Monday, December 20, 2010

What Christmas Reindeer Antlers Say About America

My wife is from France. In the four years we were on opposite sides of the ocean before we got married I had the good fortune to be able to visit the country a number of times. Much of that time I was working at Outback Steakhouse and always envisioned opening a unit in Paris. (I know, for most people that’s epicurean heresy, but consider the source… my favorite food is McDonalds and M&Ms…) Nonetheless, at Outback the fundamental idea was that we would prepare your food any way you wanted. You could have your salad dressing on the side, your Bloomin’ Onion cooked with flour, or you could have your steak extra well done. Whatever it was, we wanted you to be happy with your meal. When I mentioned the idea to my wife she said it would never fly because the idea of the customer being in charge of anything in France is largely unheard of, particularly as it relates to restaurants. Basically the rule is: Chef’s are trained to know what works with food so you basically get what they give you and you like it.

Not long after that I had another idea that equally befuddled her. Licensed apparel is a multi billion dollar business in the United States and around the world – think NY Yankee hats or Manchester United shirts. One of the biggest sectors of that industry here in the US is NCAA (college) licensed apparel. One day I suggested we think about going into the licensed apparel business and sell shirts, hats etc. for French colleges. She was puzzled. “Why would anyone want to buy a shirt with their college’s name on it?” I tried to explain the whole college rivalry, pride in your school deal to her and it just wasn’t clicking. She told me that such a business would likely not find a market in France because there is largely no such thing as school sports & spirit and French people would never understand the point. (The University of Paris tee shirts that are sold throughout the city are for tourists.) For the French, going to college is expected to be four years of focus and study with very little extracurricular activity of any sort, organized or otherwise. Simply put, it’s all work and very little fun and who wants to wear a shirt reminding them of that?

I thought about these two episodes recently when I saw a car with some reindeer antlers sticking up out of the door of a passing car. In a moment the subject of this column came to me: The beauty of America is the fact that anything and everything is possible here. When you peel back everything else, America is a place of possibilities. Americans by their very nature are a rebellious sort. From breaking with King George to Manifest Destiny to heading to the moon, America has always been a place where big things can and do happen. More importantly however, it’s also a place where everyday, seemingly inconsequential things can happen. What I mean by that is that it is not only the politician, the successful businessman or the wealthy heiress who can set out to pursue some grand design… it’s also the guy next door, the guy at the coffee shop or the guy you knew in 3rd grade who can do something that changes the world, or maybe just his little corner of it.

America is a place where people feel that if they can imagine it, they can make it come true. Although that doesn’t always lead to success, the aggregate impact of all that creativity on the country is tremendous. Think about how many things that you know of that are so fundamentally unimportant from the perspective of surviving in this world but impacted the lives of the people who invented them or used them. Silly Bandz. The Snuggie. College apparel. A dozen flavors of Coke. Personalized M&Ms. Car wrap advertising. Pet manicures. Cheesehead hats. QVC. Having it your way at Burger King. McMansions. The antlers are the perfect example. They’re utterly frivolous, but they let people express the fun side of Christmas and maybe make others smile as well. Not earth changing but certainly a net positive, particularly for whoever created and sells them.

The list goes on and on. And this is not an exercise in navel gazing. Just the opposite actually. It’s recognizing and appreciating the fact that America is a truly unique place and Americans are a unique people. Not because they any better or worse than anyone else, but because they have largely bought into the notion that in America anybody can have an idea and do something with it – although regrettably the system is increasingly suffocating the pervasiveness of that notion. Nonetheless, America has prospered – and much of the rest of the world has benefited – by Americans bounding forth from the darkness to invent things for which there was no demand, to do things that few might have thought possible or necessary and alas, to even stumble more often than not.

Many things that Americans come up with are indeed frivolous, but that’s really the beauty of the country. Just as failure is the foundation upon which success is built, a culture that tolerates and even extols the frivolous fertilizes the garden from which the consequential emerges. For example, while media giants have spent (and continue to spend) billions of dollars trying to figure out how to connect with Americans, something that started out as a way to meet and rate girls has actually accomplished it: Facebook. Yellow Page publishers have lost billions of dollars over the last five years because they can’t seem to figure out how to impact consumer behavior while a company built on the ashes of a website that helped people protest has managed to rapidly impact how and when millions of consumers spend their money: Groupon.

Whether it’s having your steak cooked exactly the way you want, sporting your schools’ mascot on the seat of your pants, or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, America is more than anything a place where people feel like they are more than just cogs in a machine. They feel like they have the power to make their lives better and impact the world around them. Fundamentally, they are empowered to do things… frivolous or otherwise. That’s real freedom… the ability to decide what you want to make of your life and the opportunity to go out and do it, or even die trying. It’s not the destination that makes life worth living, it’s the journey. The journey in America may be cluttered with kitsch and failed ideas, but it is the dynamic energy fostered by freedom that has created so much of substance and so much abundance. As the year ends and politics takes a back seat to friends and family, we should remember and be thankful for that freedom which we so often take for granted.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Capitulation & a Pork King... not a good start for the GOP

Voter turnout in the United States is an embarrassment. For a republic that is supposed to be the vanguard of democracy around the world, when 55% of eligible voters casting ballots is considered good, that's rather dismaying. Of course, seeing what happens when the uninformed vote, we may want to consider putting some hurdles in place. Perhaps we should force voters to pass the same test we require of immigrants seeking citizenship.

One reason voter turnout is so low is that many voters feel that regardless of who they vote for, nothing is going to change. Given the amount of time and energy that goes into picking candidates that might seem a bit odd. For federal offices campaigns can start two years before the actual election. Primaries start out sometimes with a dozen or more contenders that frequently represent a wide spectrum of ideas within the party. After months of back and forth voters in each party nominate their standard bearers to face off in the general election. (Sometimes it’s the case that the nominees are almost mirror images of one another, as happened in New York’s 23rd Congressional district in 2009.) The election is then supposed to decide between competing views and the victor heads off to Washington. Despite all of that effort every two years, many people feel like nothing ever changes.

The 2010 election was supposed to be different. Anyone with a pulse could see that 2010 was unusual. The Tea Party movement had taken on a life of its own and became a national story throughout the cycle. The mainstream media and much of the Democratic Party spent most of the cycle telling lies about the Tea Parties and spoofing their members. On the Republican side you had candidates tacking to the right in order to gain the support of various Tea Party groups.

When the dust settled on November 3rd one might have thought that the universe had been turned upside down. The Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. In the matter of two years the Democrats went from having an overwhelming majority in the House to having the fewest seats they’ve held since 1947. They lost their filibuster proof majority in the Senate in January when the nominally Republican Scott Brown won in Massachusetts and on election day they lost six more seats. Come January 2011 one might imagine that America had actually turned off the Road to Serfdom and decided to pursue prosperity.

Then again maybe not… Unfortunately, if the events of the last week are any indication of what’s coming prosperity may be delayed somewhat. Two events demonstrate that the voters who abstain from voting because it doesn’t matter who’s in power just might be right.

The first involves the hierarchy in the House. On Wednesday the Republican Steering Committee assigned the chairmanship of the single most powerful committee in House: Appropriations. The House Appropriations Committee controls essentially all federal spending. Simply put, it doesn’t matter what Congress or the President say or do, if Congress doesn’t appropriate money for something, it’s not likely to get done, and almost all appropriations must come through the House Appropriations Committee. And so, in this atmosphere of change where voters stood up and demanded fiscal restraint, who did the GOP put in charge of the purse strings of almost 30% of GDP? One of the Young Guns who live and breathe fiscal restraint? No – although none of the three were on the Committee in the first place. A hardened veteran of the House with bonafide spending restraint credentials? No. Rather, John Boehner and the Steering Committee put Hal Rogers in charge. Who’s Hal Rogers? Just a 30 year house veteran known in his home state of Kentucky as the “Prince of Pork” for his success in sending American taxpayers money to the Bluegrass State. Just in the last three years Congressman Rogers secured 135 earmarks worth $246.4 million of your money. (He now claims he has seen the light and is swearing off earmarks…) If this isn’t a case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse then the phrase has no meaning. In a universe where the government spends trillions of dollars it neither has nor should be spending in the first place, this appointment says much about what the GOP really stands for.

The second wound the GOP inflicted on America last week was the agreement with President Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts. While an extension of the tax cuts was important, the GOP needlessly gave away the farm in order to get it. Having come off a resounding victory where the country clearly voiced its desire for a change in direction and demanded a halt to government spending, there was no need for the GOP to capitulate to Democrat spending demands. Nonetheless, Mitch McConnell and his cronies did so and agreed to extend unemployment benefits for another full year - for a total of 3 years of unemployment benefits. What’s worse, before even making it to the House floor the bill has been loaded with an extension of ethanol credits (AKA subsidies to farmers), subsidies for energy efficient appliances and benefits for mass-transit employees. To an objective observer this is nothing but Washington as usual. The GOP had an opportunity to take a stand and send a clear message to the Democrats, and more importantly to the American people who will be voting in the 2012 elections. Had they demanded a clean vote on a full extension of the tax cuts, the Democrats, who still control both houses, would likely have refused or defeated it. Taxes would have then gone up on January 1st. At that point, with control in the House and a much stronger hand in the Senate, the GOP could have brought a clean bill to the floor and it would have passed. Despite his class warfare rhetoric, President Obama would have likely felt compelled to sign it. Either way, the issue would have brought to the fore a clarifying fight where the GOP would have won the day and eventually the cuts. But alas it seems that is not how things seem to work in Washington …

It’s often said that you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Conservatives can only hope that that is not true for the GOP because if last week’s actions a precursor of two more years of go-along-to-get-along politics as usual, then Barack Obama is going to be a happy man as he is elected to his second term when conservatives stay home after rightfully concluding that there is really little difference between the parties. If such a disaster occurs the GOP should be laid to rest with Abraham Lincoln and America should look for a national Tea Party to help rescue the Republic.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Democrat's "middle class tax cut" is a populist red herring

I want to make my priorities clear from the start. One: middle class families need permanent tax relief. And two: I believe we can’t afford to borrow and spend another $700 billion on permanent tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

That is a line from President Obama’s weekly radio address last week. He’s referring to the coming tax hikes as the Bush Tax Cuts are due to sunset on December 31st. Interestingly, the reason the sunset provision is there in the first place is because Tom Daschle, (the then Democrat leader in the Senate) threatened a filibuster without it. That phrase tells you everything you need to know about President Obama’s sincerity when he talks about putting jobs and the economy first.

On Friday the unemployment numbers came out and the rate had crept back up to 9.8% as employers added a mere 39,000 jobs in October. At the same time President Obama and the Democrats are seeking to extend unemployment benefits beyond the already unprecedented 99 week limit. Ninety-nine weeks! That is two years of receiving a government check for doing nothing. (That doesn’t’ mean that unemployed people are literally doing nothing, but by definition they are not working.) I’m not sure how long it takes to develop a bad habit, but two years is probably a pretty good start. That causes one to wonder what is the bad habit forming effect of a government check on someone who has been receiving welfare for years…

Back to the Democrat red herring. As President Obama’s words demonstrate, the Democrats are seeking to manipulate the conversation using populist rhetoric to demonize the rich. At the core of their “solution” to our financial problems is their effort to raise taxes on the “millionaires and billionaires” while giving the middle class a tax cut. Republicans are fighting this effort, suggesting that doing so will harm job growth. The GOP position is based on the fact that small businesses are the engine of the American economy and create three out of every four new jobs in the country. That’s relevant because most small businesses owners file their taxes using personal income tax returns… and those are where the taxes are going to go up. Here are the numbers for the top two tax brackets:

For those in the second highest bracket – families with income between $171,851 and $373,650 – their tax bill is going to increase by ten percent as the rate moves from 33% to 36%. For those in the highest tax bracket – families with income above $373,650 – they will see their tax bill rise by 13% as the rate jumps from 35% to 39.6%.
Democrats are quick to point out that only 3% of small business filers are subject to the two highest tax brackets. That is true. Most small businesses are sole proprietorships where the business in question is a side venture to supplement income. Think of someone who sells comic books on eBay, dabbles as a real estate agent or designs websites on the side. What is far more important however is that while only 3% of small businesses are subject to the highest tax rates, the businesses that make up that 3% represent 44% of all small business income. Let’s do a little math problem:

IF: Small business represents over 75% of all net new job creation in the Unite States;
AND IF: 3% of small businesses generate 44% of all small business income and a similar number of jobs;
AND IF: Democrats want to raise taxes on the small businesses that fall in that 3%;
THEN: Democrats want to raise taxes on companies that are expected to be responsible for 33% of all new jobs.
That simple problem tells you everything you need to know about President Obama and the Democrats. Despite their rhetoric about wanting to put people back to work, they simply don’t care about actually creating jobs and growing the American economy. If you need even more proof, consider the coming tax hike on dividends. Dividends are currently taxed at 15%. On January 1st the dividend tax rate will skyrocket to 39.6%. (Oh, and don't forget the ObamaCare 1099 fiasco that will hammer small businesses) So, not only do we have Democrats seeking a direct tax increase on the small businesses who are supposed to create one third of all new jobs, at the same time they are discouraging investment in companies that are successful enough to be able to pay dividends at all… many of whom probably have and hire employees.

President Obama and the Democrats, in using the red herring of “middle class tax cuts” to pander to their progressive base are willing to sacrifice jobs and job creation so they can further cripple capitalism and push even more Americans into the fold of government dependency. As the economy slows and jobs evaporate expect Democrats to seek to extend unemployment benefits to 129 weeks then perhaps 159 weeks and then maybe be made permanent. At the end of the day that is exactly what Democrats want… they want to take everything the rich have stolen from the poor and the middle class and simply redistribute it. That of course is a house of cards as the rich have options about where they invest their money and even where they live or start their businesses. At some point when everyone becomes a ward of the state there is no one left on the other side from whom the state can take everything to support itself that house of cards will eventually come crashing down. Hopefully 2012 will usher in some new homebuilders.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Freedom is more than just Speech and Religion - but there's not that much left!

Freedom is one of those words that we use a lot in this country. It’s one of those words that many use assuming that we’re all talking about the same thing, when in reality we are probably not. Many people will argue that one of the great strengths of America is the Freedom of her people. That is about as far as the consensus goes however.

As a touchstone, here is how Webster’s Dictionary defines Freedom:
The quality or state of being free: as
a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous

On the most basic level Freedom fundamentally means the ability to do something or a variety of things unrestrained by external forces. (While we may be restrained by internal forces from doing something, the necessity of exercising that restraint suggests we have the freedom to do otherwise.)

If one were to ask Americans today whether or not if they are free, i.e. if they have freedom, most would likely say yes. They might suggest they have Freedom of Speech which allows them to say almost anything they want. Absent most college campuses this is largely true. They might suggest that they enjoy a Freedom of Religion and can worship whatever god they choose or choose not to worship at all. This too is for the most part true. Unfortunately, however, if one were to dig just below the surface of Speech and Religion things become murky quite rapidly.

Fundamental to the founding of this country and enshrined in the 9th Amendment to the Constitution is the notion that the rights of the people are boundless: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. Basically, while the freedoms of Speech, Religion, Press etc. are explicitly stated, the people have many more and the absence of their explicit inclusion in the Constitution does not mean they don’t exist.

Why does any of this matter? Because many of those other freedoms are being diminished each day slowly but surely.

How? It’s not as blatant as Congress or state legislatures passing a law that says “Americans no longer have a right to do XXX”. That might spark a rebellion. No, it’s far more subtle, but the result is the same. And the tool with which government slowly takes your freedom? Regulation. Make no mistake about it, regulation means control. And their control means less freedom for you. Of course the regulations themselves rarely highlight the freedoms they are diminishing. A perfect example is the 822 page 2007 Energy Bill signed into law by President Bush. The legislation doesn’t explicitly outlaw regular incandescent light bulbs, but it sets energy requirements such that for all intents and purposes they are outlawed by 2014. You might say, what freedom is being limited there? Well, for one your willingness to pay $.50 for a light bulb rather than $2.00. A manufacturer’s freedom to continue to use their current facilities to manufacture incandescent light bulbs (and ideally return profits to shareholders) verses having to invest tens of millions of dollars in R&D and building new facilities for the new bulbs, resulting of course in reduced dividends to shareholders.

Light bulbs… how often do you buy one? Not too often, and in the big picture it’s not that much of an expense. True enough, but unfortunately light bulbs represent but one tiny filament in the regulatory straitjacket Americans find themselves wrapped in. Mileage standards for cars. Ethanol regulations. Minimum wage laws. Happy Meal bans. License requirement in Texas for the right to call oneself an Interior Designer. The 1099 requirements in ObamaCare. ADA. McCain Feingold. Forced unionism.

Individually any one of these laws might be tolerable. The problem however is that they do not operate individually. They all operate simultaneously. Layer upon layer. What’s worse, each of these regulations has a bureaucracy behind them who’s main purpose in life is to grow its power and serve its constituency. The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners exists to serve the Texas chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. The Ethanol bureaucracy (Departments of Energy & Agriculture) serve the desires of the environmentalists and farmers. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors was serving the “We know better what’s good for your kids than you do” cabal when they passed the Happy Meal ban.

The problem is that there is a degree of separation between many of the industries and the citizens themselves. The EPA would be loathe to pass a regulation that says “We are going to force Americans to pay $100 billion more for electricity over the next six years.” They did however issue C02 regulations that will have just that impact, only the regulations focus on industry. This way, when the public sees their bills rise the utility companies get to feel their wrath… not the regulators. Perhaps the energy companies can tell the public why their energy bills are increasing? Not likely. When insurance companies tried to do just that with ObamaCare the administration thugs threatened their very livelihoods.

If freedom means anything, it means more than just being able to say what’s on your mind and attend church of your choice. How often are any of us called on to stand on a soapbox with an
impassioned plea in support of some divisive issue? How often are we forced to defend our worship of God in whatever form we think he takes? How often are newspapers threatened by censorship? Not so often. On the other hand there are myriad things we do each day where our freedoms are impacted by a plethora of regulations, from who can sell us lemonade to what we can earn to the cost of both our car and it’s gasoline to what our kids learn in school. More regulation means less freedom.

The fight against overregulation will be neither easy nor short but the first step in taking on that battle is understanding what’s really at stake. Regulation means control – control means fewer choices – fewer choices mean less freedom in our lives. Today it’s just the Happy Meals in San Francisco. Before long McDonalds and the rest of the obesity inducing profiteers will be put out of business and we will all be eating tofu burgers garnished with organic tomatoes on pita bread. Yummy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What is America? A country, an idea or both?

I heard someone remark this week that Barack Obama did not share the values of the United States because he didn’t grow up here. While initially that sounded plausible, the more I thought about it, the more I disagreed with it. The truth of the matter is that growing up in the United States is no guarantee of sharing values with America. A few examples might be Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Michael Moore, the late Howard Zinn and many others.

The thing that President Obama and so many on the left do not understand is that the United States is indeed a unique animal. Not only is it a country, but it’s also an idea. People around the world don’t just dream of coming to America, they dream of becoming Americans. Many have and continue to risk their lives to do so. It’s one thing to risk your life escaping the Soviet Union, Communist China or even Communist Cuba. Those people were or are running from something, trying to go anywhere else. It’s another thing altogether to risk one’s life to come to a place… And that place is more often than not, America.

America is somewhat unique in the history of mankind – or at least in the last 2,000 years. People may dream of moving to Paris for the romance and the food, but they don’t dream of becoming a Frenchman. Many Hong Kong Chinese moved to Canada before the Communists took over, but they weren’t expecting to become Canadian. Someone might move to Singapore for its economic opportunities, but they don’t expect to become Singaporean. Throughout history one has examples of people choosing to move to a different locale to take advantage of economic opportunities or various freedoms. The British Empire offered certain advantages but few Indians or South Africans or Egyptians expected to move to Britain and become British. While they may have been British subjects, they were not actually British. One almost has to go back to the Roman Empire to find something similar to the idea of America. There, outsiders not only dreamed of living in Rome, they also dreamed of becoming Roman… and could do so. The idea of becoming a Roman citizen actually meant something beyond just living in the Empire or being subject to its laws.

Barack Obama misunderstands what it means to be an American. When he says that America is just one amongst equals on the world stage, he misses the point. Most Americans feel like America is indeed a better country than the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean that Americans believe they are genetically superior to anyone else or that we are by definition smarter than anyone else. It doesn’t even mean that the United States is infallible – a point President Obama is more than happy to point out. Rather, it is a recognition of the unique combination of freedom and opportunity that makes the country great. The United States may be filled with mortal men, but the expectation for 200 plus years is that those mortal men can achieve the impossible… that anything is possible. That sense of can do spirit, of American Exceptionalism has a long history going back to the pilgrims who carved out a place to call home and the rag tagged army that defeated the most powerful empire in the world. There is so much more with explorers, inventors and innovators. From McCormick feeding the world to Edison lighting it to Rockefeller revolutionizing energy and medicine. There’s also flight, winning two world wars, putting a man on the moon and the micro processor. There are even more mundane things like vulcanized rubber, the elevator, air conditioning and the Slinky.

Where Barack Obama and much of the left make their mistake is that they think the United States is synonymous with Uncle Sam… the federal government. They think America began to be great when the progressive agenda began to fall into place. They think of America as a place where the government makes people equal, where the government provides or guarantees everyone healthcare, welfare, education and income. America is great because the government protects the little guy against the modern robber barons. In essence, America is great because Uncle Sam is there to look out for everyone. In their zero sum game universe the government is there to adjust the down markers and move the goal posts so that everyone gets their “fair share”.

Barack Obama and the left are simply wrong. There’s an old saying about someone being born on third and imagining they hit a triple. They have the luxury of imagining the government is what makes America great precisely because for so long the government largely heeded the Constitution’s bounds and America prospered. It is only because the private sector was so successful, it is only because so many entrepreneurs risked everything, it is only because so many millions of Americans worked hard and created so much national wealth and prosperity could the progressives find an opportunity to think up things for the government to do. From Teddy Roosevelt attacking the robber barons to FDR paying farmers to kill pigs and let fields go fallow to Barack Obama pouring a trillion dollars in stimulus money down a rat hole, it is only the success and wealth created by the American people that made such folly possible.

One does not need to have grown up in America in order to appreciate what America is. (Read Paul Johnson’s History of the American People and you’ll see it on perfect display.) Anyone can look at a map and find the United States nestled between two oceans. It’s another thing altogether to know what the country is about, what its people are about, what the source of its greatness is and what makes it unique. Barack Obama and the Democrats can probably find the country on a map. Unfortunately it’s the other things, the more important things that they can’t see. That’s too bad for them, and as long as they making the rules, too bad for all of us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Uncle Sam: Paying for #$%@& you would never consider... at the point of a gun

I’ve always been an advocate of English Only as the law of the land. It’s not jingoism that drives that but rather the need for communication. People have a difficult time communicating in the best of circumstances. How many times have you heard a husband or wife who have been married for a decade say about their spouse “He (or she) simply doesn’t understand me?” Or have you ever been involved in a political or religious discussion when at some point you think the person across the table is simply speaking a different language, despite the fact that both of you are using the King’s English. A common language is a starting point for communicating with one another, not the end in itself.

In a similar way, political discussion often looks like people trying to talk to one another using completely different languages. Take the Bush tax cuts for example. If nothing is done in the next month taxes will rise for everyone in America – or at least for those who pay income taxes. Democrats accuse the Republicans of wanting to give tax cuts to the rich. The GOP says they don’t want to raise taxes on anyone, rich or middle class. Same situation, two different takes.

This might sound like a simple question of semantics, but actually it’s anything but. The left frequently uses language to try and hide what is really being said – not a surprise coming from a party that is heavily supported by trial lawyers. They crucified George Bush as trying to gamble senior citizen’s retirement money on Wall Street when he sought to reform Social Security. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, but it played well enough in Peoria that the proposal never made it out of the gate. Such is the language of government: Lots of words, little communication and even less truth.

Every time some Democrat talks about the government doing this or that good thing they are not referring to some Xanadu where the government only does wonderful things for the citizenry, where there is plenty of everything to go around and where things work like a well oiled machine. Rather, they are using illusory language to talk about something quite different. They are at the most basic level talking about the government making choices for you… at the point of a gun. Make no mistake, that is exactly what government does. If you decide not to pay income taxes this year, the government will send you some correspondence seeking to get you to pay up. If you ignore them you will likely have your wages garnished or your bank account emptied. If that does not work or if you try flee, the IRS will send federal marshals after you and you can be sure they will be carrying guns. It happens every day. You don’t see the guns, but they are implied.

Now, once the government has your money they get to spend it on all the things they want… not what you want. Here are just a few examples of things the government decided to spend your money on last year thanks to President Obama’s Stimulus Bill:
  • $389,000 to pay 100 Buffalonians $45 each to record how much malt liquor they drank -- and how much pot they smoked each day.

  • $762,372 to fund the development of computer technology at UNC Charlotte to digitally record the dance moves of performers.

  • $1 million dollars for three Arizona graduate students to study how ants work.
Those three projects cost a total of $2,151,372. In the current environment that might sound like much. Looked at another way however, it takes on a bit more consequence. The average individual or family who filed a tax form in 2008 (the most recent year for which data are available) paid, on average, $7,366 in federal taxes – and that doesn’t include Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid taxes. That means that $2,151,372 represented the entire federal tax bill for 292 families across the country. That $7,366 the government took from each of those families and used to pay for the Buffalonians to write down how much beer and pot they used couldn’t be used to pay for school supplies for their children. Couldn’t be spent on replacing their old car. Couldn’t be spent to take the family to Disney World. Couldn’t be spent catching up on their mortgage. Couldn’t be given to their local church or charity. If that’s too obscure or disconnected for you, take a look at your own checkstub or income tax return. Whatever you paid, $7,366 (or everything up to it) went to support one of those programs above. What could you have done with that money?

Unfortunately for America, this $2 million is only a tiny slice of the money the government forcibly takes away from Americans to spend on things they would never spend their own money on. And it’s not just the Stimulus. It’s virtually the entire government. Farm subsidies. Welfare payments to recipients with enough money to buy cell phones, video games and big screen TVs. Thousands of dollars in bribes to buy electric cars few people want. Hundreds of millions of dollars to fund public broadcasting in the most diverse media market in the world. $123,000 salaries (and benefits) for federal workers who operate the dysfunctional government in the first place!

And what’s worse, it’s not just the money. The government increasingly is taking aim at the choices you should be making for yourself: How you can pay for college. Whether or not you must be a member of a union – and of course pay union dues, which are then spent on Democratic politicians whether you like it or not. What doctors you can choose. The kinds of cars you are allowed to buy.

Democrats (and too many Republicans) try to dress up this travesty in governance in innocuous or paternal sounding language: Insurance for children or A right to own their own home or Fairness in education. Behind every compassionate sounding phrase is the reality of dysfunctional government programs and regulations that take money out of the pockets of workers and take liberty and choices away from everyone.

At the end of the day government exists to provide citizens with an environment where they can enjoy their liberties and pursue happiness. Not sure? Let’s go to the source:
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The Declaration of Independence is why we have a government. The Constitution is how we do it. The Constitution describes a variety of government responsibilities such as providing for a national defense, limits on abridging individual rights and liberties as well as a role in areas such as interstate commerce, patents, roads and few others. It was limited by design. Somewhere in the last century that limited design was shunted to the side and is rapidly becoming a distant memory.

As 2010 comes to an end and the newly recalibrated Congress begins its work, the country is likely at something of a tipping point. Will it be omnipresent government that decides how we can live our lives and takes our money to spend on beer and pot diaries or will it be individual freedom where citizens are free to pursue happiness and benefit their families and communities prosperity resulting from ingenuity and hard work?

Such basic questions sometimes get lost in the language of politics but we allow that to happen at our own peril. Indeed Barack Obama and the Democrats won in 2008 with the vacuous language of “Hope and Change”... but lost because of "poor communication". As 2012 comes into focus conservatives must move the conversation away from simple platitudes and towards the consequential implications of government policies. If they speak plainly in a language that voters can understand and paint a crystal clear picture of exactly what the choices are, they will surely take the day. The question is, are they equipped to speak that language? Maybe some of them should register for English 101 in the spring just to make sure.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can Michigan show the country how to save itself?

One of the great things about the United States Constitution that few people realize and even fewer understand is the idea of federalism. On the most basic level federalism is the notion that there are distinct spheres of influence and responsibility between the federal and state governments. James Madison thought that that notion of federalism was crystal clear in the original document itself that he originally opposed a Bill of Rights. He believed the federal government was already limited by the fact that it could do only those things explicitly detailed in the document. John Hancock, Patrick Adams and others insisted and eventually the Bill of Rights was added with the federal perspective enshrined in the 10th Amendment.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Aside from limiting the powers of the federal government – at least in theory, as Obamacare demonstrated – the federalist system does something quite extraordinary, or at least it’s supposed to. What is that thing? Experimentation! Fundamentally federalism has given us 50 different testing grounds for new ideas. The notion being that when one state does something - good or bad - the others will notice and act accordingly.

A big part of the problem with the federal government becoming involved in so many areas of our lives is that it kills one of the great legacies left to us by George Mason and friends. They understood that in most cases it is the people closest to problems who are best equipped to handle them. As true as that was with a population of 4 million people it is exponentially more so with one of 310 million.

As such, now that the elections are over and the march towards 2012 is on, now is the perfect time to take to experimenting. And in our center ring I would like to suggest Michigan step up and take a page out of Rahm Emanuel’s book that says “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” and take a shot at leading the country in a different direction.

Why Michigan? Because the state is a basket case. Detroit has gotten so bad that the government is considering turning a quarter of the city into farmland! Importantly, unlike the brain dead voters in the People’s Republic of California, the people of Michigan have shown themselves to recognize bad ideas when they see them. After eight disastrous years of Jennifer Granholm, Michigan’s citizens voted 2 to 1 to make businessman Rick Snyder their Governor. In addition, they gave Republicans the majority of seats in the state legislature and they made the GOP the majority of their Congressional delegation.

Michigan is one of those states that is in the middle of the pack in terms of freedom – economic and otherwise. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University the state is #17 out of 50 states in terms of overall taxes although on corporate taxes it’s #48. It’s #22 on government spending and believe it or not, #1 in regulatory freedom. Overall, the state comes in at #15 overall in the Center’s 2010 Economic Freedom rankings. Given that middle tier of economic freedom, Michigan should be somewhere in the middle of the economic road relative to the rest of the country.

Alas it is not. The state has lost an average of 500,000 jobs in the last five years and today it sits with an unemployment rate of 13.5%, behind only real estate ravaged Nevada. As bad as Michigan is right now, it would have been exponentially worse had not Barack Obama’s imperial federal government taken billions of dollars from non-Michigander's to give to General Motors and Chrysler and then in turn give the UAW unearned ownership in the companies they ruined - of course at the expense of secured creditors. Without Obama Michigan under the Democrats would have made some third world countries look like Germany by comparison. It may actually be the worst state in the country in terms of economic prospects. It is this chaos that creates the opportunity that Governor Snyder has in front of him.

He should seize upon this morass to demonstrate exactly what can be done when you let people vote with their feet. The first thing he and the new GOP legislature should do is eliminate all state and local income taxes. The second is to make Michigan a right to work state. Immediately after doing so the state should auction off all of that abandoned real estate in Detroit. (There are five states with no income taxes that are also right to work states: Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. Florida and Nevada have surging populations but have been decimated by federal housing policy. South Dakota has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, Wyoming the 8th and Texas created more jobs over the last decade than all of the other states combined.)

Doing these things would immediately make Michigan a kind of job magnet – to the extent any company in America wants to create jobs given the Federal government’s leftist policies. The state’s relatively low level of regulation, combined with a reasonably priced (aka non-union) skilled labor force, low real estate prices and no income taxes would make for a very compelling locale for investors and corporations.

Governor Snyder has an opportunity to do for Michigan what Rudy Giuliani did for New York City in the 1990’s. He has the opportunity to take a state that has been turned from arguably the most powerful economic engine in the country into a banana republic by decades of mismanagement and turn it around. By essentially turning the state into an Enterprise Zone he will give companies a reason to invest in the state, he will give citizens a reason to stay, and like Giuliani’s New York, a Michigan turnaround can become a shining example for other states as they seek to climb out of their own economic swamps. The Founding Father’s federalism is alive and well and one can only hope that success in the Wolverine State will show Washington what might work on a national scale.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Enough with the Lawyers in Congress!

How many times have you been watching a commercial for this or that medicine with images of a couple strolling through a bucolic meadow or scenes of a depressed woman who’s suddenly happy again only to be bombarded with a rapid-fire litany of potential side effects so scary that they would have kept Atilla the Hun from ever leaving the neighborhood.

And there are other examples. Credit card agreements come with pages of small type that takes a microscope to read. A contract for a house can be as thick as a phone book with language with all of the clarity of a dense fog. Then there is of course the 70,000 page tax code that God himself could not understand even if he had the help of the guy in charge of writing it (Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee – Charlie Rangle) and the guy tasked with enforcing it (Treasury Secretary – Tim Geithner). As the former is under investigation for tax evasion and the latter didn’t pay his taxes for years, with both suggesting they misunderstood the code, you begin to understand how complex it is.

All of this is thanks to lawyers, lawsuits and plaintiffs seeking easy money or to impose their will on others. But mostly the lawyers – not the least of whom are the slip an fall type who are willing to use the courtroom to harass and extort money from companies both big and small. They are of course a big reason that health care is so expensive, as doctors feel the need to do a phalanx of unnecessary tests to protect themselves from malpractice suits. They are also the reason that thousands of communities around the country leveled their playgrounds and filled in their pools over the past two decades. They are the reason the Corps of Engineers had not strengthened the levees in New Orleans in 30 years despite the danger and the money having been allotted. They are also the reason that a wheelchair bound 80 year old grandmother is seen by the TSA as potentially an equally dangerous flyer as a 30 year old Muslim man traveling with no luggage.

A recent example of the damage lawyers (and their professional plaintiff accomplices) can do involves a wheelchair bound California man who sued Chipotle Mexican Grill because he could not see the ingredients being put into his burrito while standing customers could. He lost the case initially but won on appeal. The company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending itself and faces potentially the same or more in costs associated with complying with the judge’s order.

As bad as lawyers are in the private sector, there is an even bigger problem – lawyers in the Congress. Currently almost two thirds of the Senate is made up of lawyers while in the House it’s one third. Given they make up about one half of a percent of the population, that seems a bit excessive.

While being a lawyer shouldn’t disqualify one for serving in government, there is something to be said for voters limiting their influence. Almost by definition lawyers do not produce anything. While they may become successful and hire a large staff, they by their very nature operate in a legalistic environment where government and its laws are the driving force. Contrast that with an entrepreneur, a businessman, or a farmer, who, in addition living having to run a daily gauntlet of government regulation and taxes, has to also run a good business or farm. And do so profitably. While lawyers make their money off the paperwork involved with interpreting or arguing what laws say or don’t say, the productive class of society have to actually make things, grow things, invent things and innovate processes in the universe where most people live.

Unfortunately for America, Congress is dominated by people who have little knowledge of, and less experience in, actually doing anything productive. And I mean productive in the sense of creating wealth aside from using the legal system to take money out of someone else’s pocket. They simply don’t understand what it takes to start a business, what it takes to sustain and grow a business, or, most importantly, what impact the yoke of government regulation has on business. Having cut their teeth in a universe where laws and regulation are simply words on a page that must be adhered to, they don’t understand that government does not make a successful society, economy or country. Christine O'Donnell may be a flawed candidate but on her worst day she would make a better legislator than that erstwhile slip and fall Democratic VP candidate John Edwards. Doctor Rand Paul may have an abrasive personality, but he’ll understand far better the actual impact of ObamaCare on citizens and doctors than Harry Reid and the 34 other Democrat lawyers in the Senate who helped push that travesty on the country.

One of the great outcomes of the Tea Party movement has been the reemergence of the citizen legislator, candidates who have actually lived lives outside the velvet glove of the courtroom and government. They may be flawed, they may have made mistakes and led imperfect lives, but that is because they were busy living lives rather than prepping themselves for office. They understand that government is not the reason the country is great. They understand that the role of government is not to protect us from every negative outcome, to take from the rich to give to the poor, to tell us what we can eat or who he must hire or how we must manufacture our widgets. They understand that by lessening the burden government places on the citizenry they can help America become once again a shining example of freedom and prosperity.

The question is of course is: Will the citizenry give them the chance to make those changes?

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Teacher's Unions are more dangerous to America than Al Qaeda

I’ve just returned from watching the movie Waiting for Superman. (The title refers to waiting for the Man of Steel to come to the rescue…) My first reaction was to think back on my post from last month about the voters of DC throwing out Adrian Fenty, and with him Michelle Rhee, his Schools Chancellor.

My second reaction was remembering something that I’ve heard Neal Boortz say on numerous occasions: “Teacher’s unions are a bigger threat to the United States than Al Qaeda.” Throw in the public sector unions and he’s right. Al Qaeda has the potential to kill thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people at a time. The teacher’s unions destroy the lives of millions of students every year, and they’ve been doing it for decades. Not only do they destroy the lives of millions of young people, they bring chaos, tragedy and despair to the millions of families of those young people, their communities and the country as a whole. From young men in prison to teenage pregnancies, the data’s not hard to find.

This should not be taken as a screed against teachers. Just the opposite. Many teachers are saints. They have passion for teaching. They spend long hours wrestling with a variety of challenges, many of which have little to do with their classrooms. They seek to inspire kids to become successful adults and attempt to equip them to do so. Unfortunately however the good teachers are locked into an inflexible quagmire of a system where good teachers are beaten into submission and simply become cogs in a machine that passes kids along from grade to grade to grade, regardless of their abilities or success, until they choose to simply to take their talents elsewhere. This same system confers its job for life protection on all teachers, both good and bad and provides students and parents with little control or say over their education. Across the country, from LA to New York it is almost impossible to fire teachers for almost anything, from being incompetent to inappropriate behavior. Indeed, New York City alone spends in excess of $100 Million a year paying teachers their full salaries to spend seven hours to not teach, often spending that time playing poker in the so called “"rubber rooms”.

One of the most staggering statistics in the movie was about firings of teachers relative to those in other professions. 1 in 57 doctors lose their ability to inflict themselves on patients. 1 in 97 lawyers are disbarred or otherwise bared from menacing society with their law degrees. The comparable number for teachers? 1 in 2,500! As the movie was done by Davis Guggenheim, the guy behind “An Inconvenient Truth” I want to be a little skeptical of his numbers so lets assume he’s off a little. Even if he were off by 80% that would still mean that 1 in 500 teachers is stopped from ruining the education (and often the life prospects) of a child. I’ll admit that many teachers are good, but even at the 1 in 500 number, that means that only .2% (That’s point two percent, not two percent!) of teachers lose their jobs. Using the movie’s numbers it’s .0004%. What other kind of job has that kind of security, regardless of the employee’s competence, work ethic or success? To paraphrase Joe Pesci from My Cousin Vinnie, “Do the laws of random distribution about the skill or the lack thereof for human beings stop at the schoolhouse door, where somehow only .2% of teachers turn out to be bad?” Somehow I don’t think so.

Add to the teacher’s unions two other elements of the education system: an incompetent federal bureaucracy that uses its purse strings to manipulate the entire system and bloated state and local bureaucracies staffed by public sector union employees and you have a recipe for the disaster that we find ourselves with.

Education in America is quickly becoming our Achilles heel. By not producing graduates who are able to read and write, who have the skills to earn jobs at companies Google or Microsoft, who are prepared to deal with the 21st century world, we are creating a true underclass that is far more problematic than the one Ken Auletta wrote about 30 years ago. The fact that the 21st century is developing far more rapidly than the last should be of no surprise to anyone. All one needs to do is look at the numbers: It took Radio 38 years to reach 50 million users. It took Television 13 years. It took the Internet 4 years. It took Facebook less than a year. It’s into that dynamic universe we are walking with a population of students and young adults who are simply not equipped to compete, thrive or survive. That’s not a mistake the Chinese the Indians are making.

If the United States is going to remain a viable Republic with a free citizenry and an economy that provides more than the basics of food and water, it will require more than platitudes about “supporting education” and “the children are our future”. It will require a real revolution in how schools are run and funded. That revolution begins by:

    1. Throwing the Democrats out of office – they are recipients of over 90% of union money in federal and local elections and frequently the party in charge of the local bureaucracies who signed those malignant union contracts in the first place.

    2. Offering school vouchers – those vouchers are the equivalent of Kryptonite to dysfunctional schools. By giving parents the ability to vote with their feet they become the Supermen of our story and can finally stop waiting for a costumed hero to come along and save the day.

The revolution starts next Tuesday... Hang on!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Obama's failure will make black voters relevant again

Barack Obama is doing something that no politician has done in 50 years. He is making black voters politically relevant again. Blacks have been largely
irrelevant to the political discussion for much of the last 50 years. Not that they haven't been important on Election Day. On the contrary, the black vote has been very important on Election Day for decades. It's the black voters who have been invisible.

The black vote has been relevant to the success of Democrats for years - without the black vote Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all would have lost, not to mention countless down ticket Democrats. Black voters... not so much. Why? Because they are taken for granted. Across the country, across economic lines, in almost any election, blacks vote for Democrats 85% of the time… or more! Black voters (as in the people themselves) are of little importance to Democrats because they understand that regardless of the policies the party puts forth, 85% of black votes will come down in the Democrat column.

For years Democrats simply had to ensure blacks voted, they didn’t actually have to compete for their votes. Democrats knew that if they just got out the black vote, it was theirs. The beauty of this for Democrats is that they didn’t have to worry about discussing policies that might actually help black voters, might improve their lives, might address issues important to them. No, all they had to do was paint their GOP opponents as racists who would somehow repeal various Civil Rights Acts and then the black vote would be delivered. Sound familiar?

And it’s easy to see why blacks have been so loyal to the Democrats over the last five decades. The education gap has disappeared. Black unemployment is equal to the general population. Crime is no longer a concern in Democrat strongholds like Detroit, Gary, and Baltimore. The poverty rate and out of wedlock rate for blacks are the lowest in a generation… Oh, wait, none of those things are true.

The $64,000 question is, what have black voters gotten in exchange for their loyalty to the Democrats. I’d argue, not much.

That is where Barack Obama comes in. By demonstrating with unparalleled clarity the absolute inability of the Democrat / progressive / liberal agenda to make the lives of citizens better, and indeed its penchant for making them worse, I believe he has finally done what the GOP could not: Break the Democrat’s monopoly on black voters.

This might sound oxymoronic, but I believe that Barack Obama may be the Moses who (accidentally) leads black voters to the Promised Land. In this case the Promised Land is not beyond some body of water, but rather it is the garden of success that can be built in their own communities.

And how is he doing that? By focusing the country’s attention on the feckless and, frankly, the pernicious nature of the liberal agenda he will have loosened the grip Democrats have on black voters. They, like so many others in the country will be asking themselves, is there something else, is there an alternative to these failed policies. Not that I imagine black voters will be jumping to the GOP in droves starting tomorrow. No, it will take time, but thanks to Barack Obama, conversations will begin.

The beauty of this is that unlike the Democrats, the GOP doesn’t need to pander to black voters with a platform built on racial grievances and a race based agenda. No, the GOP can focus on blacks as Americans as opposed to the the Democrat policy of focusing on blacks as blacks.

How can the GOP take advantage of the opportunity that Barack Obama has placed at their feet? By reaching out to black voters in places where they have rarely done so. They should buy advertising and pursue interviews on urban radio stations. They should advertise in magazines and various other media that target a black demographic. They should seek to bring their message to groups like the NAACP and the National Bar Association. Importantly, what I didn’t say was that they should change their message.

With the rise of the Tea Party influence, the GOP may finally be able to make inroads with black voters. Conservatives understand that government is the problem and not the solution to problems in America in general and in the black community (to the degree that such a thing exists) in particular.

By focusing on the notion of free market solutions to American problems, the GOP can make itself a viable alternative for black voters. School choice, vouchers and
other kinds of education reform have the potential to help black families far more than virtually anything else in the country. Low taxes and reduced regulation are fundamental elements to inducing entrepreneurs and investors to take risks by starting new companies or by expanding existing ones, both of which entail the creation of jobs. With black unemployment 60% higher than the national average, such investments and jobs are particularly important to black voters.

This November, if history is any gauge, 85% of black votes will go to Democrats. Nonetheless, the GOP should not look at that as a lost constituency, but rather as an opportunity that represents 12% of the American population. Black Americans are more American than they are black – a black teenager in St. Louis or LA has much more in common with a white kid from Chicago or Seattle than he does with someone growing up in Liberia or South Africa. As such, the GOP should proactively reach out and make the argument that small government, low taxes and private enterprise are the foundation of success in America for everyone, including blacks stuck in the fog of Democrat / progressive failure. Straightforward discourse on policies that offer everyone the opportunity to succeed in the pursuit of the American dream. Now that's real relevance.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blumenthal & Pelosi showcase Democrat's incompetence

There is an old adage that goes something like this: It’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re stupid than to open your mouth and prove them right.

Thankfully for America not all Democrats are paying that adage much heed, and just in time for the election. Last week Linda McMahon, the GOP candidate for US Senate from Connecticut did the voters of her state a great service. She asked Richard Blumenthal, her Democrat opponent, a simple question: “How do you create a job?His answer, if you can call it that, was a minute and a half of television gold, which would have been suitable for Laugh In were it still on the air:
    “A job is created, and it can be in a variety of ways by a variety of people. But principally by people and businesses in response to demand for products and services. And the main point about jobs in Connecticut is, we can and we should create more of them by creative policies. And that's the kind of approach that I want to bring to Washington… I know about how government can help preserve jobs. And I want programs that provide more capital for small business, that are tax policies that will promote creation of jobs, stronger intervention by government to make sure we use the Made in America policies and Buy America policies to keep jobs here rather than buying products that are manufactured overseas.”
At the beginning you think he might almost be stumbling into the right answer only to watch him find his bearings and focus so that by the end it's crystal clear that he has no idea how to create jobs. The key phrase in his answer is “stronger intervention of government”. Dick Blumenthal in one moment of clarity demonstrates the typical Democratic approach to solving every problem in the country: Government intervention.

Despite decades of failed examples of government intervention in virtually every aspect of the American economy, Democrats still seem unmoved by actual evidence of failure and cling to their progressive notions that nirvana is to be found at the end of a bureaucrat’s pen.

If Blumenthal were the only one then you could make the argument that he was an outlier and that most Democrats aren’t of that cloth. Luckily he’s not the only one who opened his mouth this week to demonstrate Democratic ineptitude. He was joined by Nancy Pelosi as she responded to Newt Gingrich. In a note to GOP candidates Gingrich suggested they make the campaign about the “Democratic Party of food stamps and the Republican Party of paychecks.” He points out that when Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats took over Congress: ‘Unemployment was 4.6% and food stamp usage was around 26.5 million Americans. Today, the unemployment rate is 9.6% and over forty million Americans are on food stamps.

Pelosi responded and in very short order demonstrated exactly how Democrats put us in this position in the first place: "It is the biggest bang for the buck when you do food stamps and unemployment insurance. The biggest bang for the buck." The solution to all problems is government.

The Democratic belief that prosperity can be legislated or redistributed into existance makes no sense, particularly in a universe where there is simply no empirical evidence that such policies work and legions of examples that it doesn’t work. It almost makes one think of the Soviet Union’s Five Year Plans where the planning committee would set out rosy economic plans for the country that had little connection with the actual conditions in the economy. Invariably, in Orwellian fashion, the plans were invariably officially “successful” regardless of their abysmal failure on the ground. That practice didn’t work out that well for the Soviets and I’m not sure it’s a plan for success here either.

Finally, while Congress has much blame for our current economic mess, they are only part of the legislative partnership. Luckily for them, in President Obama they have found soul mate. A week before his inauguration he told an audience: "Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy -- where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit." Once in office he boldly set forth implementing the Democrats solution for the country. We had the Stimulus, the nationalization of the auto industry and student loans, the government takeover of healthcare and massive increases in regulation. And, if all that inept legislation were not bad enough in itself, his cabinet appointees, the people who actually implement that legislation intended to revive the economy and spur job creation, have less business experience than any cabinet in 100 years.

America faces a stark choice in November, one between a newly energized, free market solution oriented GOP (albeit having been dragged in that direction by the Tea Party movement – sometimes kicking and screaming) and a party of Democrats, who have pulled back the curtain to reveal what most of us assumed all along: They are economic illiterates. Their solution for creating jobs, reinvigorating the economy and putting America back on the road to prosperity is only to be found through government intervention. As the voters sit back and evaluate their choices, they need simply examine the success those Democratic policies have engendered everywhere from Detroit to California to the Soviet Union. Do they want to sign on for another American version of a Five Year Plan or is it time to give the free market a chance for a change?

Monday, October 4, 2010

AX - Resurrecting the 10th Amendment

Mascots are a great way to inspire a team. My alma mater Florida State has the Seminoles, the hated University of Florida has the Gators and of course Notre Dame has the Fighting Irish. I would like to recommend a mascot to rally conservatives – and the GOP if they wish to come along – for the 2010 elections: AX. No, it’s not an ax nor is it the first two letters of AXE line of personal care products. Rather, as this involves government, it’s an acronym. AX stands for the Tenth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights.

The 10th Amendment of the Constitution may simultaneously be both the most ignored and most important of all of the Amendments.

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Ignored because according to Washington, there is virtually nothing the federal government can’t do. Important because at some point the government will literally control everything and them Americans stop being citizens and simply become drones serving the all powerful state.

If this election stands for any single thing it is that government, particularly the federal government, has simply grown too big and too intrusive. To grasp how true this, imagine just one day out of your life: You wake up in a bed that has one of those “Under Penalty of Law” tags that warns that it must not be taken off by anyone other than the consumer. You head to the bathroom where EPA regulations determine how much water the toilet can use per flush. You head to the kitchen and pour cereal from a box that must be approved by the FTC and whose contents must pass FDA muster. Next you add sugar and milk that cost you twice what they might otherwise if USDA programs did not get in the way of free markets.

Now you get dressed and put your kids in your SUV, whose manufacturer and sales staff had to run the gauntlet of agencies: EPA, FTC, OSHA, NLRB, etc. just so you could have a car. After filling up with $25 of gas ($1.80 of which goes to federal taxes – and likely another $2.00 state taxes) you drop your children off at school where their fate lies in the hands of the Department of Education and a place where the teaching of American History and personal responsibility will likely never rear their ugly heads. Finally you arrive at work where things really get exciting as you get to mix and match with the entire spectrum of government acronyms: IRS, OSHA, ADA, FTC, NLRB, FCC, SEC, HHS… And we haven’t even touched on the things we really like to do from going to a restaurant to watching TV to flying on planes to surfing on the Internet.

At the end of the day Americans consider ourselves free, but the truth of the matter is that the only real freedom left is a sheen of speech and sometimes religion that surround a daily existence where the government’s hand is never far away.

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution was originally against a Bill of Rights in general and later the 10th Amendment in particular, because he felt they were unnecessary. He wrote in Federalist 45:

    The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite… The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security.

He acquiesced to, and eventually became an advocate for both because he understood that others saw a potentially darker side of government run by men and he knew that without such restraints there would be no Constitution.

Unfortunately, the last century has seen the 10th Amendment become nothing more than a fig leaf. While on a very rare occasion courts will strike down something Congress has done based on the limitations of the 10th Amendment, as the various rationales given by the Obama Administration for the Constitutionality of ObamaCare demonstrate, Democrats (and some Republicans as well) largely believe in simply doing what they want and then finding a Constitutional justification for it later.

For this reason I’m suggesting that the 10th Amendment become the mascot of the 2010 election – and then 2012 – with a simple mandate that requires new legislation to specify its specific Constitutional authority, as the GOP has put forward with their Pledge to America. More significantly however, this legislation would require every department and agency in the federal government to demonstrate the Constitutionality of its very existence as well as every single regulation or law it has in place. While I understand that is a massive undertaking, the truth of the matter is that burdensome federal regulations cost the United States millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in GDP annually.

Once the American people see that much that makes up the yoke of federal regulation under which they toil – as well as many of the departments and agencies from which such regulations stem – is based on nonexistent or spurious connections to the actual Constitution, they will demand that Congress expunge the regulations and shutter the departments.

Which brings us back to AX. Mascots provide a rallying cry that allows people from different backgrounds with different life experiences to focus on something they have in common. Resurrecting the 10th Amendment is just such an idea and if conservatives use it as the foundation for their platform of taking the country back from the cancer of progressivism I think they’ll find that most of America will be standing there right beside them cheering them on. GO AX!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Post-racial America? Not so much for DC voters...

With the election of Barack Obama as President the United States was supposed to be transitioning to the post racial America. Unfortunately for the children attending the public schools of the District of Columbia, someone forgot to tell their parents.

Earlier this month the voters of the nation’s capital threw out Adrian Fenty, perhaps the best mayor they have ever had. Why? Because of soaring crime rates, plummeting school test scores or a surging unemployment rate? No. Rather, Adrian Fenty, a black mayor, was fired from his job because he hired the best people possible for the jobs in his administration and many of them happened not to be black.

Like presidents, mayors are political animals. While the stakes they deal with may not be as global in scale the President’s, for their constituents, a mayor’s decisions are often more tangible and immediate. Presidents deal with federal tax policy, national defense and state dinners. Their actions affect 300 million Americans and billions more around the world. A mayor on the other hand deals with neighborhood crime, Rotary Club meetings and the local zoning disputes. Presidents rarely have to respond to anything immediately while a mayor’s immediate response or lack thereof (either good or bad) is usually chronicled in the local paper or leads the local news.

Because the mayor is so critical to the lives of the people in the community it is that much more perplexing that the people of Washington decided to vote according to race rather than success. Breaking with the past, Adrian Fenty decided that his measure of performance would be one thing: success.

And succeed he did. Washington DC has historically had some of the worst schools in the country despite spending more per pupil than most jurisdictions – this year they will spend almost $30,000 per pupil. During the 2002-2003 school year the city’s graduation rate was an abysmal 58%. Last year, after 4 years of Adrian Fenty the rate was 72% and heading higher. Not only are graduation rates increasing but test scores as well.

Rather than be hailed by the black citizens of Washington, who make up 57% of the city’s population and 82% of the student body, Fenty was shown the door to the tune of 80% of the voters. This is particularly disturbing because as the single biggest beneficiaries of an improving school system, blacks were benefiting the most from Fenty’s leadership. Whites on the other hand, who make up 35% of the city’s population but only 7% of the student body, gave him much support, well in excess of 80%.

This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Washington DC is a city full of liberals where Barack Obama received 92% of the vote while John McCain received just 7%. No, at the end of the day the Washington DC mayor’s race was about race rather than success, education, crime or otherwise.

Much of the black population in the city was angry that Fenty threw out the color bar when he decided to populate his cabinet. In choosing to fill his cabinet he chose the people who he thought could best serve the citizens of the District of Columbia. His resulting cabinet included 5 whites, 3 Asians, 1 Hispanic and 1 black. That was a problem for many in the city – particularly those in Ward 8, who are currently represented by convicted ex-mayor Marion Barry. The criticism started early in Fenty’s administration and to his credit he did not cave. He was called arrogant, uncommunicative and was frequently accused of turning his back on black Washingtonians.

For the most part Fenty brushed off such objections believing that voters would instead look at the tangible benefits he was bringing to the city and its citizens. At the end of the day, Fenty did what mayors are supposed to do... tackle crime, improve schools and generally try and create an environment for success for the city’s citizens and his single biggest impact was felt in schools. They were where he shined. Fenty brought in Michelle Rhee as Schools Chancellor and she immediately went to work. She closed underperforming schools, she fired 241 teachers for poor performance and she forced the corrupt Washington’s Teachers Union to accept weaker tenure rules and even allow some performance based flexibility in compensation. Her results speak for themselves and Adrian Fenty believed, for him.

Not so much. Despite his success, 80% of the black population of DC decided Fenty had to go for the crime of being post racial. Inexplicably, rather than focus on what was actually making their lives better, from better educated children to safer streets, black voters in Washington DC decided to focus on the pigment in the cabinet. Unfortunately it’s likely to be their children who suffer as the unions and the old guard seek to roll back many of the advances that Fenty and Rhee put in place.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Christine O'Donnell - Senator or martyr for the cause...

Tuesday’s selection of Christine O’Donnell as the GOP nominee in Delaware has brought to a boil the debate that has been simmering in the Republican Party for years. The front lines of that fight played themselves out in front of cameras throughout the week. The first shot came from Karl Rove on Tuesday night when he savaged her on Sean Hannity. While Rove said that he was supporting the Republican, he made it crystal clear that he thought she was unelectable and that Delawareans had made a huge mistake. The other side of the argument was delivered by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. In responding to criticism that his support of O’Donnell essentially stripped the GOP of the opportunity of picking up Delaware and potentially gaining a majority in the Senate, DeMint said: “I don’t want the majority back if we don’t believe anything” and “I’d rather lose fighting for the right cause than win fighting for the wrong cause.” The lines have been drawn… just in time for the American people to make a decision.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but what Rove and DeMint are seeking to do is the same thing… compile a governing majority. Where they differ however is how they want to govern. For Rove the goal is to have a majority that is part of the squishy middle whereas DeMint wants a majority that is clearly conservative. Rove and many of the GOP establishment are happy to maintain the squishy / big government policies that were part of the Bush administration. Amnesty, prescription drug programs, steel tariffs, billions for AIDS research in Africa, etc. While Barack Obama may have perfected the big government model, George Bush was no stranger to its design and Karl Rove was right there with him the whole way. Jim DeMint on the other hand, along with the tea party movement, is largely focused on small government, lowering taxes and securing the borders. Jim DeMint states point blank that he doesn’t want a governing majority simply for the sake of getting cushier offices and new letterhead. Rather, he would rather stay in the minority fielding a team upon whom the GOP can count to support basic conservative principles than field a winning team full of RINOs.

His reasoning is simple: It’s better to have players on your team who you can count on than to have a roster full of players about whose support you are dubious. There is a battle royale taking place for the heart of the American people. In any battle a general wants to focus his attention on the objectives ahead rather than have to spend his time plugging leaks in his foundation. In this battle, Jim DeMint wants the American people to have a clear choice. He wants the Republican brand to stand for something specific, something conservative. He is making the case that Americans, when given a clear choice between the progressive agenda the Democrats have foisted upon them and a conservative agenda that focuses on smaller government and lower taxes, will choose the latter. That clarity of message is imperiled when people running under the Republican banner don’t adhere to its most basic tenants.

When the established GOP puts forward candidates like Mike Castle who do not understand the fundamental difference between Democrats or Republicans, it’s easy to see how the electorate might be confused and think there’s not much difference at all – see Dede Scozzafava or Arlen Specter. Every time a RINO votes for bigger government or higher taxes, the public gets confused as to who stands for what. A perfect example of this is Olympia Snowe’s vote for ObamaCare in the Senate Finance Committee. Her vote allowed Robert Gibbs to claim that ObamaCare had bipartisan support. When a politician’s votes or positions demonstrate that either an R or a D by their name would fit equally well, then the letters have ceased to have any meaning at all and as a result voters feel like they have no real choices.

That is what Jim DeMint is trying to avoid. He understands that the only option in this battle for the soul of the country is to give voters a clear choice. Having once voted for the disastrous mirage of “Hope and Change” most Americans are looking for candidates who will give them sensible ideas about how to solve our economic malaise. Christine O’Donnell is clearly not a perfect candidate, but then church is where one goes to find perfection, not the ballot box. She is however a conservative who promises to man the ramparts against higher taxes and the metastasizing cancer of government intervention and regulation. Delawareans may indeed choose to send to Washington a tax and spend big government progressive like Chris Coons, but by nominating Christine O’Donnell the tea party has forced the Republicans to strengthen the foundation of the message they will carry into the 2012 elections. She may end up being a martyr for the cause, but if in the process she helps save the country from the progressive contagion that is rapidly eviscerating our freedom and prosperity, I’m guessing that is a sacrifice she is more than willing to make.