Saturday, April 30, 2005

Reforming Social Security Makes More Sense Than Ever

I didn't get to hear all of the president's news conference this week, but what I did hear about his proposals for reforming Social Security (SS) impressed me very much. Most interesting to me was the overall strategy of his fix, and that brought into focus even more sharply than I laid out in my previous post on this subject.

The vision that the president displayed for all to see was that he wants to change the way people think about SS. Under the current pay-as-you-go system, the money we pay into the system as workers is used to pay those already retired, widowed, or orphaned. So you don't get the money you pay in. It's not "your money", as so many believe. He wants to change people's attitude about it by allowing those of us who want to to put part of that money aside in our own private account. That money will always be there for us and us alone.

Despite early attempts by the Democrats to deny the undeniable fate of SS if we do nothing, everyone now recognizes that SS is in trouble. The only disagreement is how to fix the problem. The president is showing leadership by proposing very minor changes. The Democrats, by their own admission, have no such plan. They don't know what to do except try to protect the current fundamentally flawed system.

One of the proposals put forth by the president this week was to consider reducing benefits to the wealthy, and raise benfits for the poor. The Democrats oppose this proposal as they did during the debates to "fix" SS in the previous decades because they don't want the American people to realize that this is just a welfare program for the poor. The Democrats want EVERYONE to receive SS benefits regardless of income or need. This view is mainly because the Democrats don't want to see one of the socialist bastions of the New Deal era modified so that it supports capitalism and and actually uses the concept of the free market and capitalism to improve the program. Their opposition isn't because they want to make the system better and help more people, it is purely political. They see one more source of their political power, the power of controlling the retirement prospects of the people, being devolved to the from the central government to the people. Despite their fervent statements about "being for the little guy", the Democrats don't trust the people to make the "right choices" about money.

The president understands that without significant tax increases, or significant reductions in payouts, by 2042 no one will recieve more than 70% of their promised benefits. The private accounts will not solve this problem, but it will lessen the burden on the SS trust fund. So the severity of the tax increases and/or benefit cuts will reduced by the amount of money diverted to private accounts that will generate far greater return than traditional SS money. Private accounts within the SS system will make the entire system more efficient, and better able to support more people.

Support the changes outlined by the president. They are right for SS, and their are right for our future.

This post also appears on Blogger News Network.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

How Much of the Federal Government is Un-Constitutional?

The federal government has overstepped its Constitutional authority in the creation of the gigantic bureaucracy of departments, agencies, and regulations. A very high percentage of the federal bureaucracy and the supporting laws and regulations take from the states and the people their Constitutional rights and prerogatives.

It was not always this way, of course. The Civil War went a long way to increase the power and authority of the federal government over that which had been until then the power of the states. The chaos that followed the end of the Civil War was brought into “order” by the intervention of the federal government into what had until then always recognized as the responsibility of the states.

Some of these interventions made sense, such as the adoption of federal currency in lieu of state-sponsored currencies. Despite the clear federal authority in the establishment and regulation of a national currency, many states continued to coin their own currency. The need for a common currency, especially given the urgency of the Reconstruction period, made its establishment and supremacy an important part of the restoration of the Unite States.

The New Deal of the 1930’s further expanded federal authority, but did it exponentially. There were new agencies, departments, authorities set up; an alphabet soup of new federal power over the states and the people. The New Deal laid the foundation for many new and expensive federal programs, departments, and regulations that continued throughout the later part of the 20th century, and unprecedented expansion of federal authority, and the consequential contraction of state and local control.

Ronald Reagan once said that “when government expands, liberty contracts.” The truth of that statement is obvious when we consider how strong the federal government, and how weak the states and the people have become.

The Constitution, however, is quite specific on those powers granted to the federal government, and those reserved to the states, and/or to the people.

Here is Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, on the specific power of the legislative branch of the federal government:

Clause 1: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Clause 2: To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

Clause 3: To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

Clause 4: To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

Clause 5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

Clause 6: To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

Clause 7: To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

Clause 8: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Clause 9: To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

Clause 10: To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

Clause 11: To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Clause 12: To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

Clause 13: To provide and maintain a Navy;

Clause 14: To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

Clause 15: To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

Clause 16: To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Clause 17: To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;--And

Clause 18: To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

That’s it. Those are the powers granted to Congress in the Constitution. Clause 1 is often construed to allow the enacting of laws such as those of the New Deal, in that it discusses the promotion of “the general welfare of the United States”. In reality, however, Clause 1 refers only to the laying and collecting of taxes and duties to support the enforcement of the powers granted by the other 17 clauses of the Constitution.

The framers of the Constitution were very concerned about the potential of too much power concentrated in too few hands, and subsequently drafted the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution, part of the original Bill of Rights, to specifically limit the power of the federal government. These two amendments define even more closely the powers of the federal government versus those of the states and the people:

Article [IX.] The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article [X.]
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

These two amendments essentially state that only those powers specifically spelled out in the Constitution as belonging to the federal government actually belong to the federal government. All other rights and powers are “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

There is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes Social Security, or No Child Left Behind, or the EPA, or the Farm Bureau, or the Department of Education, or Housing, or any of the New Deal or subsequent or related departments, agencies, or bureaus. Nothing. All of the laws passed and signed relating to these things are, in this author’s opinion, un-Constitutional.

The power of the bureaucracy is today so entrenched that the likelihood of reverting control back to the states or the people is obviously remote, but it is important to at least recognize that our system is completely out of alignment with what the framers intended. With this recognition we can begin to take the small steps to restoring to the states and to the people their rightful authority over their lives, their schools, their privacy, and their liberty.

This post also appears on Blogger News Network.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Slide Show From Iraq

The North County Times in northern San Diego County here in southern California has published a great slide show based on one of their photojournalist's visits to Irag prior to the historic vote in January.

It's worth a long look.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Filibuster: Should it Stay or Should it Go?

Long-time political reporter/columnist Robert Novak wrote an excellent piece about the history of the filibuster, and how it has been alternatively praised and reviled by many. I have been undecided about the whether Senate Republicans should 'go nuclear' by using a parliamentary procedure to change Senate rules to require only a majority vote on judicial appointments, but now am leaning in support of such a change.

For sure, changing the filibuster rules would favor the majority party over the minority, and over time will enable whichever party is in control to "pack the courts" with judges they feel are best suited for the job, regardless of what the minority party thinks about it. But I think that the Constitution is pretty clear about when a so-called "super majority" vote should be used, and judicial appointments aren't one of them. In fact, if one is to use that argument, that only super majority votes specifically called for in the Constitution should be observed, then the filibuster should be done away with altogether, not just for judicial appointments.

Novak's comments about Robert Byrd's use of parliamentary procedures to change or amend Senate rules when it suited his purposes certainly brings a new angle to the argument currently being used by Democrats in the Senate who oppose the rule change regarding the filibuster. They argue that elimination of the filibuster would impose 'tyranny of the majority', yet to my thinking, the USE of the filibuster imposes the tyranny of the minority.

Elimination of the filibuster rule poses risks both to both parties, but it is a risk I am reluctantly willing to take. It simply means that attaining and holding a majority in both houses of Congress will be even more critical than it ever was.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Is Abortion Murder?

As discussed in this earlier post, a large percent of those opposed to abortion consider it the murder of an unborn person. However, many of those who support abortion rights argue that until birth, the unborn is simply a fetus with only the potential to become a person—if it survives until birth.

The latter position has seen a steady undermining of support as medical science continues to push back the viability of premature babies, suggesting to this author that the only valid question about fetal viability is one regarding the viability of the flesh. If the flesh is sustained by either the mother's body or by the continued advances and application of medical science, then the ultimate viability of the baby is no longer in question. For those us of who believe that each human is made up of a physical body and a soul—the latter of Devine origins—it would appear, therefore, that in the case of fetal viability, the soul is willing if the body is able. In other words, the earlier we are able to ensure the viability of a human fetus through the intervention of medical science, the earlier we can continue to claim viability of an unborn person.

Logic therefore suggests that in time, medical science will make fetal viability from conception to be the norm. It may not happen next year, or in ten years, or even a hundred years, but if history is any guide, that day will come.

Frankly, we could even consider a more rudimentary argument: Like in the Shiavo case, a newborn baby cannot feed itself. Without the constant care and feeding of it's mother, a newborn will die of starvation. If the baby is neglected by it's mother, she is held liable for it's death. How is it that a one day old baby different from one three days BEFORE birth, or three MONTHS before birth?

Given the seemingly apparent eventuality that medical science will continue to expand fetal viability, can anyone honestly argue that human life begins at birth? If all it takes to assure the viability of a fetus is better and better science, then how can anyone believe that the deliberate ending of a pregnancy is anything short of murder? If the baby could have survived to cry for his mother, wet himself, slobbered strained carrots all over his face, crawled over to pet his family dog, laughed with his dad, played baseball, read books, rode his bike, skinned his knee, and all the other things humans can and should expect to do, then how can we as a society accept as a mother's constitutional right the ability to end that pregnancy?

This post also appears on Blogger News Network.

Friday, April 08, 2005

What is the Meaning of Life?

The recent deaths of Terri Schiavo and of Pope John Paul II have brought into focus once again the debate over human life; when does it begin, and when should it end? It is a very difficult and complex subject and one that requires a thorough look into the soul of mankind. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Does God exist?

These are all deeply personal questions and one that we each must answer not only for ourselves, but also for society as a whole. On the one hand, we want to reserve unto ourselves the right to make such decisions, at least when our own lives hinge upon the outcome. The Schiavo case makes that clear. On the other hand, we must together as a society arrive at consensus on these questions, especially as it relates to questions of capital punishment and abortion.

Abortion is perhaps the most important of these questions. In deciding the Roe v. Wade case, the US Supreme Court essentially held that there is an implied right to privacy in the US Constitution, and that the right of a woman to decide whether to abort her child is hers, and hers alone. However, those opposed to abortion the murder of an innocent baby. They believe that society has an obligation to protect that baby’s life while in the womb just as society would protect it after birth. Fortunately, almost everyone on both sides of the debate believe that abortion is should be a last resort.

The interesting thing about the Roe v. Wade decision is that if it is ever reversed, it would not make abortion illegal; it would simply return to the states the power to regulate, ban, or allow abortion. Some states would ban it altogether, while some would allow it.

As a libertarian-leaning Republican, I support the right of a woman to choose whether to abort a pregnancy. Since medical science has given us safe abortion procedures (for the mother), then the question becomes ‘who shall make the choice’? Shall it be the state, or the individual? That we have a choice is not in question. Science has given us the choice. The only relevant question is ‘who makes the choice’. The libertarian in me makes that an easy answer.

However, if the unborn is considered a person, as it is by those opposed to abortion, should not society step in to protect that person? If the unborn are, indeed, people with the same rights as those us outside the womb, then shouldn’t ALL abortions be banned, including those “cases of rape or incest” that many opposed to abortion cite as exceptions to abortion bans?

In the case of capital punishment, the question society must answer is whether to apply the death penalty to those among us who have been convicted of capital crimes. Does a society have the right to protect itself from these violent criminals? I think everyone would answer yes to that question, but do we also have the right to administer the death penalty? Nationwide polls consistently have shown that the American people support the death penalty for capital crimes. In fact, given the tragic Jessica Lunsford case, I believe that many Americans would support expanding the death penalty to include those convicted molesting children.

It is strangely ironic that those who typically support abortion rights usually also oppose war and capital punishment, and that those who are typically opposed to abortion also usually support capital punishment and war. To put it another way, there are people who believe it’s OK to kill unborn children, but wrong to kill murderers or our enemies in war. And there are people who believe it is wrong to kill unborn children, but OK to kill murderers and wartime enemies.

Another way to look at it, however, would be to say that most people agree that killing human beings under certain circumstances is OK, we just don’t agree on the circumstances in which killing is acceptable.

The 6th Commandment from the Bible’s Old Testament is most commonly translated as “Thou Shall Not Kill”, but many Biblical scholars say the correct translation should be, “Thou Shall Not Commit Murder”, based on the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Ratsach”. Given this translation, I believe that murder, especially premeditated murder is prohibited, but that capital punishment, killing in war, and other selected circumstances it is acceptable.

So the debate clearly comes down to one of morality, and more specifically who’s morality. Who gets to decide? Since we all live in society with one another, then we must come to concensus as a society on many of these questions. We might not all agree with the decisions, but we must, as a society be able to support the decision.

This post also appears on Blogger News Network.