Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A tax dilemma

If you don't know, Ed and Elaine Brown still have been holed up at there house trying to ask Marshal Stephan Monier, or anyone else, where is the law that makes the Browns liable to file a return and pay an income tax. So far, the police/government will not answer (Hint: there is no law!). Here's why the government has a dilemma in Plainfield, NH.

1. The obvious and peaceful way out of this standoff is for it to name, publicly and in detail ready for open scrutiny, the law that taxes what the Browns earned. Ed Brown has promised to surrender upon seeing that, and if the condition is met but he breaks his word, public opinion would swing firmly against him and force would then become an acceptable option.

2. However, the government has not done that. Not in the two years preceding the Brown trial, despite their repeated requests of the IRS; not at the trial itself in early 2007, which so disgusted them that they declared it a farce and walked out; and not since the trial during the 6-month standoff, during which government lips have been zipped in what is daily becoming an ever more deafening silence. Reasonable people (and eventually, who knows, even mainstream journalists) might conclude from this that the government does not answer that wholly reasonable question because it cannot answer it - and that it cannot answer it because no such law exists. Now, if no such law exists while the Feds have been enforcing collection of a trillion (2007) dollars a year for all of living memory as if it did exist, the Emperor would be exposed as buck naked. So much for Option #1.

3. Option #2 is to use force, of which the government has plenty, but that brings a downside: public opinion will rightly call them bullies and murderers, as public opinion did after Waco and Ruby Ridge, and even more strongly suspect that since the Feds would sooner kill than reveal the mystery law, probably the mystery law doesn't exist. So the Marshal in charge has said he will not "play that game" but instead prevent people coming and going around the Brown house - at a cost which he reportedly does not know but which can hardly be less than $1,000 every day. Understandable; for ultimately government, for all its enormous arsenal, depends on favorable public opinion, along with widespread belief that the mystery law does exist. So while Option #2 is not impossible, it's extremely unpalatable.

4. Option #3 is to wait the Browns out, to starve them into submission. To make that work they have to prohibit supporters visiting and bringing supplies, which is what happened this month with their court order. But that's risky; suppose the court order is dismissed as unconstitutional? Further risk: the Browns are so principled that they have let it be known from the beginning that they would rather die than submit, so Option #3 may simply not work. Weeks, months or years from now when all has gone quiet, SWATters may move in to the house one night and find only a pair of corpses. That will bring just as much public revulsion as Option #2. Either way, Option #3 is very dodgy, yet that's the one currently being attempted.

5. Option #4 would be simply to declare victory and walk away. Normal life has already been denied the Browns; they can be put on so many black lists that they will never again earn more than can keep them at subsistence level. The declaration will of course be false, but the mainstream media can be relied upon to publish it uncritically and move on to important news about the next Red Sox game. I'm surprised that this Option has not been chosen, for the associated risk is quite small.

I disagree with most of Ed Brown's opinions, which I think absurd, except the one that matters - that no law taxes earnings. Every day, that one becomes more and more credible. I've wondered why, if no such law has been written, Congress doesn't just fix the problem and write one. This paper suggests why it cannot, and if any reader can rebut its reasoning, I'd be eager to learn how.

It is really impressive that one determined man, and his courageous wife, can stop this arrogant, scofflaw government cold. It reminds me of that un-named Chinaman, standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The true meaning of the Constitution

"Done...the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven. " Thus, the United States Constitution was finalized and sent to the state conventions for approval. It would take until the following June, when New Hampshire approved it, before the Constitution would become effective.

Many individuals think that human beings get their rights from the Constitution. Many think that individuals have freedom of speech, religion and the right to bear arms because the Constitution says they do. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Throughout history it was the common belief that individuals were subjects of the ruler. Only the ruler had any rights. When the ruler spoke, whatever was said was done. The Declaration of Independence, the philosophical base of the Constitution, turned that everyday notion on its head.

The founders stated that rights did not come from the ruler or any document at all, not even the Magna Carta. They said that rights were inherent in the individual and came from the Creator. Individuals, through the Creator, are allowed to do anything they so choose so long as they do not interfere with another's right to do the same.

The Constitution called into existence a government that was authorized to make sure that individuals did not force others to accept their beliefs and to ensure that murderers, rapists, thieves, liars and cheats would be arrested, prosecuted and punished for such anti-social behavior.

The Constitution reads as a book authorizing very specific and enumerated powers given to government officials. Its addendum, the Bill of Rights, is actually a list of "thou shall nots" that government officials are forbidden to do.

The Constitution does not give the right of free speech to the individual. The Constitution restricts government officials from interfering with that right that is already inherent in the individual. Even the individual does not have complete freedom of speech because he can only say or write his ideas with his own property or obtain permission from another to use his property.

For instance, The Sun is not obligated to print any column or letter to the editor. It has total control over what it prints. If an individual wanted to get his ideas out to the public, he would have to first get permission from The Sun to use its paper - or start his own publication.

The same goes for any store, restaurant or business. Everyone has the right to engage with whomever they please so long as the other individual voluntarily agrees. When real freedom exists (i.e., no government controls upon the individual), competition exists and individuals get to choose.

The reason for the Constitution is to make sure the force of government is only used in its proper place, very similar to forming rocks in a circle on a camping trip to make sure fire is only used in its proper setting.

As has been seen time and time again, when fire gets out of control, the devastation is disastrous. When government gets out of control, it too becomes devastating and the disaster that takes place is horrific.

All one has to do is look at Nazi Germany, Napoleon's France and the pharaohs of Egypt to see the devastating effects of out-of-control government. One can also see the debilitating effects of out-of-control government by observing Zimbabwe, North Korea and Iran today.

It was 220 years ago that the founders created the Constitution to corral government officials because they did not trust anyone, even democratically elected ones, with the awesome and devastating power government officials possess. The Constitution makes it clear that government officials have very limited and enumerated powers.

For instance, Congress is the only government entity that can declare war, not the president and not any judge - just a group of individuals that must debate the issue before that decision is made.

Individuals have no constitutional rights. They already have all the rights the Creator gave them. Individuals acting as government officials, though, only have those rights permitted them by the Constitution.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A dilemma about gun control

If a criminal breaks into Melanie Brandon's clothing store and wants to rob her, or worse, which would she choose as her customers: people like me, or Dave Champion, or anyone else who carries a gun and knows how to use it--or the average Joe in Philadelphia who doesn't?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Who knows better what your children see, you
(the parents), or the FCC?

When is a cuss word broadcast over television or radio indecent? At a live awards show where an award recipient uses a profanity? During a war movie? In a blues documentary where expletives fly?

If you said all three were indecent, you would be wrong.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is America's indecency police, but its vague and confusing criteria for what constitutes "indecency" leave everyone in the dark.

At the 2003 Golden Globe Awards, where rock star Bono exuberantly received his award, the FCC initially said it wasn't indecent, then, under pressure from Congress, said it was.

Shortly thereafter, several stations refused to air the war movie "Saving Private Ryan" because of its multiple usage of the same expletive Bono used. When a complaint was made to the FCC, it declared the drama was not indecent.

At about the same time, PBS aired "The Blues: Godfathers and Sons," a documentary whose real-life blues players used some profanity. The FCC decided it was indecent.

Confused? So are the broadcasters. The government should not be making these decisions in the first place. Parents should.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia introduced legislation in late July that has already passed the Senate Energy and Commerce committee to regulate indecency on television. And there is talk of a similar bill coming soon to regulate television violence.

Congress should reject any proposals that would allow the FCC to regulate what the public sees on television.

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) strongly believe that the government should not replace parents as decisionmakers in America's living rooms. There are some things the government does well, but deciding what is aired on television, and when, is not one of them.
Parents already have many tools to protect their children, including blocking programs and channels, changing the channel, or (my personal favorite) turning off the television.

The ACLU is not blind to the issue at hand. We can see why some parents are upset about what they see on television. But the answer lies in teaching those parents how they can limit what their children watch – not censorship. Congress may choose to play a role in educating parents on the dangers of overexposure to media. But government focus should then be on providing those educational opportunities – not on replacing parents as the primary decisionmakers in their own homes. Government should not parent the parents.

Our concern is that imposing standards for television programming would be unconstitutional and damage important values that define America: the right to a free and open media, the right to free speech, and the right of parents to decide the upbringing of their children.

Parents today have unprecedented control over what comes into their homes and what media their children consume.

The most basic and user-friendly tool every parent has against unwanted media content is the ability to turn the television off, or to establish rules about where and when children may watch TV. Recent technology in digital boxes permits blocking by rating, channel, title, and even, in some systems, program description. Cable subscribers who do not have set-top boxes can simply ask their cable companies to block specific channels.

Additionally, a multitude of websites rate television shows, permitting parents to choose ones that suit their taste and to determine what their children watch. Both the Parents Television Council and Common Sense Media have easy-to-use websites.

The ACLU is not opposed to solutions that parents and industry come up with. What concerns us is when Uncle Sam gets involved. There is a long history of using the media as a scapegoat for society's problems. At one time or another, books, movies, opera, jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll, heavy metal and rap music, comic books, and video games have all been accused of causing antisocial or violent behavior among minors and adults.

Since not all portrayals of violence are bad, the government would have insurmountable difficulty defining what is "good" violence and "bad" violence. Even those who research this issue use inconsistent definitions of violence. If the researchers cannot concur on an objective definition, then will any regulations provide truly objective results?

Parents have the tools they need to protect their children. If the government steps in and regulates the content of television shows or relegates certain shows to a late-night or early-morning hour, it steps over the line and becomes the Federal Babysitting Agency – replacing parents as the ultimate decisionmakers.

The power to control the upbringing of children, including what they watch, should remain in the most capable, effective, and constitutional hands possible: the parents.

The capitol's flawed logic

In asking the Supreme Court to let the District of Columbia ban handguns, the city has a simple argument: Whatever one thinks of the Second Amendment, banning handguns is a "reasonable regulation" to protect public safety. The problem for the city is that anyone who can look up the crime numbers will see that D.C.'s violent crime rate went up, not down, after the ban.

D.C. notes that criminals like to use handguns to commit crimes. We all want to disarm criminals, but, as long as one recognizes the possibility of self defense, at best the city's claim can only be part of the story. As with all gun-control laws, the question is ultimately whether it is the law-abiding citizens or criminals who are most likely to obey the law. If law-abiding citizens are the ones who turn in their guns and not the criminals, crime rates can go up, not down.

The city's brief focuses only on murder rates in discussing crime in D.C. Yet, in the five years before Washington's ban in 1976, the murder rate fell from 37 to 27 per 100,000. In the five years after it went into effect, the murder rate rose back up to 35. But there is one fact that seems particularly hard to ignore. D.C.'s murder rate fluctuated after 1976 but has only once fallen below what it was in 1976 (that happened years later, in 1985). Does D.C. really want to argue that the gun ban reduced the murder rate?

Similarly for violent crime, from 1977 to 2003, there were only two years when D.C.'s violent crime rate fell below the rate in 1976. These drops and subsequent increases were much larger than any changes in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. For example, D.C.'s murder rate fell 3.5 to 3 times more than in the neighboring states during the five years before the ban and rose back 3.8 times more in the five years after it. D.C.'s murder rate also rose relative to that in other similarly sized cities.

Surely D.C. has had many problems that contribute to crime, but even cities with far better police departments have seen crime soar in the wake of handgun bans. Chicago has banned all handguns since 1982. Indeed, D.C. points to Chicago's ban to support its own ban. But the gun ban didn't work at all when it came to reducing violence. Chicago's murder rate fell from 27 to 22 per 100,000 in the five years before the law and then rose slightly to 23. The change is even more dramatic when compared to five neighboring Illinois counties: Chicago's murder rate fell from being 8.1 times greater than its neighbors in 1977 to 5.5 times in 1982, and then went way up to 12 times greater in 1987.

Taking a page from recent Supreme Court cases, D.C. points to gun bans in other countries as evidence that others think that gun bans are desirable. But the experience in other countries, even island nations that have gone so far as banning guns and where borders are easy to monitor, should give D.C. and its supporters some pause. Not only didn't violent crime and homicide decline as promised, but they actually increased.

D.C.'s brief specifically points to Great Britain's handgun ban in January 1997. But the number of deaths and injuries from gun crime in England and Wales increased 340 percent in the seven years from 1998 to 2005. The rates of serious violent crime, armed robberies, rapes and homicide have also soared.

The Republic of Ireland banned and confiscated all handguns and all center fire rifles in 1972, but murder rates rose fivefold by 1974 and in the 20 years after the ban has averaged 114 percent higher than the pre-ban rate (never falling below at least 31 percent higher).

Jamaica banned all guns in 1974, but murder rates almost doubled from 11.5 per 100,000 in 1973 to 19.5 in 1977, and soared further to 41.7 in 1980.

Evidence is also available for other countries. For example, it is hard to think of a much more draconian police state than the former Soviet Union. Yet despite a ban on guns that dated back to the Communist revolution, its murder rates were high. During the entire decade from 1976 to 1985 the Soviet Union's homicide rate was between 21 and 41 percent higher than that of the United States. By 1989, two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, it had risen to 48 percent above the U.S. rate.

Even if D.C.'s politicians want to keep arguing for a ban based on public safety, hard facts must eventually matter. If they can't see that gun-control laws have failed to deliver as promised, may be the Supreme Court can point it out for them

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A nation of fools

President Bush and his pro-occupation supporters are gleefully singing the magnificent successes of “the surge” — the increase of U.S. troops in Iraq intended to bring “stability” to the country.

What I don’t understand is that if the surge has been as successful as they say it has, then why did President Bush have to keep his recent trip to Iraq secret, why did he fly into an isolated U.S. military base in Anbar Province rather than into Baghdad (where the surge was), why did he stay a grand total of 8 hours in the country, and why didn’t he walk the streets of Iraqi cities and towns accepting people’s gratitude and praise for his having brought “democracy” to Iraq at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis?

Didn’t Napoleon and Santa Anna remain with their troops through thick and thin?

I wonder how many of Bush’s pro-occupation supporters who are singing the praises of the surge have signed up for vacations in Iraq? My bet is none. Of course, they couldn’t plan to visit any Iraqi museums since all those were ransacked during the U.S. invasion of the country.

Another option for surge celebrators would be to simply join the U.S. armed forces and volunteer to be deployed to Iraq, but I’m willing to bet that all of them take the same position that Vice President Cheney took when his peers were being sent to Vietnam — they’ve got more important things to do here in the United States than to fight to defend our freedoms and our national security.

I read in the New York Times that Air Force Captain Nick Sloan volunteered for Iraq duty solely for financial reasons — to get the tax-free income to pay off his $68,000 debt. Wow! What greater and more nobler cause to kill and die for than that? If Sloan has to kill an Iraqi, I wonder what he’ll say to God on Judgment Day.

The surge celebrators are ignoring a critically important thing: In terms of morality, any measure of the surge is quite irrelevant. No U.S. soldier has had any moral right to kill even one single Iraqi because the U.S. government had no right to invade or occupy Iraq, given that Iraq never attacked the United States. He has no moral right to kill anyone for the sake of “stability,” regime change, order, or any other political goal.

Meanwhile, the Congress, preoccupied with the bathroom activities of Senator Larry Craig, has yet to show any interest in conducting a full, complete, and thorough investigation into the torture and sex-abuse policies and practices of the Pentagon and the CIA.

Federal spending continues out of control, especially on the U.S. military-industrial complex and the permanent occupation of Iraq. That includes the $600 million being spent on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which is about the size of the Vatican.

Our country is heading toward a very high cliff, and federal officials are taking us there. At least some of us are resisting the trend, while others are happy, smiling lemmings singing the praises of their leaders.