Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Proclamation of President George Washington

City of New York, October 3, 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another important American tradition is under attack by the left

A filibuster is a lengthy speech used in the U.S. Senate to delay or block legislative action, a mechanism with a long history.

The U.S. Senate Website explains that, “In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.”

Senate rules have permitted a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.

The filibuster, thought by some to be an unconstitutional, unfair, historical relic, is thought by others to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority. And only eight years ago prominent Democrats loudly defended the filibuster and lambasted the Republican majority for suggesting an end to it.

In 2005, then-Senator and now-President of the United States Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said, “What [the American people] don't expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.”

During the same debate then-Minority Leader and current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said, “Mr. President, yesterday morning I spoke here about a statement the Majority Leader issued calling the filibuster a ‘procedural gimmick.’ … No Mr. President, the filibuster is not a scheme. And it is not new. The filibuster is far from a “procedural gimmick.” It is part of the fabric of this institution. It was well known in colonial legislatures, and it is an integral part of our country’s 217 years of history. … It encourages moderation and consensus. It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail. … And it is very much in keeping with the spirit of the government established by the Framers of our Constitution: Limited Government. Separation of Power. Checks and Balances. Mr. President, the filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check.”

Other notable Democrats also supported the filibuster, which is known as "The Soul of the Senate." Joe Biden, then-Senator and now Vice President of the United States, former Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator Diane Feinstein were part of the opposition. In the end, the idea of changing the rules was abandoned.

But that was then. Last week the Senate Democrat majority changed the very rule it so strongly defended in 2005.

In their assault on this well respected legislative device they strongly defended in 2005, when the majority shoe was on the other foot, the majority party changed it for presidential appointments, which now require only a simple majority. Their excuse: Republicans did not agree with the president’s nominations for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, and administrative agency appointments.

The National Center for Policy Analysis opines that in addition to judicial positions “the change will almost certainly result in more confirmations of presidential nominees – for example, the 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board tasked with controlling health care spending.” Which is interesting, given the potential for this issue to have been brought forth to distract the nation’s attention from the Obamacare debacle.

In 1975 the Democrat majority of the Senate reduced the majority vote needed to end a filibuster from two-thirds of the Senate (67 votes) to three-fifths (60 votes). Now it’s just 51 votes.

Senate Democrats decided that if they can’t get their way playing by decades-old rules, they could just change them. Yes we can!

It is important for the Senate to debate appointments so that people who are not qualified or whose agenda is narrow and ideological can be identified and defeated. That is precisely why the filibuster exists: to prevent the presidency from becoming a monarchy. Given the performance of the IRS, the NSA, the State Department’s gross failure in Benghazi, and the destructive actions of the EPA, there is more than enough evidence to warrant closely examining and perhaps blocking some of this president’s appointments.

Democrats like this new arrangement with a Democrat in the White House but, God willing, that won’t always be the case. The ability of a president to put questionable and even unqualified people on the federal bench and at the head of federal agencies just became much easier.

The Founders saw the dangers of a tyrannical majority party and built in safeguards to insure that Congress’ activities would be slow and difficult. Senate Democrats substantially gutted those safeguards a second time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Do Social Security and Medicare show that Obamacare can be successful?

The loyal defenders of President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) keep pointing to Social Security and Medicare as examples of successful government programs whenever someone points out that government doesn’t do anything very well. The nearly perfect record of dismal performance in federal programs is a key reason that critics doubt that the massively flawed rollout of health insurance reform lovingly referred to as “Obamacare” will eventually turn into a success.

Liberal commentator Juan Williams proudly notes how “popular” both Social Security and Medicare are, citing them as having received 70 percent support among those asked whether they like the programs or not. But just because lots of people like a given federal program doesn’t mean it is a beneficial or successful program.

It is certainly true that Social Security and Medicare are very popular and proponents vigorously oppose balancing the budgets of the two programs by reducing benefits. But, again, by the “popularity” standard, programs that create dependency like welfare, food stamps, and free cell phones are successes, too.

However, reality paints a far different, and much less rosy picture of Social Security and Medicare.

These programs are not giveaways funded by taxpayers, they are funded primarily by payroll taxes on employers and the employees who benefit from them. Even so, because of mismanagement and a failure to adapt to changes in demographics, both programs are broken and broke, running annual deficits.

This is the typical sort of success we find in “successful” government programs, and we have to wonder if there isn’t a better solution to most problems the government thinks it can solve. And the answer is, “yes, there is.” The private sector can do it better, as evidenced by multitudes of successes over our 230-plus-year history.

What too often happens is that when government sees the private sector not completely solving a problem, it thinks it can do better, and a new federal program is born. But the ultimate result is that the federal government does no better at trying to solve the problem than the private sector, and often does much worse.

In contrast to the self-funding process involving the beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare, other programs give handouts to both those who need help and to those who really don’t need it, and these recipients pay little or nothing in taxes to support the giveaways.

These programs are rife with waste, fraud, and abuse, because government does not manage them efficiently. You can make a very good argument that government is inherently unable to manage these expansive programs competently.

Giving people money is one of the first priorities of politicians; it’s how they buy popularity, which translates to votes.

But as examples go, Social Security and Medicare, while intended to be self-sustaining without support from general tax revenue, are not examples of good government programs because they have been mismanaged and neglected.

Social Security began running a deficit in 2010, will run a deficit near $75 billion this year and the projected deficit will reach $344 billion in 2035 if something isn’t done. Social Security is beginning to fail in its ability to take care of seniors because government has failed to properly operate the program.

A panel determines Medicare reimbursements, a panel that meets in secret and relies heavily on the recommendations of the American Medical Association. Many doctors already do not treat Medicare patients because the low reimbursements don’t cover costs. Medicare providers have to balance low Medicare payments by shifting lost dollars to insured patients.

So that’s a brief glimpse into Juan Williams’ idea of successful government programs. Is this what the ACA also promises, or will it somehow be different?

Even if we believe the ACA is a good idea, even if it had been competently designed and implemented, and even if we overlook the disgraceful manner in which it was created and jammed through Congress before being read by the Democrats who enacted it, it is still a government program that supposes it will be more effective at running 18 percent of the nation’s economy, and one of the most important personal concerns Americans have, than the private sector.

And now $716 billion will be taken out of Medicare to fund Obamacare, meaning reimbursements and senior care will suffer, or the deficit will increase.

Obamacare attempts to do by force what Republicans attempted to do by choice through initiatives focused on the problem areas of the then-current system, and Democrats opposed and defeated those efforts.

Despite Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ phantasmagoric redefining the fines imposed by Obamacare as taxes, the U.S. Constitution did not intend for, and does not authorize government to commandeer one-sixth of the economy.

Those who think government is the answer to everything need to remember that the only reason there is a government of the United States of America is because the people – remember “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” – created it by assigning government limited powers in certain specific areas.

It is perverse in the extreme for the people now to be controlled by that which they voluntarily created.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

We’re at home one evening, and someone is banging on the front door!

There was banging on the door at 8:20 p.m. The 14 year-old daughter answered the door and found some 30 armed Washington, DC police officers in full tactical gear with a search warrant. She let them enter the home.

After entering the house, the police immediately went upstairs, pointed guns at the heads of the homeowner and his girlfriend, and forced them to lie facedown and be handcuffed.

The 16-year-old son was in the shower. “They used a battering ram to bash down the bathroom door and pull him out of the shower, naked,” said his father. “The police put all [four] children together in a room, while we were handcuffed upstairs. I could hear them crying, not knowing what was happening.”

The police shut down the streets for blocks and spent more than two hours searching the house. “They tossed the place,” the homeowner said. He provided photos to the writer of an article in The Washington Times that he had taken of his home after the raid to document the damage, which he estimated at $10,000.

What horrible crime had the man committed to justify a 30-man SWAT team to block off streets, point guns at and handcuff the adults present, isolate and terrify the children, and trash the home in a two-hour search of the premises?

The search occurred because of a charge by the man’s estranged wife, who had persuaded a court clerk to issue a temporary restraining order against him, charging he had threatened her with a gun. As it turns out, a judge later found the charge to be without merit.

The squadron of SWAT police was searching for guns, for which registration with police is required in DC, based solely on the estranged wife’s fraudulent charge. They found none. They did find other things, according to The Times: “The police found no guns in the house, but did write on the warrant that four items were discovered: ‘One live round of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition,’ which was an inoperable shell that misfired during a hunt years earlier. [The homeowner] had kept it as a souvenir. ‘One handgun holster’ was found, which is perfectly legal. ‘One expended round of .270 caliber ammunition,’ which was a spent brass casing. The police uncovered ‘one box of Knight bullets for reloading.’ These are actually not for reloading, but are used in antique-replica, single-shot, muzzle-loading rifles.”

In DC only registered gun owners can possess ammunition, which bizarrely includes spent shells, and because of this the homeowner, Mark Witaschek, a successful financial adviser with no criminal record, is facing two years in prison for possession of unregistered ammunition.

This is an outrageous use of force, misapplication of the law, and simple overreaction. Did the police perform due diligence before subjecting a good citizen, his girlfriend and children to this intolerable episode? Obviously not. How many of those responsible for this outrage will lose their job or be charged for their malfeasance? Given the increasing number of such asinine actions, it sometimes seems that police breathlessly await an excuse to play army against the citizens for whom they work.

To make this hyperactive episode seem even more ridiculous, one month earlier, thinking he had nothing to hide, Mr. Witaschek allowed the “Gun Recovery Unit” to search his home without a warrant. Ninety minutes later, the police had found one box of Winchester .40 caliber ammunition, one legal gun-cleaning kit and a Civil War-era antique revolver that he kept on his office desk, and even though antique firearms are legal and don’t have to be registered, the gun was seized. Mr. Witaschek keeps his hunting weapons at his sister’s home outside the District.

Such episodes result from the anti-gun hysteria that grips the nation, and this one is an example of the increasing militarization of local police. DC’s 1976 gun law is one of the strongest in the nation, but appears to have had little effect on gun crime.

In the weeks immediately after the law was passed, The Times reported on several gun crimes that occurred, one in which a U.S. Senator was the victim. “Since the ban was passed,” the story continued, “more than 8,400 people have been murdered in the district, many killed by handguns. Nearly 80 percent of the 181 murders in 2007 were committed with guns.”

Looks like the hoodlums didn’t get the message about the new gun law in the District of Columbia.

Based upon data from the Centers for Disease Control and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, a study found that Washington D.C. has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil, one of the deadliest nations for gun violence in the world.

In DC, the people who carry weapons are primarily law enforcement and criminals. The criminals are always up to no good, and the police may be too busy terrorizing law abiding citizens who might have accidentally run afoul of the broad, over-achieving gun law to fight the crimes that are being committed against citizens who are restricted from using guns to defend themselves against thugs with guns.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Is Congress finally getting serious about spending and the debt?

The Congressional Fiscal 2014 Budget Conference Committee met for the first time last week. It is a bipartisan, bicameral committee that includes all members of the Senate Budget Committee, and the Chairman and Ranking Members on the House side, is about even politically, with 15 Democrats and 14 Republicans, but is heavily weighted towards the Senate, with 22 senators and seven representatives.

The budget reform panel was mandated in the bill that raised the debt ceiling and ended the government shutdown, and has until December 13 to find a budget compromise or face the likelihood of another government shutdown in mid-January when funding for the government runs out.

The group is reportedly focused on finding ways to replace across the board spending cuts, known as sequestration, with more sensible reductions in federal largess.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is chair of the joint committee, and in opening remarks said that the debt held by the public has doubled in just the last 5 years and is only getting worse. It’s a drag on the economy, he said. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, Medicare and Social Security are going broke.

The debt, he said, hurts economic growth and job creation, and noted the message from the Congressional Budget Office, which warned that if something isn’t done soon, there will be a debt crisis. “We’ve got to get a handle on our debt, and we have got to get a handle on it now,” he stated, and the way he believes we must work our way out of this is through tax reform, including getting rid of carve-outs and kickbacks, and through a growing economy, and not by raising taxes.

The federal budget is a huge mess. In FY2013 the federal government took in revenue of $2.8 trillion, but spent $3.5 trillion, and owes $17 trillion to debt holders.

This compares to a family of four that earns $36,000 annually, but spends $45,000 each year and has accumulated debt totaling $219,000. This family clearly needs to cut down on its spending.

But the federal government cannot do that. At least not if we believe House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.), who said in an interview in September on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “The cupboard is bare. There’s (sic) no more cuts to make. It’s really important that people understand that.”

Ms. Pelosi is apparently unaware that the federal government spent your tax dollars on such important things as exotic dancers, robotic squirrels, studying pig poop, and a reality TV show in India. And she also doesn’t know about the Government Accountability Office estimate of roughly $17 billion of improper Medicare payments each year, or the billions of dollars of mismanagement, corruption, and wasteful spending in federal housing subsidies, and the fraud and abuse in the food stamp program, school lunch, and child care programs, and in Veteran’s Affairs.

Maybe she’s forgotten that we pay people with our tax dollars at the NSA to record terabytes of information about us, and IRS employees to harass Republican/conservative organizations applying for non-profit status, and federal SWAT teams to kick down the doors of people whose student loans are in arrears and besiege a mine operation in Alaska to check for compliance with the Clean Water Act.

And then there are the 31 areas of spending on duplicative federal programs, spelled out in a report by the Government Accountability Office that waste billions annually, such as at least 23 different federal agencies running hundreds of programs to support renewable energy, and the 29 Department of Homeland Security contracts that partly or completely overlapped with research being done by another part of the same department.

Despite these examples of waste, fraud and abuse, and also despite the record $2.8 trillion in revenue the federal treasury collected in FY2013 – which provided President Barack Obama the opportunity to claim credit for a sizeable reduction in the annual budget deficit – Nancy Pelosi thinks that in negotiations about debt reduction “revenue needs to be on the table.”

But, no, Ms. Pelosi. You and your big spending comrades don’t get another dime.

Before the middle class or even the wealthiest Americans are further burdened with additional taxes, the federal government needs to get its act together and start operating efficiently. It must eliminate the billions of dollars in waste, fraud and abuse, and eliminate duplication.

Taxes should be evenly applied and high enough to support only essential government services. And, the most important word in that concept is “essential.”

Congress must get rid of carve-outs and kickbacks, eliminate pork barrel projects, stop the unconstitutional passing of Congressional responsibility to Executive Branch agencies, and restrict legislative activity to necessary and useful laws.

And the federal government must begin to operate with an attitude that demonstrates the obligation every federal worker – from the President of the United States, to Cabinet Secretaries, to Members of Congress, to the lowest paid employee – owes to the people they work for, the taxpayers. Perhaps then each of them will earn through job performance the high status some of them assume they are due “just because” they hold a high elective or appointed position.