Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Should the USA Patriot Act be renewed, amended, or replaced?

Congress is trying to decide whether or not to extend the USA PATRIOT Act, and GOP presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is so strongly opposed to doing so without at least substantial changes that he conducted a filibuster of sorts last Wednesday. In explaining his action, he said, “I’ve chosen to filibuster the Patriot Act because the Patriot Act is the most un-patriotic of acts.”

A little history: the Patriot Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, only a few weeks after that horrible day. Its title is a ten-letter acronym (USA PATRIOT) that stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001."

The Act originally was set to expire after four years, but three legislative actions, the first in 2005, another in 2010 and the last in 2011, have essentially preserved the Act. The current law is set to expire on June 1.

The chaotic mood of the country after nearly 3,000 innocents were brutally murdered by radical Muslim terrorists who crashed four airliners into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, led to a piece of hastily designed legislation to enable the government to better identify and stop terrorist activity. This crisis-driven activity brought allegations of opportunism to hurriedly pass a law that in calmer times would have triggered vigorous and lengthy debate. The bill was put together, voted on, passed, and signed into law only six weeks after the attacks. It passed by a wide margin in the House, and had only one dissenting vote in the Senate.

As Otto von Bismarck said, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” Legislation born crisis is open to deliberate mischief, or damage resulting from its careless creation.

Sen. Paul’s libertarian tendencies lead to objections to breaches of liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, specifically the NSA’s mass phone call data collection program.

"They want nothing more than to keep the national security spy state growing until it tracks, traces and catalogues virtually every detail about every aspect of our lives," he said of the NSA program in a campaign email. "Once government bureaucrats know every aspect of our lives — what we watch, what we buy, what we eat, where we worship — it won't be long until they try to run them 'for our own good.'"

However, not all Republicans agree with this perspective. One of his potential opponents in the GOP presidential race, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is not a fan of critics of the NSA program. “Let me be clear — all these fears are baloney. When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy,” he said. “They want you to think that there’s a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids.”

And those two perspectives fairly well outline the opposing positions, one favoring strong methods to protect the citizenry, the other opposing strong methods that infringe, or have the potential to infringe on constitutional guarantees of personal liberty.

But this is not about what Gov. Christie thinks and what Sen. Paul thinks, this is about what the Constitution allows the government to do and what it does not allow. And the conflict between rooting out terrorists and terrorist plots before they occur, and honoring the individual freedom we are guaranteed is a tricky one.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Notice that it does not say, “unless Congress or the President says otherwise.” Mass collection of information about the citizenry fails that test.

Earlier this month the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s phone data collection program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized,” according to Judge Gerard Lynch’s opinion for the three-judge panel, which does not address the constitutional aspects of the law, but says the NSA program exceeds Congress’ intention, which itself is likely unconstitutional.

We must not allow government to impose actions because of a crisis that in calmer times we would not tolerate. Once government gains a power it is next to impossible to take it away, and once a mechanism is available it is always available for mischievous application. Remember Lois Lerner?

These words, attributed to both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, must be heeded: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

We should do anything and everything within constitutional limits to fight terrorism, but we must not allow even small degrees of unconstitutional activity, not even to combat a known imminent attack. Once that threshold is crossed, reestablishing it will be virtually impossible.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ideas on citizenship and abortion reveal the left’s extremes

Hillary Clinton devalues citizenship

Apparently, nearly anyone who wants to be a full-fledged citizen of the United States ought to be able to gain citizenship, regardless of who they are or how they got into the country, with a few notable exceptions, according to Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

She recently said, “We can’t wait any longer. We can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship” for those who crossed our border illegally or deliberately over-stayed their visas.

Demonstrating how one’s strong opinions can change due to political considerations, Mrs. Clinton reversed her previous position, likely to appeal to Hispanic voters. Last June, she said that children who traveled from South America to the U.S. through Mexico should be sent back where they came from.

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked her, “So should they be sent back?” 

“Well, first of all, we have to provide the best emergency care we can provide,” Mrs. Clinton said, but “they should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are.” She also said, “We need to do more to provide border security in southern Mexico.” And perhaps on our southern border, too?

“We have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay,” she said. “So we don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws...” By that reasoning, adults who sneak in or stay beyond the limits of their visa ought to be sent back, as well.

But that was last year. Now her thinking is if they sneak in, oh, well. If they sneak their kids in, well, we can’t keep families separated, you know? Therefore, award citizenship to them.

And no Clinton campaign would be complete without a degree of distortion and exaggeration. “This is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side,” she said. “Make no mistakes — today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one. When they talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status…”

What Republican candidates generally support is granting legal status, but then legal immigrants can follow a path to citizenship, like the system that millions utilized to become citizens in the past.

American citizenship once was something of extremely high value. People came here through the approved process and they adopted American principles and values and made the country better.

Now more people than ever want to come here, but for the wrong reasons. Our foolish policies about immigration and pandering to illegals have turned citizenship into a path to welfare. Today there are more than 11 million illegal aliens in the country, and more coming every day.

The March for Life Rally in Ottawa

Organizers of the March for Life rally in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada said the rally drew 25,000 people and was the largest in the event’s 18-year history. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, pegged attendance at a much lower 8,000, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

However large or small the pro-life contingent was, it dwarfed the faction of pro-abortionist demonstrators on hand for the event, which was estimated to be between 50 and 100. One thing must be said for the abortion lobby, however: What they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in support of their radical position.

A TV interviewer named Marissa Semkiw talked with an abortion supporter named Alex, who made some startling claims about what he thinks ought to be the universally accepted position on unwanted pregnancy. Carrying a sign that read, “Guess What, A Woman’s Body Is Her Own F***ing Business,” Alex proceeded to defend his statement. And he took it to a level that no moral person should be able to support.

Advancing the idea that the only person involved in the decision of whether and when to end pregnancy is the pregnant woman. When asked by Ms. Semkiw if a woman should have the right to end her pregnancy one month before the child was born, Alex said that the woman alone should make that choice. Asked if a woman should have the right to end her pregnancy one week before child was born, he gave the same answer. And Alex gave the same answer when asked if the woman ought to have the right to end her pregnancy one day before the child would be born.

And finally, asked if after the child was born a woman ought to have the right to have the baby’s life ended, Alex said, “I’m not advocating for murder of any kind — again, it’s not my choice.” But apparently it is the woman’s choice.

Abortion at any time is radical enough a position. Is it now the position of abortion advocates that a child’s life can be ended even after birth?

Two points: First, if when we die the heart stops beating, what do we call it when the heart starts beating? Life? And second, have you noticed that everyone who advocates for unfettered abortion has already been born?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Does America have free speech, or only “sometimes free speech”?

Recently, more words have been added to the list that our betters say we can’t use anymore. 
Most recent is the word “thug,” following the riots in American cities after the deaths of African-American males in confrontations with police officers. News reports describing broken windows and looting of some businesses, burning buildings and cars, etc., by some of the rioters contained that word in what clear-thinking people would accept as accurate useage.

But it immediately was labeled a no-no, because some had decided that it was being used to replace the “N” word. That, of course, falsely assumes that the only people who behave like thugs are black.

One of Hillary Clinton’s support groups virtually dared media folk to use any of 12 descriptive words in discussing her, because doing so, they say, is sexist.

What these folks, so quick on the trigger to ban words they don’t like, forget is that here in America millions of us take the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech seriously. Just because you are offended by something someone said, you don’t get to dictate what people can and cannot say.

And now the Garland, TX event that resulted in two Muslim extremists getting their just desserts before they could murder participants and the event’s sponsor, Pamela Geller, has ignited a furor over whether the Muhammed Art Exhibit and Contest event crossed the boundaries of free speech.

Ms. Geller’s critics say “yes, she has the right to have this contest, even though it is highly offensive to Muslims, but she should not have had the contest because it drove those two Muslims to violence.” Translated into plain English, these critics are saying, “If someone might react violently to what the First Amendment guarantees you the right to say, you shouldn’t say it.” And, they imply that the two now-dispatched murderous Muslim thugs aren’t the ones who did wrong, Ms. Geller is.

In that realm of illogic, what is or is not legitimate free speech depends upon how someone might react to it, and the speaker is responsible for how some maniac might react to what he or she said. That standard, if adopted as law, would lead eventually to darned near everything being ruled improper speech, because these days being offended now rivals baseball for the title of National Pastime.

For those ignorant of the founding principles, a refresher on why there is a free speech clause in the First Amendment might be useful. Since no one cares about restricting speech that they like and approve of, the First Amendment must have been created for a different purpose.

Its purpose was to guarantee the people the right to say pretty much anything they might want to say, however unpopular, vile or hurtful it may be to some. Specifically, the right to speak against government and those involved in it was high on the list. Imagine the futility of declaring independence from an oppressive master, fighting a bloody war to achieve independence, and then not providing mechanisms that guarantee that the citizens of the new nation can think and speak like the Founders did.

Where religion is concerned, consider that Andres Serrano received $20,000 of taxpayer support from the National Endowment for the Arts for the “work of art” titled “Piss Christ,” a crucifix sitting in a container of urine. Millions of Christians and others condemned this as highly inappropriate, but no one tried to kill him, or to rewrite or redefine the First Amendment.

Contrast that with renderings of the prophet Muhammad, whom the Encyclopedia Britannica said was “founder of the religion of Islam, accepted by Muslims throughout the world as the last of the prophets of God.” The episode in Garland, TX, the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest, where two Muslim men took exception to the idea of using Muhammad as the subject of art works and showed up with assault rifles, stands in sharp contrast to the Piss Christ episode.

There are some exceptions to free speech, among them the commonly cited “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” which would spark a panic that would likely hurt people. Drawing pictures of Muhammad, however disgusting they may be, or calling thugs “thugs,” or using certain words to describe Ms. Clinton fall well short of that threshold.

We cannot and will not allow self-appointed censors to cleanse the lexicon of imagined offensive thoughts and words, whether the goal is to protect a political candidate, or because certain words or deeds are likely to offend someone.

The United States has not survived and thrived for more than 200 years by letting a bunch of ideological nannies control their every word, thought and deed.

We should expect and encourage people to use good judgment in their words and deeds, but we cannot persecute them when their legal behavior strays beyond our preferred boundaries.

The United States has its way of doing things that has worked well for a long time, including guarantees of free speech, freedom of religion, and other important individual rights. Those principles are not going to change every time a small, disenchanted group wants a change.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Washington State and Seattle set the nation’s highest minimum wage

Since 1998, Washington State has led the nation in both local and statewide minimum wage levels, which attracted the attention of Labor Secretary Tom Perez who praised the state for having “the highest minimum wage in the country for the last 15 years.” But the full picture is much less rosy than Secretary Perez would have us believe.

In an article on the Freedom Foundation’s Maxfeld Nelson put things in perspective. “Although the state’s overall job growth has remained strong since adoption of the high minimum wage, growth in industries with a prevalence of low-wage workers has slowed,” he reports. Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau data he writes that while Washington State’s share of the nation’s population increased by 5.7 percent from 1998 to 2014, and its share of total U.S. jobs increased by 6.3 percent, the state’s share of U.S. hotel and restaurant jobs, which could have been expected to rise commensurately, fell by 5.7 percent. Those industries are where thousands of people the higher minimum wage was supposed to help were once employed.

In fact, while Washington’s teen unemployment rate had roughly paralleled national trends prior to the 1998 minimum wage hike, every year since then it has been substantially higher, and at one point reached 34 percent above the national rate.

Not content with the state’s $9.47 minimum wage, SeaTac, a small city that depends heavily on businesses benefitting from its airport, decided to raise its minimum to $15 an hour in a close vote in a 2013 election. “Although the narrow drafting of the ordinance and ongoing litigation have limited the law’s scope to a mere handful of businesses and employees,” Mr. Nelson writes, “it is still having consequences. A parking company has added a ‘living-wage surcharge’ to its rates. One hotel closed its restaurant and laid off 17 employees. Employees at another hotel reported losing an array of benefits, with one stating that the $15 minimum wage ‘sounds good, but it’s not good.’”

And now Seattle has hopped on board that bandwagon with a phased-in minimum wage, raising the minimum to $11 an hour April 1, and the rate hike will be fully implemented by 2025. Some businesses, however, are on a sped-up schedule, like Ritu Shah Burnham’s Z Pizza restaurant.

Even though she has only 12 employees, her business is classified as part of a “large business franchise,” putting her on the fast track to raising the minimum. “I’ve let one person go since April 1, I’ve cut hours since April 1. I’ve taken them myself because I don’t pay myself,” she told a local TV station. “I’ve also raised my prices a little bit; there’s no other way to do it.”

One of her employees was initially excited at the advertised benefits of getting a raise and having a better life. “If that’s the truth,” he told the TV outlet, “I don’t think that’s very apparent. People like me are finding themselves in a tougher situation than ever.” He will only get to enjoy the higher pay until August, when Ms. Burnham has determined she must close her business. “I have no idea where they’re going to find jobs, because if I’m cutting hours, I imagine everyone is across the board,” she said.

Jake Spear, the director of 15 Now Seattle, a wage hike advocate group, was unmoved at the plight of these 12 employees. It’s just one restaurant, after all. “Restaurants open and close all the time, for various reasons,” he said.

Back during the flower child era of the 1960s and 70s, the operative slogan was, “If it feels good, do it!” That slogan has more recently been co-opted by pandering politicians, labor union leaders, and others more interested in the immediate rewards of increased numbers of fawning, adoring voters and thankful union members than with the reality of lost jobs, higher consumer prices, and struggling businesses. They have another favorite slogan, as well: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

The fallacy in the minimum wage debate is that so many people – liberal feel-gooders, people new to the workforce, people in the most basic jobs and/or with the lowest skill levels, along with pandering politicians and union bosses – don’t understand the significance of varying wage levels. It eludes them that wages must be earned, not merely given like a gift, and that higher wages require more training, knowledge, skill and experience from workers than lower wages do. There is more involved in earning a high wage than just getting hired and showing up for work. You have to contribute something positive to the business you are fortunate enough to work for, and the greater your contribution, the more you are able to earn.

A mandated high minimum wage contributes to the entitlement mentality, where people expect to exist without having to contribute very much to their own well-being. This is not a positive development for a society that was built by generations of Americans who were hard working and self-reliant.

Detroit and Baltimore are graphic examples of the failure of liberal policies, and now we see Washington State and Seattle heading down that same path.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The political left: ambitious, entitled, omniscient, and wrong

Hillary Clinton, former First Lady and former U.S. Senator from New York, is unquestionably an ambitious lady. As husband Bill’s term in the Oval Office was winding down in 2000, she ran for and won a New York Senate seat, ran for the 2008 Democrat nomination for president, losing to Barack Obama, and then became Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 in the administration of her recent political opponent. Now she is running for president again.

She is a polarizing figure, with large numbers of people who adore her on one side, and large numbers who just want her to go away on the other, due to both her past ideas as well as the more recent ones. Following her period as Secretary of State we see a calculating, disingenuous personality addicted to secretive practices, both characteristics of someone who will do anything to win whatever challenge they may be facing.

Campaigning again for the Democrat nomination, her over-confident demeanor and insincere responses to questions about her recent past suggest she sees her nomination as inevitable. And despite the numerous scandals raging around her, she feels entitled to the Oval Office. Should someone so out of touch with reality be President of the United States?

There. I have used all of the “forbidden” descriptors, banned from use in discussing Hillary Clinton: polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over-confident, secretive, will do anything to win, represents the past, and out of touch.

This edict comes from the group "HRC Super Volunteers," which promises to keep an eye out for the use of words it holds to be sexist code words, and even went so far as to warn Amy Chozick of The New York Times. The email sent to Ms. Chozick read, "You are on notice that we will be watching, reading, listening and protesting coded sexism...”

All of which goes to justify using several of those descriptors, even if the Super Volunteers prefer to not see them. Truthfully, it is difficult to discuss Hillary Clinton without these descriptions coming to mind.

She spoke to the sixth annual Women in the World Summit recently. In her speech, she said the following: “Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth, and laws don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper,” she said. “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will.”

A couple of things in that statement reflect some of those “qualities,” but what came next goes even further: “And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

Cultural codes do change, but they do so slowly over time, as the things people value ebb and flow, and structural biases also often evolve as cultures change. Neither, however, changes at the command of someone believing they are entitled to make such a demand.

The third element in that statement, religious beliefs, is a completely different matter. Religious tenets are hallowed, deep-seated and long-standing, and in most cases were developed centuries ago. They are a pact between people and their Creator, and as such rise above having to yield to the disapproval of, or recommendations for change by, Hillary Clinton, or any other person or faction.

To suggest that religious beliefs ought to be changed to conform to some recent social whim that contradicts those beliefs is the height of arrogance and hubris.

Furthermore, in the United States, the sanctity of religious beliefs is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

P.J. O'Rourke, political satirist, and journalist, said this about the Founders and their ideas: “Our Founding Fathers lacked the special literary skills with which modern writers on the subject of government are so richly endowed. When they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, they found themselves more or less forced to come to the point. So clumsy of thought and pen were the Founders that even today, seven generations later, we can tell what they were talking about.”

Given the plain language of the Constitution and its Amendments, recent court decisions obviously breach the Constitutional protections of valued religious tenets, such as that people whose religion rejects homosexuality can be forced to provide services through their business that contradict their religious beliefs. When a conflict exists between the desires of a gay couple for wedding services and the religious beliefs of business owners requested to provide those services, laws that punish the business owners for honoring their beliefs and denying the requested services plainly violate the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion.

The ideology of the hard left seems to know no bounds; nothing trumps the desires of the left, not even the U.S. Constitution. Founding principles and sacred ideals are respected only as long as they are useful to the left. After that point has been crossed, long-held and respected values are thrown in the trash in favor of new temporary values.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Holy Abundance, by Michael Belk

My friend, John Britt sent me something I want to share with you, that is different from my usual political posts. I hope you will find this beneficial.

Recently, a friend gave us a copy of a book titled, "Journeys with the Messiah." Michael Belk, a successful fashion photographer, felt God's call to write and photograph this book, paraphrased around the parables of Jesus.

He went to Italy and found a town that he felt looked like the Judean area in which Jesus lived.  He then sought out a model that resembled his idea of what Jesus might have looked like.  Next, he assembled a cast of biblical and modern day characters who might represent those New Testament parable participants. 

So, the visuals show a "robed Jesus" in an ancient city surrounded by modern day people plus those who might represent the people of Jesus' day. I have attached a photo and one of the parable stories so you can grasp the stark contrast.  Here is the narrative with scripture reference from Matthew 6:19-21 that ends with "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Holy Abundance - God's Provision Gone Awry

The World Health Organization reports that two-thirds of the world's population is underfed or starving. Every day, 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That is one child every five seconds or about nine children in the time it will take you to read this message.

Hearing statistics like this, I immediately think of far-away places like India and Africa.  And then, I learn that in the United States, one out of every eight children go to bed hungry every night. 

There is a story about a man who stands on a hill overlooking a refugee camp.  Seeing the starvation and death, he turns his face skyward and screams, "God, how could you let this happen?"  God responds with, "How could you?"

We have the means to fix this.  The world's poorest could have their health and nutritional needs met for less than 25% of what Americans spend on clothing each year.

The issue is not a lack of abundance. It is simply a lack of distribution.  How many children will die today while I sit on my savings account? It is a painful question to ponder.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Slices of life in America, 2015: The Good; The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: Jordan Speith, 21 year-old Masters golf tournament champion - In this day of giant egos among athletes, entertainers and politicians, we hardly ever expect to see someone behave with dignity and humility when they have a big success.

But following his magnificent win at the Masters on April 12, where he shot a 2-under-par 70 in the final round to finish with an 18-under 270, four shots ahead of three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson and 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.

This was his fourth win worldwide in four months, placing him No. 2 in the world. But no self-congratulatory, boastful behavior comes from this young man. “It's the most incredible week of my life," he said. "This is as great as it gets in our sport. … This isn't an honor that's carried lightly.”

He is as even when things don’t go so well. A bad tee shot on the 16th hole in Sunday’s final round elicited a disgusted "dang it!"

"He's just a classy guy," Phil Mickelson said of him on Saturday. "He just represents the game very well and at a very young age, and he's just got a lot of game. So if he were to come out on top, it would be wonderful for the tournament, wonderful for the game."

The Bad: Silly enforcement of a San Antonio ordinance - It’s another case of government run amok, sometimes seeing the good things people do as bad, and following sometimes-silly rules that interfere with religious freedom and the good works people do.

San Antonio lawyer and author Joan Cheever owns The Chow Train, a licensed non-profit food truck that she uses to provide hot, healthy meals to the homeless each week. She has been doing this since 2005, feeding between 25 and 75 homeless people each time. But four of San Antonio’s Finest took exception to this voluntary effort to help those less fortunate, and issued Ms. Cheever a $2,000 ticket.

When she told one of the officers she was merely following the tenets of her religion, he responded, “Ma’am, if you want to pray, go to church.” The officer apparently is not familiar with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which clearly allows one to freely practice their religion whether in church or not, something that is of a higher authority than city ordinances.

Charitable works have been under attack for decades by a growing attitude among big government advocates that holds, despite dramatic evidence to the contrary, that government can do it better. And now in San Antonio government directly halts a private sector effort to help people in need, people that the city government is not feeding once a week, as does Ms. Cheever.

She will appear in court on June 23 to defend herself, and plans to argue that this expression of her religious convictions is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Let us hope the court will see the value of her works, and allow her to follow her charitable impulses to help the less fortunate unimpeded.

The Ugly: Two examples - “Ugly” is a term with a variety of meanings, and applications: very unattractive, disagreeable, unpleasant, objectionable, morally revolting, threatening or dangerous, mean, and is applied to things that are really dumb and defy common sense.

With that in mind, two ugly items:

* A New York Police Department officer who drove his replica of the General Lee car from “The Dukes of Hazard” TV show to work has been told by his superiors not to drive it to work anymore. Why? Because the General Lee has a Confederate flag painted on its top, and some might consider that offensive. According to a local TV news report, a police spokesman said, “due to the fact that its presence at the NYPD facility may be considered offensive and/or inappropriate, the registered owner is being instructed that the car should not be parked on NYPD property.” Maybe the officer should be forced to sell the car as a provision of continued employment, so he can’t offend anyone, even when he’s off duty. No one must be offended. Ever.

* A Virginia college girl and two friends were set upon in her car in a store parking lot after making a purchase by seven plainclothes officers of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control agency. The girls did not realize the un-uniformed people were law enforcement agents, and got scared when the agents aggressively approached their car. They tried to escape, prompting one officer to pull a gun and another to try to break out a window with a flashlight. In the effort to escape, the driver brushed two of the officers. She was later charged with three felonies and spent the night in jail. What had these girls done? The officers “thought” they “might” have bought beer and “might” have been under age. They had bought bottled water, not beer. Eventually, the charges against the girl were dropped. Who thinks hiding in store parking lots waiting to catch under-age customers buying beer is efficient use of ABC resources and taxpayer money?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

State Board acts to allow the light of day into public schools

An email last week from the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and a story in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph the following morning noted that the West Virginia Board of Education voted to open up state teaching standards so that students would be able to consider both sides of a contemporary debate.

Say, what? The state Board of Education had to have a special vote to allow more than one side of a critical issue to be studied in West Virginia’s public schools? Well, yes, more or less, since the Next Generation Science Standards that the BOE was considering for adoption were worded such that global warming is settled science, and therefore not a proper topic for debate.

During the deliberations on the standards last December, the Charleston Gazette reported that BOE member Wade Linger requested several changes be made to the standards prior to their being offered for public comment, like this one: “There was a question in there that said: ‘Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century,” Mr. Linger was quoted as saying. “... If you have that as a standard, then that presupposes that global temperatures have risen over the past century, and, of course, there’s debate about that.” He suggested adding the words “and fall” after “rise” to the sixth-grade science standard, and that change some others were adopted.

Then the Gazette reported on January 14 that following a period of public comment the BOE yielded to criticism from “teachers, professors and others,” and withdrew the changes, and again opened a period of public comment.

One wonders exactly what “teachers, professors and others” fear from opening debate on this topic, or any topic?

CFACT reports that Executive Director Craig Rucker, and climate news and information service editor Marc Morano, along with students from West Virginia University and Marshall University who belong to CFACT Collegian chapters at the schools, all testified before the Board.

On April 8 the Board voted to open up teaching standards to permit students to consider both sides in the climate debate by a 6-2 vote. CFACT reported that, “Supporters of the changes, including board members Wade Linger and Tom Campbell, argued that ‘science is never settled’ and that debate will lead students into a deeper understanding of the issue.”

Let’s congratulate the state BOE for finally getting it right, and award special kudos to Mr. Linger and Mr. Campbell for their leadership in blowing away the dark clouds of censorship, and opening the way for contrary ideas to be voiced and discussed. And let’s also acknowledge the efforts of CFACT and WVU and MU students for taking a stand for openness in public education.

Some issues are considered beyond debate, like that the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth, that day follows night and night follows day, and that the Earth is not flat. But that does not mean that there can’t be any discussion or that some can’t reject those ideas if they so choose.

In the early 1600s it was “settled science” that the Earth was the center of the universe, a view held by virtually all scientists of the time and by the Catholic Church, supported by Biblical references. Then came Galileo, a scientist who professed heliocentrism – a sun-centered system in which Earth and other heavenly bodies all orbited the Sun – a theory he had developed through observations.

His heretical ideas, like those of today’s climate realists who disagree that man’s activities are contributing to any meaningful degree in the Earth’s temperature, were out of step with the current dogma, but were correct that Earth was not the center of the universe. For daring to express contrary ideas, Galileo faced the Inquisition, and in 1616 was ordered “... to abandon completely... the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.”

Galileo was correct that Earth was not the center of the universe, and his theory displaced the previously held “settled science” of geocentrism. Only later would Galileo’s heliocentric idea be found to also not be completely accurate. Settled science once again fell to objective investigation.

One gets the idea that climate alarmists’ positions are so weak that they have to prevent contrary views from being aired for their ideas to win the day.

However, limiting discussion of controversial topics is precisely the wrong thing to do. Why would any reasonable and objective person object to discussing opposing views of important issues such as global warming/climate change, abortion, gun control, vaccinations, the “right” and “wrong” kinds of foods and drinks to consume? As BOE members Linger and Campbell pointed out, such openness will lead only to a deeper understanding of the issues.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the concept of standards of learning, but school boards at every level must be careful to assure that by adopting a set of standards they are not actually imposing ideological perspectives on young, impressionable minds.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Notice: You are breaking one or more federal laws and/or regulations

Most of us probably think of ourselves as law-abiding, up-standing American citizens. We pay our taxes on time. We keep our drivers licenses and inspections up to date. We don’t shoplift, or take illegal drugs. We don’t murder, rob, rape or assault others. That’s the way law-abiding citizens think and act.

And yet, I am willing to bet some money that every one of us has breeched or is on the wrong side of some federal decree.

I say that with a high degree of confidence because there are so many of these edicts from on high that nobody – not you, not law enforcement, not even the judges at whose mercy we will find ourselves if charged for breaking one – knows them all.

You see, here in the Land of the Free there are between 3,600 and 4,500 federal statutes that impose criminal sanctions, according to Michael Cottone, writing in the Tennessee Law Review.

As bad as that is, the ridiculously high number of federal laws pales in comparison to the number of regulations created by administrative agencies that carry criminal penalties, maybe as many as 300,000 of them.

With that knowledge, the old maxim “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is now a mere absurdity.

Of course, if we actually were to follow the dictates of the U.S. Constitution – a quaint idea, these days – at least some of those 300,000 regulations aren’t valid, since the only authorized law-making entity at the federal level is the Congress, and the Constitution does not authorize the Congress to abdicate that duty, and pass it along to the excessive number of unelected bureaucrats in the too-many Executive Branch agencies, departments, administrations, commissions and offices.

The Constitution sets forth the following: Article I, Section I: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” That’s about as plain as it can be. Notice it does not say, “except where Congress decides to cede that authority to the Executive Branch.”

Some laws are downright stupid, or sometimes are applied stupidly:
* A child saved a woodpecker from her family’s cat and was fined $535 under the migratory bird law.
* A 66-year-old retiree went to prison because he didn't have proper paperwork for orchids.

Some are irrational; others are conveniently broad and through twisted reasoning are used to punish American individuals and businesses. Consider the case of Gibson Guitars: On August 24, 2011, agents of the federal government executed four search warrants on Gibson manufacturing plants in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, where they seized pallets of wood, electronic files and finished guitars. Other than making excellent musical instruments, what had Gibson done?

Public servants in the Department of Justice determined that using wood from India that was not finished by workers in India is illegal, not by U.S. law, but because of the way the DOJ interpreted Indian law. The feds argued that Gibson violated the Lacey Act of 1900, which outlaws the use of plants and wildlife that have been taken or traded in violation of foreign law.

Apparently, Gibson is supposed to have known that Indian companies broke Indian law and sold wood illegally, thereby making Gibson subject to prosecution in the U.S. Seriously.

CEO Henry Juszkiewicz said Gibson competitors also use this same wood, and wondered why his company had been singled out. Fair question. Regardless, Gibson paid $300,000 to avoid criminal charges, was forced to make a "community service payment" of $50,000 to the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to promote conservation and development of tree species used in making musical instruments, as well as withdraw claims to $262,000 worth of exotic woods seized by federal authorities.

It is unfair and oppressive to hold taxpaying citizens to the impossible standard of knowing and obeying every one of the hundreds of thousands of laws and regulations that might affect them, but in addition to that, perpetuating circumstances that allow prosecutors to haul people into court and potentially fine or imprison them on the flimsy basis that they should actually know all these decrees is outrageous, although Mussolini, Pol Pot, and Stalin would approve.

"The criminal code today is so vast and complex that judges and lawyers have a lot of trouble discerning what's legal and what's illegal," John Malcom, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told the House Judiciary Committee. "What hope do ordinary citizens have?" The government should be required to identify every federal crime, he said, and make that list easily accessible and free to the public.

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers president Steven Benjamin testified that when the average citizen cannot figure out what is illegal, "that is unfairness in its most basic form. We have become addicted to the use of criminal law as a blunt instrument to control social and economic behavior."

George Terwilliger, former deputy attorney general in George W. Bush’s administration, thinks Congress should pass one overriding law that requires proof of intent for any federal crime.

Contact your representative and senators and tell them to implement the Malcom and Terwilliger recommendations.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Liberal legislation continues to disrupt our healthcare system

By the time you read this the physician reimbursement crisis may have been averted, yet again. But if not, doctors who still treat Medicare and Medicaid patients will see a reduction of 21.2 percent for Medicare patients and as much as 42.8 percent for Medicaid patients for services rendered on or before March 31, unless Congress enacts another “doc fix” before April 1

If the “doc fix” hasn’t yet been approved and isn’t approved today, both Medicare and Medicaid patients may have a far more difficult time getting medical care. And if it is fixed this time, what will happen when this fix expires?

This is yet another of the blessings of Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010, and through tortured legal reasoning was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Obamacare is not the first government action to reduce reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid patients, but because Obamacare put millions more people in the Medicaid system in order to increase the number of Americans who could then be counted as “insured,” it gets credit for the current crisis. And to keep down vocal physician opposition to adding millions more to an already broken system, Congressional Democrats who created Obamacare included a two-year increase in reimbursement rates that are now set to expire April 1, and that means the lower reimbursement rates will be back, if the “doc fix” isn’t passed.

Doctors generally get paid less for Medicaid and Medicare patients than their cost basis in treating them, and situations like this one magnify that problem. Consequently, some doctors limit the number of Medicaid and Medicare patients they see, and some do not treat them at all. Don’t be surprised if this situation causes more doctors to join those ranks every year until reimbursements for services to these patients are stabilized at a higher level so that doctors don’t lose money treating them.

On one hand we should support efforts to reign in absurdly high levels of government spending, which in 2014 was approximately 17 percent higher than revenue, meaning that for every dollar of tax revenue there’s 17 cents of deficit spending that the government has to borrow. But on the other hand, shortchanging physicians who treat America’s elderly and low-income or welfare-supported citizens is a foolish way to do that.

This is especially unfair to Medicare patients, who are not welfare recipients, and who, of all those who receive government benefits, are truly entitled to them. They receive essentially their own money, and that of their employers, both of whom had money taken from them by the government to fund Social Security, and later Medicare. These benefits are not the same as Medicaid, food stamps, child support and other welfare money.

The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 and is a promise government made to American workers and their employers that the money government took from them would be put in a trust fund and invested, and returned to them in their later years.

Predictably, the government then used that money for other purposes, not for the benefit of the people the Social Security Trust Fund exists to serve. The Trust Fund is now bankrupt, for all practicable purposes, being in the red approximately $300 billion.

And that raises the question: How is it possible that the Social Security Trust Fund, which was built by the monetary contributions of its recipients and their employers, can run out of money, but the “fund” that pays from $700 billion to $1 trillion annually for welfare in all its numerous forms, never runs out of money?

The “doc fix” that will help doctors who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients will also add to the deficit, and that obviously is bad. We need to spend less money, but we also need to not limit medical care to those who need it. The solution lies in repairing the Medicaid system, which provides care to millions, and many are perfectly capable of funding some or all of their own care. Welfare must be reserved for those who are truly needy and have no other solution.

And now, from centuries ago, here is a statement addressing the situation in which our once great nation now finds itself:

"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague." - Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Choking off suffocating activities like “Operation Choke Point”

The federal government’s efforts to restrict the freedoms Americans have enjoyed for more than 200 years have gotten so preposterous recently that the most of these efforts leave people incredulously saying, “Seriously?”

To wit: The Environmental Protection Agency recently went after people who burn wood to heat their homes. Trying to destroy the coal and oil industries isn’t enough, now the EPA thinks wood – an inexpensive, renewable energy source – which is the mainstay of rural homes and of some of the nation’s poorest residents, is harmful, and the agency has banned the sale of 80 percent of wood-burning stoves.

And now the nation’s most out-of-control agency has charcoal grills in its crosshairs, and has funded a project at the University of California with $15,000 of taxpayer money to study the emissions from grease drippings when people indulge in that dangerous activity, outdoor cooking.

First it was toilets, because they used too much water; then inexpensive, safe incandescent light bulbs, which have been replaced with CFLs that contain mercury and emit ultraviolet radiation; and now wood stoves and potentially outdoor grilling. There are too many people on the payroll at the EPA with too much time on their hands.

These efforts are necessary, we are told, to keep the world from grinding to a halt because of … well, some horrible disaster related to climate change, or global warming, or whatever the alarmists are now calling their imagined cataclysm.

Each time some new target becomes public we ask, “Can it get any worse?” Unfortunately, the answer always is, “Yes.”

The EPA is not the only arm of the government harming the good citizens they exist to serve. The Department of Justice has jumped blindly onto that bandwagon with a program even more intolerable than the EPA’s misadventures called Operation Choke Point, which looks way too much like something you would find in other less-free countries, or perhaps used by mob bosses in Chicago.

Operation Choke Point is a method of preventing perfectly legal businesses from being able to operate satisfactorily, not by pointing to a law these businesses have broken or a shady practice they have indulged in, or by going through legislative channels to have what they do declared illegal, as our concept of the rule of law demands, but by underhandedly strong-arming financial institutions with whom these business have accounts, and “convincing” them to not do business with these merchants any longer.

Businesses such as ammunition sales, escort services, on-line gambling, so-called “racist materials,” third party payment processors, payday lenders, and online lenders, have been targeted simply because someone in the DOJ or higher up in the administration doesn’t like them. Some are perhaps undesirable, but all are legal.

What happens is that the DOJ and bank regulators pressure banks and other third-party payment processors to cease providing or deny banking services to industries the government alleges pose a “reputation risk” to the bank or service provider.

Last May, Todd Zywicki wrote in The Washington Post the “initiative has been shrouded in secrecy, but now it is starting to come to light  … and since then it has been difficult to discover details about it … Without an ability to process payments, the businesses – especially online vendors — cannot survive.”

The irony is that while the DOJ and bank regulators are choking off financial services to perfectly legal industries, they are also encouraging banks to provide banking services to illegal marijuana sales.

When you have people in high offices that are more interested in serving some ideological god than they are in serving the American people, and when that ideological god demands the improper use of government force against legal activities, something must be done to stop it.

And last week, the U.S. Senate started down that road. The Senate Budget Committee approved an amendment to end Operation Choke Point, and according to The Daily Signal, Committee member Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, will offer an amendment this week to the Senate’s budget proposal to defund the DOJ program.

Sen. Crapo last year commented that Operation Choke Point “has morphed into an attempt to shut down entire industries of law-abiding and legitimate merchants.” And he sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing “strong concerns” about the program. Unsurprisingly, the Justice Department, declared that it has “no interest in pursuing or discouraging lawful conduct.”

And the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will question FDIC officials about the agency’s involvement in Operation Choke Point, and hopes to find out who was involved, how high up it goes, and whether anyone has been held accountable.

The answer to that last item will likely be “No.” It is virtually unheard of for federal employees to pay a price for their malfeasance. It is also likely we will not learn the any names associated with this outrageous offense.

Cutting funding for the EPA, the DOJ, and any/every other agency that over-reaches is an appropriate mechanism to redress the wrongs they commit against the American people. The government spends far too much money, and cutting spending where it is being used wrongly or unconstitutionally ought to be celebrated by every freedom loving American.