Jon Stewart’s view on taxes

While flipping channels tonight, I came across a segment of the Jon Stewart Show where Mr. Stewart claims John Boehner referring to taxation as theft showed a lack of understanding of the United States Constitution.

Here’s a link to the full clip.

I’d be open for Mr. Stewart, or the writer of that joke, to point me to the part of the Constitution he believes Mr. Boehner doesn’t understand.

Article I, Section 8 of the CoTUS gives Congress the power to ‘lay and collect’ taxes. However, it does not say that taxes are not theft.

I’ll give Mr. Stewart the benefit of the doubt that he is referring to meaning of theft as the unlawful taking of another person’s property without their permission. Since the Constitution makes taxing power lawful, then (I’m guessing) Stewart believes taxes are not theft.

However, some folks believe the more salient meaning of theft is the part where another person’s property is taken without their permission. In that view, many taxes are theft.

I’d rather have elected officials who see taxes the way Speaker Boehner sees them than the way Mr. Stewart sees them.

Stewart was miffed that Boehner’s (what he thought was a) “mistake” didn’t get media attention, while President Obama’s lack of understanding of Star Wars and Star Trek did.

Maybe others in the media were concerned that Mr. Boehner’s view on taxes would make sense to people, especially folks fresh off their 2% payroll tax holiday.

Questions for Presidential Candidates

Below are some questions I would like our Presidential candidates to answer. I’ve pulled some of them from posts in my blog category, “Questions for Politicians“.

If you are a reporter who will have the chance to ask the candidates questions, please feel free to steal these.

If elected, you will take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Please describe what that means to you.

What does ‘freedom’ mean to you?

What process, or processes, are legitimate ways to change the Constitution and the scope of government?

Where does Congress derive its power to pass legislation?

Do you believe the powers of Congress are specific or do you believe Congress can pass any law it sees fit? Why?

Can you provide two examples of where you think the Federal government has exceeded its power in the past and why you think this?

Why do you think that the U.S. is the wealthiest country ever?

What criteria should be used to evaluate spending taxpayers’ money?

What criteria should be used to evaluate existing spending programs? Please provide an example of an existing spending program and the criteria you would use to evaluate its effectiveness.

Do you know what the knowledge problem is? Do you believe it’s real or imagined?

Can you explain how you believe wealth is created?

A short lesson in the Constitution

Chip Mellor provides a good lesson in the U.S. Constitution in his Forbes opinion article, An Unhealthy Exercise of Power.  Here’s a key excerpt (emphasis mine):

Congress claimed the power to enact PPACA [Obamacare] under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which says in its entirety that Congress shall have the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” The clause was placed in the Constitution to avoid balkanizing the new nation by giving Congress the power to prevent states from erecting trade barriers.

That is essentially how the clause functioned for 150 years. But in 1938 the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Wickard v. Filburn, which upheld a New Deal law allowing the secretary of agriculture to establish an annual national acreage allotment for wheat all the way down to individual farmers.

The Court effectively amended the Constitution by turning the Commerce Clause into an affirmative grant of federal authority allowing Congress to regulate any economic activity that has a “substantial effect” on interstate commerce.

I recommend reading the whole article.

For those who think the Supreme Court has the power to amend the Constitution, all I ask is to direct me to where that power derives from and explain to me how that power coexists with the Constitutional Amendment process defined in Article V.   While there is a fine line between interpreting and amending, they are not the same.

The Constitution was meant to protect us

David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge: The Dismantling of American Culture came up in my queue at the library.  It’s good to have a talented writer on the side of freedom and recognize deeply that is the side he is on, now.

Early, on page 8, Mamet explains the primary motivation of the U.S. Constitution:

As I began reading and thinking about politics, I saw, to my horror, how easily people could also assemble themselves into a mob, which would either attract or be called into being by those who profited from the surrender of reason and liberty–and that these people are called politicians.  My question, then, was, as we cannot live without Government, how must we deal with those who will be inclined to abuse it–the politicians and their manipulators?  The answer to that question, I realized, was attempted in the U.S. Constitution–a document based not upon the philosophic assumption that people are basically good, but on the tragic confession of the opposite view.

It took some time after learning about the Constitution in my publicly provided education for me to understand its true purpose.  I crossed the border to Mexico once early in my life and wondered why the standard of living–separated only by a few hundred feet–could be so different.

I eventually came to realize that the answer was deeply embedded in American culture and embodied in the purpose of the Constitution–to prevent a person, or groups of people, from gaining too much political power over the rest of us.  It was an insurance policy against tyranny.

Too bad we forgot that (though we seem to be relearning it as groups of people use government to extend their reach into our lives).

Why the U.S. is not a democracy

In this previous post, I promised to write about the insights that moved me away from the fence sitting position of ‘fiscal conservative, social liberal’ toward libertarian thinking.  Walter Williams helps me start that discussion.

This week, Williams writes about why the U.S. is not a democracy, even though many people think it is or should be.

The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution’s Article IV, Section 4, guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”

But why?

James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.”

John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Alexander Hamilton said, “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.

So, what’s the difference between a democracy and a Republican form of government?

John Adams captured the essence when he said, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.” That means Congress does not grant us rights; their job is to protect our natural or God-given rights.

I don’t know about you, but that’s still fuzzy to me.

To John Adams, I’d ask, how do democracies commit suicide?

I think the answer is that 51% of the people end up using government to force their will on the other 49% and that chokes off the productivity of the evolved patterns of interactions that spawned a society that could afford to form a democracy in the first place.

The simple image of why democracies fail is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.  I think a more accurate picture is Cinderella and her two step sisters taking a vote on whether Cinderella would get to go out for the evening.  Think of the missed opportunity for Cinderella if her step sisters had that kind of power over her.

I believe the founders wanted two things from government:

1) Protect individual liberty.

2) Limit itself from encroaching on individual liberty, to keep the wolves from using government to eat the sheep.

The U.S. has functioned more like a democracy than a limited republic for a better part of century because many folks don’t appreciate the value of #2.   I didn’t appreciate it when I was a ‘fiscal conservative, social liberal” or a conservative.

When I came to appreciate it, I started to think more like a libertarian or a classical liberal, even though I didn’t know it at the time.  It took me awhile to discover that.

I think ‘fiscal conservatives, social liberals’ have a vague notion of #1 and an even vaguer idea about #2.  Conservatives tend to be stronger on #1, but soft on #2.

I will write more about how I came to appreciate #2 in the future.

What is judicial activism?

What is judicial activism?  Thomas Sowell answers in his recent piece, The “Judicial Activism” Ploy.

“Judicial activism” is a term coined years ago by critics of judges who make rulings based on their own beliefs and preferences, rather than on the law as written. It is not a very complicated notion, but political rhetoric can confuse and distort anything.

In recent years, a brand-new definition of “judicial activism” has been created by the political left, so that they can turn the tables on critics of judicial activism.

The new definition of “judicial activism” defines it as declaring laws unconstitutional.

It is a simpler, easily quantifiable definition. You don’t need to ask whether Congress exceeded its authority under the Constitution. That key question can be sidestepped by simply calling the judge a “judicial activist.”

A judge who lets politicians do whatever they want to, whether or not it violates the Constitution, never has to worry about being called a judicial activist by the left or by most of the media. But the rest of us have to worry about what is going to happen to this country if politicians can get away with ignoring the Constitution.

He then provides a history lesson on how government began diverging from the Constitution about 50 years ago.

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says that the federal government can do only what it has been specifically authorized to do by the Constitution. Everything else is left to the states or to the people themselves.

Nevertheless, back in 1942, the Supreme Court said that because the federal government has the right to regulate interstate commerce, the Department of Agriculture could tell a farmer how much wheat he could grow, even if the wheat never left his farm and was consumed there by his family and their farm animals.

That case was a landmark, whose implications reached far beyond farming. If the meaning of “interstate commerce” could be stretched and twisted to cover things that never entered any commerce, then “interstate commerce” became just a magic phrase that could make the Tenth Amendment disappear into thin air.

For more than half a century, courts let Congress do whatever it wanted to do, so long as the politicians said that they were regulating interstate commerce.

Double team

Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell are double teaming the electorate.

Heres’ the opener from Walter Williams’ column this week, Changing America.

Dr. Thomas Sowell, in “Dismantling America,” said in reference to President Obama, “That such an administration could be elected in the first place, headed by a man whose only qualifications to be president of the United States at a dangerous time in the history of the world were rhetoric, style and symbolism — and whose animus against the values and institutions of America had been demonstrated repeatedly over a period of decades beforehand — speaks volumes about the inadequacies of our educational system and the degeneration of our culture.” Obama is by no means unique; his characteristics are shared by other Americans, but what is unique is that no other time in our history would such a person been elected president. That says a lot about the degeneration of our culture, values, thinking abilities and acceptance of what’s no less than tyranny.

And the closer:

Fighting government intrusion into our lives is becoming increasingly difficult for at least two reasons. The first reason is that educators at the primary, secondary and university levels have been successful in teaching our youngsters to despise the values of our Constitution and the founders of our nation — “those dead, old, racist white men.” Their success in that arena might explain why educators have been unable to get our youngsters to read, write and compute on a level comparable with other developed nations; they are too busy proselytizing students.

I was disappointed with both tickets in the last presidential election. I didn’t think any of the candidates were yet qualified for the highest offices. When I pointed that out to folks, I got an assortment of non-sense responses.

One popular response: “He ran a great campaign.”  That’s a qualification for President?  Would you hire a head football coach for the NFL based solely on a good job interview?

Another popular response:  “I want an articulate President.” To which I’d respond, can you listen to his last speech and explain what he said?  I could rarely make out what he was saying. Everybody was in awe of his style, not his substance.

Maybe that ties back to Williams’ comment about our education system. We can no longer differentiate between style and substance. Don’t get me wrong, not many politicians actually deliver much substance. But that’s our fault. We have such low expectations of them.

More common responses:  “He seems like a good guy. I’d like to have a beer with him.”   That’s how you choose your President? In that case, most of my buddies should be President! Again, what are we learning in our education system?  The sad thing is that a lot of people would let that pass as an acceptable answer, when they should let that person know that he should not vote until he he becomes an adult.

Here’s a short list of what I would like to know when considering who to vote for President:

  1. What’s their view on role of government and how does that fit with the Constitution?  It’s amazing to me that we let people in office when we’re not entirely clear on this.
  2. What does freedom mean?  Of the two following statements, which best matches their view of freedom?  The ability for individuals to make decisions that suit their needs and preferences…
    • …free of coercion from others.
    • …free of negative consequences that might result from such.
  3. What do they think of the Constitution?  What is its purpose?
  4. What is the process for changing the Constitution from it’s original intent?
  5. What actions have they taken in the past that support or contradict their stated views?
  6. What makes for a good federal judge and Supreme Court justice?
  7. What does “uphold the Constitution” in their oath of office mean to them?
  8. Where does the candidate think government has overstepped it’s boundaries in the past?
  9. What do they like about the U.S. and dislike about it?
  10. Why do they think Rome fell?
  11. How have they led in the past against politically unpopular things?
  12. What do they think about capitalism?  Property rights?
  13. Why do they think the U.S. is the wealthiest country ever?

Those are a few of the questions I would like to know the answer to before casting my ballot.