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Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

Archive for the ‘United States Constitution’ Category

Big Brother Uses Google Earth

with 3 comments

     Have you heard that a town on Long Island has used Google Earth to track down illegal swimming pools?  If that is not exactly and precisely what George Orwell warned about in 1984, then I cannot imagine what would be.  The most obvious problem with this government action is that it violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

     It’s not that I am against using satellite technology to fight crime.  I am against illegal searches, as we all should be.  Maybe the town got warrants from a judge, but that has not been reported.  Would a judge even grant a warrant for such a thing?

     Assuming that they did get warrants, I still have a problem with a local government requiring people to pay money to them in order to have a swimming pool.  In one interview they couched it as a safety issue.  Another small intrusion by the nanny state!  It’s in the homeowners’ own interest to make sure that a pool is safe.  It is their responsibility, and if they do not fulfill it, they must pay the consequences.

     Another problem that I have with it is that it is extortion by the government.  Riverhead has reportedly made $75,000 so far by busting illegal pool owners.  I suppose it’s another way to soak the rich, pun intended.  Then again, I’m not sure that owning a pool makes one rich, and I would guess that most rich people just pay the licensing fees, since they can afford them.  (Unless they have the ethics of John Kerry who tried to shield his fancy yacht from taxes in his home state.)

     I wonder if Riverhead paid the licensing fee for Google Earth Pro, which Google requires of anybody who uses the service to make money.

     I also wonder how much they have spent in administration costs to track down these evil pool owners.

     A final problem that I want to mention is that it is inconsistent with our overall national climate.  In a country where the presence of undocumented foreigners is winked at, it hardly seems fair or porportional to go after illegal swimming pools.


Written by ambrosianideas

August 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm

A Big Shift

with 4 comments

     Something very important has happened, and as near as I can tell it has happened gradually over the last ten years.  I think you could trace its roots much farther back, but the culmination has been very recent.

     The something I am referring to is a shift in the way right-leaning and left-leaning individuals discuss the role of government, particularly the role of the executive branch of government.  Have you noticed the same thing?

     During the 1980’s and 1990’s it was common for conservatives in politics and in the media to argue that government should be limited.  The less government, the better was the approach.  Because liberals, naturally, argued that government was needed to solve all societal and even individual problems. 

     Now, however, it is very common to hear so-called conservatives arguing with liberals about what the government should do, instead of arguing about whether the government should do anything at all. 

     Take the debate about health care.  Many prominent politicians and pundits on the right admitted that the American health care “system” had problems.  They suggested ways that the government could fix those problems–ways that differed from the ways proposed by those on the left.  They simply assumed that the government had some role to play in the matter.

     The assuming is what bothers me the most.  It seems that most people in America assume that the government should do something about societal problems.  Many people now even assume that the government should do something about individual problems, as well.  It seems not to occur to most people that there is another option, which is for the government to do nothing.

     That is why, I believe, we need a third way more than ever.  Members of the general public need to be exposed to another option besides the government’s either doing what the rightists propose or doing what the leftists propose.  People need to hear that it’s possible for the government to simply butt out and to allow people to be free.

     Some of the details of this shift are that people. . .

  1. . . .mistakenly regard the  presidency as a sort of monarchy.  They expect the president to unilaterally solve problems.  They do not see him as the head of a branch of government that is limited by checks and balances imposed by the other two branches.
  2. . . .mistakenly believe that rights are granted by “the government.”  The founders of the United States believed that people naturally had rights and that government leaders must recognize and respect those rights.  In fact, they saw individual rights as imposing limits on the government, not the other way around.
  3. . . .mistakenly ascribe almost total power to the national level of government.  The Tenth Amendment indicates that all powers not already granted to the national government still belong to the states or to the people themselves.  After decades of having the national government dictate state and local policy, because they hold the purse strings, people seem to have accepted this arrangement as normal and even necessary.

     I see this shift most alarmingly in the knee-jerk reaction of people on the street and on television whenever a problem arises.  A natural disaster strikes?  They ask, “What is the government going to do about it?”  Unemployment rises?  They say, “The president had better create more jobs.” 

     I have seen it, sad to say, in individuals I know who used to be suspicious of big government.  It’s a shame and a pity.

Written by ambrosianideas

July 11, 2010 at 5:43 am

Judging a Judge

with one comment

     After reading comments from reader Scott Erb, I have decided to post some thoughts on what I would say to Judge Nina Gershon, the federal judge who recently ruled that the United States Congress was acting unconstitutionally when it decided not to give funds to ACORN, the community organization group that has made headlines over the last few years.

     If I were to meet Judge Gershon, I would treat her courteously and would show her the respect to which her office entitles her.  I would most likely listen more than talk, since she certainly knows more about the law (and perhpas other things) than I do. 

     If, however, she did ask me what I thought of her ruling, I would summon up the courage to say, “Your Honor, I have a completely opposite view from you regarding the proper way to interpret the Constitution and also regarding the role of the judiciary.  Therefore, I do not think that your ruling was correct.  However, given your approach to the Constitution and to the judicial branch’s role, I think you made a very sound ruling.

     “Then again, you could make just about any ruling you want, based on the way the judicial branch has redefined its role and re-envisioned the Constitution for the last 35 years or more.  All you ahve to do is determine how you want to rule and then say that something in the case “is equivalent to” or “amounts to” something that is clearly unconstitutional.  Perhaps you are right in saying that Congress’s defunding bill amounts to a bill of attainder, but I think not.  I would think that a bill of attainder would be an act that declared an entity guilty of crimes and that deprived them of property or liberty (or in severe cases, life) as a punishment.”

     Of course, she would probably already have interrupted me, but if not, I would say, “Your ruling strikes me as being just like many other rulings in recent times in which the judicial branch has set itself above the other two branches, rather than being equal to and in balance with  them, as the Constitution outlines.  It also strikes me as an example of writing laws from the bench, rather than allowing the Congress to write laws, as they are given power to do in the Constitution.”

     Then I would shut up and let her tell me why she thinks I am wrong.  I would probably learn a lot, but I doubt that I would change my mind.

     If I had the chance, I would ask her what I think is a simple question.  I would want to ask why she accepts the authority of Congress to give out money but rejects their authority to withhold money.  It seems to me that you cannot have the first without the second.  She would, I guess, have a good and interesting answer.

Written by ambrosianideas

December 17, 2009 at 7:14 am

The ACORN Case Revisited

with 3 comments

     A reader called Spherical Time pointed me to this article by Glenn Greenwald about the recent ACORN defunding case.   The article explains the case and the ruling better than the article I had read previously.  However, I have not changed my mind.

     There are several flaws in Greenwald’s (and Judge Gershon’s) thinking.  The most obvious one is that in order for the Congress to have violated the ban on bills of attainder, the Congress would have had to actually enact a bill of attainder.  No such bill was passed.  When the case is appealed, I predict that several judges and justices will point to the fact that no such bill of attainder can be produced as evidence.

     As always there are two sides to a court case, and the government’s side is that Congress was simply defunding an organization that it had previously chosen to fund.  It was not “punishing” them in the legal and judicial sense of the term.  That claim makes perfect sense.  They did not arrest anyone involved in ACORN or put anyone in jail.  Neither they did not fine them or confiscate their property.  They simply exercised their right, with the President’s approval, to discontinue giving them money.  (I predict that at least one judge or justice will point out that you cannot on the one hand grant that the Congress has the power to give away money but does not have the power to stop giving away money.)

     To take the view that the Congress found ACORN guilty of a crime and punished them by not continuing to disburse funds to them, you would have to first presume that any money that ACORN hoped to receive from the government was already their property and could not legally be taken away from them without due process.  To believe that it was already their property, one would have to assume that either Congress was naturally or constitutionally obligated to give it to them or that ACORN was naturally or constitutionally entitled to have it.  (Which is why I wrote in the earlier post that the ruling presumes a constitutional right for a private organization to receive government funds.)

     If they have no inherent or legal right to the money, then it is not a punishment to stop giving it to them.  (Would I be punishing my children if I stop giving them an allowance after they graduate from high school?  They would say yes.  I would say no, since I am not obligated to give them an allowance then, or now, for that matter.)


     As for Greenwald’s comments at the bottom, they certainly do not apply to me.  I am against judicail activism–left, right, or middle.  It doesn’t matter.  Judges are not supposed to write laws.  They are supposed to settle legal disputes based on the text of the Constitution and on duly enacted laws.

     I for one would not care if a right-wing organization were defunded by Congress.  Congress has the power to give money or not to give money to whomever they choose for whatever reasons they choose.  My preference would be that no private organization get any money from the government, anyway.

     Besides, Greenwald’s argument cuts both ways.  Judge Nina Gershon was appointed by President Clinton.  It’s just as easy to say that her ruling was politically motivated as it is to say that opposition to her ruling is politically motivated.

Written by ambrosianideas

December 13, 2009 at 11:59 am

A Consitutional Right to Funding?

with 116 comments

     Does a private organization have a consitutional right to get money from the United States Congress? A federal judge thinks so.  She must be reading a different Constitution than the one that I know about.  I see nowhere in the Consitution that the Congress is to fund any particular organization just because a judge says that it is “in the public’s best interest” to do so.  I wonder which public she was thinking of–the public that works and pays taxes or the public that gets “organized” by ACORN?  But that’s beside the point, for now.

     The irony is that the ruling was based on the doctrine of Separation of Powers.  But the judge herself is violating that doctrine by ordering the Congress to keep funding ACORN, since nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the Congress is beholden to some federal judge, as though she is Queen Elizabeth I commanding the Parliament to enact something or to reverse a prior act.

     Ignoring momentarily that it is wrong to spend taxpayers’ money to fund any private organization, cannot Congress do whatever it wants with the money that is under it’s authority and control?  If Congress has the power to give the money away, do they not also have the power to stop giving the money away–for whatever reason they deem appopriate?

     President Obama signed the law that activated the defunding.  So, you had a bill approved by Congress and signed into law by the president.  How did that violate the Constitution?  That’s exactly the procedure outlined by the Constitution.

     If any of my students were as bad at reading comprehension as this judge, I would give them a failing grade in reading, and I have never given a failing grade in reading.

Written by ambrosianideas

December 12, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Posted in United States Constitution

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