Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

The year 2009 was in many ways a difficult year.

I hope everyone has a better 2010, complete with dozens of
Republican victories, and Democrat defeats!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Damage from health care reform
reaches beyond health care boundaries

Opponents of so-called health care reform believe terrible things will happen if some version of it passes and gets signed into law. Most of the damage will occur in obvious places, such as to doctors and hospitals, to those who are happy with their existing health insurance, and to everyday Americans, whose taxes and cost of living will rise.

But it will also affect areas outside health care, like private charity.

“How can reforming the health care system and health insurance industry affect charities,” you may wonder? It may seem like a weird disconnect, but it does because, like so much of what liberalism attempts in pursuit of a “perfect” society, it produces consequences that either are unforeseen, or those consequences get written off as acceptable sacrifices in order to achieve what liberals see as the greater good. So, if charities suffer in taking over the health care system, that’s okay.

During formulation of the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill, a group including Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and John Kerry (D-MA) proposed an idea that would raise billions of dollars in additional tax revenue to help offset the enormous costs of the health care takeover by limiting the value of itemized deductions, such as donations to charity. The proposal would hold the value of charitable deductions at 35 cents on a dollar, while the top tax rate rises to more than 39 percent when the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011.

And when Senate Democrats passed their unpopular health care bill in the middle of that snowy night on a strict 60-40 party-line vote, Democrats said “Merry Christmas” to America’s poor by reducing funding for charities that assist them by billions of dollars each year.

Howard Husock, the Vice President of Policy Research and the Director of the Manhattan Institute's Social Entrepreneurship Award, explained that “when a similar proposal was advanced early this year by President Obama, the long-time head of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Martin Feldstein, estimated it would lead to a $7 billion drop in charitable giving.”

Charities have already taken a big hit, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which reported that six of ten United Way chapters saw a decline in giving last year, totaling $4 billion.

Indeed, a coalition of 15 major charitable organizations that are concerned about the situation wrote a letter to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) stating that “charities have seen an increased demand for their services as individuals and families struggle with financial uncertainty.”

The underlying assumption of the Democrat’s scheme seems to be that “we’ve got to get money from anywhere and everywhere to offset the exorbitant costs of our health care reform, and government can do a better job of spending charitable dollars than people can.” So, to pay for its takeover of one-sixth of the private economy, the federal government now will take money the people intended for the charities they deem important, and will substitute the judgment of individual Americans with the judgment of a federal bureaucracy in deciding how the funding should be used and which charities will get funding.

In preparation for this not-yet-collected treasure, the Obama Administration has already announced the establishment of a new White House Office of Social Innovation which will make grants directly from the White House to individual non-profit organizations.

And, just as some industries jumped on the health care reform and cap-and-trade bandwagons to insure their survival against an overly aggressive government, some non-profit organizations support this idea, putting themselves in the position to attract “government money” that will enable them to survive and thrive, even as charitable donations drop by billions of dollars a year.

When government calls the shots instead of the people, those intended charitable dollars will be used to support the administration’s purposes, not the people’s purposes, and certain “preferred” organizations and causes get a subsidy. “This government-led giving contrasts sharply with the wide-ranging, sometimes quirky, but historically creative nature of American philanthropy,” Mr. Husock said.

Roberton Williams, senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, said it's impossible to calculate the exact effects of all the tax changes, but he said the overall result is clear – less philanthropic giving. "This will lead people to give less to charities if they behave the way they've behaved in the past," he said. "We've already seen a drop in giving as a result of the economic collapse. On top of that, this will just reduce the amount of giving."

Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag has noted, however, that the recovery act calls for “$100 million to support nonprofits and charities as we get through this period of economic difficulty." Do Senate Democrats and the President really think that taking more money from those citizens with the most to give to charity, and reducing charitable giving, and then replacing billions of lost donations with a few million dollars controlled by the government will have no negative implications?

Will the American people recognize that the measures President Obama and the Congress are promoting will wreck their country in time to stop them?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Holiday Wish For You

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

And a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year of 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “America” in the Western Hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee.

Fine print: By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

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Chaos: Watching Democrats make sausage
in the United States Senate

Observing the spectacle in the U.S. Senate the last couple of weeks, and particularly last weekend, has really highlighted the confusion and desperation gripping the leadership in the U.S. Senate. The manic effort to push through a (so-called) health care reform bill is truly remarkable, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is going to extraordinary lengths to make sure some sort of bill is passed before Christmas.

Millions of Americans, watching in astonishment as this tawdry episode unfolds, want to know, “What’s the hurry?” It’s not as if there is an urgent need for health care reform – the situation simply isn’t critical, as evidenced by the fact that the helpful elements of the bill, such as they are, will not go into effect for years. Worse, there is little true reform in the bill. This is all about politics: an artificial deadline created to address an artificial crisis.

President Barack Obama campaigned on health care reform, among other things, and he’s set one deadline after another to accomplish this. The Congress has so far failed to respond to his demands, despite strong Democrat majorities in both Houses. So, it’s time to pass something -- anything.

Sen. Reid knows that if this bill isn’t passed before the recess, then when senators go home for the holidays, their New Years won’t be happy. Their constituents will be giving them an ear-full, and when they come back next year, some of them may have changed their minds.

Polls taken on and after December 10 plainly show that voters do not like health care reform as the Democrats envision it and support is insufficient to warrant even a vote on this bill, let alone this irrational effort to jam it down our throats in the waning days before the holiday recess:
NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 47 percent think it’s a bad idea, 32 percent think it’s a good idea;
Associated Press/GfK Roper: 44 percent oppose Congress’ plans, 36 percent support;
USA Today/Gallop: 43 percent would advise their member of Congress to vote against, 36 percent to vote for; ABC News/Washington Post: 53 percent disapprove of the way President Obama is handling health care reform, 44 percent approve.

Democrat leaders must think they are invincible. And why not: they have control of Congress and the White House. They believe they can do whatever they want, such as exclude Republicans from the legislative process, and pass legislation without regard for their constituent’s concerns and opposition, and everyone will be happy.

But the product this arrogant attitude produced is so objectionable that in addition to nearly all Republicans, it has alienated more than a few Democrats, and the effort to patch it up and make everyone happy is comical. Some don’t like the public option, while others insist on it. Some object to public financing of abortion, while others demand it. Some don’t like the degree of government control inherent in the concept, while others object to the exorbitant costs the bill will create, and the tax burden it will put on businesses and individuals. Some don’t like the cuts in Medicaid that will further punish doctors and hospitals, which already are paid less than the cost of the service they provide to Medicare patients. There’s something for nearly everyone to hate in this bill.

Sen. Reid could scrap this embarrassment and start over, seek actual bipartisan input and develop bills of modest size and scope that will actually address the problems in health care in a mature and responsible manner. But that idea apparently isn’t crazy enough for Sen. Reid. No, he prefers to stick to his guns, keep the controversial elements in the bill and buy off opponents with your tax dollars, or with minor changes to provisions of the bill that can then be undone during the compromise conference with the House.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) changed her mind several days ago and agreed to support the bill. Her price was $300 million for Louisiana. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who had made a principled stand against the federal financing for abortion, has also been bought off. His price was a concession on the abortion feature and tens of millions in Medicaid funding that would pay Nebraska's Medicaid expansion bill forever.

With sweetheart deals like this, “The Price is Right” is the most popular game on Capitol Hill, and pretty soon other senators are going to figure this out. What kind of present is your state getting out of this?

This health care reform process is the most chaotic and incomprehensible mess in decades, or perhaps in America’s history. It features senators being called to work late at night, over the weekend in a blizzard; it’s a bill that nobody has seen as of last Friday that had hundreds of pages added to it on Saturday; it includes cuts to Medicare and other programs, and massive tax increases to accompany our double-digit unemployment.

“Brute-force central planning,” “the Edsel of health care plans,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” … however you want to describe it, this sordid process cannot yield good legislation. As they say in the data business, “garbage in, garbage out.”

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Barnum and Bailey have nothing on the U.S. Senate

The health care destruction effort in the U.S. Congress has been a humiliating mish-mash of incoherency and chaos from the beginning, with Democrats missing one of President Obama’s deadlines after another.

Opposed on principle by Republicans, these outrageous bills in the House and Senate have split off significant factions of Democrats, who have run away from them as fast as they can.

After weeks of chewing gum- and duct tape-patching, the Senate is still so divided that the bill either may not come to a vote, or may not have the necessary 60 votes needed.

Majority Leader Harry Reid and his minions are the only ones who have some actual idea of what’s in the Senate bill, since it hasn’t actually been finalized yet, and it has been secreted away in Sen. Reid’s office while the his crew tries to put together something so that the full Senate can vote on it on Thursday, Christmas Eve, and then adjourn for the holidays.

Sen. Reid knows that if the bill isn’t passed before the holiday break – no matter how idiotic it turns out to be in this manic rush to put literally anything in a form that can be voted on – then when senators go home for the holidays, their Christmas won’t be merry and their New Years won’t be happy, as their constituents heat up the tar and tear open bags of feathers to give these unresponsive, malfeasant public servants their just reward.

Polls show the public, as we keep saying, does not support health care reform as the Democrats envision it. The questions in the following polls are phrased differently, but plainly show that support for the Obama/Democrat reform program is insufficient to warrant even a vote:

NBC/WSJ: Dec. 11-14, 47% against to 32%

AP/GfK: Dec. 10-14, 44% oppose to 36% favor

USA Today/Gallop: Dec. 11-13, 43% against 36% for

ABC News/Washington Post: Dec. 10-13, 53% disapproves 44% approves

In their desperation and frustration liberals are coming apart at the seams, blaming Republicans, who have been ignored and even blocked from participating, for being uncooperative and obstructive. They have resorted to attacking Sen. Joe Lieberman’s wife because the Senator isn’t on board with this horrible bill, and then Sen. Al Franken, presiding in the Senate, refused to allow Sen. Lieberman an extra couple of minutes to finish his remarks. As Sen. John McCain said shortly after Sen. Lieberman was shushed, this was unprecedented.

Petulance and tawdry behavior now rule the Democrats in Washington.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Going Rogue: Sarah Palin?
No, the Environmental Protection Agency

On July 9, 1970, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by executive order as an independent agency joining together a number of functions from different federal agencies. The EPA says its mission “is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment – air, water and land – upon which life depends.”

An Administrator appointed by the President of the United States runs the agency, which is not a Cabinet agency, although the Administrator is usually given cabinet rank. Lisa P. Jackson is the current Administrator, and the EPA’s Website notes that the “FY 2010 Budget requests $10.5 billion in discretionary budget authority and 17,384.3 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) to accomplish EPA’s efforts to build a greener economy, move into a clean energy future, and protect human health and the environment in communities across the nation.”

With Congressional efforts to impose crippling costs, tax increases and job losses on taxpayers and the U.S. economy through cap-and-trade legislation, which fortunately is floundering, those Americans taking comfort from this probable failure should think again: Even if cap-and-trade efforts fail, the EPA can unilaterally impose the same horrors on the American people as the failed legislation, and maybe do worse.

Because 85 percent of the U.S. economy operates on fossil fuel, if cap-and-trade legislation is defeated, as it should be, and the EPA begins implementing the same measures the failed legislation would have implemented, grave effects on the economy will result. The Heritage Foundation predicts the following: cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) losses of $7 trillion by 2029; single-year GDP losses exceeding $600 billion in some years; energy cost increases of 30 percent or more; and annual job losses exceeding 800,000 for several years.

The country cannot afford cap-and-trade, and it cannot afford to allow the EPA to do the same things to the American people cap-and-trade would have done.

Lisa Jackson writes on the EPA Website that “As Administrator, I will ensure EPA's efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency.”

That sounds reassuring, doesn’t it? And if Ms. Jackson really meant it, perhaps it would be comforting. But, alas, it just isn’t so.

Recently, two lawyers working at the EPA, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, produced a personal YouTube video entitled, “The Huge Mistake” that plainly asserts that cap-and-trade will not work. The EPA directed them to make changes to the video and must remove language specifying Mr. Zabel’s expertise and their years of employment with the agency, or face possible disciplinary action.

Back in June the EPA decided to suppress an internal report by Dr. Alan Carlin, a veteran EPA scientist specializing in climate change, who warned in the report that EPA had accepted findings of other organizations without careful and critical examination of conclusions and documentation. Dr. Carlin also noted that scientific research into climate change is incomplete and inconclusive, and therefore unsuitable as the basis for laws that will negatively affect both American families and the nation’s economy.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute reports that Dr. Carlin then received an email from Dr. Al McGartland, director of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics, with this message: “The administrator and administration has decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. … I can see only one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.”

Dr. Carlin said, “I’ve been involved in public policy since 1966 or 1967. There’s never been anything exactly like this. I am now under a gag order.”

So, Dr. Carlin, an EPA employee and a climate science analyst for decades, has been banned from writing or speaking about climate change, from attending any meetings that address climate change, and reassigned to updating a grants database.

How’s that for relying on science-based policies and programs, and transparency?

The EPA is a rogue agency, unaccountable to the people, except through the President, who shares its ideologically-driven environmental bias. Like the multitudinous czars populating the Obama administration, the EPA is not accountable to Congress, and therefore unaccountable to the American people that Congress represents. What happened to our system of checks and balances?

What is it about environmental issues that cause the scientists at the Climate Research Unit in Great Britain and NASA in the U.S. to commit fraud and deceive the public? Why do the bureaucrats at the EPA feel the need to suppress dissent, to hide inconvenient information, to gag scientists and intimidate employees who disagree with the dogma of man-caused climate change? Isn’t science supposed to be a continuous search for the truth? Isn’t government a tool of the people, not their ruler?

The term “political science” has taken on new meaning, as the aforementioned scientists and bureaucrats have forsaken their professional ethics and their duty to the American people in favor of their narrow ideology. Where the environment is concerned, there is a whole lot of politics and less real science.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

“Gone with the Windmills”: Wrestling with a proposed wind project

My county of residence in Virginia is currently divided over a proposed wind energy project along the mountaintop involving more than 2,500 acres of the ridgeline. Not surprisingly, the project has strong sentiment on both sides.
The wind has been a tool of humans since at least as far back as 5000 BC when it was used to power boats on the Nile, then a few centuries later used to pump water and grind grain, and in the 1880s someone figured out how to use it to produce electricity. 

However, the first central electricity generation facilities developed in 1881 were powered by water and coal, not wind. Wind power has an inherent weakness: it is inefficient because the wind is not always blowing to provide energy, which is why water and coal were the first methods to power electric generation. And that is why wind power is an alternative energy source, not a primary one.

Because of its negatives wind power was not considered a serious method of producing electricity; fossil fuels are far superior in efficiency and dependability. But given the manic drive for “clean” energy, based on a well-engineered but unproven fear of global catastrophe, wind, solar and other green sources have gained an undeserved degree of credibility and importance. 

Obviously, if electricity can be produced efficiently and economically without pouring pollutants into the air, we must utilize those technologies to generate power. But as of now, that isn’t possible. 

The recent scandal involving the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) community – specifically the Climate Research Unit in Britain and NASA in the U.S. – discredits the message of impending doom from the environmental movement and Al Gore, and increases the already substantial doubt about man’s effect on the environment. How serious a threat can AGW really be if the scientists promoting it are compelled to hide data to prevent peer reviewers from discovering its fallacies, and manipulate and distort facts in order to create a scary scenario? 

And in the absence of proof, or even strong evidence that burning fossil fuels actually affects the global environment, there is no urgency to implement undeveloped technologies like wind turbines and rush them onto the market.

But even before the fraud and deceit became public knowledge, one very important figure in environmental lore turned thumbs down on wind energy.

Dr. James Lovelock, 84 year-old inventor of the 'Gaia theory' and inspiration for the green movement, now regrets his endorsement of wind projects in Great Britain, according to Britain’s Western Morning News. Dr. Lovelock points out that wind turbines need conventional fossil fuel-fired power stations backing them up, and those power stations must constantly burn fuel on stand-by so that when the wind stops blowing they can quickly be put online to make up the production slack and meet demand. The major advantage of clean energy technology is that it doesn’t burn fossil fuels, so to have fossil fuel plants fired up on stand-by defeats the primary advantage of wind energy. Dr. Lovelock has termed wind power “an expensive folly.”

It is curious that in the name of environmental consciousness the same people that decry mountain top mining favor wind projects, without any apparent regard for, or perhaps an understanding of, the degree of environmental damage these projects produce.

The proposed turbine towers will be more than 400 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet in diameter at their base, and each of the three blades on the turbines will be 100 to 150 feet long. They are so large and spin so fast that they are an acknowledged danger to bird populations. 

Roads have to be built to the ridge and along the ridge wide enough to transport the pieces of the towers to the construction site, and each tower requires a cleared and level space of from 3 to 6 acres, and a concrete pad to support the turbine. That means that a large portion of the mountain’s ridgeline will be clear-cut, blasted and leveled. There will also have to be transmission lines and towers constructed to transmit the power from the turbines. 

Does this sound "green" to you?

So, having failed in the two most important missions – producing electricity efficiently and being environmentally friendly – what compelling reason is there to desecrate the mountain’s ridgeline with the construction of sixty wind turbines? 

There would be an initial burst of tax revenue and many temporary construction jobs created, but would those jobs go to local people? Maybe, but maybe not. After construction the tax revenues drop off and continue to dwindle as the equipment depreciates, and the net job creation long term would be only 10 to 15 jobs. Even the electricity produced won’t benefit the area. 

When you look at the pros and cons of this project, the upshot of all of this is that there is no compelling reason for it to go forward. There is little benefit to the county, in general, and most of those who will benefit from the project aren’t county residents. Like the stimulus bills, a lot of money changes hands, but little of real substance gets done. And, we don’t need it.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Jobs Summit a missed opportunity

The unemployment rate and the skyrocketing deficit are the most serious problems facing the nation, something everyday Americans have known for quite a while. However, rather than take quick, sensible action to spur job creation, our elected leaders have been wasting time on ideological issues like health care reform and cap-and-trade, two measures that are not at a crisis level, and two measures guaranteed to increase unemployment.

Then on Wednesday, President Obama convened a Jobs Summit to talk about ways to create jobs.

Fox News reported that “Obama sought fresh ideas from the 130 corporate executives, small business owners and labor leaders who attended the jobs forum.” Reports also said that in addition to business and labor leaders, the Summit included representatives from think tanks and legislators. “The president said the leading question of the day is ‘how do we get businesses to start hiring again,’" the report continued.

Most of the groups assembled are unnecessary to answer the question posed by the President. Just ask employers what to do, and they could have answered that question without a trip to DC and a meeting at the White House, and without the help of legislators and union leaders, whose efforts mostly make employment more difficult.

Some doubting Thomases believe the Summit was all for show, and that is borne out by the fact that, apparently, there were no representatives from the oil and natural gas industry or industry organizations. This is baffling, given that oil and gas companies employ 9.2 million people, including as many as 1.2 million in “green” jobs created from 2000 to 2008. The oil and gas industry leads the nation in the effort to develop alternative energy technology, one of the favored projects of Democrats in Washington, and has invested more than $58 billion in that effort over that same eight-year period.

American Petroleum Institute (API) Chairman Larry Nichols and API President and CEO Jack Gerard told a media teleconference prior to the event that their industry – which represents 7.5 percent of U.S. Gross Domestice Product – is ready, willing and able to create new jobs and provide the energy that America needs to sustain a successful economic recovery, according to an API news release.

“Clearly, the White House missed an opportunity to include one of the biggest employers and wealth creators in the nation,” said Mr. Nichols, who is also chairman and CEO of Devon Energy Corp. “The gas and oil industry supports 9.2 million jobs. We know what it takes to create a job, and we know what it takes to preserve a job.”

Jane Van Ryan writes about the potential of jobs for domestic natural gas production on API’s Energy Tomorrow blog: “With more than 15 million Americans unemployed today, the industry can help, Larry [Nichols] said. To cite an example, he pointed to the jobs expected to be generated by Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania. According to a Penn State study, natural gas drilling and production could create 175,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania alone during the next ten years.”

Every business has deterrents preventing job creation, such as excessive regulation, punitive tax rates, and an uncertain future, as the Congress toys with health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation, both of which will increase the regulatory and tax burdens on businesses at a time when everyone acknowledges the need to create jobs. A good first step would be to reduce taxes and regulations on business, and stop scaring them with threats contained in the health care and energy legislation.

However, the oil and gas industry faces additional hurdles in a regulatory environment that makes the most likely places for new oil and gas reserves to be found off limits to exploration and further hinders exploration with an expensive and cumbersome leasing system.

President Obama could have saved himself a lot of time and the nation a lot of money by holding the Jobs Summit with Larry Nichols and a Jack Gerard. But that wouldn’t have given him the photo ops and PR advantage he so desperately seeks at every turn.

With the sort of potential that Larry Nichols points to in Pennsylvania, and the other potential jobs associated with increased oil and gas exploration both on shore and off shore, for heaven’s sake lift the drilling moratoria and eliminate excessive regulations that prevent both job creation and ending our dependency on foreign oil.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Abusing the U.S. Constitution for fun and profit

Many Americans are outraged at the element in the House health care bill that requires people to buy health insurance, even if they don’t need it, and even if they don’t want it. The authors of this legislation included this mandate so that there would be enough money from young and healthy people in the system to keep the thing from sinking faster than the Titanic.

It says a lot about this ghastly plan that its creators have to force Americans to participate in it for it to succeed.

Congress justifies this outrage with the “Commerce Clause” of the United States Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 3 says: “(The Congress shall have power) [t]o regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes; …”

Through liberal interpretation of the words “to regulate commerce … among the several states,” Congress has unleashed all manner of horrors on the American people, things that the Founders never intended, and in fact, things reminiscent of the sort of over-reaching government from which the Founders had won their independence several years before.

Given that the colonists finally grew tired enough of the excessive regulation and oppression of King George that they took up arms against him to win their freedom, does anyone seriously believe that the Framers of our Constitution ever intended for these few words to justify so much government control? Our elected public servants, however, continue merrily trampling on the protections the Constitution provides you and me against them.

Looking back into history, George Mason University professor Walter Williams wrote that a “key failing of the Articles of Confederation was the propensity of states to erect protectionist trade barriers. When the Framers met in Philadelphia in 1787 and wrote the constitution that governs us today, they addressed that failure through the commerce and the privileges and immunities clauses that created a national free-trade zone. Thus, the original purpose of the Commerce Clause was primarily a means to eliminate trade barriers among the states. They didn't intend for the Commerce Clause to govern so much of our lives.”

Here is one example: Using the Commerce Clause as the basis, in 1990 Congress passed the Gun-Free School Zones Act. How so? Because, legislators said, the possession of a firearm in a local school zone substantially affected interstate commerce. Huh? Well, because violent crime raises insurance costs, and those costs are spread throughout the population across state lines, voila!: interstate commerce! And if that explanation isn’t satisfying, Congress determined that crime threatens the learning environment, thereby reducing national productivity, also affecting interstate commerce.

Fortunately for the country, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had no constitutional authority to pass this act. The Court’s reasoning held that, "If we were to accept the government's arguments, we are hard pressed to posit any activity by an individual that Congress is without power to regulate."

Indeed. If we accept the goofy idea that crime affects the learning environment and is thus a negative effect on interstate commerce, then what children eat and wear, how much they sleep, and even what they do when not in school are also fair game.

The American people have allowed this twisting of the Founders’ intentions for a variety of reasons, including ignorance, disinterest, and self-interest, as when a particular misapplication of the Commerce Clause suits their purposes. They might say, “Well, the Commerce Clause really has nothing to do with outlawing guns near schools, but we don’t want guns near schools, do we? So, let it stand.”

The U.S. Constitution was carefully crafted to achieve a specific purpose: to establish a government that would provide a suitable framework for the nation and at the same time provide maximum freedom for the citizenry, not as an instrument of social engineering, or of political expedience.

But politicians cannot be trusted to leave political ideology out of lawmaking, so it is a good thing that the judiciary can rule on whether laws comport with constitutional protections. The judiciary, however – including the U.S. Supreme Court – has also been corrupted by ideology.

Edwin Meese, U.S. Attorney General in the Reagan administration, notes that “Taking the politics out of the judiciary is a key tenet behind the concept of constitutional originalism. That's the idea that judges should issue rulings based on the original understanding of the authors and ratifiers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights …”

The idea of the Constitution as a “living” document – as opposed to honoring the authors’ original intent – means that its meaning changes with the times, enabling outcomes that reflect legislators’ and judges' personal biases or policy preferences.

Polluting the law and the courts with broad and changing interpretations of the Constitution means that anything the federal government wants to do can be labeled "interstate commerce," and the constitutional limits on federal power vanish into thin air.

A “living” Constitution has no foundation upon which to build a stable nation. It means only what today's reader wants it to mean and will likely mean something different twenty years from now. That is not a constitution, it is quicksand.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Vermont Rep. proposes sensible gun law

Note: Unconfirmed, but it's a wonderful idea, even if not true.

Vermont State Rep. Fred Maslack has read the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Vermont 's own Constitution very carefully, and his strict interpretation of these documents is popping some eyeballs in New England and elsewhere.

Maslack recently proposed a bill to register "non-gun-owners" and require them to pay a $500 fee to the state. Thus Vermont would become the first state to require a permit for the luxury of going about unarmed and assess a fee of $500 for the privilege of not owning a gun.

Maslack read the "militia" phrase of the Second Amendment as not only affirming the right of the individual citizen to bear arms, but as a clear mandate to do so. He believes that universal gun ownership was advocated by the Framers of the Constitution as an antidote to a "monopoly of force" by the government as well as criminals.

Vermont 's constitution states explicitly that "the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State" and those persons who are "conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms" shall be required to "pay such equivalent." Clearly, says Maslack, Vermonters have a constitutional obligation to arm themselves, so that they are capable of responding to "any situation that may arise."

Under the bill, adults who choose not to own a firearm would be required to register their name, address, Social Security Number, and driver's license number with the state. "There is a legitimate government interest in knowing who is not prepared to defend the state should they be asked to do so," Maslack says.

Vermont already boasts a high rate of gun ownership along with the least restrictive laws of any state . it's currently the only state that allows a citizen to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. This combination of plenty of guns and few laws regulating them has resulted in a crime rate that is the third lowest in the nation.

"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards."

This makes sense! There is no reason why gun owners should have to pay taxes to support police protection for people not wanting to own guns. Let them contribute their fair share and pay their own way.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

White House takes on Charles Krauthammer,
but loses the fight

The clear thinking columnist Charles Krauthammer recently picked apart the odious bills supposedly designed to save America from a health care system run amok, and offered the common sense changes that would improve what is already the best health care system in the world, its problems notwithstanding.

This column, titled Kill the Bills. Do Health Reform Right, deserves a read, whether you like the health care reform bills or not.

Within several hours of his column being published, the White House had posted a response, penned by Dan Pfeiffer, on the White House Blog. Mr. Pfeiffer is set to replace Anita Dunn at the end of the month as communications director, the second change in that position in the short Obama presidency. (Does anyone think it’s strange for the White House to respond to opinion columns?)

Reality Check: Column Ignores Facts about Health Reform,” supposedly sets Mr. Krauthammer straight on what is in the bills he so effectively criticizes.

Mr. Pfeiffer: “In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer takes great pains to paint a bleak picture of health care reform as ‘monstrous,’ ‘overregulated,’ and rife with ‘arbitrary bureaucratic inventions.’ The columnist's argument may be cogent and well-written, but it is wholly inaccurate.”

Mr. Pfeiffer continues: “Krauthammer describes a ‘better choice’ for health reform as having three elements: tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits. All three elements are part of the current effort."

Really? Is it possible that Mr. Krauthammer simply missed those elements in the House and Senate bills?

Mr. Pfeiffer then enlightens us on the “actual” contents of these legislative misadventures:

“President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of HHS to move forward with an initiative to give states and health systems the opportunity to apply for medical liability demonstration projects. Section 2531 of the House bill also includes a voluntary state incentive grants program to encourage states to develop alternatives to traditional malpractice litigation,” he crows.

But Mr. Pfeiffer, giving the states the “opportunity” to apply for a demonstration project, and “encouraging” states to develop alternatives is not the same thing as actually doing something about a broken tort system that adds millions to the cost of health care each year.


“Section 1333 of the Senate bill,” Mr. Pfeiffer informs us, “allows for interstate health care choice compacts.”

“Allow[ing] for interstate health care choice compacts” is not the same as putting them into effect, Mr. Pfeiffer, as almost everyone who is not a liberal Democrat recognizes.

This sort of mealy-mouthed excuse-making and equivocation is the hallmark of the Obama administration and its minions, who are currently in way over their heads.

Do they simply not possess the intellectual ability to fully understand these issues? Or, do they just not care?

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

U.S. is soft on terrorism

On September 12, 2001, Americans were nearly unanimous in their belief that terrorism was a very real and serious threat to our country. September 11, 2009, eight years later, after not only no new terrorist attacks on the United States, but some thwarted terrorist activities, we have grown complacent on terrorism, and we have adopted attitudes along the way that are so soft on terrorism that the likelihood of an attack inside the United States is as great today as it was in 2001.

Since the eighth anniversary of 9-11 two months ago we may, in fact, have already experienced another attack, the Ft. Hood massacre. There is substantial evidence that when Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan (allegedly) opened fire on his fellow soldiers, he was motivated by the same irrational hatred as the 19 murderous Muslim animals that hijacked four airliners and crashed two into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. Thankfully, the fourth was brought down by rebellious passengers in a Pennsylvania field short of its intended target in Washington, DC.

The evidence against Maj. Hasan: He is a Muslim; he was observed by medical students under his tutelage giving an hour-long lecture on the Koranic view of military service, jihad and war, and discussed the punishment for those who don’t believe in Islam; numerous reports suggest that he believed the Koran compelled him to destroy Christian and Jewish infidels; he was opposed to being sent to the Middle East where U.S. forces are fighting Muslim terrorists because he might have to take up arms against his Muslim brothers; he had been in communication with a notorious Yemen-based jihad propagandist; and he screamed “Allahu Akbar” as he murdered his fellow soldiers.

It seems irrefutable that Maj. Nidal Hasan shares the same ideology as the 9-11 terrorists and is himself a terrorist.

But these days, the horrors of 2001 seem a distant memory for many Americans, who don’t think the threat is real anymore. This “soft on terrorism” attitude seeks to brand Maj. Hasan as merely “crazy,” and its adherents twist themselves into knots pretending he is something other than what he really is.

They maintain that Dr. Hasan was afflicted with a disorder known as secondary post-traumatic stress disorder. “As a psychiatrist he had heard too many stories of misery from returning troops, and he just snapped,” they protest.

Now, there is a second disorder being discussed, one that affects people who are about to go into a war zone: pre-traumatic stress disorder: they snap at the mere prospect of encountering traumatic events. Such equivocation has deadly consequences, as the Ft. Hood terrorist attack clearly shows.

Now, we are about to bring four terrorists connected to the 9-11 attacks – including the architect of the attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed – from the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility in Cuba to New York, and instead of trying them in military courts, as we have done with enemy combatants for decades, the United States government will try them in Federal District Court as if they had merely killed a Bald Eagle, or entered the country illegally (except we don’t try illegal aliens anymore).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defends this plan by saying that by giving terrorists the protections of the U.S. Constitution we show the world that we aren’t the crude savages that George Bush made us appear. Our system of government is so superior to all the others, the theory goes, that we will give even murderous terrorist vermin the benefits of our Constitution, the same as our citizens receive.

However, in a civilian court disclosing sensitive intelligence information through the discovery and cross-examination processes is likely, which means sensitive information will most certainly fall into the hands of other terrorists, as occurred in the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. A list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators, that included Osama bin Laden, had to be provided to defense counsel. According to the judge at that trial, Michael Mukasey, "Within 10 days, a copy of that list reached bin Laden in Khartoum, letting him know that his connection to that case had been discovered."

As columnist Charles Krauthammer noted, “apart from the fact that any such trial will be a security nightmare and a terror threat to New York – what better propaganda-by-deed than blowing up the courtroom, making [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] a martyr and turning the judge, jury and spectators into fresh victims? – it will endanger U.S. security.”

All Muslims are not terrorists, of course, and all terrorists are not Muslims. However, the current brand of terrorism is overwhelmingly perpetrated by radical Muslims whose idea of Islam is to kill infidels like Americans and Jews, and our challenge is to tell who the radicals are before they can act.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must be less concerned with high-minded ideals like how the U.S. is perceived around the world and by our enemies, and a lot more concerned with protecting American citizens and our national security. Trying these terrorists in a federal district court is reckless and dangerous, and clearly puts our safety and security at risk.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Senate votes against the American people,
moves the health care take-over bill to debate

A 60-39 vote moved the monstrous Reid health care take-over bill to the next phase. The rare Saturday session was a first round fight to pass the bill in the full Senate.
This spells trouble for freedom-loving Americans, as bills that make it to debate ultimately pass the full Senate 90 percent of the time.

All Democrats and Independents Joe Lieberman (CT) and Bernie Sanders (VT) voted for the measure, and all Republicans voted no, except for George Voinovich (OH)

Sens. Blanche Lincoln (AR) and Mary Landrieu (LA) waited until today to say they would vote yes for a floor debate. Sen. Ben Nelson (NE) announced Friday he would support moving the bill forward, but all cautioned that their votes should not be construed as support for the bill in its current form.
"It is a vote to move forward to continue the good and essential and important and imperative work that is under way," Landrieu said on the Senate floor. "I've decided that there's enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward but more work needs to be done."

Lincoln said she still would support a filibuster if the so-called "public option," a government-run insurance plan, remains in the health care bill.

The Dishonor Roll, alphabetical, by name

Akaka (D-HI), Yea

Alexander (R-TN), Nay

Barrasso (R-WY), Nay

Baucus (D-MT), Yea

Bayh (D-IN), Yea

Begich (D-AK), Yea

Bennet (D-CO), Yea

Bennett (R-UT), Nay

Bingaman (D-NM), Yea

Bond (R-MO), Nay

Boxer (D-CA), Yea

Brown (D-OH), Yea

Brownback (R-KS), Nay

Bunning (R-KY), Nay

Burr (R-NC), Nay

Burris (D-IL), Yea

Byrd (D-WV), Yea

Cantwell (D-WA), Yea

Cardin (D-MD), Yea

Carper (D-DE), Yea

Casey (D-PA), Yea

Chambliss (R-GA), Nay

Coburn (R-OK), Nay

Cochran (R-MS), Nay

Collins (R-ME), Nay

Conrad (D-ND), Yea

Corker (R-TN), Nay

Cornyn (R-TX), Nay

Crapo (R-ID), Nay

DeMint (R-SC), Nay

Dodd (D-CT), Yea

Dorgan (D-ND), Yea

Durbin (D-IL), Yea

Ensign (R-NV), Nay

Enzi (R-WY), Nay

Feingold (D-WI), Yea

Feinstein (D-CA), Yea

Franken (D-MN), Yea

Gillibrand (D-NY), Yea

Graham (R-SC), Nay

Grassley (R-IA), Nay

Gregg (R-NH), Nay

Hagan (D-NC), Yea

Harkin (D-IA), Yea

Hatch (R-UT), Nay

Hutchison (R-TX), Nay

Inhofe (R-OK), Nay

Inouye (D-HI), Yea

Isakson (R-GA), Nay

Johanns (R-NE), Nay

Johnson (D-SD), Yea

Kaufman (D-DE), Yea

Kerry (D-MA), Yea

Kirk (D-MA), Yea

Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea

Kohl (D-WI), Yea

Kyl (R-AZ), Nay

Landrieu (D-LA), Yea

Lautenberg (D-NJ), Yea

Leahy (D-VT), Yea

LeMieux (R-FL), Nay

Levin (D-MI), Yea

Lieberman (ID-CT), Yea

Lincoln (D-AR), Yea

Lugar (R-IN), Nay

McCain (R-AZ), Nay

McCaskill (D-MO), Yea

McConnell (R-KY), Nay

Menendez (D-NJ), Yea

Merkley (D-OR), Yea

Mikulski (D-MD), Yea

Murkowski (R-AK), Nay

Murray (D-WA), Yea

Nelson (D-FL), Yea

Nelson (D-NE), Yea

Pryor (D-AR), Yea

Reed (D-RI), Yea

Reid (D-NV), Yea

Risch (R-ID), Nay

Roberts (R-KS), Nay

Rockefeller (D-WV), Yea

Sanders (I-VT), Yea

Schumer (D-NY), Yea

Sessions (R-AL), Nay

Shaheen (D-NH), Yea

Shelby (R-AL), Nay

Snowe (R-ME), Nay

Specter (D-PA), Yea

Stabenow (D-MI), Yea

Tester (D-MT), Yea

Thune (R-SD), Nay

Udall (D-CO), Yea

Udall (D-NM), Yea

Vitter (R-LA), Nay

Voinovich (R-OH), Not Voting

Warner (D-VA), Yea

Webb (D-VA), Yea

Whitehouse (D-RI), Yea

Wicker (R-MS), Nay

Wyden (D-OR), Yea
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Corresponding with Congress
on Health Care Reform

Letters sent by email to U.S. Senators from Virginia Mark Warner and Jim Webb on the Senate Health Care Reform bill:
Dear Senator Warner,
I am writing concerning the health care reform effort. As one of your constituents, I want to make a few comments, with the expectation that you, personally, will read them and consider them in your evaluation of plans to legislate reform.
I have read the comments on your Web site regarding reforming the current health care system. You are correct that competition is an essential element in any health care system, and that single element precludes a system that has any more government intervention than currently exists.
As a Director of a not-for-profit community hospital for nearly 20 years, I am acutely aware of the problems government causes for health care providers, such as reimbursements from Medicare/Medicaid that are substantially less that billed charges, and the higher costs in the effort to satisfy government requirements.
Fewer government requirements are in order, not more. For that reason alone, the bill that Sen. Reid is about to offer is undeserving of consideration, and must be rejected immediately.
Furthermore, before we do something drastic to the existing system, which, despite its problems, provides the highest level of care in the world, we need to be honest about how many Americans are without health insurance because of its cost. That number is a fraction of the 47 million that we so often hear about. Illegal aliens and other non-citizens, and those who choose not to buy insurance, are not part of the problem; American taxpayers cannot be burdened with paying for insurance for these people.
You are also correct that we must encourage wellness and prevention.
All of the important reforms can be accomplished through legislation that is a fraction of the size of the 2,000 page bill about to be considered, and for far less money. If not, the Senate should admit defeat, and leave things as they are.
It is also compulsory that reform be a true bi-partisan effort, as a matter of good governance. That is not the case so far; there has been no discernable honest effort to produce a bill Republicans can support.
And last, but hardly least: The Constitution of the United States does not empower Congress or the federal government to take charge of, or even to substantially modify the private, free market health care system. You and every other public servant have sworn to uphold the Constitution, and it will be a breach of that oath to vote for a measure that violates the constitutional protections Americans enjoy from an over-reaching federal government. I urge you to give this point careful consideration.
I am counting on you, as my elected representative to vote down this current unconstitutional measure, and any other one that may be brought forth.
James H. Shott

Dear Senator Webb,

I appreciate your commitment to improve the accessibility and affordability of health care for all Americans. As one of your constituents, I want to make a few comments, with the expectation that you, personally, will read them and consider them in your evaluation of plans to legislate reform.

Health care costs are a substantial problem. Not least among the causes of these high prices is the degree of government intervention in what ought to be a fairly open free market.

As a Director of a not-for-profit community hospital for nearly 20 years, I am acutely aware of the problems government causes for health care providers, such as reimbursements from Medicare/Medicaid that are substantially less that billed charges, and the higher costs in the effort to satisfy government requirements.

Before we do something drastic to the existing system, which, despite its problems, provides the highest level of care in the world, we need to be honest about how many Americans are without health insurance because of its cost. That number is a fraction of the 47 million that we so often hear about. Illegal aliens and other non-citizens, and those who choose not to buy insurance, are not part of the problem; American taxpayers cannot be burdened with paying for insurance for these people.

You commented that “Our nation’s continued economic recovery would be advanced by meaningful and effective health care reform.” It can also be wrecked by thoughtless and over-reaching efforts by the federal government. That is the path we are currently running down.

You also said: “Such reform must emphatically be reasonable in scope, cost, and impact. It is important for us to be highly deliberative on this matter of importance to the lives and livelihoods of so many Americans.”

Senator, the bill Sen. Reid is about to offer up, is a gross breach of those tenets.

I urge you to give this point careful consideration: The Constitution of the United States does not empower Congress or the federal government to take charge of, or even to substantially modify the private, free market health care system. You and every other public servant have sworn to uphold the Constitution, and it will be a breach of that oath to vote for a measure that violates the constitutional protections Americans enjoy from an over-reaching federal government.

I am counting on you, as my elected representative to vote down this current unconstitutional measure, and any other one that may be brought forth.


James H. Shott

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Congressional malfeasance in the pursuit
of health care reform

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, private meetings in the back rooms of the Capitol, murky obfuscation, misleading statements and outright mistruths, and other varieties of objectionable behavior, the Speaker of the House of Representatives finally maneuvered the enormously expensive and power-grabbing health care reform bill through to passage by a thin 220-215 vote.
True, the exuberance displayed when the 218th vote was cast, marking passage, was untoward, but the majority party seemed not to care. And surely they were joking when they claimed a lone Republican “aye” vote made the effort “bi-partisan.”
Nancy Pelosi’s health bill (H.R. 3962) is 1,990 pages – four reams of paper long, stands about a foot high and weighs more than 20 pounds. It is so long and complex that no one understands it and hardly any of the lawmakers had read it. None of which stopped them from passing it, of course. This sort of irresponsible behavior would get a lot of people fired, but not our elected representatives.
However, in defense of the gargantuan size of the bill, a measure with fewer pages would be insufficient to contain the entire collection of nightmarish features of this unconstitutional power grab.
The Wall Street Journal published an article earlier this month, “What the Pelosi Health-Care Bill Really Says,” that tells the public what the House leadership would not tell us. It was written by Betsy McCaughey, chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, and a former Lt. Governor of New York State.
From the article: Sec. 224 (p. 118) provides that 18 months after the bill becomes law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will decide what a "qualified plan" covers and how much you'll be legally required to pay for it. That's like a banker telling you to sign the loan agreement now, then filling in the interest rate and repayment terms 18 months later. Payments for most individuals will range somewhere between 17 and 20 percent of their pre-tax income, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Sec. 303 (pp. 167-168) makes it clear that, although the "qualified plan" is not yet designed, it will be of the "one size fits all" variety. The bill claims to offer choice—basic, enhanced and premium levels—but the benefits are the same. Only the co-pays and deductibles differ. You will have to enroll in the same plan, whether the government is paying for it or you and your employer are footing the bill.
Sec. 1302 (pp. 672-692) moves Medicare from a fee-for-service payment system, in which patients choose which doctors to see and doctors are paid for each service they provide, toward what's called a "medical home," which the Congressional Budget Office said were likely to resemble the unpopular gatekeepers of 20 years ago, if cost control is a priority, and it will be.
It gets worse.
A letter from the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) to Michigan Republican Dave Camp, Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, confirmed that failure to buy health insurance makes you a criminal: “Depending on the level of the noncompliance, the following penalties could apply to an individual:
“Section 7201 – felony willful evasion is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years.
“Section 7203 – misdemeanor willful failure to pay is punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year.”
It is difficult to imagine people who call themselves Americans putting criminal penalties in a health care bill, or voting for such a bill. And it’s difficult to understand people who call themselves Americans supporting such outrageous and anti-American notions, even if they favor health care reform.
Whether or not these command-and-control measures are part of whatever bill Congress ultimately passes, if it passes one, it should anger every true American – Democrat, Republican and politically non-aligned alike – that such treachery would even be considered.
It has yet to be shown where in the United States Constitution the Congress, the President or anyone else has the power to take over the country’s health care system, or to mandate that citizens buy anything. And what’s worse, Congress seems totally unconcerned about constitutionality.
Forcing people to buy an expensive insurance policy they can’t read until long after they’ve been forced to buy it, then making criminals out of them if they don’t comply is reminiscent of the sort of heavy-handed oppression foisted on the Colonies by King George III.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking to The Heritage Foundation's President's Club last week, said that the government structure designed by the Founding Fathers is the most unique and powerful feature of our Constitution, the element that sets it above other governing documents.
The Constitution's limits on government power, he emphasized, ensure that the protections of the Bill of Rights are honored. Even the Soviet Union had a robust bill of rights, he said, but since the rest of the USSR's constitution placed no limits on government powers, the bill of rights was essentially meaningless. Our Constitution is different, Justice Scalia said.
But our elected representatives no longer recognize or honor its authority.

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