Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The United States of America: “a nation of laws, not a nation of men”

A primary element that has separated the United States of America from virtually every other nation in history is the concept of it being “a nation of laws, not a nation of men.”

“A nation of laws” means that laws, not people, rule. Everyone is to be governed by the same laws, regardless of their station; whether it is the most common American or Members of Congress, high-ranking bureaucrats or the President of the United States; all must be held to the just laws of America. No one is, or can be allowed to be, above the law.

This idea was paramount in the complex process of establishing the United States of America, a young nation whose brave leaders had put everything on the line to escape the tyranny and oppression of the British Crown, which at the time was a nation ruled by people, in the person of King George III.

The Founders wrote restrictions into the Constitution against bills or laws of attainder, which are laws that do not apply equally to everyone, but target specific persons or groups in their enforcement, and are also known as “bills of pains and penalties.” In the hands of corrupt officials, these laws could be used as a weapon that would give an incumbent politician a major advantage over anyone else.

Can there be a better way for a nation to deal with its citizens than treating all of them equally under the law? About the only people who would disagree with this concept are those who are in a position, or want to be, to abuse the law and use their official positions unfairly, or those who benefit from that abuse.

Sadly, there are plenty of these un-American folks on the loose.

If laws are too numerous, abusive, designed to help or penalize one group at the expense of others, that nation is not a nation of laws.

A nation of laws will not permit or tolerate laws designed for reasons other than justice, and it will not permit or tolerate laws that are ignored or selectively enforced because of some official’s political whim.

"We're a nation of laws, not of men and women," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, talking about a Nevada rancher refusing to pay grazing fees on land he and his ancestors grazed for free, until recently. Someone needs to remind Sen. Reid that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. He condemns one of his constituents for not obeying the law, but himself failed to bring a federal budget before the Senate for years, as required by Article I of the US Constitution.  He has violated his oath of office and terms of the Constitution, and has done so without penalty.

Attorney General Eric Holder earned the wrath of a federal judge for directing prosecutors to pursue shorter prison sentences for drug crimes before new guidelines for sentencing had been approved. “The law provides the Executive no authority to establish national sentencing policies based on speculation about how [the U.S. Sentencing Commission] and Congress might vote on a proposed amendment,” Judge William H. Pryor, Jr. remarked. AG Holder also advised state Attorneys General that they do not have to enforce laws they disagree with, which essentially renders laws meaningless. Apparently, Mr. Holder thinks only those laws individual government officials believe in are important. He does not have authority create these policies.

And then there is the President of the United States, Barack Obama. He who rules by Executive Order is at the top of the list of those destroying the ideal of  “a nation of laws.”

It’s not about the good intentions of an Executive Order; it’s about process, and the fact that in the United States we have a detailed process for changing laws, and that process does not empower the president to do so unilaterally. Congress must amend a law, or the judiciary can strike down an unconstitutional law.

So, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that the president so strongly advocated came up far short of the miracle we were told it would be, Mr. Obama suspended parts of the law to mitigate the harm it would cause, but that is not allowed by the Constitution. It ought to strike everyone as dangerous when the president says things like if Congress won’t do what he wants, he’ll use his pen to do it through an Executive Order. Perhaps he does not understand that the executive branch is equal to the legislative branch; the president is not more powerful than the Congress.

Speaking of Congress, it’s habit of shirking its law-making duty by passing legislation that enables administrative agencies to create and implement rules with the force of law goes a long way toward undermining the “nation of laws” concept. The Founders made Congress the law-making branch of the government, and did not allow for Congress to pass that duty to the executive branch.

The sad truth is that the United States is not functioning as a nation of laws today. That status must be restored, and soon, or our very freedom is at risk.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

More crazy stuff from the world of “You can’t make this stuff up!”

Everyone says something dumb once in a while, some more than others, of course, but some people in prominent positions have a real knack for it, and others seem to think they can say whatever they want to, and people will believe them. Worse, though, is that for some of these people, like politicians, there are millions of folks who do believe what they say, no matter how weird it may be, how unlikely to happen it is, or how simply unbelievable it is.

In the most recent example, you may remember that IRS official Lois Lerner was called to testify by three Congressional committees looking into the abuse of IRS power in the intimidation of conservative applicants for 501(c)(3) status, and after making a lengthy statement declaring her innocence then availed herself of the 5th Amendment protections against self-incrimination, and then refused to answer any questions. She apparently forgot that as a hired government worker, she is accountable for her actions to the American people.

The committees had requested Ms. Lerner’s emails months ago, but, Shazam!, the IRS announced the other day that, darn the luck, those emails have just disappeared.

Adding considerable interest to this much-too-convenient occurrence is that Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen testified in March that Lois Lerner’s emails were archived.

Oh, well. Maybe the NSA or Edward Snowden has copies.

Just a couple of days earlier, Hillary Clinton, told the world that when hubby Bill finished his eight years as President of the United States they were broke and in debt.

That fails both the smell test and the laugh test. Is it possible? Yes, but doubtful.

The American taxpayers paid President Clinton $200,000 a year in wages, $1.6 million over his eight years in the White House. Presidents may have to pay for some of their normal expenses, like food, clothes, and such, but there are several expense accounts that enter into the picture, so it is difficult to imagine exhausting $1.6 million in only eight years with all the help presidents get through expense accounts.

On the other hand, given the liberal penchant for spending money they don’t have, it is entirely possible they really were broke and in debt, and if that is true, maybe we ought to remember that if Mrs. Clinton decides to seek the presidency.

Outlandish statements sometimes serve to cover up misdeeds of government employees and burnish the bona fides of politicos. Sometimes it’s difficult to make up things that are more ridiculous than what reality gives us, as we have just seen, while other times making stuff up is precisely what people do to mislead the public for some narrow political end, as the next example shows.

“Since the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, CT, there have been at least 74 school shootings in America.” So states the Website for “Everytown for Gun Safety,” which explains, “Everytown is a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.”

If you are wondering why you haven’t heard about 74 more Sandy Hooks or Newtowns, it’s because there haven’t been 74 of them. In fact, CNN investigated these claims, and found that only 15 percent of them – 11 incidents – involved “a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school.”

Politifact “quotes a former member of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit as stating ‘[t]here is an ocean of difference’ between what average people consider a school shooting and various episodes in the Everytown accounting.”

Stipulated: Even one shooting in a school is one too many. But the dishonest use of data to try to scare people is intolerable.

Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows that the annual number of school-associated violent deaths, and the annual number of homicides and suicides of students ages 5-18 at school, were lower during the 2010-2011 school year than at any time in the last 20 years. And, in fact, they had been reduced by almost half.

Five of the 74 incidents involved accidental non-fatal shootings; and two other incidents were apparent acts of self-defense. Again, any shooting at a school, other than in self-defense or to stop someone from hurting or killing people, is unacceptable. But that is a very different matter than when someone intentionally shoots and kills or wounds kids.

It appears the anti-gun fanatics will stop at nothing, even creating fairy tales to try to persuade people to their point of view. In doing so, however, they prove that their point of view is unworthy of public attention.

“Everytown” is the brainchild of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and unfortunately contains the same absurdities as Mr. Bloomberg’s other manias, like his war on sodas.

If making things illegal actually worked, we’d have no drug problems, robberies, murders or rapes. If limiting the right of law-abiding citizens to own weapons as powerful as those criminals possess made any sense, people would support it.

Does anything say, “Come on in” to a criminal more succinctly than posting a “No Guns Allowed” sign on the door?

Gun violence is the result of the desire to commit violence, not the gun.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Update from the classroom: Common Core is on the chopping block

With US secondary school students lagging behind many other nations in educational performance, combating this with a voluntary education initiative developed and operated by the states received much favorable attention.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative “seeks to establish consistent educational standards [in English Language Arts and Mathematics] across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing courses at two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce,” according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative Website.

At one point 45 of the 50 states had signed up. But as time passed and the program evolved, 17 states have seen things that have caused them to adopt the language standards but not the math standards, to question the program generally, or to drop out altogether.

The most recent to bail out is Oklahoma, following the lead of Indiana in March, followed just days before Oklahoma’s exit last week by South Carolina.

“We are capable of developing our own Oklahoma academic standards that will be better than Common Core,” Governor Mary Fallin said in a statement released by her office. “Unfortunately, federal overreach has tainted Common Core. President Obama and Washington bureaucrats have usurped Common Core in an attempt to influence state education standards.”

She continued: “What should have been a bipartisan policy is now widely regarded as the president’s plan to establish federal control of curricula, testing and teaching strategies.” Oklahoma will return to the standards previously in place, and develop new standards aimed at meeting the needs of industry and academia.

In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley signed legislation that requires a committee to review and implement a new set of academic standards by the 2015-16 school year, and return to the former assessment tests by 2014-15.

In a letter supporting the legislation, Gov. Haley said the following: “South Carolina’s educational system has at times faced challenges … that cannot be solved by increasing our dependence on federal dollars and the mandates that come with them. Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states.”

As an early supporter of Common Core, Indiana’s recent rejection is seen as pivotal, perhaps encouraging other states to abandon the program, as well. What drove the Hoosiers away? Growing criticism over costs imposed by the program, and concerns that eventually it would evolve into a national education standard.

Stating Indiana’s thinking on the subject, Governor Mike Pence said, “I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level. By signing this legislation, Indiana has taken an important step forward in developing academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high, and I commend members of the General Assembly for their support.”

Missouri reportedly also has legislation to withdraw awaiting approval by governor Jay Nixon. And North Carolina is moving in that direction.

Complaints from North Carolina parents over the unfamiliar material and believing the standards to be an intrusion by the federal government prompted legislative action that would maintain state control over education standards. Both houses of the legislature have approved measures to replace Common Core standards with new ones to be created by an appointed commission.

These two measures must be reconciled and submitted to Governor Pat McCrory, who has expressed support for Common Core, before the withdrawal will be complete. The measures passed each house by margins that could override a veto. Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia also are resisting the program.

This resistance actually began several years ago, just after the standards were developed in 2009. Five members of the 30-person Common Core validation committee refused to sign on to the standards, two of whom are experts in content: Stanford University’s James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics, and the University of Arkansas’ Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform emerita and co-author of Massachusetts’ highly regarded ELA standards.

When 17 percent of the committee doesn’t support the standards the committee designed, that signals trouble in paradise.

These rejections reveal two important things. First, these 17 states recognize Common Core is something different than what they were led to believe it would be, and objections to some specific content and methods arose, convincing some states that they can do better. And, second, these states are resisting the statist, authoritarian federal government, and its “Washington knows best,” one-size-fits-all approach.

Back in the day, when the American education system was doing a great job of educating young people, state, county and local school systems bore responsibility for deciding what goals were important and how to achieve them. Somehow, without the central planning of the federal government, American high school graduates managed to be well prepared for the next step in their lives.

America does best when Americans are left to think for themselves and to make decisions and follow the course that best suit their purposes. It’s called “freedom,” and once was the hallmark of our nation.

That’s what built the country, and that is what will restore it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

VA failure is a symptom of a bloated and over-reaching government

Sometimes, something beneficial results from a horrible tragedy. The intolerable chaos at Veterans Affairs is one such tragedy from which something useful emerged: America finally knows how out of control the VA has become.

It’s horrible that it took the mistreatment of thousands and the lives of at least 40 American veterans, who trusted their government to provide them adequate care in return for their service to the country, to bring this to the nation’s attention, but now people are aware, and they are angry about this disgusting situation.

The VA has had been a mixed blessing for veterans, providing good care to many, but treating others with neglect. The problems started a long time before Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, but the confusion and malfeasance we see today have grown to be far worse recently, despite Presidential assurances beginning seven years ago that it would be repaired.

“As president, I won’t stand for hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for benefits. We’ll make sure our disabled vets received the benefits they deserve,” candidate Obama declared in 2007.

“I know you’ve heard this for years, but the leadership and resources we’re providing this time means that we’re going to be able to do it. That is our mission, and we are going to make it happen,” President Obama said in 2009.

And, he said a year later: “At the same time, every American who has ever worn the uniform must also know this:  Your country is going to take care of you when you come home.  Our nation’s commitment to our veterans, to you and your families, is a sacred trust.  And to me and my administration, upholding that trust is a moral obligation. That’s why I’ve charged Secretary Shinseki with building a 21st century VA. We’re going to keep on making historic commitments to our veterans.“

The President made similar promises in 2012 and 2013. They made no difference. Just empty words, like “If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period.” Instead of action to fix the problems and discipline the bad behavior, many VA workers got bonuses.

It is very difficult to fire a federal employee for virtually any reason, because they belong to a union. Why do federal employees, who work for the entity that makes and enforces the rules of the workplace, need a union, and why did the government agree to allow a union to protect taxpayer-funded employees from discipline or dismissal for misfeasance?

The disgraceful performance of the VA is not the only example of a federal government out of control and drastically in need of overhaul. It is not just fat and sloppy, it is a danger to the freedom and safety of the citizens that it was created to serve and protect.

Several other agencies also fail their duty of service. It’s difficult to pick the worst offender from among the IRS, which used its power to attack political enemies; or the Department of Education, which sent a SWAT team to find a woman who had defaulted on a few thousand dollars in education loans; or the EPA, which has attempted to impose penalties for spilt milk and wants to regulate mud puddles on private property.

Let’s not forget the Bureau of Land Management, which has taken control of thousands of acres of state-owned land, ostensibly to protect a “threatened” species of turtle which is thriving, except for being killed off by that same federal agency; or the Department of Justice, whose Operation Choke Point goes after companies the administration considers politically objectionable, like those that sell guns, despite the fact that they are legal businesses.

These agencies could cause much less mischief with a staff half the current size. Currently, there are nearly 3 million federal civilian employees, about one for every 115 citizens. Last year the average total compensation for a federal civilian employee was about $133,000. Cutting the civilian workforce in half could save approximately $360 billion annually. What a boost to the private economy that would be, and what a relief from the overreaching of the bloated and mismanaged federal bureaucracy.

Of course, bad government is not limited to the feds, it also occurs at the state and local level, and also involves over-achieving and foolish behavior. A candidate for governor in Minnesota was in a park collecting signatures to get on the ballot. When police discovered he didn’t have the required permit, he was handcuffed and taken to headquarters.

Police were within their authority to arrest the man, but was that really necessary or desirable, or even sensible? Could they not simply have told him to stop and go get a permit? After all, in a country where a large number believe it’s wrong to require proof of citizenship in order to vote should a candidate be required to obtain a permit to “advertise” in order to get signatures to place his name on the ballot?

None of this is what America is supposed to be about. Someday enough people may figure this out and demand a return to good government.