Sunday, July 2, 2017

Shame on Them!

I'm reading a lot of opinions about the Peruta case being denied a hearing by the Supreme Court. For those unfamiliar with the case, Edward Peruta wanted to get a permit for carrying a concealed weapon in San Diego California. California has a law that requires a citizen requiring documentation of "good cause" that "distinguish[es] the applicant from the mainstream and places the applicant in harm's way" in order to carry a concealed weapon. And since California does not allow any open carry of weapons at all, that means that the "mainstream" of citizens are forbidden to exercise their second amendment rights. The right is granted only as an exception.

Imagine if only a select few who were out of the mainstream were allowed to vote, or to speak freely, or be allowed to have a trial by jury? And yet, the same rules do not apply to the second amendment. The case should have been open-and-shut, and yet Mr. Peruta was denied his permit because he wasn't special enough.

The decision was appealed, and the case went to the 9th circuit Federal Court, where it was ruled (correctly) that California's "good cause" requirement did, in fact, violate Mr. Peruta's second amendment rights. However, that wasn't good enough for California liberals. The case was re-heard en banc and the 9th circuit court reversed its own decision, based on the reasoning that at least some people were granted permits. Can you imagine a court saying "well, some people get to vote, so we can deny you your right to vote."

Well, the case finally made its way to the Supreme Court, which for months put off making any decision on it, but recently decided not to hear the case, which means the lower court decision holds, and Mr. Peruta (and other Californians) are denied their rights.

Oddly enough, people on both sides of the issue are happy. Notably, the pro-gun people are saying "well, at least they didn't set precedent because they didn't hear the case." The logic is that we should wait until we know we have the "votes" on the Supreme Court to get it passed the right way.

Here's the problem with that logic. The job of the Supreme Court is not to "vote" on issues and we should wait until we have appointees who will "vote" the right way. The job of the Supreme Court is to look at a case and see if it violates what the Constitution says. And, to quote the late Anton Scalia, the Constitution says what it says!

If the Constitution says you have the right to keep and bear arms, then that's the decision you make. If the Constitution says you have to bake a cake then that's the decision you make. The job isn't supposed to be one of "what the justices want" but "what the Constitution says." And if a justice doesn't like what the Constitution says, too bad. That's why we have a legislative branch - to do what the people who elect them want them to do. The Supreme Court is supposed to be a check on that power, not a pawn to whichever party appointed them. They are unelected and are not supposed to represent themselves or their party or anything - they are supposed to just follow what' on the paper.

Case in point - slavery. It was not the job of the Supreme Court justices to overturn all slavery laws because they decided to reinterpret the Constitution in favor of abolition - it took Congress to pass an amendment. Likewise Prohibition, and the repeal of Prohibition, and women's votes, and income tax... you get the picture?

If you want to do something that's outside what the Constitution says, you make a law. If the law is deemed unconstitutional, you either change the law or change the constitution. You don't lobby for "votes" on the Supreme Court. If you go down that path, then the country is no longer a democratic republic, but an oligarchy.

But that's the path we're happily running down. From abortion to gay marriage to religious liberty to self defense, we are accepting the "rights" of the Supreme Court to decide what they want rather than what the Constitution says. And when we talk about Scalia (and Gorsuch) who hold the opinion that the Constitution says what it says, they are labeled "extreme" and Democrats try to block their appointment because of their "conservative views." News flash - if you appoint a court that reinterprets the Constitution, you are just a couple of appointments away from having everything you worked for reversed. The way to change laws is supposed to be through the legislature, not the courts.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thoughts on the Republican baseball team shooting

Photo of civilian legal SKS from Wikipedia
The gun banners are already talking about how we need to ban the assault weapon used by the shooter, and institute "universal" background checks. Thought I would put in my two cents. But first, a moment of prayer for those who affected by this tragedy.

First off, the rifle used is reported to be an Chinese SKS. It is nothing like an assault rifle - it has NONE of the features of a so-called assault rifle. It only holds 10 rounds. It does not have a detachable magazine. It does not have a suppressor or flash hider. It does not have a pistol grip. It doesn't have a scope or fancy optics or electronics or anything. It is 70 year old technology. If you would classify this as an "assault rifle" then pretty much anything is. Let's face the fact that rifles can be used to kill. A rifle that can't be used to kill has very little usefulness (for hunting, self defense, target shooting, etc,).

Secondly, regarding universal background checks, there are a bunch of issues that need to be stated. First off, who decides who should be forbidden to own guns? Right now there are cases going through the courts where governments have made rules denying someone a gun because they committed a misdemeanor, because they actually got mental health (as opposed to letting it fester so they could keep their guns), and all other kinds of silly rules. Common sense would say "deny guns to criminals!" but who defines what kinds of crimes count? And even then, does committing a crime take away a natural right (like self defense)? If you look, carefully and honestly, you'll see there is no black and white answer.

But let's say we do manage to define exactly what kinds of crimes/mental issues/etc. take away your right to self defense. Would that stop so-called "gun violence?" Most of the gun crimes committed today are with guns illegally obtained anyway (theft or having a non-prohibited friend or family member get the gun). No background check will stop those people from getting guns, because they didn't go to the gun store and buy them. The (small) remainder of crimes are committed by people who had no prior criminal record, and so passed a background check. Obviously the background check didn't stop them.

Then there is the so-called "gun show loophole" - which doesn't really exist - but what they mean is banning private sales of guns. Again you have the same two issues - the existing criminals don't submit to background checks and the future ones pass them.

So exactly what is the point of background checks? You could say that maybe the criminals find it harder to buy a gun illegally, since the risk and effort involved will make the street guns cost more. However, the opposite is true. Because of the overhead and red tape involved, it is more expensive to buy a gun legally. The criminals have way less overhead.

But that's kind of beside the point, because in the US we don't really have background checks - we have what amounts to registration. Let's go back to first principles and look at how a background check should work. I go to the gun store and say "I'd like to buy a gun." The gun store checks my driver's license or other form of ID, and looks up my name on the list of "bad people." If I'm not on the list they sell me a gun.

Instead what happens is I fill out a form. On that form I have to disclose things like my ethnicity, race, place of birth and fill out a whole bunch of questions about things like whether I belong to a group that advocates the overthrow of the government. None of the questions is optional, and if I fill them out wrong (even by mistake) that is a felony offense. The seller has to fill in the make, model and serial number of the gun involved. But wait, I thought it was me they were checking, not the gun.

Of course all of this paperwork has to be archived forever (literally) and inspected regularly (but not copied - wink wink) by the ATF (which is itself an unconstitutional organization, but I wont' get into that here). The net result is a web of complicated laws and regulations designed to trip people into accidentally becoming a felon, without any proof (or even reasonable hope) that any of this has any positive effect on "gun violence."

At least Maryland, after $5 million, finally scrapped their gun registry after discovering that in the 15 years it had been around it had solved ZERO crimes. How many crimes has the federal gun registry (I mean of course background check system) solved? I think we deserve an answer, but I don't think one will be coming any time soon.

So how do we reduce "gun violence"? Surprisingly gun violence is actually down, despite media claims to the contrary, and despite the number of guns being at a high point (pun intended). Additionally, the three safest states in the US are ones where citizens can carry guns without any paperwork or permission from their government. So maybe the solution isn't more gun control, but less? The definition of insanity is, after all, doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Novas Order

This post is inspired by a couple of discussions with Protestants. Bear with me.

Consider two stars, Castor and Pollux. They are the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini (image courtesy Wikipedia). They represent the heads of the twins the constellation depicts.

Castor is actually a system of 6 stars, about 51 light years from the earth. Pollux is closer, about 34 light years from earth, and is a simple star.

Let's suppose one of the stars in Castor, and the star Pollux both go nova simultaneously. On earth we would detect Pollux going nova after 34 years, and then we would detect Castor's nova only after another 17 years had passed. That's because of the length of time it takes the light for each event to reach the earth.

But things would get even weirder if we were in a spaceship traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light. The notion of simultaneity, it turns out, is relative, depending on your frame of reference.

What does this have to do with Protestants? First off, there is the Communion of Saints. According to Catholic belief, the saints in heaven are alive in Christ, enjoying the Beatific Vision, and interceding for us. That is backed up by numerous scripture passages, of which I will only name Revelation 5:8. For more on the topic see "The Intercession of the Saints".

According to many Protestants, those who are dead are asleep, waiting to be woken on the Last Day. They case this on Scripture like Isaiah 38:18 (which refers to hell, not heaven) and Psalm 115:17 (which refers to dead idols), or Psalm 6:5 (which refers to Sheol, not heaven).

But one of the key objections in this conversation was that the saints can't hear the prayers of more than one person at a time because they are not God. I've heard apologists talk about how God can give the saints in heaven the power to hear more than one prayer at a time, but I'd like to suggest an alternative hypothesis. Even in our own galaxy, things that are simultaneous to one observer may not be simultaneous to a different observer. What if our "simultaneous" prayers on earth are not simultaneous in heaven? Why should we think time in heaven works the way it does on earth? Time is a phenomenon of space, and heaven is not in our space-time continuum.

And another thing... the notion of the particular and general judgements. It has always bothered me that we are taught that there are two judgements after death - the particular judgement, where we are judged as individuals and steered to heaven or hell, and the general judgement at the end of the world, when all are judged and we will see God's plan. Both are based on Scripture, but what's the sense of a second judgement when you've already been judged? You know the outcome.

But what if they are describing the same judgement? On earth they would appear to happen at different times, but again, God is not constrained by time. When I die, why can't I be judged on the last day, and be in heaven (hopefully) on the day of my death? If we can do such tricks in our own galaxy with worm holes etc. why should we think God can't accomplish it? I'm not saying that this is what happens, necessarily, but I see no reason why it could not happen that way, either scripturally, theologically, philosophically or scientifically.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Novena to the Holy Spirit

After the Ascension of Our Lord, His disciples and Apostles spent nine days praying for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 12-14):
And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
Thus the tradition of the novena, nine days of prayer for some intention. But the first, and earliest novena, is the original one, recognized by the church, the novena for the Holy Spirit. I join the church in praying this novena each year on the nine days leading up to Pentecost. Please join me.

There are different prayers for each day, found here

as well as the following, which are repeated each day:

Act of Consecration to the Holy Spirit
 
On my knees before the great multitude of heavenly witnesses, I offer myself, soul and body to You, Eternal Spirit of God. I adore the brightness of Your purity, the unerring keenness of Your justice, and the might of Your love. You are the Strength and Light of my soul. In You I live and move and am. I desire never to grieve You by unfaithfulness to grace and I pray with all my heart to be kept from the smallest sin against You. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for Your light, and listen to Your voice, and follow Your gracious inspirations. I cling to You and give myself to You and ask You, by Your compassion to watch over me in my weakness. Holding the pierced Feet of Jesus and looking at His Five Wounds, and trusting in His Precious Blood and adoring His opened Side and stricken Heart, I implore You, Adorable Spirit, Helper of my infirmity, to keep me in Your grace that I may never sin against You. Give me grace, O Holy Spirit, Spirit of the Father and the Son to say to You always and everywhere, "Speak Lord for Your servant heareth."
Amen.

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, before ascending into heaven, did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul, the work of Your grace and Your love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal, the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth, the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with You and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation, the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints, the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples and animate me in all things with Your Spirit.
Amen.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

An extra few days

I've been seeing this meme posted for the last couple of days... and even on Catholic Answers last night the host was defending moving Ascension Thursday to Sunday.

The justification, in his case, was that if it were on Thursday, Catholic schools would have off and it would separate families where the parents had to work.

What? How out of touch must the bishops be? First off, I have never heard of a Catholic school closing for this - they simply have mass and celebrate the day at school (and bishops should know this, having at least some sort of oversight into to the workings of the schools in their own diocese). True, the parents will be separated from the kids if they are at work, but they would have been separated anyway if they are at work.

When I was a child (preschool) I still remember enjoying holy days of obligation that were not Sundays. My mother would take us to mass, and we'd always stop for ice cream after. It was just a nice day to spend with family.

Later, in school, I remember sitting in the pews murmuring quietly waiting for mass at school to start. It was a treat and a bonding experience to have mass with all my peers. With geography, and with the 5 different masses each weekend, I didn't often see a lot of my friends at mass. Plus, this was mass just for us, with a homily geared towards our lives.

As an adult, holy days of obligation during the week have become a time of bonding as well. I find out who is Catholic, and we all carpool over to noon mass during lunch. It is also an opportunity for evangelization. "Hey Mike, wanna do lunch Thursday?" "Sorry, I'm going to mass with Ed and Jim and Carolyn." "Why are you going to mass?" Boy, is that an opening or what?

In short, I see a lot of up sides and no down sides to keeping the holy days where they belong. With vigil masses, and masses in the morning, noon and evening, there is really no excuse to miss it, unless you just really can't be bothered. And who knows - being invited to Ascension Thursday mass by your coworkers may be the thing you need to get mack into practicing your faith.

Friday, February 10, 2017

I am pro choice

Let me ask you a seemingly innocent question. Should Christians be excluded from receiving welfare benefits? In other words, if someone is legally entitled to receive government benefits, should that person be excluded if they are Christians? Or Muslims? Or Jews?

No? OK, we agree on that.

Now let me play a bit of devil's advocate here. What it Mary Catholic takes $5 of her welfare check and drops it in the collection basket on Sunday? Shouldn't she be excluded from receiving benefit? After all, doesn't that mean that the State™ is subsidizing her church? Isn't that a violation of Separation of church and State™?

At this point, if you're intellectually honest, you have to admit that the money, once Mary cashes her check, is controlled by Mary, and it isn't the government choosing what to do with it. If you can't follow that, then you must reverse your answer to the first question and say that all people of faith must be excluded from all government programs and entitlements.

So, if Mary "given" a tax break by the state to send her kids to private school, how is the State™ subsidizing a church? Mary can choose to use that money in any school, secular or religious. Once Mary cashes that check, it is controlled by Mary, and it isn't the government choosing what to do with it. The money itself is earmarked for education, and that's what she must spend it on, and she does.

Now, let's look at it from a purely economic perspective. Mary pays $8,000 in taxes, and her local public school costs the taxpayers $23,000 per student per year. If Mary is given an $8,000 tax break to send her kids to a different school, Mary wins, her kids win and the taxpayers win! Mar wins, because she can now afford to send her kids to the school that will educate them best. Her kids win, because they get a better education. The tax payers win, because Mary's three kids are now saving the school system $69,000 per year, for a net savings for $61,000 per year to the tax payers. [N.B. these are not made up numbers, these are actual tax rates and public school costs for a nearby town in NJ - I looked them up.]

It seems to me there is no Constitutional justification for opposing school choice, and every economic incentive to support school choice. Could it be that the real reason for opposing school choice is because legislators are in bed with big business and special interest groups?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

NICS and Johnson

Photo Credit: mensatic on morguefile.com
If there is one thing that strikes me as so blatantly unconstitutional that we shouldn't even find a possibility of disagreement, it's the government coercing people to remove their constitutional rights. One of the biggest ways the government does that today is by taking your money and then requiring you to give up rights to get it back. Bullying? Yes. Clearly illegal and unconstitutional? Yes. And yet, I find myself having discussions with people who think it's OK for the government to take away constitutional rights if it leads to "some good"™. A couple of cases in point.

The Social Security Act has been amended to take away the second amendment rights of social security recipients. People with disabilities have the choice to not receive social security benefits or forfeit their constitutional rights.

A little background. NICS, of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, is a service provided by the FBI mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (although NICS applies to all guns in the US, not just handguns). By law all gun dealers must run prospective buyers through the system, which identifies people who are deemed "unfit" to be allowed a gun. That list includes people who [emphasis mine]:
  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  • Is illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
  • Has been convicted in any court of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence", a defined term in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33)
In December the Obama administration promoted a new implementation of an "improvement" to social security. Page 19 of "Implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (NIAA)" says [again, emphasis mine]:
Under our representative payee policy, unless direct payment is prohibited, we presume that an adult beneficiary is capable of managing or directing the management of benefits. However, if we have information that the beneficiary has a mental or physical impairment that prevents him or her from managing or directing the management of benefits, we will develop the issue of capability. ... It is also important to remember that we can reevaluate a beneficiary’s capability even  though we may have already determined a beneficiary’s capability in the past...

Note that having a third party manage your benefits is cause for losing your second amendment rights. That means, for example, if you are a poor person, perhaps with little education, who has a family member manage their finances, boom! No rights. Or perhaps you are a shut-in, due to a physical disability who has somebody more mobile do all your financial transactions. Again, no rights. The problem is that this system bases your constitutional rights on capability rather than criminal activity or violent behavior.

Let's look at the example from the document. This is how they see it working properly...
For example... a once capable beneficiary who is admitted to a mental hospital may now be incapable.
But the person admitted to a mental hospital is already covered by the NICS rules, without this amendment. Finally, let's look at how someone who is declared unfit can restore their rights.
We propose to provide these individuals with a process by which they can apply for relief from the Federal firearms prohibitions and ... we propose ... to require an applicant for relief to submit written statements and any other evidence regarding the applicant’s reputation.
So, if I am on social security, it is not enough to meet the "normal person" standards for securing my rights, I have to have other people vouch for my reputation?

Let me repeat my principle. If the government restricts the constitutional rights of citizens in order for them to receive government money, that law is illegal and unconstitutional. It is monetary coercion by the government.

Case number two. The Johnson amendment requires charities to give up their first amendment rights (by prohibiting them from endorsing a candidate) or to give up their tax exempt status. And yes, even corporations have first amendment rights.

The justification is that if a tax-exempt organization could say "We're ready for Hillary" or "Make America Great Again" that would effective mean the government was subsidizing candidates' campaigns. But that assumes that the money being donated to these organizations "belongs to" the government somehow, and that the government is giving that money to them, and that simply is not true.

Let's assume I give $100 to my local church, and my tax rate is 30%. According to some, I actually gave $70 to the church, and the government gave $30. In reality, I gave $100 to my local church. The following April I file my taxes and the government gives me, not the church, the $30, with which I can do what I want. So the money has not, in fact, been given to the church, since I could give the $30 to whomever I please (perhaps to a political candidate my church disapproves of). The fact is, at the end of the day, I get the money, and I control where it goes. How is the government subsidizing my local church any more than if, say, I was receiving welfare or social security, and I gave part of that money to my local church? I am the one directing money that I control, not the government.

Ironically, the government's role in this "subsidy" is far more remote than the subsidy of contraceptives and abortifacients by the Little Sisters of the Poor, with which the Obama administration and it's fans saw no problem at all.

No, the real effect of the Johnson amendment is to stifle political speech by churches. Why do I single out churches, specifically? Because big corporations are able to set up 501(c)(4) sister corporations, which can endorse candidates, often with the same employees. So Cecile Richards can go to a Planned Parenthood Awards dinner and freely stump for Hillary, because she is also working for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. In fact, Planned Parenthood can endorse and fund raise for Planned Parenthood Action Fund without losing their tax exempt status.

Remember when Cardinal Dolan was panned for offering to appear at the RNC convention but not the DNC convention? Of course, he had offered to speak at both, but the media said otherwise and the backlash was intense until the truth came out. So we have created a political climate in which certain organizations can, if they have the money and are on the "right side" of things in the media, pay the government to buy back their first amendment rights, and others (primarily religious) cannot.

Un-consti-tutional.


"But Mike" you say "Do you really want to let dangerous mentally ill people, or perhaps parkinsons patients who have unsteady hands and paranoia, to have guns?" No, of course not. "Do you really want to have less transparency into political candidate financing?" No, of course not. But a bad law is a bad law. Find a different way to achieve the ends, one that does not strip constitutional rights from people.