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
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.


"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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Liar Liar

A few years ago my mother treated us to a cruise to Alaska! Yes it was awesome, but that's not what I want to talk about. One of the places we stopped at was Skagway, and in Skagway, the place to go is called "Liarsville."

Liarsville got it's name in an interesting way. During the Alaskan gold rush, every news outlet, big or small, wanted to cover the story. So they all sent reporters to Alaska to go cover things first hand. However, it was not very easy to trek all the way out on the trail and try to find the prospectors to get their stories, so the newsmen set up a camp near Skagway and made up stories about the gold rush for their papers to print. Hence the name "Liarsville."

My point is that "fake news' is not a new phenomena. And if you staunchly support the media, realize that you are merely supporting a point of view, not the truth. Choose your sources wisely, and even then don't believe all you read.

Look at things like the coverage of the Mosque attack in Canada, or Trump's immigration freeze, and you will look long and hard before you find any "fact" that is in fact, a fact. We have a thousand news sources, most of which have set up camp at their computer to make up stories.

That's not to say that everyone's a liar, or that there is no truth or that you cannot know the truth. But you are responsible for digging through the dreck if you want to know the truth.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

March for Life 2017 Report

As you know, I attend the March for Life when I can (last, year, for instance, our bus was canceled due to the snow). This year I took a "different" bus, to go with my son's youth group, rather than the pro-life group I usually go with. Because the bus was going at a different time, by a different route, this was not an apples to apples comparison. So, on with the report.

We had mass and then filed onto the bus and got on the road. Everyone was tired because of the early hour, and the bus was pretty quiet (the leaders had declared it a "quiet time" until we got to MD). As we headed to the Garden State Parkway, the bus stopped abruptly, as the road ahead was closed. After a lot of maneuvering the bus got turned around and went back almost to the start. Half an hour later, we were still trying to find a way to get to the parkway.

Due to that, we were late getting to the rest stop in MD. This is a different rest stop than the one we usually stop at, and we were late, so I can't comment on the crowd sizes there. We got back on the road and had an uneventful trip to Washington. Well, not totally uneventful, as we prayed the rosary and sang songs and talked and ate and had a good time.

When we got to D.C. things got bad again. Traffic was a disaster, and it would take 5-10 minutes to go each block. We were invited to meet up with our bishop and the rest of the Diocese at 11:15, but 11:50 had come and gone, and the rally had started. By the time we could see the Capitol building, it was 12:15, and before we got off the bus, V.P. Pence had given his speech (which we live streamed via phone on the bus).

IMHO the best speech we heard was Mia Love's "What might have been" speech.

We jumped off the bus and hurried over to the march proper, which was about to start. We never did find our bishop and the rest of the diocese. We wound up missing the whole rally, which is a shame because it's usually a lot of fun meeting the people around you while hearing the speeches.

A few things were different during the march. Usually the march is peaceful, with everyone singing, shouting, and praying about abortion. This year there was one man who has a hug sign and a megaphone telling people that the "Roman" Pope is the antichrist and that Catholics are idolaters who are going to hell. He was harassing all the groups that were clearly associated with Catholics, and following priests around.

Another thing different was the lack of any counter demonstration. Usually, there is a group of about 5-10 women on the steps of the Supreme Court building holding "keep abortion legal" signs. There are also a few women here and there along the route with similar signs. This year I saw only one woman, mixed into the crowd at the Supreme court, holding a sign with a drawing of a coat hanger on it and the words "Never go back" and "Say no to Trump".

Lastly, I actually saw an abc news truck, and a C-SPAN camera man, and someone said they saw a CNN crew. I have never seen any news outlet cover the march other than EWTN and a few independent cameras. I don't know what kind of news they are reporting - so far I've heard CNN's reporting was completely "fake" as expected, and I see an article on an abc site that says "thousands" marched and then goes into the "women's" march which had "500,000" march - amazing how they can estimate crowd size for one march but not the other. It was interesting to see them at least have a presence.

Maybe someday they'll give less biased coverage. It's still better than the time a few years ago where a (CNN?) reporter was standing with the group of ten "pro-choice" women, and when asked by the new anchor about the numbers says "I don't know which side has more people" as literally hundreds of pro-lifers pass in front of him. The video has apparently been deleted from youtube - I'm sure the news station didn't like people posting that story.

Again, since we were on a different bus, with a different schedule, we went immediately after the march to the Metro station to go to RFK stadium to get to the bus. Usually we go to our representatives' offices to lobby, and then take the Metro all the way to MD and meet the bus there.

Apparently some people in our group got lost and were on the wrong train, all the way to the last stop. So again we got a late start, even though we were leaving earlier. We stopped for dinner, and got home around 11 (plan was to get back around 8). The whole way back the bus was cheering and singing. It was a lot of fun.

So the big question people ask is "how many people?" I can't say. Someone on the bus said the estimate was 750,000 but it didn't look to me like it was bigger than other years (the largest crowd was 650,000 four years ago). If I had to guess I would say this was one of the smaller marches I was in, but the only measure I really have to estimate is the number of people I see on the mall, because in the march you can only see a small part of the crowd. This year the mall crowd was not a reliable estimate, because we were not on the mall during the rally, and a lot of people had probably left by the time we got there.

Perhaps you can watch this and count.

You might think that the crowds should be larger because of the support of the current administration, and because the V.P. was speaking. However, nobody knew the V.P. was going to speak until Thursday, when it was probably too late to change plans, so I don't think that had any effect on crowd size. Likewise, the fact that the administration is pro-life is not a reason to come to a protest march - if anything that would result in smaller crowds.

Overall a fulfilling day, and well worth the trip, but I'm still recovering.