Sunday, August 29, 2010

Immigration - Free Association

Reading newspaper articles often leads me to a bit of free associative thinking on the subject in question (which I suppose is what they are suppose to do). Such was the case with an 8/26/10 article in the New York Times by Julia Preston "Immigration Ends Some Deportations", about an August 20th memo by John Morton the head of ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) that has recently come to light. The memo details some policy and process shifts in the agency responsible for the enforcement of immigration law in this country. Since this is not a normal posting day for me, I thought that instead of the laborious process that I normally do in trying to assemble the random ideas that pop into my head into a coherent mass in such cases (more often than not, unsuccessfully), I would simply share some of that free association process.
  • The courts report that some 17,000 cases could be eliminated from the dockets by this change. How many immigration cases are currently on the dockets in this country and if this many can be eliminated, how many are backed up?
  • The issue is one that is politically charged in a number of ways and has brought out more than its share of partisan rhetoric on both sides. Should we be surprised or merely saddened that the recent furor (including the Arizona law) has risen up during an election year when no reasoned discussion can take place as a consequence of the upcoming November ballots?
  • This change of long-term enforcement practices has evidently stirred strong feelings of opposition in those on the front lines. How can such a department expect to succeed in its duties with such resistance present?
  • In fact, ICE agents announced a "no-confidence" vote in Morton; but how much of this is about confusion and demoralization in the ranks, and how much is a clever campaign by the union representing such workers to gain public support for their own cause?
  • This country has always had laws that it has not or does not enforce either because they are outdated or realistically unenforceable. Does immigration law in this country fall into that category?
  • We are told that this change in guidelines is to focus enforcement on those convicted of crimes or who pose a national security threat. What other laws in this country are handled similarly, if any?
  • Should this change in policy be considered relief to an already overburdened system (one that has curiously made no requests for additional enforcement revenue), or an attempt by some to produce a form of non-legislative amnesty?
  • ICE officials are being encouraged to use their authority to cancel deportation proceedings in such cases. Should citizens of this country be concerned that once again a non-elected bureaucratic figure has seemingly circumvented Congressional authority (and responsibility) by fiat; something that seems to be becoming more of a trend in the US? (Can you say, regulation of greenhouse gases?)
My favorite thought however was a comparison that popped into my head while reading the article:
  • This change in enforcement criteria would be the equivalent of forgiving bank robbers who had previously filed a loan application at the institution that they stuck up.
Yep, you just have to love the concept of free association ...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just The Facts

Growing up as a child, one of the first police shows that I remember watching was "Dragnet". Sgt Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and Officer Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) never failed to get to the bottom of the case by looking for "just the facts". 

I find a comparison almost ludicrous today while looking at political perspectives. Don't get me wrong. I know that both parties have been guilty of taking liberties with the facts from time to time, but it certainly seems that the guilty party in recent days has been the political left. Take for example, unemployment numbers. Some of the liberal standard bearers like to crow over decreasing (or at least stable) unemployment based on those not claiming benefits. When the right points out that unemployment numbers don't include people whose benefits have run out or who have given up looking for a job in a climate providing far too few, they are criticized for ignoring or slanting the facts out there or of a misinterpretation of the facts presented. 

Some will then go on to point out that the number of jobs created (or saved) since they gained control of both the White House and the Congress have increased. When their opposition points out that many of those jobs touted were either government jobs or temporary govt jobs in the Census Bureau, they are decried for failing to properly give credit to the Administration for its success. When the right goes on to further complain that the bulk of the increase is in public rather then private sector jobs (and adding to the cost of government), the left miraculously shifts its perspective and castigates its opponents for not recognizing the fact that most of the public sector jobs described were temporary ones in the Census Bureau and that they no longer exist. 

Hidden in the double speak about these phantom Census jobs however, is the fact that there have still been far too many jobs being created in the last 20 months which been full-time positions for an expanding government bureaucracy (far more than those created in the private sector)

This kind of fact selection with unemployment numbers is not new to many on the left however, and shows the same myopic vision used during the often referred to and oft-lauded progressive thinking of the New Deal era. For those who take the time to track the facts, they will find that unemployment numbers were actually showing a gradual improvement after the stock market crash of 1929, and that the economy may have recovered on its own if not for the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930. This particular bit of government intervention in the economy was a tariff intended to raise the price of imported goods in order to drive up purchases of goods 'made in America', which would in turn produce more employment. 

In fact, while Smoot-Hawley did raise the price of foreign products; it had the unintended consequence of causing a trade war with the rest of the world, which led to an even larger and deeper economic crisis. This and subsequent interference on the government's part not only didn't reduce the problem of unemployment in the US, but in fact saw it increase to double digit levels in this country, and helped drag the crisis out until it was finally ended by the economic stimulus of WWII. 

Another example of such selective facts may be when some on the left point to the reduction of the federal deficit during the Clinton years. They use this debt reduction as proof that progressive principles and increased taxation lead to a reduction of the national debt. The inconvenient facts however, are that the decreases in the deficit actually occurred during the last years of the Clinton Administration, when control of Congress was taken by Republicans in 1994. The fulfillment of their "Contract with America" contributed to both welfare reform and overall reduced government spending, and is far more likely the cause of any deficit reduction. 

Similarly, some of the progressive persuasion will point to the fact that the national debt went up during the Bush Administration, but will carefully avoid the facts surrounding one-time spending related to 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror. Equally absent from the facts cited are that spending and the deficit increased dramatically beginning in 2007 when politicians with a more liberal viewpoint took control of Congress. Nor will anyone on the left acknowledge that even while the country was going through the darkest days of the financial crisis in 2008, that deficit spending came in at $800 billion (including the much ballyhooed TARP money loaned out and mostly since repaid). 2010 deficit spending however, now that we are coming out of this crisis (according to those same progressive thinkers) will exceed $1.4 trillion. Equally absent from these so-called facts is that the CBO expects the deficit in 2011 to come in at over $1.1 trillion under the current levels of spending in this progressively led Congress, even if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire. 

There are of course more examples of such tainted and obfuscated facts, but there is not time or space to list all of them. We can use even these brief specimens however to illustrate that while those on both sides of the aisle can play fast and loose with the facts, that these days it is those on the left that find it far easier to argue their point of view when using only selected facts. Once such a selection process has occurred, considerable creativity in interpretation can likewise be used in order to reach a pre-determined conclusion guaranteed more by a point of view than those facts. While not alone in their guilt in such matters, the left appears to have taken such selective inattention to facts and interpretive creativity to a new level lately, and done so with particular glee. It likewise seems that they are incapable of providing any current argument based solely on 'just the facts'.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

TFP Column: The Arizona Solution

Frustration with the constant discussion of the attempt to build an Islamic Cultural Center (or mosque if you will) within the shadow of where the towers of the World Trade Center fell as the result of an attack on this country by Islamic terrorists led to this week's offering in the Toledo Free Press. At some point, I realized that much of the discussion was not only off point, but pointless; as this situation is going to be decided, not based on the thoughts and feelings of those across the country, but by politicians and bureaucrats in New York City.

That doesn't mean that people around the country should not have strong feelings or opinions on the subject however, or that they should not feel free to voice them. Thinking about how best to utilize that voice to influence the ultimate decision led me to "The Arizona Solution". I hope that it leaves you with a different perspective on the subject and points to a way to make it count.

I suspect however that even if my poor effort fails to garner your interest, that you will find more than enough to pique your curiosity or your enthusiasm in this weekend's edition of the TFP. Then again, there's always something in Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper to do that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Land of the Free

On September 3, 1814, Francis Scott Key was temporarily held prisoner by the British during the Battle of Fort McHenry, one of those fought as part of the ill-fated War of 1812. While being held, he penned a poem called "Defense of Fort McHenry", which later became lyrics that were set to the melody of a British drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven". The result thereby achieved became "The Star Spangled Banner". Though the ending of the third stanza was not actually the end of the poem or the song, it has become the end as we now sing it: "O'er the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave". Almost 196 years has passed since the original poem was penned, and 79 have passed since it became our national anthem by Congressional resolution. 

Forgive me for thinking so, but it also certainly seems as though the first part of this phrase has come to mean something entirely different in recent years. It sometimes appears these days in fact, that the "Land of the Free" means little more to most than a requirement for government to hand out free money to some of its citizens. People no longer seem to hope for such assistance after all other efforts of their own have failed, but expect it before such effort has been expended, and in fact demand it as their due. While many trace the origin of this mentality back to FDR's "New Deal", I would say instead that it can be linked more to the "War on Poverty" introduced by then President Lyndon B Johnson in his 1964 State of the Union speech.

Forty-six years later, few if any wars in this country's history can be said to have gone on so long, gone through so much money, and won so few battles. Instead of victory, the bitter stalemate we seem to have settled for is an entitlement mentality and an expectation that it is the duty of government to provide equal outcomes to its citizens rather than equal opportunities. 

A most recent example can be found in the fights and stampedes we saw occurring in Atlanta when more than 30,000 people showed up looking for federal housing assistance and were disappointed in what they received. Many were not looking for available programs or applications, but instead were expecting to receive checks for little more than the effort of standing in line. 

This is not the only free money demanded of our government these days however, but only the latest item added to a list that includes: welfare, aid to dependent children, disability payments from government run Social Security, and of course retirement payments from that same program. And while money is taken in the form of taxes from its citizens to meet these obligations (some more than others), all seem to feel entitled to payments far beyond any money individually contributed. After all, its just government money. 

Health care reform seems destined to add to the list of these benefits and its financial burden. While promises have already been made for increased access to service and similar increases to preventive care, our government cannot adequately explain how any of this will be paid for and continues to tread a path spiraling into increasing expectation exceeded only by the debt that such presumption engenders. 

This does not mean that helping our fellow man is bad, but that getting government involved in the process turns such aid into a bureaucratic monstrosity, into panhandling, and into rampant fraud. It is charity for individuals to give to the needs of others out of their own generosity. It is armed robbery for the government to take from some under threat of imprisonment, only to give to others in little more than wealth redistribution. 

This is not the freedom that our Founding Fathers envisioned when breaking from the British crown in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence and codifying later in the Constitution. Nor is it that which Mr Key watched men fight and die for while being held on two separate British ships (the HMS Surprise and the HMS Minden) during the battle. Certainly it is far from a true representation of the American Dream. If there is one truth that can be agreed on in fact, it is that "there is no such thing as a free lunch"

Ultimately there is a price to be paid for everything, and the only choice available is who will pick up the tab. Once that hard and terrible truth is understood, it should be likewise simple to understand that the only way to return to freedom is to somehow find a way to make the citizens of this country understand that being the Land of the Free does not involve what the lyric from a much more recent song states. Despite what Dire Straits lead singer Mark Knopfler sings to us, we cannot get "money for nothing".

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Business of Blogging

On the "Fred Lefebvre and the Morning News" show this morning on 1370, WSPD in Toledo, Fred reported on a story out of Philadelphia. It appears that Philly is so cash strapped that it has stooped to requiring a $300 business license of many of its local bloggers. 

Now blogging is not a particularly profitable business for most of us out here. Few of those who monetize their blogs (which does not include myself) make anything more than a modest income (some would say a pittance). The original article in fact cites a couple of examples in the story, with the focus of the story (Marilyn Bess) touting revenues of $50 over the last couple of years and another (Sean Barry) claiming about $11 over the last two years. The city however, claims that because these bloggers are engaging in an "activity for profit", they are a business; and therefore required to have the requisite license. While both sides have something of the facts on their side (some with more than others), this should be considered the epitome of the slippery slope. If blogging is to be considered a business, what other regulatory auspices might it fall under.
  • Will bloggers be required to incorporate like most other businesses?
  • As a voice of political commentary, will bloggers fall under the restriction of elections laws in the final days running up to an election (or potential current and future Federal Election Commission regulations)?
  • Will blogger fall under the control of FCC restrictions of profanity?
  • Will bloggers fall under potential legislation under consideration for Net Neutrality?
  • Will the government, in its need to assure a level playing field, be forced to create a special agency (with a blogging Czar, of course) to oversee this effort that seems to fall under multiple regulatory responsibilities.
Like it or not, this mode of communication has become a huge part of the future of free speech and a legitimate source of information in this country. In fact, it is often bloggers rather than the mainstream media that are doing the investigative journalism required to break critical news stories. You don't have to agree with the opinions on a particular site (or even read it) to defend its right to say what it wants. Even those bloggers who don't do proper fact checking or show selective inattention when choosing the facts they do present have the right to spout out whatever misguided conclusions that they choose to draw. 

This is not a right granted by government license, but one insured by the limits and license granted to that government by the governed. Most bloggers do what they do out of a need. Their desire to do the work they do is brought about because they feel that they should, because they have to, and because they love it. It is not a business, but an addictive hobby. (Some of us even consider it exercise, both in critical thinking and in creative writing.) Any money that might be earned in the process is a validation and a bonus.

All of that being said, our elected officials may want to be careful before opening this door and redefining blogging as a business. If it is, those of us doing so might well want to write off our "business expenses" like computers, office space, internet access, and information subscriptions necessary for us to carry out our labors. 

Attempting to create yet another more revenue source to keep them from reigning in their profligate spending is not in the best interests of any city, state, or nation. Attempting yet more bureaucratic restrictions to the right of free speech in this country should be looked upon as an anathema to all that is right and proper in this country. Attempting to turn blogging into a business, subject to the taxation and control of government in any way, is just plain wrong.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Like most youngsters, one of the favorite things about my early days in school was recess. Oh don't get me wrong, I actually liked going to school (in spite of nuns with rulers). I truly enjoyed the educational process, delighted in learning about the subjects that I was taught, and reveled in the academic competition fostered between students (something I feel is sadly pilloried in today's educational process). Recess was still the best however. It was only during this period that one could simply enjoy being with friends, when the only effort expended was done in seeking enjoyment, and when one's only concern was to relax and enjoy the all too brief period given you to do so. 

Even the bruises and wounds one occasionally received in such pursuits were far less painful than might be expected. While far from those carefree days of youth, I nevertheless find that recess is still my favorite time. The joy that I feel however, is for far different reasons these days. You see, today when I think of recess, I think on the fact that Congress has left Washington DC. 

For those of you who have somehow failed to connect the dots, Congressional recesses are the only time when our elected legislators are not working their normal devilment. It is a time when members go home to their respective districts (or on fact-finding trips to exotic locales) and are not taxing, regulating, or spending the country into the seventh level of Hell. Now normally we can count on partisan politics, personal bickering, and simple confusion to bring about enough inefficiency to slow the apparently inexorable process performed in these august Houses to a crawl. 

From time to time however (and far too often lately), legislators manage to summon the will to put aside such petty disputes long enough to find new ways to make our lives truly miserable (or at least more than mildly inconvenient). In fact, the only break that we seem to get these days is during their all too infrequent departures from the logic-free zone of Washington for some well-deserved (by us) time off. Even that is not a guarantee however, as we recently discovered when Speaker Pelosi refused to let these sleeping dogs lie and brought Representatives back to their duties to pass an additional $26 billion in spending. Having done so in less time than it takes most families to decide on an automobile purchase, they once again recessed. (All travel costs for this little spending spree by the way, were also picked up by taxpayers.) 

Don't get me wrong, this is not to say that Congress doesn't do good things for the country as well. For example, there was ... No wait, there was that time when they ... Oh yeah, I remember now, they ... OK, I give up. I can't can't seem to recall one from recent history off the top of my head, but I never claimed that memory was my strong suit. 

I can still remember those long ago carefree hours from my youth though, and I recall as well that recess was always over long before I was ready. I find that I realize much the same today. Before we have really begun to enjoy these far too infrequent and easy-going moments of Congressional vacation, they are all too quickly ended. Just when we begin to stop looking over our collective shoulders and begin to bask in the sheer joy of the experience, our nationally elected officials return to the duties that we elected them for. 

And just as we did at the end of recess period, we in turn dutifully line up and trudge back to the concerns that it seems we had only just been able to set aside. Take heart however my friends, for like those joyous and exuberant hours from our youth, recess will come again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

TFP Column: A Tale of Two Cities

This week's effort for the Toledo Free Press was something a little different for me. "A Tale of Two Cities" occurred to me when I read the numbers in a piece for the Kansas City Star by Yael T Abouhalkah on the expansion of the Kansas City (Missouri) police and fire departments. 

While I went into the piece with what I thought were definite opinions about how these numbers related to Kansas City and to Toledo, I found myself growing less sure of previously held assertions as the research that I did progressed. In the end, I couldn't decide whether KC's example was a path to follow or a warning to heed. I have always believed that the beginning of wisdom is having more questions than answers to begin with and a willingness to shed assumptions if the information discovered persuades one otherwise. Perhaps working on this piece is the beginning of such wisdom for me (yet another sign of the Apocalypse, no doubt)

But enough of this or I will ruin the piece for you entirely. Besides, there is infinitely more worthy of reading in this week's TFP; and anyone who wants to catch up with all that's going on in Toledo and NW Ohio will be spending a bit of time this weekend with Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper.

The "Stuck on Stupid" Dictionary #25

I know that it has been far too long since proper additions to this reference tome have been made, but it appears that the humble scribbler in charge of such work often suffers from almost criminal laziness. While there is apparently no cure for this condition, occasionally beating of the wretch does seem to reap positive results from time to time. 

Now for those of you who have somehow managed to miss previous postings in this area (shame on you, now go back and read all of the postings under the title of dictionary), the SOS dictionary is a reference guide to terms which nominally mean something to the rest of the English speaking world, but appear to mean something entirely different to those us understand the vernacular of Toledo and Northwest Ohio. 

1. Statements given or actions taken that are at variance with previous statements or actions. 
2. Declaring "exigent circumstances" and requesting a give back from city labor unions in March, only to fail to reject a fact finder report giving one of those unions a 17% raise and 8.5% pension pick up the following August. (See Fiscal Responsibility) 
3. Raising trash fees in an attempt at city budget balancing in March only to increase the cost of picking up trash in the city through contract negotiation with refuse workers later that same year. (See Stupidity)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nobody Expects ...

"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition," was a bit made famous in the original Monty Python's Flying Circus television show. In typical Python fashion, it is a bit that goes from a description of problems at an English mill and a simple question to a bizarre scene transition and the appearance of three rather bizarre Cardinals whose arrival was anything but expected and whose confusing description of their weapons and methods (even to themselves) was both humorous and ridiculous. 

I am reminded of this almost daily while listening to the financial segment "After the Bell" on the Brian Wilson Show in the afternoons on AM 1370 WSPD in Toledo, as he discusses the apparent surprise that the government experiences about economic reports with Gary Rathburn of Private Wealth Consultants (Brian sometimes even uses the Python quote himself). It cannot help but make one wonder if perhaps this is the model that government uses in hiring economic experts and calculating key economic indicators. When was the last time that you heard the release of financial data that was not "unexpected"? 

Everyone knows that no one can afford to buy a house, but new housing starts are "unexpectedly low". Everyone knows that jobs are difficult to find, but unemployment is "unexpectedly high". Everyone knows banks are getting burned by mortgages that are under water, but lending is "unexpectedly soft". Everyone knows that there is little money to invest these days, but the market is "unexpected flat". 

Of course such data appears these days to be almost entirely subjective and the poorly hidden secret is that it is also often ruthlessly and politically manipulated. We count the unemployed, unless of course they have given up looking for a job or have run out of unemployment insurance claim money. We calculate the cost of living, but don't include the costs of such "non-essentials" as fuel and food in the equation. We track the federal deficit, but don't include the trillions of dollars in entitlement program shortfalls (like those of Social Security and Medicare) whose existence is well known and which are expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

No matter what numbers they ignore and how they scrutinize and tweak them to fit pre-established conclusions however, the results of the calculations remain a mystery to those whose education and training has led them to seek government employment as experts. It seems that for all of the time, money, and effort expended by government to gather such data, analyze it, and report it to us; the experts government employs are endlessly surprised by the information they themselves generate. No matter what the resources that they have at their command, they seem incapable of understanding data that they are paid to work with every day. 

These government church officers (from Our Lady of the Federal Reserve and Treasury no doubt) seem as clueless of their weapons and duties as the Cardinals of Python fame (and they don't even get to wear the snappy uniforms). In no other field in fact (even weather forecasting) does it appear that there is so much that the experts in the field are surprised by and so little that can be predicted by them from one day to the next. 

One cannot help but speculate whether such surprise is in fact real, or simply a poor attempt to cover something up in the government litter box. Perhaps the unexpected nature of such reports simply serves as a politically expedient excuse for the lack of real progress on the government's part where the national economy is concerned. If the unemployment numbers are unexpectedly high, how can government be expected to do something to lower them? If Medicare is going broke sooner than expected, how can government be expected to anticipate such costs to reduce them? If the national debt is increasing faster than expected, how can we expect government to control its extravagant spending and slow it down? 

It seems that like many terms that have become a running joke in government over the years (military intelligence, spending cuts, or fiscal responsibility), the concept of a 'government expert' on financial matters has become not unexpectedly ... laughable. One cannot help but wonder when this country's financial condition is apparent to even the rank amateur, that it can be so unexpected to the experts in government. 

It therefore appears that when it comes to government financial experts, we should simply no longer even expect them to know what they are doing. We should certainly not expect them to understand the meaning of the information that they gather and interpret. And under no circumstances should we be surprised to find out that the conclusions generated by such data with be something that they did not expect.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sounds of Silence

Without attempting to weigh the Constitutional issues involved on whether a mosque should be built close to the site of the World Trade Center (which are pretty clear cut in favor of building such a facility), certainly there are others that we can consider. For surely there are realities to such a project which have yet to see the light of day and voices yet to be heard on the subject. 

I've heard Mayor Bloomberg make an impassioned plea on behalf of those seeking to move forward with construction. I've heard David Patterson, the governor of New York, also say that while he does not oppose the building of this mosque he understands why some feel anxiety or even anger; and that he was willing to intervene to help the group seek an alternate site for construction. I've heard Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and every talk show host on TV and radio weigh in on the subject on one side or the other, often with a shortage of facts and an abundance of emotions. I have even heard a couple of candidates for office (most recently Sen. Harry Reid and his opponent, Rep. Sharron Angle) voice a few well chosen words on the subject, agreeing for once that they believe that the mosque should be built elsewhere

Amazingly enough in all of these voices however, I have not heard from the unions of New York City on the subject. One must believe after all, that unions representing police and firefighters, whose members perished in the collapse of The World Trade Center, must certainly have some opinion on the subject. We must likewise believe that as organizations representing some of those who fell on 9/11, certainly their opinion (like those of the families) is one that we would expect to hear in the ongoing discussion of the situation. 

Now assuming that these unions exhibit nothing but support for their fallen comrades (which is not much of a stretch) and object to such a project, the next logical question would be how other the other unions of NYC react. Certainly we could again make an assumption of union solidarity on the subject (again logical), which would inevitably lead us to believe that they too would in fact oppose such a project (in spite of the jobs that it would provide in a tough economy). Taking all of the preceding into consideration, we might then ask: How could anyone expect to complete construction of a building in the Big Apple without the support of the local trade unions? 

It does not seem much of a stretch to believe that if the construction unions (or any other for that matter) were to stand behind a negative reaction by police and firefighters, that a work action against such a project would be short in commencing. If carpenters, electricians, iron workers and plumbers were to refuse to work on such a job site, it hardly seems possible that such a project would ever be able to be started, let alone completed. If that action were to include a picket of such a site (again, not much of a stretch), it seems more than probable that even getting building materials delivered to the site would be difficult, if not impossible. 

Now while no one will ever accuse me of being an expert on the subject of labor unions (or much of a supporter for that matter), it doesn't take one to recognize the practical power that such organizations have in relation to such projects. It takes even less of one to recognize that the environment of New York City is one where unions are capable of a great deal of real power and control. Were they seriously to voice a negative opinion on the subject of the construction of a mosque (or anything else for that matter) anywhere in the city, much of the ensuing discussion on the subject would become little more in fact than noise. 

Instead of the shouts of protest in support of their union brothers and sisters and the cries of injustice being done that we would normally expect to hear however, in this particular instance we have heard nothing yet from any of these organizations but the sounds of silence ...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

(A)mending Our Ways

The beginning of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, Section 1, reads in part, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." This Amendment, authored by Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan said about it however: "This will not, of course, included persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the family of ambassadors, or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons." 

Recent discussion to take another look at the language of this part of the 14th Amendment by some members of Congress has set off a firestorm of rhetoric about Conservatives and the Constitution in general, and what constitutes legal citizenship in this country in particular. 

Being myself a Constitutional Conservative, I felt that it was only right that I should therefore take up the gauntlet of this subject. I will not as many might expect, make this about Hispanic anchor babies born to illegal immigrants in this country and their threat. Quite frankly, the research that I have done shows that while their may be some level of concern justified here, there is just as much information out there to show that the problem is not as large as some may want to believe (or fear)

There is a potential issue that may need to be addressed however, as it appears that current interpretation of a loophole in the 14th Amendment has created a cottage industry in "birth tourism" in this country. Packages are apparently available for world travelers who would like to visit this country just to give birth to new American citizens; providing round trip air fares, hotels, and hospital care for such purposes. While we can certainly use the tourism revenue to help balance our trade with other nations and even though the numbers taking advantage of this loophole are not large (less than 10,000 per year); the abuse of this loophole in Constitutional law should not be considered any less serious, nor should addressing them be any less important. 

Any real discussion of the 14th Amendment should begin however, with the fact that it was added to the Constitution in order redress the lack of justice afforded by the ruling of the Supreme Court in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision; which ruled that people of African descent brought in as slaves or their offspring could never be citizens of the United States and were not afforded protection as such under that very Constitution. (Obviously, not one of the Courts better opinions.)

This injustice was later reversed, but not before the country had gone through the arduous amendment process to create the additional protections furnished by the 14th Amendment. In fact, the Court cited this Amendment in the "Slaughter-House Cases" of 1873 where it formally overturned the Dred Scott decision. 

In other words, a bad law was changed through the processes of the legal system, and protections which are provided to those living in this country through the document designed and written by the Founding Fathers for just that purpose. This change was not performed at the time that the Constitution was debated and signed, but in fact was adopted some 85 years later. 

This is exactly how the writers of this document envisioned such change, knowing that no one is wise enough to create a document that will not require periodic adaptation or modification. It should also be considered that sometimes it is the Amendments themselves that had to be changed. This was the case in December of 1933 when the 21st Amendment was passed to repeal the dictates of the 18th Amendment ratified in January of 1919. Even though the Constitutional process had been properly followed in creating Prohibition in the US in the earlier Amendment, it was felt later that a mistake had been made in ratifying it. This provision was not ignored by bureaucratic fiat however, nor overruled by executive order, but was instead taken back through the Constitutional process and repealed by the same process that created it. 

Can the 14th Amendment likewise be reviewed in the light of history and have the definitions of citizenship more clearly defined? Certainly! Can the United States go through the Constitutional process and let Congress and the people of this country decide upon any proposed changes to this previously passed amendment to our government's founding document? That in fact, is exactly what the Founding Fathers would have expected us to do. Is this process a quick and simple method of redressing what may be a wrong? No, and it was never designed to be. It is a purposely complex process, which is why after over 200 years we have only added 27 Amendments to this document. 

Of course the $64 dollar question here is whether we should we go through this long and arduous process and change the 14th Amendment? The answer is not a simple one however. While it might appear obvious that the concept of citizenship in the United States needs to be redefined in light of the present, the Amendment process may not be the necessary or even best way to go about this. It may be that the issue can be addressed by the simple legislative process of defining citizenship in this country, as proposed by Constitutional scholar Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas. 

The Constitution was written by Men and because they can never be perfect, it cannot be considered so. Like Men (and women) however, it can change; and there are times when it must do so. Fortunately for us, our Constitution, much like our conscience and sense of what is right and just, allows us the opportunity to Amend our ways.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What's In A Name?

Having recently had parts of The Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act (better known as McCain-Feingold) struck down by the Supreme Court, you would think that Congress would hesitate to once again attempt to institute controls in campaign finance mostly designed to insure re-election of incumbents. 

Proving once again that no bad idea should be abandoned however, such an effort recently saw the light of day in the form of The DISCLOSE Act. Congress claimed yet again that election spending must be both restrained and transparent lest the entire electoral process implode from rampant abuse. (Would that Congress could turn the same careful scrutiny on its own hidden and unrestrained spending.) Debate on the issue was blocked in the Senate however by a Republican minority that is often accused of the most heinous abuses in this area. 

The demand for restraint and transparency called for by Democrats might seem ironic however, considering the lack of either behavior on the part of the sitting President (also a Democrat, by the way) in the last election; even though the supposed protections afforded by McCain-Feingold were in place (though it must be conceded in all fairness that such behavior was not strictly required of him under its provisions, since he took no federal matching funds)

There was little redeeming in this latest failed legislative effort, excepting perhaps for its name (or more accurately, its acronym): Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Election. Even those of us who believe that such legislation is misguided at best, and an abridgment of the rights of free speech and assembly in this country at worst, had to admit that the name was a damned good one. For all of its failings, Congress it appears is quite good at the business of adroitly labeling its sometimes odorous pieces of tripe in order to disguise their maleficence. 

Take for example the recently passed health care reform legislation, known in Congress as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As we are only now beginning to discover (you have to pass it to know what's in it), this cleverly named bit of legal maneuvering apparently provides little in the way of a true patient bulwark, and even less in the way of affordable care (unless perhaps, through the potential affordability that rationing provides). It proved a very clever alias though, if what you were attempting was to obscure the legislation's inherent deficiencies. 

Yet another example might be recently passed financial reform, known in the Capitol as The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Although little was done in this edict to prevent banks from the risky investments or the mortgage industry from the abuses that triggered the fall of Wall Street (and encouraged Congress to spend trillions in bailout money), and though it might be considered questionable to saddle this law with the names of two members of Congress who failed in their oversight responsibilities during the crisis that brought its supposed necessity; the name of this law admirably performed the required function of concealing its failings. 

The Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (better known as the Stimulus Bill) was yet another classic example of a well-named wolf in sheep's clothing; performing apparently little in the way of actual recovery (a topic still argued by economists attempting their own financial recovery through articles, books, and mainstream media appearances) and even less in the way of spending that could be called real reinvestment (excepting of course, investing in the growth of government)

One cannot help but look at such practices and hearken back to the heady days of the 2008 election, when then candidate Barack Obama said: "You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig." in order to characterize the program of legislative changes proposed by his opponents. Both candidates (and their running mates) went on to make "lipstick on a pig" iconic for the attempt to cover up something awful through the application of external enhancement to hide its true ugliness. 

And while it often seems that Congress is incapable of doing anything of real value for the country with the exception of taking frequent recesses, credit must be given where it's due (probably to creative staff members) for perhaps proving that the lipstick rule has exceptions. Even when their legislative efforts are intrusive, onerous, or downright dangerous; Congress has managed to artfully disguise their true intent to regulate, restrain, and defraud the American people through appellations that are little more than the masterful application of surface decoration to porcine labium. (See, I can do it too!) What's in a name? When it comes to the naming of legislation by Congress, apparently far more than legislators attempting to perform the function of cosmetologists hope we can see through.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Cost of Politics

The latest round of primary elections are over around the nation. Voting machines have been taken down, poll workers are taking a well-deserved rest, and everyone has a chance to catch their breath before the run up to the November Election. Most importantly, we all find ourselves grateful in ways that we cannot begin to explain for the end of the latest round of political commercials on billboards, radio, and TV. And while it appears that fewer than one in five registered voters executed their electoral franchise in the effort overall, we seem to have run up a considerable bill in the performance of this constitutional right and obligation. 

My question is ... why are we paying for it? Yes I know that elections cannot be held without candidates (though there are times when we wish it were so) and that such elections incur costs. I also understand that there are times when more than one candidate representing a political party seeks the same office. Great! Anyone who wishes to run for a political office is free to do so. That there might be a plethora of candidates seeking office could be looked at as a tribute to the desire for public service in this country (or a realization that a political career is a pretty good gig in a tough economy), and is something that should celebrated.  What's wrong with letting any eligible and capable candidates seeking election do so? 

Some will say that while all of this may be true, winnowing the number of candidates (particularly those of the two major political parties) is necessary so as not to dilute the few votes seemingly cast these days. Of course most of those saying so are representatives of the political parties taking advantage of the situation. Even if we concede that this is true however (which I do not), it doesn't justify billing the taxpayer for the costs of an internal party selection process. 

If the Democrat and Republican parties (which are independent political organizations and not constitutionally sanctioned parts of government) feel the need to hold such special selection processes to choose party representation, they should by all means feel free to do so ... and pay for them from their own pockets. It is not within the purview of government to interfere with such an internal process, nor to sanction it by picking up the tab. 

At a time when political parties have become as much an impediment to good governing as they have a method of achieving it, they certainly deserve no special consideration. At a time when government spending has become little more than a political football that these two teams toss around to score political points, wasting tax payer dollars to fund their drafts seems a violation of the rules. 

Political parties are not a Constitutional requirement, and the current ones are in fact only the latest in a long line of such organizations (now mostly forgotten) in this county's history. Assigning them special preference and paying for internal decision making processes seems not only contrary to the founding principles of this country, but outside the limits of government as defined by the documents used to establish it. 

The party politics of government is often one of the reasons for its high cost. Continuing taxpayer funding for these political qualifiers is a political cost however that's simply wrong.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Health Care Buys Medicare Solvency?

The trustees of Medicare and Social Security released a report yesterday asserting that Medicare is in better shape than previously stated in the reports of 2009. In a story released by the Associated Press, this latest release states in fact that the financial solvency of Medicare will be extended from last year's estimate by another twelve years as a result of the recent passage of health care reform legislation. Not all in government however, agree with the assessment given in this report however.

According to the story in fact, "top Medicare actuary Richard Foster warned that the report’s projections do not represent a reasonable expectation”. His skepticism comes from as a result the new reports' assumptions that call for a reduction of Medicare payments by 23% at the end of the year and 30% over the following three years, which he called “an implausible result”. Regardless of which government expert you agree with however, Medicare will run short of funding by 2029, and Social Security (which is paying out more money than it is taking in) will do likewise by 2037.

Many would suspect that a Conservative thinker would agree with Mr. Foster on the implausibility of any government program reducing costs and would be skeptical of numbers extending the financial solvency of a program that most of like minds consider little more than a sink hole of funding. While this is in fact normally the case, in this particular situation however you would be wrong. Of course, I have no hope that Congress will in fact reduce payments to Medicare either at the end of this year or in the years ahead. In fact, I suspect that legislators seeking to retain their incumbent status will do nothing to anger a senior citizen voting block that traditionally goes to the polls in high numbers.

Far too concerned with retaining their jobs in a tough economy instead, I doubt that even a return to a Republican majority in both houses of Congress will see any curb in such payments, even as deficits in this country mount. (In point of fact, I am not sure that Medicare payments to doctors is the actual culprit in this situation.) I do believe however, that a savings will come as a direct result of implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and that this savings will contribute to Medicare solvency, though perhaps not in a way that the Administration would like to tout as much as they seem to be.

As both the costs and the number of recipients continue to increase during the implementation of health care reform, government will likely find itself in an increasingly untenable position in trying to sustain the unsustainable. As the Canadian and British systems have shown in the past, this is likely to lead to both treatment delay and some form of health care rationing over time. Rationing of course, leads inevitably to necessary or sometimes even vital procedures not being performed in the timely fashion required by the patients condition. Since those traditionally requiring the greatest amount of health care are our aging population, it is likely that such rationing is likely to have the largest negative impact on this population segment. The conclusion to be drawn from this simple chain of logical assumption is that the growing number of senior citizens (a group to which I am far too close to becoming a part of) is likely to face a legislative or regulatory "thinning of the herd".  

And though it may sound like little more than cruelty to say so (something many would say Conservatives are particularly good at), it's hard to argue that reducing the numbers of this aging population is likely to have a positive financial impact on the funding requirements for the programs covering the medical care and retirement benefits that these programs represent, and forestall their financial demise as a consequence.

So will health care reform buy us some additional solvency in Medicare? I believe that there's little doubt that it will. The question that we should be asking ourselves however, is not whether the numbers that government is tossing around today are viable or not; but whether the price of health care reform as it's enacted is one that we are willing to pay. 


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Religions of Peace

This posting may be the most controversial that I have ever written, and is probably capable of more misinterpretation than any that I have yet put on paper. It's something that I have been carrying around in my head for quite a while however (there is plenty of unused space up there after all), and realizing that the Wednesday rant this week would be my 600th posting on the site made it seem as good a time as any to trot it out.

Condemn me as an apostate if you will, but I ask that you at least read it through (and carefully) before making any judgment of me. This offering is not intended as denigration of any religious belief including my own, but instead of the acts that have been perpetrated in the name of such belief.      

There are many today using the attacks of Muslim extremists around the world to vilify the Islamic religion. They point out that while the tenets of this religion are ones of peace, those committing these violent attacks on civilian populations today do so in the name of such beliefs. They further make the case that these attacks are not limited to populations of non-believers (those believing in other religions), but that many of the attacks committed are by Shiite Muslims attacking Sunni Muslims, and vice versa (and yes, I do understand that their are differences between the two).     

One can hardly help but notice however that the current crop of terrorism in the world does seem to come from such contradictory beliefs and practices held under the religion of Islam. One can also say that believers in Islam seem to have cornered the market on such actions in recent years. To my knowledge there are no current Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist terrorist groups currently operating on any scale around the world.   

This is not to say however, that the Islamic faith is the only one guilty of such inconsistency, or of acts of unspeakable violence and depravity, and that as a consequence, that many other religions have their share guilt to atone for. Jesus too preached a religion of peace some 2000 years ago, and yet some of the most violent and terrible acts in the time since have been done in His name.   

The Crusades for example, are often romanticized as heroic knightly deeds done in defense of the Holy Land; but the truth is far less appealing. Not only was a great deal of savagery and torture perpetrated by these Christian knights in their looting and pillaging of lands not their own in the name of greed (not their God), but far too often they pillaged their Christian allies as well on the road to what were considered ripe pickings in the lands around Jerusalem. 

No one who has studied history will likewise be able to ignore the acts of barbarism, torture, and murder that were committed during The Inquisition(s). History in fact defines four separate Inquisitions, the first beginning in the 12th century and the last going on until around 1860. One of the most notorious, The Spanish Inquisition, spread this reign of terror from Europe to the new world, torturing and murdering innocent native populations in the Americas who would not accept what these conquerors considered "the true faith"

Even the suffering that occurred in the "Troubles" of Ireland, while attempting to deal with long-standing issues of a brutal occupation and national sovereignty, carried a religious component within the British Isles. 

If we want to look further back, we need only study the Old Testament of the Bible. Here we can read the chronicle of that same God (for members of both the Christian and Jewish faith at least) similarly putting unbelievers to the sword at various times. The Canaanites, the Midianites, and the Philistines all found this original Jewish state more than willing to take up the sword (and pretty successfully according to the accounts) in the name of their Deity when necessary. Those living in many of those same lands today (and still fighting the same battles, according to some) have found the current Jewish state an equally formidable opponent. 

The Old Testament further tells us that these acts were considered both righteous and Godly, and well in keeping with the behavior of a Supreme Being of peace who was not above committing an act of violence in the name of religious retribution Himself (Can you say "The Flood" or "The Tower of Babel"?). So while it must be admitted that believers in Jewish faith have, down through history, far too often been the target of such inexcusably brutal behavior (and continue to be today), their own past is not entirely unblemished. 

Some early civilizations of course, like the Romans and Greeks, simply gave in to the violence in human nature and religion by having a god of war on which they could blame such human activity. In the Americas, the Aztecs, Toltecs, and Mayans likewise had no problem reconciling the concept of religion and violence. Their belief system did nothing more to excuse such acts as being justified by religion, but did at least save them from the potential moral schizophrenia inherent in trying to follow a peaceful dogma while committing horribly violent acts. 

None of this of course, is an excuse for the current acts of terror and barbarism going on in the world today, and any moral justification for committing such acts by claiming that they are "the will of God" is little more than a cheap form of self-delusion. These actions are beyond deplorable regardless of any attempted moral justification, and those that commit them deserve no reward in whatever heaven they claim to believe in (or any other for that matter). That being said, it must be admitted that much of the violence perpetrated by one human being on another throughout history has been done in the name of belief in a purportedly peaceful Supreme Being. While there appear to be limited exceptions to this (some of the eastern religions come to mind), few of them can attempt to assume the moral high ground on the subject if they look closely enough at their own past. 

As for those committing these senseless and unsuccessful acts, they cannot even claim credit for being the inventors of violence in the name of such belief, merely the latest in a long line of disreputable perpetrators. (I call them unsuccessful since while they have proved tactically successful, they have consistently failed to achieve the hoped for strategic objectives for which they were committed.) They prove little more than the fact that vestiges of envy, hatred, and barbarism remain part of the what we choose to call the 'human condition'.

History, if it chooses to remember them at all, will hopefully do so as little more than failed villains. It's likewise to be hoped that their acts will have little if any lasting effect on the long course of societal evolution. If history can be said in fact to have taught us anything however, it is that no one has ever been entirely safe from those following religions of peace.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Primary Day

It's primary day in Kansas and Missouri today, and there are some hotly contested issues and races going on (which might explain the 100 degree temperatures here without falling back on global warming). It is likewise primary day in Michigan, near my former home in Toledo.

Voter turnout in both areas is expected to be less than 20%!

It seems both inconsistent and and incongruous that during a period in the history of this country when nothing is more contentious, that so few will bother to take a side and exercise their constitutional responsibilities. With Tea Party protests, progressive counter-protests, and non-stop news punditry on the state of political upheaval in this country so much on the minds and in the media these days, you would think it would be easy to get out the vote ... even for a primary. 

You would of course be wrong in believing so. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly understandable that a person can look at much of politics in general these days, most of the politicians in particular, and the bastardization of the campaign process that's going on; and throw their hands up in disgust. Professional politicians continue to dominate the campaigns for office, their commercials are excruciatingly annoying (on an almost Biblical scale) with a non-stop assault of 'half-truths, mis-truths and outright lies', and primaries often mean so little; that actually having to pick candidates can bring on serious bouts of nausea. 

That being said, the only way that anything has a hope of changing in this country is if as many people as possible participate in the process. So I urge those of you to bite the bullet, hold your nose if you must, and cast your ballot for the candidates that believe most as you do on this election day. 

There will be a notable posting tomorrow for my mid-week rant, both because of the subject matter and because it will be my 600th posting on Just Blowing Smoke. While some of what has appeared here over the years will never be considered timeless prose, much of it has involved a great deal of effort and perspiration, as well as some occasional brain cramping. Because we all like to make a big deal out of round numbers however, I decided that tomorrow's subject would be one of some importance. I urge you to find the time to take a look at it (and carefully).