Monday, November 30, 2009

Blacks, Democrats & an unwelcome Top 10 List

One day last week I ran across one of those Top 10 lists. The headline was the 10 Most Dangerous Cities and was based upon the CQ Press release of its 2009 City Crime Rate Rankings. The top ten cities were:

1. Camden, NJ
2. St. Louis, MO
3. Oakland, CA
4. Detroit, MI
5. Flint, MI
6. New Orleans, LA
7. Birmingham, AL
8. Cleveland, OH
9. Jackson, MS
10. Memphis, TN

Two things struck me. One: I was pretty sure that all were run by Democrats. Two: I was almost as sure that they were all majority black.

Looking for a correlation somewhere, I started to do a bit of research. Indeed all ten are run by Democrats and have been for a long time... an average of over 40 years, with the shortest being almost 20.

Indeed, blacks make up on average 59% of the population of these cities, and in the two they aren’t a majority, Camden – 48.5% & Oakland – 30.4% they are still the largest group. There was more: These cities’ graduation rates are abysmal, and it’s not because they don’t spend enough money on education. Other than Oakland, every city spends more per capita on education (24% more on average) than their respective states, with New Orleans spending twice what the rest of Louisiana does. Despite this largess, graduation rates are staggering. On average these cities graduate only 44% of their students while their respective states graduate an average of 71%.

As if to add insult to injury, not only are the graduation rates horrific, but those students who do graduate have limited employment opportunities. Other than Jackson, MS, these states have significantly higher unemployment rates than their states: The cities have an average unemployment rate of 14.5% while their respective states average 10.24%. For black teens it can be two, three or four times that.

What is the point of all of this? That much of this damage is self inflicted. How? By allowing the Democratic Party to take black voters for granted. The fact that the Pew Research Center states that 95% of black voters voted for Barack Obama may not be much of a surprise. What might be somewhat surprising is that black voters tend to vote for Democrats 90% of the time across the country. The question is… why? What have the Democrats done for black Americans in the last 40 years besides treat them like children who are not capable of achieving success in school, the workplace or basically in life without the assistance of government? Civil Rights laws… not so much. 80% of the Republicans in Congress voted for the legislation while only 60% of the Democrats did. Between affirmative action, welfare, and putting a stranglehold on the education system, what have they wrought? These ten cities are a perfect example of what is wrong. Democrats run the places and they simply don’t care about making things better for blacks. They don’t need to because for a significant part of the black population, their votes are guaranteed. Blacks in the United States have shackled themselves far more than any overseer ever could. At least in China and Venezuela and Cuba they have an excuse for their misfortune… they didn’t have a choice. When one of their politicians gets 90% of the vote everyone knows that it was delivered at the end of a gun. There is no such excuse in the United States.

The reason why the list above is so important is because it highlights the fact that local politics is where voters can have the most significant impact on their lives and those of their family members, i.e. police departments, land use zoning, business regulations, etc. While a citizen of Memphis may be only one of 3 million voters in Tennessee, they are one in 500,000 in Memphis. Still a big number, but with a few friends those votes can add up. Indeed, in 1991 incumbent mayor Richard Hackett lost by a total of 142 votes out of the half million cast.

Democrats have been taking black voters for granted for too long and I for one (although I’m white…) feel that that should stop now. Fiscally conservative (and sometimes Republican) ideas such as low taxes, small government and rule of law are a recipe for success for all Americans – including blacks, if it were only possible to implement them. Below is an example from someone who is a Republican, who should be the role model for the kind of politicians black Americans should be looking for.

Rudy Giuliani is the former mayor of New York. He was pilloried by the likes of Al Sharpton and the New York Times for being insensitive to black New Yorkers' concerns and presiding over a time of racial strife. The truth is, Rudy Giuliani did far more for black New Yorkers than Al Sharpton ever did. Not even counting the many jobs that were created by his cleaning up of the city and welcoming back businesses, tourists and citizens, he was responsible for saving the lives of 3,400 black men. How? By simply getting back to the basics and bringing law and order to the city. Blacks make up about a quarter of the population of New York, yet represent 56% of its murder victims. In 1993, the year before Giuliani became Mayor, New York City had 2,420 murders. In 2001, his last year in office, there were 960, a decline of over 60%. Given the fact that 56% of murder victims are black, the numbers of potential victims saved by Giuliani’s efforts is staggering.

Over the course of the years 1994-2001 the number of murders in the United States outside of New York City declined by 31.8%. The nearby chart shows the number of murders in NYC and what the numbers would have been if the city had fared only as well as the rest of the country over that period of time. Rather than the actual 9,751 murders there would have been 15,895, a difference of 6,144. Assuming that 56% of the victims would have been black, that means that there were 3,440 fewer black murder victims in New York over his tenure than there might have been. That’s 3,440 families that did not lose a son, a father, a breadwinner, or a role model. 3,440 black men still alive to take care of and support their families… at the end of the day that is a far greater accomplishment than browbeating banks into making bad loans, inciting riots against Jewish shop owners or picketing Don Imus.

By voting almost exclusively for Democrats and their policies, black Americans have created a situation where they may be the most poorly represented population on the planet. They give their votes and get nothing in return but the luxury of being disproportionately represented in the most dangerous cities in the country.

The result of Democrats taking the black vote for granted has been 40 years of failed policies and a disaster for citizens of cities like Camden, Detroit and New Orleans. Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and the rest of the Democrat/Progressive cabal have spent decades focusing on things like redistribution of wealth, taxing corporations out of business or the red herring of “social justice” and basically telling black Americans that they cannot survive without government help. Really? Tell that to Michael Jordan. Tell that to Oprah Winfrey. Tell that to Ken Chenault. Tell that to Tony Dungy. Tell that to Condoleezza Rice or Michael Steele.

The solutions to the problems of black Americans, these cities, and America in general are the same. How does one bring about better schools and education? Competition. How does one spur investment? Cutting taxes. How does one create new jobs? Reduce regulation and create a business friendly environment. How does one reduce crime? Let law abiding citizens arm themselves from the criminals who pay no attention to gun laws in the first place.

Like the rest of the world, America is an imperfect place. Like the rest of the world, (and in contrast to the promises of Democrats & Progressives) there are no guarantees in life, there are no free lunches and life is sometimes unfair. Unlike the rest of the world however, we have the opportunity to work hard, be creative and pursue success and happiness. By blindly giving their votes to the Democrats, to whom the very notions of freedom, individual liberty, private property, limited government and individual responsibility are anathema, 90% of the black community is basically being complicit in their own suffering and misfortune.

There is hope however for the cities listed above. In 1993 Rudy Giuliani received 5% of the black vote while his opponent David Dinkins received more than 90%. Four years later, after his policies had begun to take hold and the city and its citizens began to blossom, Giuliani received approximately 25% of the black vote. If blacks in these ten cities started demanding real solutions in exchange for their votes they just might find themselves off of that list altogether. Now that would be a real emancipation.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A progressive noose around the neck of American Freedom

For most of the first 125 years of its existence the United States had no income tax. The exception being the years between 1861 & 1866 where an income tax was levied to finance the Civil War. Everything changed in 1913 when the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

As a result of that Amendment, in October of 1913 President Wilson signed the Tariff Act, which instituted a 2% tax on Americans earning over $4,000 a year (about $88,000 today). Almost 100 years later, from those 30 words we have a 30,000,000 word IRS tax code that rounds out at more than 60,000 pages, gives some people tax rebates for taxes they never paid while others are taxed at almost 50% of their income.

To put the effects of this 60,000 page leviathan in perspective, consider this: Americans waste over a half a trillion dollars every year due to inefficiency and trying to comply with the statute’s labyrinthian language. And that doesn’t include the actual taxes themselves! Imagine trying to run a business where, in order to stay out of prison you had to swear that you are complying with the 60,000 pages of the Terms and Conditions notice that come with a credit card. That’s our tax code, only it’s even more confusing.

This post is not a simple attempt to vilify the tax code, although it deserves that and much more. Rather, it is intended to do one thing… Focus attention on the single biggest threat to our freedom that has ever existed… ObamaCare. But not for the reason that one might think. While the legislation itself is sufficiently onerous that anyone with half a functioning brain recognizes that it’s a recipe for disaster, the truth is, ObamaCare is merely a symptom of the problem. The real danger is tangential to the legislation itself. Here’s why…

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, was recently queried by a reporter as to where in the Constitution does it say Congress can force Americans to purchase health insurance. The Speaker responded condescendingly with “Are you serious?” and refused to answer the question.

Steny Hoyer, her second in command was not so evasive. He stated in answer to a similar question: "Well, in promoting the general welfare the Constitution obviously gives broad authority to Congress to effect [a mandate that individuals must buy health insurance]. The end that we're trying to effect is to make health care affordable, so I think clearly this is within our constitutional responsibility." The clause in the Constitution to which he is referring is the “General Welfare Clause”.

Article I - Section 8 - Powers of Congress
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

It might not sound like it, but Hoyer’s statement represents the single biggest threat to American freedom we have ever witnessed on our shores. What Rep. Hoyer is saying, in effect, is that the Welfare Clause gives the government the ability to force Americans to do anything he, Speaker Pelosi and President Obama decide “provides for…the general Welfare”.

Rep. Hoyer’s suggestion would come as a great surprise to the people who actually wrote the Constitution. The Father of the Constitution, James Madison, was quite clear when he wrote: "With respect to the two words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."

Madison is saying that the Welfare Clause is an idea that is to be furthered by the enumerated list of powers that followed it: Borrow money, Establish a patent system, Declare war, etc.

Let’s be clear, what Rep. Hoyer is suggesting is that the there is no limit to what the government can do to us. How many things have you heard of over the last 15 years that have included some special interest group railing about this or that “epidemic” or danger and suggesting the government needs to step in and save us from ourselves? They can tell us to stop eating Big Macs and Oreos because of the obesity epidemic. They can make us stop smoking inside our own houses or in our back yards or anyplace where children might be present. They can force us to buy GM cars so the company can pay the government back. They can tell us who we can listen to on the radio or watch on TV. They can ban Tea Parties because attendees are “extremists”. There are no limits...

If Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are able to twist the Constitution into such a pretzel that it incorporates the most private areas of our lives – our relationship with our doctors – then it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for them to insert themselves between us and our waiter, us and our lover or spouse, us and our children, us and our friends or us and our priest, our reverend or anyone else with a beating heart.

It took a century for the 30 words of the 16th Amendment to metastasize into a 30 million word hammer that is today wielded by a legion of nameless faceless lobbyists and bureaucrats. How long will it take Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama to weave the Welfare Clause into a progressive noose around the neck of American freedom? With the 2,000 pages and 1,000,000 words of ObamaCare and its threat of prison if you don’t comply, they are already well on their way…

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Gift of Freedom

I have spent most of my adult life as a struggling entrepreneur… Struggling to succeed that is, which I’ve yet to get quite right. I’ve had ideas that I thought were nothing short of brilliant (from a golf grip heater to giving consumers the ability to prepay for gasoline at a fixed price) and others that in retrospect were probably doomed from the start (rigid resume mailers and an Italian version of Boston Chicken). I’ve even written a book that I couldn’t seem to get published and dabbled in modeling and acting – when I still had hair! The truth is, in all of those endeavors, nothing ever really panned out. Either I was too late to the party, the market disappeared, or more often than not I did a bad job of communicating my ideas and convincing investors to take that leap with me.

Regardless of the reason, nothing ever worked as hoped and the setbacks were legion. The funny thing is, however, that if I died tomorrow – which I’m really hoping isn’t going to happen – I would know that I had lived a charmed life. My family and friends are a big part of that, but that’s not quite the reason. As strange as it might sound, it’s because I’m American. Stranger still, might be the fact that I didn’t really begin to recognize that until I went to grad school, almost 20 years ago.

I was raised in a military family and I lived 12 of my first 24 years outside of the US, growing up in Italy and on the base at Guantanamo Bay, down in Cuba. Later I was stationed in Germany for two years. Growing up in a government family where everything from housing to medical care to income was provided by the government, I never really understood how the larger world actually worked. At the same time, I never really learned about free market economics in school. I imagine I must have encountered Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations at some point in high school or during my undergraduate studies, but somehow I can’t seem to remember doing so.

Strangely enough, it was only when I returned to FSU to pursue my MBA did I begin to understand that Washington was not the center of the universe. I recalled once in high school having called up the Post Office and asked for the number for UPS. The incredulous clerk said “Why in the world would I want to give you the number of one of our competitors?” The truth is, I didn’t know they were not part of the same organization. I don’t want this to sound like I was completely disconnected from the world around me. In the back of my mind somewhere I knew that McDonalds and Coca Cola and Disney and K-Mart were not part of the government, but I never really understood where they came from or how they operated.

Once I started to see world as it really operated, outside of the prism of all encompassing government support, (although I was using the GI Bill & a student loan at the time) I suddenly began to understand and appreciate what America was really all about and what made it so great. It was like I had been in a world of shadows my whole life and suddenly a ray of sunlight shone through and highlighted what made America great… the freedom and opportunity to control your own destiny… to do, to try, to build anything you wanted. There are no guarantees and there are no limits.

Given that world of opportunity, I’ve had to face the fact that I might be the world’s worst entrepreneur. Painful, but true. But the crazy thing is, that’s what makes America so great in the first place. Despite the fact that I’ve spent most of the last two decades being mistaken for Don Quixote, hope springs eternal because I know that every day is a new opportunity to find success. I haven’t found success myself, but I know it exists because I see it every day, I read about it constantly and I know it is possible. As a result, every day I bound out of bed saying to myself “Today is the day!” with an absolute expectation that something good is going to happen. The beauty of America is that regardless of my past lack of success, regardless of what happens today, anything is possible, indeed, as some friends of mine like to say: Everything is Possible. If in the end it’s not to be for me, it will be for someone. Millions of someones. If I don’t end up inventing the next best thing or starting the next Microsoft or Wal-Mart or Papa John’s Pizza I’ll have spent my life pursuing what for me is happiness.

Fundamentally, that is the brilliance of the Founding Fathers. They understood the nature of man. They understood that government could not make a people successful or happy. They understood very well that freedom, (both political and economic) was the fundamental element of a successful nation. They gave us a Constitution that would allow the American people to pursue and achieve happiness, and in the process build a nation that would flourish to become a beacon of light throughout the world. If you don’t believe me, read the words of George Washington: "One day, on the model of the United States of America, a United States of Europe will come into being." Now that was audacious, given the fact that at the time much of the world was divided amongst the British, French and Spanish empires.

The day I had my epiphany I remember telling myself that I wished someone had taught me this stuff when I was 15 rather than when I was 25. As we sit here today, with almost half of the population paying no income taxes, a quarter of the population on the receiving end of a government check and industries from banks to car companies to newspapers seeking government handouts, I wonder how we find our way out of this economic morass. We’re standing in a dark tunnel with bright lights to our left and our right. One is the headlight of the train of socialism heading straight for us, where government decides winners & losers, dictates who does what kind of work and for whom, and guarantees nothing but equality of poverty. The other light is the end of the tunnel, illuminated by the brilliance of the Founding Fathers’ gift to us, one that guarantees us nothing but the freedom of opportunity and the right to enjoy the fruits of our efforts. The question is: Can enough of us differentiate between the two in time to save the country from being flattened by the progressive Obama-Pelosi Express? I know it’s late in the game, but I think we can and will. This is one time I hope I end up being more of a clairvoyant than a Cassandra.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dereliction of Duty

I’ve asked myself many times over the last decade how is it that Americans could be so cavalier in protecting the gift we’ve been born with, the foundation of the greatest country that has yet existed on the planet: The Constitution of the United States. How is it possible that we went from what was established to be an explicitly limited government to a point where there is practically nothing in our lives that we do that the imperial federal government does not somehow impact or control, from eating our breakfast cereal to driving home from work to what we watch on TV? Now as if to put a cherry on top of a sundae made of molasses, we have Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi’s nightmare healthcare bill. Where in the Constitution does it say that the government can force Americans to buy health insurance under penalty of prison? I’ve read it many times and I can’t say it jumps out at me.

My answer to the question of how we got from there to here came in the form of a recent epiphany that involved Cyrus McCormick and Neil Boortz, who, like Mao & Mother Theresa, make something of an odd couple. McCormick is the man who invented the first practical reaper – a machine for harvesting grain. In 1831, the year McCormick invented the reaper, farming had not materially changed for 5,000 years. Just as it had been in ancient Egypt, in 1831 a man could harvest approximately 2 acres of grain per day. As a result, between 85 & 90% of the American population of 15 million people were either directly or indirectly involved with farming. To put this in some perspective, in 2009, with a population 20 times as large, 300 million, we actually have fewer people working in farming, both in terms of numbers, 10 million vs. 12 million and percent, 3%, than we did 180 years ago. Despite that, we feed far more people and America has become something of the breadbasket for the world.

Here’s where Boortz comes in. He has a refrain he often uses. He calls the US the United States of Entertainment. What he means by that is that we are so busy with various forms of entertainment, from watching American Idol to reading People Magazine to playing Wii, that we have lost focus on the things that are important.

He is exactly right. Think about this, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Fogel, in 1875 Americans spent 74% of their income on three basic things, food, shelter & clothing. That means that they spent 26% of their income on everything else, entertainment, healthcare and transportation. Shift ahead to 1995 and Fogel suggests that those numbers have basically flipped with Americans spending less than 20% of their income on food, shelter & clothing and 80% on everything else, over 3 times what they did in 1875, despite the fact that we live in much bigger, better furnished homes, eat far more food with much greater variety and we often have wardrobes that would have turned kings and queens of centuries past green with envy.

To see where these pieces fit together, one merely has to step back and look at the big picture. In McCormick’s day, or even a century ago, the overwhelming majority of American daily life was dedicated to taking care of the basics of life, food, shelter etc. People went about their lives actually living, making choices and decisions that were necessary for the safety, security and happiness of their own families. They understood that it was their responsibility to make good choices about how they used their land, how many children they could support, what they wanted to eat or what they needed to do to start a business. They understood this because they understood that the consequences of bad decisions would clearly fall on their shoulders.

What has slowly occurred over the last 100 years (and picked up steam in the last 40 years) is that the connection between choices and consequences has been eliminated and we have hardly noticed it because we’ve been so busy enjoying our various forms of entertainment. According to Neilson, the average American watches 37 hours of television a week! That’s out of a 168 hours in a week, 56 of which we spend sleeping. And that’s just TV. Add to that watching movies, surfing the Internet and going out to dinner there is almost no time at all dedicated to the Constitution.

That probably sounds like a strange segue, but the truth is, that’s the point. The way we found ourselves in this mess is because Americans of all stripes have for the large part contracted out their government to whoever the highest bidder is (i.e. which politician promises to give them the most – which by definition means taking it from someone else) so that they can play some more video games or watch another episode of the Simpsons.

As such, it should be no surprise that by subcontracting out our government to people who promise to steal from someone else to feather our nests, that we now discover that these same people have not only usurped all of our powers, they have abrogated the very document that gave us the Republic in the first place. Decide for ourselves what medicines we’d like to take? No, the FDA gets to decide that for us. Decide for ourselves what companies we want to invest in? No, we’re not smart enough for that, so the SEC gets to decide where we can invest. Decide how much we want to pay our employees? Not a chance, the Department of Labor and the Pay Czar get to decide that. How about listening to our favorite talk show on the radio? Not for long, soon the FCC will be telling us what we can listen to and who can talk. Even if we wanted to do something specifically political like deciding on how much of our own money we can give to a political candidate, do we have a chance to decide for ourselves? Of course not, the FEC and McCain Feingold are there to protect us from ourselves.

Many things in life involve slippery slopes that require vigilance in order to ensure things work as they should. We as a people have been derelict in our responsibility when it comes to the actual foundation upon which this City on a Hill was built, the Constitution and our representative government. Like a crack in a windshield that slowly grows until it threatens the integrity of the window itself, our government has become a leviathan that threatens to strangle the very thing it was established to protect, our freedom and our ability to pursue happiness. We have no one to blame but ourselves, but at this point that is inconsequential. What is very consequential however is that we recognize this Borg we have created and decide that we are going to save ourselves before resistance truly does become futile. As some friends of mine are fond of saying, “The time is Now”. 2010 may indeed be the last opportunity we have to save the Republic. In the world of Xbox and YouTube and ESPN this might sound like so much hyperbole, but the truth is, all of those things and so many more are products of a dynamic free market built by the sacrifice and toil of a free people. If you think I’m off base here, ask yourself where those things and everything from elevators to planes to nuclear power to cell phones to super computers to air conditioning were developed. It’s no coincidence that they were all invented in a country that had at its foundation individual freedom, private property rights and the fundamental freedom to fail. Once those freedoms are gone, so too will follow the Internet, freedom of speech and finally the reality of happiness, nevermind its pursuit.

Obama’s Bizarro World

When I was a kid I was a big fan of DC comic books… Superman, Batman, etc. There was one storyline in those comics I always found nonsensical and not even plausible: Bizarro, an un-Superman who was the wrong to Superman’s right. In a universe where you have to suspend reality to a certain degree in order to enjoy stories about the otherworldly powers of Superman or the superhuman powers of Batman, the writers of the Bizarro World saga wanted readers to suspend the functioning of their actual brains. At least if your goal is to achieve success, you can deal with failure and go on. If your goal is actual failure, success would be a failure which would in turn be a success. It was always too complicated for me to spend much time with because my brain would start hemorrhaging.

To those unfamiliar with the Bizarro World universe, it was focused on a square shaped planet Htrae, (Earth spelled backwards) where everything was the opposite of how things worked on Earth. Essentially, Bizarro World was a universe where everything that was bad on Earth was good there and everything good was bad.

Which brings me to the United States in 2009 and Obama World – and not, unfortunately, to a comic book version of reality. At the end of most days I can’t help but feel like I have somehow been transplanted into a Bizarro World, with our President playing the character of the un-Superman, Bizarro.

There is an old saying that even a blind squirrel trips over a nut every now and then which means that just by walking around randomly even a blind squirrel would trip over a nut on occasion. Apparently this President is not blind. How else could one explain the fact that he has been able to avoid tripping over the right policy at every single possible turn, both domestic and foreign?

Here are just a few examples:

The Obama Justice Department declining to prosecute Black Panther members for intimidating voters in Philadelphia on Election Day. Imagine had the thugs been white sheet wearing Klansman intimidating voters outside polling places in Selma, Alabama or Jackson, Mississippi. Somehow one finds it hard to believe this administration would have felt compelled to dismiss the charges.

This is the same Justice Department that has chosen to consider charging CIA officers and presidential advisors for doing their jobs with the stated objective of protecting the lives of American citizens. In an imperfect universe where there are thousands if not millions of Islamic fanatics who seek to do America harm, logic dictates that a course of action that forces those on the front line of defense to take their eyes off their targets so they can look over their shoulder at potential treats coming from their own side are counter productive. How many people would volunteer for a highly dangerous, stressful and difficult job if they believed that even if they did everything according to the rules, years later someone might come by and throw them in jail, regardless of how successful they were actually doing that job? Now that’s an incentive for attracting the best and the brightest!

Government Motors. In a world where success is forged in the kilns of competition, fired by the mix of entrepreneurship and failure, what makes providing a lifeline to abject failure a good idea? Had General Motors and Chrysler been allowed to fail, the owners and creditors would have been forced to take whatever actions were necessary to wring the greatest value out of the dinosaurs’ carcasses. It’s been the driving force of American economic might for centuries and it’s what Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called “Creative Destruction.” Thanks to the Obama administration, the United States is now the largest shareholder in a car company that is really more a retirement plan with a side business of cars than a car company whose job is to make cost efficient, competitive cars consumers want to buy. While the UAW and management have driven the companies into the ground, that government does not escape blame with its CAFÉ standards and market manipulation. Management is gone but the government and the UAW are left, that should give one great confidence in the future of Government Motors.

Beyond the obvious problem with investing the public’s money in places where they don’t want it to go, perhaps even more problematic is the administration’s decision to simply do away with the Rule of Law that has been the foundation for or economic success for centuries. Essentially the administration browbeat and intimidated GM and Chrysler’s secured debtholders into agreeing to abandon their rights and allow the government hand the company over to the United Auto Workers. From this day forward, any time an American company seeks financing and offers to provide its assets as collateral, they will face lenders who are wondering about the government coming in and changing the rules after they’ve put their money into the pot. The result will be that credit will be harder to find and when it is found, it will cost more.

Reading Miranda rights to foreign fighters on the battlefield? Is there anyone with a functioning brain that thinks this is a good idea? One simply needs to look at our own dysfunctional jurisprudence system to recognize that introducing such rights into the middle of a war zone is nothing short of bizarre.

Health care. Eighty-five percent of Americans have health insurance and 100% of the people can get care in an emergency. While the American system is far from perfect, in what kind of universe does it make sense to expand the primary cause of the problem in the first place, government? Make no mistake about it, government is the problem, both federal and state. Regrettably, when given the choice between making a number of changes that might help insure the remaining 15% , the Obama administration chose instead to propose turning the entire system on its head and putting the imperial federal government in charge of almost 20% of our economy, not to mention in the hospital room where you discus the most intimate details of your health with your doctor.

With a plan that only someone who slept through Economics 101 could believe, President Obama promises to expand coverage to every American – and illegal alien, although the plan is to legalize them so they qualify – do so without increasing the deficit, not cutting any benefits and not increasing the burden on taxpayers. Has anyone at this White House picked up a history book and looked at the record of the federal government in running anything – Amtrak , Post Office, Katrina, Social Security, Food Stamps, Medicare? How about Thomas Sowell’s The Housing Boom and Bust? And now they want to put on a lab coat and a stethoscope and help our doctor take care of us?

The President has chosen to gut missile defense for Poland and Czech Republic in an attempt to appease the Russians and seek their support of sanctions on Iran. (The Russians have reciprocated by suggesting that sanctions against Iran would be “counterproductive.” That worked well.) Was anyone in this administration actually awake or sober during the Cold War? After centuries of war and conflict between the various European states and the deaths of well over 100 million soldiers and civilians, 1945 began a period of peace on the continent that is unprecedented in a thousand years. The primary driver of that peace was the understanding to everyone involved that the United States felt it was in their national interests to defend its allies in Western Europe in the face of any threats. Under that umbrella of protection it was possible for the nations of Western Europe to build their socialist paradises. (Had they been forced to pay the true cost of defending themselves from the Russian Bear they could never have afforded to heap on their citizens the array of services they currently enjoy – and pay for in taxes.) Now, with a resurgent Bear to the east that has bared its claws in Georgia, threatened to do so in the Ukraine and cut off gas supplies to Europe, the Obama administration has decided to forego that security blanket for the hope of international cooperation. It was not “international cooperation” that saved Europe from itself for the past 70 years and it will not likely save America and its friends from the nefarious intentions of various tyrants, terrorists or tin pot dictators around the world.

Jobs. One would imagine that in the toughest economy in 30 years, with unemployment approaching double digits, an administration interested in helping the country pick itself up and storm back into economic growth would give individuals and companies a reason to expand their businesses, hire new workers, and risk failure for the potential reward of success. After all, small business is the home to 70% of American jobs and is responsible for 80% of all new jobs created. Inexplicably, instead of cutting taxes and unleashing the American industriousness that was at the economic vanguard of the 20th century, the Obama administration is doing literally the opposite. Increasing taxes, sucking investment capital out of the world markets and using its labyrinthine regulatory power to regulate everything from executive salaries to, tire prices to (soon) the carbon dioxide we exhale thousands of times a day.

Finally, freedom and constitutional democracy. In a normal world the United States would come down on the side of a constitutional democracy where legislators went through the independent judiciary to replace an executive who was seeking to usurp power by abrogating the country’s constitution. In the Bizarro world of the Obama administration, the United States has done just the opposite. When Honduran legislators (of his own party) replaced President Zelaya (with a member from said party) because he was intent on running for a second (constitutionally banned) term in office, rather than cheering a government standing up for democracy, the Obama administration cut off aid, denounced the act as a coup d’état and threatened sanctions. Combine that with the administration’s dithering while Iranian students protested for free elections and were shot in the streets, and freedom seekers around the world are left scratching their heads wondering what happened to that beacon of light that used to be that “Shining city upon a hill?”

In the Bizarro World comic there is some comfort in knowing that it’s easy to understand what is coming. You simply think of what Superman would do and then expect the opposite. In the Obama Bizarro World, with its soaring rhetoric, one sometimes is lulled into the expectation that this president understands what is going on in the world around him and you almost expect that he might accidentally trip over the right course of action. It doesn’t take long however, to figure out that you are not lost in some otherworld adventure or even a Lewis Carrol Wonderland, but rather aboard a slightly damaged vessel whose captain and crew are willingly beguiled by the seemingly incongruous sirens of internationalism, statism and socialism and have set course accordingly and continue to correct back to course despite the chorus of voices shouting danger. The rocks are getting closer with every minute. I hope there are plenty of lifeboats.

An American monument to Osama Bin Laden

The targets of the September 11th attacks were selected with great care. The Pentagon was a symbol of American military strength. The Twin Towers were a symbol of American economic strength and the ill fated Flight 93 is understood to have been headed towards the Capitol or White House as symbols of American political strength.

The damage those planes did to the country went far beyond the physical toll or the lives of the 3,000 Americans who were pawns in Al Qaeda’s monstrous game. While the goal was no doubt to inflict causalities and property damage, the real target was the symbol of American Exceptionalism and American strength and power. On that score, we have helped them succeed to a degree they could never have imagined by demonstrating our own fecklessness.

To understand what I’m talking about, one must go back to 1931, the year that CBS New York began the world’s first 7 day a week television broadcast schedule, Ford produced the last of its Model A cars and the new (current) Waldorf Astoria hotel first opened its doors. Something else happened that year… the Empire State Building was completed. In March 1930, when the United States was heading into the greatest of depressions, construction began on the building that would reign as the world’s tallest for 40 years. (Ironically it was dethroned in 1971 by the Twin Towers.) A little over 400 days after construction was begun, the building was finished and opened to the public. What makes this relevant is that with the technology of 1930, when movies were still silent, radio was the dominant form of entertainment (although only in 50% of the homes) and Zeppelin travel was just beginning to pick up, the Empire State Building was started and completed in just over one year.

Now fast forward to 2009 where we recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of sending men to the moon and safely returning them to Earth, where we have computers that fit in our pockets and even the least expensive car is made out of high tech polymers and can go 50,000 miles without a tune-up. It is in this dynamic technology driven environment that our fecklessness seems most obvious, where eight years after September 11th there is still a gaping hole where the Twin Towers used to stand. There is no doubt that even in his wildest dream would Osama Bin Laden have imagined that the Keystone Kops of American polity would be so dysfunctional that eight years after he sent his 19 terrorists into our midst, a monument to their accomplishment would still be standing… or not, as the case might be.

We have to be fair; construction could not begin on September 12. Bodies had to be recovered and debris had to be cleaned up. On May 30, 2002, a ceremony was held to officially mark the end of the cleanup efforts. So, 8 years is not quite a precise comparison, but 7 ½ certainly is. This couldn’t have been any more of a victory for Bin Laden if we had put an actual monument to him right at Ground Zero. While the onscreen version of the Keystone Kops made us laugh with their running in circles and general dysfunction, the Keystone Kops overseeing the rebuilding in this case leave us scratching our heads with incredulity. While there is no doubt enough blame to go around, from Mayor Bloomberg to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to the Port Authority to lawyers for families of victims to Larry Silverstein to neighborhood residents, the fact of the matter is that 8 years after the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers there remains a gaping hole, both in the ground and in the spirit of American Exceptionalism.

All of this can’t help but remind one of the Wollman Rink fiasco in New York 30 years years ago. For those who don’t remember, Manhattan’s Wollman Rink closed in 1980 for a $4.7 million renovation which was supposed to be completed by the end of 1981. Six years and $12 million later the project was still not complete, nor close to it. The city announced that it would cost several million dollars and two more years to complete.

Stupefied, Donald Trump with a letter to Mayor Ed Koch: “I have watched with amazement as New York City repeatedly failed on its promises to complete and open the Wollman Skating Rink.” He offered to take the project on, at his own expense, and in return wanted the profits from the concessions, which he promised would all go to charity. Rather than take him up on his offer, Koch, seeking to embarrass Trump for his hubris (I’m not sure that’s possible…) released the letter to the press. Somewhat surprisingly to him (Koch) the public did not react with the disdain he expected, or at least it was not focused on the target he expected. They had had enough of the Wollman Rink fiasco and were ready to let someone else take a shot. Reacting to City Hall’s suggestion that Murphy’s Law was in play with the Rink, the Daily News editorialized “Not good enough, Murphy’s not running New York – or he shouldn’t be until somebody elects him.” They added that after more than six years and a multimillion dollar debacle, you would think that the city would be jumping for joy. Not so. “City officials seem more interested in thinking up reasons not to go forward than in making a deal.” They said. In the end Trump did get his opportunity and he was indeed as good as his word. He reopened the Rink under budget and ahead of schedule, in less than one year.

This is not an homage to Donald Trump. Rather it is an indictment of what we seem to have become in any arena with even a fraction of public interest. This, like so many other projects is another example of prescience of Voltaire’s insight when he observed that “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Be it building new power plants for a strained infrastructure, getting water for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley or drilling for oil on a postage stamp parcel in Alaska or replacing a handful of buildings destroyed by terrorists, it seems that it is impossible to accomplish almost anything of consequence. We have become incapable of doing anything in this country without giving every single person or group a say in how things proceed, regardless of how tenuous or tangential the nature of their connection to the project in the first place. There seems to be lacking a basic understanding that difficult decisions almost always leave some people feeling bruised or that lawsuits are not necessarily the most effective instruments through which to channel public policy.

To put this in perspective, Larry Silverstein, the developer who signed a 100 year lease for the World Trade Center only weeks before the September 11th attacks, and one of the cooks in the Ground Zero kitchen, rebuilt 7 World Trade Center, across the street from Ground Zero, in 4 years. Not only did he rebuild the 52 story building, but in a rather challenging economic environment, he leased 85% of it. There could be no starker a contrast to demonstrate what is and is not possible in America any longer. Because it was not part of the political quagmire that is the main WTC site, he needed only the approval of the Port Authority and as a result it was opened and working as a living breathing part of the New York ecosystem within 4 years. All of this while literally across the street sits a hole in the ground that stands as a monument to American fecklessness and gives our enemies another victory each day the sun rises and casts no shadow.

Racism: America’s Original Sin

Imperfect America. There’s no doubt that that appellation can mean different things to different people. I use it in a very specific manner. As the quote from Voltaire might suggest, while I recognize the United States is far from perfect, it is in many ways, perhaps even most, very, very good.

Racism: America’s Original Sin

Racism is a fertile topic of conversation in political circles today and is much in the news as some are suggesting that criticism of President Obama is nothing more than thinly veiled racism. To take some license with Samuel Johnson’s phrase, Racism is the last refuge of scoundrels. Just as Johnson was not impugning Patriotism in the original, but rather false Patriotism, here too there is no suggestion that racism does not exist or should not be called so when it’s seen. Rather, it is to suggest that most of what is currently characterized as Racism is in reality nothing of the sort. Despite what some seem to suggest, the fact that a man of color sits in the White House does not automatically make all criticism of his words and deeds racism.

The subject arises as a convenient segue to an issue that is often a brought up by those who see America through the prism of race, the Constitution. Specifically the issue is Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. [Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.] This section is commonly known as “Three Fifths Clause” or “Three Fifths Compromise”. Essentially what this clause did was apportion taxes and representation for the slave owning states in a manner that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person. It was a compromise because the Northerners wanted slaves to count as 4/5 of a person – meaning the state would have more representation but pay more taxes – while the southerners wanted slaves to count as ½ or ¼ of a person, thereby giving them less political power but reducing their tax burden.

It is not uncommon at all today for some people to point to this clause in the founding document of the country to demonstrate that the United States is an inherently racist country because it allowed slavery. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While 222 years later we can recognize that slavery was an abomination, the truth is that in 1787 it was a reality for much of the world, including Africa, the Middle East, South America as well as Europe and Asia. Slavery had gone on for thousands of years and the basis for such could have been anything from a lost battle to an unpaid debt to the color of one’s skin to a parent’s willingness to sell their child into bondage. The truth is, the institution of slavery by itself is not a sign of racism. Amongst the 13 “states” slavery held sway in five; Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. While it was the case that only a minority of the citizens in those states actually owned slaves, the institution had been an ingrained part of their society and culture for decades and in some cases more than a century.

Before we delve into the nature of the Constitution, we must accurately define what racism actually means:

Racist: One who believes that one race is genetically superior to another. Often the holder of this opinion believes themselves to be amongst the superior race. There are other terms that are often used interchangeably with racism, but that is often an incorrect equivalency.

Prejudice: One who pre judges another person based upon one or more criteria, some of which are inherent such as national origin, race, sex, etc. or others which are not, such as dress, manner of speech or a preponderance of tattoos.

Biased: One whose preference or inclination about a group precludes impartial judgment.

One with a strong intolerance or prejudice about members of a group of people, often based upon race, religion, sexual orientation.
The point of the above is that if one seeks to use a word to describe something, it helps to use the language properly.

Some of the founding fathers were most certainly racists in the literal sense of the word. (Indeed, seventy years later even Lincoln would have qualified as today's racist, having uttered the following in a debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858: “I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”)

In 1787 however it was not uncommon, anywhere in the world, for people to believe that persons of different races or colors were genetically inferior to them. Regardless of their individual feelings of the genetic equality of blacks and whites, many of the founding fathers abhorred the institution of slavery. As such, it was the goal of many of them to eradicate the practice from their new nation.

Unfortunately however, they did not live in a vacuum and could not dictate terms with impunity. The eventual result of their living in the real world was the Three Fifths Compromise. While many wanted to eradicate the practice of slavery, they recognized that they simply could not do so immediately and still hope to maintain the Union.

The Three Fifths Compromise existed for one reason only: Without it there would be no Constitution and no United States with all 13 states. The delegates from South Carolina and Georgia stated unequivocally that they would not be a party to a contract that outlawed slavery. The other slave states were sympathetic to their views. While it is possible to try and sit in judgment in 2009 as to what the framers should have done, the reality is that they worked hard into the summer of 1787 to get the Constitution written and for the next 2 years to get it ratified. With 222 years of history to look back on it might almost seem predestined, but the truth is that none of it was and these patriots were literally creating a nation out of thin air. Not only did they have to worry about internal issues from taxation to slavery to the balance of states rights, they simultaneously had to worry about a international creditors, a hostile Britain, and an untamed wilderness to its west. They were worried about surviving and understood that there was strength to be had in numbers.

Had not the Three Fifths Compromise been in place, there was a very real possibility that there would have not been a United States. There would likely have been a country representing the free states of the north and another the slaveholding states of the south, or very possibly anywhere from two to five different countries where slavery was legal.

As it was, the Constitution that emerged was an imperfect document, but one that had within it the potential for change.

For those who want to sit in judgment of the founding fathers 222 years after the creation of our nation, perhaps the question should not be why they signed onto a “racist” document, but rather what would have the outcome been had they decided to go with a “pure” Constitution that did indeed outlaw slavery and was ratified only by those northern states that had already outlawed the practice. Would the slaves in the five southern states have been better off in a country or countries where there were no abolitionists to try and temper the growth of the institution? Would the slaves have been better off if they were in a country that did not ban the import of slaves after 20 years which would have resulted in their becoming expendable due of the ease of replacement? Would the slaves been better off with a free country to their north that utilized its nascent industrialization to expand to the west more quickly than the South and possibly surround it, leading the British to come in on their side (South) if war broke out? The British were loathe to support the South during the Civil War because of slavery, but might they have considered doing so in a war between two countries if they felt threatened by a more dominant Northern rival that might have emerged without the southern states? Indeed, if there were not 13 states that ratified the Constitution there may not have been a Civil War and thus no Emancipation Proclamation and perhaps slavery would have gone on for decades or a century more in the South.

The question in 2009 is not whether or not some of the founding fathers were racists in the literal sense of the word. Rather, the question is did the founding fathers aspire to build a country where men could live free and did they leave us with the documents, tools and institutions to expand that freedom as our society and culture advanced. I would argue that they did just that. The Constitution is not perfect, nor have been the men (and later women) whose job it has been to interpret its words and apply them to the always evolving, often opaque, and yes, sometimes unfair world around them. There is not now, nor has there ever been a Perfect Union. Nonetheless, our founding fathers left us what has proven to be the single most powerful document in the history of man, the United States Constitution. That document, imperfect though it may be, laid the foundation for the emergence of the greatest country in the history of the world. To sit in judgment 222 years later and presume to know what they should have done, to assassinate their character and that of the nation they built tells us far more about the person throwing the stones than the Founders, the Constitution, or the United States itself.