Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Anatomy of Gun Control Debates in Congress

(first published in North State Journal 2/28/18)

As shocking as the Parkland school shootings were, there have been other school shootings in American history that have been equally as ‘shocking’: the Columbine murders in 1999, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and perhaps the most disturbing school shooting ever, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Massachusetts in 2012.

They followed the same pattern: mentally-disturbed individuals somehow gained access to semi-automatic weapons and went to the school to exact revenge for bullying or because ‘demons told them’ to do so.

Sadly, the debate following each massacre usually follows the following script and rhythm:
  1. Anti-gun activists call for more gun control.
  2. Pro-gun groups assert Second Amendment rights.
  3. People call for more early intervention for severely-disturbed psychiatric patients.
  4. Conservatives call for more family values and better parenting.
  5. People start pointing fingers at violent video games to try to stop them.
  6. Congress passes something minor that supposedly closes some gun show loophole.
And then the energy dissipates like a passing thunderstorm. Until the next mass shooting on a school campus.

What can be different this time around?

First of all, some facts might help frame the debate:

  • It is estimated close to 80 million people own a firearm in the United States, perhaps 30% of all adults in the nation.
  • 120 million people live in a household where a gun is present.
  • An estimated 300 million firearms are in someone’s hands in America today.
  • 3% of all adults in America, roughly 7.2 million, own close to 50% of all firearms, roughly 20 per owner, mostly gun collectors and avid hunters.
  • 30,000 deaths per year can be attributed to a firearm. Close to 2/3rds are suicides; the rest are homicides. 
  • 10 million assault rifles may be in circulation in the US today.

When it comes to politics, legislators have to first consider ‘the art of the possible’. Federal government confiscation of 10 million assault rifles or 300 million firearms simply is not a viable solution when one considers the magnitude and danger of such an undertaking.

Those are simply massive numbers.

99.99% of all gun owners do not use guns for violent purposes against another person each year.

Plus they have Second Amendment rights to own a gun. Gun control activists would have a greater chance of repealing the 2nd Amendment than they would confiscating some, part or all of the firearms in America today. Which would be next to zero.

Instead of considering comprehensive legislation which will probably peter out as so many have done before, perhaps there is one issue where all sides could agree to focus legislative attention and see if a small change can yield at least some positive results.

As in no more mass shootings in public schools.

In 1967, California passed the landmark Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act which made it very difficult for one person to commit another person involuntarily through the judicial system to a psychiatric hospital without evidence of that person harming someone or themselves. The criteria for involuntary admission shifted from proof of the individual’s inability to make ‘responsible choices’ to the ‘presence of dangerousness’ of that person.

We have had a collision of individual personal privacy rights versus protecting the common welfare of our citizens and schools ever since with no clear rectification on the horizon. We can’t sit back and wait to see if another mentally disturbed person kills more school children before committing them to a mental hospital.

Perhaps everyone needs to start looking at this issue through the other end of their telescope and worldview and focus on finding one solution that might work.

Correcting our admittance standards and process for committing seriously mentally-ill people like the shooter in Parkland Florida to a mental institution before they kill dozens of young students is a place to start.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Is Health Care A 'Right'?

(first published in North State Journal 2/21/18)

A young man recently asked this question:

'Is health care a right? Explain'

"'Individual Rights' tend to be free” was the reflexive answer. “Everything else is negotiated between parties and factions in the legislative process about who is going to pay for whatever government program is being proposed'.

The first 10 Bill of Rights amendments concern freedoms that would be guaranteed in the new democratic republic. 

We are free to speak at no monetary cost to anyone. We are free to worship in any religious tradition we choose and no one is forced to pay for our actions. We can print anything in the press as long as we pay for the computers, internet and printers to circulate our thoughts.

Not the government.

The 2nd Amendment guarantees the right for an individual to bear arms. The government does not pay for them.

The 3rd Amendment restricts the quartering of soldiers in our homes. Freedom of privacy in one form in essence.

The 4th Amendment protects us all from unwarranted invasion of our homes for search and seizure of evidence without a warrant based on probable cause. Another defense of our right to privacy essentially.

The 5th Amendment guarantees our right to be considered 'innocent until proven guilty'.  It might cost a lot in legal fees to defend that innocence but not from appropriated tax dollars unless you are indigent and need legal aid.

The 6th Amendment guarantees our right to a speedy and fair trial which might cost money for legal defense but not from appropriated tax dollars.

The 7th Amendment guarantees our right to jury trials in federal civil cases involving amounts of more than $20. 

The 8th Amendment protects us from excessive bail or 'cruel and unusual punishment'. No federal governmental appropriations are involved unless you count the billions of dollars spent each year to house hundreds of thousands of prisoners convicted of felonies, many of whom are in for life sentences instead of receiving the ‘cruel and usual punishment’ of the death penalty.

The 9th Amendment recognizes other fundamental individual rights not enumerated in the Constitution but doesn't say what they are. None of which seem to require federal appropriations.

The 10th Amendment reserves powers not delegated by the Constitution to Washington to the states and to the individuals. Another declaration of reserving powers to the states and the individual.

When it comes to health care, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, national defense, interest on the national debt, environmental protection, welfare, education and agricultural subsidies, they are legislative issues that have to be debated, negotiated and voted-upon by our elected representatives in the US Congress and Senate as opposed to being ‘rights’ or even ‘entitlements’ that are conferred upon each person at birth.

In the private world, no one has the right to ‘demand’ another person ‘pay for’ their retirement, housing, education or health care needs. Charitable wealthy people often pay for such services out of the goodness of their hearts through eleemosynary organizations such as churches and non-profits but no one really has to do it unless they choose to do so freely on their own accord.

Providing social safety nets and all government programs require political efforts to coerce others to pay for them through majority vote and democratic republicanism.

One ‘freedom’ which should have been enumerated in the Constitution would have guaranteed the freedom of one generation from having to pay the debts of previous generations. Every generation should be forced to pay for the government services they vote into law, except for perhaps the cost of preserving freedom in world wars.

Not the next generation of unborn children who can’t vote yet.

Maybe it is time for a 28th Amendment to say so.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Parade of Debt

Excessive Debt Can Lead to Big Problems Down the Road

(first published in North State Journal 2/14/18)

The two 'easiest' things a politician can do while in elective office are the following:

1) Cut Taxes
2) Raise Spending

No Republican is afraid to let voters keep more of their hard-earned money. No Democrat is afraid to spend more tax money on federal domestic programs. Their core constituencies will love them even more for doing so.

On December 22, 2017, President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress and the Senate cut taxes without any Democrat votes at all. On February 8, 2018, a substantial bipartisan majority of both Congress and the US Senate passed a massive budget bill that increases domestic spending, which includes military spending, by $1.7 trillion over the next decade.

One can almost hear Congress singing 'I Love A Parade! in unison.

‘A Parade of Debt’, that is.

$2.7 trillion of new debt has been loaded up on the backs of our children, grandchildren and great-to-the-nth degree grandchildren in just the last 6 weeks.

President Donald Trump signed both bills. Republicans are 100% responsible for at least $1.07 trillion in new debt from the tax bill. Democrats and Republicans who voted for the budget deal are now on the hook for an additional $1.7 trillion in new debt.

Both tonnages of debt come on top of the additional debt of $10 trillion that was already-baked-in-cake in the budget baselines before President Trump was even elected in 2016.

Adding $2.7 trillion in new debt on top of what CBO already anticipated to be incurred by 2027 means US debt held by the public will exceed 100% of GDP 10 years from now.

Unless, that is, everything works out absolutely perfectly with higher economic growth and employment with hardly a centimeter to spare in terms of margin of error with respect to inflation and interest rate projections.

In 2016, CBO published a document stating one of their 'rules of thumb' for estimation purposes was that if US economic growth exceeded their current projections by 0.3% per year for a decade, our federal deficits at the time could be essentially reduced to zero by 2026. Assuming no other changes to inflation expectations, interest rate shocks or terrorist attacks on domestic soil.

Now that number might have to be 0.4% excess GDP growth annually. Or 0.5%.

The most direct way to get our fiscal house in order rather than hope and pray for higher-than-expected growth rates is for our President and Congress to control and curtail federal spending at every cost and turn.

President ‘Silent Cal’ Coolidge and Republicans in Congress proved the efficacy of spending cuts, followed by tax cuts, followed by economic growth, followed by reduction in federal debt from 1924-1928 when debt was reduced by 25%.

Maybe history will repeat itself.

But Congress and the President have to want to seriously control spending first.

In 1993, I was part of a team on the Republican side of the House Budget Committee that produced a proposed budget which reduced projected federal spending by $500 billion over 5 years, about 5% in total, from a base budget of $1.38 trillion in FY 1992.

We were about laughed out of Congress by the then-Republican leadership and caucus members plus the Democrats and the national media.

4 years later, the core of that document, 'Cutting Spending First' was passed as the base legislative language of The Balanced Budget Agreement of 1997 which produced the first, and only, 4 balanced budgets since the 1950s.

There were heroic Republicans and Democrats who came together over those 5 years to do something great for this nation at the time which quite honestly, most people thought would last for decades.

The euphoria lasted until September 11. 2001. 9/11.

It is time for another crop of heroic Americans to do the same now.

Who will they be in Washington this time around?

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

'30 Million Jobs Have Been Created Since President Trump Took Office!'

(first published in the North State Journal 2/7/18)

The headline above could have been written with a straight-face by any media outlet and been technically 'true' about the American economy in the last year since President Trump took office.

The only problem is that the following sub-headline would have to have been published below it stating this other ‘inconvenient truth' about the dynamic American economy:

'27.8 Million Jobs Also Have Been Destroyed Under President Trump, Too!'

The net difference though is a solid increase of over 2.2 million in 'net new jobs' created since Election Day, November 8, 2016. The key to any understanding of employment numbers under any US President or political party controlling Congress and the US Senate is to look at the net difference in jobs created versus jobs lost during any particular term in office.

Presidents get way too much credit for economic job growth when it is good and way too much blame when the numbers are bad. Except for Presidents Herbert Hoover and Martin van Buren, both of whom made perhaps the exact wrong policy decisions at the exact wrong time when faced with economic downturns and only made bad situations devastatingly worse.

The American economy is a thoroughly dynamic jobs machine that sees roughly 10% of all jobs change during any particular quarter of the year. 5% of total employed positions are created and 5% of existing jobs are eliminated.

The potency of the American economy would make the author of the 'creative destruction' theory of employment in 1942, Joseph Schumpeter, blush with pride.

Businesses are either hiring people for new companies or expanding older ones to meet business demand or they are shedding workers because of loss of business and revenue regardless of who is sitting in the White House or on Capitol Hill every day.

Economic cycles come and go. Political leaders, however, can make decisions and set policies that allow recessions to go away rather quickly and enter into another round of growth and economic expansion. Or they can throw wet blankets on the economy such as we saw under President Obama where super excessive numbers of federal regulations were loaded up on business and higher taxes imposed on individuals that essentially forced much of the American business community to go ‘on strike’ for most of his 8 years in office.

The fact that President Obama is the first, and only, President in recorded modern history to have never presided over a single year where GDP annual growth rates exceeded 3% should tell everyone something about his economic policies. The average annual GDP growth rate during his entire 8 years as President was only about 1.6%.

The key thing to remember whenever you see news reports about 'unemployment rates' is that the only true barometer of such things is the absolute number of people who are currently working in a full-time job, not the unemployment rate.

The ‘unemployment rate’ is an easily manipulated and misunderstood statistic that should be retired forever. It is based on the number of people who are ‘actively looking’ for a job which can distort the unemployment rate if people get discouraged and leave the workforce altogether.

The much more meaningful statistic is the absolute number of people who are working full-time which at the end of 2017 was 153,337,000 people as indicated in the chart below. If you follow the monthly reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and chart it like you would do a baseball game, you would very clearly see the relative health or sickness of the US economy due to the total number of people working full-time.

If the US economy is allowed to function without excessive regulation and taxation, 200,000 or more Americans each month might be able to find that great job that has eluded them for the past decade.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

President Andrew Jackson Responds to 'The Sanctuary State Nullification Act of California'

'Old Hickory' himself, President Andrew Jackson
Flag of the State of South Carolina

(Note: South Carolina threatened to resist federal tariff acts of 1828 and 1832 and thereby ‘nullify’ federal authority to pass national laws. President Andrew Jackson, a staunch ‘state’s rights’ supporter and patron saint of the modern Democratic Party, nonetheless recognized such efforts would destroy the young nation and issued his ‘Proclamation Regarding Nullification’ on December 10, 1832.

We wondered what President Jackson's response would look like if amended slightly and edited down considerably from his original 8800-word proclamation to respond to the California declaration of being a sanctuary state along with dozens of other cities in the country recently)

(first published in North State Journal 1/31/18)

'The State of California has declared itself to be a Sanctuary State in contradiction of all Federal Law and authority.

The ordinance is founded on the strange position that any one State may not only declare an act of Congress null and void, but prohibit its execution.  California wants to assert that the ‘true’ construction of the Constitution permits a State to retain its place in the Union and be bound by none of its laws other than those it may choose to consider as ‘constitutional’.

It is evident that to give the right of resisting laws in such a manner, coupled with the uncontrolled right to decide what federal laws to follow, is to give each state the power to resist all federal laws.

If California considers federal immigration laws null and void, there would be a clear constitutional objection to enforcement in every state, and no immigration law could be enforced anywhere; for all federal law must be equally applied across the entire nation.

If this doctrine had been established at an earlier day, the Union would have been dissolved in its infancy.

Article XIII of the Articles of Confederation states that "every State shall abide by the determinations of Congress on all questions which by that Confederation should be submitted to them."

The most important objective in the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union" than that which existed under the Confederation.

Is it possible that our Constitution written and ratified to "form a more perfect Union" could create a national government solely dependent for its existence on the local interest, the party spirit or a prevailing faction in a single State?

The power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which It was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed must be negated.

Our Constitution does not contain the absurdity of giving power to Congress to make laws and another power to the States to resist them.

The States ratified the Constitution knowing that a veto on the laws of the United States was not reserved to them to exercise by any application on federal law.

The Constitution gave the right of determining immigration law expressly to Congress, not each individual state. The States have no control over the exercise of this right other than changing congressional representatives through bi-annual elections.

The Constitution gave immigration policy power to the representatives of all the people, checked by the representatives of the States, and by the executive branch. California gives this power to the legislature, or the convention of a single State, where neither the people of the different States, nor the States in their separate capacity, nor the chief magistrate elected by all the people in the Union, have any representation or say in the matter.

Whenever any law of the United States displeased any State, such as regarding abortion, taxation, or environmental protection, and they acted to nullify it as California is doing now on federal immigration law, we would soon cease to be a nation.

The States have not retained their sovereignty. When they joined the Union, they surrendered essential parts of their sovereignty such as the right to make treaties, declare war, levy taxes, exercise exclusive judicial and legislative powers and make national immigration policy. The States are no longer sovereign.

The allegiance of their citizens was transferred to the government of the United States. They became American citizens first and owed primary obedience to the Constitution of the United States and to laws made in conformity with the powers vested in Congress.

Not the States.

The inclination of states such as California to declare themselves ‘Sanctuary States’ and thereby nullify federal immigration law unilaterally must therefore be opposed and reversed'

(Jackson's full Proclamation can be accessed here)

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