Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two Muslims - Lost in Translation?

Some time ago I wrote a rather LONG post explaining why you can't apply moral equivalency comparisons between Islam and Christianity based on Old Testament scripture. For reference, here's a link:

I should re-iterate what's in the "Ground Rules" page. This is a moderated blog. All comments are presented to me for approval before posting. Sometimes, this is to prevent offensive comments, though I can't remember having done that before. This time it's for a different reason.

Yesterday I received two comments from Muslim readers congratulating me on the clarity of that post. Normally I would say "thank you!" and approve the comments. However, I'm not doing that in the present case. Here's why:

The comments are from Middle East Muslims and it's evident to me that they do not speak or write English fluently. Normally that wouldn't bother me either. They SAID they liked it. The weird part is, I don't know whether that's because they did, or because of flawed translation software (Google Translate or equivalent). I suspect it's the latter, because my criticism "above the fold" was pretty subtle. I just laid it out and invited people to make up their minds.

I was trying my best to be even handed about it and present Islamic arguments precisely as I have seen sheiks explain them to other Muslims. Now, these guys seemed to think it was exactly what I did.

BUT... my audience is not Muslim. One of my points is that the arguments that are solidly pro-Islam to a Muslim are exactly the opposite to us kafir ("infidels"). I firmly believe that to be the case, as when a sheik patiently explains that death is the "best possible punishment" for certain crimes, such as apostasy (leaving the religion). Fundamentalist Muslims firmly believe that without any twinge of guilt because they believe Allah has ordained it. Christians find the suggestion abhorrent because they believe God would never ordain such a thing since the advent of the Messiah. Atheists would also find the suggestion abhorrent because no one has the right to curtail another person's life for something as deeply personal as a religious choice.

My problem is not that, having presented both sides fairly and inviting you to make a choice, they of course chose Islam and wrote to tell me how well I explained it. My concern is what this might mean to them if they made this statement of agreement accidentally. They may not actually agree with what I'm actually saying, in which case they may be surrounded by others who would be greatly offended if they were to catch on that I am definitely not pro-Jihad. These commenters may be very nice people whose only faults may be not knowing English very well and having violent friends. I don't want anyone to be injured or lose face simply because they accidentally agreed with me.

On the other hand, it's possible that they do agree with me (God bless them). If so, withholding their names and website information could be the greatest favor I can do for them.

To those commenters: I don't know whether you sincerely agree with me, or even intend to. If you do, I appreciate your moral support. If you don't, I hope I've just saved you from some embarrassment, or worse. The next time you see a Christian being persecuted, remember that it could be you. If you would rather clarify your thoughts, please try commenting again.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tax Breaks Are Not "Expensive", Forbes

Forbes recently published the following:
The 15 Most Expensive Tax Breaks
The January 2013 fiscal cliff tax deal raised tax rates for the wealthy, but Washington continues to look at limiting tax breaks – either to raise more revenue or to reform the tax code and lower tax rates, or both. Here are the 15 most expensive “tax expenditures” benefiting individuals, based on the Joint Tax Committee’s estimates of what they’ll cost Uncle Sam in 2013 through 2017. The list includes not only deductions and income exclusions, but also refundable credits and subsidies that are wholly or partly delivered through the tax code and IRS.

 The entire article is based on that premise that they will "cost Uncle Sam". Here's a newsflash for the experts at Forbes:
The money that is retained by the people 
belongs to the people.
It is not Uncle Sam's to "give", and it is not an "expenditure" of the governments. Unrealized income is not, not, not an expense. Presenting it in those terms is a clear indication of anti-Constitutional bias of the author, atypical of Forbes magazine. They are in practice simply parroting the Administration's own anti-capitalistic rhetoric. So let's acknowledge the puppetry and address the Administration's points. Click through the header so Forbes will get a visit and can't bitch about losing traffic. Then read this point-by-point list, reproduced here under Fair Use under Title 17 for the purpose of critical analysis and political commentary:
1. Employer Paid Health Insurance 
Five year cost: $760 billion
If a company provides you with health insurance or health care, it can deduct the cost from its taxable income. But the value of the premiums or care is not counted as income to you, even though it may now, confusingly, show up on your W-2 (in box 12, Code DD). Beginning in 2018, the value of certain high-cost “Cadillac” health insurance plans will be subject to a premium tax, but even that tax won’t be levied directly on individuals.
It is absolutely astonishing that a deduction for healthcare is listed here. Of course, the Administration would prefer to BE the sole payer of health costs through heavy taxation, rather than allow the free market to work. If you spend more on better insurance, reducing the burden on the government, the government taxes you for it; and the government itself defines "premium". There is no possible universe in which that does not exactly equal the government deliberately undermining free enterprise and the use of private insurance.

Bottom Line: You are responsible for your health, and should be encouraged to spend wisely toward the same, using your own funds. "Safety nets" are for those who can not; not for those who will not. The government doesn't need to tax income that was expended for insurance, because the government has no role in paying for the services that you purchased on the free market. The Administration's argument translates to their desire to simply steal your money and lie about its use.
2. Lower Rate For Capital Gains, Dividends 
Five year cost: $616 billion
Qualified corporate dividends and capital gains on stock and certain other investments held for more than a year are taxed at a top 20% rate, compared to a 39.6% rate for ordinary income such as salary and taxable bond and CD interest. Among the biggest tax expenditures, the benefit of this one skews the most to the rich.
This is fomentation of class-envy, and nothing else. Private-sector innovation and competition are fueled by investment. This is why capital gains must be held for a time before realizing the lower rate. If they were taxed at the same rate as ordinary income, you might as well cash them in, removing them from the investment pool.

Bottom Line: This skews to investors, because investment is a necessary component of a free-market economy. Without this, investors would cash out early, which wouldn't harm them at all, but would greatly retard the economy.
3. State And Local Tax Deductions
Five year cost: $431 billion
Taxpayers who itemize can deduct state income or sales tax, plus taxes on personal property. The tally for that is $278 billion. Itemizers can also deduct real estate taxes on their homes – another $153 billion over the five years.
The Administration would like to tax the money you've paid in as taxes.

Bottom Line: There is no intelligent reason whatsoever to tax your taxes.
4. Mortgage interest deduction
Five year cost: $379 billion
Taxpayers can deduct interest paid on mortgages totaling up to $1.1 million used to buy or improve a primary home and a secondary or vacation home. A yacht with a berth, galley and head can count as a second home. The $379 billion doesn’t include other breaks for housing, such as the exclusion from income of up to $500,000 per couple in capital gains from the sale of a principal residence, which will cost $130 billion over the next five years.
Once again, we see class envy's ugly head. A yacht counts as a second home because it's factually a home. People live on yachts.

Bottom Line: The hidden bulk of the iceberg of this deduction goes not to rich fat-cats, but to millions of working men and women who are buying homes. It's there to encourage home ownership, and that's a Good Thing(tm). The Administration decry its application to certain people not because it's bad or unfair, but because those people have money that the Administration would like to steal.
5. Tax Free Medicare Benefits
Five year cost: $358 billion
All Medicare insurance benefits are excluded from taxation. To the extent that the value of that insurance exceeds the premiums senior pay and the amount they have contributed in Medicare taxes during their working years, the value of Medicare is considered untaxed income to them.
We tax people so as to cover healthcare insurance which they otherwise couldn't afford in their old age. Some people receive more than they paid in, but that's the way insurance normally and necessarily works. It is, in fact, a defining characteristic of insurance as opposed to a pre-payment plan. Insurance is not only a bet; it's a distribution of risk.

Now wrap your head around this: having received the money and re-distributed it (not to the patients, but to the healthcare providers), the Administration would like to tax the patients for the value that was paid to the third party. These are the same patients who are old enough to receive Medicare benefits and are typically living on a fixed income. Incidentally, taxes on that same money are already paid by the healthcare providers, because it is their income.

Bottom Line: "the value... is considered untaxed income...". Is considered by who? Answer: by the people who would rather have the money themselves.
6. Workplace Retirement Saving Plans 
Five year cost: $336 billion  
This number includes the exclusion from taxable income of employer and employee contributions to 401(k)s and other employer sponsored retirement savings plans, as well as the exclusion of earnings in these accounts. It doesn't include the additional $64 billion cost for retirement plans for the self employed or the $212 billion cost for traditional, employer paid “defined benefit” pensions – the kind that pay a set amount each month.
Retirement savings are tax deferred to encourage people to save for their own retirement. Indeed, there is no need for the government to tax this income at all, as it reduces the need for the government to step in and care for those people who did not so save. All government taxation should have a direct purpose; and "the money exists" just isn't good enough.

Bottom Line: This is more empty class-envy rhetoric; this time focused on the gainfully employed and responsibly self-employed. The Administration has no objection to you being wholly dependent on the government.
7. Earned Income Credit
Five year cost: $326 billion 
This credit is available to low income working families; the maximum credit in 2013 for families with three or more children is $6,044. The credit is refundable – meaning families can get back more from the credit than paid in taxes. Of the $326 billion, $283 billion will be made up of such refunds.
The EITC is money the government provides you for being poor and having a job. That's it. It's difficult to make ends meet, so if you get a job, the government gives you money, redistributed from the wealth collected from other taxpayers. For instance, if you have a low-paying job at McDonald's and you've got a family, you get up to $6,000 a year that you didn't earn... something that the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd never figures into their calculations. Mainly that's because it's given in a lump sum once a year as a tax "refund", and the recipients blow it.

Now you need to do the same "wrap your head" exercise you did with the concept of taxing Medicare. This is money collected from taxes, redistributed. It IS taxes. The Administration would like to tax taxes.

They could do the same thing by reducing the EITC (which to the average Joe means "I get less back in taxes") or by lowering the statutory minimum wage (which likewise leaves the average Joe less cash in pocket). Of course, these things are political suicide, because people would notice. "Earned Income Tax Credit" isn't descriptive in any way, but sounds vaguely technical and unfair, so it's easy to slide by low-income working families that it primarily targets.

It's also possible to do the same thing by raising the minimum wage; but be advised that should this happen, the EITC should be done away with. The guy who's been working several years and has gotten several raises doesn't get or need that credit; and when you're suddenly raised to his level you shouldn't need it either. It then goes from being non-taxable "free money" to taxable income, and you'll see less of it. Welcome to wealth.

Bottom Line: It's best to work and earn your own way. What Uncle Sam giveth, Uncle Sam taketh away. If you're getting an EITC, you're now "rich" because you're working and not on the dole; though really, you are.
8. Child Credit 
Five year cost: $292 billion  
This $1,000 credit for each child under 17 begins to phase out once a couple’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $110,000 or a single parent’s MAGI exceeds $75,000. The credit is partially refundable – meaning families can get back more from the credit than they paid in income tax. Of the $292 billion cost, $154 billion comes from such refunds.
A credit is not a "refund". The shoddy thinking that results from shoddy language was evident when we saw that people blow their Earned Income Tax Credit because it's considered a "refund" when in fact it's supplemental income. It makes people who receive thousands more than they're taxed complain about the taxable part of their income because they mistakenly believe it's their only income.

Having and raising kids is expensive. Parents -- real parents -- make hard sacrifices for their children. The government promotes the "it takes a village" mentality by making sure that it does take a village. So they rob Peter to pay you for having children.

Bottom Line: There is no reason that anyone else should pay you child support for children they had no part in creating. You should have the number of children you can afford. If the government pays for your kids, it's difficult for you to argue that you should be the sole arbiter of how they are raised. The administration would like to buy your sovereignty, and you've been happy to let them.
9. Capital Gains Excluded At Death 
Five year cost: $258 billion  
When you die the basis of your assets is “stepped up” to their current market value. That means heirs can sell right away without owing capital gains tax and that the unrealized appreciation in assets held until death is never taxed.
Your heirs do not buy their inheritance. When they acquire it, it's worth what it's worth. They don't pay capital gains because they realize no capital gains, and that's just reality. However, they do owe inheritance taxes based on the present value.

Bottom Line: The Administration would like to tax the same assets twice: once as capital gains, and again as inheritance. Why? Because you have money that they would like to steal. There's no social purpose for the confiscation.
10. Insurance Exchange Subsidies 
Five year cost: $238 billion  
Under Obamacare, beginning in 2014, families that buy insurance through state health insurance exchanges and earn up to 400% of the poverty level will be eligible for refundable tax credits to subsidize the cost of insurance premiums that exceed a certain percentage of their income (the percentage rises with income). The credits are “advanceable”—meaning they can be delivered through insurers in the form of lower premium payments.
The federal government shouldn't be offering insurance exchange subsidies in any case. Under the ACA ("Obamacare") this is at the option of the various states. There is no statutory authority under which permits the federal government to supply the subsidies. But let's pretend for a moment that this is not as blatantly illegal as it obviously is...

This is another case of the government giving money collected as taxes to someone else, where it is already taxed as income, then wanting to come back to you and tax you for the value that was given to the third party. As you can see, they do this a lot, hoping that you won't notice.

Bottom Line: It's wrong every time they do it. Again, the exact same result is achieved by lowering the "benefit". But politics trumps intelligence on Capitol Hill every single day, and the current Administration has no respect for the laws passed by the representatives of the People.
11. Charitable Deductions 
Five year cost: $224 billion  
This includes the cost of itemized deductions for contributions to social welfare charities ($178 billion), as well as health ($30 billion) and educational institutions ($16 billion). Since donors who don’t itemize get no tax break, more than half of the value of this deduction goes to those with income above $200,000.
Couched in the commentary is the hogwash off-hand class envy implication that the rich (who indisputably do the lion's share of charitable giving, and therefore itemize) unfairly benefit from the deduction that is there to encourage them to make the charitable contributions that they subsequently make.

It's just a fact that the Government deals with social welfare poorly, inefficiently, with far too much bureaucracy. In a world where the government is tasked with promoting the "general welfare", it makes plenty of sense to encourage people to support charities to lessen the dependency of the poor on inefficient government programs.

Reality: The Administration would like to take credit for your charity by claiming it as their expense, while at the same time suggesting it should be taxed (which would remove any credit they might claim). All together now: Unrealized income is not an expense. This enables them to promote the populist fiction that it is "the rich" who are sticking it to them.
12. Interest On Municipal Bonds 
Five year cost: $217 billion  
Interest earned on state and local bonds is tax free, although individual taxpayers don’t get the benefit of all of this subsidy, since they accept lower interest rates on muni bonds than on taxable bonds. The $217 billion includes $192 billion for state and local general purpose bonds and $25 billion for various “private activity” bonds that are exempted from regular tax but subject to the alternative minimum tax.
It seems that the Constitutional mandate to "promote the general welfare" wasn't much of a consideration when compiling this list.

Municipal bonds pay a pittance; but they're considered a safe investment because it's "the government", and you're not likely to lose. (Remember, investment is about profit AND loss.) People think of "the government" as something monolithic, but it's not. Your city, county, state, and federal governments are all separate. Nevertheless, the federal government is composed of lawmakers drawn from your localities, and it's in the interests of their constituents... "the People"... that they serve.

Bottom Line: It's in the interests of the People to encourage investment in local governments. Municipal bonds are sold to fund specific local projects that are quite frankly none of the federal government's business. As such, the federal government has no claim on these funds and should never tax them.
13. Employer Paid Pensions 
Five year cost: $212 billion  
This cost  is for traditional defined benefit pension plans, which, along with the cost of this break, are in decline. Employers can deduct their contributions now, but workers aren't taxed on their pensions until they retire and start receiving income from them.
Employers deduct the expense when the expense is incurred, and workers are taxed on the income when the income is received.

Reality: this isn't a problem, it's a pure example of fairness. Furthermore, it's none of the government's business.
14. Cafeteria Plan Benefits 
Five year cost: $193 billion  
Through what are known as Section 125 cafeteria plans, workers can elect to divert what would have been taxable salary into tax free benefits, such as group-term life insurance, extra dental or vision care and flexible spending accounts for medical and child care expenses. This cost doesn't include the estimated $29 billion Uncle Sam will lose from tax exclusion for parking and public transit benefits. 
Everything previously said about medical spending (particularly in item 1) applies here.

Bottom Line: It's still your health and your responsibility. The government still does not supply these services to those who purchase them, and therefore has no claim on that money. Universal taxation for healthcare makes sense to those who want a single-payer system, but that's not what we have.
15. Untaxed Social Security benefits 
Five year cost: $180 billion  
Anywhere from 0% to 85% of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits are included in taxable income, with the percentage rising as the taxpayer’s total income rises. The amount that isn't taxed and exceeds a beneficiary’s payment of Social Security taxes during his working life is counted as a tax expenditure.
As before... counted by who? Just because you choose to "count" something as a tax expenditure doesn't mean that it is. Social Security (in the United States) is not a retirement account; rather, it is social insurance. Don't believe me? It's listed in your payroll deductions as FICA, which stands for "Federal Insurance Contributions Act". If you're self-employed it's called SECA, which stand for Self "Employed Contributions Act".

As this is structured as "insurance", and it is administered by actuaries; then yes, sometimes people get out more than they paid in. Again, there's nothing wrong with that: it's the way insurance works. Some people get out less than they paid in. But there is no purpose whatsoever in taxing money that was collected as taxes and then paid back out. The exact same purpose can be accomplished by reducing the benefit. However, this (again) is political suicide. Politicians would still rather pay out the benefit, then play the class-envy card by pointing out how "unfair" it is that some people aren't paying taxes on some "income"; although they worked and contributed all their lives, with this stipend representing the many years when FICA taxes were deducted from their earnings.

Bottom Line: The Administration never tires of double taxation. And they never tire of finding creative ways to gain your permission to steal from you.

These are the kinds of games that the government plays with your money once they wrest it from you. They tax you, "give" it back to you, and then claim that the returned money is your "income". It happens over and over.

Outside the realm of taxation, they engage in licensing: that is, taking freedoms from you and then selling them back. (Example: You fished in a pond as a child. The government passes a law making it illegal to fish without a license. The government sells you a license. Meanwhile, the government never had jack shit to do with the pond or any fish in it.)

The government routinely over-spends money on things that it has no business spending money on in the first place. Our problem is not now, nor has it ever been a problem of under-taxation. It is wholly a problem of overspending.

Taxes should never be enacted except with precise, definable purpose. Those purposes should be limited and within the authority invested in Congress by the Constitution. Yet we repeatedly witness a trend toward taxing everything imaginable simply because it exists. This is ridiculous, by which I mean "worthy of ridicule". Meanwhile, you are increasingly restricted from acting on your own behalf for your own benefit. The right to the "pursuit of happiness" lies discarded and disused. "Don't pursue your happiness," we're advised, "vote for us and we'll give it to you."

Friday, January 30, 2015

There's No Right To Work

President Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, is confused as to the "rights" that are properly possessed by foreigners who illegally violate our borders.

This is in part understandable, as her questioner, Mr. Sessions, is more than a little confused as to the concept himself. My thoughts today touch on how the words we employ affect our comprehension.

EVERYONE has the same rights. That's why they're "inalienable". They're not bestowed upon you by the government. The problem is that few people recognize the distinction between "rights" and "privileges".

You might argue that it's semantics, and the unfortunate thing is that we have allowed it to become so. It's not a trivial difference, and it underscores the importance of getting the language right. We do ourselves no favors as individuals or as a nation when we let privileges become rights or grants become entitlements. Yet we do it all the time, to our detriment.

Voting, for instance... that's a privilege, not a right. It's reserved for citizens in good standing, which is why felons may be disenfranchised. When you claim that voting is a right of citizenship rather than a privilege and obligation, it quickly becomes confused with those inalienable rights due to all people. Muddy language leads to muddy understanding, to the point where elected politicians would cede control of elections to non-citizens, effectively ceding sovereignty. The slippery slope is real, and visible. Idiot lemmings are already sliding down it.

Mis-labeled "right to work" laws notwithstanding, working is also a privilege, not a right, even for citizens. It's why your employer can fire you... he doesn't owe you a job. It's why you can be denied employment by the state. Child molesters can't work with children; doctors and lawyers (and many others) must be licensed, etc. Even if you're self-employed, nobody has to buy your efforts, and you serve at the pleasure and forbearance of those customers who keep you self-employed.

Work is not a right for anybody, and quite frankly, your life gets a whole lot easier when you realize what a privilege it is to be able to serve others and you act accordingly. It changes your entire outlook. Clear language leads to a clarity of purpose; and in this case, makes you more employable.

In the case of illegals, they are plainly illegal, and should go through the same channels to acquire the privilege of working in this country as were used by the millions of legal immigrants. Either that, or they can go home and exercise the privileges that they already have there.

This single comment of Lynch's isn't as damning as many on the Right claim. In the clip above she's merely indicating that people should pull their own weight. That by itself is reasonable. The problem with it is that they should be doing it in their own country. She blythely states, "...if someone is here, regardless of status, I would prefer that they be participating in the workplace than not...".

Well... no. I would prefer that visitors not participate in the workplace. Visitors should visit, then go home. Certainly you would agree with this in principle, rather than implying (however obliquely) that you'd rather have every Disneyland tourist pressed into a job than not.

She doesn't mean that, of course, despite the words she used. And these aren't tourists we're talking about. They are would-be immigrants. We  have laws that spell out rather completely the procedures required of immigrants. Rather than effectively argue that they be changed, and support the proper legislative process; the President appears to believe he can "selectively enforce" them. By this he means "ignore them". I disagree. It is his primary job to defend our nation's Constitution and provide for the common defense of its citizens. His job description requires him to secure our border. To that end, I prefer that people who are not visitors be here legally.

That's not an anti-immigration stance. Rather, it's simultaneously a pro-immigration and pro-security stance. It's a pro-American position which reserves permanent residency in this country to those who were born into it or who swear to abide by its Constitution. It's the same position taken by the other countries on our planet regarding their borders and privileges of citizenship. It's the porous border mentality that is logically unfit and needs serious explanation.

It's a matter of legality and constitutionality. When Senator Ted Cruz asks if selective enforcement of laws is unconstitutional, we learn that "unconstitutional" is far too nebulous a concept to be nailed down by a brilliant legal scholar like Lynch. (for the record, selective enforcement is a far cry from prosecutorial discretion. Presidents are allowed the latter within limits). Cruz's hypothetical is interesting in that skirts the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. That amendment requires that each State treat its citizens equally under the laws of that State. It doesn't place that requirement on the Federal government. As this is a matter of interpretation, and therefore fluidity, the question is a fair one. The reigning interpretation is that such selectivity is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment's mandate of due process.

But beyond that, Cruz is asking whether a President can choose to treat States unequally despite the clear intent of Congress that the law be equally applied. For instance, can the President choose not to enforce laws in a specific state? The correct answer really shouldn't be difficult. Those laws duly passed by the representatives of the People in Congress should be enforced as they were intended, and are not subject to the whim of one man.

Nevertheless, despite numerous pointed requests, no actual answers were offered. Such answers as we got indicate that Lynch would at least consider the constitutionality of the violation of equal treatment of States under Federal law. And it's Lynch's circuitous answers in their entirety and in context that cast some doubt on her suitability to be Attorney General. As this Congress seems to value answers far less than displaying skill in avoiding them, of course she'll probably be approved.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pick One

Be very cautious of anyone who tells you that they want a world where people live in harmony.

You can have Harmony or Tolerance, but never both. For tolerance is only possible where people are allowed to disagree; whereas harmony only exists where opposing views are not tolerated.

In a land of harmony you have no assurance whatsoever that the prevailing view will be yours, whereas in a land of tolerance you can rest assured that you will not be persecuted for your beliefs.


I posted this to Facebook where the hoped-for discussion took place. Since they didn't post here in comments, the comments I'm reproducing them here without identification, along with an expansion of the more terse answers I gave. I'm not reproducing them all, as there was overlap. I may paraphrase, and if I got something wrong in spirit, feel free to comment and correct me below.

The first commenter thoughtfully considered my metaphor:
"Well, at least musically, harmony implies a level of both difference and agreement. Total agreement of sound with no difference is just plain old, boring unison. Total difference of sound with no agreement is dissonance. So harmony implies a set of "rules" to limit the acceptable differences, and how they get resolved. 
"So in this metaphor, tolerance is like atonality: dissonance is just as acceptable as consonance. Of course, not many people actually enjoy listening to atonal music for very long. Interesting..."
He should have finished the metaphor. Harmony further implies that everyone is playing the same song. If you're a fan of baroque, you might want to ponder those that pick the tune, and consider how likely it is that your tastes are represented. 

I, for one, like the idea of writing my own tune.

Moreover, dissonance has value, and is used in some compositions by choice. So yes, it is acceptable. Not only that, but in a free society, dissent (for which dissonance is an analog) is not only acceptable, but encouraged. We have exceptions to copyright law reserved specifically for parody and commentary because we value the right to disagree. The value to society is immense. Dissent tells us where the problems exist.  It is purely for the protection of dissent that the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment exists. There's no need to safeguard the rights of those in power.

But he knew that. And he brings to mind a point regarding "acceptable differences". In politics, a huge fuss is made over opinions that are acceptable or unacceptable. It is not enough to be tolerant; one must be "accepting"... which is simply another way of saying "intolerant of those who do not agree with this opinion/lifestyle/etc." I may give a specific example or two in a while.

Another thoughtful comment:
"If, at a minimum, everyone agrees to disagree, one can have both harmony and tolerance. Otherwise one encounters the conundrum of how to tolerate intolerance."
Not really, no. The phrase exists to mask the fact that these are mutually exclusive concepts. "We agree to disagree" is just an inefficient way of saying "we disagree". 
"It's far more harmonious than it might be."
That's a measure of tolerance, not harmony.

You need neither agreement nor permission to disagree with someone. Each person has a right to an opinion. As in inalienable right, the kind that is bestowed by no other person.

Furthermore, it's condescending to say to someone, "we'll have to agree to disagree" as if you had a controlling interest. They will agree with you or not as they wish. When you offer your stamp of approval of their disagreement, you tacitly claim that you have the authority to do so. There are few better ways to piss off those who jealously guard their independence and are paying attention.

But the phrase is more insidious than that. While you're assuming approval authority over their opinions, you're simultaneously fishing for their approval of yours. Not only should you not need it; they're under no obligation to provide it. Should they give it, then that is an endorsement of the validity of your position. Though it's weak as endorsements go, it blunts the emotional pain of having an opinion someone else doesn't like.

Reality check: the fact that you have a right to be wrong doesn't make you right when you exercise that right (and I blame the English language for any lack of clarity in this sentence)

In other words, you may believe whatever you like, but that doesn't keep you from being wrong. I've mentioned this before in the context of science vs. pseudoscience... not all opinions are created equal. Some are bolstered by fact, evidence, logic. Others are spun out of dreams and wishes. You have a right to them, but don't expect me to endorse them with useless empty platitudes of "agreeing to disagree." Likewise, I expect you to stand by your opinions when you know them to be right. I could be wrong, but you might have to work at convincing me with evidence and logic. You're not going to do that if you're flapping around in the breeze.
"I disagree."
And I tolerate that.
"I guess my point is that I see the potential for something I see as harmony in a tolerant environment, even in the absence of total consensus."
That used to be called "disagreeing without being disagreeable", which describes Tolerance; and as phrases go is a big step up from "agree to disagree". I noticed the hedging here, but someone else beat me to it:
"Well agree doesn't mean unison, right? Two people agree on a stance for different reasons or agree on a course of action for fear of the alternative rather than because they hold the same view point."
My take on it is this: 

Of course there's potential for agreement even if it's not total. In any large group of people, there will be substantial consensus. But there will also be disagreement. It's not potential; it's unavoidable. And the real test is how we treat those whose opinions we find offensive

Here in America there's a growing tendency to sue; to vilify; to ruin the lives of people who don't know you, weren't thinking about you, and don't give a shit about you for the supposed "crime" of holding an opinion of which others choose to take offense. To my mind, that can't be right.

You have choices: you can tolerate opinions of others or you can force them to hide or abandon those opinions. The use of force, including the force of legal action, doesn't make you right. Usually it just makes you both wrong.

A third option is segregation, which is how we get national borders, and frankly, I'm OK with those, too, when they're by choice, not force. I like the idea that when the differences are great, people can pick up and move to a place here other people do endorse their choices. If communism works for you, you should be in a communist country. There's no need to transform yours if there's already one out there that fits. Pick One. On a smaller scale, the United States is full of states that should be distinct in many ways, while adhering to the same Constitution. Pick One. I think that those who try to erase those boundaries are misguided, to put it politely. Vive la diffĂ©rence.

I'll get to examples later. For now, the final word is this contribution:
"There's no Museum of Harmony. Your Honor, the Defense rests." 
There is, however, this: [link]. And of course, there's the Harmony Museum, which totally not what he's talking about. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Skeptical about Skeptic Bias

It really hasn't been my intention to make so many posts about Islam, but I keep seeing news that demands comment. This one arrived in email. Fortunately,'s communications are also posted on the web.

Here is a link to Skeptic magazine's take on the "war with Islam".

The author generalizes his conclusion to state that "Abrahamic monotheism" is inherently violent. You can expect that an atheist writing for Skeptic is going to have his agenda. In this case you have an atheist who begins with the assumption that all monotheism is a nursery for violent tendencies.

But let's look at the data:
"Consulting a variety of worldwide sources, Stark assembled a list of all religious atrocities that occurred during 2012. In order to qualify, each attack had to be religiously motivated and result in at least one fatality. Attacks committed by government forces were excluded. In the process, Stark’s team “became deeply concerned that nearly all of the cases we were finding involved Muslim attackers, and the rest were Buddhists.” In the end, they discovered only three Christian assaults—all “reprisals for Muslim attacks on Christians.” 
"In all, 808 religiously motivated homicides were found in the reports. A total of 5,026 persons died—3,774 Muslims, 1,045 Christians, 110 Buddhists, 23 Jews, 21 Hindus, and 53 seculars. Most were killed with explosives or firearms but, disturbingly, 24 percent died from beatings or torture perpetrated not by deranged individuals, but rather by “organized groups.” In fact, Stark details, many reports “tell of gouged out eyes, of tongues torn out and testicles crushed, of rapes and beatings, all done prior to victims being burned to death, stoned, or slowly cut to pieces."
You'll note that his raw data do not support his general conclusion. For one thing, Buddhism is second only to Islam as a source of religiously inspired attacks, and it is not an Abrahamic religion. We do not know how this compares to atheistic violence because all of the results are filtered to include only "religious atrocities". Secular atrocities are ignored. The author's bias is known and is well-demonstrated here. But it is useful to keep in mind that NO analyst writes with pure objectivity, no matter how skeptical or objective he pretends to be. It's not my pretense to be objective here, though I'll try to be fair.

What the data clearly show is almost all religiously-motivated violence is instigated by Muslims. Most Muslims favor death for apostasy (leaving the religion). A huge minority (at or around 40%) favor honor killings. This jumps to clear majority in fundamentalist Middle-Eastern countries. Almost all Muslims want government legislation based in Shari'a law. We're talking above 95%. Furthermore, and very importantly, when in a country in which Muslims are prevalent and do not face a serious threat of Western justice, Muslims act on their violent beliefs.

As stated in the piece, this tendency toward violence is not universal. It is far less in Free Western societies. But within the worldwide population, if you're a Muslim who truly abhors violence, you're in the minority. Moreover, religiously-motivated violence in the West is but a small tip of the iceberg when compared to overall violence. There is no basis, I think, for the author's more general complaint about "Abrahamic religions". Whereas most of the violence we hear of in the Middle East is religiously motivated, most of the violence in the West in indisputably secular. One could make the same complaint about non-religious violence vs. religious.

Some Comparisons and a Hypothesis

Let's look for a moment at the Abrahamic religions that did not account for almost all of the religious atrocities perpetrated in 2012

It is amazing, is it not, that of those 808 atrocities, 6 of which occurred in Israel, none were perpetrated by Jews? If the problem were "Abrahamic religions", then surely the Israeli Jews, living in a country surrounded by and permeated with Muslims, should have committed a good number of those. Rockets have been fired on targets in Gaza only in response to Hamas attacks; and Israel gave fair warning prior to each launch. No other country places a direct telephone call to the site of a missile strike and personally warns them to evacuate. Israeli hospitals treat the children of the people who would destroy them. Israeli trucks bring food across the border. Israel is militarized only because it has to be; because it is surrounded by people whose mainstream belief is the eradication of Israel. The Law of both Jew and Muslim ultimately derive from the Torah. How does this fit the author's narrative? Why do the Jews not return hate for hate?

In short, Jews are tolerant of other religions because they have always practiced tolerance. The Law was given to tell a Jew what he should do; not what he should force others to do. Furthermore, to a Jew it's preposterous to assume that obedience to the Law has any meaning if that obedience is imposed by force. There is a reason that the Hebrew word "mitzvah" means both "good deed" and "commandment". Jews keep the 613 mitzvot in the Torah only because God commanded it. And God only commanded it of the Jews.

Even in ancient times, the Jews took the Torah to apply to Jews only. It was not their business to impose their Law on others. And Jews dealt with the issue by not associating with those they felt were not bound by the Law. This was a Big Deal in the founding of Christianity (documented in Acts 15), when the bulk of Christians were still Jews and James held influence. What of the Law applied to Gentiles? Did they need to be circumcised; did they need to keep kashrut? Acts 15:19 has the answer given by James: "Therefore, I have decided that we should not trouble these gentiles who are turning to God."

Jews do not hold that it's necessary to be Jewish to get into Heaven, believing that the righteous of all nations have a place. They consider the Law a blessing and a burden. They don't proselytize. If you ask a Rabbi about conversion, he'll tell you "don't bother". So long as you're not bombing him or trying to saw the heads off his children, a Jew has no interest in your religious beliefs. Thus, the conflicts of the Jews have been political.

When someone wants to castigate Christians for violence, they invariably reach back to the Crusades. Since then, centuries have passed in which Christians have demonstrated an increasing trend toward tolerance. Importantly, that trend is one toward the basic teachings of the religion's founder, Jesus Christ. Now keep in mind that Christianity sprang from Jewish roots, with important differences in doctrine and proselytizing.

As for doctrine, we've already noted that Gentiles are not bound by the strict requirements of the Torah, and they never have been. Today, most Christians are Gentile. A lot of Christians do quote the Old Testament and hold "the Ten Commandments" in high regard; but as we saw with James, from the very first they were told they weren't bound by the Law. And here it gets a little weird for Christians, with a great amount of usually civil disagreement in interpretation. Jesus himself said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)
So the armchair analyst concludes that Christians have to adhere to the Law. Except that Jesus was talking to Jews, and we already know that the Jews considered the Law reserved for Jews. And in all of Matthew 5, Jesus says a number of things that align with Mosaic Law; but in every case he tells you what you should do; not what you should force others to do, and not what you should do to others. On that subject, he left a simple rule, in Matthew 7:12.
"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
The attitudes of Christians have swung back and forth between active proselytizing ("the Great Commission" of Matthew 28:16-20). And tolerance. It has ranged from the forced conversions of the Inquisition to quiet acts of charity (it is forbidden for Christians to attempt to convert Muslims in Muslim countries. That does not abate their charity). The current state for most of Christianity is to do both... actively invite converts, encouraging them with good works. The days of Torquemada and forced conversions is long gone.

One might presume that the Holocaust of World War II was a religious atrocity, but I think the point is eminently arguable. The Nazis' bigotry was racially and politically motivated. The Holocaust was not limited to Jews, but included homosexuals and Gypsies as well. And, though most people in Germany were Protestant Christian, the leadership of the Nazi party were Atheist and openly hostile to religious groups except as a means of control.

Today the most intolerant of Christians, the Westboro Baptist Church, do not engage in violence. Rather, they voice their hate through picketing and media using deliberately offensive language. Other American Christians respond with their opinions, but none with bombs or guns.

You might want to consider the Samaritans, left behind in the Babylonian conquest and thus an example of Judaism that has been "arrested in development". A mere 760 remain. Where are the atrocities committed by them?

Of the "Abrahamic religions" as practiced and understood in modern times, ONE is violent.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wrong, Newsweek: Islam Does Forbid Images of the Prophet

This week Newsweek gives us this inaccurate headline.

Beneath the picture is the inaccurate caption, "The Charlie Hebdo killers were operating under a misapprehension." The author of the piece, Christiane Gruber,  is associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Michigan. Nevertheless, she got it very wrong.

To set the record straight, the bit about not making graven images doesn't have to be in the Qur'an, and the fact that it's not there doesn't mean it's doesn't have a basis in Islamic scripture. There are four (4) holy scriptures in Islam. They are:
  1. the Tawrat (which Jews call the Torah and Christians call the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament)
  2. the Zabur (Psalms of David)
  3. the Injil (that's the word of God as thought to be originally revealed to the prophet Jesus, and not those Gospels that are distributed by Christianity today), and 
  4. the Qur'an. 
Three of them are complete surprises to most people.

The restriction on images is taken directly from the Tawrat: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." Notice it doesn't say "of Muhammad", because it was written long before Islam... but it doesn't say "idols" either. It flatly says "anything". That's the basis in scripture that the clerics are using. And it is the very same scripture used by Jews and Christians. Now, the fact that Jews and Christians do make representational art doesn't change the fact that the restriction exists right there in Exodus 20:4. The next verse, Exodus 20:5, tells us that the context of this restriction is idolatry. That's how it's interpreted by Jews, Christians, and those Muslims who commissioned the art mentioned by Gruber. Nevertheless, there are two restrictions according to fundamentalist interpretation: 1. don't make an image, and 2. don't bow down and worship it. That's because there's a full stop between the two verses.

Fundamentalist Muslims interpret their scripture as literally as possible... at least, they stick to what they agree is in the book. Their view is that all scripture but the Qur'an has been handed down in a corrupt state, and that the Qur'an is there to correct them. But generally speaking, if the Qur'an is influenced by the contents of the Tawrat. That's also the basis for dietary restrictions. The reasons for keeping halal and kosher spring from the source.

Note that the fact that clerics disagree doesn't make the fundamentalists demonstrably wrong. It does mean that there's a difference of opinion; but to be perfectly fair about it, the fundamentalists have the advantage of adhering to the literal statements as they appear in scripture.

The point here is that no professor of anything has any business stating that "a search for a ban on images of Muhammad in pre-modern Islamic textual sources will yield no clear and firm results whatsoever".  Wrong. I just showed it to you.  And here I take the words "clear and firm" as being unequivocal and universally accepted as Islamic scripture. As with anything, there is disagreement on interpretation, which doesn't make the wording of the source unclear. It's not unfair to claim that it's more like, "I don't want to do that, so I'll read into it what I wish."

At least since the prophet died, Islam has not been a monoculture. Gruber's conclusion presumes that it is very nearly so. What the professor should have said is that there is genuine disagreement on the matter, and that there is an alternate interpretation made by a sizable body of mainstream Muslim clerics. You'll find bigger disagreements among the denominations of Christianity, or among rabbinic scholars.

Nevertheless, for the first six hundred years of Islam, that disagreement didn't exist.

A very early depiction of Muhammad, from 1307CE.
Here he is receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel
Wikimedia Commons 

The above image is a big "no-no" for most Muslims, and was even at the time it was created.

"The short and simple answer is no. The Koran does not prohibit figural imagery. Rather, it castigates the worship of idols, which are understood as concrete embodiments of the polytheistic beliefs that Islam supplanted when it emerged as a purely monotheistic faith in the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century."
We've already examined the first sentence. But while I'm at it, I might as well point out that when Islam first arose on the Arabian Peninsula, there wasn't a whole lot of supplanting of polytheistic beliefs. Mostly it supplanted Nestorian* Christianity and Zoroastrianism. This is why you will find the Injil held up as a holy scripture. As Judaism is to Christianity, Christianity is to Islam. In either case, the practice is pretty drastically transformed from that of the parent religion. And Zoroastrianism was already monotheistic. The magi ("wise men") of the Gospels were Zoroastrians, who also abhor idolatry.

Of those tribes that were historically polytheistic, most had already converted to some form of monotheism before Islam. Nevertheless, there were some traditional polytheists, and more encountered as Islam later swept outward. So the professor isn't wrong here, but her wording -- mentioning only polytheism -- might lead you to believe that Islam supplanted rampant polytheism on the peninsula, and that isn't the case. Those that they did encounter "got all the headlines", as it were (and with good reason as the Kaaba at Mecca was replete with idols in Muhammad's day). I think the clarification is necessary.

* Nestorians held Jesus to be of human nature. Islam's views Jesus as an honored prophet. In other words, it's not hard to see how Nestorians would readily convert.

Blatant Editorial Note:

Gruber's piece isn't one that educates. She gets a fundamental principle agreed upon and accepted by most Muslims wrong, and her credentials rob her of any excuse of ignorance. She uses 13th and 16th century images (because there are none earlier) to support a personal opinion of a doctrine regarding religion that began in the early 7th century. She ignores that trends toward not depicting Muhammad are not recent innovations, but a return to the state that existed for the first 600 years of Islam. She has the hubris to announce that clerics and their devout followers are wrong about their own religion. And the worst part is that she is so easily proven wrong herself. This is simply shoddy scholarship of which she should be ashamed.

When speaking out against a group, it's always best to get their views right. After all, ultimately you not only want to educate the public, but change the group. And getting their fundamental beliefs wrong won't incline anyone to listen to you seriously. Those credentials that you flaunt become instantly meaningless if you don't acknowledge the basics. And... importantly... no ideological combat can be won with falsehood.

With regard to imagery: Yes, Islam forbids it. But the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were not Muslim. This is something that the Islamic terrorists knew before they trotted down there and started shooting. The price of admission to a Free society is Tolerance. It is the understanding that other people do not share your beliefs. In the end it does not matter if you believe that Charlie Hebdo was wrong. They were within their rights. On the other hand, the Islamic gunmen were both wrong and outside of their rights.

A Free society is built on a principle that we in the West sometimes forget ourselves. The massacre at Charlie Hebdo reminds us of its importance. People have the natural right to express their opinions no matter how badly it offends you, no matter what the subject. You have an equal right to give as good as you get, so long as this is limited to the expression of opinion. Both of you have responsibility to tolerate the opinions of others, no matter how harshly expressed. And you both have a sacrosanct right to Life. If you, like those gunmen, can't do that... if you think that your offense is an excuse for violence or censorship... then you have the option and obligation to pick your ass up and leave. There are places in the world for you. Free Western society isn't one of them. And this is a message for everyone, not just Muslims.

Monday, January 12, 2015

You Can't Cherry-Pick Rights.

I recently re-shared this graphic that was passed on to me

I have pointed this out previously on this blog; and others as far back as Hamilton and Adams have done the same. There's really nothing controversial about it. My liberal and conservative friends alike have no problem agreeing with the principle...

...until you point it out in practice. Then people's brains explode. Mine, too. This essay went a bit further afield than I originally intended, and you may be steamed by the time you get to the end. IF you get to the end.

CASE STUDY 1: The Second Amendment

It's funny to me is that immediately I thought of the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms). This was before I knew that the graphic came from Cold Dead Hands, a "Second Amendment Society". So why would I make that connection, and why would a "Second Amendment Society" push this particular graphic? You may wonder, "Don't they have the Second Amendment to grant the right to bear arms?"
AMENDMENT II: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Well no, they don't. It doesn't grant anything, and doesn't guarantee the right to bear arms either. As stated in the graphic, rights are inherent in you. The Second Amendment merely asserts that right and prohibits the government from infringing it. And the only thing that guarantees any of your rights is your own vigilance and your willingness to elect representatives that will defend them on your behalf by restraining themselves in the passage of laws... and your willingness to defend them on your own behalf should the need arise.

The Second Amendment is not necessary for you to have the right to bear arms. The Ninth Amendment reminds you that you are not limited to those rights enumerated in the Constitution. A good example is the "right to privacy", which is recognized by all US courts and is not enumerated.
AMENDMENT IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
You know what else isn't in the Constitution? Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, though the Declaration of Independence assures us they're "unalienable". The Ninth Amendment exists so rights like this won't be forgotten.

The Tenth Amendment reminds you that those powers not specifically delegated to the government are reserved to the People. (The government has no "rights". It has only those "powers" granted by the people and no right whatsoever to anything more.)
AMENDMENT X: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Delegated, not created. Reserved, not granted. Going back to the Second Amendment, you don't have a right to bear arms only because the government allows it, but because it is recognized here as a natural right. Now, many people make much ado about the "well regulated militia" clause and imagine it to mean that only the militia may be armed, and try to limit certain firearms based on this. Many other pro-gun activists swallow that fallacy and twist themselves inside out to demonstrate that the "militia" of colonial times consisted of the populace (and here in South Carolina that's explicitly stated in our state constitution). Still others try to deflect the difficult aspects of the argument by trying to appease "hunters" and "sportsmen", as if hunting and target practice were the only relevant aspects of your fundamental rights to consider.

However, these arguments miss the point. Consider that the Ninth Amendment explicitly states that any enumeration of rights does not deny others. The Second Amendment doesn't limit this right; it gives a reason. The federal government cannot infringe on the Peoples' right to bear arms, and the Fourteenth Amendment trickles this down to the states. The mere enumeration of one reason in the Second Amendment does not deny or disparage the other reasons that individuals have for holding that rightIts foundation is your fundamental natural right to self-defense arising from your right to Life. That is a right of all living creatures, and there is no limit upon it. I get to use whatever means are at my disposal to defend myself. It's held up for millennia in courts around the globe. If you corner me and threaten my life, I can kill you. I don't need an amendment to assert it. I don't need to limit myself to specific means. Furthermore, if you claim that the government has the power to limit this to specific means, you must point out where in the Constitution this power is delegated to the United States. Good luck with that, because it's not there. You might throw a Hail Mary pass by invoking the "general welfare" clause, but that clause cannot negate a person's rights. It's a no-go. So,
  1. It's a right that is founded in the natural right to self defense (Ninth Amendment)
  2. It's asserted along with a second foundation, the security of a free state. This assertion takes the form of an explicit order that the government may not infringe the right (Second Amendment). 
  3. No portion of the Constitution empowers the government to limit the right of the People to bear arms. The inclusion of one reason in the Second Amendment does not preclude others. (Ninth Amendment)
  4. All powers not delegated belong to the People (Tenth Amendment)
Prohibition of arms ownership in America is unconstitutional. Q.E.D.

If you're a Liberal and you like that graphic, you should be backing gun rights. If you don't like gun rights, that graphic should be giving you a guilt trip.

CASE STUDY 2: Drugs, and The Right to Die

In the first case study, the Left tries vehemently to deny your rights, and the Right have opposed them with varying degrees of success. In this second case study the opposite is true. Conservatives would deny you a right that should be obvious under natural law. Not just Conservatives, either. While Conservatives focus on drugs, Liberals focus on things as innocuous as food or the size of soft drinks.

Natural Law is a very pertinent subject, in that it forms the foundation of all of our rights. It's directly referenced in the Declaration of Independence as the reason we as a nation are "entitled" to "separate and equal station". You may remember those three "unalienable" rights listed there: "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Your right to Life is absolute.

But whose right is it? It seems perfectly obvious that my right to my life is mine alone. Not yours, not the government's, not a court's, not a doctor's. Mine. The hallmark of something that is yours is that you control it. You may do with it as you like, and you may dispose of it as you will. A thing that you can't control... not even when doing so harms no other creature on Earth... isn't really yours at all. Instead you are managing it in accordance with the rules and dictates of your Master.

Now that may be perfectly acceptable to you if your master is God and you've given your life over to Him voluntarily. But even God makes it voluntary, whereas the government has decreed it their business to tell you what you can or cannot ingest or smoke. Well, it's really not their business. It's none of their business whether you smoke, or do drugs, or get fat or get thin. What you do is only their business when it infringes on the rights of other people.

This doesn't mean that it's their business if you merely offend someone. In a free society where everyone has equal rights, it follows of necessity that there can not be a "right not to be offended". That line of thinking results in stupidity and death. It most recently resulted in the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in France. A free society absolutely depends upon tolerance, and that means that when you're offended you simply suck it up. You must actively infringe someone's rights for the government to have a legitimate stake in anything you do.

Now, that might be the case if you're defrauding someone. If through misrepresentation, deceit, or force you sell dangerous products, then may the long arm of the law rest on your shoulder. But every single day dangerous and poisonous products are sold legally. Bleach and gasoline will kill you if you drink them, but you know that, and distributors clearly label poisons. Rat poison is just flat-out called "poison". The point is, I can legally buy poisons. However, though a Gordian knot of logic, it's illegal to buy other substances that are far less toxic. Granted, these are substances that are actually intended to be ingested, but I know that, too. There's not a hint of deceit or fraud in the purchase of marijuana or other drugs. But somehow it's become the "conservative" position to deny liberty to individuals regarding their own lives. Not with regard to all drugs, though... the knot's not that easy to unravel. Socially acceptable drugs like tobacco and alcohol get strong defense from the Right... that is, unless you're really, really Right, in which case you're back to teetotalling.

The very fact that you are alive is a daily choice, and it should be yours to make. Some believe it to be a sin to take their own lives. Others ridicule that belief, saying, "how dare you die before God is finished fucking with you?" There's a solid point behind their irreverent tone. The fact is, different people have different religious beliefs. Not all believe in an afterlife, or the same kind of afterlife, or that suicide is a sin. Some find themselves with degenerative diseases and want to exit Life while still in command of their faculties. Some would not burden their families. Your religious beliefs are appropriate to you, and you should have every right to exercise them as you will. By all means, hang on until God is finished with you. But other people have the same right to live according to their convictions. Your rights stop where their rights start.

Your life is yours, not theirs.
Their lives are theirs, not yours.
You can exert control over what is yours. 
It's really not that hard. 

Nor does acknowledging their rights need to make you any less conservative. Continue to not do drugs and continue to not smoke and not drink if you don't want to, and even encourage others not to as well; don't kill yourself; all while understanding that you can't force your will on other people. God didn't give you a badge to enforce what He will not, so be religiously tolerant. You're supposed to lead by example, not fiat. That's most of what it takes to get you from just being on the Right to being actually right.

At the end of the day, you have a natural right to ingest what you want and do with your life as you will. We don't need laws to make that legal. Not even one law. We should instead remove the laws that prohibit it.

Sauce for the goose, friends: If you like that graphic, you should be for decriminalization of drugs. But if you'd rather dictate what a person can or can't ingest or imbibe, you should feel shame at the sight of it.

CASE STUDY 3: My Mind Explodes

All of what is stated above is ideological perfection according to the founding principles of the United States. It's basically what was intended by all those men who wrote the bloody documents and built the bloody buildings and fought the bloody wars. It's not an ideal that is shared by the country at large, except as lip-service.

We have failed to give a proper education in civics for decades now. The result is that most people are convinced that they are prohibited from doing anything unless they are permitted by the government. The government now believes that, too. Individualists are the odd men out, and our Founding Fathers wouldn't like what we've done with the system.

For instance, that bit about the "general welfare clause". Here it is, leading Section 8 - Powers of Congress:
"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;"
It was never intended that this simple statement of purpose should be taken as carte blanche to usurp rights of the people. The "general welfare", taken far too broadly, is an excuse for the government to do anything and everything it wants. That it is taken too broadly is proven by the existence of the Bill of Rights and its references to enumerated rights and the limit of power to those powers delegated "by the Constitution".

Nevertheless, that's exactly what's happened. The "general welfare clause" is the excuse for every law passed in modern legislation. It has been taken by increasingly clueless Courts to mean that the government can do anything unless it's specifically prohibited. It has diminished the rights of the People to a few that the politicians couldn't sweep under the rug because they had the bad fortune of being in writing. If it weren't for those we wouldn't have free speech, freedom of assembly, the right to bear arms... none of it. Read the news. Places you think of as "free" don't have a guaranteed right to freedom of expression. It's not written down, so the courts have concluded that it doesn't exist. Australia's a classic example.

The original, proper, and intentional reading of the Constitution is that government can do nothing unless it's specifically allowed. The default position was that the American individual had the right to self-determination except where specifically prohibited. Individuals have broad, sweeping rights except as otherwise written there. I'm not guessing at this. It's not interpretation. It was a Big Deal, and part of the public record. The arguments about the Bill of Rights were not about whether those rights existed. Rather it was concern over the fact that if they were written down, that might imply to people who don't know better that they're the only ones that exist. That's why Hamilton and Madison resisted a Bill of Rights and would not get behind it at all until the Ninth and Tenth Amendments were added.

Those two Amendments were a Very Big Deal. Nevertheless, in 1931 the Supreme Court called it a "truism" that added nothing to the Constitution as originally written. And those are the magic words... "as originally written". Because today it is not interpreted "as originally written". Every single fear that Madison and Hamilton expressed has come true.

Part of the reason, I think, is the elephant in the room: Slavery. Obviously slaves had the same natural rights as any other person, including the same "unalienable" right to Liberty as their owners. But because this was flatly ignored for so long, the general perception is that the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, when it actually asserts a right that has always existed, and had long been violated. As such, the Thirteenth Amendment is no less a "truism" than the Tenth. Had the Courts not been so dismissive about the Tenth Amendment, the Thirteenth wouldn't have been necessary. Hamilton was right.

The Fourteenth Amendment followed shortly after to identify persons born in the United States as citizens and assert their rights to due process and equal protection under the law. You can see why these provisions would be applicable to the time. The concern of the Fourteenth Amendment was those former slaves born in the states who should have been citizens the entire time, and had nothing to do with immigration. The citizenship of slaves had to be guaranteed here because the Supreme Court, that bastion of very often bad decisions, ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that former slaves were not and could not become, citizens. But equality under the law was a right even before it was written down for the benefit of those too blinded by bigotry to see it.

Now, as I'm wrapping this up, I have a Facebook friend who commented on my original re-share there. He says:
That may have been true in 1787, but there was different thinking at work in 1865, at which point the federal government became a custodian of certain rights that the states might otherwise curtail. The 14th Amendment, which delegated significant additional powers to the federal government and significantly constrained the powers reserved to the states, constituted a major change in context for the 10th Amendment, one that is often overlooked today.
I have to both agree and disagree on a couple of points here. First, that "different thinking" was at work in 1865. Sure... Madison and Hamilton's fears were so blatant that they anticipated such thinking in 1787. But I think to say that at that point the federal government became a custodian of certain rights is erroneous. The 14th Amendment does not change the nature, origin, or ownership of any rights. To use the word "custodian" carries a false implication of ownership. I'm pretty sure he meant it in the sense of "stewardship", but I'd vastly prefer the word "guardian" instead.

Second, I feel the point about the "additional powers" of the federal government bears comment. The constraint upon the states was to prevent them from passing unconstitutional laws, specifically those that deny due process or equal protection. I understand it to mean that all the rights you have with regard to federal law, you also have with regard to state law. The additional power of the federal government is to enforce that through "appropriate legislation". Now, when it says that a state can't deny any person equal protection under the law, at the time it would have been clear that it was referring to the citizens of a state. For instance, Georgia can't pass a law that applies to White Georgians differently from Black Georgians. It took a while to get that right, too... it had to wait for the 1960s.

But while that's a positive move, we're arriving at a situation where the courts increasingly interpret this to mean uniformity of laws between states. So a federal court might look at a law passed in Georgia that treats all Georgians the same; and applying precedent from Tennessee, rule that it's still unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This, I think, is a misreading and a mistake. Part of the value of having several states is that people disagree. And when they disagree, it's useful to be able to "send them to their own rooms". If you don't like New York, you can always move to South Carolina. My mother did... it works when there's a difference. But if there's no difference, then homogenous laws simply increase dissent. It's the opposite of what their proponents intend, but it's a consequence of applying pressure with no escape valve.

The important point here is that states were given autonomy for a reason, and it's not so we can name the college football teams. The states have vastly different geography, industry, population, culture, and needs. They disagreed on a lot of specifics then, and it wasn't going to get any better. Look at any "Red State/Blue State" map. Forcing one group to conform to another's ideals is silly. So we have different states, and the world has different countries because not everyone agrees to those ideals we agree on and hold precious amongst ourselves.

And that brings me back to that graphic. It's an ideal. 

I've heard people disparage the "old White men" who framed our system of government. I've heard people say how irrelevant the Constitution is because it was never followed perfectly.

I look at them like I would a high jumper with terrible form who says that the bar doesn't exist because he's never cleared it. The problem's not with the bar, it's with them.

When you don't clear the bar you fix your form. In 1787 "old White men" cut their ties with an unfair, exploitive monarchy and put together a system of government based on certain ideals. They had to compromise on the execution to make it happen, but the ideals were clearly stated. A mere 73 years later in 1860, more "old White men" split the country in two to fix its form and get rid of slavery. And 100 years after that, still more "old White men" passed Civil Rights legislation that should have been unnecessary under the Constitution of 1865.

The Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments didn't add a single right that those people didn't have naturally. And that's a problem. According to Hamilton, none of the Amendments that assert rights should be necessary. The example of other countries show they are. The big reason is that people are conditioned to believe that the government grants them rights. They think they need laws to grant them that which they already have. And the politicians and the courts alike are very happy to encourage that belief by pretending they don't have those natural rights so that they can "grant" them all manner of things and keep this upside down system of power in place.

Ideals tell us what we're supposed to do. At this time that upside-down system is the #1 thing wrong with our country's form. It keeps people from recognizing that they are empowered and acting on it. People sit around waiting for someone else to fix their lives and make them right. My mind explodes because I look at this and see how hard people make it for themselves, and for each other, and how it could all be avoided if they looked at that graphic at the top of the page and believed it.