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Archive for June, 2010

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.

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That’s the title of Richard Rahn’s new column in the Washington Times, which discusses the delusional Keynesian policy being advocated – in America and around the world – by the current administration. As Richard explains, the evidence is overwhelming that government spending does not promote prosperity.
In the face of the unprecedented congressional spending binge, President Obama has been asking Congress to spend even more. Not content with actively promoting the eventual bankruptcy of the United States, Mr. Obama is urging foreign leaders also to increase their government spending – which is truly bizarre. Look at the facts. All of the major European countries have been increasing government spending and deficits at unsustainable rates. The talk for the past couple of months has been about which countries would follow Greece in going over the financial cliff. Responsible economists, financial leaders and, most important, the markets have been telling European leaders they must cut government spending. …The president still seems to believe in the imaginary world of spending multipliers – whereby each dollar of additional spending results in something in the order of $1.40 in additional output. Proponents of such ideas normally refer to themselves as Keynesians (followers of the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, 1883-1946). …The Keynesians and socialists have run hundreds of experiments around the world for the past 70 years, inducing governments to try to spend themselves into prosperity. It doesn’t work. In the 1970s, Keynesian prescriptions led to “stagflation” in the U.S. and many other countries. It was only when Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and eventually many other leaders (using the ideas of F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman) reversed course by cutting tax rates and curtailing spending growth that their economies began to grow rapidly without inflation. Mr. Obama seems to have never learned these lessons, and some of his advisers, who once understood what works and what doesn’t, seem to have forgotten. By nature, people like to spend other people’s money, and too many in Congress loved what was billed as Keynesian economic theory because it gave them a rationale to be irresponsible spenders.

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This new video from Reason.tv is a sobering look at how excessive pensions for state and local government bureaucrats are creating a fiscal nightmare for governments across the nation.

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In addition to noting that gun control tends to increase crime by reducing the cost of being a criminal (i.e., thugs are less likely to meet armed resistance), Tom Sowell also explains that people who don’t like the Constitution should amend the document rather than appointing ideologically-motivated Justices who ignore what it says.
…there is no obvious reason why issues like gun control should be ideological issues in the first place. It is ultimately an empirical question whether allowing ordinary citizens to have firearms will increase or decrease the amount of violence. Many people who are opposed to gun laws which place severe restrictions on ordinary citizens owning firearms have based themselves on the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But, while the Supreme Court must make the Second Amendment the basis of its rulings on gun control laws, there is no reason why the Second Amendment should be the last word for the voting public. If the end of gun control leads to a bloodbath of runaway shootings, then the Second Amendment can be repealed, just as other Constitutional Amendments have been repealed. Laws exist for people, not people for laws. There is no point arguing, as many people do, that it is difficult to amend the Constitution. The fact that it doesn’t happen very often doesn’t mean that it is difficult. The people may not want it to happen, even if the intelligentsia are itching to change it. …As for the merits or demerits of gun control laws themselves, a vast amount of evidence, both from the United States and from other countries, shows that keeping guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens does not keep guns out of the hands of criminals. It is not uncommon for a tightening of gun control laws to be followed by an increase– not a decrease– in gun crimes, including murder. Conversely, there have been places and times where an increase in gun ownership has been followed by a reduction in crimes in general and murder in particular. Unfortunately, the media intelligentsia tend to favor gun control laws, so a lot of hard facts about the futility, or the counterproductive consequences of such laws, never reach the public through the media. We hear a lot about countries with stronger gun control laws than the United States that have lower murder rates. But we very seldom hear about countries with stronger gun control laws than the United States that have higher murder rates, such as Russia and Brazil.

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Europe’s economy is stagnant, the euro currency is in danger of collapse, and many nations are on the verge of bankruptcy. But one thing you can count on in this time of crisis is for prompt, thoughtful, and intelligent action by the super-bureaucrats of the European Commission. Right? Well, maybe not. You can be confident, however, that they will generate idiotic regulations that increase costs and trample national sovereignty. The latest example is some new red tape that will prohibit grocers from selling items based on numerical quantity. I’m not joking. Here’s a blurb from the UK-based Telegraph:
Under the draft legislation, to come into force as early as next year, the sale of groceries using the simple measurement of numbers will be replaced by an EU-wide system based on weight. It would mean an end to packaging descriptions such as eggs by the dozen, four-packs of apples, six bread rolls or boxes of 12 fish fingers. …The changes would cost the food and retail industries millions of pounds as items would have to be individually weighed to ensure the accuracy of the label. Trade magazine, The Grocer, said food industry sources had described the move as “bonkers” and “absolute madness”. Its editor, Adam Leyland, said the EU had “created a multi-headed monster”. Caroline Spelman said: “This goes against common sense. Shopkeeping is a long standing British tradition and we know what customers want. They want to buy eggs by the dozen and they should be allowed to – a point I shall be making clear to our partners in Europe.” …Andrew Opie, food director of the British Retail Consortium, which represents 90 per cent of UK shops, said: “This is a bad proposal – we need to help consumers, not confuse them.”

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Please share this video with everyone you know. It explains the “Rahn Curve,” which is a spending version of the Laffer Curve. Named after Cato Institute’s Richard Rahn, the Curve shows that modest amounts of government spending – for core “public goods” such as rule of law and protection of property rights – is associated with better economic performance.

But when government rises above that level (as it has in all developed nations), then more government is associated with slower growth.

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I’m somewhat conflicted by this BBC story from New Zealand. I want prison to be a miserable experience so that there is a strong deterrent effect. Yet anything that keeps prisoners calm is presumably good for prison management. The guy who sent me this story included a comment that a smoking ban will increase the lifespan of prisoners and that will increase the burden on taxpayers (at least for those serving life sentences). I’m enough of a budget geek that this is a compelling argument for me. Give them all unfiltered cigarettes! (except, of course, the ones in jail for victimless crimes, all of whom should be immediately released).
New Zealand is to ban smoking throughout the country’s prisons from 1 July 2011, Corrections Minister Judith Collins has announced. The announcement has prompted concerns that violence in prisons could increase if prisoners are denied tobacco. But Ms Collins dismissed the warnings and said high levels of smoking were a risk to staff and prisoners. About 5,700 prisoners – two-thirds of the current total in New Zealand prisons – are smokers. …Former inmate Shenelle Ngatai told TVNZ that cigarettes were like gold in prisons, where they are used as currency. She also said that jails would become more corrupt if cigarettes were taken off prisoners. …Denying inmates their “fix” would lead to an increase in violence between desperate prisoners, she added. Human Rights lawyer Michael Bott agreed that the ban would cause more problems than it might solve. “They are going to be very frustrated, very dangerous; it’s a toxic dangerous environment, made even worse by such foolishness as this,” he told 3News in New Zealand. However, Ms Collins insists that the smoking ban will have other advantages. It would make it easier to put more than one prisoner in each cell, she said, and reduce the number of prison officers suing the government for being exposed to second-hand smoke.

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