Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Manbearpig

August 27, 2014

I feel privileged today. Al Gore has sent me an e-mail asking me to help him track down and kill manbearpig.

Dear friend –

Folks like you know what I believe: We have no more important priority than confronting and solving the climate crisis.

Luckily, we have a President who has taken up that task with both determination and seriousness of purpose, and it’s amazing what a difference that can make.

In June, President Obama empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon pollution, a move which will help reduce dangerous CO2 from power plants by 30 percent in 2030. On top of that, he has established new fuel economy standards that reduce CO2 levels and will save us all money at the pump. With the Recovery Act, he made the single biggest investment in clean energy in the United States, ever. All these steps will have a lasting impact on the planet our children and grandchildren inherit — and they wouldn’t have happened without your support.

If you stand with President Obama, add your name to support Democrats working with him to address climate change.

As Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” We’re seeing real, important progress in the fight against the climate crisis — and it’s coming not a moment too soon.

But you and I both know there are still a lot of deniers out there. The time for leadership in the face of this threat has not passed. If ever there were a moment to send leaders to Washington who make climate legislation their top priority, this is it.

Support Democrats, and tell Congress to address climate change:

http://my.democrats.org/Act-on-Climate

Thanks,

Al Gore

It is really too bad that there are so many deniers out there so refuse to take the former vice-president serial. What does he have to do to convince the deniers? Present actual empirical evidence for what he claims?

If you want to know why I am one of those deniers who cannot take Mr. Gore or the other climate alarmists very serial, it is because they do not act in a particularly honest manner. They do not simply state facts. The try to generate panic by exaggeration and misdirection. They try to bully people who disagree with them and fantasize about blowing such people up.

Carbon dioxide is not, in any way dangerous nor is it pollution. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring substance in the Earth’s atmosphere that is absolutely necessary for life on this planet. The Earth’s climate is not at a delicate equilibrium that can easily be disturbed by human activity. The Earth’s climate has changed drastically over the eons and will continue to change long after we are gone.

Another reason I cannot take people like Al Gore very serial is the hypocrisy of their position. Despite what Gore says, cutting “carbon pollution” from power plants and imposing stricter fuel standards will increase the cost of energy in this country. This won’t affect Al Gore. He has no intention of giving up his mansion or jetting around the world to spread the message about manbearpig . It will hurt the rest of us.

Well, since manbearpig has been spotted in southern Indiana, I guess I should get with Mr. Gore and help track it down. Maybe I can get a nobel prize too.

Manbearpig

Manbearpig

Ferguson

August 21, 2014

I hadn’t intended on writing anything on the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri. I obviously wasn’t there and the details of the shooting of Michael Brown seem to change with each reporting. Since I do not know what actually occurred, I have thought it best not to comment. I wish a lot of other people had shown a similar restraint. Instead, it seems that every pundit and politician in the country has had to put forth their opinion based on inadequate and often conflicting accounts. I can say that the original media narrative, that a racist police officer gunned down an innocent African-American youth for no particular reason is almost certainly not in accord with the facts. Officer Darren Wilson seems to have been attacked and to have suffered injuries. Michael Brown was not a little kid but a three hundred pound teenager. If he had assaulted Officer Wilson or even acted in a threatening manner, Wilson would have had good reason to be afraid for his life. That doesn’t mean that he acted appropriately. I simply do not know.

What concerns me about the way this is unfolding is that the media is not really interested in emphasizing the little details that might conflict with their original narrative. I am afraid that any sort of serious inquiry over the shooting may well find reason to exonerate Officer Wilson. Since the good people of Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere may very likely be unaware of the details that prompted Wilson’s exoneration, and being ginned on by the likes of Al Sharpton, will conclude that a racist murderer has gotten away with his crimes. Then there will be rioting.

Something rather similar happened with Rodney King. The whole country saw the video of the Los Angeles policemen beating Mr. King, always described as a motorist as though he had been out for an innocent drive. What the country did not see was the high-speed chase in which King endangered other drivers and pedestrians while his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. They did not see King resist arrest nor were they told that tasering King had no effect on him. The beatings, while excessive, were understandable since they were trying to subdue what appeared to be a dangerous man. Because most people in this country were not made aware of these important details, the acquittal of the officers in the video came as a shock and provoked rioting. The media acted irresponsibly then, and I fear they are acting irresponsibly now. If there are more riots in Ferguson, they will have blood on their hands.

Would it be too much to ask that everyone calm down and keep their mouths shut unless they happen to have first hand knowledge of events?

The Election of 1820

August 18, 2014

There is not much to write about the election of 1820. This election was the only uncontested presidential election in American history except for the first two elections when Washington was the only candidate. The Federalist Party had almost completely faded away by then and with it, the first party system of American politics. There was still a handful of Federalists serving in Congress, but the Federalist had lost all of their influence outside of New England and was not able to nominate a candidate to oppose the reelection of James Monroe. The Democratic-Republicans nominated their team of Monroe and Daniel D. Tomkins for a second term.

There was no real campaign and little interest in the election. Turnout for the election was light, even in the fifteen of the twenty-four states that chose their electors by popular vote. There was some controversy over the status of Missouri. The new state had adopted a constitution in July of 1820, but Congress delayed Missouri’s admission into the Union until August of 1821 because of a provision the constitution that prohibited free Blacks from residing in the state. It made no difference to the outcome, so the matter was not pursued.

As for the outcome, James Monroe won 228 of the 232 electoral votes. Three electors, one each from Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee had died before  casting their votes and so were not counted. There was only one dissenting vote cast by William Plumer, a former Senator and governor from New Hampshire. It is sometimes said that he voted for John Quincy Adams so that Monroe would not equal Washington’s achievement in gaining a unanimous vote in the Electoral College, but he had no way of knowing what the votes of his colleagues  would be. He simply believed that John Quincy Adams would make a better president than James Monroe. He also disliked Daniel Tomkins and voted for Richard Rush for vice-president.

The Election of 1820

The Election of 1820

After this election, it seemed as if the United States would become a one party state. James Monroe was happy with that result. The founding fathers had not approved of political parties believing them to be divisive and troublesome. Most political observers looked forward to a future of calm elections with no partisan rivalry. Just four years later they would find out how wrong they were.

 

The Last Refuge

August 15, 2014

Samuel Johnson once famously said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It is not known in what the precise context was in which Johnson made this statement. He was not disparaging patriotism in general, since he considered himself to be a patriotic Englishman. It is most likely that he said in the the course of a discussion on politics. Perhaps he was referring to a politician who he believed was not really a patriot, but who found it convenient to pose as one. Whatever the context, it is true that scoundrels of all sorts have tried to conceal their motives and actions under a cloak of patriotism.

Speaking of patriotism and scoundrels, here is an e-mail I received from Organizing for Action the other day.

 

Friend –

What Walgreens did last week was a big deal.

The pharmacy giant publicly decided to do the right thing by refusing to exploit a tax loophole.

The loophole — called a tax inversion — is when a company in the United States purchases a foreign company, and then claims residency in that country for tax purposes. It’s something that could cost our country $20 billion over the next 10 years.

Right now, dozens of American businesses across the country are weighing this decision.

This is an important time to take a stand — say you’ll fight for closing corporate tax loopholes and help make sure everybody pays their fair share and plays by the same rules.

To a lot of us, this issue is pretty clear cut: President Obama said it’s a question of “economic patriotism.”

The companies that take advantage of tax inversions don’t have to move their headquarters or CEO. They can continue to enjoy all the benefits of operating in our country while drastically cutting how much they contribute in taxes.

That means when they “leave,” you and I get stuck with paying an even bigger share of the bills for things our country needs, like funding for our roads and bridges.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see a company as big as Walgreens reject tax inversions.

The more Americans who stand up and make their voices heard, the more that other companies will choose to do the right thing.

Let’s close this loophole — add your name today:

http://my.barackobama.com/Fight-Corporate-Tax-Loopholes

Thanks,

Nico

Nico Probst
Director of Special Projects
Organizing for Action

Patriotism, like justice, is a noun that does not usually require any modifier. If someone modifies the word justice with adjectives to make phases like social justice, climate justice, or food justice, justice is not really what they have in mind. Likewise, adding an adjective to patriotism to make something like economic patriotism might indicate that the speaker is not really interested in patriotism, as it is generally understood. They wish to use patriotism as a way to shame or coerce people to work against their own interests or to respond to bad policies. In this case, the people behind Organizing for Action, the Obama administration, have done their best to make the United States a hostile place for businesses and then are surprised when businesses decide to relocate to places with a better business climate or take advantage of every loophole to lower their tax bill.

One obvious way to encourage businesses to stay in the United States might be to lower the corporate tax rate. Right now, at 39.1 % the US has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. I know that most businesses don’t actually pay that rate, but surely finding ways to reduce their tax bills must be expensive and burdensome. If we were to lower that tax rate to something they would pay while decreasing the number of loopholes, everyone  might benefit. It is better to tax people, and corporations, at a lower rate they will pay than a higher rate they will only seek to evade. But, it is easier to appeal to economic patriotism than to change bad policies, especially if you happen to be a scoundrel.

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for He...

He knew a scoundrel when he saw one.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

The Libertarian Moment

August 12, 2014

In his column at the Federalist, David Harsanyi explains why he is skeptical that the long-awaited libertarian moment has not yet arrived.

The New York Times Magazine has an entertaining look at the libertarian movement that includes, among others, my Federalist colleagues Ben Domenech and Mollie Hemingway making astute observations about its future. The main question, though, is whether America has finally stumbled upon its “libertarian moment.” And boy, do I wish the answer was yes.

Here’s how Robert Draper lays out the case:

But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget.

Without getting into policy specifics, there are a few problems with this narrative.

A libertarian – according to the dictionary, at least – is a person who “upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.” And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government.

Take two of the most frequently cited issues that herald the libertarian renaissance: legalized pot and gay marriage. Both of them, I would argue, are only inadvertently aligned with libertarian values. These are victories in a culture war. Both issues have rapidly gained acceptance in the United States, but support for them does not equate to any newfound longing to “uphold the principles of individual liberty.”

Many supporters of pot legalization are, for example, probably just as sympathetic to nanny-state prohibitions on products they find insalubrious or environmentally unfriendly. More seriously, many of the most passionate proponents of same-sex marriage are also the most passionate proponents of the government forcing Christian bakers and florists to participate in gay marriages and impelling religious business owners to subsidize contraception for their employees.

Beating back people who stand in the way of gay marriage to make room for people who stand in the way of religious freedom and free association doesn’t exactly feel like a victory on the liberty front.

I can save Mr. Harsanyi and many others some trouble. The libertarian moment will never arrive. That is not to say that some policies championed by libertarians may not become part of the political mainstream. Some undoubtedly will. It may also be that an overstretched federal government will have to be trimmed down in the near future. The era of really big government began in the industrial age and it may be that in our post industrial, information age society, smaller. leaner government will become the norm. Whatever happens, the Libertarian Party will never receive more than 5% of the vote and politicians who are consistently and dogmatically libertarian will never get very far.

The real problem with libertarianism is that no one really wants it. Many people say they do but they really don’t. As Mr. Harsanyi points out.

Now, with all that said, most Americans want nothing to do with libertarian economic policy. As Kevin Williamson pointed out not long ago in Politco, the love Americans show for their expensive and inefficient programs makes a libertarian moment in the near future unlikely. No matter how often voters tell pollsters they crave more choice, limited governments and free market solutions, elections tell us that they’re lying.

It would, perhaps, be more accurate to say that many people want libertarianism for themselves, but not for others. Libertarianism for me but not for thee. The government program that helps someone else is wasteful and extravagant. The government program that helps me is necessary for the economy. The laws and regulations that keep me from wanting to do what I want to do are burdensome and even tyrannical. The laws and regulations that keep someone else from doing what they want to do are necessary for the public good.

Libertarianism is usually considered a right-wing movement and there is a strong strain of libertarianism in contemporary conservatism, but in one important way, libertarians are closer to the left. Like many leftists, libertarians tend to ignore human nature, or believe that human nature can be changed if only the right policies are put into effect or if only the right sort of people are elected. They don’t seem to fully appreciate that there are reasons that governments tend to grow larger with time and  the sphere of liberty tends to decrease.

George W. Bush once expressed his view that the desire for freedom is universal by saying,

No people on earth yearn to be oppressed or aspire to servitude or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

He was right in saying that no one wants to be a slave. Unfortunately, as we have learned in places like Iraq, that is not enough. No one wants to be a slave, but too many of us don’t mind making slaves of others. Liberty does not flourish because people yearn to be free. It only flourishes when people manage to restrain their desire to control others, which is not easy. The truth is that every single one of us has a little Hitler or Stalin inside of us who wants very badly to tell everybody around us what to do. It is because of this very human impulse that libertarianism has such trouble gaining a wider appeal. Telling people to ignore their inner busybody and not take advantage of government largess is a very hard sell indeed.

The problem is not that the Democrats or Republicans are growing the government. The problem is that anyone who finds himself in public office has strong incentives to grow the government, and this would be true even if a member of the Libertarian Party were in Congress or were president. Ultimately this is not really a political problem but a human nature problem and that makes it very hard to find a solution.

 

 

 

Jimmy Carter Should Stick to Building Houses

August 7, 2014

James Earl (Jimmy) Carter was without question the most inept president of my lifetime, at least until the present occupant of the White House was elected. One might think that after a four year tenure of abject failure both in domestic and foreign policy, such a man would slink away back to Georgia and never make any public statements about subjects he obviously knows very little about. We are not that lucky. Ever since the American people decided to pass on another four years of having this grinning idiot in the White House, Jimmy Carter has insisted on butting in and speaking his piece where he is not wanted and not needed. Just now he has taken it upon himself to present his resolution to the crisis in Gaza with a column in Foreign Policy which he co-wrote with Ireland’s former president and current left-wing whack job, Mary Robinson.

Jimmy Carter, former President of the United S...

Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States and current jackass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A quick summary of this column would read, it is all Israel’s fault. Israel has committed war crimes by not allowing Hamas to continue to attack its citizens and should withdraw, end the blockade on Gaza and allow Hamas to continue to try to kill the Israelis. Then we will have peace in the region. Here is the column. You decide if my summary is fair.

Israelis and Palestinians are still burying their loved ones as Gaza’s third war in six years continues. Since July 8, when this war began, more than 1,600 Palestinian and 65 Israeli lives have been sacrificed. Many in the world are heartbroken in the powerless certainty that more will die, that more are being killed every hour.

Who has started these wars? If Hamas would stop trying to kill the Israelis, the fighting would stop. Israel is not dedicated to the destruction of the Palestinians either on the West Bank or Gaza. Hamas is openly dedicated to the destruction of the Jews. Fatah is just as dedicated to the destruction of Israel but they have the good sense not to say so, at least not in English. What they say in Arabic may be quite different.

This tragedy results from the deliberate obstruction of a promising move toward peace in the region, when a reconciliation agreement among the Palestinian factions was announced in April. This was a major concession by Hamas, in opening Gaza to joint control under a technocratic government that did not include any Hamas members. The new government also pledged to adopt the three basic principles demanded by the Middle East Quartet comprised of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia: nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements. Tragically, Israel rejected this opportunity for peace and has succeeded in preventing the new government’s deployment in Gaza.

It is all Israel’s fault for somehow not trusting the good intentions and good faith of the people who have sworn to destroy them. Has Hamas recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? Has Hamas adhered to past agreements? When Israel withdrew from Gaza and handed over control to the Palestinians, they promptly elected Hamas as their leaders and began to attack Israel.

Two factors are necessary to make Palestinian unity possible. First, there must be at least a partial lifting of the 7-year-old sanctions and blockade that isolate the 1.8 million people in Gaza. There must also be an opportunity for the teachers, police, and welfare and health workers on the Hamas payroll to be paid. These necessary requirements for a human standard of living continue to be denied. Instead, Israel blocked Qatar’s offer to provide funds to pay civil servants’ salaries, and access to and from Gaza has been further tightened by Egypt and Israel.

Israel must end the blockade so that Hamas will have a chance to import more rockets to attack Israel. Why does Carter think Israel imposed the blockade? Does he really think the Israelis want to starve the Palestinians? They do allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. They do not allow any weapons or any item that could be made into a weapon. They do not allow construction materials since those materials are used to build tunnels for evading the blockade.Israel imposed this blockade after Hamas began to fire rockets into Israel. Israel would probably lift the blockade if Hamas stopped trying to kill Israelis.

This next section is the best (worst) part of the column.

There is no humane or legal justification for the way the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting this war. Israeli bombs, missiles, and artillery have pulverized large parts of Gaza, including thousands of homes, schools, and hospitals. More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian noncombatants have been killed. Much of Gaza has lost access to water and electricity completely. This is a humanitarian catastrophe.

There is never an excuse for deliberate attacks on civilians in conflict. These are war crimes. This is true for both sides. Hamas’s indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is equally unacceptable. However, three Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets, while an overwhelming majority of the 1,600 Palestinians killed have been civilians, including more than 330 children. The need for international judicial proceedings to investigate and end these violations of international law should be taken very seriously.

The reason so many Palestinian civilians have been killed is because Hamas wants them to be killed. Israel protects its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians as human shields.

There is a larger issue here and I am afraid that what I am about to say will seem to be very ugly. Well, war is ugly. For a person who has lived through World War II and served in the United States Navy, Jimmy Carter is astonishingly obtuse about the nature of war. If we had fought the Second World War as he expects Israel to fight, we would have responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor by bombing one Japanese base. Anything more would have been disproportionate. We would not have bombed the Japanese home islands or sunk Japanese cargo ships. That would have been an unacceptable attack on civilians. We certainly would not have dropped incendiary bombs  on the residential quarters of Tokyo, knowing that their wooden houses would burn readily nor would we have dropped the atomic bombs. The war might have been conducted more humanely as a result. We would probably still be fighting the Japanese.

The way to end a war and bring about peace is the utterly destroy the enemy’s will and capacity to fight. This might mean bombing the factories that produce the weapons the soldiers use. This might mean killing civilians to break the enemy’s will to fight. War is hell. General William T. Sherman said this out of personal experience. During the Civil War, his soldiers burned down plantations and destroyed railways in order to destroy the Confederates’ ability to wage war. Jimmy Carter might have considered these actions to be war crimes, but they ensured that the South would not rise again. It is a cruel irony that the most likely chance for peace in the Middle East would be if Israel really were the villain people like Jimmy Carter think it is. Because Israel is a decent nation, the fighting will go on.

Jimmy Carter probably thinks he is on the side of peace. He is not. By his statements, he is giving hope to Hamas that they need only hold out until Israel is pressured to withdraw without finishing the job of destroying Hamas’s ability to fight. He is not promoting peace in the region. He is paving the way for continual war.

Carter goes on.

The U.N. Security Council should focus on what can be done to limit the potential use of force by both sides. It should vote for a resolution recognizing the inhumane conditions in Gaza and mandate an end to the siege. That resolution could also acknowledge the need for international monitors who can report on movements into and out of Gaza as well as cease-fire violations. It should then enshrine strict measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Early discussions have already taken place. The Elders, an international group of elder statesmen of which we are a part, hope these discussions will continue and reach fruition.

At the Palestinians’ request, the Swiss government is considering convening an international conference of the signatory states of the Geneva Conventions, which enshrine the humanitarian laws of warfare. This could pressure Israel and Hamas into observing their duties under international law to protect civilian populations. We sincerely hope all states — especially those in the West, with the greatest power — attend and live up to their obligations to uphold the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of populations in occupied territory.

I am sure that any action by the UN will be completely impartial and will only serve the interests of peace. That was sarcasm.

Unity between Fatah and Hamas is currently stronger than it has been for many years. As Elders, we believe this is one of the most encouraging developments in recent years and welcome it warmly. This presents an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to reassume control over Gaza — an essential first step towards Israel and Egypt lifting the blockade.

Why is unity between these two factions desirable? What has been drawing them closer? Has Hamas given up its goal of destroying the Jews?

The Palestinian Authority cannot manage the task of administering Gaza on its own. It will need the prompt return of the EU Border Assistance Mission, an international effort to help monitor border crossings that was launched in 2005 and suspended in 2007. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has already offered to reinstate the program, covering not only Rafah but all of Gaza’s crossings. Egypt and Israel would, in turn, cooperate with international monitors to be deployed in Gaza and along its borders, backed by a U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilian populations. A valuable precedent for trust-building between Egypt and Israel is the international peacekeeping force operating in the Sinai, mandated by the peace treaty signed by the two countries in 1979.

The international community’s initial goal should be the full restoration of the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza through Israel, Egypt, and the sea. Concurrently, the United States and EU should recognize that Hamas is not just a military but also a political force. Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor — one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people — can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the West’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result.

We could have said something similar about the Nazis and the Japanese military government. Both the Nazis and the militarists represented a substantial portion of their respective countries. Ultimately we brought about their demise. Why don’t we give Israel the chance to bring about the demise of Hamas. We ought not to recognize the legitimacy of a political actor as movement that has genocide as its goal.

Ultimately, however, lasting peace depends on the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

Leaders in Israel, Palestine, and the world’s major powers should believe that policy changes are within reach that would move Israelis and Palestinians closer to a day when the skies over the Holy Land can forever fall silent.

A lasting peace will only occur when the Palestinians realize that they cannot defeat or destroy Israel and that Israel is here to stay. They must come to understand that they have more to gain by making peace than waging war. This is why Egypt made peace with Israel. Anwar Sadat  realized that Egypt could not defeat Israel and that the continuing hostility with Israel was wrecking his country. Unfortunately the antics of people like Carter make this realization, and peace, unlikely. Jimmy Carter should stick to what he knows, building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

Politics in the Church and the IRS

July 29, 2014

I was reading a post at Political Outcast on the possibility that the IRS might begin to monitor sermons for political content thanks to a settlement with the Freedom from Religion Foundation. I might be tempted to regard this as exaggerated or alarmist but it happens that I had already read the FfRF’s statement on the lawsuit. While I do not think the IRS is likely to start sending agents into churches to monitor sermons, this ruling clearly allows groups like the FfRF to harass religious groups that dare to make any public statement on any political issue. Since the left politicizes everything, this means that any preacher that preaches on any subject in a politically correct way, abortion, say or homosexuality, could find have his church’s tax exemption revoked.

Here is the FfRF’s statement.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service reached an agreement today (July 17) that resolves for the time being an ongoing federal lawsuit over non-enforcement of restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt religious organizations and churches.

“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“Of course, we have the complication of a moratorium currently in place on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, due to the congressional probe of the IRS. FFRF could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”

FFRF filed suit against the IRS shortly after the presidential election in 2012, based on the agency’s reported enforcement moratorium, as evidenced by open and notorious politicking by churches. Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in fact, has become an annual occasion for churches to violate the law with impunity. The IRS, meanwhile, admittedly was not enforcing the restrictions against churches. A prior lawsuit in 2009 required the IRS to designate an appropriate high-ranking official to initiate church tax examinations, but it had apparently failed to do so.

The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations. While the IRS retains “prosecutorial” discretion with regard to any individual case, the IRS no longer has a blanket policy or practice of non-enforcement of political activity restrictions as to churches.

In addition to FFRF’s lawsuit, IRS enforcement procedures with respect to political activity by tax-exempt organizations have been the subject of intense scrutiny by Congress. As a result, the IRS is reviewing and implementing safeguards to ensure evenhanded enforcement across the board with respect to all tax exempt organizations.

Until that process is completed, the IRS has suspended all examinations of tax-exempt organizations for alleged political activities. The current suspension, however, is not limited to church tax inquiries.

Until the IRS has satisfied congressional overseers that objective procedures are firmly in place with regard to political activities by all tax-exempt organizations, the judge in FFRF’s pending suit would not currently be able to order any immediate or effective relief.

As a result, FFRF has reached a point where no further immediate changes realistically can be accomplished through continued litigation. The dismissal of the pending action, however, is expected to be without prejudice, which means that further legal action by FFRF to enforce anti-electioneering provisions is not precluded in the future if necessary.

Why shouldn’t churches be involved in politics? The IRS explains it.

The ban on political campaign activity by charities and churches was created by Congress more than a half century ago. The Internal Revenue Service administers the tax laws written by Congress and has enforcement authority over tax-exempt organizations. Here is some background information on the political campaign activity ban and the latest IRS enforcement statistics regarding its administration of this congressional ban.

In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.

Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

I really do not see how this is constitutional, nor do I understand why churches must remain silent in order to qualify for tax exemptions. Frankly, I would prefer that churches not be exempt from taxes because I am not comfortable with the IRS deciding what is and isn’t a legitimate religion.

The reason for the FfRF”s concern is the movement called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” headed by a pastor named Jim Garlow. Mr. Garlow believes that preachers should not be restricted in their choice of subject matter for their sermons but must be free to speak out on any issue that concerns their audience, including who should be elected to office. As a result of this belief he has begun a movement of more than a thousand pastors to deliberately challenge the IRS’s ban on politicking.

Again, I don’t understand why the restriction isn’t unconstitutional. Preachers ought to have the freedom to preach whatever they want to preach. Whether they should preach on political subjects is another matter. In general, I do not believe they should. The mission of the church is to get souls to Heaven and not to try to make Earth into Heaven. When the church gets involved with politics, it does not improve the political scene. Politics tends to corrupt the church.

This is no reason for the government to demand that churches stay out of politics. The idea behind the Johnson amendment seems to be that if a tax exempt church interferes in politics that is equivalent to the government establishing a church by funding it. But why? If the government reduces taxes, it is not giving people money, contrary to what progressives believe. It is allowing them to keep more of their own money. If the government chooses not to tax religious institutions,  it is not funding the institutions, it is refraining from taking their money. It seems to me that the demand that churches stay out of politics is a violation of their freedom of expression as well as their free exercise of religion. Perhaps it is time this law is changed in favor of freedom.

Rand Paul and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

July 27, 2014

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has introduced a bill to reform federal civil forfeiture laws. As Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

This is a pretty big deal, especially if Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) can round up enough co-sponsors to build some momentum.

Sen. Rand Paul yesterday introduced S. 2644, the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law. Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property.

The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property.

The bill would also require states “to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property.” This is important. Currently, a number of state legislatures across the country have passed reform bills to rein in forfeiture abuses. The problem is that the federal government has a program known as “adoption” or “equitable sharing.” Under the program, a local police agency need only call up the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or similar federal agency. That agency then “federalizes” the investigation, making it subject to federal law. The federal agency then initiates forfeiture proceedings under the laxer federal guidelines for forfeiture. The feds take a cut and then return the rest — as much as 80 percent — back to the local agency. This trick thwarts the intent of state legislature that have attempted to make civil forfeiture more fair when it comes to burden of proof, protections for innocent property owners and eliminating the perverse incentive of allowing forfeiture proceeds to go to the same police agency that made the seizure.

Which brings us to a final important provision in the bill: It would “would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.”

I am glad someone is doing something about this. Civil asset forfeiture abuse is becoming a growing problem all over the country. I am sure there are still too many people who are unaware that the police; state, local, or even federal agents, can simply declare that your house or car was bought with drug money or used in a crime and simply take it. Because this is a civil action and not a criminal proceeding, they do not have to prove you guilty of any crime. They don’t even have to charge you with a crime. It is up to you to prove that the property seized  was not used in any crime.

This problem has been dealt with by state governments, with varying degrees of effectiveness. The Institute for Justice has published a report on civil forfeiture laws, grading the states from A to D. Indiana is one of the better states getting a B+ for its forfeiture laws but a C on evasion with a combined grade of C+

Indiana has some of the better civil forfeiture laws in the country, at least with regard to the profit incentive.  Unfortunately, to forfeit your property, the government only needs to show that it was more likely than not that your property was related to a crime and thus is forfeitable—the legal standard of preponderance of the evidence, lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for a criminal conviction.  But law enforcement in Indiana does not receive any of the funds gained through civil forfeiture, which keeps the focus of law enforcement on preventing crime rather than raising funds.  After deducting law enforcement costs for the prosecution of civil forfeitures, all forfeiture revenue is sent either to the general fund of the state or the state’s education fund.  Indiana does participate in equitable sharing with the federal government, averaging more than $2.6 million per year in the 2000s.

Imagine what conditions are like for a state for an D grade. West Virginia is at the bottom of the list with a forfeiture law grade of D- and an evasion grade of D for a combined D- grade.

West Virginia has poor civil forfeiture laws.  The government must demonstrate that property is related to a crime and subject to forfeiture by a mere preponderance of the evidence, a standard much easier for law enforcement than proving criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  And the burden is on owners for innocent owner claims, making owners effectively guilty until proven innocent.

When money is seized and forfeited, all of the proceeds go to law enforcement:  10 percent goes to the prosecuting attorney, and 90 percent goes to a law enforcement investigation fund.  Although there is no requirement in West Virginia that law enforcement officials collect information on forfeiture, a January 2009 article in the Register Herald offered some insight into the way police in Beckley, W.V., used forfeiture proceeds.  In 2008, the article reported, police brought in $65,000 and six vehicles through forfeiture.  Forfeiture revenue provided some of the funding to buy a $10,000 K-9 police dog for the department.[1]

No fewer than 29 states get a grade of D. Eighteen get a C grade, two a B, and only Maine gets an A. The problem, as the article states, is that no matter how good any state’s protections against civil forfeiture might be, as soon as the federal government gets involved, the laxer federal standards are applied. According to the Institute for Justice’s scale, the federal government gets a D-.

As the numbers below indicate, the federal government has a very aggressive civil forfeiture program.  Federal law enforcement forfeits a substantial amount of property for its own use while also teaming up with local and state governments to prosecute forfeiture actions, whereby all of the agencies share in the bounty at the end of the day.

Outrage over abuse of civil forfeiture laws led to the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) in 2000.  Under these changes, the government now must show by a preponderance of the evidence why the property should be forfeited.  The Act also created an innocent owner defense that lets individuals keep their property if they can show either that they did not know that it was being used illegally or that they took reasonable steps to stop it.

But while CAFRA heightened some procedural protections, it failed to address the largest problem in the federal civil forfeiture system:  the strong pecuniary interest that federal law enforcement agencies have in the outcome of the forfeiture proceeding.  For the past 25 years, federal agencies have been able to keep all of the property that they seize and forfeit.  And that has led to explosive growth in the amount of forfeiture activity at the federal level.

 

This policy began as part of the War on Drugs. The idea was that if law enforcement couldn’t find enough evidence to convict drug dealers or members of crime organizations, they could at least be deprived of the assets they needed to continue operations. This was obviously an enormous success judging from the lack of drugs in this country. In fact, since all too often, money gained from the sales of confiscated property goes directly into funding for law enforcement, there is a strong incentive for corruption and abuse. It is also a lot easier and safer to target small time criminals or the innocent for asset forfeiture than to pursue drug cartels or the mafia.

I wish Rand Paul success with this legislation. It is something badly needed.

Ignorance is Bliss

July 10, 2014

Two recent e-mails I have received prove this old saying true. First there is one from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

If you thought House Republicans couldn’t get worse, I’ve got bad news. Speaker John Boehner is now threatening to sue President Obama because House Republicans are mad that President Obama is using his executive authority to get things done where Congress won’t act.1

Such a ridiculous lawsuit would be a wasteful and inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes, and we’ve hatched a plan to fight back.

Our legal team is investigating options to hold Speaker Boehner accountable if he moves forward—from launching a lawsuit of our own, to filing a formal complaint in Congress, to other responses. And we are planning protests outside of Republicans’ district offices and other tactics that can break into the news. Together, we can help expose the lawsuit for the cynical political ploy that it is and generate press coverage that holds Republicans accountable as the November elections loom.

Because MoveOn is its members, we want to know what you think before we decide whether to proceed. Do you think we should move forward—or do you want us focused on other things? Click to let us know:

Yes, MoveOn should fight to hold Speaker Boehner and House Republicans accountable if they use taxpayer dollars to sue President Obama.

No, I’d prefer for MoveOn to focus on other things (and tell us which other things).

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Bobby, Matt, Amy, and the rest of the team

Checks and balances? What’s that. As it happens, I don’t think Speaker of the House Boehner should sue the president either. There are other options Congress can use to rein in an over bearing president. The House of Representatives, in particular, has the power of the purse. I think it would be better if John Boehner worked as hard as he could to get as many Republicans elected as possible. With a majority in both houses of Congress, they have a much better chance of stopping Obama. Suing him will only fire up the liberal base. I could say something similar about calling for impeachment. The Republicans have a good chance of winning big this year, but both of these tactics could ruin things.

I wish, though, that the people at Moveon.org, and elsewhere, would think very carefully about the statement that the President must act by executive authority because Congress won’t. What exactly do we have a Congress for? If the only legitimate role of Congress is to rubber stamp everything the president decrees,than why bother to have a Congress at all? Why not just make the President a dictator who we elect every four years? They seem to think we should have a system like the old Soviet Union or some banana republic in which there is a phony legislature that pretends to be passing the laws while the Leader is calling all the shots. Haven’t any of these people stopped to think that there may come a time when someone they thoroughly detest becomes president and enacts policies they oppose over the will of Congress, maybe we might even get another Republican as president? When that time comes, they may wish we still had the checks and balances they worked so hard to eviscerate.

The other e-mail is from Organizing for Action.

Friend –

Big news in the fight to raise the minimum wage:

In the last few months, four states have passed laws to raise the wage, and several cities and local governments are following suit.

That’s how we make progress, even if a minority in Congress is blocking it.

OFA’s petition to lawmakers already has nearly half a million signatures on it — yours belongs on it, too. Add your name to the petition today.

A higher minimum wage isn’t just good for workers, it’s the right idea for our economy.

More money in minimum wage earners’ pockets means more money to spend at area businesses.

That’s why governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle are working to raise the wage. Just since May, we’ve seen Maryland, Michigan, Hawaii, and Massachusetts pass higher state minimum wage laws.

This fight is also happening on the local level. Seattle, Philadelphia, and Richmond, California, have all taken steps forward to raise the wage for thousands of workers in their cities.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, supporters delivered more than 6,000 petition signatures to put a minimum wage increase measure on the ballot this fall.

That’s grassroots energy, and it’s proof that when we make our voices heard, progress is possible — with or without Congress.

This petition is how we’re going to send a message that the other side can’t ignore. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Right now, it looks like your name is missing, but that’s alright.

You can add your voice today, and tell lawmakers it’s time to raise the minimum wage:

http://my.barackobama.com/Raise-the-Wage-Petition

Thanks,

Lindsay

Lindsay Siler
National Director of Issue Campaigns
Organizing for Action

Raising the minimum wage helps the economy because people have more money to spend in area businesses. There is something that doesn’t add up here. I have dealt some of the problems with raising the minimum wage before. Yes, the people who work at or slightly above minimum wage will have more money to spend at area businesses. But the increase in labor costs caused by the mandated increased in wages will mean that the area businesses will have a lower profit. You might think, “So what. The greedy capitalists shouldn’t be making such a large profit”. Remember that for a small business owner, that profit is their wage. That is what they are trying to live on. Even for a large corporation that profit is what they use to expand their business and pay put dividends to their stockholders. In order to maintain their profits in the face of rising labor costs, businesses, both small and large, will be forced to consider ways of cutting costs, making do with fewer employees, and increasing income, raising prices. In terms of purchasing power, many of those people who received a raise will eventually find themselves back where they were before.

It must be nice not to have to think things through, to just go with whatever feels good at the moment. You can support all sorts of foolish policies that may ultimately harm the people you intend to help, but if you never stop to consider the unintended consequences of such policies that  thought will never cross your mind. Ignorance is bliss.

 

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature

July 7, 2014

I have had somewhat ambiguous feelings about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism ever since I first discovered her in college. I agree with much of what she had to say: freedom, capitalism, and the use of reason are good; tyranny, socialism, and living off others are bad. Nevertheless, I have always felt vaguely repelled by her writings. Perhaps it is because I feel a slight malevolence underlying much of what she wrote. Ayn Rand was never one to forgive an enemy or maintain a friendship with someone of an opposing philosophy. Maybe the figures in her fiction are not much like real human beings. The heroes are completely good with no flaws, the villains completely evil with no redeeming characteristics. I am sure.

It is for that reason that I read Greg Nyquist’s Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. Mr. Nyquist is a critic of Ayn Rand, but he takes a different approach than most of her critics. He does not spend much time examining the details of her philosophy, except to note where Objectivism is contradictory or incomplete. He does not refute Objectivism on a philosophical basis. In fact, at some points he concedes, for the sake of argument, that Objectivism is the most ideal philosophy imaginable. He also does not criticize Ayn Rand on a personal basis, except to show where her personality characteristics shaped Objectivism.

download

What Greg Nyquist does instead is ask whether Ayn Rand and Objectivism actually works. Mr. Nyquist does not have much use for windy speculations about metaphysics or wordy conjectures about the way things ought to be. He is a practical man. He wants to know whether the assumptions about humanity and the world made by Ayn Rand that form the basis of Objectivism are actually in accordance with the observed facts. To this end, he has written Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

This book is divided into eight chapters, each chapter dealing with some aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, her theories of human nature, history, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. The final chapter considers the future of Objectivism. It should not be a surprise that Nyquist finds Ayn Rand’s theories wanting. In particular, he criticizes her ideas on human nature as being unrealistic. She was more concerned with human beings as she believes they ought to be rather than how they really are. She believed that human nature can be changed and that the widespread acceptance of Objectivism will cause people to think and act more rationally. Ayn Rand argued that people act according to the fundamental premises of their particular philosophy and if that philosophy is changed from one that accepts mysticism and collectivism to one that follows reason and individualism, then we can create a utopia of reason and capitalism. Nyquist disagrees, noting that human nature has changed little, if at all, throughout the centuries. People do not often follow a consistent philosophy. They act according to desires and interests and adapt their personal philosophy to justify their actions. He notes that history is less the result of various philosophical and ideological movements, as Ayn Rand asserted, but is more influenced by people’s desires and interests, particularly those of the ruling class. There is a lot more to his criticism, but the general idea is that Ayn Rand simply did not seek any sort of empirical verification of her ideas. She preferred to think about things rather than go out and see how things really are.

On the whole, I agree with Greg Nyquist’s criticism. I think that after some point, Ayn Rand lived in an imaginary world with John Galt and Howard Roarke. I have noticed in her nonfiction, she tended to refer to or quote her characters as if they were real people. She tends to make assertions that are completely reasonable and logical, but with she seldom presents actual evidence that these assumptions are true. I have also found her knowledge of history to be shallow.

While Greg Nyquist presents himself as a practical man, he sometimes crosses into cynicism. He seems to have a very negative opinion on human nature and regards politics as nothing more than the elite getting their way. While this is all true, it is not the whole truth. He believes that even if Ayn Rand’ s ideal of laissez-faire capitalism and the minimalist state is the best system possible, they will never come about into actuality because no political/economic elite will allow them to. Ayn Rand and her followers are idealists who fight for a cause no pragmatic politician would waste his time with.

In the end, I am going to side with the idealists. The idealist will sometimes bring about needed change because he doesn’t know it is impossible and even if he fails, he can at least push things in the right direction. The practical man knows it is impossible and so doesn’t bother to try.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 395 other followers

%d bloggers like this: