The Second Amendment and Tyranny

Tyranny is defined generally as oppressive, absolute power vested in a single ruler. The United States cannot, by definition, be tyrannical because it is a representative democracy where you have the right to overthrow any person or party every two, four, or six years – depending on the office. Your recourse is political action and being enfranchised to vote, organize, and petition. 

When the 2nd Amendment was drafted, the United States did not have a standing army – because of our experience with our British oppressors, America was decidedly hostile to the idea of a standing army.  As a result, our new nation depended on amateur on-call militias; Switzerland still uses this model wherein only 5% of its military is made up of professionals, while the militia and reserves are made up of able-bodied men aged 19 up to their 30s and 40s.  Because these people are members of a reserve militia, they keep and own their own military equipment. 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. 

But we long ago reconfigured our domestic military structure to switch from state-based reserve militias into a professional national military. To the extent the old state militias exist, they’re made up of the various National Guards. We don’t call upon average citizens to keep arms to fight off the Indians or the British; we have the Pentagon. 

If you look at the two recent Supreme Court cases which held that the “well-regulated militia” language, which was so carefully inserted into the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, doesn’t really mean anything. Astonishing, that, but little can be done about it. In DC v. Heller , the Court affirmed an individual right to possess a firearm without respect to whether the bearer is a militia member, and that these arms can only be possessed for lawful purposes, such as self-defense. 

Heller also confirmed that your 2nd Amendment rights are not absolute or unlimited. Concealed weapons can be banned by states, you can limit their possession by felons and the mentally ill, and you can ban carrying a weapon in certain areas and regulate the sale of weapons. Particularly dangerous and unusual weapons can also be regulated or banned.  Although Heller applied only to federal districts, a subsequent case – McDonald v. Chicago – held that the 14th Amendment ensures that the 2nd Amendment and its jurisprudence also apply to state action. 

Because handguns aren’t unusual, and the petitioner in Heller intended to keep a handgun in his home for personal protection, his use was lawful and DC was ordered to issue him a permit, and could not require him to keep the gun essentially unusable while being kept. 

Nothing that happened yesterday in Albany is violative of the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment is silent on the number of rounds a clip can hold, and bans on certain types of weapons have been consistently upheld. If you have to re-register to drive a car every few years, you can re-register to own a gun. How do we monitor felonies or mental illness with lifetime permitting? 

But I want to pivot back to something – tyranny. How many people have you heard in the past month since the Sandy Hook massacre explain that assault weapons and other militaria must be legal because we have some sort of right to fight tyranny. How many people have suggested to you, with an astonishing ignorance of history of propriety, that, e.g., German Jews could have halted the Holocaust if only they had been armed. 

Make no mistake, notwithstanding Jefferson’s tree of liberty, there is no law, statute, or Constitutional provision that exists in this country to allow someone to fight domestic “tyranny”. What these people are saying is that they detest the government – especially Obama’s government, because he is Kenyan or an usurper or a Nazi or a communist or a “king” or maybe just because he’s brown-skinned. At which point do we determine as a society when we have made the flip to “tyranny”? Who is the arbiter of “tyranny”? At which point do we determine that all of our anti-treason statutes and the constitutional provision found in Article III, section 3 of the Constitution can be set aside because of “tyranny”? 

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

You have no right to possess militaria to fend off “tyranny”. If you think you do, show me the statute or law that says so. Show me the statute or law that repeals our anti-treason legislation. It doesn’t exist. 

If New York wants to ban assault weapons or clips holding more than 10 bullets, it can. If you don’t like it, get your tea party buddies together and elect a legislature in Albany that will repeal it.  But there’s not a thing in the world that suggests that you can, if you don’t like it, take up arms against Albany or Washington. That would be a crime. If you try it and you’re armed, law enforcement won’t like that. Not at all. 

 

Things for Thursday

A few things I found online in the last few days: 

1. Remember a few weeks ago, when NRA CEO and infamous goon Wayne LaPierre blamed everything but guns on the massacre of teachers and first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT? LaPierre didn’t just stumble on being a hateful lunatic – this is something that is apparently part of his job qualifications. Back in 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing perpetrated by WNY native Timothy McVeigh, LaPierre said things so horrible and conscious-shocking that former President George H.W. Bush publicly rebuked him and resigned his NRA membership. Bush wrote, 

I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.” To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as “wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms” wanting to “attack law abiding citizens” is a vicious slander on good people.

Al Whicher, who served on my [ United States Secret Service ] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country — and serve it well he did.

In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.

We can have a debate and discussion about guns, gun rights, and limitations on both – but calling people Nazis isn’t part of it. 

2. When it came to slavery, Thomas Jefferson was kind of a jerk. He was kind to some (especially if there were rapes to be had), and particularly cruel to others. He was happy to take out mortgages against his slaves, to have them flogged, and even refused to carry out a request contained in Polish General Kosciusco’s will, wherein money was set aside for Jefferson to buy out and free his slaves.  

The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.

In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses “should have been invested in negroes.” He advises that if the friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in

this country by the increase in their value.”

The irony is that Jefferson sent his 4 percent formula to George Washington, who freed his slaves, precisely because slavery had made human beings into money, like “Cattle in the market,” and this disgusted him. Yet Jefferson was right, prescient, about the investment value of slaves. A startling statistic emerged in the 1970s, when economists taking a hardheaded look at slavery found that on the eve of the Civil War, enslaved black people, in the aggregate, formed the second most valuable capital asset in the United States. David Brion Davis sums up their findings: “In 1860, the value of Southern slaves was about three times the amount invested in manufacturing or railroads nationwide.” The only asset more valuable than the black people was the land itself. The formula Jefferson had stumbled upon became the engine not only of Monticello but of the entire slaveholding South and the Northern industries, shippers, banks, insurers and investors who weighed risk against returns and bet on slavery. The words Jefferson used—“their increase”—became magic words.

Jefferson’s 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was “stuck” with or “trapped” in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson’s calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the “peculiar institution.”

And this world was crueler than we have been led to believe. A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello’s young black boys, “the small ones,” age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson’s nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion’s grocery bills.

Much of the information in this Smithsonian story has been carefully excised from our Jefferson hagiography because 150 years later, we still can’t come to terms as a country with our history of slavery and racial animus and discrimination. 

3. Just because you employ someone doesn’t mean you have the right to inject your own opinions on their healthcare decisions. Hobby Lobby, which has two outlets in western New York, has gone to the Supreme Court to seek injunctive relief so that it would not have to provide health insurance coverage for contraception for its employees under Obamacare. Why their employees’ sex lives are any of Hobby Lobby’s business is a mystery for sure, but Obamacare doesn’t force Hobby Lobby to hand out the morning after pill with every paycheck – it merely requires the health insurers to offer contraceptive coverage. Aside from the fact that the employees affected work for Hobby Lobby, the company has no further mandate set upon it. If it doesn’t agree with contraception, it is free to hold that belief, but should not be free to impose it on its employees, or to have its employees’ rights become less than those of workers elsewhere. Justice Sotomayor rejected Hobby Lobby’s request for injunctive relief. As a shopper for crafty things and toys for grownups, you may choose to use this information to direct your hobby dollars accordingly. 

 

Obamacare: The Mandate And the Taxing Power

Oftentimes, the federal government finds itself wanting to promote a certain behavior as part of a national program, but without the direct power to do so. By way of example, in the 1980s, the Reagan Administration decided that it wanted the drinking age to be raised from 18 to 21 nationwide. But the drinking age isn’t a federal, but a state statute. In order to persuade states to raise the drinking age, the federal government passed an incentive plan. If a state failed to raise its drinking age to 21, it would find itself with a diminution in federal highway funding. 

“The power to tax involves the power to destroy”, wrote Chief Justice John Marshall in 1819. With respect to the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare”, the power to tax also involves the power to build something. Under the law, beginning in 2014, Congress will require most Americans to obtain health insurance, or – if you don’t, you pay a fine to the government. The mandate was, ironically, a precondition set by the insurance industry, without which they would not be able to economically justify offering insurance to people with pre-existing conditions at no penalty.

The key part of Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion yesterday reviewed the constitutional justification for that mandate to purchase health insurance.  Congress’ powers are specifically limited and enumerated in Article 1 of the Constitution. 

Roberts turned first to the Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8), whereby Congress has the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”  Roberts rejected the argument that the government could regulate the absence of commerce; you cannot regulate that which does not exist.  His analysis seems somewhat limited, however. After all, there is not a personal alive who isn’t engaged in the health care market now, or inevitably. Even if you’re not seeking medical care, you’re paying for others’. 

Right now, you and I (and everybody) are taxed to help pay for uninsured people’s emergency room visits. ERs can’t turn people away, and oftentimes the poor and uninsured use them for primary care.  Those hospitals seek reimbursement for the cost of providing those services through two Federal Programs, Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) and Upper Payment Limit (UPL)–that require a 50% local share match. So…instead of forcing the cost of health care provision onto the people who don’t have insurance, you (a taxpayer, or a person with insurance) are paying for them to get health care with both your federal and county tax dollars. 

Secondly, Roberts turned briefly to the “Necessary and Proper” Clause, also in Article 1, Section 8, it reads, “The Congress shall have Power – To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”  Roberts declined to go along with this, reasoning that…

Each of our prior cases upholding laws under that Clause involved exercises of authority derivative of, and in service to, a granted power. For example, we have upheld provisions permitting continued confinement of those already in federal custody when they could not be safely released…[t]he individual mandate, by contrast, vests Congress with the extraordinary ability to create the necessary predicate to the exercise of an enumerated power.

And so, the last resort – the “in the alternative” argument – was most persuasive to the 5 members of the Court who voted to maintain the ACA mandate. The very first Congressional power enumerated at Article 1, section 8 involves the power to tax and spend. Roberts wrote that Congress’ mandate isn’t the issue – it’s the “penalty” imposed on people who refuse to purchase insurance. While the dissent argued that the government is semantically blocked from calling the “penalty” a “tax”, Roberts argued that the word “penalty” assumes some sort of fine for illegality. Yet the refusal to purchase insurance isn’t illegal – it isn’t a crime. It is merely a choice, and a person’s choice to opt to pay a tax instead of buying insurance is one that government can regulate under its taxing power. 

…the Government asks us to read the mandate not as ordering individuals to buy insurance, but rather as imposing a tax on those who do not buy that product…

…None of this is to say that the payment is not intended to affect individual conduct. Although the payment will raise considerable revenue, it is plainly designed to expand health insurance coverage. But taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new. Some of our earliest federal taxes sought to deter the purchase of imported manufactured goods in order to foster the growth of domestic industry

Because Roberts invoked the taxing power, dumber pundits and lazy politicians have pivoted to calling it all – the whole law – a “huge tax”.  Perhaps they should read the law, and then read the Court’s opinion. It’s not a “huge tax”. It’s a mandate that you have health insurance. Chances are, you already have it – it’s not like you’re being forced to buy super-more health insurance on top of what you may already have. And if you don’t have it, you’ll have much easier and cheaper access to health insurance. And if you choose not to have any at all, then you’ll be assessed a fine, a tax, whatever you want to call it. 

The ACA’s “shared responsibility payment”  is a tax only on people who choose not to hold insurance. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant, mistaken, and/or lying. 

With the mandate in place, no longer will the person without health care get away with not paying hospital bills, and no longer will taxpayers be “mandated” to subsidize those choices. Instead, the person making the choice to avoid insuring himself will be assessed a tax in the eventuality that he becomes ill and can’t afford to pay his bill. Do you want the person without health care to be taxed, or do you want to continue to be taxed because they don’t have health care?

In the olden days, “personal responsibility” was a conservative talking point.  Now, we’re essentially codifying it through Obamacare – you’re responsible to get coverage, or for the consequences if you don’t. Now? 

The remaining portions of the decision dealt with (a) the Court’s analysis of whether the issue was ripe for decision (it is); (b) whether striking the mandate meant invalidating the whole law (they didn’t have to reach it); and (c) a provision dealing with the expansion of Medicaid, holding that States can reject federal funding and therefore not comply with the new rules. 

The misinformation and disinformation being spread over the last 24 hours has been simply mind-blowing. For instance, here’s a fundraising email that Republican congressional candidate Chris Collins (who, incidentally, never, ever has to worry about not being able to afford anything, ever, including health care) sent yesterday: 

Dear friend,

The Supreme Court has confirmed what we already knew – ObamaCare is nothing more than a massive tax increase that will hurt hardworking families and continue to act as a wet blanket on economic growth and job creation.

Today, I’m asking for your donation of $27 dollars to protect the residents of the 27th Congressional District from this massive tax hike and help end ObamaCare.

I need your help to stop Kathy Hochul and Barack Obama from raising taxes on thousands of Western New York and Finger Lakes families. 

$27. 

$27 is how we can protect our families in the 27th Congressional District from massive tax increases.

When I go to Congress, my first order of business will be to lead the fight to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with common sense solutions that protect seniors and don’t crush small businesses and cost us jobs.

$27 can get us there.

Whether it’s $27, or $5, $10, $50 or $100 – anything you can do to help us stop Barack Obama and Kathy Hochul from raising taxes and cutting Medicare by $500 billion is so important.  Will you consider donating today?

There’s so much at stake, and I need your help.

Sincerely,

CHRIS COLLINS

Congressional Candidate, NY-27

No, it’s not one side or another that won or lost – everybody won. Everybody will benefit from the implementation of Obamacare. It isn’t at all a huge tax increase, and the only reason Medicare funding goes down is because the ACA picks up the slack. Obamacare isn’t a “huge tax increase”, indeed it will help families by reducing the most common type of bankruptcy – ones brought about through medical expenses. Is this law a boon to insurers? Yes. That’s why many progressives didn’t like it much, and that’s why the law is something of a Frankenstein’s monster. But Obamacare, like its progenitor, Romneycare, is a fundamentally conservative idea. Because it’s been adopted by a Democratic President whom the Republicans are determined to ruin, it is now characterized as something it’s not. 

And make no mistake – the Republican drive to ruin Obama is so concentrated and driven, that it doesn’t matter what collateral damage there is to average Americans, or the economy. 

It’s not surprising to see a politician lie, but when mere puffery, (“I’m the best”), turns into brazen lying, (“I poop rainbows and spit unicorns”), you have to wonder what the politician thinks of the people who are going to vote for him. I heard some of our right-wing omniphobe media personalities liken the United States under the ACA to North Korea. There was heavy emphasis on “Hussein” yesterday, because “Hussein” is a foreign, Muslim name, and because somehow that correlates with socialism. Or something. I wish I was a professional psychologist so I could better analyze what was taking place.  Even Mitt Romney noted that the Court didn’t hold that Obamacare was a “good policy”. That’s jaw-droppingly dumb – Palin dumb. 

Requiring Americans to buy private health insurance from private corporations is socialist? Spreading the risk across most Americans so that health insurers can’t refuse to insure people with pre-existing conditions is like living in a Stalinist dictatorship with no market, no freedom, no food, no money, closed borders, and extensive gulags? How dumb. Almost as dumb as the many people who took to Twitter to decry the loss of America’s freedom and announce that they’d move to Canada, which has true single-payer socialized medicine. 

Set aside the crazies and the liars – Americans won today. The ACA – Obamacare – isn’t a perfect solution. No solution is perfect, after all. But it will make our health insurance in this country more affordable, with better coverage, and no longer will you live at the mercy of health insurance companies, fearing arbitrary rate hikes, lifetime payout maximums, or being barred from buying insurance due to a pre-existing condition if you change your job. This is good for people