Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for America (page 2 / 2)

The "bank tax" is unconstitutional and illegal

I listen to the President's Weekly Radio Address every week. It's usually a painful process, since I almost always disagree with the President. (That's been true for both President Bush and President Obama, in case you're wondering.)

Last week's address was particularly painful. It was almost scary to listen to. The President spoke quite passionately about his desire to tax big banks to pay for the assistance they've received over the past 2 years. This is part of what he had to say (emphasis added by me).

Much of the turmoil of this recession was caused by the irresponsibility of banks and financial institutions on Wall Street. These financial firms took huge, reckless risks in pursuit of short-term profits and soaring bonuses. They gambled with borrowed money, without enough oversight or regard for the consequences. And when they lost, they lost big. Little more than a year ago, many of the largest and oldest financial firms in the world teetered on the brink of collapse, overwhelmed by the consequences of their irresponsible decisions. This financial crisis nearly pulled the entire economy into a second Great Depression.

As a result, the American people - struggling in their own right - were placed in a deeply unfair and unsatisfying position. Even though these financial firms were largely facing a crisis of their own creation, their failure could have led to an even greater calamity for the country. That is why the previous administration started a program - the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP - to provide these financial institutions with funds to survive the turmoil they helped unleash. It was a distasteful but necessary thing to do.

Many originally feared that most of the $700 billion in TARP money would be lost. But when my administration came into office, we put in place rigorous rules for accountability and transparency, which cut the cost of the bailout dramatically. We have now recovered most of the money we provided to the banks. That's good news, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not good enough. We want the taxpayers' money back, and we're going to collect every dime.

That is why, this week, I proposed a new fee on major financial firms to compensate the American people for the extraordinary assistance they provided to the financial industry. And the fee would be in place until the American taxpayer is made whole.

Reading the President's address now, it sounds bland and reasonable. But listening to it was a different experience. The President sounded angry and distinctly sounded like he wanted to punish the banks for ever daring to make trouble. He sounded like what he really wanted was to make the banks pay for the entire cost of the stimulus bill. I was deeply disturbed, as I listened to the speech, to the hear the President so angrily attacking and villianizing a specific industry.

Here's the thing. Not all of the banks that received government help wanted government help. Some of them were strong-armed into accepting the help. The President's new "fee" doesn't account for that. Nor does it account for the fact that not all large banks even received help. Nor does it account for the fact that some banks were healthy throughout the crisis and had no rule in causing the crisis. No, the President's "fee" taxes all banks equally, just for the sin of being big.

As I listened to the speech, I wondered if the plan was even Constitutional. As I said, it sounded like he really wanted to lay into the banking industry, to punish it. And the Constitution specifically forbids a "bill of attainder". What's that? It's when Congress passes a bill declaring someone guilty of a crime -- and punishing them -- without giving that person the benefit of a trial. And the President's language and tone sounded dangerously close to someone who wants to declare the entire banking industry guilty of "crimes against America" and then punish them.

It turns out, that I'm not the only person to think this is un-Constitutional. John Carney writes in The Business Insider Law Review that he's recently concluded that the proposed bank tax is an illegal bill of attainder.

Read his full piece for a much better explanation of the concept of a "bill of attainder", as well as some great examples. Here is his conclusion.

The Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee is unconstitutional on its face. It is as if the Obama administration had urged a tax called "The Fee That Violates Nonattainder Principles." Assigning responsibility after the matter and levying penalties is reserved for the judicial branch that is restricted to using already existing laws and treating similarly situated people equally. The Obama administration wants to assign responsibility for the financial crisis and levy a fee, while exempting its favored automakers. This is exactly the sort of thing the Attainder Clause was put in place to prevent.

Re: Fort Hood's Shootings (Joe's Take)

I believe this post finishes our site's libertarian conversion. We now occupy the same portion of the libertarian spectrum that LewRockwell.com occupies.

I don't like America's wars of aggression. The problem, as I see it, is that it can be hard to tell the difference between a war of aggression and a good preemptive defense. For instance, I'm still not convinced that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. I'm not sure what risk we were defending ourselves against.

On the other hand, Afghanistan was a necessary war. You give safe harbor to people who blow up part of a city, you die. It's just that simple. But I think that we should have left a while ago. I'm not sure that we're accomplishing anything worthwhile by propping up a corrupt Karzai government. I know about the fear that that terrorists will get Pakistani nukes and attack us with those. But I'm not sure how likely that scenario is or how fragile Pakistan's own government is. So I'm not sure if what we're doing is preemptive defense against a nuclear scenario or whether we're engaging in blatant imperialism for no good return.

But I am grateful for those who do decide to join the military and protect our borders. I respect their loyalty, their sense of honor, and their dedication. I don't always agree with their mission but I know that I'm not qualified to judge how necessary each mission is. As a result, I do sympathize with them and with their families. For this attack, especially.

The Army, for its own inscrutable reasons decided that stateside military bases should be gun-free zones. That strikes me as absolute lunacy. Had someone removed this nut months ago when it became apparent that he was a nut, soldiers would be alive today. Had someone decided to allow our soldiers to carry the guns that they were trained to carry, more of them would be alive today.

I have a lot of sympathy for people who are hamstrung and betrayed by their own leadership. Incidents like this raise a lot of questions about whether a bureaucratized military is the best way to protect a country. I'm not sure that it is. The institutional Army protects its turf quite fiercely, even when that turf isn't worth protecting. Instead, I'd like to see us get back to the old way of doing things: no standing army and a fully armed citizenry that stands ready to form an ad-hoc army as conditions warrant.

Michael Z. Williamson envisioned a heavily armed libertarian society in his book Freehold. I rather like it. And I can think a large portion of our current military would like it too. I don't think they're in the military because they're thugs. I think they're in the military because it's the only institution we have that will allow them to arm up and stand on the borders, protecting those within. Getting called upon to engage in dubious ventures is an unfortunate cost of being a protector. And that's why I sympathize with them.

And, just for the record, I think this LewRockwell.com post is more than a little nuts itself.

How Much Military Is Enough?

For the past two years, I've been slowly trying to figure out my opinion about U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. military. There are a lot of very bad people in the world. The thuggish mullahs of Iran and the even more thuggish dictator of North Korea jump immediately to mind. But one shouldn't forget about the thugs in Africa (Robert Mugabe and the like), the thugs in Latin America (Hugo Chavez and friends), or the thugs in Europe (Vladimir Putin).

But what should the American response be? Is it our responsibility to throw them out and make the world a better place? Is it our responsibility to protect our friends (Israel, South Korea, Japan, etc) or should we only be concerned with the countries and individuals that pose a legitimate threat to our homeland? How big should the U.S. military be and how should we use it?

I still don't know what my opinion is. It vacillates between "nuke 'em all" and "let the world take care of itself", depending on the day and how recently I've read about foreign atrocities. So I was interested to read Jerry Pournelle's take on the question:

The British at one time had a naval policy of having a fleet able to defeat the next two fleets in the world; but at that time Britain had an Empire and relied on it for a number of things. The US is not an empire, and we don't seem to be learning how to be one. The question becomes.; how large a force does the US need to defend our legitimate foreign policy goals We already spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined. This may be excessive, depending on what we think we must do with that military.

I'm not at all convinced that we need NATO now that the USSR is gone. I am not sure what good it does us to have pledges from Germany to go to war if someone attacks us. I am thoroughly unaware of why we might need the Georgian army to help us if we are invaded. I can see that our commitment to them is valuable to them, but I am not certain I understand the value to the US of the US guarantee to Germany and potentially to Georgia.

I know that such guarantees are hideously expensive. And I'm inclined to make the snotty Europeans bear the cost of their own military defense. Overall, I think I favor downsizing the American military and getting out of Germany, South Korea, Japan, etc. But I'm not sure what the long term consequences of that would be. In 50 years, would we be facing a threat from a much larger and more expansionist Chinese or Russian military? It gives me pause.

Update (5:39PM): Via NRO, I see that, unless things change, China may not be too worrisome in the future.

China's Population Policy, and Ours - John Derbyshire - The Corner on National Review Online

China is not far behind Japan on the path to the demographic cliff edge. Fertility figures are no more dependable than any other Chinese statistics, but there seems to be general agreement that the current TFR is in the 1.7 to 1.8 range, somewhere between Sweden and Belgium in the international rankings.

For China, still a poor country with a huge peasant population, this is starting to throw up problems. With the one-child policy entering its fourth decade, the typical Chinese in his prime productive years now has two elderly parents to support. Elderly, and likely penniless, since those parents left their productive years without ever having had the opportunity to accumulate much.

The Mainstreaming of Demographic Alarmism (Cont.) - Mark Steyn - The Corner on National Review Online

On page 5 of my notoriously "alarmist" book, I asked, "Will China be the hyperpower of the 21st century?", and answered no: It will get old before it's got rich.

These opinions make me even more likely to take an isolationist approach.

Ah'm ah Bubba?

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Are you tired of politics?

God knows, I am. As big a politics junkie as I used to be - in my time as a flag-wavin', God-fearin' Republican there wasn't a Townhall.com update I didn't read, nor an issue of _The Economist _I didn't completely consume for more general news before moving on to a host of blogs - these days I can barely finish a simple newspaper article without feeling that despicable strain that comes from forcing my poor brain to endure the consumption of totally repetitive and irrelevant information (for those of you who aren't Bible geeks like me, think of how you feel when reading the Book of Leviticus). Unless that newspaper article details the sexual exploits of one of our holders of higher office, anyway, because at least the secret life of Mark Sanford appeals to the voyeur in me.

But what the heck am I supposed to find interesting about Washington today - or indeed the world? No thoughtful debate of current issues exists within the federal and state levels of U.S. authority. Bills are written at absurd length and then submitted to the floor for approval on days when reading them, much less discussing them is impossible - and often include "blank checks", entire sections which are simply to be "filled in later" without returning for reconsideration. Which might be averted had our so-called representatives the huevos to simply vote down bills they've only just learned about, but Congress is utterly beholden to the unions, corporations, foreign governments, and associations which purchase its members' elections - the work of passing a bill doesn't really have anything to do with what's in it, so much as who is for it and who is against it. Indeed, at least in many sessions the leader of a party has simply informed his party's other members how they are to vote using hand signals - one for "yes", another for "no", an occasional third for "vote your conscience".

Oh, I suppose there is a little bit of discussion about the choices before us, now and then. Remember the most recent presidential debates? When an Ordinary Citizen would ask a pointed question and both Obama and McCain would simply ignore it, just make a vague statement about the economy or the Earth or Change instead? Just like their campaign managers demanded, I'm sure, because being boring and non-specific is how Poli-Sci wizards have determined one wins elections. There's a reason no president of our country has delivered a speech worthy of the Gettysburg Address in a very, very long time.

What is the American government that I am supposed to want to engage in it? Let's momentarily push past the oft-quoted reminder that "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch" (Benjamin Franklin is often incorrectly cited as the author, but in fact nobody can find evidence of the observation been written prior to '92). Let's note instead the unchallengeable fact that even the laws established both by the Unites States Constitution and our government are ignored whenever they get in the state's way. The government has a "compelling interest" in ignoring our property rights. It prosecutes people and expressly denies them the right to raise funds for their own defense. It goes to war without declaring war. It spies on us. It imprisons people indefinitely after they are found innocent of the crimes with which they were charged. It takes my money and gives it to the people who voted for and contributed to whoever is in office.

So I should work to change all that, right? I should start a movement. I should convince others of my position. That's what Democracy is all about.

Sure. That's the ticket. I'll just convince a bunch of first-class thieves to pass a bill which forbids them from stealing. Perhaps something along the lines of what Dan Carlin repeatedly suggests: a bill that requires a politician to excuse himself or herself from voting on any bill that affects an industry from which he or she has taken donations. If I campaign tirelessly for its passage, I'm sure it will only be a matter of time. Say, the rest of my life.

And really, that's a point I think needs to be brought up more often: the unknown amount of time I have on this planet and how much I can do with it. I have so many dreams. How much of this surely limited lifespan I have am I supposed to use up defending myself against these politicians and their supporters? These people hell-bent on owning me because they've bought into a utopian religion.

No, I really want nothing to do with any of it. I don't want to read another lie on the front page - and there is always a lie on the front page. I don't want to waste an hour or more of my day voting so that the next thief-in-chief to come along can say he has a mandate from me (or alternatively that he does not, but too bad).

But what options does rejecting this political arena, this total lie, leave me? Two, really: one is to resign myself to being at the mercy of whatever greedy power possesses the military might to hurt me and try to live my life as best I can anyway. The second is to succumb to what some commentators are snidely calling "the Bubba Effect" because they envision white rednecks from the South when they think of it (and incidentally, um, they're spot-on, 'cuz I am one). According to Glenn Beck's definition of the term (there seems to be disagreement), communities of like-minded individuals tend to form when citizens become disillusioned with the idea they are going to be able to live decent lives under their out-of-control government. Militias, for example. Or Christian Exoduses. Or Free State Projects.

I ask myself on a fairly regular basis these days if I have the courage to choose the latter and live a life of civil disobedience, as well as at what point the former would become unbearable (after Hate Speech Legislation? After socialized medicine? When my taxes reach a certain level?). Fortunately for me it's an academic question for now. I've the next several years of my life planned out and they mainly involve overseas work, living as a guest in other countries. My decision will remain deferred 'til my return.

And then, what?

Tactics for Liberty: How Libertarians Can Struggle

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Liberty activist Sam Dodson's recent victory over the Cheshire County government in New Hampshire has inspired our own Webmaster Joe - but like many family men, he feels he hasn't the right to jeopardize his wife and two daughters' security by committing civil disobedience.

I'm not sure I agree with his description of illegal activism as "self-indulgent". Most of the men and women who have previously liberated American society from various evils had families; most of the Iranians currently protesting in Tehran's streets and opposing Ahmadenijad at risk to life and limb (God bless them all) likely have them. That they were and are still willing to engage the enemies of freedom underscores their commitment against injustice - and if we all felt such conviction, the injustices of today would likely never have been allowed to take root in the first place.

Which is not to downplay Joe's concerns regarding how civil disobedience might affect his family or to suggest he needs to "man up" and get to chaining himself to fences. No, no - the point deserved to be made, now has been, and I'd prefer to suggest methods by which citizens like Joe might contribute without undue risk to their livelihoods.

Having said that, my first suggestion will probably seem strange: cheat on your taxes. Starve the beast of government by denying it the funds with which to finance its clearly immoral and illegal programs. For the time being this is actually very safe, according to BookKeeperList.com, which writes that in in one recent year "only 2,472 Americans were convicted of tax crimes — .0022 percent of all taxpayers." That's despite the fact that the IRS believes 17% of Americans are not compliant. The IRS just doesn't have the manpower or data-mining equipment to inspect everybody and when it does find suspicious claims it rarely prosecutes. So really, what's the worst that can happen? Paying back-taxes? A penalty, maybe?

But I am am addressing at least one (and probably several, statistics tell me) Christians, so the question naturally arises: isn't that unethical? I've recently reached the decision that it is not. Even if you believe that every government which obtains power over you is legitimate by divine decree (which is stupid - does that mean African-Americans were wrong to protest in the '60's?), to "render unto Caesar" is one thing, especially in a country in which we have a deal with our Caesar; to render unto a known embezzler is another - and it is now undeniable from public information that we Americans are being taken for a financial ride. Even if you accept the idea that they have the right to take money from some people and give it to others, they're not doing that with the money you give them. They're just thieves.

Take for example John Stossel's investigation into the government agency meant to assist Native-Americans in poverty. He's found that $40,000 is purportedly spent on each Native-American purportedly being helped - an amount which obviously would put them all in the middle-class if we simply cut each of them a check for the amount.

Obviously, that money isn't going to those tribes. The government tells us it is, but it isn't - and even the government isn't so incompetent as to mismanage that much moolah. People aren't that stupid, Folks. It's being stolen from you - just as it's being stolen from you inside the Department of Defense (they've been trying to produce a credible financial statement for approximately a decade now), inside the Fed (which hasn't been audited in nearly a century), and doubtlessly inside many other departments.

I'm not saying it's necessarily being stolen from you without being accounted for. I'm sure most of the money that our government officials give to their friends is accounted for on their budget and rationalized, if poorly. But it's still being stolen. The intent of these people is not to help Native-Americans.

A second argument against faithfully paying taxes: I won't declare paying your taxes to be sinful (after all, it's basically the equivalent of handing your wallet to a robber - "Give us the money or else!"), but through your taxes you are funding programs you know to be morally wrong. I can't see that failing to assist evil men in their evil actions can be wrong.

(I wish this conversation was more than academic for me. In my life, the metaphor of the government as highway robber takes on a light-hearted tone. Thumbing through my wallet, the masked menace's eyebrows rise. "Really? This is all you have? Dude, tell you what - just keep it.")

Let's move on to another idea: If you can't be disobedient, fund people who are. The CD Evolution Fund is a charity which financially supports liberty activists in New Hampshire, usually by paying for their legal aid. The fund was instrumental in supplying Sam Dodson with representation during his two-month incarceration.

Obviously, you can also support other liberty-oriented projects. In fact we may want to discuss a libertarian tract of the sort produced by Mr. Ditko; I have $250 in my "Time for another project" account and am currently considering what might eventually pay for itself.

Finally, don't cooperate in your victimization to the extent the law allows. This will still make your life more difficult, as police and government officials don't like it when citizens remind them of their limitations, but freedoms are like muscles - if you don't exercise them, they waste away. Never let a government agent or policeman inside your house without a warrant. Don't tell traffic cops where you're going or where you're coming from if all they stopped you for was speeding.

A number of Free Staters and general libertarians take this tactic to daring levels, openly carrying firearms in areas legal to do so.

Before I close, a note on one tactic you haven't yet heard me mention: voting. To vote for a Libertarian is a harmless enough act, I suppose - and sure, it registers disapproval with the system as it stands - but like Ian on Free Talk Live I'm now wondering if it wouldn't be more productive to deny the legitimacy to our government granted by the electoral process. One of the reasons so few people offer more than token resistance to any government program is that the government is still considered to some extent "all of us", even if it's doing something illegal. But it's not. And perhaps ceasing to play into the pretense that it is would help bring light to that fact.

I think I'm done for now. One thing's for sure, Joe... With people like Sam Dodson doing as much as they are, there's one tactic we can't choose: getting along to get along.

American vs Canadian Healthcare

Everyone "knows" that Canadian's get better healthcare than Americans do. After all, not only do Canadians live longer but their healthcare is free too!

Recently, June O'Neill and Dave O'Neill submitted a new working paper to NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research), comparing the U.S. and Canadian healthcare systems. Their results may surprise you.

First,

It turns out that once we condition on infant birth weight -- a significant predictor of infant health -- the U.S. has equivalent infant mortality rates. In fact U.S. infant mortality is lower for low-birthweight babies than Canadian infant mortality for low birthweight babies. Overall infant mortality, however, is higher in the U.S. because the incidence of babies with low birthweight is higher than in Canada. This may be due to demographic or epidemiological factors, or it may be the case that the U.S. is better at having a live birth for a low birthweight baby.

Second,

Why do Canadians live longer? One reason is due to the excess number of accidents and homicides in the U.S. compared to Canada. In fact 50%-85% of the mortality gap between American and Canadian adults in their twenties can be explained by the increased American accident/homicide rates. For people over 50, 30-50% of the difference in age-specific mortality rates can be attributed to the excess number of heart disease patients in the U.S. These heart disease findings are more likely driven by American lifestyle choices rather than the efficacy of the U.S. medical system.

Moving to Canada won't increase the quality of your healthcare nearly as much as you think it will.

This entry was tagged. America Canada

Thinking About Patriotism

Over at Winds of Change, the Armed Liberal posts some reflections on patriotism. What does it mean in a post-modern world? Is it worthwhile? Is it distinguishable from mere nationalism? What does American patriotism mean, in a nation that has been formed from one ethnicity after another (and continues to be reformed and remodeled each year)?

Now I've argued on and on that we need an anticosmopolitan liberalism, one rooted firmly in the American Founding if liberalism is going to get any traction here in US politics. I've slagged and been slagged by the usual cast of Netroots characters over this issue, and I'll point out that the Netroots liberalism for all the sound and fury hasn't signified much in the political scene except to - almost certainly - hand the nomination to the least liberal candidate running, Hillary Clinton.

The basis for much of my argument has been the work of John Schaar, a little-known political theorist who happened to be one of my professors. Who I admit I should have paid more attention to back then.

The work I keep pointing to is his work, 'The Case for Patriotism' (excerpted here).

Abraham Lincoln, the supreme authority on this subject, thought there was a patriotism unique to America. Americans, a motley gathering of various races and cultures, were bonded together not by blood or religion, not by tradition or territory, not by the calls and traditions of a city, but by a political idea. We are a nation formed by a covenant, by dedication to a set of principles, and by an exchange of promises to uphold and advance certain commitments among ourselves and throughout the world. Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic. They make the American nation unique, and uniquely valuable among and to the other nations. But the other side of this conception contains a warning very like the warnings spoken by the prophets to Israel: if we fail in our promises to each other, and lose the principles of the covenant, then we lose everything, for they are we." [emphasis added]

This sounds right to me. It's the idea I struggled to articulate last summer, in my posts about immigration.

This, then, is the challenge for America. How do we change -- culturally, demographically, and ethnically -- while still retaining that political idea, that commitment to a set of principles that make America, America?

Furthermore, what, exactly, are those principles? What is that idea? What set of principles are we committed to? For that, I think we need to go back to principles set out in the Declaration of Independence and the framework established in the Constitution of the United States.

More on that, in the future.