Wednesday, August 10, 2016

STRAIGHT SHOOTING ABOUT GUNS

It’s almost impossible to have a level-headed conversation about guns in America these days, which is a shame because gun violence has spiraled out of control and all of us are paying a heavy price for it in some shape or fashion. If cooler heads prevailed, Americans could take steps to reduce gun violence while still protecting the rights guaranteed by our Second Amendment, but that would require people across our political spectrum to recognize the validity and concerns of those with opposing viewpoints. A good reality check wouldn’t hurt either. Unfortunately, there is a glaring absence of cooler heads in today’s political climate, so gun violence continues largely unabated and the only questions are when and where it will strike next.

The Second Amendment states as follows: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Consider the following question: “Does the Second Amendment guarantee prisoners the right to bear arms in jail?” That sounds like a silly question, unless the person answering is an inmate who has experienced first-hand the danger posed by life in America’s jails. For those of us who haven’t, the answer to the question is an unqualified “No.” Denying firearms to prisoners is the right thing to do for obvious reasons, but one has to admit that the Second Amendment doesn’t contain language limiting the rights of prisoners. That means one of two things - either prisoners should be allowed to arm themselves or the rest of us must recognize that the rights afforded by the Second Amendment can be forfeited or subject to reasonable limitations under certain circumstances. Folks can quibble about what circumstances should trigger the forfeiture of gun ownership rights or what regulations of gun ownership are constitutionally reasonable, but any rational discussion must begin with the recognition that there are limits to what the Second Amendment guarantees.

In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that was authored by the Court’s most conservative member, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch gun rights advocate. The Heller decision struck down several provisions of the District of Columbia’s firearm statute. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling, gun control proponents bemoaned what they perceived as a loss of any chance for the government to curb gun violence. Gun rights proponents loudly proclaimed that Heller outlawed any government attempt to regulate firearms. Both sides were wrong.

As Justice Scalia explained in Heller: “…the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right is not unlimited, just as the First Amendment’s right of free speech was not.”

So what are the Second Amendment’s limitations and what actions can a government of the people take to curb gun violence? Again, Justice Scalia’s words in Heller offer guidance: “…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.” A Supreme Court decision issued just last month expanded the list of approved prohibitions to include misdemeanor convictions for crimes of domestic violence.

Scalia’s Heller opinion went on to note that prohibitions against carrying concealed weapons were permissible under the Second Amendment, as were statutes prohibiting the possession of sawed-off shotguns and other “dangerous and unusual” weapons, including “M-16 rifles and the like.” Scalia also wrote: “Nor, correspondingly, does our analysis suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents.”

After explaining the Court’s legal reasoning, Justice Scalia directed the District of Columbia to permit Mr. Heller to register his handgun [D.C. law requires registration of all firearms] and issue Heller a permit to carry it in his home. That’s an astonishing order coming from the late Justice’s gun rights pen, especially given the often made claim by gun rights advocates that registration of firearms is blatantly unconstitutional. Apparently, they and the conservative Justice Scalia were not of the same mind.

Scalia drove home this point when he closed the Heller decision by stating: “The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem [gun violence], including some measures regulating handguns.”

Now that the Supreme Court has offered a clearer view of what’s possible and what’s not under the Second Amendment, take a moment to consider proposals that seek to limit the right of individuals on terrorist watch lists and “no fly” lists to acquire firearms. If laws that prohibit felons, perpetrators of domestic violence and the mentally ill pass constitutional muster because of a legitimate governmental and societal interest in keeping firearms out of the hands of individuals deemed dangerous, then keeping firearms out of the hands of would-be terrorists and people who pose a danger to air travel would be permissible, too. It is imperative that citizens be provided with a mechanism for challenging their inclusion on such lists, but the legitimacy of barring people deemed dangerous from possessing firearms is a well-settled principle of Second Amendment jurisprudence. Politicians and gun advocates who claim otherwise are just plain wrong.

It is often claimed that the Second Amendment preserves the right to own firearms for the purpose of hunting, but the United States Supreme Court has never held that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to hunt. The reason for that is an often overlooked fact – wild game belongs to the states. In the absence of federal endangered species protection, a state has the right to control the preservation of its animals as it sees fit. If a state wishes to bar the hunting of its animals, it can do so without infringing on anyone’s Second Amendment rights. If a state wishes to regulate hunting, including the regulation of what weapons can be used by hunters it can do without violating any rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. It cannot be disputed that our Nation has a time-honored tradition of hunting, but a tradition does not rise to the level of a constitutionally protected right simply because of the passage of time. Those were Justice Scalia’s words, not mine.

There are many in this Nation who espouse the view that our Second Amendment’s right to bear arms includes the right to violently overthrow our own citizen-elected government. This viewpoint has never been condoned by the United States Supreme Court, with good reason. It is highly dangerous and runs afoul of our Founders desire to form a more perfect union by the establishment of a representative form of government. From a practical standpoint, if preserving the right to violently overthrow our duly-elected government were the Second Amendment’s purpose, who would determine when violent insurrection is legitimate? Would it be the right of each individual to decide for themselves when it is okay to gun-down a government official or voter with opposing political views? To support such an interpretation of the Second Amendment’s right invites anarchy, the very situation the founders of our Republic were striving to prevent.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was never intended to be used as a weapon by one segment of the population to terrorize, murder and subjugate another. It was enacted as a measure of self-defense, but also subject to reasonable limitations and regulations. All too often we forget that an individual’s right to self-defense is no greater than our collective right to self-defense. An unarmed individual’s right to walk the street in safety is no less important than an armed individual’s right to do so. If reasonable limitations and regulations on firearms can help insure that balance, the Second Amendment does not stand in its way.

Monday, March 14, 2016

BAH SOLOMON AND HIS PIGLETS

Bah Solomon is a self-employed pig farmer in the northwest province of Mbengwi in the African nation of Cameroon. He’s a short, scrawny fellow – a polar opposite to Mbah a Moute, a current NBA basketball player who hails from the same country, but Bah’s lack of height has not diminished his tenacity in working to improve his family’s lot or the zeal he exhibits in rooting for the Houston Rockets.

Jobs are scarce in Mbenwgi, and were more so back in 2009 when Bah was struggling to find ways to support his wife and five children. That’s when somebody told Bah about an organization known as (GHAPE) – Grounded and Holistic Approach to People’s Empowerment. (GHAPE) is a non-profit microlending organization whose mission it is to make credit accessible to the bottom fifty percent (50%) of those living below the poverty line in various countries around the globe. (GHAPE) frequently partners with (KIVA), a non-profit microlending organization I support, to provide loans to impoverished people that would otherwise have no access to credit. Bah is one of those people.

Bah has a history in the pig raising business and in 2009, people encouraged him to seek a loan from (GHAPE) to raise his own pigs to provide for his family. Since then, Bah has slowly built his pig-raising enterprise with the help of three loans arranged through (GHAPE), and on each occasion he repaid the obligation while continuing to provide for his family’s needs. In the process of doing so, Bah has also developed good relationships with his customers and is known for providing a quality product. Now, through the (GHAPE) partnership with (KIVA), Bah is seeking a fourth loan of $275 to purchase more piglets for his operation. If you’re a member of either the (GHAPE) or (KIVA) microlending groups, or are interesting in joining one, check out Bah Solomon’s microlending request.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

THE EMPORER’S SUBJECTS ARE WEARING NO CLOTHES

Yes it’s maddening, but on a different level there is also something very comforting about watching high and mighty Republican Senators expose themselves as hypocrites of the highest order in a naked grab for power. It’s a powerful reminder that underneath it all, they’re no better than the rest of us, just a bit more connected and a lot more full of themselves.

Americans had yet to pay respect to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia when a host of Republican United States Senators, including two presidential candidates (Cruz & Rubio) and Pennsylvania’s own Pat Toomey, publicly expressed their intent to abdicate their constitutional responsibility to advise our President and consent to appoint a duly qualified jurist to take Scalia’s place on the high court. Not only have those Senators besmirched Scalia’s legacy of unwavering support for contextually interpreting our Constitution, they’ve also demonstrated they are unfit for public office. Were he still among us, Justice Scalia would have brutally eviscerated the suggestion that U.S. Senators renounce their constitutional obligation and swiftly called for their resignation, regardless of political affiliation.

Throughout his tenure on the bench, Justice Scalia disdained public officials who refused to fully execute the duties of their office. In February 2002, speaking at a death penalty conference at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a week earlier at a similar symposium in Chicago, Justice Scalia defended his view that an originalist reading of the U.S. Constitution demanded that judges who refuse to perform their constitutional duty to impose the death penalty should resign their position immediately. Scalia reiterated that view on countless occasions during the years that followed and never retreated from that position in any Supreme Court opinion he authored.

Justice Scalia recognized that the potential for political gain or one’s personal beliefs do not justify or excuse the abdication of a constitutionally imposed responsibility, and he would never have approved of a wholesale betrayal of constitutional principles for political gain. To do so would justify the charge that Senate Republicans are unprincipled hypocrites of the highest order and that they have no appreciation or respect for the principles and obligations embodied in our Constitution.

The drafters of America’s Constitution wisely recognized that political winds ebb and flow, each according to its own merit, but only a constitution set in stone, with its attending rights and obligations could withstand the test of time. They also believed, and rightly so, that in order to insure the continuation of our republic as intended, those who pledge to uphold our constitutional form of government must fulfill their duty without exception or delay and without regard for their own personal or political beliefs.

Abraham Lincoln, America’s greatest Republican President once famously warned, “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”

Take heed, Republicans. Truer words have never been spoken!

Friday, February 19, 2016

THE PASSING OF HARPER LEE

Harper Lee, the acclaimed author of To Kill a Mockingbird passed away today. The literary word has suffered the loss of a power voice of social consciousness, but her legacy will continue in the book that made her famous. I learned a great deal about justice and prejudice when I studied her book in both high school and college, and I’d like to think I’m a better person because of it.

MY TOP 100 FAVORITE MOVIES

Everybody has their own list of favorite movies. Here’s a list of my top 100:

A Beautiful Mind
A River Runs Through It
Amistead
Atonement
Becket
Begin Again
Ben Hur
Benjamin Buttons
Big
Black and White
Black Book
Bridge Over The River Kwai
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Captain Phillips
Casablanca
Castaway
Chariots of Fire
Chicken Run
Chocolat
Cold Mountain
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Dances With Wolves
Dead Poet Society
Doctor Zhivago
Elizabethtown
E.T.
Field of Dreams
Finding Forrester
Forrest Gump
Fried Green Tomatoes
Girl Interrupted
Glory
Gone With the Wind
Good Will Hunting
Goodfellas
Great Expectations
Hoosiers
Hugo
Ida
In the Land of Milk and Honey
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones: Quest for the Holy Grail
Interstellar
Invictus
Les Miserables
Lilies of the Field
Lincoln
Love Affair
Mary Poppins
Michael Clayton
My Fair Lady
National Treasure
Oblivion
Oh God
On Golden Pond
Open Range
Out of Africa
Pappillon
Philadelphia
Pleasantville
Pride and Prejudice
Redemption
REDS
Saving Private Ryan
Secretariat
Seven Years a Slave
Shakespeare in Love
Shindler’s List
Shoes of the Fisherman
Simon Birch
The Adjustment Bureau
The Age of Adaline
The American
The American President
The Book of Eli
The Dancer Upstairs
The Debt
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
The Godfather
The Great Gatsby
The Green Mile
The Intern
The Natural
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Shawshank Redemption
The Soloist
The Sound of Music
The Spitfire Grill
The Water Diviner
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
3:10 to Yuma
To Kill a Mockingbird
Unbroken
Unforgiven
Up
What Dreams May Come
Where the Heart Is
Winter’s Tale
Witness

Saturday, February 13, 2016

SCALIA REMEMBERED

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has not been dead for twenty-four hours yet and already conservatives across this country are tripping over themselves to canonize the Catholic jurist a saint, but from my perspective as a Christian liberal with a sense of compassion for my fellow human beings, a man like Scalia warrants none of the hype or respect that are being afforded him. His family and friends are mourning the loss of a beloved member of their family, and they should have our sympathy and prayers, but the death of a man with a heart as cold as stone is something I can neither celebrate nor mourn, just as I took no delight nor grieved at the death of Osama bin Laden.

You’ll get no argument from me that Scalia was a brilliant man, but history is filled with brilliant men who used their intellectual powers to the detriment of mankind’s advancement, and Scalia ranks right up with the cruelest of them. Some men brutalize with weapons. Scalia did so with words, using the power of his position to send innocent prisoners to their death, to marginalize the oppressed, to disenfranchise minorities, to attempt to deny medical care to the sick, to place firearms in the hands of would-be killers and to thwart efforts to create a clean environment in which mankind could flourish.

Scalia’s legacy is not a legacy worth celebrating. What it truly merits is contempt and derision! He wasted his God-given intellect, not in the defense of freedom and human development, but in defense of an ideology that spawned slavery and continues to support greed and human oppression. That is not a legacy that a lowly carpenter from Nazareth would lift up in celebration. It’s the kind of legacy that Jesus would lament. It’s been said that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. In Scalia’s case, the terrible waste is twice as bad, maybe more.

I’d say rest in peace, but he doesn’t deserve it!

FIXING SOCIAL SECURITY

Let's face it! We're never going to solve the Social Security insolvency problem until we get this whole global warming thing under control. As long as the arctic ice is receding, there won't be enough room to set our old folks adrift on an ice floe and watch them float away into oblivion.

Actually, America doesn't have a Social Security problem. What it has in a political will problem. By that I mean that there are not enough political leaders who are willing to place their own political careers on the line to do what is necessary to honor America's long-standing social contract that was established to take care of our retirees and disabled citizens. The Social Security ledger sheet could be placed in order for the next hundred years without raising the current social security tax rate in one simple step: require citizens to pay social security tax on all their earned income, without exception.

Right now, a person who works a 40 hour per week minimum wage job earns $15,080 per year. The Social Security tax is 6.2%, and on an income of $15, 080, the wage-earner pays $935.00 in Social Security tax. Wage earners making $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000 per year pay the same 6.2% of their earned income (earned income = income from working) in Social Security Tax. So does every other wage earner making up to $113,700 per year in earned income.

This is where things get interesting…or unfair…depending on how you view the situation. Once a wage earner starts making more than $113,700 per year, the percentage of Social Security Tax that wage earner pays actually decreases, and the more a person is paid the lower the percentage a person pays. For example, the Social Security Tax rate on a person having earned income of one million dollars in a year is seven/tenths of one percent. In real numbers, a millionaire will pay $7,049 dollars per year in social security tax. When you compare the millionaire to the minimum wage worker, the millionaire makes 63 times more money, but only pays 7.5 times more Social Security tax. Where's the fairness in that system? Why should a guy working at a minimum wage job pay a higher social security tax rate than a guy earning a million dollar per year salary?

Social Security was created as a financial safety net, but for the wealthiest earners in our society, it's actually a financial windfall. Assume a millionaire pays $7,049 dollars into Social Security for forty (40) years. The millionaire will have paid $281,960 in social security tax over that time span. Now, assume that same individual collects social security for 20 years following their retirement. At the current top rate of $2,162 per month, the millionaire will have collected of total of $518,880 dollars. That's a tidy sum considering the millionaire already had forty million dollars in earned income. This is one place where Republicans never, ever talk about an across-the-board flat tax rate.

If one Social Security tax rate applied to all earned income, American would never have to worry about the insolvency of the Social Security Trust Fund. The baby boomer generation would come and go without bankrupting the security net that has protected seniors since the days of the Great Depression. This fix is not rocket science. It just takes something we're in short supply of lately: political will!