Archive for May, 2013

Can the Republican Party rebrand itself?

May 31, 2013 5 comments

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a new ad campaign that seems to be fighting against the “Party of No” label that was given to them during the last campaign. To this end the following video was released:

This video was simply labeled “Yes”. I think having Senator Rand Paul and Senator Marco Rubio a prominent portion of the video is a good idea. And having a positive ‘vibe’ is something the party needs.

The only downside I see is this: most of the party is NOT Senator Paul or Senator Rubio. In order for such a marketing campaign to be effective the actual party members must learn to embrace the liberty-focused portion of the party. This portion of the party is more in sync with the party platform than most “regular” Republican politicians. Voters also seem to relate better with this ‘new’ breed of Republican (I say ‘new’, but actually its just a return to limited-government roots). A new positive marketing campaign will have very little impact if the party doesn’t actually make cultural changes within itself. 

Public schools versus the Fifth Amendment

May 30, 2013 Comments off

AP_Documents_BillofRightsOne of the many things that should be theoretically taught at our public schools is the documents this country was founded upon. This includes how the Constitution is a framework meant to give limited powers to the Federal government. Also included would be teaching about the Bill of Rights and how these first Ten Amendments restrict the government from overstepping the bounds of each individuals natural-born rights. I am beginning to wonder if this happens at all because it does not appear public schools understand the Bill of Rights as it applies to them. Some recent news story’s revolving around public schools make it seem the opposite is true: instead of teaching the Bill of Rights they are working against students understanding their natural-born rights.

For this post lets look at one case involving the Fifth Amendment. Illinois high school teacher John Dryden was recently disciplined for informing students of their Fifth Amendment rights. This happened after a questionnaire was handed out to students asking them about risky behaviors, including illegal activities. If this survey had been anonymous there would have been no issue. However each of these mandatory questionnaires required the students name. Because the name was required Mr Dryden decided it would be appropriate for students to know about their Fifth Amendment protected right against self-incrimination. For this act Mr Dryden received a “written warning of improper conduct” and his pay was docked.

The really bad part of this story is that the school does not acknowledge Mr Dryden was right. Here is part of the statement from Batavia School Superintendent Jack Barshinger:

“In this case, district teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists and others worked together for over a year to select a data-gathering instrument that could be used to determine what social or emotional issues our high school students are experiencing, and whether individual students could benefit from new or increased supportive intervention by our staff,”

There are a couple of things that are quite clear from the Superintendents statement. First, there were a lot of people involved in this survey. I don’t think this was an active attack upon the Fifth Amendment by those involved. Instead I believe the well-intended culture of the teachers, social works, guidance counselors,  etc… prevented them from seeing the moral and legal implications of what they were doing. Because this survey was done ‘for the children’ those involved believed they were doing the right thing. With their ‘ends justify the means’ attitude those involved simply don’t understand that it is not OK to ignore the natural-born rights of American citizens.

Some would say the Fifth Amendment does not apply because the information is not intended to be used in a criminal fashion. That claim falls empty. Receiving data about who does and doesn’t become involved in illegal activity would allow the schools police officer to focus on ‘problem kids’. The questionnaire could be used to conduct targeted locker searches or get warrants to search the children’s homes. Is that likely to happen? I don’t know. But the Bill of Rights were setup to prevent such situation from even happening.

Another thing that is clear from the superintendents statement is the belief that schools much “intervene” anywhere they see fit. It is not the job of the school to determine what activities (legal or illegal) the students are involved in when they are not on school grounds. Outside of the school it is the responsibility of parents to teach students right from wrong. If a student comes to a teacher or guidance councilor and asks for help that would be a different issue. However that is not the case. This is a situation where the school feels it is their job to interject into the private lives of students/citizens. Any American citizens that  believes in social freedom should see such situations as an overstep in authority by the government.

Going forward I believe the culture within public schools must be examined. I do not believe the case with Mr Dryden was a conscience attack upon the Fifth Amendment. Instead I believe well intended people working for the school district failed to understand the legal and moral implication of their actions. When a teacher was brave enough to point out the rights of citizens (even children) he was punished by the very same school district that behaved wrongly. Perhaps it is time for teachers and other public workers to take constitutional classes themselves.

R.I.P. Keynesian Economics. Now can we get back to real economic progress?

May 28, 2013 1 comment

1343667790Over at the Independent Institute there is a good article from Burt Abrams providing one more rather large piece of evidence that Keynesian Economics simply doesn’t work. Mr. Abrams looks at how the $787 billion stimulus passed in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) simply did nothing to improve the economy. US citizens should be downright livid about the gambled loss of three-quarters of a trillion taxpayer dollars.

But, instead of getting made I will instead re-post the obituary nicely written by Mr. Abrams. Here is the obituary in its entirety:

Obituary: Keynesian Economics, R.I.P.

Keynesian Economics, aged 77, died peacefully today after a prolonged illness and complications associated with the Great Recession. Born in the 1930′s of British parentage, it rose to preeminence as the dominant macroeconomic theory. It is survived by well-intentioned, but misguided, older economists and politicians who have difficulty facing statistical evidence and commonsense. It leaves a legacy of massive public indebtedness, unsustainable entitlement programs, and slowly growing and sometimes bankrupt economies.

In the 1960′s, its short-run orientation was embraced warmly by U.S. politicians of all persuasions. Its disregard for anything other than the short run was succinctly summed up by its motto, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” In it last years, it provided the justification for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that undertook bizarre public policies that failed basic benefit-cost assessments: “Cash for Clunkers” that destroyed perfectly usable automobiles, construction of airports in the middle of nowhere (but close to congressmen’s home towns), installation of high-speed rail systems that traversed sparsely settled parts of the country, often without passengers, 5 mph faster than the trains they replaced, and subsidies to wasteful companies that eventually went bankrupt. The Act did not return the economy to full employment as promised but did boost the country’s national debt and helped to lower its credit rating.

Keynesian deficit stimulus spending made the United States, once the greatest and wealthiest country in the world, dependent on foreign lenders. The taxes needed to fund its bloated government spending and service its national debt discouraged the private sector and crowded-out private entrepreneurship. Its national debt will burden future generations and slow economic growth for years to come.

After 77 years, the long run had arrived for Keynesian Economics. Internment is in Potter’s Field.

Celebrating the Third Amendment

May 26, 2013 Comments off

AP_Documents_BillofRightsIt seems as a liberty blogger I am always highlighting civil liberties being under attack. Today I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight one of the few Amendments from the Bill of Rights that does not come under constant attack: The Third Amendment. Here is the text of the Third Amendment:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

This Amendment is pretty straightforward: the government cannot force citizens to house soldiers. In today’s world this amendment almost seems silly, since it would be unlikely to happen. However in the past this was a very important amendment.


Before looking at why this amendment is still relevant it is worth looking at the history of the Third Amendment. Much of the information from below comes from the Bill of Rights Institute’s Americapedia.

Back in 1628 King Charles I disbanded Parliament so he could rule England on his own. Parliament understandably was not happy with this move. Sir Edward Coke presented the “Petition of Right” to King Charles I on behalf of Parliament and English citizens. At its core the Petition of Right drew upon the Magna Carta to remind the King that the rights of English citizens came from the rule of law, and not from the King. It’s worth noting that King Charles did accept the Petition of Rights. But, after he continued with the same unlawful behavior King Charles I was beheaded in 1649.

The relevant passage from the Petition of Right is:

VI. And whereas of late great companies of soldiers and mariners have been dispersed into divers counties of the realm, and the inhabitants against their wills have been compelled to receive them into their houses, and there to suffer them to sojourn against the laws and customs of this realm, and to the great grievance and vexation of the people.

English_Bill_of_Rights_of_1689Now to move forward in time just slightly. In 1689 the English Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament to limit the power of the crown. In order to rule King and Queen William and Mary of Orange had to accept the terms of the English Bill of Rights. Much of protections found later in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights can be traced directly back to this document. Included in the English Bill of Rights is the following grievance against King James the Second:

By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law;

The wording of this grievance in the English Bill of Rights is very similar to the language used in the Third Amendment.

Us_declaration_independenceNow we move on to the new world. In 1765 England passed the Quartering Act. This act, among other things, required the colonists to pay for English troops to be quartered or to provide quarter in areas where barracks were not available. In 1774 the Quartering Act was amended to allow British Troops to be housed wherever they desired. This included private homes of citizens. No consent from homeowners was required.

This leads to one final important document relevant to the Bill of Rights Third Amendment  the Declaration of Independence (I hope most US citizens know this was signed in 1776). In the Indictment section of the Declaration there was one charge against Great Britain and the King relevant tot he Third Amendment:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us

The irony was not lost upon the signers of the Declaration of Independence that less than a century after the signing of the English Bill of Rights that the rights of citizens in the new land were being ignored.

Now that the history of the Third Amendment has been reviewed it is important to note that the US Supreme Court has never taken a case where the direct meaning of the amendment must be determined. (If only the same could be said about other civil rights.)

But that does not mean this Amendment is irrelevant in the modern world. The opposite is true in fact. The Third Amendment is often cited as one of the sources in the US Constitution that provides the right of privacy. An important case utilizing the right of privacy constitutional right is Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). In this decision includes the following text:

The Third Amendment, in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers “in any house” in time of peace without the consent of the owner, is another facet of that privacy.

While the Third Amendment was not a major portion of the decision in this case; it was critical nonetheless in determining the importance of privacy and property rights for US Citizens.

Many arguments used by Second Amendment advocates involves the Third Amendment. The general theory being that the only way to prevent ones property from being unlawfully used by soldiers is to be armed and protect private property. Those believing this argument see the Second and Third Amendments as complementary.

Looking forward I do not expect the Supreme Court to make any decisions directly relating to the Third Amendment. Looking at the history of this Amendment it is quite difficult to see such situations arising that would require troops to take over private citizens homes for quartering. I do however look forward to the Third Amendments possible use as a defense in privacy and Second Amendment cases.

Don’t trample on the 5th Amendment going after Lerner

May 24, 2013 3 comments

AP_Documents_BillofRightsEarlier this week I followed the House Oversight Committee hearing regarding the IRS scandal.  Lois Lerner, the Director of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Division, gave an opening statement before the Congressional Committee. Then she was excused after pleading the Fifth Amendment. As I stated yesterday, I believe Ms Lerner should be fired. However I am quite concerned that many are calling for her to be put back in the ‘hot seat’ because she ‘waived’ her Fifth Amendment rights.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa may have let her leave the hearing, but he plans to drag her back in. Here is the statement Issa provided to POLITICO:

“When I asked her her questions from the very beginning, I did so so she could assert her rights prior to any statement,” Issa told POLITICO. “She chose not to do so — so she waived.”

I would expect this to be a top priority for Issa when Congress returns in June. And I expect Issa to attack the Fifth Amendment at that time. The legality of this area is very murky. Here is an excerpt from Doug Mataconis’s article on the subject:

In the end, all that Lerner’s statement constitutes is a declaration of her own innocence. Given that, the Reiner Court’s holding that the Fifth Amendment privilege still applies to people who claim to be innocent strongly suggests that she did not waive her rights merely be making a statement in which she states that she is innocent.. Indeed, to the extent there is any doubt on this issue I would expect that a judge is going to err on the side of protecting her rights at this stage, especially given the fact that this is a Congressional hearing and not a Grand Jury proceeding or criminal trial and the fact that there is an ongoing FBI investigation of this matter of which Lerner is likely to be, at the very least, a person of interest. A finding that Lerner waived her rights in this Committee hearing would, potentially, prejudice her ability to assert those rights in a law enforcement interrogation.

There will be more to come on this I am sure, but I submit that the default rule of erring on the side of liberty is one that people examining the issue would do well to apply.

I hope the Congressional Committee will rule on the side of liberty as Mr Mataconis suggests. Just because it appears someone appears to have violated other US Citizens First Amendment rights does not excuse violating her Fifth Amendment rights. Even if the Fifth Amendment does not match this situation perfectly (because it technically isn’t a court) it would be unwise for Congress to deny her the right to keep silent when she may self-in-criminalize. Such precedence would show Congress has no respect for the rights of citizens when they are ‘inconvenient’.

I will end this post in the way I find most appropriate, by posting the text from the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation


PS. There are a couple more recent big stories in regards to Lerner. First she has refused to resign as asked, and second she apparently personally sent some of the letters to Tea Party groups being targeted.

Why does Lois Lerner still have her job?

May 23, 2013 2 comments

AP_Documents_BillofRightsYesterday I posted about the House Oversight Committee hearing regarding the IRS scandal. I posted my thoughts about the testimony from Douglas Shulman, who was the Commissioner of the IRS during the scandal period; Neal Wolin, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury; and J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. One item I did not post about was the testimony from Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Division. I decided to write separately about Ms Lerner since she provided testimony and then pleaded the 5th.

Before the hearing yesterday Lois provided a two and a half-minute testimony before the Committee. The testimony can be seen here on Politico. At the end of her testimony she was dismissed by Rep. Issa since she made it clear she would not be answering questions. Apparently her counsel had advised her pleading the fifth would be best in this situation. The Fifth Amendment is used to protect citizens from self-incriminating themselves. Here is the exact text of the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

In my mind there are two important questions left after Ms Lerner chose to plead the fifth. First, can a person plead the fifth after providing testimony? Second, why does Ms Lerner still have her job after pleading the fifth?

For the first question I will defer to an excellent article over at United Liberty from Jason Pye. At the core of this issue is the fact Ms Lerner provided testimony (what she calls an opening statement) but then refused to allow cross-examination. Did Ms Lerner waive her right to pleading the fifth when she provided testimony? The Supreme Court in the past has ruled that the fifth cannot be utilized once testimony is given. It really comes down to the whether the opening statement is considered testimony. Mr Pye’s article explains this much better than I ever could.

Now, the second question I have no problems answering: Ms Lerner should be fired immediately. As the Director of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Division she is in the employee of the American people. She must also answer to the oversight power provided to Congress. By choosing not to answer questions from the oversight committee she has proven herself to be an unfit employee. Pleading the fifth may protect her from testifying against herself in criminal matters; however it does not protect her job as a high-level manager working for the taxpayers. It is hard to comprehend how she still has her job. As a high-level manager she is accountable for her actions and for those that work in her division. By choosing not to take accountability she has proven herself unfit as a manger and should be excused from her job immediately.

Going forward this will be an interesting case to watch. Personally I think we will see Ms Lerner testify with immunity being provided. Once she is given immunity it is hard for Ms Lerner to publicly justify why she will not answer to Congress or the American people. But, as I said before, no matter what Ms Lerner should be fired and prevented from ever working on the taxpayer dime again.

Today’s House IRS Hearing had almost no answers

May 22, 2013 2 comments

1322756701Today the House Oversight Committee held a hearing for the IRS scandal. Testifying before the Committee were three individuals: Douglas Shulman, who was the Commissioner of the IRS during the scandal period; Neal Wolin, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury; and J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

I watched four and a half hours of this hearing while live tweeting (about 125 tweets during that time-frame). In this hearing Mr. Wolin got the least amount of attention. He basically admitted he gets his info the same place as the President: from the press. In fact at one time he said the Department of Treasure has no involvement in IRS affairs because it would be seen as political influence from the administration if he did so. Most of those asking the questions basically ignored Wolin (which likely suited him fine).

Mr George got a lot more attention. Early on Mr. George annoyed me in the proceedings by saying the IRS had the rights to target Americans based upon politics, although he didn’t really state if that was good or bad. But to make it worse he thought all the IRS should be held accountable for was lack of training. He appeared to hold the opinion that mistakes made were all training related. There was an interesting section where Representative Meehan was getting quite mad that Mr. George was avoiding his questions. Rep. Meehan said to Mr. George: “no you can’t get back to me, he just whispered in your ear, what did he say!” This was just after Mr. George was speaking with his ‘counsel’. At one point during his testimony Mr. George did refuse to comment because “I don’t want to go to jail.” I expect to see this taken out of context many times going forth as it had to do with what info he can/can’t speak to and not what he was trying to hide.

Summarizing Mr. Shulman’s testimony can be done with a few words: incompetent, clueless, and liar. All three of these words were either used or alluded to throughout the hearing, and Mr. Shulman did nothing to change those characterizations. Early on Mr. Shulman refused to answer if it was OK for the IRS to lie to Congress. It all went down-hill from that point. An interesting point to note is that more than one Representative had to ask Mr. Shulman if he understood he was under oath. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Mr. Shulman apparently gets so many letters from Congress and meetings with the President that he can’t remember any of them. Finally the final kicker to show how worthless Mr. Shulman was/is as management: he would not accept responsibility for anything that happened under his time as management, but does acknowledge it happened. Hopefully this guy never gets a job on the taxpayer’s dime ever again in his lifetime!

Another thing worth mentioning in this proceeding was the behavior of some (not all) of the Democrat Representatives. Many of the Dem Reps kept hounding upon the fact that Citizens United is the root cause of this IRS scandal. I guess the theory goes like this: “it’s OK if the IRS broke the law and trampled on First Amendment rights of American citizens because it was caused by a Supreme Court decision I disagree with”. Representative Grisham was particularly bad on this Citizens United misdirect. She honestly didn’t seem to care if the IRS did anything illegal. In fact she was saying any of these organizations should be forced to reveal the donor list despite what the current law says.

I have many more notes. However I am so disgusted with the pure amount of “I know nothing” that came out of the hearing that I’ll end my post here. This hearing also confirmed what I’ve believed for quite some time: the IRS has too much power.

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