Thursday, September 17, 2009

The meaning of "general welfare" in the Constitution

In honor of Constitution Day, I am presenting a short lesson on the meaning of the term "general welfare" in the Constitution. The term appears twice. In the Preamble:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
and in Article 1 Section 8:
Section 8. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Over time, Liberals and Progressives have used these references to "general welfare" to justify unlimited expansion of federal government power. They argue that, despite the Constitution's limit on the scope of the federal government to specific enumerated powers, the government has the power to do anything if it merely states it is to benefit the "general welfare". Therefore, they argue, the federal government has the power of taxation for the purpose of redistributing wealth, of mandating the purchase of health insurance, and so on.

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote extensively about what is meant by the term "general welfare" in the Constitution. Their views reflect the original intent of the Constitution, which is its only meaning until it is amended otherwise. Madison was very specific in regards to Art.1 Sec. 8 and the words "general welfare". He said:
"To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators".

The following is a selection of additional quotes by Madison and Jefferson on "general welfare" and the Constitution:
"With respect to the two words 'general welfare', I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators." James Madison in a letter to James Robertson

"If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their Own hands; they may a point teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit of the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare." James Madison

"Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." Thomas Jefferson

"To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." Thomas Jefferson

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." James Madison, 4 Annals of Congress 179, 1794

"[T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government." James Madison

The Framers of the Constitution explicitly stated that charity is no duty or power of the federal government. They were not against charity, at the private or state government level, but they understood that if the federal government is given the power to do anything in the name of charity, it will inevitably use charity as an excuse to expand its own size and power, and the power and liberty of the states and of the people will be diminished and eventually destroyed. We are far down that path today. It would be good on this Constitution Day for Liberals and Conservatives alike to consider the above words and wisdom of our Founding Fathers and re-evaluate their views on the proper role and power of the federal government.

I forgot to include another quote from James Madison, which encapsulates the entire spirit of the Constitution and the intended legal role of the federal government:
"Powers delegated to the federal government are few & defined. Those which are to remain in the states are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects: war, peace, negotiation & foreign commerce.... The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties & properties of the people" James Madison

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obama unveils his plan to kill tens of thousands of American civilians

Today, the Obama administration unveiled its plan to raise car fuel efficiency requirements to 35.5 mpg by 2016.  CAFE standards force Americans into smaller, lighter cars that fail to protect passengers in collisions.  The National Academy of Sciences has linked current fuel efficiency standards with about 2,000 additional deaths per year by traffic accidents.  From USA Today:
To hit the 2016 targets, automakers plan to field more small cars and smaller engines with advanced technology. Ford Motor plans to bring an array of its small, European-market cars. Fiat-controlled Chrysler will sell versions of the Italian maker's small cars. General Motors plans to boost its offerings rated 30 mpg or more on the highway by 65%.
Apparently the Obama administration is willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of American lives in order to reduce the atmospheric content of a compound that's essential to life on Earth and has no detrimental effect on anything.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's health care savings estimate off by a factor of 4

In his speech last night on health care, President Obama stated:
Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.
I've done a simple calculation to check the accuracy of this statement.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates Obamacare will add $1 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years.  In 2007-2008 there were 43 million and 49 million Medicare and Medicaid recipients, respectively.  The average annual administrative cost per person in Medicare was $509 in 2005 (the most recent data available), and we can assume a similar number for Medicaid.  If Obamacare succeeds beyond everyone's wildest dreams, in fact beyond what is physically possible, and reduces waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid by 100%, it will save $509 x (43 + 49 million) * 10 years = $468 billion over 10 years.  That's less than half the net cost of Obamacare.

A more reasonable estimate would be a waste reduction of 50%*, which would mean $234 billion in savings.  That's less than 1/4 the net cost of Obamacare.  Also note that the CBO's $1 trillion estimate already takes into account the cost savings proposed in H.R. 3200, so in reality Obama's savings estimate is off by a far greater amount.  There is no way reducing waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid could pay for Obamacare.

*Many conservatives argue there will be no savings at all.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The country's in the very best of hands...

One has to wonder how the 9-11 truther Van Jones made it past Obama's notoriously extensive 7-page appointee vetting questionnaire to become his "Green Jobs Czar".

Real Health Care Reform

Today my article on health care reform was published in the Orlando/UCF newspaper The Central Florida Future. Here's the link to the online version. Check out the comments too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Canadian human rights progress; European human rights decline

There are many reasons Americans have historically differentiated ourselves from Europeans (and it's unfortunate that today some believe we should emulate Europe). One such reason is our respect for natural human rights like freedom of speech. As a consequence America has rejected the idea of "hate speech". The same doesn't hold true for Canada, where hate speech laws have been used to prosecute individuals for committing acts that in the US would be protected as basic human rights: expressing a religious belief (pastor Stephen Boisson), criticizing a religious belief (author Mark Steyn), publishing those infamous Muhammad cartoons (human rights hero Ezra Levant), and allowing visitors to post hateful comments on your website (webmaster Marc Lemire), even if the comment is left "by a police officer posing as a racist".

It should come as a shock to Americans that these simple acts are viewed as crimes by our neighbors to the north (the Canadian government, not necessarily the Canadian people). In defending these prosecutions, Canadian Human Rights Commissioner Dean Steacy recently stated: "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value". This sentiment prompted a call for Congress to put Canada on the watch list of human rights abusers.

Today a major ruling in the Lemire case marks a victory for the cause of human rights in Canada. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which concerns hate speech, was found to be in violation of Canadians' Charter Right to freedom of expression. While this ruling only applies to the Lemire case and it will certainly be appealed, one can hope that this is the first step in toppling the regime of censorship in Canada.

Conversely, in Europe today: Dutch prosecutors are charging an Arab cultural group under hate speech laws for posting a cartoon on their own website. I won't post the cartoon here because I don't want the Dutch police coming after me (just kidding, I live in America - here it is), but here's the description:

The cartoon shows two apparently Jewish men standing near a pile of skeletons with a sign that says "Auswitch," presumably representing the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz.

One pokes a bone with a stick and says "I don't think they're Jews" and the other answers, "We have to get to the six million somehow."

The Arab European League posted their cartoon as an "act of civil disobedience" in response to the Netherlands' refusal to prosecute a Dutch lawmaker for including cartoons of Muhammad in a film. One might presume the AEL's objective is not to contest hate speech laws, but to have them enforced against those who insult Islam. However, according to the article, the AEL chairman has stated he believes anyone should be allowed to publish insulting material in the interest of public debate.

In 2005 free speech activists around the world rallied in support of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of Muhammad and prompted worldwide protests by Muslims. Will free speech crusaders come to the defense of Muslims this time around?