Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Levin from the perspective of a former Neo-Con

What does one do when he lacks the intellectual ammunition to win a battle of ideas?

If Mark Levin provides any indication, name call and pretend the opposing point of view doesn't really exist.

You can read through the entire debate between Levin and Tom Woods on war powers by following these links.

I don't think any objective reader will come away concluding Levin got the better of Woods in the arena ideas. Levin did win the debate if changing the subject, clever insults (calling Woods the "outlier professor" was one of my favorites) and making broad statements lacking any supporting evidence counts as winning criteria.

But it was Levin's behavior on his Facebook page after the debate that lowered him from embarrassing to truly pathetic. First he posted a hatchet piece by some blogger nobody has ever heard of accusing Woods and his "followers" of being racist, anti-Semitic and "cartoon caricatures."

"LCR's Thomas Woods Has A Charlie Sheen Woody But, Alas, No Goddesses"

Clever huh? For an eighth grader. Somewhere along the way, Levin and his most rabid followers got lost and wandered into a middle school courtyard. Yell and scream the most clever insult, and you win the argument.

Except you don't.

To the grown ups, you just look like a sniveling little kid. The kind you would expect to punctuate his insult by picking up his ball and going home.

Oh yeah, Levin did that too.

I went to his Facebook page and posted a relatively benign comment asking why the junior high tactics, and if it was evidence of a lack of substantive argument. Within three minutes, my comment was deleted and I was kicked off the page.

How sad. And I mean that in a literal sense. It makes me sad.

You see, the evolution of my political philosophy wandered through Levin's universe. I spent much of my young life as a gun-ho member of the religious right, moderated to a middle-of -the-road conservative Republican and eventually settled into what I guess most would consider a moderate libertarian. If we are going to throw around labels, I prefer classical liberal. At any rate, I generally respect the mainstream conservative position. I still enjoy listening to Rush, and I admire Sarah Palin as a person, if not her politics. And while I have come to understand the dangers of right wing Statism and completely abandoned any hope of finding solutions in the Republican establishment (or any party for that matter), I feel much more affinity for the conservative position than the progressive left. So to endure insults from people I once considered part of my philosophical family feels a little like getting spit on by my cousin. It's not only nasty, but cuts a little deeper than similar behavior from a complete stranger.

The whole debate shines a bright light of truth on a very ugly reality in the world of politics. Most people on every side of the political spectrum are more interested in maintaining their "side's" position then holding to a principle.Levin talks the talk on limited government and state's rights. He even wrote a book called Liberty and Tyranny. I read it. It was actually a pretty good read. But when it comes down to it, Levin is more interested in justifying his policy preferences than truly holding to the principles of liberty. And when the two worlds clash, he runs for the school yard. Party over principle.

That's not for me. I 'll stick with principle, thank you very much.

Follow the Constitution, every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Steve Beshear calorie deferral diet

So I've come up with a new diet strategy.

I call it the Steve Beshear calorie deferral diet plan, named after the Kentucky governor who inspired the idea with his brilliant scheme to handle the state's Medicare budget shortfall.

My wife and I have both really been watching our caloric intake, working hard to lose some of those extra pounds that we tend to pack on as we get older, because - well - we eat too much.

Yesterday we decided to stop at Steak-n-Shake for dinner on our way home from northern Kentucky. I know...not the best place for the calorie conscious, but everything in moderation, right? Besides,  I was in pretty good shape in my calorie intake for the day, and I was really craving a milkshake. Specifically, a chocolate chip cookie dough milkshake.

So, I decided I would compromise. I ordered a grilled chicken breast salad, anticipating the milkshake payoff. After polishing off the salad, I was waiting for our server to come back, and I decided I would go ahead and check the calorie count on that milkshake.

Uh-oh. 1,042.

I'm basically limiting my caloric intake to a net of 1,650 per day. It doesn't take a math whizz to figure out that the milkshake was going to put me WAY over for Saturday.

Then it hit me. I could go ahead and eat the milkshake, then just make it up through calorie savings the next day. I could maybe throw in an extra workout. Or just skip a meal. Or maybe eat three salads. It didn't really matter how I would do it. All that mattered was I KNEW I could come up with enough calorie savings on Sunday to go ahead and "borrow" those calories to "pay" for my milkshake.

I can hear some of you protesting. "But if you don't even have a plan for making up the calories, how do you know you will do it? I mean, aren't you kind of taking some things for granted? It's not going to be so easy to make up more than 600 in a day. You'll be limiting yourself to just 1,000. And you don't have a very good track record of calorie saving in the past. Just look at you. Shouldn't you maybe just forgo the milkshake?"

But you know, it's just the same old rhetoric. You are triggering  cuts that are unnecessary. There's yet to be any proof in the record that says I can't sustain what I say I can do and make these savings. There's not one bit of proof that supports this position. (Thanks Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo for inspiring  my brilliant defense)

Somebody else suggested that if I was really able to make such drastic calorie cuts on Sunday, why didn't I do that long before and avoid getting so fat in the first place?

Yeah. Shut up.

So it's Sunday now. I'm hungry.

Off to breakfast!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Garth wants a king?

Garth Brooks shared his view on Pres. Obama's job performance Before his own performance at the Points of Light Institute's ceremony honoring former President George H. W.  Bush at the Kennedy Center on Monday.

"I think what President Obama is finding out is all that we want to do, the system kind of doesn't allow the most powerful guy in the world to kind of do his job and I'm sure nobody's more frustrated than him to complete those promises that he did and I think he's trying his heart out"

Newsflash Garth - that means the system works.

The framers never intended one person to wield ultimate power. They didn't want a president who we could call the "most powerful man in the world." The bulk of power was placed in the Congress -  a deliberative body of many people, representing the people.

It's called checks and balances. If you think back, you might remember it from your civics class.

"But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain…let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING." - Thomas Paine

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Foundational principles

From time to time, people ask me to share my guiding principles.

I can explain the foundational philosophy of the Tenth Amendment Center in a single sentence:

Follow the Constitution, every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

But some even deeper fundamental ideas led me to my involvement in TAC and drive my basic political ideology.

The first is the concept of self-ownership.

I own me.

I should maybe back up and explain that I actually believe God to be the ultimate sovereign. But He gave me free will and granted me sovereignty over myself - self ownership. I  choose to submit to His will and place Him back on the throne as a follower, but that isn't relevant politically speaking, and the concept of self ownership works regardless of your religious belief.

John Locke summed it up nicely:

"To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature; without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man."

So from a political standpoint, self ownership serves as the starting point. From there, it logically follows that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. (That should sound familiar. If it doesn't, read the Declaration of Independence.) People grant government certain authority and power in order to live together in a civil society. So in a political sense, the people reign sovereign. We the people in America first granted governmental power to the States. Later, through those states, we granted limited powers to a federal government, reserving the rest to the states and ourselves.

The second foundational principle I hold to is the concept of decentralization. Simply put, bigger is badder. Centralized power possesses a sort of moral gravity, sucking more and more power into itself, and stripping more and more freedom from the individual. When we look at the history of tyranny throughout world history, it invariably flows from systems of centralized, authoritarian government. Whether it be communism, fascism, monarchism or any other -ism, centralized power enslaves people and leads to nasty things.

The founders understood this concept and created a system that decentralizes power through compartmentalization, and checks and balances. Most of us learned about checks and balances created through the three branches of government in our high school civics classes. What most of  us never learned is that the founders also intended the states to provide a check on federal power. It's pretty self-evident that 50 state governments wield significantly less power over the people as a whole than one centralized power in D.C.

So, I always default to the smallest level of government. Local authorities should do the most. Federal the least.

The framers agreed, delegating only specific, enumerated powers to the general government. At the 10th Amendment Center, we intend to reestablish the Republic that the framers conceived.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm not on the throne

From time to time, something crashes into our world, shattering our illusion of control.

Today, it was a massive earthquake and tsunami, devastating Japan and reaching all the way across the Pacific Ocean to steal a life in California.

Most of the time, I wander through my days, planning my future, and living as if I control my own fate and destiny. But when I watch a wall of water pulverize a town, when I see skyscrapers swaying like toys and witness vehicles thrown about like Matchbox Cars in a child's playroom, I simply can't cling to that illusion.

In fact, I let go of the idea that I control the world several years ago, in large part because of my faith in God. It's a lot easier to accept life as it comes when you step down off the throne. And for those that refuse, God has a way of barging in to remind them.

Not that I'm suggesting God causes earthquakes to happen. As a friend of mine wisely said, this is not an act of God. The redemption of a heart and the transformation of a soul is an act of God. A disaster is simply a disaster.

But tragedies do serve as reminders. We aren't the kings and queens of the universe. We don't rule the galaxy. And ultimately, we are at the mercy of things we simply don't fathom.

"No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover it's meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it." - Ecclesiastes 8:17

Yet many cling tenaciously to the illusion.

Within hours of the quake and tsunami, I saw an article blaming the tragedy on global climate change.

Did you catch it?

Hidden within the enviro-political rhetoric lies the ultimate illusion - that somehow humankind can even control a cataclysmic event like an earthquake.

If we just pass the right law, implement the right policy, force people to adhere to a given standard, THEN we can avoid tragedy and calamity. We can erase heartache from the world. We can all live safe and serene lives in our man-made paradise.

We see it every time something bad happens. A congresswoman gets shot and we rush to pass a gun law. A kid falls off a bike and cracks his head open, and we scramble to require helmets. An earthquake devastates a nation, and we use it as a forum to advocate for massive changes in economic and energy policy.

We pass law after law and force edict after edict upon the people of the world, and yet tragedies continue to parade through our lives, unabated.

Each moment we become less and less free, yet not an iota safer.

The last time I felt like this was after Hurricane Katrina. All of the finger pointing. All of the blame-game. All of the political posturing. All brought about by a massive wind that no person could have ever predicted, and no law or agency on earth could have stopped.

I wrote a poem a few days after that storm. It seems like a good time to bring it back out.

Sometimes the wind is fierce
And the rain can fall so hard
And when it's on the line
We draw the losing card
Sometimes in the dead of night
We're left out in the cold
And with each passing hour
New things become old

So we finger point
And spread the blame
But that won't change things
They're still the same
Some things break
Can't make them whole
There are just some things beyond our control
Yes there are just some things beyond our control

Sometimes I yell and scream
That it is just not fair
Does anybody hear me?
Does anybody care?
I'm tripping over unanswered prayers
Away they drift into thin air

So I finger point
And spread the blame
But that won't change things
They're still the same
Some things break
Can't make them whole
There are just some things beyond my control
Yes there are just some things beyond my control

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

General misunderstanding

Paul Abrams trotted out one of the favorite progressive arguments for virtually unlimited federal power in a March 9 Huffington Post article.

The good ole' "general welfare" clause.

Abrams' brings quite an academic pedigree to the party, Yale educated, summa cum laude, multiple advanced degrees, which goes to show an Ivy League education doesn't guarantee a student will actually graduate knowing anything.

OK, perhaps that's a bit harsh. He may be a fine lawyer and an excellent medical doctor, but a constitutional scholar - not so much.

Abrams' argument goes like this.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 grants the United States government the unqualified and unlimited power to raise and spend money, for example, to: provide healthcare for the elderly (or for everyone); provide old-age pension; build roads, bridges, train tracks, airports, electric grids, libraries, swimming pools, housing; educate our children, re-train the unemployed, provide pre-school and day care; fund public health projects; invest in and conduct basic research; provide subsidies for agriculture; save the auto industry; create internets; and, yes, Tea Party Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), even provide emergency aid from natural disasters, and so forth. All subsumed under the authority to spend for the general welfare.

This raises a couple of interesting questions.

First off, if the very first clause of Article 1 Sec. 8 grants unlimited and unqualified authority for the federal government to do any damn thing it wants, why did the framers bother to waste ink enumerating all of those other powers? I mean, they were handwriting the thing for goodness sake. Seems to me an economy of words would have definitely been in order.

Secondly, how in the world can you square Abrams' view of "general welfare" with James Madison's assertion in Federalist 45 that the powers granted to the federal government are "few and defined"?

Oh yeah, you can't.

And Madison didn't.

In fact, the "Father of the Constitution" actually addressed this very argument.

“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”

You can look to the ratifying conventions for those proofs. In fact, the "anti-federalists" feared that people like Abrams would come along and make the very arguments he advances. The pro-constitutionalists assured them this wouldn't happen - that the government powers were in fact limited and defined.

Heck, even Alexander Hamilton, who was most hostile to the concept of limiting federal power, conceded as much.

“This specification of particulars [the 18 enumerated powers of Article I, Section 8] evidently excludes all pretension to a general legislative authority, because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd as well as useless if a general authority was intended.”

Thanks for answering that first question for me, Alex.

Abrams' runs into trouble because he doesn't understand what the framers meant by "general welfare" and "common defense". The first words of those two phrases hold the key. General and common. The phrase simply means that any tax collected must be collected to the benefit of the United States as a whole (and only for the purposes constitutionally enumerated), not for partial or sectional (ie. special) interests. You know, swimming pools, health care for the elderly, and internets. (I don't know what "internets" are. Ask Abrams.)

The power to pursue the things Abrams advocates lies with the states. As Madison put it:

The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.

Abrams goes on to discuss the "necessary and proper" clause. I think in light of the complete dismantling of his first point, we can leave that alone for the time being.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Keep your stinkin' money

The Florida Supreme Court ruled today that Gov. Rick Scott can reject $2.4 billion in federal money for high speed rail.

"Our taxpayers aren't going to take the risk of the cost overrun of building it,"  Scott said.

He estimates the project will cost $3 billion. And if we examine the history of virtually every other government funded project in the history of humankind, it would be a pretty safe wager to bet that it would cost even more than that.

Sure, the governor received assurances that private money will cover cost overruns. Yeah. Right. After the private entities that will benefit from the project receive a barrel full of tax write-offs, kickbacks and backroom deals to its further benefit.

How about this: if the private sector wants high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando so bad, it ponies up and funds the entire thing itself.

I can tell you exactly why that won't happen. It's a money loser. High speed rail is another project that certain sectors would benefit from, but those folks aren't stupid. They know the project will never turn a real profit. It's too risky to take on. So they lobby and beg the government to subsidize it. That way, they receive the benefit without assuming the risk.

Crony capitalism at its best.

So, good for Gov. Scott for rejecting the money. He recognizes that high speed rail, while probably a "good" idea, in some sense of the word good, isn't the priority for his state right now. There exist other more pressing matters to deal with.

Scott's move illustrates exactly what every state needs to do. Reject the carrot and stick routine the feds want to play. Federal funds always come at a price. Reject the carrot and you don't have to worry about getting swatted with the stick.

Not that Scott is operating purely on principle. He wants federal money for ports.

But at least his stand against federal high speed rail funding proves that states can refuse to play the game.

Other states need to take note. Because we can never have a serious move toward reestablishing the proper balance of power between the state and federal governments until the states get their snouts out of the federal trough. Until they do, the feds will always hold the states under its thumb.