Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Racists on Racicm

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, it seems fitting to write a little about the United Nations conference on racism being held in Geneva. Officially named the Durban Review Conference in reference to the Durban, South Africa conference on racism in 2001, which was to provide a "framework for guiding governments, non-governmental organizations and other institutions in their efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." The United States boycotted the original conference and Obama's administration, in a move I happen to agree with, has decided to continue that boycott. The US is not the only nation to boycott what once became a forum for denouncing Israel, this year nine countries are refusing to attend the conference while twenty-four more countries' delegations walked out during the opening speech by Iranian president Ahmadinejad.

Why all the controversy? I can think of two reasons off-hand: one, in the case of the USA, the wording of the resolution to be adopted would conflict with the Bill of Rights, in that the resolution attempts to stifle criticisms that might be offensive to a racial or ethnic group; two, the conference, as is often the case with UN conferences, gets derailed for the political ends of member states as a soapbox for their agendas, in this case Ahmadinejad's denunciations of Israel.

I've been trying to find the text of Ahmadinejad's speech, but all I'm finding are comments in reaction to his words. Go here for the Vatican's response, here for the responses by the Office of French President Sarkozy, the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and others. Al Jazeera ran an interesting article including Israel's reaction, as well.

What does all this mean for us? Not much, which is pretty much what any UN resolution means, especially when the organization continues to undermine its own credibility by asking a well known anti-Semite to headline a conference on racism. It's almost like asking Libya to head a committee on Human Rights abuse... but that was back in 2003.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Tax Day

Makes it sound like a holiday, right?

I doubt that most people would think of celebrating today. Even though we all "observe" Tax day, it is not a Federal holiday or a day we take off from work. It is, however, a day when most of us at least think about the amount of money we send to our government. We don't normally notice the withheld income from our paychecks or contemplate what is actually being done with the taxes collected (unless the wrangling about budgets is hitting the news) or even really think about the fact that it is our money being used. That's the whole point of withholding. Out of sight, out of mind. We never see the money in the first place so we never consider the fact that we had it coming.

I'm not going to used this space to rant about what the federal government is doing with your tax dollars, or talk about my opinions on government reaction to the economy, or even talk about "progressive" taxation rates. Ok, maybe a little, but I'll try really hard not to. I want to talk about why tax people? Simple question, right? Not so much.

Taxes are, obviously, how the government pays for its activities. They exist because there are government activities which cannot be paid for in the same manner in which a business makes money, namely the sales of services or materials. We could pay for things like the mail service on a pay-per-use fashion (think stamps and postage) because that is a service provided to the people that the people use regularly and are happy to pay as they go. You don't expect the postal service to send your letter without paying for the stamp, just as you don't expect UPS to send your package without paying them for shipping. So some government services clearly don't need taxes to function. Some, however, clearly do need taxes in order to function. You wouldn't want to pay for police or military on a pay-per-use scale, would you? Of course not, since, by the time you need to use them, you don't want to need to worry about whether or not you can afford to call on them. Therefore, taxes are a necessary part of a functioning society. They are necessary to supply the basic functions of government. What those basic functions are is where we come to disagreements.

Addressing the question of basic function, in our society, must revolve around the confines of the Constitution, first and foremost. It outlined the duties of the government and should be what is followed, whether I believe it currently is being followed as a guideline I will keep to myself, for the moment. Article One, Section 8 of the Constitution starts with this sentence, "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." It's that "general welfare" statement that gets us into trouble and arguments.

"They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It could reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please... Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straitly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect."
-- Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on National Bank, 1791. ME 3:148

While I can find numerous other quotes regarding the use for taxes regarding providing for the general welfare, I think that sums up the original intent far better than most. With it, I begin my case, to be continued...

Oh, so I lied a little about not talking about my opinions on tax policy. Anyone heard about the Tax Tea Parties going on? Simon Jester talks a bit about them, and that's where I found these links. Apparently, there might be some conflicts of interest in demonstrating against government policy (taxation) and First Amendment rights in a few places. I say might, because it looks like changes in paperwork required is what's causing the problems, even if the paperwork was originally approved, like in Vermont and Philly. Then again, in Texas, calling the event "not in the public interest" looks like a political stooge trying to tell the people what should be thought. Though that might just be me.

Atlanta people who want to know more, go here.

Goodness, I seem to have tended more toward domestic policy with the blog than I ever intended. We'll see where I go from here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Sedition is a word not often found in the American vocabulary. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines it as “The raising of commotion in a state, not amounting to insurrection; conduct tending to treason, but without an overt act; excitement of discontent against the government, or of resistance to lawful authority.” That looks like it covers a rather narrow spectrum on the path to treason; but then, what is treason?

According to the Constitution of the United States of America, Article III, Section 3, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.” When is it an act against the United States? Is it an act contrary to the interests of the State, or contrary to the government du jour? Is it treason to act against the government but in support of the nation?

The Constitution was born out of the desire to ensure the freedoms of the people. The authors knew that people need and desire the ability to govern their own lives. To this end, the Constitution was written to limit the ability of the government to interfere in our lives. The balance of power between the three branches of the government was designed to make it more difficult for those in power to encroach on our freedoms. The Bill of Rights was written to more specifically detail what we as a people have a right to; in other words, it details in what things we have a freedom from our government. All of this freedom comes at the cost of our responsibility. We are to be responsible for our own actions, and the consequences thereof. Out Founding Fathers were particularly clear in their personal speeches and writings as to what their opinions on the matter of taking personal responsibility instead of abdicating accountability to an outside force, such as a government, were. A few quotations of what I mean are to follow:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania (1759)

"Against us are... all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty... We are likely to preserve the liberty we have obtained only by unremitting labors and perils." --Thomas Jefferson to Philip Mazzei, 1796. ME 9:336

"The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first."-- Thomas Jefferson

"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined." -- Patrick Henry, Virginia's Ratification convention, 1788

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." -- James Madison

But, as times have changed, must we change our views on for what the government is responsible? As our world and political climate has grown more complicated, are these opinions outdated and no longer functional? I, for one, do not believe that advances in society mean that we must have different principles. I cannot conscience the thought of relinquishing my freedom to gain freedom from my mistakes. The idea of allowing some entity to bail me out of my own mess is unfathomable. If you take responsibility for what I have done, I become indebted to you…I allow you to make my decisions. If you have responsibility for my life and make my decisions, it is no longer mine. Once a person gives over their responsibility, they say that someone else is more knowledgeable about their needs and wants. I don’t know about you, but I believe that no one can better decide for me what I need than I can. If you believe that the people in Washington are better than you at knowing your situation, then by all means, allow them to run your life. But remember, people in power are still mere people. Government is made up of fallible people and there is no guarantee that a government decree is any more trustworthy than the decree of someone on the subway sitting next to you.

The Founding Fathers knew they were mere mortals, as prone to mistakes as the next man. This is why they wanted the Constitution framed in a manner that put the government in a position of subservience to the people. Once the American people remember that our founding documents name us as the source of power, we will need a good, long look at what our government has been doing in the time between then and now.

"Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government" -- James Madison

If the government abandons the ideals of the Constitution and its authors, is it still lawful and moral to support it?

Is it seditious to ask?