Category Archives: Politics

Preambles, 2nd Amendment, and Abortion

I am a fan of “The American View,” hosted by John Lofton, who recently announced on the show an e-mail spat he was having with a University of Maryland (Baltimore Campus) assistant professor of political science.  Said professor had taken the discussion public in a web article, and Mr. Lofton posted his reply.  While no doubt hours could be spent on dissecting the disagreements, one particular point stood out to me in Prof. Schaller’s post:

Fifth, if you want to be a strict constructionist, fine, but be one even when it’s inconvenient. Imagine if the Second Amendment read as follows: “A woman’s ability to survive childbearing being necessary to a free state, the right to abort a fetus shall not be infringed.” Now, do you think the anti-choice movement would simply ignore the leading clause and resign themselves to the idea that a woman has an unconditional right to abortion? Not a chance, and they’d be right to fight because the language clearly implies a conditional right. And yet we almost never hear gun rights advocates mention the actual Second Amendment’s leading clause, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….,” which at least suggests a collective right—indeed, obligation—to an armed defense of the state, rather than an individual’s right to use arms to protect himself and his property. For the record, I support gun rights with some restrictions, but that’s besides my point, which is that you can’t be so selective in citing the language in the Constitution that you chop off inconveniently ambiguous parts of the same sentence upon which you base a categorical claim.

Something that seems to always get lost in the discussion about the leading clause of the second amendment (when it is brought up by those who wish to infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms) is the grammatical structure of the sentence.  (A similar mistake is made in discussions about the “general welfare” clauses; see below.)  The sentence is structured as “A, therefore B,” with the “therefore” being implicit.  A being “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”, therefore B: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Professor Schaller comes very close to getting it right: ““A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….,”… at least suggests a collective right—indeed, obligation—to an armed defense of the state, rather than an individual’s right to use arms to protect himself and his property.”  While he captures some of the logic of the leading clause, namely that for the militia to be able to defend the community/state/confederation, the citizenry must be armed, he fails to recognize that the core clause (“the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) is not diminished by this fact, but rather strengthened.  After all, by the logic of the amendment, the strength of the militia is in the arms kept and borne by the people, ergo any diminution of said arms is a diminution of the strength of the militia and would thus be detrimental to the whole community/state/confederation and must be proscribed to the civil government.  It appears, without knowing the professor further, that he is solely identifying his idea of a militia with that structure that has come to be known as the National Guard, rather than the armed citizenry united in common defense.

The logic borne out by the professor’s argument, to wit, that citing the rationale for a restriction or power of government is to empower the rationale as a separate restriction of power, is also seen in arguments regarding the general welfare clauses of the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.  [Preamble]

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; [Article 1, Section 8]

The first case of a general welfare clause occurs in the Preamble, and clearly generates no additional powers, as it is purely an argument as to why the Constitution is called for at all (that is to say “To promote the general welfare, we wrote this Constitution”).  The second is more difficult, as it is written in such a way as to superficially appear as a distinct power.  However, it falls under the first power of Article 1, Section 8, which is the power of taxation.  It, and the common defense and debt clauses which precede it, are limitations on the use of taxation, the details of which are laid out in the powers which follow.  In short, since “common defence and general welfare” are used identically in the clause, if “general welfare” is distinct from all authority that follows, then “common defence” is distinct as well from those that follow, and Congress’s power to provide for the common defence would then be distinct from its powers to “raise and support armies” and to “provide and maintain a Navy,” which is absurd on its face.  The power to fund the military is the means of providing for the common defense, which necessitates the power to tax for the common defense in the taxation power.  Similarly, the powers to coin money, to establish post offices, to grant patents and copyrights, etc. are the means of providing for the general welfare, which necessitates the inclusion of the power to tax for the general welfare in the taxation power.

Furthermore, it is essential to note that even if the second general welfare clause were to generate a new power (which it does not), it would still only be applicable to the “general welfare,” which is to say the welfare of all of the nation and all in the nation equally.

Lastly, Prof. Schaller suggests a hypothetical alternative 2nd amendment dealing with prenatal infanticide (“abortion”) rather than the right of self-defense, suggesting that constitutional originalists would interpret said alternative amendment differently than the actual amendment.  I would disagree, although our conclusions would likely work out the same.  Whereas “gun control” advocates seek to infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms by passing laws in direct contradiction to the wording of the amendment and seeking a court to pretend that it’s not in direct contradiction to the amendment, I would see constitutional originalists who would want to get past the hypothetical 2nd amendment doing so via the constitutionally prescribed method–that is, by a new amendment to eliminate such a heinous concept from the constitution.

The Weak and Strong Pro-Life Arguments and Policy

There are two distinctly different streams of political philosophy, each of which calls itself pro-life.  They differ very strongly over the course of action that should be taken with regards to abortion policy.  Herein, I intend to analyze the differences and put forward a hypothesis to explain the differences.

The first camp, I will term (at this point) the “mainstream” pro-life camp.  They are the core of groups such as National Right to Life, the Family Resource Council, and Focus on the Family.  They strongly object to federal funding of abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or life or health of the mother.  Their efforts focus on reducing abortions via such laws as ultrasound requirements, parental consent, and waiting periods.

The second camp, I will term (at this point) the “100%” pro-life camp.  They are represented in the American Life League and the pre-2006 Constitution Party.  They reject any exceptions to abortion ban and will, in many cases, assert that abortion is already made illegal by laws against murder.

The difference between them, as I see it, is the fundamental argument against abortion.  The first, that represented by the mainstream pro-lifers, I myself voiced in a middle school debate class.  It is the argument from personal responsibility, which is to say, any person who willingly undertakes an action of which pregnancy is a possible outcome is committing oneself to the entailing responsibilities of said action.  Particularly, in this argument, those responsibilities include the responsibilities for the outcome of pregnancy–to wit, the baby.  Following this argument, exceptions in the case of rape or incest would be permissible, as the victim of the rape or incest did not willingly undertake the action which resulted in the pregnancy, and is therefore not responsible for the consequence–the baby.

The alternative argument, belonging to the 100% pro-lifers, is that the baby is inherently and inarguably a human being, and is therefore entitled to all rights inhering to such a status, which includes the unalienable right to life.  Said right being unalienable, no right or privilege claimed by the mother grants her the authority to alienate the life from the baby.  As such, no exception to prohibitions on abortion are acceptable, as regardless of the restricition, be it parental consent, informed consent, or a waiting period, after meeting all restrictions, the mother is considered to be endowed with the authority to reduce her baby to a corpse.

The difference in the argument, as I see it, is the fundamental difference between these two camps.  This difference is particularly pronounced in that most current abortion restrictions (cf. Hyde amendment) include language allowing for exceptions in cases of pregnancies brought about by rape or incest, and the only argument I have yet seen that would, in and of itself, justify any limitation on abortion and also allow for such exceptions.

And, for the record, the first and second arguments I cited are, respectively, those the title calls the “weak” and “strong” pro-life arguments.  And I hold unapologetically to the latter.

Bailout Bill, pt. 1

Monday, Sept. 29: 225-208 against

Friday, Oct. 3: 263-171 for

So I guess the problem with the original bill is that it didn’t have enough pork?

I find it interesting that my congressman, Collin Peterson, was a cosponsor of the bill, but voted against it.  I would assume that he was a cosponsor of the original form of the bill, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007, named after our late senator, but was either (a) not a supporter of the bailout or (b) not willing to give up his seat to Glen Menze (for which I can’t blame him).  Of course, I see little hope for either of our senators, and if there was anyone worth voting for, I could readily see Norm Coleman losing his seat this November.

More to come, including an in-depth breakdown of the causes of the financial collapse.

Barack Obama vs. Letter Carriers

I was listening recently to the audio book version of Senator Obama’s The Audacity of Hope (because it’s easier to listen to it at work than to find the time to sit and read it), and discovered (on Disc 4), the senator’s health care plan, which includes allowing everyone to buy into the Federal Employee Health Benefits plans.  Now this surprised me, given that my union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, has endorsed Mr. Obama for president.  The reason for my surprise, of course, is that the NALC’s members would have their health insurance costs go up under this plan.

Letter carriers, which are among the healthier subsets of Americans, and far healthier on average than the average American, are a substantial chunk of the current FEHB enrollees.  I have not had any luck tracking down enrollment numbers in FEHB (but will continue to look), but I know that there are ~200,000 letter carriers in the USA, and I would project maximum FEHB enrollment at ~2 million.  If the more than 200 million citizens of the USA were to suddenly enroll in the FEHB plans, the letter carriers would go from ~10% of enrollment to ~0.1% of enrollment, which would decrease the overall health level of the risk pool, and drive up prices substantially.

Political bias aside, I have some trouble understanding why the letter carriers’ union would endorse a candidate whose stated plan for health care would have a direct negative effect on its’ members’ health care.  None of the reasons the NALC has stated for supporting Obama (e.g. EFCA) has as much of a direct impact on letter carriers as this one component, and that makes the NALC look like yet another partisan tool of Big Labor.

Bristol Palin and Abstinence-Only Education

I took a trip to Colorado this past summer, and it was during multi-hour drives between locales that I had the immense pleasure of listening to AM 760, Colorado’s Progressive Talk.  It drove my wife absolutely mad, but I really find leftist talk radio very funny, and it also gives me an idea of what sort of ideas are floating around the liberal-progressive mindset that I may need to confront or rebuke.

It is through listening to this station’s podcasts here at home that I learned of a liberal argument that is being made with regards to the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, and her daughter Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  They assert that this pregnancy demonstrates the weakness of abstinence-only sex education, which is the variety of sex education Governor Palin allegedly supports.  From this, of course, they assert that “comprehensive sex education,” which involves “safer sex” recommendations, including contraception, is necessary and superior.  They often cite a few supporting studies, which indicate that participants in abstinence-only programs are as likely to fornicate as teenagers as those who do not, and are less likely to use “safer sex” practices when they do so.  Recent statistics have questioned the accuracy of the second statistic.  However, statistics they use in their own defense similarly do not show a reduction in sexual activity among participants in comprehensive sex education, but they boldly defend themselves with statistics indicating that comprehensive sex education programs “do not increase rates of sexual initiation, do not lower the age at which youth initiate sex, and do not increase the frequency of sex or the number of sex partners among sexually active youth.”

I think it clear that neither program is going to do what makes sex education desirable–reduce premarital sexual activity.  Comprehensive sex education supporters (scroll down to “Is it realistic to encourage abstinence until marriage?”) admit that they do not share that intention, believing it to be unrealistic, or, as one opposing site framed their position, impossible to get to marriage without copulating.  So since neither abstinence-only nor comprehensive sex education has a statistical advantage to silence on this point, what can be done to accomplish the goal of reducing premarital sexual activity?

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

Short of a transformed, redeemed, regenerate mind and spirit, I think the comprehensive sex-ed supporters are right–it is impossible to, by power of will, abstain until marriage.  But to follow Paul’s words above can and should be a delight for every Christian single.  But I think even that advice is incomplete, and by itself weak to support the Christian’s will during a time of temptation.  A simple admonition to abstain is insufficient.  “Just don’t have sex!” will never be a compelling motivation.

Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. – Proverbs 5: 15-19

This is where the real drive for abstinence can come–a true biblical vision for the delights of marital sexuality.  With the knowledge both that God not only condemns fornication (and other sexual sins), but also approves and blesses a bevy of delights within marriage (I’ve had even unsaved friends comment on the sexual license indicated by the Song of Solomon.), one has both the negative and the positive motivations to delay sexual activity until within the bonds of marital oneness.

And that, I think, is where abstinence-only education fails–it cannot (in the current public school environment) point either to God’s condemnations of fornication, nor to the glorious beauty of marital sexuality as designed and blessed by God.  Without those two ingredients, any program will fail to produce meaningful increases in abstinence.

P.S. The Mathematica study, frequently cited as proof that abstinence-only education programs fail to improve abstinence rates, concluded that only two things are truly meaningful positive predictors of sexual abstinence: personal support for abstinence, and peer support for abstinence.  Interestingly, among the more religious teenagers, as well as among those who desire a good marriage and believe it possible, the abstinence-only courses have a negative impact on overall abstinence.  Therefore, I amend my previous conclusion:

Without those two ingredients, [A]ny program will fail to produce meaningful increases in abstinence.  Without those two ingredients, individuals will very likely fail to abstain.

McCain-Palin ’08

I am an avid listener to talk radio, both of the left and the right, and have heard many comments about “what Sarah Palin brings to the McCain campaign” or something to that effect.  It tends to come down to the following:

  • securing the conservative base
  • appealing to women
  • appealing to moderates
  • supporting the campaign’s relative strength on the energy issue, esp. oil

Neither being a woman nor a moderate, nor finding a McCain ticket with or without Palin particularly strong on oil, I will address only the first of those points.

It seems clear to me that Sarah Palin has done nothing to genuinely secure the conservative base.  All that she really brings in terms of reaching conservatives is fitting a sort of conservative ideal personally–she’s a hunter, she plays hockey, she’s a mom, she has five kids, she lives out pro-life values.  However, her record is painfully short, and inconsistent in those areas where she does have conservative bona fides.  After the debacle that was Harriet Miers (and the leftists have a valid point in that comparison), the conservative base has shown that they are not generally swayed by statements of a candidate’s conservatism, or assurances from the president in Miers’ case.  They want a history, a verifiable record of conservative principles shown in conservative actions.  And that brings up what she really brings to the ticket, which is what the McCain campaign really needed:

She gives conservatives who are terrified of a Barack Obama presidency an excuse to change their minds about the unacceptability of a McCain ticket.

By that comment, I mean that many people, especially pundits and radio hosts, voiced opinions about McCain during the primary season indicating that they found him (rightly, in my mind) a wholly unacceptable candidate due to his support for such policies as “comprehensive immigration reform” and the McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection Act (not its real official name).  However, they see now how terrifying a Barack Obama presidency would be–how he would soak the rich (because they “can afford it”) to give more and more handouts to more and more government dependents, how he would fight to undermine traditional, American, Christian moral positions (cf. abortion, marriage), how he would withdraw the American military from a counterinsurgency campaign without securing victory, much like Vietnam.  Seeing these problems, these vocal McCain opponents feel a need to support McCain if only to oppose Obama.  They also see, however, that to simply ignore their earlier comments and support McCain would be rightly seen as hypocrisy and show them either to be lying or to have been lying about the quality of a McCain presidency.  As such, they needed some quantum shift to justify switching their position on McCain, and the nomination of Sarah Palin gives them that.  And that’s the real reason they love her.

Fossil Fuels and Global Warming

fossil fuel
n.   A hydrocarbon deposit, such as petroleum, coal, or natural gas, derived from living matter of a previous geologic time and used for fuel.

So states the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.  wikipedia goes on to state:

The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tonnes (= 21.3 gigatons) of carbon dioxide per year, but it is estimated that natural processes can only absorb about half of that amount, so there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year (one tonne of atmospheric carbon is equivalent to 44/12 or 3.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide). Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that enhances radiative forcing and contributes to global warming, causing the average surface temperature of the Earth to rise in response, which climate scientists agree will cause major adverse effects, including reduced biodiversity and, over time, cause sea level rise.

So here’s my question: If fossil fuels (coal, oil, etc.) are “derived from living matter of a previous geologic time,” where did they get the carbon dioxide released by their combustion?  They are hydrocarbons, ostensibly produced by biological processes involving–you guessed it–carbon dioxide.  Since the earth is a relatively closed system, there are really only three potential sources of the hydrocarbons in fossil fuels.

1. Natural processes involving carbon dioxide previously in the atmosphere.  Or at least carbon and oxygen.

2. Meteorites and other small objects from space.  This contribution is bound to be minimal.

3. Introduction during creation ex nihilo.  Since the overwhelming majority of proponents of global warming discount this option out of hand, I do not feel pressed to explore its consequences with regards to global warming, at least at this time.

Unless the meteorites floating in lifeless space contain a higher percentage of carbon dioxide than is normally extant in our atmosphere which supports billions of carbon-dioxide-spewing animals, the second option cannot have increased (as a proportion of the earth system) the carbon-dioxide available to be turned into hydrocarbons.  Therefore, the carbon dioxide that is released by the combustion of hydrocarbons must have been processed by previous lifeforms, meaning…

THE CARBON DIOXIDE WAS PREVIOUSLY IN THE ATMOSPHERE, which means, of course, that any environmental impact that it could have in the future it must already have had in the past.  As a result, any environmental impact that it could have in the future is not going to be some kind of world-destroying apocalyptic impact.  At worst, even if we burn all of the hydrocarbons existent in all of the fossil fuels the world over, we end up with the kind of concentration of carbon dioxide that existed prior to the existence of carbon-dioxide-respirating lifeforms such as plants.