said
it is evident, that in the former case [state legislatures] everything which is not reserved is given, but in the latter [Congress] the reverse of the proposition prevails, and every thing which is not given is reserved."
Others of the Founders felt the same way. Delegates Rufus King and Nathaniel Gorham championed the idea of limited federal powers. Roger Sherman asserted that the federal government's powers were "particularly defined," and that, therefore, each state kept to itself the "right to exercise every power of a sovereign state not delegated to the United States."

Their fears still not completely assuaged, the states of New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia (among others) proposed various amendments to the Constitution, many of which were later included in the Bill of Rights. Once they were confident that their concerns would be aired on the national stage, their conventions ratified the Constitution as it stood.

Although the Bill of Rights was ratified nearly two years after--and added to--the Constitution, work on incorporating such amendments into the Constitution followed close on the heels of the Constitution's ratification. The fledgling government knew full well that without various amendments, the danger of a second constitutional convention was immediate, which would cause the government to fail. George Washington, writing to Charles Carter, feared that
...there is no Alternative between the Adoption of it and Anarchy. General government is now suspended by a thread.
The first such amendment proposed by the state of Virgnia said:
That each state in the Union shall respectively retain every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Constitution delegated to the Congress of the United States, or to the departments of the federal government.
In essay #39 of the Federalist Papers, which went very far toward the convincing of the New York state convention to ratify the Constitution, James Madison wrote:

the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.
Phrasing similar to this, and even more similar to the Virginia amendment discussed above, made it into the Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution makes it even more clear that the States retain far more rights to govern than those ceded to the federal government
The 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.
Some claim that George Washington supported a much less limited understanding of the Constitution's general welfare clause. Washington, in his last public appearance as president spoke of the importance of fostering agriculture.

It will not be doubted, that with reference either to individual, or National Welfare, Agriculture is of primary importance. Institutions for promoting it, grow up, supported by the public purse: and to what object can it be dedicated with greater propriety? Among the means which have been employed to this end, none have been attended with greater success than the establishment of Boards, composed of proper characters, charged with collecting and diffusing information, and enabled by premiums, and small pecuniary aids, to encourage and assist a spirit of discovery and improvement.
It is far from clear, however, whether Washington was advocating direct spending by the federal government on behalf of farmers. More likely, it appears that Washington was praising what local "Boards" had already aided farmers with "premiums, and small pecuniary aids". In fact, Alexander Hamilton, who was Washington's Treasury Secretary at that time, had previously written in Federalist Papers essay #17 that
The administration of private justice between the citizens of the same state, the supervision of agriculture and of other concerns of a similar nature, all those things, in short, which are proper to be provided for by local legislation, can never be desirable cares of a general jurisdiction.
Various presidents of the United States have vetoed legislation that violated the common understanding that the federal government's powers were severely limited vis a vis the states. When a piece of legislation crossed his desk proposing that the federal government provide for the indigent, President Grover Cleveland said
I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.
Thomas Jefferson believed that

Congress had not the unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained by those specifically enumerated; was never meant that they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers.
In 1921, President Warren G. Harding warned
Just government is merely the guarantee to the people of the right and opportunity to support themselves. The one outstanding danger of today is the tendency to turn to Washington for the things which are the tasks or the duties of the forty-eight [now fifty] commonwealths.
At a time when the federal government had become increasingly comfortable taking on functions that were not within its constitutional purview, LDS Church President David O. McKay wrote that
No government owes you a living. You get it yourself by your own acts--never by trespassing upon the rights of your neighbor, never by cheating him. You put a blemish on your character the moment you do.
Some advocates of a "living" Constitution are clear that they understand that the federal government has gone far beyond the powers that it was originally understood to have. Peter Zavodnyik writes:
The Constitution was a product of the classical theory of republican government which embraced a minimalist, even negative approach to public power. ...Such a system might have been appropriate for the eighteenth century... And so it is with the federal government--the demands made upon it over the last two centuries have grown, and it has responded accordingly. In the process, it has assumed powers that were not granted to it by either the Constitutional Convention or subsequent amendments. ...only by exceeding its designated sphere has the government been able to maintain a large middle class and the political stability that comes with it.
I agree, but I disagree. The federal government has gone far beyond what the original thinkers said was its charter. How this can be a good thing, though, I can't comprehend.

. . . . . . .

Other Articles in this series:

Monday, October 26, 2009

General Welfare Clause: The Constitution's Great Limitation

If a court doesn't clearly understand what a law means, the judges always go back to the intentions of those who wrote it. So they should. A law is still the law until it is properly amended. As law, meaning of the Constitution of the United States can be so understood. When we go back to discover the historical context in which the Constitution came forth, its meaning becomes much less ambiguous.

Some people refer to the Constitution as a "living" document. It's not--at least not according to the way that people who use the term "living" mean it. Worse than that, the Constitution is virtually dead, because when it is not being misinterpreted it is almost always otherwise ignored.

But it wasn't always that way.

The Constitution is what the Constitution says. If it is not clear what the Constitution says, then we must go back to what those who wrote it and those who ratified it understood it to mean. It is largely only to those who don't go back to understand the Constitution's historical context that its meaning is not clear.

The Constitution has clear rules for how it can be amended. There are two ways (one of which has never been used). Neither of them involves
  • The president issuing an executive order
  • The Supreme Court issuing a decision
  • Anyone imagining something that isn't there, no matter how benevolent it might sound
One of the most currently controversial parts of the Constitution, the meaning of which could have easily been clarified by amendment if it really were so unclear as some people think it is, is the General Welfare Clause. Article I Section 8 of the Constitution begins like this:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
Did that clause give the federal government the right to lay and collect taxes for pretty much anything it wants? It might have--if Article I Section 8 stopped there. But it doesn't.

A very few participants at the Constitutional Convention in Philadephia in 1787 at one time or another thought that the General Welfare Clause gave the federal government sweeping powers to do essentially anything to which it could remotely draw a relationship to the general welfare. How silly. Any government naturally thinks it can do that. It is to limit the benevolent aspirations of governments that Consitutions are written in the first place. If the General Welfare Clause really gave government all-encompassing powers, there would have been no need to write a Constitution.

Some advocates of unlimited federal authority felt very strongly that they were right. One of them was Alexander Hamilton. But even Hamilton eventually tempered his enthusiasm for unbridled laying and collecting:
Not even Alexandar Hamilton, the early apostle of broad construction of both the general welfare clause and the necessary and proper clause, would go that far. In his discussion of the general welfare clause, he expressly noted that the power to tax and appropriate under that clause, while broad, does not permit Congress "to do anything not authorized in the Constitution, either expressly or by fair interpretation."

The Nature of the Intellectual Property Clause: A Study in Historical Perspective, by Edward C. Walterscheid
Those who felt the way that Hamilton originally did were in the very distinct minority.

Article I, Section 8 lists 17 things for which the Federal Government may lay and collect taxes. Those 17 items deal with borrowing money, regulating commerce, naturalizing new citizens, coining money, establishing bankruptcy laws, punishing counterfeiters, establishing post offices, declaring war, raising, organizing, training, and paying armies and navies for our national defense, promoting science and the arts through patents, and to govern the area now known as Washington D.C.

Does it say anything in there about health care? No. How about providing social security to the aged? Again, no. Does it allow the president to declare war? Nope. It doesn't matter how long America has been violating the Constitution--if something was a violation of the Constitution when it was written, it's still a violation--unless an Amendment saying that something is now okay has been properly ratified.

The Federal government had limited powers on purpose. James Madison made it clear that that was what was written into the Constitution.
If Congress can employ money indefinitely for the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare...they may assume the provision of the poor. Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of LIMITED GOVERNMENT established by the people of America.
As you may have noticed, there has been a lot of assuming, subverting, and transmuting going on around here. And it is not pretty.

Madison also said
For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity...
Because American elites have ignored the clear meaning of the Constitution, the means to which government has been put to use in order to augment power upon power unto itself has become the epitome of absurdity.

. . . . . .

In upcoming articles, I will discuss how the preponderant majority of Americans understood the federal government to be severely limited by the General Welfare Clause, as well as how, unfortunately, it did not take very long for the federal government to violate the clear meaning of the clause.

Related Articles (coming soon):

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Basic Explanation of the Current Economic Crisis

Incessantly, putrescent pundits and politicians blame "The Free Market" for our current economic problems. In reality, the economic crisis is due to the fact that our economy is under far more government control than you've been led to believe.

Besides megalomaniacal politicians, the biggest of the free market haters are the big bankers. Right now, they're winning, and you're losing.
Big bankers hate the free market. It's too risky. The free market forces you to be responsible for your economic choices. Big Bankers, on the other hand, just want to get pornographically rich. Because of their lust for money and power, big bankers encourage government to become involved in their transactions in order to protect them from the results of their failed risks. Government is more than happy to take their risks and fix their messes, because in doing so, government can gain more control over your life.

The reason for our current economic crisis is not "The Free Market". It is that government has bailed out most of the big bankers--at your expense. Incidentally, government has not bailed out

Multiple millions of government dollars--all of which at one point belonged to you and me--were given as bonuses to the big bankers after they took risks that failed and that would, under normal, free-market circumstances, have caused their banks to fail and them to never be hired in the economic industry again.

the little banks. It goes without saying that they haven't bailed you out, either.

Whenever big banks and big business make a profit, it's theirs to keep. That is called "privatizing profits". But have you noticed that whenever they take too big of a risk and something goes wrong, all of the rest of us pay for it? This is called "socializing losses". Now, if anyone asks you whether the United States is a relatively socialist nation, you can tell them yes and then explain to them why. In every socialist experiment--including ours--that has been foisted on the masses of humanity, the elite get socialized and the rest of us get screwed.

When banks have to suffer the consequences of their own bad risk taking, they are much more disciplined. When they know they have friends in government--including in the central bank--they know that they don't have to be disciplined.

Incidentally, government has not bailed out the little banks. It goes without saying that they haven't bailed you out, either.

That's why throughout history, to ensure that they didn't have to pay for their failed risks, big bankers have lobbied for a central bank--controlled by big bankers and their friends in government.

We have one of those in the United States. It is called the

In every socialist experiment that has been foisted on the masses of humanity, the elite get "socialized" and the rest of us get screwed.

Federal Reserve, or "The Fed". "The Fed" has been able to create trillions of dollars whenever it has wanted to, and has given that money to whomever it has wanted. It has even refused to tell anyone to whom the money was given. But I'm sure you can guess who got most of that money.

In the past couple of years, the largest (and only the largest) banks received hundreds of billions of dollars of economic assistance from government following their failed risk taking. Multiple millions of those dollars--all of which at one point belonged to you and me--were given as bonuses to the big bankers after they took risks that failed, and that would, under normal,

Have you noticed that whenever they take too big of a risk and something goes wrong, all of the rest of us pay for it? This is called "socializing losses". Now, if anyone asks you whether the United States is a relatively socialist nation, you can tell them yes and then explain to them why.

free-market circumstances, have caused their banks to fail and them to never be hired in the economic industry again.

Prior to the advent of the Federal Reserve, the United States was on a "gold standard". The gold standard gets in the way of the visions of big bankers. So, gradually, the gold standard was phased out. A gold standard makes it difficult for the central bank to arbitrarily expand the money supply, which causes the price of everything to go up. When the central bank (The Fed) expands the money supply, the new money finds its way first into the hands of the big bankers, who get to buy things with it before the price of everything

The Central Bank tends to cover the risks of only the largest banks, causing them to get even bigger. Eventually these banks become so big that they are designated as "too big to fail".

goes up for the rest of us.

The Central Bank tends to cover the risks (i.e. bail out) of only the largest banks, causing them to get even bigger while many of the smaller banks, who do not have access to the Federal Reserve teat, go out of business. Eventually some banks and businesses become so big that they achieve the status of "too big to fail".

Along the way, the big bankers, who know in advance that they are very likely to be bailed out, make all sorts of unwise decisions (investments, bad home loans, etc.), because the fees associated with these unwise decisions allow them to get even richer.

The solution to this problem is a return to free market principles (nearly every American living today is too young to remember when America operated on such principles). Specifically, we should (1) abolish the federal reserve, and (2) require the big bankers to take risks with their own damned money.

Friday, October 16, 2009

For Today's "Heroes", the Constitution is a License To Do Anything

The old interpretation of Constitution of the United States is bo-o-o-r-r-r-ing. This school of thought said that the Constitution limits what the federal government can accomplish. So what do people do who are annoyed by that inconvenience? They reinvent and "reunderstand" the Constitution so that suddenly it allows anything they want. This is the essence of modern-day heroism--rape of principle accompanied by masterful propaganda.

As a result of such claims of heroism, the Constitution has come to mean next to nothing. For today's "heroes," it has become a license to do anything. Today's "heroes" come from both major political parties and from every branch of government.
If it weren't so tragic, it would be funny how many conservatives have

I've come to the conclusion that many Constitution haters really don't hate the Constitution as I once thought they did. Rather, they have simply come to "re-understand" it, which makes it much easier for them to firmly believe in what they misunderstand.

come out of the woodwork lately claiming that President Barack Obama's policies are an affront to the United States Constitution. Where were these people during the eight-year reign of George W. Bush? In their recent book Who Killed the Constitution, Thomas E. Woods Jr. and Kevin R. C. Gutzman observe that The assaults on the Constitution are not the work of one party.
Every branch of the federal government has trampled on the Constitution, almost without interruption, for close to a century. ...Democrats and Republicans, justices, presidents, and congresses alike [have all] essentially rejected the idea that the Constitution possesses a fixed meaning limiting the power of the U.S. government.
That's because everyone wants to be a "hero" these days.

Thomas Jefferson said, "let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." Today's heroes ignore such Jeffersonian statements.
Instead they limit their understanding of Jefferson to an attempt to throw religion from the public square by misinterpreting what he said about the separation of church and state.

In recent Facebook conversations about the Constitution, I've come to the conclusion that many people really don't hate the Constitution as I once thought they did. Rather, they have simply come to "re-understand" it, which makes it much easier for them to firmly believe in what they misunderstand. Such people have convinced themselves that the Constitution allows us to do whatever we feel heroic about.

Do you want a federal program to solve some problem, ask Woods and Gutzman? If you feel heroic enough about it, "nowadays the Constitution is no obstacle", despite the clear limitations placed on the federal government by the Constitution's Article I Section 8, and despite the fact that Amendments 9 and 10 thereto clearly indicate that all other rights and authority are reserved to the people and their individual States to decide.

Do you see a problem with health care in our country? Don't worry that the problem was mostly caused by the federal government. Just feel heroic about it.

Is the national economy going in the tank? The government "heroes", along with their courageous Wall Street cronies, can fix that!! Pay no attention to the fact that they were the ones that caused the mess--after all, they tell us that they are our heroes, so they must be!

Are you worried about terrorism from afar? Real "heroes" aren't worried, because they have the problem solved--by fighting terror with terror. They just tap your phone lines, read your e-mails, and check up on which books you check out of the library. That was easy--and heroic.

Woods and Gutzman say of this chaotic environment that
...the reigning assumption is that the Constitution does not really matter... Rational discussion of what the Constitution actually says is unusual.
Woods and Gutzman write that:
Instead of Constitutionality, federal officials rely on their noble intentions...the [current conventional] wisdom is that seemingly unconstitutional actions in pursuit of laudable goals [is] heroic, and that [such heroic acts] have brought tacit amendment to a constitution that otherwise would have become outmoded.
It is becoming, for those who think the constitution means what it says and is a document that should be adhered to that
Every significant appeal to the a thought crime of one kind or another. The plain truth is that today we are governed by little more than simple prudence--government officials' sense of what they can get away with.
That's no way to run a country. Health care failures, economic collapses, and global terror are the result of the actions of today's so-called heroes. I'm sick of what passes as heroic today. It should go without saying that what these people are doing to us is not helping. It's time to dump the lot of our self-styled federal heroes into the trash bin of history.

Because today's "heroes" don't have common sense. Common people do.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Would the World Be Like Without Atheists?

I suspect most believers in God think that "atheist" is a dirty word. But is it really? Think of a world without atheists. Would we be better off? Absolutely not. A world without atheists would be a pretty scary place.
Some of the most intelligent people in the world are atheists. They are often atheists because they are diligent seekers after truth.

In the October 2009 General Conference of the LDS Church, Elder Robert D. Hales make the following statement:
...we live in a time when the darkness of secularism is deepening around us. Belief in God is widely questioned and even attacked in the name of political, social, and even religious causes. Atheism, or the doctrine that there is no God, is fast spreading across the world.
Does that indicate that Elder Hales thinks that atheists are bad people? I don't think so. I think it indicates simply that believes that they are misinformed. It's not hard, however, it today's world to be misinformed, what with there existing so many confused religions who claim to speak in the name of God without any authority to do so.

Why is atheism on the rise? I think it's because many atheists are deep-thinking people, and they easily notice that so much of what passes as religion today makes no sense. They're right.

I think atheists are a very healthy part of society--they point out the very clear fallacies of religion. In the presence of a religion that makes sense, I am convinced that many atheists would come to accept God. Colin McGinn is one such person. In the documentary The Atheism Tapes, Jonathan Miller spoke with McGinn about how he came to be an atheist. McGinn told Miller:
I wouldn't say there was relief [that I became an atheist]. There was disappointment. Because I would like religion to be true. Because I'd like there to be immortality. I'd like for there to be rewards for those who have been virtuous, and punishments for those who have not been virtuous... There's no justice in this world. It would be good if there were some cosmic force that distributed justice. To me it's a constant source of irritation and pain that wicked people prosper and virtuous people don't.
I am very comfortable with the challenges of atheists, in part because their challenges are often pointedly correct. When they are correct in that way, it is usually
  • (a) because some apostate fallacy has become accepted by some members of the Mormon church (such as that Jehovah of the Old Testament is some spiteful being like Zeus, or that God is a relatively suffocating presence who watches and judges our every move) or
  • (b) because my religion can answer nearly all of the questions of atheists that apostate religions can't (such as how the Book of Abraham teaches that Abraham's father tried to sacrifice him as a child, indicating why Abraham had perfect faith that a just God would not ultimately require him to commit murder by sacrificing his son Isaac).
A particularly vile apostate vestige has crept into the beliefs (not the doctrines of the Church, mind you) of certain LDS Church members--that if you don't become a member of the Mormon church in this life you will burn in hell. The LDS Church does not teach that--because who are we to judge?

I fully believe that when atheists die and find out that there is something beyond this life, that many of them will readily accept that reality. Sincere Atheists encourage us to question our beliefs in a healthy way. They don't threaten our religion.

True, there are some atheists who do more than just encourage us to question our beliefs. Robert D. Hales went on to speak of the man named Korihor in the Book of Mormon. It wasn't the fact that Korihor was an atheist that made him socially destructive. Hales says:
Korihor was not content merely to reject God and quietly go his own way. He mocked the believers and demanded that the prophet Alma convince him with a sign of God’s existence and power.
The mocking sort of atheist is a drain on society, but the believer in God who mocks the non-believer is much more of a detriment. I prefer to ignore either sort of mocker, because I think they are few and far between. Many of the rest of the those who belong to the atheist category believe that way only because they've felt the need to inveigh against a supposed truth that is really falsehood, and because they don't know where to find the real truth.

Regardless of whether or not someone thinks that God does or does not exist, though, they can sit down to dinner at my table anytime.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Climate Change and Pollution are Two Separate Things

Conflating "pollution" with "climate change" is causing us to waste a lot of time, effort, and money. One of these (pollution) we can control. The other we cannot.

How is it that so many people can't understand the not-so-subtle "nuance" between climate change and pollution? In a recent letter

The only way that pollution, CO2, and climate change are remotely related is in the fact that the federal government mis-defined carbon dioxide--one of the most vital nutrients for plant life on earth--as a pollutant.

to the editors of the Deseret News, Scot Morgan ("Humans Partly to Blame", 10/8/2009) chastizes Frank Overfelt for not believing that humans have much of anything to do with climate change (which we don't), but as supposed proof that we do cause climate change, he lists ways that we cause pollution. In an attempt to make an otherwise excellent point regarding our stewardship of the environment, Morgan suddenly finds himself in the left field of global warming.

Pollution and climate change are two different things. One does not cause the other.

In his letter, Morgan stated:
Brigham Young declared: "The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted with wickedness." Yet we have suffered it to be so, primarily for the accumulation of personal wealth. We can stop being litter-bugs and curtail our use of plastic. To wring our hands and pretend we are not culpable of the consequences of our habits or incapable of making better decisions is dishonest.
I completely agree. But what does this (pollution) have to do with climate change? Nothing.

The only way that pollution, CO2, and climate change are remotely related is in the fact that the federal government mis-defined carbon dioxide--one of the most vital nutrients for plant life on earth--as a pollutant.

In his recent work entitled Heaven and Earth: Global Warming-The Missing Science, Ian Plimer notes that pollution can shorten life, but that CO2 does not shorten life, therefore CO2 is not a pollutant. Plimer reminds us that
Carbon dioxide is a plant food, is necessary for life, and without CO2 there would be no complex life on earth. Car exhaust consist of [both] harmless gases (CO2, nitrogen, H2O vapor) [and] pollutants (carbon monoxide...nitric oxide...sulfur dioxide [etc.]

Heaven and Earth, page 12
While CO2 is a nutrient for plants, smog--containing actual pollutants--can kill plants, along with animals and people. Why don't we concentrate on controlling pollution in those areas of the globe where it is still a problem? Because the religion of global warming is siphoning off and wasting most of our financial resources. Plimer writes
At present, China emits more sulfur dioxide than any other country in the world, and this chokes people, causes acid rain, damages life, and destroys buildings. The "Asian Brown Cloud" covers an area as large as Australia, obscuring the sun in some polluted Asian cities. It has a profound effect on human health. At times it...covers the Northern Hemisphere. Darker soot falling on snow and ice allows it to absorb more solar energy and may contribute to more rapid melting of snow and ice.

Heaven and Earth
, page 13
Plimer states further that
The public have rightfully become less tolerant of pollution, and much progress has been made to clean up the Western world.
Why have we become less tolerant of pollution? Because pollution has an observable, measurable, negative effect on our environment. To this day,

Pollution has an observable, measurable, negative effect on our environment. To this day, no similar observation or measurement has been made with regard to CO2's effect on climate change.

no similar observation or measurement has been made with regard to CO2's effect on climate change. The only thing about CO2 that has been measured is that its minuscule presence in the atmosphere has been going up.

If we started admitting that humans can have an effect on pollution, but that we cannot have much of an effect at all on climate change, we'd all be eminently better off. Then we might start to actually focus on a genuine environmental catastrophe--one that we can possibly hope to control.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

How Twitter Dramatically Enhanced My LDS Conference Learning Experience

Tweeting my #ldsconf notes on Twitter is much more fun than mere note-taking. It's also much more insightful. I have never learned so much on any one day of LDS General Conference as I did yesterday while tweeting about it.

A few evenings ago, Connor Boyack and I were returning from a blogger briefing at the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City, when we began talking about the upcoming LDS General Conference. He mentioned that for the last couple of General Conferences he had tweeted his thoughts on twitter. I had just about given up on twitter in favor of facebook, but his idea piqued my interest. For the next couple of days I tweeted my thoughts as I listened to various talks from the April 2009 Conference.

And I was hooked. Twitter has now found its firm niche in my internet toolbag.

It used to be that I wrote notes in a notebook. That was helpful, but I never looked at those notes again. More recently, I've typed my notes into a document on my laptop. That at least helps me concentrate, but it seems not to have generated as many insights as actually tweeting my thoughts.

I must admit that I didn't control very well the other variables in my experiment. For one, my my wife and I went to the Provo, Utah LDS Temple a couple of days ago as a means of preparation for a more spiritually insightful conference (which, by the way, has worked marvelously). And the fact that I've been greatly looking forward to using twitter to collect and express my thoughts beneath the #ldsconf hash-tag umbrella has had an effect on the outcome.

But here are the things I like about twitter.

  • When I merely take notes, I more often just rehash (sometimes almost verbatim) what Church leaders speak about. However, when I use twitter, it's much more likely that I (a) put it in my own words, and (b) explain what I've learned from it.
  • There is something much more gratifying about sharing my thoughts with a wide audience in much the same way that I can with my family around the dinner table between and after sessions.
  • When I tweet, I know that several others are tweeting about the same thing. Therefore, I have to think more deeply in order to be able to contribute something unique to the conversation.
  • It's much easier to go back over my #ldsconf notes and find out (a) what I learned and (b) what the favorite things that I learned are.
Hopefully you share my feelings about using twitter to collect and express your thoughts about General Conference (as well as about other topics). What other insights have you gained about General Conference through using twitter and other marvels of modern technology?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Is It Still "Patriotic" to Hate the Dixie Chicks?

I never really liked the Dixie Chicks that much, so when all the radio stations started boycotting them in 2003, I didn't really think much about it. I now see the real point, though, that if someone's livelihood can be destroyed in the blink of an eye for speaking out against something they wish their nation was not doing, that we ought to be worried about our own freedoms.

The Dixie Chicks have a few good songs. But that one about throwing Earl's dead body in the trunk of the car about did me in. That, coupled with the scanty way in which the Chicks often dress, made me not much of a fan. So it really didn't matter much to me when the Dixie Chicks got banned from the radio for speaking out against George Bush and the Iraq War. It should have.

In the lead up to the Iraq War in early 2003, Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines said "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." That's all it took. Suddenly there was overwhelming listener demand to remove the Dixie Chicks from the air.

Or was there?

I was in Fort Carson, Colorado, at the time, getting prepared for what I thought would be my first tour of duty in Iraq (we stayed stateside; in 2005 my field artillery battalion served in Iraq for a year). I distinctly remember the Dixie Chicks ban going into effect. That's probably because there was a radio station DJ in the area that locked himself in the studio and blasted non-stop Dixie Chicks music over the airwaves in protest for the entire day (or two?) until he was fired.

So, how was there suddenly so much demand to remove the Dixie Chicks from the broadcast airwaves? Two words: "Clear Channel". Clear Channel Communications, which at the time owned about 1,200 radio stations across the country (probably more by now), required its radio stations to immediately remove all Dixie Chicks material from their playlists. At the same time, Clear Channel supported a plethora of pro-military rallies across the United States.

Clear Channel was joined by another (although not quite so big) media conglomerate called Cumulus Media, who also "pulled the plug" on the Dixie Chicks' music. Cumulus sponsored at least one pro-war rally at which a bulldozer pulverized a stack of Dixie Chicks albums.

Well, now that sounds patriotic--if by "patriotic" you mean supporting the Nazi-style curtailment of freedoms!

Was it really listener demand that spelled broadcast doom for the Dixie Chicks? Hardly. Concert attendance eventually went down by nearly half, but the group was still very popular among the other half, and their albums continued for quite some time thereafter to sell at a brisk pace.

Hermann Goring of Adolf Hitler/Nazi infamy said
All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for their lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.
It worked against the Dixie Chicks. And, despite the claims by some that George W. Bush's actions have been proven correct due to the fact that we haven't had another 9/11-style attack, America is a much more dangerous place than it was then. Draconian curtailment of speech is far more dangerous than the worst terrorist attack could ever be.

I think the Dixie Chicks are the real patriots here. I wish I would have cared at the time that they lost their right to freedom of speech. I do now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If We Could Make Just One Fix to Health Care, This Should Be It

The best solution for increasing competition in the health insurance industry--to allow insurance companies to sell policies to any resident in any state-- is one to which the federal government holds the key. Not only would this reduce costs by increasing competition, it would be a simple change for Congress to make. Yet so far, the United States congress refuses to make this one change, preferring instead to make health insurance and health care more complicated than it has to be.

Since 1945, as a result of federal intervention, Americans have only been able to purchase health care in their own states. The resulting lack of competition is one of the chief reasons that health insurance has become so expensive here. A simple, one-page federal law allowing Americans to purchase health insurance from any company in any state would help to reduce the exorbitant insurance costs that cause several million Americans to not be able to afford health insurance. The United States Congress, however, does not seem interested or capable in creating simple laws that solve big problems. Members of congress seem predominantly about arrogating to themselves more control.

A bill being offered by Senator Max Baucus would require individuals to wait until the year 2015 at the earliest before they could purchase insurance from whomever they choose. Baucus's original bill contained no such language. These pitiful crumbs from the masters' table are only there at the behest of Republicans.
Starting in 2015, states may form health care choice compacts to allow for the purchase of individual health insurance across state lines…. Once compacts have been agreed to, insurers would be allowed to sell policies in any state participating in the compact.” [pg. 12]
If health care reform is really about helping the average American to more easily afford health care, how difficult would it really be to start with just this one thing to allow that affordability to begin happening right now?

Update 10/1/2009: Here is a conversation between CNN's Wolf Blitzer with President Obama's Senior Advisor David Axelrod wherein Axelrod runs like a scared rabbit from the question about allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines. Hat tip to Jeremy Lyman. (Queue video to 1:39 to see where Axelrod "steps in it".)