Monday, May 30, 2011

How Paul Ryan is like the slavery loving Founding Fathers…

It’s not uncommon to hear liberals ridicule conservatives for wanting a Constitutional government by suggesting that they are seeking to return to a time when blacks were considered 3/5 of a person and that the Constitution is somehow permanently damaged because it did not outlaw slavery. (At the time of the Constitution’s ratification in 1789 slavery was still legal in the British and French Empires – although not in England and France themselves – Spain, Denmark & Norway as well as most of the Middle East, Africa and Asia.)

This liberal narrative suggests that the Founding Fathers had the opportunity to outlaw slavery and simply chose not to do so because they didn’t see blacks as fully human. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. While a majority may have been skeptical of suggestions of equality between races, there were a number of eloquent anti-slavery members of the Constitutional Convention, including one of the most influential, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania who called slavery: A “nefarious institution, the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed” as well as Virginian George Mason who said: “Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant.... I hold it essential ... that the general government should have the power to prevent the increase of slavery.”

At the end of the day, the liberal notion that the 3/5 Compromise was a mistake is simply wrong. Outlawing slavery or counting slaves as whole persons was never an option.

The 3/5 Compromise was itself the result of another compromise, the Connecticut Compromise, which gave us a Senate with equal representation and a House with proportionate representation. This arrangement provided smaller states like Rhode Island and Delaware with the confidence that they were not going to be steamrolled by the bigger and more populous states like Virginia and Pennsylvania.

It is that proportional representation that begat the 3/5 Compromise. The Constitution apportions taxes and representation by population. As such, there was a dichotomy of opinion on slaves. Northerners wanted slaves counted whole for taxes and not at all for representation. Southerners wanted slaves counted whole for representation purposes, but not for taxes. (Note: Race was not the issue: Free blacks were counted as whole persons…)

The result was the 3/5 Compromise: 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.

The 3/5 Compromise resulted in southern states having a disproportionate representation in the House for the next 70 years. Had slaves been counted as whole persons that imbalance and the Southern power would have been even greater than it was, a situation the North would never have accepted. As difficult as it might be for 21st century liberals to understand, the choice was never between a Constitution that outlawed slavery and one that counted slaves as 3/5 of a free man for representation and taxation purposes, but rather the choice was between a Constitution with a 3/5 Compromise and one that could not gain ratification.

The demonstration of this comes from the words of none other than Gouverneur Morris himself. In noting that the Constitution was to be willingly entered into he said: “But as the Compact was to be voluntary, it is in vain for the Eastern States to insist on what the Southern States will never agree to.” And to see exactly where the Southern states stood on the issue there is North Carolina’s William Davie who said of the representation of slaves: “(He) Was sure North Carolina would never confederate on any terms that did not rate them at least as 3/5. If the Eastern States meant therefore to exclude them altogether the business (Writing of the Constitution) was at an end.

Therefore the question today might be, were slaves and their progeny better off as part of a union that included abolitionists as part of the government and polity who were actively seeking to abolish the practice or would they have been better off as part of a country or countries where slavery was an accepted basic element of the culture and where there was no significant dissent? In addition one might ask the question of whether anyone on the continent would have been better off had the 13 colonies not ratified the Constitution and the continent split into a mosaic of nations resembling Europe and it’s perpetual wars?

To bring this full circle, whether looking back at history or ahead into the future, liberals rarely let the reality of life get in the way of their theories on how the world works. Once again they are proffering a false narrative, only this time they are discussing the future of the country. Paul Ryan has taken the first step in recognizing the unsustainability of America’s entitlement programs as they are currently configured and has laid out a viable solution for addressing the problem. Democrats on the other hand believe that the programs are just fine and the problem is simply that the rich are not paying their fair share in taxes.

Like their take on the 3/5 Compromise, liberals once again have the wrong narrative. The choice facing America’s mushrooming entitlement costs is not between increasing taxes on the rich and throwing grandma off a cliff, but rather it’s between fixing the programs and not fixing them, in which case the federal government would finally implode under the weight of its unsustainable promises.

The difference of course is that while we can’t impact history, the actions taken today can impact what happens tomorrow. Liberals could learn much from the Founding Fathers in terms of examining the real choices at hand when it comes to choosing which path to follow. It may not be as much fun as peddling simple minded populist solutions, but it sets a foundation for real progress.

Monday, May 23, 2011

$50 light bulbs! Unfortunately for you, the green in Green Energy is your dollars…

One has to ask the question about Greens, do they even live on this planet they are trying to save? They often seem to be living in a completely different universe if not just a different planet.

The most recent example of this is the LED light bulb, the latest answer to Congress’s 2007 energy efficiency mandate – which was regrettably signed by George Bush. Last week a story emerged that the 100 watt LED light bulbs slated to replace 100 year old inefficient incandescent bulbs will cost upwards of $50 apiece! That’s right, $50 for a light bulb…

Fifty dollars vs. the one dollar it costs for a typical incandescent bulb. It’s a bit hefty, but then they are more efficient. The question is however, are they 50 times much more efficient? Ah, no. Two years ago Carnegie Mellon compared the energy lifecycle of LED lights vs. those of compact fluorescents as well as incandescent bulbs. (The energy lifecycle includes not only the energy a bulb will burn over the course of its life, but the energy and materials used to manufacture it in the first place.)

The numbers were unambiguous… LED lights were far more efficient. If the energy lifecycle cost of an LED is $1, the cost of producing the same amount of light from a compact fluorescent bulb would be $1.14 and a whopping $5.36 from a traditional incandescent. (Compact fluorescents are those curly bulbs that have their own significant problems.)

So it’s true that green LED light bulbs are more efficient than traditional bulbs. Five times more efficient, which makes your soul feel warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately, your wallet, not so much. That warm and fuzzy feeling of a five times more efficient bulb will cost you fifty times more money to experience.

Of course that is just the latest in a long string of Green initiatives where your wallet plays no role in the choices you are forced to make. Ethanol is perhaps the most blatant example. Not only does it make gasoline more expensive, make your car less efficient, but it turns out that it’s also damaging your engine. As a bonus, it also has the effect of increasing food prices while doing nothing for the environment. Then there’s wind and solar energy, neither of which is even remotely close to being competitive with fossil fuels. Not only are they not competitive with traditional fuels, but at the same time they are unreliable and are not exactly inconspicuous in their footprints. How about those clean energy electric cars that cost twice as much as a similar gas fueled model and go a quarter the distance without needing a recharge? Greenies are so busy basking in the adulation received for not emitting any earth destroying gases that they forget that the electricity fueling their cars comes from coal plants which are far dirtier than gasoline powered internal combustion engines. They also conveniently forget the environmental concerns created from the manufacture of all of those batteries.

As if all of this was not bad enough, Green Jobs are expensive, highly inefficient and kill off twice their numbers in regular jobs.

Greenies inhabit s universe where cost is never a factor. Why? Because they don’t have to. They don’t have to make a coherent argument for their position and give consumers the choice of acting on those rational arguments. No, instead of the rough and tumble world based on the competition of ideas and science, they simply propagate junk science as real and then harness the police powers of government to advance their agenda.

This would be bad enough if it were just about light bulbs, gasoline and CO2, but it’s not. It’s about your fundamental choice of how to live your life. In the most simple sense, forcing Americans to pay $50 for a LED – or even $25 for a CFL – rather than the $1 they could pay for a traditional light literally takes $49 out of their pockets that they can no longer spend on anything else, from buying Twinkies to donating to the Red Cross to buying a share of the latest Internet startup.

Life is about choices and it is through the experience of making choices and living with them that individuals and societies learn about the connection between actions and consequences and by implication the responsibilities that come from choices.

Liberals of course don’t have to learn about consequences or responsibilities because they know what’s best for everyone. Even when their policies fail, both on an objective measure as well as achieving their announced goals, it doesn’t matter because they never have to face the consequences. Unfortunately it’s the rest of the population who are trying to figure out how far they can go on vacation with $4.00 a gallon gasoline who end up paying for the good fortune of living on the planet liberals are trying to save. And that doesn’t even count the taxes paid so the federal government could spend billions of dollars subsidizing electric cars, ethanol, as well as the wind and solar industries…

Monday, May 16, 2011

Americans enjoy an orgy of fruit while the roots of Tree of Liberty are shredded...

Americans are busy people. In one respect we are no different than any other people on the planet… our primary needs are food, water and shelter. Beyond that however, Americans enjoy a life of leisure that virtually no one else on the planet enjoys. Not leisure measured in hours worked as the French, Germans and workers in virtually every other developed country work fewer hours per year than Americans do. No, what’s different is that leisure time in the United States has so many ways of being spent. Motocross. Shopping. Television. Amusement parks. Golf. Swimming. Skiiing. Football. Baseball. Horseback riding. Golf. Off track betting. Gymnastics. Theater. College classes. Karate. Star Trek conventions. Habitat for Humanity. BBQ competitions. Susan G Komen Race for the Cure. This is only a tiny fraction of the myriad ways Americans have at their disposal to entertain themselves or spend their leisure time.

If one were to compare the spectrum of activities available to the average American with the equivalent spectrum for any other country on the planet it wouldn’t take long to see an enormous difference. None of this came about by accident. The reason Americans have dozens of sports and thousands of activities to participate in from grade school to the senior center is because the nation has been so prosperous for so long and the nation has exemplified creativity for things both consequential and not. The result is a nation where most people have available a level of entertainment and leisure that would put to shame anything Louis the 16th or Marie Antoinette might have ever imagined.

One consequence of a life filled with a plethora of options is that Americans get very busy. So busy in fact that they forget to pay attention to things that are far more consequential than who got kicked off the island this week, how many Facebook friends they have, or will little Timmy’s self esteem be forever damaged if he doesn’t get picked to play this weekend. Of course I’m talking about civics, or more specifically, government. In a perfect world no one would have to pay attention to the government because it would run like a well oiled machine in the background and it wouldn't get in anyone’s way. Alas, even Ben Franklin knew such a perfect world did not exist: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Every two years the cacophony that is American life is made that much more dissonant by our elections. Most Americans, however, unfortunately, spend less time learning what’s really at stake in those elections than they do selecting teams for their March Madness brackets or deciding who they want to vote for on American Idol.

This might have been acceptable 100 years ago when the federal government was relatively small and had little discernible impact on the lives of most Americans. Today, when the octopus of the federal government controls virtually every aspect of our lives, it’s simply not. There is a tipping point in every endeavor in life, and the lifecycle of a Republic is no exception. Leaving the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was asked: “Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” He responded: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Two hundred and twenty years later we are on the verge of losing that Republic. The problem is simply that too many Americans have no idea what the danger is, and have little interest in finding out. They’ve spent so much of their lives enjoying the leisure and entertainment conditions our Republic has made possible that they have forgotten that the foundation of freedom and prosperity upon which those conditions are built are not ordained by God, not set in stone and are not guaranteed. Indeed, America with her freedoms and prosperity are far more fragile than most Americans recognize.

One simple example. Two weeks ago President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board sued Boeing for locating its new 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina, a right to work state. The NRLB is supporting the unions in Washington State where Boeing already employs tens of thousands of workers. The company made no secret of the fact that it chose South Carolina because it could not afford more of the five crippling strikes it had suffered over the last 20 years in Washington. At the most basic level, the federal government is claiming that it has the power to decide where a company can invest its own capital. If Uncle Sam can decide where and when a company can invest its money, they it can just as easily decide where a person spends his or her money, (say... unionized Kroger rather than non union Wal-Mart) where he or she can get a job, buy a house or what kind of a car they can buy. At some point doesn’t anybody begin to wonder if there are any limits on government at all?

Because there are so many instances of federal overreach, and their names sound so benign - American Recovery & Reinvestment Act - if conservatives were to point out every potential threat and the inherent dangers of a government that recognizes no limits on its power, they risk being labeled being political versions of the boy who cried wolf. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is indeed a ravenous pack of wolves at the door of the American Republic and they are dressed in ill fitting donkey costumes. The problem is that most Americans are too illiterate in civics or too busy enjoying their lives to take the time to even look through the peephole.

The question is, can anyone shake the American people out of this political stupor long enough to recognize the danger they face? Will Americans rise to the occasion in 2012 or will they instead eat the fruit of the tree as its roots are cut.

To paraphrase Martin Niemöller:

First they raised the minimum wage and I cheered because I had a job…
Then they destroyed public education and I didn’t act because I sent my kid to private school…
Next they limited cable rates and I applauded because I saved $20 a month.
When they came for my light bulbs I didn’t react because it made me feel good to help the environment…
One day they said ethnicity was more important than ability for college acceptance but I said nothing because I’d already graduated…
They increased taxes on the rich and I didn’t care because I wasn’t rich.
Then they came for my gun, my car, my job and eventually all of my choices but there was no one left to stand with me because no one remembered what real liberty was or how it was supposed to be protected in the first place…

Monday, May 9, 2011

Despite killing Bin Laden, Obama is still anti-American

The day before Bin Laden was killed I did a small presentation at an Americans for Prosperity event in Jasper, GA. The highlight of the event was the keynote speech by Dinesh D’Souza. The thrust of his argument, taken from his book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”, is essentially that while most traditional Democrats seek to effect redistribution within America, Obama, pursuing the anti-colonialist agenda of his father, seeks to have the United States diminished among the countries of the world. Companion to that weakening of the United States internationally is the weakening of the country economically. One example D’Souza discussed was Obama cheering oil exploration internationally while simultaneously making it more difficult and more expensive for companies to explore & drill domestically.

The hypothesis D’Souza was proffering seemed particularly congruous when explaining Obama’s baffling movements (or lack thereof…) in the Middle East. Egypt was headed by arguably one of the most pro-American leaders (in a relative sense) in the Arab world, so Mubarak had to go. In Libya, Gaddafi had ostensibly stopped funding terrorists, paid compensation to the families of the Lockerbie bombing and gave evidence against AQ Khan. At a minimum he was not causing significant trouble for the United States, therefore he too had to go, and American firepower was sent to help… albeit under a Canadian commander. In Iran on the other hand, a country shepherded by a lunatic bent on getting a nuclear weapon who openly taunts the United States while funding terrorists across the region, participants in the Green Revolution barely received a nod from President Obama. Similarly, Syria, headed by a regime with a long history of supporting terrorism and massacring its own people, gets a new US Ambassador under President Obama. When Assad unleashes snipers to kill hundreds of protesters in the streets, hardly a whimper out of the Obama Administration.

I couldn’t help but recognize that D’Souza’s narrative seemed to fit perfectly with the quandary that Barack Obama presents. The quandary I’m referring to presents itself when one is asked the question: “Do you think Barack Obama is anti-American?” The facts might suggest that the answer yes, but the fundamental notion that American’s had willingly elected someone who is anti-American to lead the nation seems inconceivable. Nonetheless, despite the seeming incomprehensibility of the idea, and despite doing what was required in Abbottabad, that seems to be where we find ourselves.

How this happened is not as difficult as it might initially seem. As Bruce Bawer suggests, in reference to the Three Cups of Tea story, sometimes people want to be fooled. Sometimes in politics it’s not even necessary to fool people to get them to drive off a cliff. When 50% of the population pays no income taxes and Barack Obama talked about increasing taxes on "millionaires" to support more social programs for that same 50%... it doesn’t take much fooling. When environmentalists, for whom economics and real world failures are of no consequence, heard Obama laud “Green Jobs” and pillory oil companies and the coal industry, there was not a lot of fooling necessary. When idealistic young students, protected from the grown up world and relaxing on their bucolic college campuses heard Obama talk about getting their fair share and creating good jobs for everyone, once again fooling them was not even necessary. Add that to a black population that votes 90% Democrat, government unions that can exceed even that 90% and a pliant media that was derelict in it’s fundamental duty and there was not a great deal of fooling necessary for Barack Obama to win in 2008.

These demographics and mindsets have not shifted. Indeed, in some cases they have gotten worse as there are now more people receiving government checks than at any point in our history. For conservatives, libertarians, Republicans and anyone else who wants the United States to continue to be the beacon of freedom and the economic engine for the world, this presents a significant challenge. D’Souza is right when he states that 2012 will be all about Obama. The challenge however is twofold. On the one hand the GOP must field a credible candidate. While I like Sarah Palin, I don't know if she has a plan for winning the messaging war she will no doubt find herself in. There are of course others, from Pawlenty to Bachman to Cain. Any one would be a far superior President than Barack Obama.

Regardless of who the candidate is, the more consequential challenge rests with actually making the election about Obama. John McCain refused to address much of Obama’s background nor would he allow anyone on his staff do so. That was the fatal error for his campaign. In 2012 the GOP cannot allow that dereliction of duty to recur. In order to win against the tide that will be pushing for four more years of "Hope and Change", the GOP must recognize that it’s in a cage match to the death. It must highlight every single aspect of the Obama presidency that demonstrates his desire to destroy what has made this country great. The most difficult part of that will be the education of voters on exactly what Obama's doing, what are the consequences of those actions, and why they are bad for America. It’s easy for the President to talk about growing jobs and investing in America, but explaining how virtually everything his administration does has just the opposite effect is a more complex discussion. It’s easy for the President to talk about rebuilding alliances around the world but demonstrating the reality that his policies are in fact harming our international relationships is not exactly sound bite material. The President saying that he respects the Constitution takes no effort at all but demonstrating how his policies eviscerate it can’t be done simply or quickly.

At the end of the day D'Souza is right, 2012 is indeed all about Obama. Regardless of who the GOP nominates, the only way victory will come is if the party figures out how to reach out to voters and clearly articulate how Barack Obama is doing exactly what he told us he was going to do “Fundamentally transforming the United States of America” and how that is a very bad thing. The examples of such are legion from Green Jobs Czar Van Jones to the incoherence in the Middle East to GM to ObamaCare to the FCC, the EPA, the NLRB and many more. In this environment, if the GOP can’t figure out how to connect with enough American voters to forcefully retire Obama, then perhaps the GOP needs to be retired.