Thursday, August 29, 2013

116 Members of Congress Insist POTUS Get Approval Before Bombing Syria

U.S. Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA2)
Led by Representative Scott Rigell (R-Virginia), 116 Members of Congress (98 Republicans and 18 Democrats) have sent a letter to President Barack Obama insisting that he seek and receive congressional authorization before going to war in Syria.

The list of signatories includes several other Virginia congressmen (Randy Forbes, Morgan Griffith, Robert Hurt, Robert Wittman, and Frank Wolf, in addition to Rigell). Also prominent among the signers are libertarian-leaning Republicans Justin Amash of Michigan, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Raul Labrador of Idaho, as well as Democrats Zoe Lofgren (California), Peter DeFazio (Oregon), Rush Holt (New Jersey), and Jim McDermott (Washington).

The text of the letter, addressed directly to the President, says:
We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria. Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate – and the active engagement of Congress – prior to committing U.S. military assets. Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.

Mr. President, in the case of military operations in Libya you stated that authorization from Congress was not required because our military was not engaged in “hostilities.” In addition, an April 1, 2011, memorandum to you from your Office of Legal Counsel concluded:

“…President Obama could rely on his constitutional power to safeguard the national interest by directing the anticipated military operations in Libya—which were limited in their nature, scope, and duration—without prior congressional authorization.”

We view the precedent this opinion sets, where “national interest” is enough to engage in hostilities without congressional authorization, as unconstitutional. If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute “hostilities,” what does?

If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request. We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.
Over the decades, Congress slowly ceded to the Executive Branch its constitutional authority for deciding when and if the United States. With the emergence of a more constitutionally-minded faction (including, but not limited to, libertarians like Rand Paul and Justin Amash), Members of Congress are beginning to reassert their rightful authority against usurpations by the White House.

Rigell's letter is not legislation that limits presidential action putting U.S. interests and service members at risk, but it's nonetheless a positive step forward.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My Op-Ed About GOP Lt. Gov. Candidate E.W. Jackson

Google Alerts failed me.

For readers unfamiliar with Google Alerts, Wikipedia provides a succinct definition:

Google Alerts is a content change detection and notification service, offered by the search engine company Google, that automatically notifies users when new content from news, web, blogs, video and/or discussion groups matches a set of search terms selected by the user and stored by the Google Alerts service. The results are delivered as an email digest to a gmail account. The service is available to the general public as an open beta release.
I use Google Alerts to track a couple of dozen topics, including iterations on my name and an organization to which I belong, Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL).

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that included a reference to GLIL and, of course, included my name in the byline. I submitted it to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star but never received a reply from the editor.

It came as a surprise to me when, on Sunday, I discovered by chance that the Free Lance-Star had published the piece on Sunday, July 21. In the intervening three weeks, Google Alerts never let me know about it. (Neither, for that matter, did the Free Lance-Star itself.)

E.W. Jackson and Rick Sincere
The article was about the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia, E.W. Jackson. Two days before the GOP state convention on May 18, I predicted on Coy Barefoot's radio show in Charlottesville that, of the seven candidates for lieutenant governor, two would lose on the first ballot and be dropped out of the competition: state Senator Steve Martin and E.W. Jackson.

I was half-right.

Jackson took the convention by storm and eventually got the nomination on the fourth ballot, after a good portion of delegates had left the Richmond Coliseum to go home. Nobody I know -- outside of Jackson's own group of supporters -- predicted, or could have predicted, his victory. Not even his opponents took him seriously as a rival.

That may be why some of the more eccentric statements by Jackson made prior to the convention never made it into general circulation until after he secured the nomination.

One of these instances was an interview with Peter LaBarbera on Immediately after the nominating convention, people -- primarily liberal Democrats, but not exclusively so -- glommed onto his statements about gay people, such as:
Their minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality. When they talk about love they’re not talking about love, they’re talking about homosexual sex.
That's social-conservative boilerplate, and therefore not very interesting.

What did interest me, as a non-liberal, non-progressive gay activist, were his remarks that gay men and lesbians are universally and uniformly "authoritarian" and "totalitarian":
Chesapeake clergyman E.W. Jackson said that gay men and lesbians have "an authoritarian, totalitarian spirit that has decided they know what's best for everyone."

Jackson repeated the characterization when he said: "I used two words to describe what they're trying to do: 'authoritarian' and 'totalitarian,' and I believe that. I believe that they are of a mindset that says we want to destroy, in any way we need to, anyone who dares oppose this agenda. That's a very, very dangerous approach."
Had Jackson said that "some" or even "most" gay people have these characteristics, I might have cut him some slack. I, myself, have been assailed by leftists because I'm not a liberal Democrat. One radio host even accused me, on the air, of not being gay because I didn't adhere to a liberal agenda (in that particular case, with regard to the Boy Scouts of America's pending freedom-of-association case before the U.S. Supreme Court). I retorted that both of his listeners would have reason to disagree -- but that was a long time ago.

My purpose in writing the article that appeared in the Free Lance-Star was to point out that gay men and lesbians are not monolithic in their political views and that many of us even share the basic values that Jackson claims to hold. I noted:
While there are radicals within any political movement, whether right or left, the totalitarian impulse is rare and exists only on the fringes.

Indeed, Jackson's words are at odds with the attitudes and activities of a large number of gay and lesbian Americans whose core beliefs are keenly attuned to the values of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that Jackson claims animate his own political agenda.
In the article, I mentioned three organizations that mitigate against Jackson's blinkered view: Log Cabin Republicans, Pink Pistols, and Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty. Were it not for space considerations, I could also have pointed out the existence of GOProud and Outright Libertarians, or even the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL, an anti-abortion group).

It irritates me when politicians -- or anyone, for that matter -- make blanket statements about groups of individuals without having the evidence to back them up. To assert that all gay men and all lesbians are "authoritarian" or "totalitarian" is not only baseless, it's slanderous.

I concluded my Free Lance-Star article:
Whether E.W. Jackson was the right choice for the Republican Party's lieutenant governor nominee is a broader topic best left to other days and other commentators.

One thing is clear, however: His blanket condemnation of gay citizens as wanting to oppress other Americans through "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" methods lacks factual foundation. He should withdraw that accusation and acknowledge that there are many gay men and lesbians who share his fundamental desire for strong families, free markets, and smaller, less intrusive government.
The Republican party and the conservative movement are "big tents" that are, essentially, part of a broader "leave us alone" coalition. People with different backgrounds and different personal characteristics come together to elect public officials who share basic goals but who might disagree about certain issues. That's what coalition politics is all about. To exclude anyone from potential membership in that coalition is bad politics. As former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis likes to say, "politics is a game of addition, not subtraction."

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Victoria's Secret Elementary School

Year after year, as Virginia's annual "tax free" back-to-school shopping weekend rolls around, I find a reason to take aim at the program and set phasers to mock.

In 2011, for example, I pointed out on how the tax-free holiday is "more complicated than necessary":

Whatever its merits, the sales-tax holiday’s framework is far more complicated than it needs to be. The Virginia Department of Taxation provides a lengthy list of those items that are eligible and others that are ineligible for the sales tax exemption through the weekend. It would have been much simpler for the General Assembly to decree that all consumer items priced at $100 or less would be tax-exempt for the 72-hour period of the tax holiday.

Instead, the list offers a higgledy-piggledy mix of inconsistencies, in which “athletic supporters” are eligible items, but “cleated or spiked athletic shoes” are not. Computers and computer peripherals (like printers) are ineligible, but “all calculators, including those with printing capabilities” are eligible for the exemption.

Some eligible items have little or no relation to school supplies: choir and altar clothing; diapers, children and adult, including disposable diapers; and wedding apparel, including veils, to name a few.
That led to an interview with the Newsplex in Charlottesville in which I noted:
"We have these weird combinations where an athletic supporter is tax exempted but athletic shoes with cleats are not."
My solution?
"Simplify it, simplify it, simplify it."

Sincere suggests tax breaks for anything $100 or less across the board, not just school.

"Easy to understand, much easier for our retailers who have to program their computers."
As far back as 2006, on the occasion of the first such sales-tax holiday in Virginia, I made the same recommendation:
The easiest, most logical, most consumer- and business-friendly thing to do for the tax holiday would simply have been to decree that on this particular three-day weekend, all items with a retail price of $100 or less would be tax-exempt. That would be simple to program into stores' computers, and it would be simple for the average customer -- that is, taxpayer -- to understand.
Then in 2008, I asked:
How about this idea? A tax-free year. Is that too much to hope for?
These reminiscences are prompted by a report by's Virginia bureau, which points out another ridiculous anomaly in the list of acceptably tax-free items:

Planning on buying your daughter some sexy lingerie for her first day back to school this fall?

Well, now you can — free from Virginia state sales tax, thanks to this weekend’s back-to-school clothing and supplies tax holiday.

But, if you’re planning on purchasing some new shin guards for your same soccer superstar daughter who plays on her school’s team, forget it.

That isn’t exempt from the state sales tax during the Friday-through Sunday tax holiday, because state officials decided that doesn’t fall under the category of “clothing.” also points to a compelling "top ten list" of reasons that explain why sales-tax holidays are a flawed idea, if not actually counterproductive, courtesy of the Tax Foundation. It's a PDF but well worth the read.

This year's back-to-school sales-tax holiday begins Friday, August 2, and extends through Barack Obama's birthday on Sunday, August 4.

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