Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Guns don't kill people, but Walter Shapiro's good intentions might ....

At the leftist e-zine, Washington bureau chief Walter Shapiro advocates the complete repeal of the Second Amendment, even though he notes that "there is no way to guarantee that another Cho Seung-Hui would be deprived of access to a Glock ...." Which begs the question: If there's no way to ensure that such an extreme measure would work, why is Shapiro advocating it?

Fortunately, at the end of the article he tells us why:

Only in a nation forged by 18th century concerns about liberty and states' rights do firearms have a hallowed place in the Constitution.

Limited-government conservatives live for these rare moments of honesty from the Left, when the fig leaf of compassion falls and the true agenda stands naked and unashamed. Shapiro opposes the Second Amendment not just because guns can do bad things, but because the amendment itself embodies "liberty and states' rights" -- the very principles that prevent our central government from doing whatever it wants to people like you or me. Behind the apparent concern for public safety is a power grab far more extreme than anything the Bush administration has yet proposed, one in which even the amount of force required for personal self-defense is vested in a single, centralized authority.

It's difficult to imagine how Shapiro would condemn President Bush's repeated depredations on individual rights, given that they also stem from outmoded "18th-century concerns." To coin a phrase, the entire Bill of Rights was based on "pre-9/11 thinking": Because the people who wrote our Constitution believed in silly stuff like "liberty and states' rights," at least in theory, they maintained that there were certain things the federal government must be explicitly barred from doing even when such actions would be extremely convenient from the government's point of view. The most explicit no-nos include the suppression of free speech, searching a person's property without judicial oversight, and detaining accused suspects indefinitely without a trial -- and after more than two hundred years, they remain quite relevant.

Still, for many Leftists true freedom involves the government's ability to act on behalf of the "common good" with as few limitations as possible. Many on the Republican Right, most notably President Bush, appear to share this belief, though they define this elusive "common good" quite differently. It's true that the Second Amendment often blocks our government from doing whatever it wants, whenever it wants, especially if it wants to remove guns from the hands of sane, law-abiding Americans. But, our 18th-century Framers argued, that's precisely why we need it. If we could always depend on government to have nothing but the noblest intentions, the truest knowledge of good and evil, and the best, least intrusive and most efficient methods to attain what is best for everyone, then we could surely trust it with unchecked power. Unfortunately, as the twentieth century has taught us, totalitarianism can never be truly benign, and people who cannot defend themselves are soon at the mercy of a government which can oppress them all too easily. The Second Amendment was designed as the ultimate check on big government, a guarantee that individuals whose rights have been threatened can gain access to the most effective means of self-defense yet devised.

As even Shapiro admits, a full repeal of the Second Amendment wouldn't prevent another horrific atrocity like the one at Virginia Tech. What it would do, effectively, is rid our government of those "18th century concerns about liberty and states' rights," and make all Americans -- Walter Shapiro included -- less free in the process. We can't let the atrocity at Virginia Tech blind us to that.

Tim Kaine just flew in from Tokyo, and boy are his arms tired ...

Yesterday afternoon, Virginia Tech students gathered in mourning to commemorate the worst mass shooting in American history. President Bush offered a lovely, restrained token of remembrance and hope that moved his audience to tears. So how did Virginia's Democratic governor Tim Kaine, who preceded and introduced the President, fare at the convocation?

Not so well, as it turned out.

During his rambling, eight-and-a-half minute speech Tim Kaine was not only impeccably groomed but weirdly chipper, as if he were attending a campaign rally instead of a memorial service. The contrast with the somber, grieving young men and women he addressed could not have been greater. Although Kaine tried to tone down his enthusiasm as the speech progressed, he nonetheless seemed to relish his moment in the spotlight, despite the tragic events that had put him there. At last, he had his opportunity to stand before the nation -- nay, the entire world -- and display the full extent of his empathy, his generosity of spirit, his penetrating insight, his abiding faith, his deep love of family and community, and all the wonderful things that make Tim Kaine the wonderful human being he is.

Since I couldn't find a transcript of the governor's remarks online, I decided to write them down myself -- and promptly discovered why no one else, to my knowledge, had made the attempt:

What an amazing community this is. Mr. President and Mrs. Bush, and to all who are part of this Virginia Tech community in this room, on this campus, worldwide today, it is a very bitter and sad day, and yet my wife Anne and I are very privileged to be here with you and there’s nowhere else in the world we’d rather be than with you at this moment.

[Charles Steger, president of Virginia Tech] mentioned Anne and I had left on Sunday morning from Richmond to go on a two-week trade mission to Asia. One of the events is actually an event in India to spotlight a wonderful program of Virginia Tech. We had been in Tokyo in the hotel for about five hours when we were awakened with a call, about one in the morning, to report the horrible tragedy on this campus, and we were stunned, and our first thought was, “We need to get home, and we need to be in Blacksburg with this community that we care so much about.”

We had the experience then of being up in the middle of the night and not being able to get home for about ten hours, and so we did what people all across the world had been doing in the last couple of days: We sat there first in our hotel room and then in a coffee shop and then in an airport waiting lounge with the television on, watching to get news about what was happening on this campus and how the campus was handling it.

It was different being away from home, being halfway across the world in seeing what was happening on this campus, and what you, you students, were showing to the world, and even in the midst of the darkest day in the history of this campus, what you showed to the world yesterday, you students, was an amazing thing. Again and again and again, in all these various news outlets, students were called for to offer their thoughts and ask what they thought about their campus and how they were dealing with this tragedy and the grief was real and very raw, and -- and the questions were deep and troubling but again and again what students came back to, wearing the Virginia Tech sweatshirts, wearing the Virginia Tech caps, was the incredible community spirit and the sense of unity here on this campus, and how, before it was about who was to blame or how it could have been done different was about how we take care of each other on this wonderful, wonderful community, how proud we were even in the midst of a sad day to see how well you represented yourselves and this university to a worldwide community.

There are deep emotions that are called forth by a tragedy as significant as this, grieving and sadness by the boatload. Anne and I have unashamedly shed tears about this and I know virtually all of you have as well. That is the, the thing you should be doing, you should be grieving, there are resources here on this campus and others who are on this campus to help you as you find need for consolation that is so important. A second reaction that is a natural reaction is anger, anger at the gunman, anger at the circumstance, what could have been done different, could something have happened, that’s natural as well.

One of the most powerful stories in the human history of stories is that great story central to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the story of Job, from the Old Testament, afflicted with -- with all kinds of tragedies in his family and health, and he -- and he was angry! He was angry at his circumstances, he was angry at his creator, he argued with God, he didn’t lose his faith. But it’s okay to argue, it’s okay to be angry, those emotions are natural as well.

And finally, the emotions of the family members most affected, beyond grief, losing a son, losing a daughter, a brother, a sister, losing a close friend. It can go beyond grief to isolation and feeling despair, those haunting words that were uttered on a hill on Calvary, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Despair is a natural emotion at a time like this, they’re all natural, they’re all appropr -- but let me ask one thing of you, this community, as you wrestle with your sadness, as you wrestle with your own feelings of anger or confusion, as you wrestle with the despair, even you family members who have lost people close to you, do not -- do not let hold of that spirit of community that makes Virginia Tech such a special place, do not lose hold of that. You need it as a university because you’ve always had it. You need to maintain it. We do not need that spirit of community to be a victim of yesterday, no, you need that, you as a community unified together, there is so much you can do for these family members, to help bear them up, to help them deal with their grief if you were unified, there is an incalcuble amount you can do to help the dir -- family members and friends deal with the loss.

We need in Virginia that spirit of community that you have here. We’re bold enough to call ourselves not a state but a commonwealth, a state is a dotted line, a state is a political subdivision, commonwealth has a meaning. The meaning is [pauses, gestures with hands] what we have, the God-given and man-made resources that we have, we hold in common for a community and you at Virginia Tech can be that community and demonstrate that community for us in a way that will benefit the entire -- entire Virginia.

And finally I would say to you from having that vantage point of hearing about this on the other side of the world, it’s not just you that need to maintain the spirit, the world needs you to. Because the world was watching you yesterday, and in the darkest moment in the history of this university, the world saw you, and saw you respond in a way that built community. I was reminded in the airport as we got ready to board to come back, I’ve seen this story before, I’ve turned on the television, and seen the bad news of a shooting, or weather emergency, or a famine, I’ve seen these stories and there will be more stories. But there was something in the story yesterday that was different and it was you, your spirit of, even in a dark day of optimism and community and hope, and wanting to be together, and -- you taught something good yesterday, even in a dark day the people all around the world and the world needs that example before it.

And so I pledge to do all I can, President Steger and the members of the community and my team as well, to be with you in these coming days, to be alongside of you in difficult times as we sort through and try to work with families and friends. You have a remarkable community, just look around and see this, and see the thousands of students next door, this is a remarkable place. Do not let hold of that sense of community which is so powerful in this room.

In the middle of the evening, shortly after we had received word, I received a call from the President, three-thirty in the morning, calling to ask about Virginia, how Virginia was doing, how were the students doing, President Bush was very engaged and wanting to know how people were doing, but more importantly to say if there was anything he could do, he or the First Lady or the federal government could do to help, they wanted to be helpful and they were helpful. We couldn’t have gotten back here so quickly had it not been from assistance from the White House to enable us to be here today. President Bush is a man who knows deeply that one of the tough but necessary parts of leadership is comfort and consolation in hard times, first as a governor and now as a president, he embraces that aspect of leadership, and what a powerful and positive thing it is for the university today to welcome the President of the United States, President George Bush.

Again, that speech took eight-and-half excruciating minutes to deliver, before President Bush came onstage with a brief, self-effacing and eloquent address that, one hopes, forever blotted Kaine's "sorry comfort" from the students' troubled minds. But in case you're still keeping score, our governor used the word "community" no fewer than nineteen times, employed the first-person pronoun "I" twelve times, and the second-person "you" over forty times. He referred to his wife by name thrice (as often as he mentioned Bush), described the experience of watching the mass shooting on television twice, and even thanked the White House -- once -- for helping him snag a fast flight from Tokyo to the States.

Way to show the kids you care, Guv.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Parable for Tax Day

I've stated before that if our Founding Fathers had an inkling of what the American tax system would become, they'd have laid down their quill pens and taken their chances with old King George. Although I'm not usually one to quote Scripture, this year I couldn't resist:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

And lo, the IRS came, and laid heavy taxes upon the merchant:
Such as income taxes, capital gains taxes, and penalties for late payment.
And the merchant begged the IRS, "Tell me what I owe thee and I will pay."
But the IRS told him, "Our agents will not tell thee, nor do they even know.
Pay what thou owest or thou wilt surely die in prison."

So the merchant hired an expensive accountant:
Who told him, "Thou owest much more than thou hast."
And the state government came unto the merchant, and spake unto him:
"If thou canst afford a goodly pearl, surely thou canst afford personal property tax."
And the state and local governments laid heavy taxes of their own:
Use taxes, property taxes and rising assessments.

So that verily, the merchant found his pearl an unwise purchase.
And he sold his pearl to a rich man,
Who could provide ready money for his heavy taxes.
But the rich man, sensing great desperation from the merchant,
Offered a much lower price for the pearl than what the merchant had paid.

And the merchant's last condition was worse than the first.

Happy Tax Day, fellow Americans.

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