The true fault line

Our political differences as a nation are not defined by a simple Republican-Democrat binary choice.  The real issue is whether the Constitution means what it says regardless what year it is, or whether is can be folded, spindled and mutilated by every generation’s interpretation of the day.  It should not come down to the viewpoints of nine unelected people to determine how our future unfolds.  But since that’s the reality of how our system now works, selecting the right people for that job is paramount:

If you think things are bad now, just wait a bit. It’s about to get worse, much worse.
A war is coming over the Constitution between those who would defend it and those who find it a nuisance. …

To Brett Kavanaugh’s foes, the Constitution stands in the way of grand designs they have for the federal government and your lives.

They want to control things in your lives — your healthcare, your lightbulbs, your land, your neighborhood, your dishwasher, your electric bill, your employer. That’s why a wartime coalition of Leftist interest groups have mobilized to battle over the future of the Constitution.

Kavanaugh’s foes want the Constitution to mean whatever suits their transformative agenda. Kavanaugh believes the Constitution means what it said when it was written. That it was written in 1787 doesn’t trouble him at all. …

The coming fight over Brett Kavanaugh will feature two sides with almost nothing left in common. Sure, we live in proximity to each other. But one side defends the Constitution and the other side will stop at nothing to replace it.

One side believes words have specific, objective meanings that transcend fads.  They are consistent, predictable and stand the test of time.  The other subverts words to suit their agenda and will even quibble over the definition of “is.”  Who would you rather have governing you?

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A spineless Congress

It’s no wonder Americans have such a low regard for Congress, when government officials are allowed to thumb their noses at it with impunity.  In recent memory the worst sanction the legislature has given to a recalcitrant official has been to hold Eric Holder in “contempt of Congress” — the first sitting Attorney General ever to be so designated.  That only has effect if the target has any sense of shame, which few in D.C. Mordor do anymore.  Official designation or not, it’s clear much of official Washington shares that contempt.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s no coincidence that defiance from Holder, Lerner, Rosenstein and Wray parallels the public’s near-record low approval of Congress, which, according to the RealClearPolitics average, hit a meager 14.2 percent earlier this week.

But Congress has only itself to blame because the Constitution gives the first branch it created “all of the ultimate weapons in any showdown with either of the other two branches,” in the memorable phrasing of professors Willmoore Kendall and George Carey in their classic “The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition.”

Here are five of those “ultimate weapons,” whose deployment ultimately depends on the will of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to defend the right of Congress to be the people’s representatives…

Put somebody in jail.

Impose a big fine.

Invoke the power of the purse

Cut the workforce.

More political appointees.

It’s worth reading the description of these five options at the link.  Despite the frequency of choreographed televised hearings, Congress has largely abdicated its oversight role with regard to the Federal bureaucracy.  This was apparent at least by the time of the “Fast and Furious” gunwalking scandal and the IRS investigations, during which the agencies slow-rolled Congress’ requests for information with impunity.  True oversight involves exercising the power to compel compliance.  The Founders intended the legislature to be “first among equals” within the branches of government.  They, not unelected paper-pushers, represent the people.

The president has less power than people imagine over employees in the Executive Branch.  While he can fire political appointees, career bureaucrats have created a byzantine disciplinary process that, in effect, prevents nearly anyone from losing their job.  I encountered this while supervising relatively low-level “civil servants” — I can only imagine how much more difficult things are in the executive suites.

With a majority in Congress, however, it should be a simple thing to put entire departments like the FBI on notice: comply with legislative directives and requests, or perish as an agency.  Congress can defund any activity of the government with a simple vote.  Unfortunately, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have shown zero interest in actually asserting Congress’ prerogatives.  They are as much a part of the swamp as the agencies running amok, as the recent omnibus bill debacle shows.  That should be a key issue during these midterms — voters need to seek candidates who will support Trump’s “swamp draining,” and that includes pledging to vote in new Congressional leadership.

But for any of this to happen, We the People will need to be more focused than ever this election cycle.  The election of Trump will accomplish little if voters allow the legislature to defend the status quo by resolute inaction.

Strong words rooted in history

But meaningless unless backed by equally strong action:

The morning after the Trump administration sued California over its immigration policies, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday appeared in downtown Sacramento to say states cannot defy the federal government when it comes to immigration

“A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law and creates an open borders system,” Sessions declared. “Open borders is a radical, irrational idea that cannot be accepted.

“There is no nullification. There is no secession,” Sessions said. “Federal law is ‘the supreme law of the land.’ I would invite any doubters to Gettysburg, and to the graves of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln.”

The invocation of John C. Calhoun and nullification is particularly appropriate.  Calhoun’s South Carolina in 1832 claimed the power to “nullify” a hated Federal tariff by simply refusing to collect it within the State’s borders.  The president at the time, Andrew Jackson, was emphatic about Federal supremacy within its Constitutional sphere.  At his behest, Congress passed the Force Act, essentially giving Jackson the power to use military force if necessary to compel compliance and collection of duties.  It never reached that point, in no small part because of Henry Clay’s gifted statesmanship in Congress.  But the situation emphasized the power struggle over Federal versus State prerogatives nearly two decades before Southerners fired on Ft. Sumter.

One interesting aspect of the “Nullification Crisis” was that it pitted a sitting president (Jackson) against his own vice-president (Calhoun).  Two years prior to the crisis this conflict had been made apparent at the 1830 Jefferson Day dinner.  The president, aiming a barb at Calhoun and signaling his waning support for Southern arguments about States’ rights, toasted “Our Union; it must be preserved.”

Calhoun shot back: “The Union, next to our liberty most dear.  May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union.”

What, you thought today’s political divisions were unprecedented?  Hardly.

Here’s the point of the history brief: the immigration confrontation flips the usual situation where “conservatives” advocate the 10th Amendment’s reservation of power to the States while “liberals” seek to use Federal supremacy in everything — the better to force change they likely could not through the electoral process.  As recently as the Obama administration Arizona attempted to strengthen border security, only to be sued by the Feds for stepping into an area of Federal supremacy.

Now the shoe’s on the other foot, with the parties in power reversed.  Arizona allegedly couldn’t strengthen its border security beyond the Federal level of enforcement, but California can loosen it?  While both sides are guilty of putting power over principle, it’s both more obvious and dangerous with the sudden liberal embrace of claiming exceptions to Federal power.  The same leftist groups who argued before Federal judges in 2016 that North Carolina couldn’t ban confused men from women’s restrooms is now arguing California can have its own foreign policy in the area of immigration.  Okay…

Here’s what California and Calhoun have in common (besides both being Democrats, but I digress…): both were/are Constitutionally wrong.  Some readers may be surprised to see me write that, because Constitutionally I am a strict constructionist who interprets (in keeping with the 10th Amendment) the document as a constraint on Federal power, and am generally sympathetic to defending States’ rights.  That said, if the document expressly gives the Feds a particular power, there’s no arguing it.  In the case of Calhoun’s fight against tariffs, Article 1, Section 8 (*) of the Constitution clearly grants Congress the power to levy taxes, duties, imposts and excises, provided they are uniform throughout all States.

The Constitution does not contain the word “immigration,” but in the same section cited above grants Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.  This means States and cities have no authority to establish “sanctuaries” where illegal immigrants are given the same privileges as citizens.  Those local authorities who do so are in defiance of the Constitution, and have abrogated any oath they took to support and uphold it.  They should be held appropriately accountable for that.

Because the “sanctuary” concept has become so trendy in Leftist circles, the Trump administration now faces widespread defiance of Federal authority.  Trump is sometimes compared to Jackson (faulty personality and all).  One wonders whether he will rely solely on the courts, where your mileage varies considerably concerning Constitutional interpretation, or whether he will follow Jackson’s more direct approach.  Or, for that matter, President Lincoln’s:

WHEREAS the laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law. (emphasis added)

Now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed…

It’s a simple thing to substitute  California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont for the list of States in the first quoted paragraph above, and have the declaration apply to the issue of whether or not the United States can control its borders without local interference.

Given how divided we are as a nation, I have no doubt such a declaration would precede the same kind of national tragedy that Lincoln’s did.  It’s not the outcome I’d want, but reality has a way of disregarding our personal desires.   More than at any time since 1865, Americans need to rediscover how easy it is to read their own Constitution, and understand what policies are and are not acceptable under it.  That document used to be a unifying force in our national fabric.  Our current collective ignorance of it is a significant contributor to the political climate in which we find ourselves.

The tinder is very dry, and matches abound.  Pray for the best but prepare accordingly.

********************

(*) on a lighter note, I should point out I’ve long thought it funny that Article 1, Section 8 spells out the powers of Congress, while fans of the TV show M*A*S*H will recall the Army’s version of “section 8” refers to discharges due to mental unfitness.  Make of that what you will.

No more compromise. Period.

I guess the next two days will feature obligatory public pearl-clutching that the president asked why America would want immigrants from “s***hole nations,” instead of from more Western countries like “Norway.”

Yes, he absolutely shouldn’t have phrased it that way.  But I’ve traveled myself, courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Armed Forces, to a few “s***hole nations.”  Trump is imprudently making an important point that will be entirely overlooked: the only question that should drive policy in this area is:  ‘What does an unchecked flood of migrants from failed societies do for Americans already here?’ Answer: become a net burden.  Enough with the ‘diversity’ experiment.

The public displays of moral outrage over Trump’s latest remarks will push the real scandal off the front pages.  That scandal is that once again our lawmakers are proposing a compromise deal on immigration that is bad for America.  “Just let the Dreamers stay,” they preen, “and we’ll get serious about immigration enforcement this time.  No, really.”

They said that in the 1980s, too.  And the 1990s.  “Wiping the slate clean” as the 1986 law was supposed to do clearly didn’t solve the issue, because we have more illegal immigrants in America today than we did then.  And “amnesty” by any other name is just as unjust.  Lucy is simply preparing to yank the football away from Charlie Brown once more.  This is the best comment I’ve seen on the compromise proposals:

The basic problem with trading amnesty for so-called “Dreamers” (illegal aliens brought to America as children) for increased enforcement of laws against illegal immigration and greater border security is that those aims are fundamentally in contradiction…  (emphasis added)

So when it comes to the shell game negotiations now going on in Washington, as of now, I’m voting for gridlock.

Despite his appalling tendency toward diarrhea of the mouth, Trump’s administration has accomplished some noteworthy goals on behalf of America during this first year.  Some have compared him favorably to Saint Ronald of Reagan.  That should be a warning: Reagan’s two fatal errors were agreeing to the immigration compromise of his time, and not demanding spending cuts to offset the military buildup that allowed the U.S. to reengage the Cold War on a stronger footing after Vietnam.  The first created a demographic time bomb, the second a fiscal one.

As currently practiced, immigration to the United States changes our country more than it changes the immigrants.  We are expected to adapt to their norms, rather than the other way around.  And since norms in many of the countries of origin can be fairly described as producing “s***holes,” one wonders what future immigration advocates desire for America.

“Magic Dirt theory is a key component of immigration romanticism, too. Sure, Mexico and Central America are messed-up places, and presumably their inhabitants played some role in messing them up. If we just move thirty or forty million of those people to the U.S.A., though, our Magic Dirt will transform them into civic-minded Jeffersonian yeomen!”

I recently visited my parents, and some observations come to mind.  Their neighborhood has never been wealthy, but it has deteriorated noticeably over the four decades they’ve lived there.  The two houses across the street now each house multiple families of foreign origin who do nothing to keep their houses up, park semi-abandoned cars all over the yards, and party so loudly my parents have had to call the police multiple times.  One of the neighbors bragged to my father that he has 18 children by different women.

My formerly small-town home has seen wave after wave of migrants from all over the world, and I don’t see the “enrichment” such diversity was supposed to bring.  What I *do* see is the old YMCA where I took swimming lessons is now a Buddhist meditation center.  Large piles of trash litter the side of the road for a mile leading to the dump because avoiding the landfill fee is now common practice.  Similar disregard for the law manifests in myriad other ways as well.  My parents didn’t install a security system in their house until after I graduated college, and they now have concealed carry permits.  Sure, you can get authentic Thai, Mexican and Chinese food.  Few of the people I grew up with there would consider that a positive tradeoff.  In fact, few of the people I grew up with are still there.

For all of these and many other reasons, I will not support ANY compromise on DACA, which was an openly admitted executive usurpation of legislative authority by the former president.  We’ve been sold this kind of “relief” too many times, and our good-hearted nature has been used to play us for fools.  Those who come here illegally have already shown disregard for our laws.  What makes us think that attitude will change once they’re here?  Particularly if we so obviously don’t intend to enforce our laws?

Mr. Trump, you were elected in no small part because after half a century of constant betrayal, the “posterity” of those who fought the American Revolution have run out of places to flee from the effects of these policies imposed on us by our self-proclaimed “betters.”  Many of your supporters in 2016 overlooked your personality and character flaws in the hope that maybe, just maybe, you would listen to the concerns of what some of our those ‘betters’ now openly dare to call “deplorables.”  If you sell us out, too, there is likely no chance those concerns will ever be addressed.

At least, within the system we used to respect.  This country was founded on the idea that systems sometimes fail the people.  Something about “altering or abolishing” government when it becomes destructive of life, liberty and property.  Despite the best efforts of today’s education system Marxist indoctrination factories, some of us still remember that legacy.  It’s our heritage and birthright.  And we’ll defend it.

Your move.

A greater tragedy

In no way is this post meant to take way from the fact nearly 60 people died, hundreds more were injured, and thousands subjected to terror in Las Vegas Sunday night.  But after reading and watching this, I realized there is a much greater loss we’ve sustained as a nation:

FBI special agent Aaron Rouse said at a press conference Wednesday that the FBI has leads in the investigation of the Las Vegas shooting “all across the United States and all across the world.” …

“This is about informing on an investigation, this is about resolving an investigation, so specifics regarding any individual contact cannot be answered. You need us, you trust us, and the way we have that trust is by using good discretion about what we share.”

At that point I realized: “I DON’T trust the FBI.”  Or the Justice Department.  Or the Department of Homeland Security.  Not at all.  Not anymore.  And I’m certain I’m far from alone.

Isn’t it odd our investigators insisted within 12 hours of the attack that despite the terror organization’s repeated claims, the gunman had no connection to ISIS — but after more than several months and more than 100 witnesses testifying, the Senate Intelligence Committee is still clinging desperately to the idea the Trump campaign colluded with Russia somehow?  How can they be so sure in either case, unless it’s a predetermined outcome?  Isn’t it odd the FBI can remain tight-lipped about investigating Las Vegas, but leaks like a sieve when it comes to investigating a sitting president?  Isn’t it odd that last year the former Director of the FBI, James Comey, could read off what was in essence an indictment of Hillary Clinton and her team’s use of an unauthorized email server, and yet claim there was no need to press charges?  Isn’t it odd that despite conclusive evidence the IRS illegally discriminated against conservative political groups that former IRS official Lois Lerner won’t face any penalties?  Isn’t it odd that a man who boasted to employees on Capitol Hill about his ability to get people “worked over” in Pakistan was allowed to remain in charge of the Democratic National Committee’s information technology support? (And isn’t it odd how supportive–even threatening–the former DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has been of Awan, considering he was in a position to know a lot of unpleasant secrets?)

It’s sad that in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history I have no confidence our government will level with the public about what happened.  It’s sad that I believe the most sincere participation by concerned citizens in our process of governing is unlikely to produce the desired changes, because of the action of unknown, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who thwart any attempt to “drain the swamp.”

What’s saddest is that being patriotic may soon mean choosing between country and government.  That’s what happens when the latter forfeits the public’s trust.

 

Say “no” to unqualified voting

We’ve been indoctrinated to believe voting is a “right,” and that much of progress in America is related to the gradual expansion of the franchise to the point where anyone with a pulse can enter a voting booth.  We’ve even become so “inclusive” that some cities are allowing non-citizens(!!) to vote.

Before I get bombarded with the usual Progressive insults, let me state for the record that I do not believe voting should be limited on the basis of ethnicity or wealth (i.e. landowning requirements).  But on the question of voting, there is one thing of which I am certain: the automatic universal franchise for those born here is the worst idea in the history of republican thought.  Why have I reached this conclusion?  Consider this:

A new survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that most Americans are ignorant of many very basic facts about the Constitution.

* More than one in three people (37%) could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment.
* Only one in four (26%) can name all three branches of the government.
* One in three (33%) can’t name any branch of government. None. Not even one.

You can’t do anything in life well without knowing the rules.  Why should voting be any different?  Now, note carefully what the Washington Post (motto: “Democracy Dies In Darkness“) says next:

The protection of constitutional rights is in large part the business of lawyers, judges, government officials, and other experts. But public opinion plays an important role, as well, which it is unlikely to do as effectively if most of the public is ignorant.

No.  Emphatically no.

The informed and invested citizen is the primary protector of our constitutional freedom.  Therein lies a major part of the problem: being informed and taking action requires effort and some level of personal sacrifice (such as leisure time).  For the vast majority of people, this is simply too much work.  It’s well-said that “Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.”  Voting is not a “right.”  It is a privilege, and carries with it the reverse of the coin: responsibility.  To hand over the responsibility largely to “lawyers, judges, government officials, and other experts” (notice the order in which these are listed?) is to hand over the privilege of having a voice as a citizen.  By not acting to enforce the Constitutional role on our various government functions, the public has allowed them to determine the limits of their own power (hint: none).  A true citizen refuses to accept that, and challenges — physically, if necessary — undermining of the Constitution.

The only way to be able to do that is to know the Constitution.  It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read this blog for long that I believe voting should be restricted to those who have passed a civic exam at least as difficult as the citizenship test (which, frankly, is not a high bar).  Such an arrangement does not preclude participation on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, wealth or any of the other categories that have been used historically to deny the franchise.

What it does is require the would-be voter to earn the privilege — something nearly everyone can do (excepting the mentally incompetent, who already are not allowed full privileges in society).  By bestowing citizenship on those who enter our nation illegally, and allowing anyone with a pulse to vote, our nation shows it does not value either.

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
— Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

Frankly, studying for an exam is a small price to pay for the franchise.  Others have theorized about requiring much, much more.  (While I don’t subscribe to Heinlein’s exact solution, the requirement to have a “citizen” demonstrate a commitment to something more than their own narrow self-interest would go far to fix what ails us.)

The next time you’re contemplating the sorry state of our nation, just remember it’s likely a good number of the people surveyed were in a polling place last November, and their vote was swayed more by emotions (“I feel like there should be universal health care”) than by knowledge and analysis (“There is no such thing as a free lunch“).

Idiocracy, indeed.

Doing the small stuff right first

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?”  Luke 16:10-12

Victor Davis Hanson notes the all-too-familiar scene of elected leaders pontificating about speculative global matters while failing utterly to address the needs of those closer to home, who put them in office in the first place:

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg used to offer all sorts of cosmic advice on the evils of smoking and the dangers of fatty foods and sugary soft drinks.  Bloomberg also frequently pontificated on abortion and global warming, earning him a progressive audience that transcended the boroughs of New York.

But in the near-record December 2010 blizzard, Bloomberg proved utterly incompetent in the elemental tasks for which he was elected: ensuring that New Yorkers were not trapped in their homes by snowdrifts in their streets that went unplowed for days.

The Bloomberg syndrome is a characteristic of contemporary government officials.  When they are unwilling or unable to address pre-modern problems in their jurisdictions – crime, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate transportation – they compensate by posing as philosopher kings who cheaply lecture on existential challenges over which they have no control.  …

We have become an arrogant generation that virtue-signals that we can change the universe when in reality we cannot even run an awards ceremony, plow snow, fix potholes, build a road or dam, or stop inner-city youths from murdering one another.

Governors who cannot build a reservoir have little business fantasizing about 200-mph super trains.

It’s said that “all politics is local.”  The failure of our self-righteous ruling class to address some very basic responsibilities is one of the main factors propelling the rise of the likes of Trump.  There are encouraging signs, however, that some in our capitols are listening to the rising anger; for instance, the call by 10 U.S. Senators and a number of Representatives to curtail or forego the standard Congressional recess in August in order to get some actual work done.

What a concept…

Note to the GOP leadership: it’s not gone unnoticed that you’ve spent more time fighting the president than trying to enable the agenda that got him elected.  You may think you’re blocking a fluke presidency.  In reality, if you stymie Trump you’re going to like what comes next even worse.  In martial arts I was taught to use three escalating approaches to stop a threat: “nice” (evasion and warning), “not-so nice” (evasion and inflicting a “stinger”), and “nasty,” involving serious physical injury to the assailant when all other options had failed and the threat had become critical enough to justify serious violence.  The Tea Party was “nice” and civil; they were unfairly demonized and marginalized.  Trump is the “not-so-nice” second attempt to get the government’s attention.  God help us all if we arrive at “nasty.”

If a Congress cannot pass a balanced budget on time, or a Mayor cannot deal with large-scale violence in their city, or a State legislature cannot pass a budget at all, then these people have no business occupying their current positions, much less running for higher office.  (And I repeat: running for an office should require the candidate not currently hold an elective office, since modern campaigning inevitably results in shortchanging current duties.) We, the people, need to stop looking at the seniority and patronage of our individual representatives, and hold them collectively responsible for our nation’s current woes.  In fact, we need to borrow a phrase from The Donald himself:

You’re fired!”