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.