Revoking citizenship

Citizenship of any nation is not something to be taken lightly. It becomes part of who you are, as you have shown a commitment to living under the laws of that nation, becoming a part of that culture while adding a little bit of yourself to it. Making the choice of becoming a citizen of a nation different from that in which you were born is not something to be taken mildly.

Most of us who are citizens of the United States are not citizens by choice, but our continuing citizenship of the United States is by choice. We are natural-born citizens, meaning we were born under the jurisdiction of the United States and were immediately subject to her laws and any protections she affords from that moment onward. If you do not wish to continue your citizenship, you are free to renounce it and leave.

Citizenship has always been a matter of choice. Even if your citizenship of a particular nation was not obtained by choice, continuing to enjoy your citizenship is.

No matter who you are or what you do, the government of the United States does not have the power to involuntarily strip you of your citizenship, essentially leaving you “without country”.

But Lieberman’s intent with creating the Terrorism Expatriation Act, introduced in the House of Representatives on May 6, 2010, by Jason Altmire [R-PA(4)] as HR 5237, leaves a lot of questions open for scrutiny:

I think it’s time for us to look at whether we want to amend that law to apply it to American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship.

Lieberman pointed out in an interview with Neil Cavuto that there is a process through the Department of State by which a person is deprived of their citizenship, and this process is defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1940 (8 USC § 1481), along with specific conditions that are said to denote a person’s willingness to no longer be a citizen of the United States:

  • obtaining naturalization in a foreign state
  • taking an oath or affirmation of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision therein
  • serving in a foreign military actively engaged in hostilities against the United States, or at any time accepting a commission in any foreign military
  • obtaining employment in a foreign government, if you’ve obtained nationality of that nation or if the post requires an oath or affirmation of allegiance
  • formally renouncing your citizenship before a United States consular officer in a foreign country, in a manner prescribed by the State Department
  • committing an act of treason against the United States (as defined by Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution), or attempting to overthrow the United States or take up arms against her

With all of these criterion, one could reasonably agree that they constitute evidence that a person wishes to no longer be a citizen of the United States. What Lieberman wishes to do is amend this list to include a few other provisions:

  • providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization
  • engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States
  • engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against any country or armed force that is:
    • directly engaged along with the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States
    • providing direct operational support to the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States

Under the existing law, in accordance with the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 (1980), no citizen of the United States may be stripped of his or her citizenship unless it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that said person acted with the intent of relinquishing their citizenship. While the elements codified in law may be highly persuasive evidence that one wishes to relinquish their citizenship:

the trier of fact must in the end conclude that the citizen not only voluntarily committed the expatriating act prescribed in the statute, but also intended to relinquish his citizenship.1

In other words, the action does not imply intent to relinquish citizenship.

Further, under 8 USC § 1483, except when a person formally renounces his or her citizenship during a time of war (and such renunciation is approved by the Attorney General of the United States), or in cases where a person has committed an act of treason:

no national of the United States can lose United States nationality under this chapter while within the United States or any of its outlying possessions, but loss of nationality shall result from the performance within the United States or any of its outlying possessions of any of the acts or the fulfillment of any of the conditions specified in this Part if and when the national thereafter takes up a residence outside the United States and its outlying possessions.

This means that had Lieberman’s proposals been law prior to the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, John Walker Lindh could have been subject to expatriation. But with § 1483 in place, Lieberman’s proposals would still not apply to Faisal Shahzad because he never made it out of the United States after the failed bombing, and neither HR 5237 nor Lieberman’s draft of the bill propose amending this section.

Initially when I read about Lieberman’s plans with the bill, I was enraged. The idea that the government would involuntarily strip a person of their citizenship is disgusting and should enrage any citizen of the United States. But after doing a little more investigation into the bill and the surrounding law, I can now fully appreciate the intention behind it.

If a US citizen leaves the United States and joins a terrorist organization in Pakistan or Afghanistan, then that can be interpreted as intent to no longer be a citizen of the United States. There is a formal process through which the Department of State may revoke a person’s citizenship, however a person’s citizenship cannot be revoked while the citizen is still within jurisdiction of the United States, except under two conditions previously mentioned.

So while Lieberman’s bill appears to have come in response to the Times Square bombing, it would still not apply to Faisal Shahzad because he never made it out of the country.

Follow-up: “Expatriation revisited

  1. Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 at 261 (1980) []
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Caveat emptor, to the tune of $18,000

Article: "Family, Verizon far apart over nearly $18,000 phone bill"

Last year there was the story of a cell phone bill that ran… get this… $62,000, after a Sprint customer downloaded Wall-E over his cellular data card that allows you to use your laptop on your cellular carrier’s data network.

Today the feature story courtesy of the Boston Globe is a Verizon customer whose son racked up over $18,000 by tethering his cell phone and using it for browsing the web instead of his parents’ dial-up connection.

Here are the details, according to the article: for two years, the St. Germain’s were customers of Verizon on a family plan that included an unlimited data plan at no cost for the 2 years. After the 2 years, they had to explicitly continue the data plan (it was not opt-out) or they would be charged a per-kilobyte rate.

After the two years, however, the son kept tethering his cell phone, and the parents were unaware of the huge charges being raked in. All of this took place back in 2006.

If you read the comments to the article, there’s a lot of anti-corporate backlash about this. Some of the comments say that Verizon should have informed them of the exorbitant fees being racked up by the data plan, and I agree with that. Those kind of charges are atypical, to say the least, and Verizon should have recognized this and alerted the St Germain’s to the issue.

That would’ve been good customer service, but as we all know, there is no legal or contractual obligation to good customer service.

Absent the alert, the St Germain’s should have been aware that their contract was expiring. Upon the expiration, if you don’t sign a new contract, your cell phone carrier will continue charging you on a monthly basis at the same rate as before, but it’s up to your cell phone carrier to determine if promotional options will be simply dropped from the contract or if they will be added in at a normal rate. If the contract doesn’t say that the options are opt-out, meaning you have to explicitly tell your carrier to not include it, then the options will not be included later.

Either way it means you have to pay attention to your contracts and your bill.

But at the same time, here’s one detail that needs to be kept in mind: the son’s tethering would’ve been interpreted by Verizon as being typical usage, meaning Verizon would’ve concluded that the account’s responsible party was aware of what was going on. If the son’s tethering started after the data plan expired, then the argument that Verizon should’ve informed the family would hold some water, but even then not much.

The onus is always going to be on the customer. You are responsible for your monthly plan. I pay attention to my monthly bill with AT&T. It’s how I discovered my fiancée had signed up to about $100 worth of those "send a text to this number" kind of things. When I discovered them, I told her about it and asked for her cell phone so I could unsubscribe each of them. I paid attention.

My fiancée has also been a texter for as long as she’s had a phone. I’ve had to adjust the texting plan on her line several times to prevent overages — and those adjustments happened mid-cycle, too. When she upgraded to a smart phone, you know the ones with the full keyboard, I upgraded the family plan to an unlimited texting plan.

This is what we in the business world like to call due diligence. There’s another phrase that comes to mind as well…

Caveat emptor.

And here’s one question: is the son helping to pay this down? After all, he was tethering the phone and racking up the huge fees.

Plus there is a provision in the contract that says that if you don’t renew at the end of the contract, they will continue billing you in order to not cut you off — you would just have the option of cancelling at any time without penalty. Imagine if they had been completely cut off from their service at the end of two years because their contract expired without renewal, oh the screaming that would be happening then…

Heck I have that provision on my apartment lease: if I don’t negotiate a new lease, they’ll charge me rent that is about $75/month more than what I currently pay, but I’ll be able to leave the apartment any time without paying any cancellation charge.

The only thing most people appear to be seeing is this: Verizon, a big corporation, charged a retired man $18,000. That’s all anyone appears to be looking at because we’ve become a society where personal responsibility is gone and the entitlement mentality has taken hold.

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National Day of Prayer

There has been much fallout recently regarding recent rulings by Federal Courts regarding the National Day of Prayer. I recently had a small, but well-meaning debate with a friend regarding this — he is Christian, I am agnostic.

Recently the the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin declared the government’s declaration of a National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The ruling was handed down by Judge Barbara Brandriff Crabb, nominated by President Jimmy Carter, confirmed by the Senate on October 31, 1979, and commissioned November 2, 1979. The case focused primarily on 36 USC § 119, which states:

The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

Under this law, the next National Day of Prayer is May 6, 2010.

The law still stands pending the outcome of appeals. The Obama administration has already said that they intend to appeal the decision.

On my Facebook page, I voiced support of the decision:

It’s amazing how many people think the Court answers to public opinion, especially Federal Courts. Personally the National Day of Prayer is basically the government calling on everyone to pray. This is in essence equivalent to a school administrator calling on all students to pray. As the latter has fallen, the former must as well. The Judge in this instance ruled appropriately.

A Facebook group has started as well called "Christians Who Want A National Day Of Prayer!" This is all well and good, but it’s just another example of specific people wanting the government to enact their point of view into public policy without adequate justification of why it should be public policy. The group’s description restates this view:

The National Day of Prayer is currently under attack by radicals determined to silence any expression of faith. Become a fan and together let our voices be heard in Washington that we want a national day of prayer! Suggest to your friends!

If Christians want a national day for prayer, by all means establish one, but don’t go through the government to do it. The Constitution, by way of the First Amendment, states that the government must be religiously neutral:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

If you look up "respect" in the dictionary, you’ll find a couple definitions pertinent to the First Amendment that clearly show that the government must leave religion alone (from Dictionary.com):

10. to show regard or consideration for: to respect someone’s rights.

12. to relate or have reference to.

To have reference to religion or show regard or consideration for it. By these definitions, the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it respects an establishment of religion, in particular theistic beliefs. With the National Day of Prayer, the Federal government is not just respecting or favoring one religion, but one class of religions in general: theistic systems of belief. This flies against beliefs that are not theistic, such as atheists and agnostics, and belief systems not centralized on a deity that answers personal prayer.

If you are a theist and you want to pray on May 6th, or on the first Thursday of May thereafter, or on any day, go ahead. No one is stopping you. By declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, the Court did not say you cannot pray. The ruling merely states that the government cannot suggest that you do.

The National Day of Prayer is not a holiday recognized by any religion, but merely an invention of the Federal government by act of Congress. And under the First Amendment, Congress may not take any action that shows any kind of consideration for religion in any way.

There has been a lot of misunderstanding and exaggeration regarding prayer, when it is permitted and where. Whenever there is a court ruling against religion in some way, such as the 2005 ruling in the case Kitzmiller v. Dover, theists have interpreted it as a restriction on their rights. This is not the case.

We are not a democracy. The United States is not a democracy. The fact that Christians hold a majority religiously in this country does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on everyone, including members of other theistic faiths, through public policy.

We are a Republic. In a Republic, the will of the majority, such as the enactment of a National Day of Prayer, just be tempered against the rights of not just the minority, but the rights of all Americans. Public policy must not show favoritism toward any majority, whether it be a religious majority (Christians) or economic or financial majority (lower and middle class) at the denigration or dereliction of the opposing minority (non-Christians and the upper class, respectfully).

Religion can be one of the most divisive subjects of conversation. To have the government take a stance, any stance, even the slightest, with regard to religion has the power to divide this country worse than our current economic crisis and even slavery. That is why it is by mandate of the Constitution the government not even touch it.

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Are bigger families more environmentally friendly?

Certainly an interesting question, and a point presented in the article "Big Families are the New Green", Simcha Fisher, published on the web site Faith & Family. In the article, the author attempts to argue that bigger families are better for the environment, and in many ways they are, but there are some things that the author conveniently overlooks.

Common cents

Many of what Ms Fisher notes in her article is common sense. When you find your budget feeling like a cantaloupe in a tin can either because of diminished incomes or bigger families, you will naturally search for ways to stretch every dollar you have further.

For example Ms Fisher says that many of the things in her household are used, and because there isn’t the environmental pain of manufacturing something new, she’s being environmentally wise on that mark. This is also an economically common sense way of saving money. Used items tend to be less expensive than new items, and because they don’t take any new resources to deliver to a market, they also don’t diminish the supply of natural resources. Economically this makes sense in the long term as well — reduced demand for new items reduces the market price for new items.

She also points out another common sense observation regarding electricity: more people per light bulb, television, and so on. So while there are a larger number of people in the household, their electricity usage doesn’t go up as quickly as one would necessarily expect.

Larger loads of laundry are more energy efficient, as are larger loads of dishes, and larger meals (to an extent). So for many of the aspects of living, costs aren’t as much of a problem as one could expect.

Diminishing returns

So while these aspects may offset the fact that Ms Fisher and her husband have brought a lot of children into the world, there comes a point where the benefits she cites in her article are reduced by the realities of living.

First is the obvious: food and water. Each mouth needs to be fed, and while a family can certainly look for ways to cut costs by buying food in bulk, saving leftovers, and the like, more food translates into more electricity needed to store perishables and cook it. While larger meals can be more energy efficient to prepare (cooking times do not directly correlate to the amount of food being cooked), all of that food must be kept somehow and larger meals will still require more electricity to prepare.

While you can buy non-perishables such as canned goods in bulk and save a lot of money, the same isn’t true for perishables. Regardless, though, everything has a shelf life, even canned goods. And if you don’t account for shelf life with buying food, you can potentially waste a lot of money instead of save a lot of money. But regardless, an increased demand for food means they are actually increasing their "carbon footprint", and that demand will only go up as each child grows up, though it will eventually go down as children move out of the house (with spikes in demand around the holidays).

Water provides an interesting observation that will not remain constant. First, Ms Fisher says, "Two or three kids fit in a bathtub at a time". While this is true looking at numbers, this will only hold true for a period of time. Once children start growing, you lose this benefit, so unless you’re reusing bath water (not draining the tub between bath rotations), your water usage will go up. Like with food, as the children grow up, your usage will go up.

Along with this are the supplies needed to maintain adequate hygiene: soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, mouthwash, and shampoo (and conditioner). And let’s not forget bathroom tissue and paper towels. The more people you have in one house, the more of these you go through. Hope you can find those bulk savings, and definitely pay attention to expiration dates.

And remember that with any size family, some costs are inescapable and proportional to the size of the household.

"Perfect environmentalists"

Ms Fisher makes the mistake of saying that she’s churning out "perfect environmentalists". For this she can only hope. Once her children grow up and move out of the house, this could easily change.

First, as her children grow up and move out on their own, or go to college, any benefit gained with all of them all living under the same roof goes away. Water and electricity usage will increase as the small "carbon footprint" gets spread out and grows during the years that her children remain single. Eight children under one roof will soon become eight adults under their own roofs. And individual households require their own electricity and water supplies.

Plus unless they move to a smaller home or apartment after all of the children move out (something I find unlikely), their "carbon footprint" will increase as the children move out and establish their own "carbon footprints".

Demand for food, water, and hygienic supplies won’t change significantly, but demand for electricity, gasoline, and the like will. While Ms Fisher wishes to claim herself to be more environmentally friendly than smaller families, this will only hold true for a period of time, something she conveniently overlooks, and a reality she will soon be experiencing when more of her children become teenagers.

Plus because her children lived in a household of tight budgets, conservation, and savings does not mean they will continue to live as such once they have their own incomes and start buying things for themselves, so she is being very presumptuous on that mark.

Conclusion

In short, if you want a large family and can afford it, then have a large family. But don’t at the same time think you’re being more environmentally friendly. In the short term many of Ms Fisher’s assertions may hold true, but I doubt they’ll carry for the long run.

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A family practice in Oregon

On March 2, 2008, a 15-month old infant named Ava Pauline Worthington succumbed to bacterial pneumonia. Ava’s parents are Carl and Raylene Worthington.

Raylene’s maiden name is Beagley. Her parents are Jeffrey and Marci Beagley. Raylene, her husband and parents are all members of the Followers of Christ church in Oregon. They are famous for a long list of children who would’ve lived had they received medical care.

On June 17, 2008, Neil Jeffrey Beagley died from complications from a urinary tract obstruction. Neil was Jeffrey and Marci’s son and Raylene’s brother. He was 16.

On March 8, 2010, Jeffrey and Marci were sentenced to 16 months in prison following convictions on criminally negligent homicide. It’s certainly better than what Carl Worthington received, which was a slap on the wrist. Raylene was acquitted on all charges associated with the death of her daughter.

On April 20, 2010, the Clackamas County District Attorney’s office, led by District Attorney John Foote, sent a letter to members of the Followers of Christ church asking for a dialog to help bring an end to the needless deaths of children caused by the beliefs of the church.

Truthfully, I don’t believe much will come of that dialog, assuming there is a dialog.

References

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Abortion targets African Americans?

It sure does… if you ignore all numbers relevant to the argument and focus instead only on one: African American women obtain about 37% of abortions compared to white women obtaining 34% of abortions, this according to the Guttmacher Institute.

But let’s break the numbers down further.

First anyone who knows anything about abortion can agree that the single cause of abortions is unplanned pregnancy. This is an undeniable fact that has been long recognized.

Margaret Sanger has long been demonized as promoting abortion as a means of eventually exterminating the black population. This is untrue, as Sanger was actually against abortion, but heavily in favor of contraception:

While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.1

The question that must be posed is that if Sanger favored abortion, why did she speak out so heavily against it? Why would she consider it a "disgrace to civilization" if she favored it?

But moving on, let’s look at the breakdown of numbers for unplanned pregnancies by race.

According to the Guttmacher Institute’s 2008 report called "Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States", 69% of pregnancies among black women are unintended, compared to 40% among white women and 54% among Hispanic women.

In 2001 there were approximately 6.4 million pregnancies. Of this, over 3.5 million of these pregnancies were to white women, while almost 1.2 million were to black women and almost 1.3 million were to Hispanic women. Of these pregnancies, 40% among white women, or approximately 1.4 million, were unintended while 69% of pregnancies among black women, or approximately 828 thousand, and 54% of pregnancies among Hispanic women, or approximately 690 thousand, were unintended.

Of the three ethnic classes reported in that 2002 report, black women reported the fewest number of pregnancies overall, but the highest percentage of unintended pregnancies. They also had the highest percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion — 58% or approximately 480 thousand abortions. Compare this to 44%, or approximately 616 thousand, among white women and only 43%, or approximately 297 thousand abortions, among Hispanic women.

So in 2001 white women actually had more abortions overall than black women, even though black women had the higher rate of abortions. Hispanic women had both the lowest percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion, but also the lowest number of abortions overall.

The data shows that black women have a higher rate of unintended pregnancies, and as a result, tend to have a higher rate of abortions. In 2005, black women obtained 37% of all abortions (approximately 444 thousand), compared to 34% of abortions obtained by white women (approximately 408 thousand).

Given that between 1994 and 2001 there was no change in the percentage of pregnancies among black women being unintended, there is no reason to believe that percentage has changed between 2001 and 2005. The data shows, however, that more of the unintended pregnancies are ending in abortion.

This begs the question: why are blacks having a higher rate of unintended pregnancies? Could it be they are more sexually active? According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this seems likely. In 2007 approximately 66.5% black high school students, almost 2 in 3, reported having previously had sex. Approximately 16.5% of black students also reported first having sex before the age of 13, and 46% of black students reported being sexually active.

Compare this to 37.4% of Hispanic students and 32.9% of white students reported being sexually active, and 52% of Hispanic students and 43.7% of white students reported having previously had sex. Condom usage was not significantly different between races (67.3% among black students, 61.4% among Hispanics, 59.7% among white students), but the CDC survey asks whether a condom was used in the most recent sexual encounter before the survey, not whether condom use is consistent and correct.

So with black students being more sexually active, that exposes them to a higher rate of unintended pregnancies, especially since the rate of use of the birth control pill among sexually active black students (9.1%) is less than half that of sexually active white students (20.8%). And where there are unintended pregnancies, there are abortions.

Another interesting fact regarding pregnancies among black women comes from the the February 21, 2003, edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: "The pregnancy-related mortality ratio for black women was consistently higher than that for white women for every characteristic examined."2

Further, homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women, especially black pregnant women.3 And the numbers are believed to be underreported among minorities. The CDC has estimated that black women are seven times as likely as white women to be murdered while pregnant, and overall the CDC estimated that over 324 thousand pregnant women each year are the victims of domestic violence.

Currently there is a point of view that most abortions are elective, meaning of the mother’s own choice and free will, and to an extent that is certainly true. However given how many pregnant women are subjected to domestic violence each year, and the small percentage of them who end up dead, especially the increased likelihood of a pregnant black woman to end up dead, could it be likely that women are also obtaining abortions to literally save their lives?

What influence has domestic violence had on a woman’s decision to obtain an abortion?

Clearly there is more to this than originally meets the eye. I’ve probably only scratched the surface herein, and more detail is probably needed. But it is clear that the "abortion industry" isn’t targeting minorities. Instead the likely explanation of why blacks obtain more abortions may be related to increased sexual activity among blacks, leading to an increased rate of unintended pregnancies, economic status, and possibly also domestic violence.

Updated (April 22, 2010): Added comparison citations for sexual activity.

References

Cited references

  1. Sanger, Margaret. (1920). Contraception or Abortion? In Women and the New Race (p 120). New York: Truth Publishing Company. []
  2. Chang, Jeani, et al. (2003, February 21). "Pregnancy-Related Mortality Surveillance – United States, 1991-1999". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 52(SS02);1-8. []
  3. Goldwert, Lindsay. (2008, April 11). "Murdered Pregnant Women: The Racial Divide". CBS News. []
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Attacks on sexual education

Recently in Wisconsin, a law was enacted that required that any sex education in public schools be comprehensive. The law was supported and lobbied by Planned Parenthood, who long has been arguing for comprehensive sexual education and against abstinence-only programs.

However one ambitious district attorney, Scott Southworth of Juneau County, Wisconsin, took it upon himself to inform public school teachers in his jurisdiction that if they comply with the state law, they may face fines and jail time:

Southworth warned that teaching a student how to properly use contraceptives would be contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor punishable by up to nine months behind bars and a $10,000 fine. He said it would be promoting sex among minors, who are not legally allowed to have sex in Wisconsin.1

Obviously this DA doesn’t realize that where local laws and State laws conflict, the State law wins. So if the teachers comply with State laws in their handling of teaching sexual education, they will be immune from prosecution by this district attorney. Plus the State is generally able to provide for a minimum standard for education within that State through their respective departments of education.

Plus if informing teenagers about sex in school is a punishable crime, then it is also a crime when parents inform teenagers about sex. Can you imagine parents being arrested on child endangerment or "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" charges for informing their teenagers about sex?

The District Attorney is correct in that teenagers under the age of 16 in Wisconsin are not legally able to engage in sexual activity2, but it is happening anyway. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through their Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, in 2007 approximately 64.4% of high school seniors and 50.4% of high school juniors reported previously having sex, and 48.6% of seniors and 39.3% of juniors reported being sexually active (within a 95% interval of confidence).

The numbers are lower for sophomores and freshmen. In Wisconsin 38.2% of sophomores and 26.1% of freshmen reported being sexually active. Meanwhile, 28.2% of sexually active women in Wisconsin are using the pill, and only 61.4% of sexually active students are using condoms.

Southworth’s move is also not supported by logic.

Teenagers are taught about the risks and consequences associated with illicit drug use, even though everyone is barred by Federal laws and regulations from possessing many substances like marijuana and cocaine. Teenagers are taught about risks with drinking even though anyone under age 21 is barred from possessing alcohol. Teenagers are also taught about the risks of tobacco products even though anyone under age 18 is barred from possessing them.

This DA’s move is supported by Pro-Life Wisconsin, who I’ve mentioned in a previous article is attacking contraception as merely a stepping stone on their quest to outlaw abortion. Matt Sande, the Director of Legislative Affairs for Pro-Life Wisconsin said that every district should follow Southworth’s lead. Other anti-abortion groups have apparently also said they support the move.

Obviously Southworth is trying to scare teachers out of teaching sexual education at all, and that would be a major step back for students and public education in general. Does he think that by not teaching teenagers about sex that they just won’t do it?Teens are exposed to sex in many aspects of their lives. And as parents likely aren’t teaching their teens about sex, if they’re not given a comprehensive education in school, how are they going to get one? Google for it? Yeah that’ll work just fine…

Personally Juneau County voters need to oust this District Attorney in the next election, or if there’s a way to oust him sooner, it needs to be employed.

If this district attorney is going to threaten teachers with prosecution for giving a comprehensive sexual education, something that is against his beliefs, what’s to stop him from threatening biology teachers who have the audacity to teach the theory of evolution, even in exclusion to other "theories"?

This District Attorney is trying to test the waters to see what he can get away with. Hopefully Juneau County voters are paying attention and won’t let him succeed.

  1. Richmond, Todd. (2010, April 9). "DA’s sex ed warning befuddles Wis. teachers, kids". Associated Press. []
  2. Wisconsin Statutes 948.02(1)(e) []
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Do you have a "right" to health care?

One point that is continually asserted in favor of the health care reforms that were recently signed into law by the President is this notion that health care is a right. This is something that has not been examined in detail, to the best of my knowledge, so let’s look into this.

First, recall from a previous post how I defined what a right is:

A right is inherent and inalienable, something for which no action is required of anyone else for you to retain, but much action is required of you for you to protect.

In my commentary on the Second Amendment, I clarified and focused on one aspect of this definition: is any action required of anyone else for you to retain or exercise your rights? I’ve seen some news venues clarify their statement about health care being a right to say that access to health care is a right, yet that idea still falls.

For something to be a right, it must be something you can assert without any assistance from anyone else. And if it is something you can assert without assistance from someone else, it is something the government cannot restrict without a damn good reason.

Health care doesn’t meet this qualification.

For you to have health care, there must be doctors and hospitals providing health care. Without doctors and hospitals, there isn’t even access to health care available, and what does that say about your right to health care? Your right exists only so long as doctors and hospitals exist?

Then it’s not a right.

Rights are inherent and inalienable. They are not conditioned upon anything else in society existing or not existing because rights are unconditional. They have reasonable limitations, but they do not have conditions.

So is any part of health care a "right"? Sure. You have a right to seek health care. If it’s not available through any health care provider, you can attempt to heal yourself. Or if you are so inclined, you can exercise your freedom of religion and pray to your deity for healing and salvation.

Health care is a service and you do not have a right to any particular service because your "right" would only exist so long as the service exists.

Therefore you do not have any "right" to health care.

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Why are forgiven debts treated as income?

Why are forgiven debts treated as income?

After all it doesn’t really make sense: you don’t actually receive any money when debts are written off, but the IRS may require you to report it anyway. There are a lot of articles on the Internet that tell you that canceled and forgiven debts are considered income, but few if any seem to discuss why this occurs, so let’s look into this.

First, in accounting is a principle called the accounting equation:

Assets = Liabilities + Owner’s Equity

In terms of personal accounting, owner’s equity is your net worth — i.e. the cash value of all of your assets minus your liabilities.

Now whenever you acquire something, such as dining out or buying something for yourself, you incur a liability, convert assets, or lose equity. If you pay with your credit card, you’ve just incurred a liability. If you pay with cash, you either lose equity or you’ve converted assets by trading cash for another asset (such as a car).

There are two ways to cancel liabilities: either by decreasing assets (such as paying it off with cash) or by increasing your net worth. Even if debts are forgiven, this still holds true and cannot be evaded. If part of your debt is canceled, your accounts still have to balance out.

For example, let’s say you have a $1,500 credit card account that you settled for $1,000. That leaves a $500 liability that is no longer a liability. That $500 must be disposed somehow, and it must be disposed in such a way that everything still balances. But how?

Since you aren’t putting any assets toward the liability, the only proper way to dispose of the liability is by converting it to equity. And the only way to effectively convert it to equity is by treating the liability as if it were income. You are basically taking $500 you once owed and adding it to your net worth. This keeps everything balanced out.

In an accounting ledger, this is how it would look:

Account DR CR
Credit Card 1,500  
        Cash   1,000
        Canceled debt   500

Here, the "Canceled debt" account is an income account, and when the books are eventually reconciled, that $500 income contributes to your net worth. And it’s because of this that the IRS treats canceled debts as taxable income on the part of the debtor.

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The Supremacy Clause and Treaties

The Constitution typically is interpreted to be superior to every branch of government in the United States. It lays the framework for the Federal government and grants its powers while laying out explicitly several restrictions.

Article VI of the Constitution includes what is called the "Supremacy Clause":

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Where the Constitution lays out that it, along with the laws passed by Congress and signed by the President and any treaties ratified by the Senate, shall be the "supreme Law of the Land", the Constitution is establishing its supremacy over all acts of the States, but only insofar as the Constitution grants Congress the power to do such actions.

But the Supremacy Clause tends to be misinterpreted by those advocating the separation of church and state. I’ve heard an argument similar to this on multiple occasions: the Supremacy Clause in effect provides that the language of a treaty shall be legally in equivalence to the language of the Constitution. Most recently I heard such language in a new Constitution lecture by Shane Killian on the separation of church and state.

In this lecture, at around 7:44, Shane makes this argument with regard to Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli:

According to Article VI [of the Constitution], any treaties made in pursuance of the Constitution are part of the Supreme Law of the Land. This declaration therefore has the same effect as if it were part of the Constitution itself.

In the comments to his video, I argued that he was "a little off" with this argument, that if the Constitution grants any treaties any legal equality to anything, it’s statutes enacted by Congress. He responded by posting Article VI to the Constitution, following with "Direct quote", as if that were to mean anything.

In his response, I quoted directly from Reid v. Covert, 354 US 1 (1957): "This Court has regularly and uniformly recognized the supremacy of the Constitution over a treaty".1

To firmly show that the Constitution is superior to any actions of Congress, and to further display that treaties are equivalent to other ordinary actions of Congress, the Court further declared in Reid:

This Court has also repeatedly taken the position that an Act of Congress, which must comply with the Constitution, is on a full parity with a treaty, and that when a statute which is subsequent in time is inconsistent with a treaty, the statute to the extent of conflict renders the treaty null. It would be completely anomalous to say that a treaty need not comply with the Constitution when such an agreement can be overridden by a statute that must conform to that instrument.2

Further, it is very dangerous to state that treaties have "the same effect as if it were part of the Constitution itself". This implies that treaties can bypass the amendment process laid out in Article V, and that treaties can confer additional powers to the government, as if ratifying a treaty is, in effect, amending the Constitution without going through the necessary process. A very dangerous notion indeed, and one that the Supreme Court also directly addressed in the Reid decision: "no agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or on any other branch of Government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution."3

The Constitution is supreme to any action of the Federal government, and this includes treaties. This was first stated by the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison, 5 US 137 (1803): "Thus, the particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written Constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void".4 In Marbury the Supreme Court overturned an act of Congress that sought to modify the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, which is firmly established in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Again the Constitution is supreme to any act of the Federal government, including treaties. The Treaty of Tripoli or any treaty to which the United States is a party is not equal to the Constitution in any way, and to say that a treaty is equal to the Constitution is dangerous.

  1. Reid v. Covert, 354 US 1 at 17 []
  2. Reid v. Covert, 354 US 1 at 18 []
  3. Reid v. Covert, 354 US 1 at 16 []
  4. Marbury v. Madison, 5 US 137 at 180 []
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