Tuesday, May 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ideas on citizenship and abortion reveal the left’s extremes

Hillary Clinton devalues citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The March for Life Rally in Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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