Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The tragic irony of turning Michael Brown and Eric Garner into martyrs

It seems like it’s almost impossible to get through a day without reading or hearing something having to do with the killing of black men by cops. Whether it’s endless Facebook posts or NFL players running out on the field with their “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gestures or protests blocking rush hour traffic, it seems to be everywhere. From what you see one would think that black men in America are being killed like dogs in the street across the country. While they might be, it’s not by racist white cops, but rather, by other black men.

One example was a video a friend posted on Facebook of a man named McKenzie Cochran, a black man who died at the hands of three white mall security personnel in Detroit last January. Like the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, a grand jury decided not to indict the security officers.

According to the Huffington Post, Cochran had returned to the mall after being requested to leave, threatened to kill someone, refused when asked by security to leave once again and then continued to struggle with officers after being pepper sprayed.

Brown, Garner and Cochran were indeed black, and all three ended up dead at the hands of white police officers or security personnel. But this is far from a war on black men that Al Sharpton, Mayor De Blasio and Eric Holder seem to suggest exists.

The reality is, there were numerous opportunities for Brown, Garner and Cochran to change the outcomes of their interactions with police. Does anyone imagine that had Brown simply moved out of the street when told that he would have been shot? Does anyone imagine that had Garner simply allowed the police to arrest him that he would have suffocated? Does anyone who reads the story about Cochran imagine that he would have ended up dead at the hands of security officers had he simply left the mall when asked?

As painful as these situations are for the families, one wonders what might have happened had the police been more differential? Might Michael Brown have robbed another store – and maybe this time pushed someone so that they fell and struck their head on the floor – or might McKenzie Cochran have actually carried out his threat to kill innocents? Eric Garner is slightly different in that his crime was selling untaxed “loosies” or loose cigarettes, a viable pursuit because of New York’s $6.00 a pack taxes. Doing so is illegal. You can complain about the law being stupid, but it was the law and Garner was breaking it. The cops could have let him go, but just days before Garner died the city’s highest-ranking uniformed cop, Philip Banks, issued an order to crack down on loosie sales.

The point is, none of these cases, nor most of the cases the left throws up to demonstrate the institutional racism rampant in America, hold up to scrutiny. They simply demonstrate a confluence of events where people who chose to act badly had outcomes that resulted in their deaths. But such are the odds when someone chooses to act badly, regardless of the activity. Most drunk drivers don’t die behind the wheel, but some do. Most recreational drug use doesn’t result in an overdose, but some does. And the truth is, while police encounters sometimes turn out bad for black men – just as they sometimes do for whites, Hispanics, Jews, etc. – they also sometimes turn out badly for cops. This can be seen by the fact that fifty officers were shot and killed in the line of duty in 2014, a jump of 56% from 2013. The difference is, unlike Brown or Garner or Cochran, these officers were killed while seeking to serve and protect their communities rather than resisting arrest or threatening innocent civilians.

The tragic irony about the rioting and demonstrations and accusations seeking to turn Michael Brown et. al into martyrs for a false cause is the fact that it diverts attention from where it should be. There are no doubt bad cops out there. In any group numbering in the hundreds of thousands you will find some number who have betrayed their oaths. But when the left characterizes all cops as racist killers it makes it impossible to find and focus on the real bad actors. That’s the irony of the whole thing… by wrongly accusing the entire police establishment of being bad, protesters actually empower the cops who are to continue doing business as usual because their actions are lost in a sea of fictional claims of racism and oppression. It’s called hiding in plain sight… by ignoring the difference between bad actors and bad outcomes – admittedly, sometimes tragic outcomes – activists make it that much more difficult to truly weed out the bad cops that really exist. By making everyone a racist, then no one is a racist and real racism has no fear of detection. The result is that activists actually increase the odds of the exact outcomes they are seeking to eliminate by giving them camouflage with a sea of false accusations. But then this is liberalism… where rhetoric is more important than results.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Schoolhouse Rock, Ronald Reagan and messaging to save the country

I was in elementary school during the country’s Bicentennial celebration. From Bicentennial quarters and the new $2 bills to plays about our founding fathers to the most spectacular fireworks I’d ever seen, 1976 was a yearlong celebration of American history, and living in the DC area I felt like I had a front row seat to the entire experience. Coming of age at that time and at that place probably explains why I’ve always been a huge fan of ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock.

My favorite segment was always I’m just a Bill, a story where the lovable little Bill explains how he becomes a law. As much as I love I’m just a Bill, the reality is that that’s not how things actually get done in Washington. While things weren’t really that simple even back in 1976, today reality bears almost no resemblance to that story at all. A far more accurate characterization of the today’s process can be found in Saturday Night Live’s recent spoof.

Something else memorable happened in 1976. Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination. He lost, but in doing so he set the stage for his eventual triumph four years later.

What do Schoolhouse Rock and Ronald Reagan have to do with one another? Both were the gold standard of communication. And they were effective. Schoolhouse Rock was so engaging that today, some forty years later if I see I’m just a Bill I find myself singing along with it:“I know I’ll be a law someday, or at least I hope and pray that I will, but today I’m still just a bill.” And I’ve talked to lots of people who tell me the same thing. Schoolhouse Rock talked to us in a framework we enjoyed and took difficult subjects and made them tangible. And we ate it up.

Ronald Reagan spent his life doing the exact same exact thing. From General Electric Theater to campaign debates to countless speeches given as a private citizen and as president, Ronald Reagan had a way of connecting with an audience and make them feel like he was talking to them across the back yard fence.

And why does any of that matter? Because there is a lesson to be had, particularly for Ted Cruz. If you communicate with people in a framework they enjoy and do so in a way that connects with them, they’ll listen, and if they like you, you just might be able to change the world.

Today Ted Cruz finds himself defined by everyone around him. He’s been called an obstructionist, a fraud, a wacko bird, and a bully… and those are all from Republicans! The media and the Democrats don’t exactly like him either.

The point is… if Ted Cruz wants to help the United States return to its rightful place as the economic engine of the world, if Ted Cruz wants to help the country cut through the regulatory morass that suffocates prosperity, if Ted Cruz wants to basically change the way Washington works, whether from the Capital or the White House… he has to take control of his message.

In a world where YouTube stars have more followers than hit primetime TV shows have viewers, where companies from HBO to Netflix to Yahoo are producing their own original content, where someone can turn six seconds of campy video into gold, and where mainstream media are losing readers and viewers by the day, Senator Cruz should take a page from Schoolhouse Rock and Ronald Reagan: He should create a user friendly platform where he can share his ideas and define himself rather than letting the media do it for him. Just as Schoolhouse Rock created compelling vignettes about everything from multiplication to verbs to the American Revolution, he should create vignettes that talk about issues and how they actually affect citizens, and what he wants to do about them. Saying you’re against overregulation is one thing, but demonstrating the how EPA lunacy drives up corn prices or harms engines is something else. Obamacare’s restaurant menu labeling regulations sound reasonable until diners discover that it will drive up prices and will make menus as confusing as the information booklets that seem to be included with every prescription you ever get. Saying the tax code is a dysfunctional is one thing, but showing voters how much companies and individuals waste each year trying to comply is something else. Connecting ideas and issues to people make them real. A great example to follow might be Bill Whittle’s Afterburner, where he treats viewers to weekly pieces (usually sub 10 minutes) looking issues big and small, and usually explaining why they’re important.

The first of the GOP primaries is about a year away and Ted Cruz finds himself in a situation very similar to Reagan’s back in 1976, with a media that mocked him, with Democrats who loathed him and a GOP establishment that feared him… except, unlike Reagan, Cruz doesn’t have decades of goodwill to build on. Given that, Cruz has two options. Continue to allow his enemies to paint the picture of him for the American people, or do the job himself and tell them who Ted Cruz is, what he stands for and why it’s important… to them, the average citizens. Whether it’s a weekly 10 minute Afterburner type piece or a monthly reality show style segment connecting with everyday people the way Bob Graham did with his “Workdays”, Senator Cruz has to take control of his story and make it worth watching. If he does that, not only might he become president, he might just help save the country in the process.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Surrender: Why does anyone ever vote for the Republican Party... at least one run by Boehner & McConnell?

Do you ever wonder sometimes why Americans vote? How many times have you heard people say “I don’t vote because my vote doesn’t really matter, those politicians are going to do what they want regardless of how I vote.” In some cases that’s true. Obamacare was a perfect example. In January 2010 Scott Brown won his campaign for the Senate in deep blue Massachusetts by promising to be the 41st vote against Obamacare. The Democrats didn’t care, and despite the fact that 60% of the American people were opposed to Obamacare, they sidestepped Brown and used “reconciliation” to shove the law down the throats of the American people. As a result, that November the GOP retook the House in a landslide election, but by that point the damage had ever been done. If there was ever an example of politicians doing exactly what they wanted in the face of constituent opposition, Obamacare was it.

So why did citizens reward Democrats in 2012 and send Barack Obama back to work? Because presidential elections are personality driven contests (as opposed to issue driven contests) far more than are midterms, with the presidential candidates generating an unparalleled level of attention. Voters in midterm elections are generally more engaged and more aware of the issues than many who vote in presidential elections. Not sure? How many videos did you see in 2008 where voters could barely name the vice presidential candidates, nevermind the issues or candidates lower down the ticket. That reality repeated itself in 2012 with the cult of Barack Obama. Add to that the fact that Mittens Romney ran a campaign so uninspiring that millions of conservatives didn’t even bother to show up and it’s easy to understand how the country got another 4 years of The One.

Just two years later however, 2014 proved to be 2010 on steroids as the GOP picked up 9 seats in the Senate. Why? Not only had Obamacare proven to be exactly the disaster Republicans had predicted, but more timely was the fact that Barack Obama was basically promising amnesty to 4 million illegal immigrants. For the GOP, the numbers were clear: fully 70% of GOP voters were against Obama’s amnesty and at the end of the day those voters delivered a victory.

But alas, that doesn’t seem to matter. Like the Democrats in 2010 voting for something 60% of the Americans didn’t want, in 2014 the Republican leadership plans to ignore the wishes of 70% of their constituents by surrendering on immigration.

Surrender? That is essentially what the leadership has done as it promises there will be no government shutdown. The purse strings are one of the few checks the legislative branch has on the executive. As such, the primary way Congress can impact what the administration does is by deciding what to fund and what not to fund. In this context, a shutdown would occur when Congress passes a bill to fund the entire government except for those DHS functions involved in the president’s amnesty and then the president vetoes it. No dice say Boehner and McConnell. They are scared that the GOP would be blamed for any shutdown and get hammered in 2016. That’s an illusion, as most of the government would still function, and, frankly, most Americans wouldn’t even notice a shutdown were it not for the bleating of the administration’s media minions. In last year’s shutdown, once it was over a full 78% of Americans reported that they weren’t inconvenienced by the shutdown at all and another 11% felt only minor inconveniences. And a year later the GOP went on to flatten the Democrats in the midterms!

So the question is, why would anyone bother to vote for the GOP in the first place? What’s the point? If they are going to rail against the president acting unconstitutionally but take the single most powerful weapon for stopping him off the table, what’s the difference between the parties besides rhetoric? The truth is, now that they are firmly back in power, Boehner and McConnell feel like they have no obligation to respect their voter’s wishes. Apparently the desire of the Chamber of Commerce’s members for cheap labor trumps Republican voter’s opposition to amnesty.

Such has become life in America in the 21st Century. Half of the voters don’t bother to vote because they feel like their votes don’t count and the other half go to the polls to prove them right. Barack Obama has demonstrated that government can basically do what it wants, regardless of what the law says. The GOP has ostensibly stood against that principal as it claimed to be a bulwark built on the voices of the people. But in reality it is anything but. If the GOP is unwilling to go to the mattresses for amnesty, one of the most visceral issues of the day, what are they willing to do for more pedestrian things like reining in the bureaucracy or the welfare state?

If Boehner, McConnell and the GOP establishment continue to act as paper tigers in the fight against government overreach because they fear a 2016 backlash, they should be prepared to for that backlash to become a self fulfilling prophecy as conservatives abandon them in droves. Some will go Libertarian, some will stay home and some will simply jump ship to the Democrats. At the end of the day at least with Democrats voters understand that the law is no roadblock to getting what you want. Why bother voting for the Republican illusion of restraint when they can simply throw their weight behind Democrats and at least sit at the table when the spoils are dispensed?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will the Constitution Survive King Barack the Transformer?

What makes a tyrant? defines tyrant thus: A sovereign or other ruler who uses power oppressively or unjustly.

In 1776 the 13 American colonies declared independence from just such a tyrant. Eleven years later the same 13 states came together to write a Constitution that was specifically crafted to thwart the emergence of a new tyrant. The laws were to be written in Congress, where discussion, debate and competing factions would keep them from consistently favoring one constituency over another. In turn those laws were to be executed by the President whose constituency was the whole country. That separation of powers and duties has been the key to keeping the United States as a free, democratic republic without a tyrant for over two centuries.

Tyrants rarely adhere to constraints on their power being imposed by anyone or anything, Constitutions included. If they did, they wouldn’t be a tyrant in the first place. At the same time they often don’t brook the slings and arrows of enemies very well either. After all, what self respecting tyrant can allow subjects to feel free to criticize him? Tyrants also often seek to hide what they are doing. Whether it’s a war against someone who has something the tyrant covets or the implementation of a controversial new law, tyrants often choose to obscure the truth of their desires in order to gain the acceptance and acquiescence of their subjects rather than tell them the truth and deal with possible rebellion. Basically tyrants usually do exactly what they want, regardless of what anyone else thinks… but sometimes they feel compelled to lie about it.

Barack Obama seems to have excelled in all of these areas of Tyranny 101. In the first place he sees little constraint on his power. The endless waivers, delays and changes to Obamacare are easily the most impactful example of Obama’s disregard for the Constitution’s direction that Congress writes the laws. Follow that with his “Executive Order” on immigration essentially providing amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and it removes any sheen of Constitutionality. Indeed, Barack Obama is on record 22 times having said he didn’t have the Constitutional authority order amnesty. But he went ahead and did it anyway.

Obama also shines in his treatment of his enemies. This week proof emerged that the administration worked to spike stories by Sharyl Attkisson that were critical of its handling of the Fast and Furious program. Not content with just getting stories spiked, the administration also decided to selectively criminalize the practice of journalism itself when it named Fox News journalist James Rosen as a possible ''co-conspirator'' in a criminal investigation of a news leak. Add to that the IRS’s intimidation of Tea Party groups and anyone who’s just a bit critical of the tyrant president might just want to start checking under their beds and in their closets before they go to sleep at night…

Then there is the lying and obfuscation. The last couple of weeks have been chock full videos popping up of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber telling audiences that the lack of transparency in the bill was critical to its passage, because if Americans knew its real costs it would never pass. So rather than tell the American people exactly what Obamacre would do, Barack Obama simply lied to them, reassured by Jonathan Gruber that the citizens were simply too stupid to pick up on it.

Tyrants rarely come to power telling everyone they are planning on ruling as a tyrant, particularly in ostensibly free nations. Instead they usually come to power by making grand promises of reward to a sufficient enough number of voters that they are welcomed through the front door. Once in power however, they begin to scheme and manipulate the levers of power so that they can accomplish their goals, regardless of the rules and regardless of any opposition. Indeed, they transform their perch from that of a servant of the people to a that of a ruler of the people. That is exactly what Barack Obama has done… and it’s only become more blatant the longer he’s been in office. With his amnesty move, coming so close after a decisive vote for the opposition, he’s finally demonstrated with unvarnished clarity exactly what he thinks of American voters and the American Constitution. The Constitution has been strong enough to whether crisis’s before. The paper itself is fragile but the ideas behind it have been extraordinarily resilient. Let’s hope both are strong enough to survive the reign of King Barack the Transformer.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Barack Obama's Amnesty won't be legal, but it will likely be permanent...

Sometime over the course of the next week Barack Obama is likely going grant amnesty to millions of people who are in the United States illegally.

He’s doing this very much against the will of an overwhelming majority of American people. Not only do polls show that Americans are 3 to 1 against his giving amnesty to illegals, but his party, which very much supports his position, just got shellacked in voting booths across the country, at every level. Nonetheless, Barack Obama plans to do it anyway, because he feels he’s right… and because he can.

Technically he can’t really grant permanent amnesty because that would require the law to be changed. He’ll probably use his prosecutorial discretion to simply tell them that – at least while he’s president – they need not fear deportation. He’ll likely accomplish that by telling the DHS to basically look the other way and not deport those who are here illegally, depending on who they are, when they arrived, whether or not they have kids, etc. While as the chief executive of the government, he does indeed have the Constitutional power to tell agencies how they should act within the law, he does not have the power (legally) to tell them to close their eyes and arbitrarily ignore the law. Which is likely exactly what he’s going to do.

This action presents a variety of dilemmas. The first is the fact that Congress, not the President, writes the laws. (Although as demonstrated dozens of times with Obamacare, Barack Obama either doesn’t understand this or doesn’t care about it.) For Congress, there is only one Constitutional remedy available to them: Impeachment. When Obama grants Amnesty to 5 million people next week, he will almost certainly have committed an impeachable offense. This however is likely to be a bridge too far for most in Congress. The result will be that for the next two years millions of illegals will come out from the shadows, will buy houses, get jobs, get married and begin living their lives as if they were in the United States legally. Which brings up the second dilemma.

In 2017, when a GOP president takes office he won’t be able to simply reverse Barack Obama’s Executive Order, as presidents regularly do when they disagree with the policies of their predecessors. While he’ll have the legal authority to do so, the Democrats and their media lapdogs will ensure that every newscast in America is filled with stories of downtrodden immigrants who have spent the last two years building a life founded on the American dream and how any politician who seeks to send him back home to Mexico or Guatemala is simply a racist. I would doubt there are many in the GOP who have the stones to stand up to such withering attacks and defend the Constitution… although I think Ted Cruz probably does.  Such is the spineless GOP... Even now, on the heels of one of the GOP's biggest victories in decades and at a time when Americans 75% against amnesty, soon to be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already capitulated on the option of a government shutdown to address the president's overreach. 

Theoretically Congress does have one other avenue available through which it can pursue a remedy: the courts. This however is a very iffy proposition. The federal court system is extraordinarily slow, and given that Congress has impeachment as an option, the likelihood of the Supreme Court getting involved is rather thin. In addition, a split decision on the case (unlike US v. Nixon) declaring the Executive Order illegal would simply cause Obama to reword it and issue another.

Most despairingly for those who value the Constitution and the nation, Obama’s amnesty will likely have the impact of opening the floodgates of immigrants from Latin America. Already the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are reported to believe that Joe Biden has laid out the welcome mat for their citizens seeking to emigrate to the United States. In 1986 Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to 2.5 million illegal aliens and the result was 20 million more crossing the border over the next three decades. In 2014, when Latin America is the home of 40 of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world – including the 18 top spots, how many millions will follow after Barack Obama’s amnesty next week?

Finally, the dilemmas are not reserved for the GOP. If Barack Obama is allowed to blatantly ignore the law and simply choose not to enforce it, what will the next president be free to do? What if a GOP president directs the IRS to not collect capital gains taxes or estate taxes? What if a GOP president directs HHS to stop direct deposit of welfare checks, forcing those on welfare to stand in line at a government office to pick up their checks? What if a GOP president decides to stop enforcing civil rights legislation that he thinks is outdated? If Democrats have no problem with Barack Obama rewriting Obamacare or immigration law to suit his own needs, they will be hard pressed to not be seen as hypocrites when a GOP president chooses to do the same when he targets their golden calves. At that point we cease to be a nation of laws and become a nation of men, the exact thing our Constitution was established to prevent.

The United States has survived as a representative democracy for 225 years because presidents understood that they were not kings. Even presidents who might have thought they were, such as Teddy Roosevelt and FDR, in the end demurred to the Constitution when the chips were down. Barack Obama on the other hand has decided that even in the face of a blistering defeat he is going to implement his policies, Constitution be dammed. Let’s hope the next part of the Constitution he decides to ignore isn’t the 22nd Amendment.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Obamacare, WW II and how hubris undermines citizen confidence in government

I recently heard a broadcast minute from Neal Boortz. He said the following:
During the 3 1/2 years of U.S. involvement (in WW II), here’s what we manufactured: 8 battleships, 22 aircraft carriers, 48 cruisers, 349 destroyers, 420 destroyer escorts, 203 submarines, 4 million tons of merchant ships, 100,000 fighters, 98,000 bombers, 24,000 transport aircraft, 58,000 training aircraft, 93,000 tanks, 257,000 artillery pieces, 105,000 mortars, 3,000,000 machine guns, 2.5 mil military trucks, 16.1 million men in uniform, and we developed the atomic bomb. Simply astounding.

“During this same period of time, three and a half years, it should be noted that Obama couldn’t put together a functioning website,”
That contrast is simply amazing. The difference between then and today is much greater than the stark numbers might suggest however. Not only did the government of the early 1940s figure out how to harness the productivity of the American economy to build an unprecedented war machine in record time, but at the same time it was able to employ those resources to defeat enemies entrenched on three different continents, each thousands of miles away from home.

As anyone who has even a minor sense of history knows, it takes more than hubris to actually accomplish anything of consequence. In the case of the Roosevelt administration, in terms of domestic policy they were very much full of hubris. It most clearly showed itself in FDR’s legion of domestic programs which not only didn’t end the depression, but prolonged it and kept unemployment in double digits for years.

On the war front however, it was a different story. Not only was there no hubris, there was a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty as to what the prospects were for success. Nonetheless, while partisan divisions persisted – FDR’s Democrats lost 47 Congressional seats in 1942 – the nation was united in its pursuit of victory. Everyone understood that it was all in. As a result, through a combination of government direction, private sector ingenuity and productivity, individual courage and effort, the United States was not only able to develop everything Boortz talks about, but to employ those materials effectively enough to defeat the combined efforts of Hitler and Tojo.

While not perfect, FDR’s execution of its war strategy was successful for a number of reasons. First, the government was operating in an area where it had a unique skillset, one where it had an unambiguous Constitutional role to play, and one where it could focus the resources the energy of the nation on a common goal. Second, there was a finite clear measure of success everyone understood and agreed upon: the defeat of the Germans and the Japanese.

The competence of the various role players and clarity of the objectives allowed the government to lead the country to achieve what some might call its greatest moment. Such triumphs are rare with government action, and it’s no surprise Obamacare is not among them. Obamacare is the polar opposite of WW II in every way, from start to finish… although in Obamacare’s case it’s never finished. Obamacare did not have a Pearl Harbor to unify a nation… it had dubious statistics manipulated by duplicitous politicians seeking to extend government power. Unlike in WW II, with Obamacare the government had no Constitutional foundation for its actions. And finally, there is hubris. At the beginning of WWII nobody, from FDR down to the greenest private in the Army knew how they were going to defeat the Axis powers, and they knew they didn’t know. But they were confident they would find a way. With Obamacare you had exactly the opposite. You had lying, manipulating politicians, power hungry regulators and their legions of ivory tower lackeys telling the country that they knew exactly how the healthcare market worked, exactly what to do to fix it and precisely what the results would be for the American people. They were extraordinarily wrong on all three, and spectacularly so. As Boortz notes, there was the years in the making website debacle. But then there were the promises of “You can keep your doctor” and a $2,500 reduction in healthcare costs that turned out to be actual lies. And perhaps most ominously, the geniuses in the Obama administration so badly misunderstood how markets work that today, fully a quarter of the country’s doctors have opted out of participating in Obamacare exchanges, and more are opting out every day.

And so it goes with hubris and arrogance, emboldened by police power, the government inflicts the consequences of both on the country’s citizens. From Obamacare to green energy debacles to immigration to the disaster of the VA to… pretty much everything else this administration has tackled has been a textbook demonstration as to why government should not reach beyond its powers laid out in the Constitution. If the citizenry’s view on the Constitutionality of a law is murky, perhaps one should tread lightly and not jam it down their throats. If half of the population is viscerally and vociferously opposed to a law, it might be prudent to move slowly rather than rush through a 2,000 page law no one can read. Finally, if there is no endgame, if there is no clear, objective measure by which government action can be determined to be successful or not, then it might be time to go back to the drawing board and reexamine the goals of the law in the first place. Without such clarity laws are either too broadly written or too ambiguously written and either way adds up to too much power in the hands of bureaucrats and not enough in the hands of citizens. And that's how hubris leads to a collapse of citizen confidence in government...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Illegitimacy: America's racist past and present dooms its present and future...

I recently got into a lengthy discussion with some friends that makes me wonder how much longer the country can survive. Why? Because of such starkly different views on the nation, our history and the role of government. Frankly, I've never felt so bewildered in my life as to how people looking at the same information can come to such differing results… and I’ll point out, most of my interlocutors were white liberals.

The original catalyst for this discussion was Ferguson, MO. Almost immediately upon the killing of Michael Brown various friends posted comments on Facebook or linked to pieces discussing the disparity in the way blacks and whites are treated by cops. I was told by a black friend that a black man knows that every time he encounters a cop, regardless of the circumstances, his life is in danger. That cops can and do regularly stop, harass and abuse black men for no other reason than they are black. Ferguson and Brown were just the latest example of that racist reality.

I expressed some incredulity. While I suggested that it might be in fact true that police had a more heightened sense of awareness when dealing with blacks, I posited it might have more to do with the fact that black men, while they make up about 6% of the population, are responsible for approximately 40% of the violent crime in the country than racism. Somehow that didn't seem to fly. "No" that could not be the cause of the disparity. It had to be the racism on the part of some cops and the institutional racism on the part of the institutions that make up our justice system.

I further posited that even if it were the case that black men received a heightened level of attention from police, they could usually minimize the possibility of a negative outcome by being polite, respectful, and, even if they thought they were being unconstitutionally stopped, wait until afterward to file a grievance rather than get into a Constitutional argument and altercation with the officer who’s both worried about his own safety and that of the public. Indeed, I suggested that was likely good advice for anyone, black, white or otherwise, and it was the opposite of what Rodney King had done and increasingly what Michael Brown appears to have done. In hoping to lighten the tone somewhat I linked to Chris Rock’s great “How not to get your ass kicked by the police!” which is funny, but it makes some very good points as well. That didn’t seem to fly either.

The discussion devolved into suggestions that the United States always is and always has been a fundamentally racist country where whites have privilege (that they refuse recognize or acknowledge) and blacks are fundamentally unable to succeed. That was untrue on its face I suggested. To support the former they pointed to the Constitution. I explained that – while slavery is indeed a stain on the American history – the fact of the matter is that the 3/5 compromise was the only way that the Constitution could have been ratified, and that the Constitution put a stop (in 1808) to the importation of slaves, which had the impact of making slaves more valuable to their owners, and thus less likely to be literally worked to death as happened in far greater numbers in the Caribbean or South America where replacement slaves could be brought in without constraint. In addition, I pointed out, while some Founding Fathers such as Washington and Madison did own slaves, many others did not, including John and Sam Adams, and Ben Franklin freed his slaves and became the president of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society. In addition, a quarter of a million whites died during the Civil War to end slavery and save the Union.  I was told I was an apologist for slavery and the Founding Fathers...

I then pointed out that in this racist country where blacks can’t succeed, blacks not only dominate the ranks of sports and recording artists, but are CEO’s of such great American companies as McDonalds, American Express, Xerox, and Merck… and of course Barack Obama was elected to the most powerful position on the planet, twice!

But none of that mattered because America is racist and blacks are disempowered because of the color of their skin. It has nothing to do with unwed motherhood. It has nothing to do with government schools that don’t educate. It has nothing to do with government regulations that make it difficult for young black men to find a job. It has nothing to do with a culture that sometimes ostracizes learning as “acting white” and communities where the number one killer of young men between the ages of 15 & 34 is ... other young black men.  And of course it has nothing to do with government dependency.

There are certainly examples of cops misbehaving and sometimes abusing blacks – and others. We see those videos regularly. But those are the man bites dog stories because the majority of instances do not include abuse and we don’t hear about them. With over half a million cops on duty in the United States every day, even if it were 10 videos a day of such behavior, that would be a drop in the bucket of police interactions with citizens. (That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be dealt with when it arises however.)

And here’s the problem that makes one think that the country just might be doomed. Despite the fact that slavery has been gone for 150 years and Jim Crow for 50, despite the fact that there are 35,000 black millionaires in the United States, America is apparently a place where blacks cannot succeed. Despite the fact that blacks have achieved some of the highest positions possible in Fortune 500 companies, been elected or appointed to the highest positions in the land, dominate a variety of entertainment arenas, America is a racist nation where blacks can’t succeed. Finally, because our Constitution was an imperfect document which made only baby steps towards ending slavery 226 years ago, America is forever doomed to be a racist nation.

It appears to be the case that there is nothing that whites or that the nation can do that will satisfy those who are focused on race.  From 50 years of government set asides and redistribution to a plethora of regulations mandating “diversity targets” in everything from home loans to staffing to college admissions, it never seems to be sufficient to atone for the country’s imperfect history. Increasingly it's becoming evident that there is a large and growing segment of the population that refuses to recognize that progress occurs, even while imperfection persists.

Unfortunately for the nation, as long as the Constitution is our foundation and an apparently racist white majority remains, blacks (and a growing list of other oppressed groups) have no chance of success and therefore everything in the country, from laws to property to achievement, are illegitimate. And of course, once something is deemed illegitimate it's open to being used or taken by the government to satisfy the demands of the dispossessed. Illegitimacy is rarely a good foundation for a well functioning representative government.  As the ranks of those focused on identity politics grow, calls for government action grow along with them... such things do not bode well for America’s future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Clarity of Government Purpose - Potentially the Silver Lining Behind of the Ebola Cloud

When the Ebola scare is done the damage it will have done is likely to be far more reaching than just the individual victims themselves. Of all of the things the government is supposed to do, protecting its citizens is likely very close to the top in most people’s minds.

Indeed, government is supposed to do for citizens that which they cannot or choose not to do for themselves – limited of course to those things it has been constitutionally empowered to do. National defense being the prime example. Others include the court system, international treaties, tax policies, etc. Americans have not traditionally – at least for the country’s first 150 years – looked to government to become the provider of all things or the solver of all problems.

Today, for a large part of the population that is no longer true. Whenever something bad happens, they look for government to fix it. A sluggish economy, high unemployment, a failed automobile manufacturer, you’ve lost your job, you can’t get insurance, you can’t support your kids or you want to build a new stadium, look to government for a solution. Or, competitors are eating away at your natural monopoly, your kid can’t read, you think the CEO makes too much money, you haven’t paid your water bill in months and the water company has turned off your service… look to the government for a solution. Usually these solutions come about in the form or a check or government using its police power to force other people to do your bidding.

The result of government spread so wide, doing so many things, having its tentacles in virtually every aspect of American life is that not only does it do a bad job at practically everything, it often fails spectacularly at those limited things it’s supposed to be doing in the first place.

The Ebola situation is the perfect example, writ large. Ebola is a disease in that until recently was largely confined to Africa. While Ebola is not the continent’s largest killer, what makes it somewhat unique in that it kills 70% or more of the people who catch it, usually within a few weeks. And, we don’t really know how it’s transmitted, but we know that coming into contact with a carrier – even after they are dead – or their body fluids can transmit it. Can it be transmitted by mosquitoes? We’re told no, but viruses mutate. Can it be become airborne – thorough say, sneezing? The goalposts seem to be moving. Can it be transmitted by touching objects a carrier has touched? Don’t know for sure.

Ebola has, by everyone’s measure, the potential to become a true epidemic. As such, Ebola might be one of those things that most Americans agree is rightly a government interest, something the government should be focusing on and doing what it can to inform and protect citizens.

Unfortunately, thus far the government’s action has been an abysmal failure, beginning with Barack Obama’s inexplicable decision against imposing a travel ban from the nations where Ebola is raging, and his September 16th assurance that the chances of Ebola reaching American shores were “extremely low”. Four days later US patient zero, Thomas Eric Duncan, landed in Dallas from Liberia.

A week later Duncan was in a Dallas Hospital with Ebola. Since then, two nurses who treated Duncan have come down with the disease. When the first nurse, Nina Pham, came down with Ebola, CDC director Tom Frieden suggested it was her failure to follow protocol that caused her contraction. Later it turned out that Ms. Pham had followed all protocols from the CDC, the same agency that in August said: U.S. hospitals can safely manage patients with Ebola disease.

A month in, confusion reigns. The CDC goes from reassuring the public that Ebola requires contact with a victim and is not a respiratory ailment spread like the flu, to later warning that just standing within three feet of an infected person poses a risk. At the same time news emerges that Amber Vinson, the second nurse to treat Duncan, was told she was OK to fly by the CDC after calling to report her possible symptoms. Later CDC Director Tom Frieden stated that she should not have flown.

While all of this chaos is going on, politics rears its head when the administration and Democrats suggest the GOP is to blame for having called for budget cuts. Then it emerges that not only did the GOP give both the CDC and NIH more money than requested by the president, but that the agencies had wasted tens or hundreds of millions of dollars studying things like the propensity of lesbians to be fat, the impact of TVs and gas generators on a village in Vietnam, and what bus riders thought of HIV videos. Indeed, over the course of 5 years the CDC spent more than $2.6 billion on HIV and AIDS grants that the agency itself admitted: “have no objectives” or were otherwise useless.

What the Ebola crisis is putting on full display for the American people is the malfeasance and ineptness of a government that takes $3 trillion of their money each year yet can’t seem to get the basic things right. One doesn’t need a PhD in biology to understand that making it more difficult to travel to the US from a country infected with this virus is a good thing. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist that recognize that millions allocated for health research shouldn’t be wasted replacing perfectly good furniture or buildings. It doesn’t take a 140 IQ to understand that a person recently exposed to a deadly virus shouldn’t be given the OK to fly on a commercial jet. But in modern day America, that’s how government operates – or as in the case of a travel ban… doesn’t.

If the government is making horrendously bad decisions, providing conflicting and inaccurate information and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars in an area that literally involves life and death, and one that is playing out on the front pages of every newspaper in the country, just imagine how badly their mismanaging everything else they are doing from the mundane to the obscure, most of which is played out behind closed doors with the help of cronies and lobbyists and political financiers. Maybe the silver lining of the Ebola cloud will be the long overdue recognition by a majority of Americans that not only is government not the solution for everything that might go wrong, but maybe it’s meddling failures are behind many of things that go wrong in the first place.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A solution for American economic malaise - Detroit as a proving ground for economic prosperity.

The United States is in the midst of an economic malaise. 92 million Americans are out of work. 35% of the population is on welfare. The economy is barely growing. While incomes for the richest have been skyrocketing, the middle class has seen their incomes decline by 5% in the last 5 years. The federal debt stands at $17 trillion, up $6 trillion since Barack Obama became president. All of this while the Fed has been pumping tens of billions of dollars a month into the economy for years…

Although Barack Obama has made much of this worse, the truth is, things have been going the wrong way for half a century and rather dramatically for a quarter century. Of all of the problems that exist today – and their numbers are legion – there are two that are most troublesome: regulations and taxes. These two things have hammered the fount of American prosperity, the middle class.

First is the regulatory state – particularly federal regulations. Being an entrepreneur, running a successful small business (from whence 2/3 of all new jobs emerge) takes a great deal of work, tenacity and effort. Unfortunately however, the cost of complying with regulations has skyrocketed over the last 40 years. From the EPA to OSHA to the NLRB to HHS and a seemingly endless array of acronymmed bureaucracies come regulations that strangle job creation, and in the process, prosperity. According to the US Chamber of Commerce – no friend to small business – the cost of complying with government regulations at all levels has almost quadrupled since 2000… and all of those increasing costs contribute to the growing death rate among small businesses, which in turn take jobs with them.

Then there are taxes, again, particularly federal taxes and the insane complexity of the IRS tax code. This can be summed up in one measure: According to the Tax Foundation’s 2014 International Tax Competitiveness Index the United States ranks 32 out of 34 developed countries in terms of the competitiveness of our tax system – and if it weren’t for our relatively low consumption taxes, ranked 5 out of 34, we’d be dead last. That means, for companies seeking to invest their money, of the 34 OECD nations, only 2 of them have tax structures that are less inviting than the United States, Portugal and France. Imagine that, that the United States tax system is less attractive to investors – and prospective employers – than Turkey, Estonia, Chile… and even the dysfunctional Greece! While the United States does have advantages… for investors, tax consequences are an extraordinary driver of their choices. And unfortunately for American workers, the government is making the choice to invest in the United States less and less appealing every year.

Despite what you might hear on the Sunday morning news programs or read in the NY Times, this new American malaise is not an intractable problem, is not an unsolvable problem, in fact, the solution is rather simple. Fix those two problems. “How?” you say.

First, sunset every federal regulation on the books. If necessary, pass a Constitutional Amendment that states that every federal law has an implicit sunset provision of 10 years unless it passes each house of Congress by at least 60%. It would also stipulate that all federal regulations sunset after 10 years, regardless of the margin of passage of the underlying law. If such regulations demonstrate themselves to be effective and necessary, they can be renewed. If a regulation were deemed or proven to be sufficiently important to be granted permanent status it should then be passed as a law rather than remaining a regulation.

Second, implement the Fair Tax – although a 10% flat tax might be a distant second suggestion. In 2014 investors have the world at their fingertips. Choices abound from Estonia to Singapore to Switzerland to Canada. If the United States were to implement the Fair Tax, not only would the economy be jolted by an immediate influx of an estimated $2 trillion from the offshore holdings of American companies, it would likely experience an additional annual influx of hundreds of billions of dollars of direct investment from foreign companies seeking to set up shop in the United States. Those additional trillions of dollars would result in the creation of millions of jobs – and these would be real jobs in the real economy, unlike the boondoggles inflicted on the country by President Obama’s “Stimulus”. In addition, the resulting savings of the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted each year simply trying to comply with the incomprehensible IRS tax code could be spent on useful things – or just fun – and the hundreds of millions of hours saved could be spent on work or leisure.

Of course it’s one thing to point these things out and another to actually get them done. So, as in an effort to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of the above I’d like to suggest using Wayne County, Michigan – where the disaster area known as Detroit is located – as an “Enterprise Zone” proving ground. This demonstration would turn Wayne County into a federal tax and regulation free zone. Eliminate all federal regulations within the county and eliminate all federal taxes save a 23% embedded tax.

This wouldn’t impact public safety or individual rights as public safety and law enforcement are state and local functions while citizens’ rights don’t come from regulations but from the Constitution… which would still be in force.

Creating a county wide Enterprise Zone centered on the country’s most economically dysfunctional city would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the potential prosperity free market competition can create. Massive amounts of investment would take place and a cacophony of companies would be started, sometimes built on nothing more than an entrepreneur’s idea and a willingness to take a risk. And at the same time, jobs would be created… lots of jobs would be created, with employers competing for the best workers.

While there would be some logistical challenges to implementation due to the fact that the proving ground would be surrounded by non participating counties and cities, at the end of the day the results would demonstrate clearly the potential benefits of dialing back the twin garrotes of federal action that have been strangling American prosperity for half a century. With actual data in hand then the debate over applying the same to rest of the country could begin. Maybe then the country could get back on the road to prosperity where a rising tide lifts all boats rather than today’s perpetually receding tide that leaves most American boats slowly sinking in the mud of the exposed sea floor.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thirsty Californians and unemployed New Yorkers - Sacrifices to Liberalism's Global Warming Delusion

Liberals often live in a fantasy world that ignores the real world right in front of them. They continue to pour trillions of dollars into poverty programs despite the fact that poverty persists and grows. Their go to solution for failing and failed government schools is always spend more money rather than embrace solutions that actually work such as charter schools or voucher programs. It’s no surprise then that their tired solutions rarely ever solve the problems they are ostensibly focused on.

Strangely, that dynamic exists even when the problem itself is fiction. The perfect example of this is the state of California. In an effort to address congestion on California roads (which is a real problem) and to fight man-made global warming (which is a fiction) California is planning on spending anywhere from an estimated $68 to $98 billion taxpayer dollars to build a high speed rail link from Los Angeles and San Francisco. This, despite the fact that most traffic in California is from people traveling within metro areas, not between them. Think about it, LA’s worst traffic is usually 10-15 miles on the 405 or I-10 during rush hour, not on I-5 north of the city. A high speed rail ticket between LA and San Francisco that was originally projected to cost $50 is now expected to cost more than $81. That’s a round trip cost of either $100 or $162. Today you can get a round trip plane ticket between the same two cities for $135. What’s more, the line will likely require additional hundreds of millions of taxpayer subsidies annually just to maintain operations... and it will increase carbon emissions!

So there we have it, California plans to spend what will likely be in excess of $100 billion to build a rail system to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and another that can’t be solved by such a system. This, while the state is facing a real problem that it actually can solve: a shortage of water. The state has been gripped in a drought for years, but even in non-drought years water is a problem in California. In addition to families with no water, in the San Joaquin Valley, dubbed “America’s salad bowl” vegetable farms are left idle as there is no water for irrigation. (The drought is not the only cause there…) The $100 billion that the state is wasting building the rail boondoggle could be spent instead on desalinization plants up and down the Pacific coast. Recently the nation’s largest desalinization plant opened in San Diego… but it almost didn’t as years were wasted fighting litigation by environmental groups. That $1 billion facility will produce enough drinking water for approximately 250,000 people annually. Using that metric, for the amount of money California is wasting on the rail system it could desalinate enough water for 26 million people, more than 65% of its population.

The reality is however that the state doesn’t need to build desalinization plants to support 65% of its population. It’s likely that building the capacity necessary to provide water to 20% would be more than sufficient to address most water issues, and that could be done for approximately $30 billion. But that’s not on the books. Given that California is the epicenter of liberalism in the US, that’s not a surprise.

If there is a second center of liberalism in the US, it’s undoubtedly New York, and not surprisingly, it suffers from the same problem as California. Only in New York the tool of choice for seeking to slay the faux dragon of man-made global warming is not absurdly expensive transportation subsidies, but rather absurdly expensive green energy subsidies. New York has recently agreed to spend close to $1 billion subsidizing multi billionaire Elon Musk’s money losing solar panel installation company, SolarCity. This, while the governor of a state with a 6.6% unemployment rate continues to ban the fracking for natural gas, a cleaning burning fuel that has pumped billions of dollars in to the economies of states from North Dakota to Pennsylvania while creating tens of thousands of good paying jobs. So once again, a liberal state is spending boatloads of taxpayer dollars to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist while at the same time it refuses to look at a viable solution to real problems – in this case unemployment and energy prices.

And so it goes with liberalism, using rational solutions to attack real problems takes a back seat to solving fake problems that dovetail with the left’s worldview, regardless of the consequences. California is in the midst of a water shortage that is having devastating consequences on millions of its citizens on a daily basis. New York is seeing jobs and citizens flee the state for lower taxes and better job prospects. In both states the governors have decided those very real problems are not as important as pandering to their political base by tilting at the windmill of global warming. The result is actually worse than if the state did nothing at all. If they were doing nothing the taxpayers would at least be no worse off than they are now. Unfortunately however, the taxpayers in the 4th and 1st highest tax states (respectively) are on the hook millions or billions of dollars and will be much worse off in the long run. Such is liberalism: obscure failure in the real world by selling grand designs of some future success that never quite works out as promised… then simply count on voters to forget about that failure as you dazzle them with your next quixotic mirage.

Monday, September 29, 2014

So you want to fire an employee for calling you an %@#*&! in front of customers? Barack Obama says not so fast...

A few weeks ago I wrote about the National Labor Relations Board seeking to destroy the very nature of America’s most successful business models… franchising. While on occasion the NLRB will stumble across a real issue of consequence, the frequency of that is about the same as real data supporting the man made global warming hoax. More often the agency is simply a shill for labor unions and disgruntled employees.

Speaking of the NLRB, I generally don’t like to revisit the same topic when the first piece might still be stuck in someone’s mental cache. The last thing in the world you want a reader to say is “Didn’t this guy just write about this?” In this case however I’ll make an exception and take my chances…

If you’ve ever actually owned a business or run a business you know how difficult it can be to make a success out of it. The challenges are everywhere. From navigating through the web of federal, state and local government regulations to finding and keeping customers to making sure that you can pay the bills and keep the lights on… just doing the basic things to stay in business can be difficult. Some of the things you need to do are pretty straight forward… like what company are you going to select for your electricity to where you get your supplies to figuring out what your hours of operation will be. Other things are more difficult, such as figuring out which permits you need to apply for to deciding on your marketing strategy to setting your prices appropriately so that you can make a profit… even if that’s somewhere down the road.

By far one of the most challenging parts of any business is personnel. When it comes to looking at the keys to success of a business, there are likely few aspects that are more important and difficult as personnel. These are the people who are going to be greeting the customers or manufacturing the products or providing the services that you engage in and for which customers willingly exchange their money. (Obviously there are some businesses where a high ratio of the work done by machines, but usually those too are maintained by people.) Because personnel, the people doing the work for you is so important, the effort involved in attracting, selecting, training and managing employees is often disproportionately high relative to other aspects of the business.

In some industries, like financial services or auto mechanic or computer programming, individual compensation can be high because there are relatively few people who can do those particular jobs. In others, like dishwasher, burger order taker or cashier, compensation is usually lower because there are relatively more people who are capable and willing to do those jobs. In virtually all cases however the owner or manager has to interview, select and train their people.

Once the staff is in place, that’s where the real headaches begin. Managing schedules, apportioning assignments, giving responsibilities, basic supervision and of course managing personalities – which sometimes conflict – are all parts of keeping the business running smoothly whether you’re making widgets or selling drywall. In the restaurant business all of these come into play but there’s the added element of the employees interacting extensively with customers… who themselves can be fickle, demanding, indecisive and sometimes rude. It’s in this mix of sometimes controlled chaos, sometimes stark boredom that restaurant managers must figure out how to properly engage, motivate, reward and punish their employees in the right combination that keeps customers wanting to come through the front door. In the highly competitive restaurant space, a failure to do so can easily turn today’s hottest restaurant into tomorrow’s ghost town.

And it’s into this mix that Barack Obama’s NLRB has decided it insert itself. You fire two Hooters’ waitresses for cursing at another waitress in front of customers… The NLRB says not so fast. You fire a car salesman for cussing at you, calling you an idiot in the middle of a company meeting… The NLRB says not so fast. You fire a Starbucks barista for cursing at you and telling you to do the job yourself… the NLRB says not so fast. In a string of recent decisions the NLRB has decided for employees against employers in cases that in any rational universe would be open and shut. Employees are generally employed to do particular jobs, and to the extent that they do so effectively and the business prospers, they usually keep those jobs. But it’s the businesses who are paying them and when those businesses find the employees doing things that harm that business, they are generally within their rights to fire those employees. Unless of course Barack Obama’s NLRB decides otherwise.

So, in addition to everything from Obamacare mandates to rising minimum wages, the Obama administration is now suggesting that employers must endure verbal abuse and insubordination from their employees. It makes you wonder why anyone would ever choose to risk their capital, their time and their energy to try and start a business when the government decides it gets to make more and more of the key decisions upon which your success rests. At some point it’s no longer worth the effort and would-be entrepreneurs simply give up and decide to find a job rather than trying to build something new. The reality is, entrepreneurs have been throwing in the towel for years. With this latest set of rulings from Obama’s NLRB you should expect the number of towels piling up in the middle of the ring to grow.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Secession, Revolution... are they the end game of a deck stacked against freedom?

I’ve argued for many years that the United States is the greatest nation in the history of the world. From driving prosperity to winning two world wars to putting a man on the moon to ensuring individual liberty the United States is unlike any other country in history. And it has nothing to do with DNA. Indeed, some of America’s greatest men came from elsewhere… Alexander Hamilton was born on St. Kitts. Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland. Albert Einstein was born in Germany. Leo Baekeland – the man who brought us plastic – was from Hungary. Nikola Tesla – the man responsible for the current running in your house – was born in Croatia.

It’s not the blood that makes the United States great, it is the Constitution. The US Constitution was the first document in history to form a government based on the principals of individual freedom, private property, limited / representative government and the rule of law. None of the things in the Constitution were completely unique. The Greeks had representative government and the Magna Carta put limitations on the Crown after all. What made the Constitution unique was the combination of those factors and the fact that the power resided in the hands of common citizens.

That could, frankly, have only occurred in the United States… because it was a new and free nation. Because of that youth, the colonies did not have vested interests sufficiently powerful to mold the formation of the government to benefit themselves. And as a result, the power resided in the hands of common men, the citizens. Not in the hands of an aristocracy. Not in the hands of the church. Not in the hands of some bourgeoisie merchants. No, in the United States the power to govern was put in the hands of regular citizens. There were power centers of course, but none – such as the northern states who still had debts to be paid from the Revolutionary War and the southern states who wanted low or no import tariffs – had the power to dictate the language of the Constitution. (To the degree that there was one vested interest powerful enough to make such a demand it was the slave states and the result was the most anti-freedom part of a document built on freedom.)

But why Philadelphia and not London or Paris? Both the British and the French had access to the same writings our Founding Fathers did – from Plato to the Old Testament to the Magna Carta to John Locke and Adam Smith and William Blackstone and Edmond Burke – but they did not create anything like US Constitution. Indeed, France, whose revolution followed the American revolution by a mere decade, spiraled into bloody chaos and brought about a dictatorship. The reason is because both France and England had strong vested interests loathe to give up their power and privileges, and as a result, neither laid the foundations for lasting prosperity that the US Constitution did.

And that prosperity was enormous and far reaching. By 1950 the United States economy was more dominant on the world stage than any economy in history. The US commanded fully 40% of the world’s GDP with less than 5% of its population. While both China and India had achieved that same 40% mark centuries before, they accomplished it with 35% & 30% of the world’s population respectively.

And that economic prosperity ushers in many benefits that are not measured in dollars like life expectancy increases, leisure time growth and dramatically safer employment conditions. Another measure of the impact of that prosperity is the Nobel Prize. Since the American economic heyday of the 1950’s, Americans have won over 50% of the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Economics. Interestingly, 1/3 of those winners were immigrants who chose to come to the United States in pursuit of success, often because they didn’t feel they could do so at home. America is increasingly the epicenter of research of all sorts. Unfortunately however, it is not research that drives prosperity, it is economics and increasingly the United States is falling behind.

The freedom that drove the United States to become the most influential economic juggernaut in history no longer exists.  Today American GDP is 23% of the world's.  While we are still experiencing advances in technology and medicine, increasingly the United States is becoming an economic morass. Although we see companies like Apple, Facebook and Google creating millionaires and billionaires by giving citizens great products, the chasm between the ultra rich and the middle class and poor is growing. An example is that can be seen in the data since the recession of 2007 & 2008. According to the Wall Street Journal:
“All told, average inflation-adjusted income per family climbed 6% between 2009 and 2012, the first years of the economic recovery. During that period, the top 1% saw their incomes climb 31.4% — or, 95% of the total gain — while the bottom 99% saw growth of 0.4%.”
But it’s broader than that. American incomes have been declining for over a decade, from a high of $56,080 in 1999 (inflation adjusted) to $51,017 in 2012, a drop of almost 10%, a decline unprecedented since the Great Depression – another government induced disaster. But it didn’t need to be this way. Had our economy had been as productive over the last twenty years as it was in the 1950’s and 60’s the average American family would today have an income in excess of $120,000 per year. At the same time, and not coincidentally, the rate of employment in the United States has plummeted, with the labor force participation rate at its lowest level since 1978 and disability claims skyrocketing.

All of this, and much more, are the consequence of the United States abandoning the very things that caused it to be great in the first place: limited government and individual liberty. Just as the British and the French were straight jacketed by their vested interests the United States is straight jacketed today. And that vested interest is government.

Entrepreneurship has been the life’s blood of American prosperity and today it’s on the ropes. While Silicon Valley venture capitalists throw money at high tech startups the rest of the country has seen regulation strangle entrepreneurs in their cribs. Government regulations, particularly federal regulations, have strangled small businesses in America. For the last 40 years the gap between the rate of companies starting to rate of those failing has been getting smaller. The bigger the gap (Companies started – companies failed) the better for the economy because it means more companies are surviving and creating jobs and value. In 2009 the lines crossed and today there are more companies failing than are started annually. The result less prosperity as small businesses are the golden goose of the American economy, generating 65% of all new jobs.

What we have today as a result are fewer, bigger companies that are increasingly turning to the government to hinder competition. From Wal-Mart supporting Obamacare to steel companies seeking import tariffs to General Electric pursuing Export / Import Bank subsidies to Wall Street banks lobbying for low interest rates to the Chamber of Commerce advocating for open borders, big companies are increasingly looking for government to protect them from the vagaries and verities of the competitive markets that helped create American prosperity in the first place. They are willing to trade higher taxes and endure more regulation for a playing field that is tilted in their favor… that is of course until when the taxes become too high and the regulation becomes too onerous, then they simply relocate outside the country.

In America in 2014 we have the opposite of the recipe for prosperity. We have a ruling class that has no desire to give up its power and privileges and a business class willing bend to that power and fund those privileges in the name of fattening their bottom lines. In this case the ruling class is the federal government. The power is demonstrated by the fact that the federal government has its claws in virtually every aspect of American life… from what you can do with your land to what your kids can bake for a bake sale at school to the healthcare you have to the kinds of light bulbs you can buy. At the same time they are writing thousand page laws – which generate tens of thousands of pages of regulations – the government is taking ever greater amounts of money from taxpayers for its redistribution schemes. From a sixth of the population on food stamps to taxing the lunch your boss provides, the ruling class of government seeks to control virtually every aspect of American life.

And being in power has its privileges. Federal workers have achieved for themselves that $120,000 average income (including benefits) while the average private sector employee gets by with less than half that. Seven out of the country’s ten richest counties – out of over 3,000 – surround Washington, D.C. And of course government employees enjoy almost guaranteed lifetime employment. And those at the upper echelons enjoy even better privileges, taking advantage of the revolving door of power. When their party is out of power the revolving door turns and the regulators simply join the regulated class or their lobbyists, at even higher salaries, until their party returns to power and the cycle starts over again.

Perhaps the perfect example of how America used to be a place where things could get done, where private enterprise could achieve great things was the Empire State Building. Started in 1929, it took 14 months – four months ahead of schedule – to complete what would be the tallest building in the world for the next 40 years. Today, 13 years after the destruction of the towers that took that tallest designation from it, the World Trade Center complex is still not complete. Only within the last year did the first of the towers open that would replace the destroyed complex and pieces of it are not expected to be completed before 2020… 19 years after the complex was destroyed. And it may well be the most expensive building project in American history. Was it technical capabilities that kept the complex from being replaced? Had Americans suddenly become too stupid to understand how to build buildings? No. It was bureaucracy. It was regulations. It was lawsuits and political interference. In other words it was government and government empowered chaos.

Which brings us back to the beginning. The United States was at one time the single greatest economic power in human history. As a result of that prosperity it has had more of a positive impact on the condition of man than any force in history. But that was an America where citizens had big ideas and big dreams, and the freedom to build on the first to achieve the second. Today that America doesn’t exist and a tyranny of the vested interests has replaced it. From government bureaucracy to crony capitalists to politicians who use the government purse as a vote buying scheme, America is no longer the bastion of freedom and prosperity that it once was. It is no longer the shining city on a hill. It is no longer the place where anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps by sheer will and hard work. And as guilty as the Democrats are in this, there are many big government Republicans who are just as much to blame.

Is it any wonder that 25% of Americans would consider secession? No. I count myself among them.  What about a revolution? Yes, I’d consider that too, but not the violent kind in either case. When faced with the same kind of vested interests that kept the British or the French from doing what our Founding Fathers did, what can be done? The real question isn’t whether the gift that James Madison, George Mason, John Hancock and Sam Adams gave us can be saved? The answer to that is yes. The real question is, how…

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Strong Horse, Barack Obama and the Collapse of American Influence

Robert Kagan had an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago. Titled “Power Failure” it discussed the parallels between the aftermath of WW I and today. In it he talks about the feeling in the US and the UK after WWI that war itself had seemingly become impossible.

Then as now, Americans and Britons solipsistically believed that everyone shared their disillusionment with war. They imagined that because war was horrible and irrational, as the Great War had surely demonstrated, no sane people would choose it.

That the US and Europe would pare back their military spending after a cataclysmic war is understandable. That the peace of the Roaring Twenties led them to believe that war was sufficiently passé it need no longer be prepared for is not. War has been a hallmark of human history since recorded time. Those few times when War seemed to be absent from large swaths of land it was often because peace was imposed at the tip of a sword, not because everyone just wanted to get along. While the Roman citizens who lived during Pax Romana enjoyed a relative peace, that peace was guaranteed by tens of thousands of soldiers dispersed throughout the Empire and along its borders.

The logical outcome of the winnowing of the American and British military muscle and resolve post WW I was of course WW II. From ignoring the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 to allowing Hitler to rearm in 1935 to abandoning the Czechs in 1938, it became increasingly clear to the Axis powers that they could act with impunity. It was only a matter of time before such appeasements led to a second world at war. As Kagan points out, we see a similar pattern today. Weakness begets belligerency. And that is the key takeaway from his piece, and from history in general.

The post WW II period has been one of the most peaceful in human history, primarily because of American – and to a lesser extent NATO – military strength. While hotspots cropped up from time to time in places like Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cuba and various other Latin American nations, there was a distinct absence of the world wide conflicts that highlighted the first half of the 20th century, and a dearth of wars between European states such as those that characterized much of the 18th and 19th centuries. A more recent example is the fact that after George Bush decided to go after the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, suddenly Muammar Gaddafi decided that he wanted to give up his terrorist ways. Conversely, as the west has appeased both Iran and North Korea, both nations have continued to develop nuclear weapons.

Osama Bin Laden may have been wrong on many things, but one thing he was right about was this: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse”. Today the strong horse is Vladimir Putin as he seeks to reassemble the Soviet empire. Today the strong horse is Communist China as it bullies its neighbors from Japan to Vietnam to the Philippines and thumbs its nose at Britain as it ignores the democracy agreement it signed on Hong Kong. Today the strong horse is ISIS as it shows its enthusiasm for raining down terror across Mesopotamia and showcasing the murder of innocents of children, civilians and foreign journalists.

Sadly, with Barack Obama holding the reins, America is no longer seen as the Strong Horse. Domestically as his major military initiatives involve eliminating the ban on homosexuality, shifting military spending to social programs and saddling American troops with dangerous Rules of Engagement, Americans are left wondering if the military is supposed to be a fighting force or a social experiment masquerading as a traveling vaudeville act. Internationally, with Obama’s not so red red lines, his abandoning of various allies, his feckless leadership in the face of uprisings in Iran, Libya and Syria, his tepid response to Russian and Chinese aggression and his explicitly taking “boots on the ground” off of the table in his response to ISIS, America looks like a papier-mâché tiger.

Whether it’s the “Peace Dividend” that came after the collapse of the Soviet Union or the relative peace in post Surge Iraq, liberals are like the man who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. They seek to bask in the glory of peace but denigrate how it was achieved in the first place. The Soviet Union did not collapse because Gorbachev was a nice guy who wanted to attend the then nascent Burning Man festival. It collapsed because it couldn’t compete with American military and economic might. Post Surge Iraq was not relatively peaceful because the insurgents suddenly decided to become BFFs with the Americans. It was because American troops went in and killed significant numbers of their fighters and leaders.

Today, after six years of Barack Obama’s leadership Americans may finally be waking up to the folly of the liberal notion that the world could be a peaceful place if America just stopped trying to impose its will on everyone else. The folly of that notion is twofold. The first is that while the United States – like most nations – does seek to influence events in various places around the world, the nation has rarely used its might to impose its will on other nations. Second, and more importantly, it misses the lesson to be had from Bin Laden’s quote. The world is not made up of leaders and people who seek to sit around holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Nations that believe in freedom, individual liberty and democratic government are greatly outnumbered by those where citizens enjoy none of those things. If the United States does not provide leadership in the world, make the case for freedom and individual liberty and make it clear that it will not only defend itself and its allies, but will stand up for others who share its values, who will?

Like a bully on the playground, if no one stands up to him he will continue to wreak havoc until recess becomes little more than a veritable “Lord of the Flies”. The United States cannot and should not try to be the policeman of the world. But if we do not make it perfectly clear that we will do whatever is necessary to defend our national interests and work to advance our values, then it won’t be a policeman the world has to worry about, but rather dictators who have little love for freedom of any kind and even less for individual life and liberty.