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One of the many great things about America’s Founding Fathers is that the Declaration of Independence refers to “unalienable rights” including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But there’s not even a suggestion that it is the job of government to provide happiness.

Brazil’s politicians have a different view of such matters. They’re considering an amendment to the nation’s Constitution that would create a similar right, but with the expectation that it would be the job of government to provide happiness.

There are two huge problems with this approach. First, government can’t give something to one person without first taking it from another. So if politicians decide that this new “right” to happiness means more redistribution of food and housing (things supposedly “guaranteed” by the Brazilian Constitution already), then that means more government coercion through the tax system. Second, happiness isn’t achieved by being a moocher. Dependency breeds resentment, not joy.

It would be simple to dismiss this proposal as a hollow political stunt, but there actually are many things that Brazil’s government could do to open doors for the poor, such as enforcing property rights, opening markets, deregulating the economy, and lowering tax rates. Then poor people would have the ability to achieve true happiness by improving their own lives rather than kowtowing for crumbs from a corrupt political elite.

Here’s a report on Brazil’s Orwellian happiness proposal.

…a bill to amend Brazil’s Constitution to make the search for happiness an inalienable right is widely expected to be approved soon by the Senate, which reconvened Tuesday. The bill would then go to the lower house. …supporters say the happiness bill is a serious undertaking despite the revelry, meant to address Brazil’s stark economic and social inequalities. “In Brazil, we’ve had economic growth without the social growth hoped for,” said Mauro Motoryn, the director of the Happier Movement, a non-governmental organization backing the legislation. “With the constitutional amendment, we want to provoke discussion, to seek approval for the creation of conditions in which social rights are upheld.” Similar explorations of officially finding happiness have been pushed by other governments. Both Japan and South Korea include the right to happiness in their constitutions, and earlier this month, the British government detailed plans to begin a $3 million project to measure citizens’ well being. …The bill before Brazil’s Congress would insert the phrase “pursuit of happiness” into Article 6 of the constitution, which states that education, health, food, work, housing, leisure and security – among other issues – are the social rights of all citizens.

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I refuse to allow myself to get too excited about the chances of Obamacare ultimately being declared unconstitutional, but I’m definitely semi-psyched that this horrid law has been declared void by another federal judge. Here’s what the Washington Examiner has to say.

The full text of the decision from Federal Judge Roger Vinson is not available yet, but according to reporters who’ve seen the decision, he’s ruled the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The ruling favors of the 26 state attorney generals challenging the law. The judge ruled the individual mandate that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance invalid and, according to the decision, “because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void.”

By the way, my skepticism has nothing to do with the legal merits. I have no doubt that our Founding Fathers would be horrified by much of what happens in Washington, and there is no doubt in my mind that Obamacare is wildly inconsistent with the original intent of the Constitution.

But the courts have done such a lousy job of protecting economic liberty ever since the 1930s and 1940s that I’m afraid some appeals court will give Obamacare a free pass.

But, at least for today, let’s celebrate.

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The title of this post doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But what can you expect when you compare politicians to the opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

That’s what came to my mind, though, when I noticed two stories next to each other on the Washington Post website. The first story was about a new lawmaker, infused with the spirit of the Tea Party, seeking to shrink the size and scope of Washington. The other story was about a career politician trying to expand the power of the federal government.

Let’s start with the good news. Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post report about Senator Rand Paul’s bold plan to reduce the burden of government spending, including an attack on one of Washington’s sacred cows – subsidies for Israel.

The freshman Kentucky lawmaker unveiled his budget proposal this week that would make significant cuts in education, housing and energy while reducing money for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by $16 billion. Paul’s plan also would cut some $20 billion in overseas aid, and he said he wants to eliminate the $3 billion the United States provides to Israel annually in foreign military assistance. “The overwhelming majority of Americans agree with Senator Paul – our current fiscal crisis makes it impossible to continue the spending policies of the past,” Paul spokesman Gary Howard said in a statement responding to the criticism. “We simply cannot afford to give money away, even to our allies, with so much debt mounting on a daily basis.” The latest economic forecast puts the deficit at a record $1.5 trillion. Paul explained his position in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, saying he respects Israel as a Democratic nation but feared funding an arms race in the Mideast.

Now, for the business-as-usual story, we have a story about the latest antics of Senator Charles Schumer, who has discovered a new “crisis” that requires action by Washington. Here’s a blurb from the Washington post.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York says he wants the federal government to ban new designer drugs known as bath salts that pack as much punch as cocaine or methamphetamines. The small, inexpensive packets of powder are meant to be snorted for a hallucination-inducing high, but they are often marketed with a wink on the Internet or in convenience stores as bathing salts. The Democratic senator is announcing a bill Sunday that would add those chemicals to the list of federally controlled substances. …Schumer says the bath salts “contain ingredients that are nothing more than legally sanctioned narcotics.”

I confess total ignorance about “narcotic” bath salts, but even in the unlikely case that they should be banned, that is a decision for state governments. Last time I checked, the enumerated powers of Congress did not include authority to tell us what we can put in our baths or up our noses.

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Very few things that happen in Washington are legitimate functions of the federal government. I’ve already posted about the need to dismantle the Department of Transportation and send it back to the states, but some things  shouldn’t even be handled by state and local governments. Housing is a perfect example. There should be no role for government in building or subsidizing housing, period.

But I’ll be happy if we can simply get rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington. This $53 billion turkey should be the top target for GOP reformers.

Fealty to the Constitution should be the only reason lawmakers need to abolish HUD, but if they’re looking for some tangible examples of how the Department squanders money, J.P. Freire of the Washington Examiner opines on the issue, citing some devastating findings in a report from the Center for Public Integrity.

In the more than 3,000 public housing agencies nationwide funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and particularly inside the 172 that HUD considers the most troubled, ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity found a struggle to combat theft, corruption, and mismanagement. According to the report, one official embezzled $900,000 and bought a mansion. Other funds went to support sex workers. In other words, this is a perfect illustration of why recommending cuts to such assistance programs is not heartless but actually wise — waste is rampant:

The problems are widespread, from an executive in New Orleans convicted of embezzling more than $900,000 in housing money around the time he bought a lavish Florida mansion to federal funds wrongly being spent to provide housing for sex offenders or to pay vouchers to residents long since dead. Despite red flags from its own internal watchdog, HUD has continued to plow fresh federal dollars into these troubled agencies, including $218 million in stimulus funds since 2009, the joint investigation found.

These are horrific examples of government waste, and they are tailor-made for soundbites and blog posts, but waste, fraud, and corruption are not the real issues. HUD should be abolished even if every penny of the budget could be accounted for. If Republicans can’t get rid of HUD, voters should get rid of Republicans.

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Regardless of what one thinks about abortion, it is preposterous for the federal government to be subsidizing the procedure. Yet that is what happens thanks to annual subsidies of as much as $363 million for Planned Parenthood.

Defenders of Planned Parenthood sometimes claim that federal money doesn’t actually pay for abortions, but that’s a silly assertion. Money is fungible, so if taxpayers are keeping an office open and lights on, it means they are subsidizing all of an organization’s activities. But that’s not the point. Even if Planned Parenthood didn’t perform abortions, it should not receive any money from taxpayers. Last time I checked, family planning was not listed in Article I, Section VIII, as one of the functions of the federal government.

This is not a “pro-life” or “pro-choice” issue. Indeed, it also would be wrong for the federal government to subsidize groups that counsel against abortion. Or abstinence groups. Or any other organization dealing with reproductive issues. The federal government shouldn’t be involved, period.

Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review makes all the right points in her column about how this is an issue that should unite social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, Tea Party folks, and libertarians.

It’s a question that we might see play out on Capitol Hill in the coming months as the new majority seeks to make the late pro-life congressman Henry Hyde proud, by defunding Planned Parenthood and prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion.

…“Ending taxpayer funding of abortion and getting Planned Parenthood’s hand out of the pocket of taxpayers are clearly crossover issues,” says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “Social conservatives as well as fiscal conservatives can generally agree that the government has no business being in the business of funding or subsidizing abortion.”

…Thomas J. Gaitens of Florida…goes out of his way to make clear that “the Tea Party movement has been purposeful in not getting into social issues, as not to dilute the fiscal, constitutional, and liberty focus; we do, however, see many ways we can impact this debate and remain steady with our positions.” …Gaitens absolutely agrees that such a person could naturally sign on to both the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” and nixing further grants to Planned Parenthood. Taxpayer funding for abortion — whether direct or through organizations such as Planned Parenthood — serves, he says, as “a prime example of government overreach.”

…An excellent question for social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and plain old voters is the one Chuck Donovan of the Heritage Foundation poses: “Why are U.S. taxpayers borrowing money at a record rate to, in part, provide grants to an organization, Planned Parenthood, which raised $388 million more than it spent from 2002 to 2007?”

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I don’t know if this is a real letter-to-the-editor or if Major Caudill really exists, but this is a very strong statement in favor of the civilizing impact of firearms. And since I like to share good things that arrive in my inbox, it’s now yours to share.

I recall hearing saying that went something like this: “God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” I probably butchered that quote, but it captures the essence of this letter.

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Letter to the Editor by Maj. L. Caudill USMC (Ret)

Human beings only have two ways to deal with one another: reason and force. If you want me to do something for you, you have a choice of either convincing me via argument or forcing me to do your bidding under threat of force.  Every human interaction falls into one of those two categories, without exception. Reason or force, that’s it.

In a truly moral and civilized society, people exclusively interact through persuasion. Force has no place as a valid method of social interaction, and the only thing that removes force from the menu is the personal firearm, as paradoxical as it may sound to some.

When I carry a gun, you cannot deal with me by force. You have to use reason and try to persuade me, because I have a way to negate your threat or employment of force.

The gun is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger, a 75-year-old retiree on equal footing with a 19-year-old gang banger, and a single guy on equal footing with a carload of drunk guys with baseball bats. The gun removes the disparity in physical strength, size, or numbers between a potential attacker and a defender.

There are plenty of people who consider the gun as the source of bad force equations.

These are the people who think that we’d be more civilized if all guns were removed from society, because a firearm makes it easier for a [armed] mugger to do his job. That, of course, is only true if the mugger’s potential victims are mostly disarmed either by choice or by legislative fiat—it has no validity when most of a mugger’s potential marks are armed.

People who argue for the banning of arms ask for automatic rule by the young, the strong, and the many; and that’s the exact opposite of a civilized society. A mugger, even an armed one, can only make a successful living in a society where the state has granted him a force monopoly.

Then there’s the argument that the gun makes confrontations lethal that otherwise would only result in injury. This argument is fallacious in several ways. Without guns involved, confrontations are won by the physically superior party inflicting overwhelming injury on the loser.

People who think that fists, bats, sticks, or stones don’t constitute lethal force watch too much TV, where people take beatings and come out of it with a bloody lip at worst. The fact that the gun makes lethal force easier works solely in favor of the weaker defender, not the stronger attacker. If both are armed, the field is level.

The gun is the only weapon that’s as lethal in the hands of an octogenarian as it is in the hands of a weight lifter. It simply wouldn’t work as well as a force equalizer if it wasn’t both lethal and easily employable.

When I carry a gun, I don’t do so because I am looking for a fight, but because I’m looking to be left alone. The gun at my side means that I cannot be forced, only persuaded. I don’t carry it because I’m afraid, but because it enables me to be unafraid. It doesn’t limit the actions of those who would interact with me through reason, only the actions of those who would do so by force. It removes force from the equation… and that’s why carrying a gun is a civilized act.

By Maj. L. Caudill USMC  (Ret.)

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This is just an early skirmish in a battle that will go all the way to the Supreme Court, but it’s good to see that a federal judge has declared that the individual mandate in Obamacare is unconstitutional.

Who knows what the Supreme Court eventually will decide, but it’s clear America’s Founding Fathers did not intend for the federal government to have the unchecked power necessary to coerce citizens into buying particular products from particular companies. The statists claim the feds do have this power thanks to the interstate commerce clause. But that provision of the Constitution, which says the federal government has the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes,” was designed to prevent protectionism between states.

This article by Sheldon Richman is a good summary of the constitutional issues, and it shows that a proper reading of the interstate commerce clause indicates that Obamacare is unconstitutional – but so are most activities of the federal government.

Returning to the narrow issue of the Court’s Obamacare decision, here’s what my Cato colleague Roger Pilon says, and here’s an excerpt from an AP report about the decision.

A federal judge declared the Obama administration’s health care law unconstitutional Monday, siding with Virginia’s attorney general in a dispute that both sides agree will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson is the first federal judge to strike down the law, which has been upheld by two others in Virginia and Michigan. Several other lawsuits have been dismissed and others are pending, including one filed by 20 other states in Florida. Virginia Republican Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli filed a separate lawsuit in defense of a new state law that prohibits the government from forcing state residents to buy health insurance. However, the key issue was his claim that the federal law’s requirement that citizens buy health insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional. …The central issue in Virginia’s lawsuit was whether the federal government has the power under the constitution to impose the insurance requirement. The Justice Department said the mandate is a proper exercise of the government’s authority under the Commerce Clause.Cuccinelli argued that while the government can regulate economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce, the decision not to buy insurance amounts to economic inactivity that is beyond the government’s reach.

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A man in New York recently scared off some gang members by firing a couple of warning shots into the ground. When the cops arrived, did they congratulate the man for protecting his family and start looking for the thugs? That’s what would happen in a logical and just society, but the anti-gun mentality in New York is so pervasive that the cops actually arrested the homeowner. Needless to say, I can’t imagine this happening in Georgia or Wyoming – places where both the law and cops seem to be more rational. Some day, I hope to be on a jury and have a case like this so I can vote not guilty and engage in the noble tradition of jury nullification. Here’s an excerpt from the story I saw on Drudge.

He was arrested for protecting his property and family. But it’s how the Long Island man did it that police say crossed the line. …George Grier said he had to use his rifle on Sunday night to stop what he thought was going to be an invasion of his Uniondale home by a gang he thought might have been the vicious “MS-13.” He said the whole deal happened as he was about to drive his cousin home.

“I went around and went into the house, ran upstairs and told my wife to call the police. I get the gun and I go outside and I come into the doorway and now, by this time, they are in the driveway, back here near the house. I tell them, you know, ‘Can you please leave?’ Grier said.

Grier said the five men dared him to use the gun; and that their shouts brought another larger group of gang members in front of his house.

“He starts threatening my family, my life. ‘Oh you’re dead. I’m gonna kill your family and your babies. You’re dead.’ So when he says that, 20 others guys come rushing around the corner. And so I fired four warning shots into the grass,” Grier said.

…You may think a person has the right to defend their home. But the law says you can only use physical force to deter physical force. Grier said he never saw anyone pull out a gun, so a court would have to decide on firing the gun.

Police determined Grier had the gun legally. He has no criminal record. And so he was not charged for the weapon.

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With the public unconvinced of the wisdom of soaking the rich, the latest hot idea floating around in statist circles is not to soak the rich, but rather the really, super-duper, ultra rich.

In a class-warfare filled screed, James Surowiecki wrote in the New Yorker on the need to “Soak the Very, Very Rich.”

A better tax system would have more brackets, so that the super-rich pay higher rates. (The most obvious bracket to add would be a higher rate at a million dollars a year, but there’s no reason to stop there.) This would make the system fairer, since it would reflect the real stratification among high-income earners…

Ezra Klein then blogged at the Washington Post that he is “very sympathetic to the idea that there should be more tax brackets,” reasoning that  “It would be a lot easier to fight the super-rich than to fight the super-rich, the really rich, the pretty rich, and well-off.” If there was a bracket just for the super-duper-really rich, you see, it could be more easily raised to unconscionable and economy killing levels without public objection.

Adding more tax brackets would complicated an already inexcusably incomprehensible tax code,  resulting in increased economic waste and compliance costs, more expenditures on lobbying and even greater uncertainty than is currently holding down economic growth.

Furthermore, tax policy should not be decided based on which group is easiest to demagogue and demonize.  Nor is it the purpose of the tax code to enshrine into law a particular view of economic fairness, which in the case of Surowiecki and Klein, means redistribution.

There is one legitimate reason and one legitimate  reason only for taxes, and that’s to raise the funds necessary for the limited functions of constitutional government and rule of law.  There is no honest assessment of those functions as enshrined in the US Constitution which can find that the present revenues received by the state are insufficient to provide for those functions.

I’m sure it’s too much to ask, but rather than ruminate on which of its citizens the government and its statist boosters should declare war on next, the Ezra Klein’s of the world should think about how government spending can be reduced, and our federal government brought back into the bounds of legitimate, constitutional governance.

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I’m not a lawyer, so I certainly can’t pretend to have expert views, but everytime I read something like this, my regard for Justice Thomas rises even higher.

In the McDonald case, the justices were asked by the plaintiffs to strike down Chicago’s gun-control ordinance as a violation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

In order to do so, the justices would have to make two maneuvers. Of course, they’d have to rule that the ordinance runs afoul of the Second Amendment’s prescription that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” But they’d also have to rule that the Second Amendment restricts not just Congress’s ability to make laws controlling the use of guns, but that of state governments as well. Remember, the Bill of Rights, as originally constructed, only applies to the federal government.

In order to extend the Second Amendment to laws passed by states or cities, the court was faced with a choice of two clauses embedded in the 14th Amendment. It could “incorporate” the Second Amendment to the states through the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Or, pursuant to the 14th Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, it could deem “the right to bear arms” one of the “Privileges” or “Immunities” that the states are forbidden from taking away.

So you’ve never heard of the Privileges or Immunities Clause? We’re not surprised. The clause was largely neutered in a set of cases decided in 1873.

…Those arguing for resuscitation of the Privilege or Immunities Clause pinned their hopes on Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, both known for their “originalist” approach to constitutional interpretation.

But Justice Scalia on Monday opted, along with Justices Alito and Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts, to use the Due Process Clause. As Liptak noted, Justice Scalia, in a concurrence, “acknowledged misgivings about using the due process clause to apply Bill of Rights protections to the states” but went along with it “’since straightforward application of settled doctrine suffices to decide it.’”

But in a separate concurrence, Justice Thomas boldly went where no justice has gone before: to the arms of the Privileges or Immunities Clause. He wrote:

[T]he text of the Privileges or Immunities Clause . . . command[s] that “[n]o State shall . . . abridge” the rights of United States citizens . . . the Clause establishes a minimum baseline of federal rights, and the constitutional right to keep and bear arms plainly was among them.

The rationale didn’t carry the day, but many legal commentators were thrilled by Justice Thomas’s concurrence. “He’s sticking with the text of the Constitution,” said Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett, to the Law Blog. “At the same time, nobody voices disagreement with Justice Thomas. And that’s because they can’t.”

Writing at Scotusblog, George Mason’s Nelson Lund cheered Thomas’s opinion:

His opinion is scholarly and judicious, and it cements his standing as the only Justice who is more than a half-hearted originalist.

Barnett and others hope that Thomas’s lone dissent has planted the seeds for a constitutional reawakening rooted in the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2010/06/28/is-his-gun-control-concurrence-justice-thomass-finest-hour/

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