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.