Monday, January 30, 2012

Imagine if Barack Obama gave you the $5,000 a year you're on the hook for...

I’m a huge fan of lotteries. It is one of the few taxes that citizens pay willingly. Spending a dollar for the prospect of winning a hundred million is kind of fun. And the fact that the state’s provide the fig leaf of responsibility by suggesting all funds go to support education makes players feel like they are doing their part to support the kids… Imagine, a way of taxing people that is actually voluntary!

Unfortunately however, most taxes are anything but voluntary, particularly those levied by the federal government. In 2011 the federal government took in $2.3 trillion in taxes. Not only did all of that get spent, but about $1.4 trillion more. And now Barack Obama is in charge of the spending machine. In the three years he has been President, Obama has spent over $11 trillion. That includes not only the $6.6 trillion Uncle Sam took in in taxes, but an additional $4.6 trillion that has been borrowed on your behalf, or at least for which you have the responsibility to repay. If we split that sum up amongst every one of the 310 million people in the country that would mean that Barack Obama has racked up $15,300 in debt on behalf of every American… in a mere three years.

I’d like to give that $4.6 trillion sinkhole a little perspective. Imagine that instead of that money going to failed green jobs scam companies like Solyndra or to university research departments to play World of Warcraft, something completely different happened. Imagine that on January 20, 2009 Barack Obama had knocked on your door, teleprompter in hand, and said “(Insert taxpayer’s name here) I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be your President. And to show my gratitude I’d like to give you $5,000 a year each of the next three years. Now, you’ll have to pay it back of course, but I’ll spread the payments over 30 years and give you an interest rate of about zero.” You think to yourself “If I don’t take the deal he’s just going to barrow it in my name and spend it on poetry readings or some such thing.” Deciding you could come up with much better places to spend the money, you respond “Thank you Mr. President. I’ll take the checks.”

Wow. He gives you the check. Now you have a $5,000 you didn’t have the day before. You start dreaming…”What am I going to spend my new found money on?” Well, if you were an average driver, who uses approximately 700 gallons of gas a year, you could pay for gasoline for the year and still have about $3,000 left over. You could then spend $720 on clothes, $1,000 on entertainment and still have enough left over to cover half of your healthcare expenditures. “Not bad” you think.

Now of course, that is just one $5,000 check. Given that the average American home has 2.6 people in it, the President quickly takes the $5,000 check back and gives you a $13,000 family sized check instead. You think “Wow, almost $40,000 over three years! Now that’s some serious cash!” At $13,000 the government just covered more than 80% of the total cost of what the average American family spends on housing. That’s pretty nice. At a rate that is lower than your mortgage as well. “This is going to be great” you tell yourself.

Then, suddenly, just as the President is about to leave you stop dreaming and start thinking about the big picture. “Mr. President! Wait! $13,000 a year for my family would be nice, God knows we could use it, but I don’t want to bankrupt the country or close down the government or endanger the national defense.” “Good citizen” President Obama calls you, “Don’t worry about that, we’ll make do with the just the $2.2 trillion or so we take in in taxes annually, which is, exactly what we spent way back in the ancient period known as 2004.” - remember this is a dream.

The wheels start turning in your mind… How different is your life in 2009 relative to 2004, and how much did a bigger government have to do with making it better or worse? Recognizing that the growth in government didn’t do much to make life any better over that time, you decide you can indeed live with a government budget circa 2004. “Ok, Mr. President, never mind, I’ll keep the money! Thank you!

Of course, that was all a dream. Unfortunately for you – and the rest of America – you are apparently too stupid to know what to do with your own money, or in this case, the money the government borrows but forces you to pay back. As such, no mortgage payments for you. No gas money, movie money, no check to cover your family’s annual food and insurance bills combined. No, unfortunately, while you are indeed on the hook for the money, guys like Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Barney Frank get to decide where all that money (and much more) goes…

Fundamentally that is the problem. And it’s not just money. Nor is it just the federal government. Increasingly it’s all levels of government and it’s seemingly about everything. Rather than parents being responsible for their kid’s fitness, schools have to ban burgers and pizza. Rather than drivers being able to purchase the kinds of vehicles they want, the government mandates auto companies sell cars no one wants and forces drivers to put inflation spurring ethanol into them. Rather than consumers and markets deciding what banks, and energy companies and health insurance companies should succeed, the government sticks its nose in virtually everywhere at almost every turn.

At the end of the day, few people could or would run their lives the same way the government runs the country – and unfortunately running the country is exactly what governments try and do. Fantasy budgeting and accounting, a distinct lack of accountability, a nonexistent correlation between success and continued funding, and a Pollyanna notion that all human problems and foibles can be obviated by government fiat.

Whether we get another four years of Barack Obama (God help us…) or a first term of one of the big government “conservatives” currently vying for the GOP nomination, voters should understand that the deficits and the regulation creep and the basic suffocation of the capitalist system that made America great will not be put asunder until we nominate and elect a President who:
  1. Recognizes that the power of the federal government is constrained by the Constitution, particularly the 10th Amendment;
  2. Understands that role of government is to do only those things which citizens cannot do themselves and nothing more;
  3. Has the intelligence to know where the line between the two is;
  4. Has the courage to tell voters to begin acting accordingly.
That doesn’t sound like too difficult a task. One wonders why the GOP can’t seem to figure it out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The boy who cried wolf... or the demagogues who cry “Racism"

We’ve all heard the story “The boy who cried wolf” about the boy who falsely cried out so often that when the wolf finally appeared none of the townsfolk came to his assistance because they assumed he was once again lying. The same thing has been happening in the United States with the charge of racism. The problem is, when the word racism is used so often by so many people in such patently absurd contexts the charge and the word cease to have any value.

Of course, what many people often refer to as racism is in reality racial discrimination, and in most cases the activity charged as racism is neither.
Racism is a belief in an inherent difference in the cognitive and physical abilities of members of different groups based on race, which manifest themselves in social and economic achievement. Such differences are usually organized in hierarchical manner putting the proponent of the theory’s race in the superior position.

Racial discrimination is the treatment or making a distinction, gift or punishment for or against, a person or group based on the race to which that person or persons belong rather than on individual / group merit.
The dilution of the charge of racism has been going on in the United States for decades. The housing crisis that brought about the economic meltdown in which we find ourselves today was the direct result of federal regulations intended to counteract false claims of racist / discriminatory practices on the part of mortgage lenders.

More recently the cries of racism have been thrown around like rice at a wedding since Barack Obama became a candidate for President. From individuals to Tea Party activists to radio talk show hosts, every disagreement with the policies of Barack Obama is at some point reduced to the simple charge of racism. It does not even appear as if race itself is a defense against such claims as can be seen by the denunciations of Herman Cain.

Is it possible that by 2012 the overuse of the charge of racism has finally contributed to its own demise? Perhaps two absurd events from last week will be a sign of the false charge's swan song.

The first comes from Dallas and has to do with Microsoft’s purported “Avoid the Ghetto” app for smartphones – a name suggested by critics rather than the company. The app, which is said to use crime statistic data, is supposed to offer drivers and pedestrians the opportunity to set routes to their destination that avoid high crime areas.

Dallas NAACP President Juanita Wallace seems to be unhappy about the as of yet unavailable product: "It’s almost like gerrymandering,” she said. “It’s stereotyping for sure and without a doubt; I can’t emphasize enough, it’s discriminatory.” However, the app will not label communities based on race. It is not going to tell users to avoid minorities or minority communities. It is is rather simply going to inform users about neighborhoods where a high number of crimes have been reported and offer them alternative routes to getting to their destinations. Certainly James Cooper and James Kouzaris could have used it.

Whatever the demographics of the neighborhoods drivers or pedestrians avoid as a result of Microsoft’s app, claims of racism or racial discrimination are absurd. Crime is crime, regardless of who perpetrates it. Indeed, it is President Wallace who has suggested the connection between crime and minority communities, not Microsoft.

The second story comes from Burlington, Vermont. At a time when consumers are put off by many bank’s limited hours and increasingly automated services, TD Bank sees an opportunity to distinguish itself from its competitors by opening for business every day other than Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter Sunday and New Years Day. In the highly competitive marketplace the bank is seeking to succeed by providing more services to attract more customers. The result? The branch in Burlington, Vermont was picketed for being open and serving its customers on the MLK holiday. Protesters printed flyers suggesting the bank was racist: “Dear TD Bank, you are defying the King holiday. Shame, Shame, Shame. This is a racist act. Shame, Shame, Shame.”

In what universe is a company seeking to provide its clients – all clients, regardless of race – with better service acting in a racist, or more accurately, a racially discriminatory manner? Only in a leftist, victim mentality universe fueled by the Democratic Party.

As we approach the battle for the White House those of us who disagree with the policies of President Obama should be prepared to be labeled racists for virtually every utterance. Of course it is possible that the false charge of racism has jumped the shark and will finally be disregarded by citizens as just another Democratic tool of intimidation and slander. Possible, but unfortunately... unlikely.

I’m afraid it’s more likely to be another Hollywood creation, Freddy from the Friday the 13th franchise that more accurately characterizes the future of the false charge of racism. Even when it is so widely seen as debased and hollow, when it should be dead after so many false utterances, the charge of racism is likely to once again be an instrument of the left with which it seeks to intimidate conservatives and distract voters from the abject failure of decades of Democratic policies – whose victims are both black and white. That's unfortunate because real examples of racism and racial discrimination do indeed exist, but because the left has purloined the charge for its insidious ends those real examples are far less likely to be taken seriously. And for that we are less well off.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rick Perry should harness an imploding Europe to define his message to GOP voters.

It is said that history is written by the victors. In the case of the 2012 election it’s hard to see how that’s even possible given that with the current trajectory of the GOP primaries we’re all going to end up losers.

Rarely does it occur that choices and consequences of government policies are so starkly presented for an electorate as they are today. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the GOP field as an alternative to our big government president.

Today, the national debt stands at approximately $15 trillion, or almost $50,000 per American citizen. $4.6 trillion of that debt was run up under Barack Obama. That exceeds the combined amount of debt accumulated by every president from George Washington through the first George Bush. Everyone knows that too much debt is a bad thing. Even Candidate Barack Obama knew enough and told us on the campaign trail:
The problem is, that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents, # 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome so that now we have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back, $30,000 for every man woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.
So what George Bush accomplished in eight years, Barack Obama has accomplished in three. And it's only going to get worse. By Candidate Obama’s rationale that must make President Obama über unpatriotic.

Well, the President will tell you that the policies behind that spending were necessary to save the country from a depression and are finally beginning to bear fruit. He’d point to December’s unemployment rate that dropped to 8.5%, from a peak of 10.1% in November of ’09. As the fourth best president in our history, he’s obviously doing something right.

Or maybe not… When Barack Obama took office the population of the United States was 306 million and there were 186 million people working with an additional 14.9 million people looking for work, resulting in an unemployment rate of 7.4%. (14.9 million / 201 million) That 201 million is called the Workforce and it’s the key to understanding unemployment numbers. Workforce is defined as the following:
Total number of a country's population employed in the armed forces and civilian jobs, plus those unemployed people who are actually seeking paying work.
Today, three years after Barack Obama took office the population has grown to 312 million but the workforce has actually shrunk from 201 million to 199 million. That means that despite adding 6 million people, the number of Americans working or actively seeking work has dropped by 2 million. Add to that the 4 million working age new Americans and you have a total of 6 million more people not working or even looking since Barack Obama took office. That’s how you get to 8.5% unemployment; you get people to stop looking for a job in the first place. He’s definitely doing something, but it’s not good. Nor is it unprecedented.

The big government policies that Barack Obama is shoving down American’s throats are this very day showing themselves to be utterly unsustainable a mere 5,000 miles away. Within the last week S&P downgraded the debt of nine (9) European countries, including EU giants France, Italy and Spain. The Euro is on the brink and the economies are disasters. If that were not bad enough, unemployment in Europe is so high (10% overall and 9% in France, 14% in Ireland, 18% in Greece and a whopping 23% in Spain) that a continent already unable to replace itself is shrinking even faster as an increasing number of its citizens emigrate to seek jobs elsewhere. In Greece the economic problems are so bad that parents are now abandoning babies and children at hospitals and churches across the country.

Which brings us back to the American election of 2012. The big government policies of Barack Obama are bringing the train wreck that is Europe to our shores. Unfortunately, the candidates leading the GOP charge to unseat him are little better, despite their protestations to the contrary. They claim to be conservatives, but they are not. They are big government advocates, just less so than Barack Obama.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that the only candidate in the GOP field who actually has a record of pursuing small government policies is seemingly unable to articulate those ideas to the average voter. If that candidate, Rick Perry, is to have any chance at all to resurrect his campaign he will have to do something dramatically different and he’ll have to do it soon. He should drop the oafish Bain Capital attacks and instead focus in a laser like fashion on smaller government. That is the one issue that every American can relate to regardless of age, sex, race etc. The rapacious nature of government must be demonstrated in a way they understand. In South Carolina, where the NLRB just tried to kill a Boeing plant, that message should resonate particularly well.

And how should he do that? With PowerPoint of course. PowerPoint might be a stretch, but not by much. The image of a burning Europe with its big government economies in ruin, double digit unemployment, rioters in the streets and babies abandoned on the sidewalks makes a perfect foil for the big government policies of both Barack Obama and the rest of the GOP field. Those are the kinds of images that voters can relate to because they see more and more of them on our own shores. And of course PowerPoint would come in handy when trying to remember what agencies to cut…

It would be a shame if when the history of the 2012 election is written Rick Perry is reduced to a 53 second footnote. Particularly because that means that some big government advocate won. Despite how damaging that sub one minute episode was, it need not be fatal to his campaign, but the time is getting short. With only 2% of the delegates decided, Rick Perry still has an opportunity to resurrect his campaign and maybe change history. His only hope is to harness the power of what Americans clearly don’t want, which is on such brilliant display right across the pond. With the images of Athens on fire, London under siege of by rioters and Naples covered in trash, even the least engaged voter can understand the correlation between big government and economic ruin and social failure. It’s up to Rick Perry to figure out how to make that case. If he does he has a shot at winning. If he can’t he’s destined to be a footnote in American political history.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Single Issue Stupidity and Rick Santorum

I remember hearing once that in Shakespeare’s day the cumulative writings an educated person could be expected to encounter over the course of their lifetime was the equivalent one week’s worth of the New York Times. Today things are slightly different in that we get a week’s worth of the New York Times every week – whether we want it or not. In addition, thousands of times that volume of content is every day via print, broadcast and internet media. As such, anyone who doesn’t want to be overwhelmed to the point of becoming catatonic has to focus their attention on sources of news and information they perceive to be reliable, honest and accurate.

Modern voters find themselves in a similar situation. The possible issues about which one might be concerned are literally infinite. From the national unemployment rate, to state referendums to local zoning ordinances, a voter can be overwhelmed with trying to get even a cursory understanding of the issues. Add to those issues dozens of candidates with varying positions and you have a recipe for catatonia. All of this while voters are busy living their lives, raising their kids, spending time with friends etc.

Voters typically deal with this surfeit of choices by narrowing the focus, in a similar way to what they do with information sources, i.e. look to sources they think they can trust. When they see a candidate pilloried on 60 Minutes for wanting to rationalize (aka “slash”) Social Security or when the New York Times runs a piece about how brilliant a particular presidential candidate is, fans of those sources know how to vote. Another way citizens decide who they are going to vote for is by joining particular organizations that seem to be made up of people who share many of their beliefs or values such as various Tea Parties or community organizations.

The extreme of this narrowing of one’s focus is the single issue voter. The person or organization focuses on a single issue upon which they make their decision as to who to vote for. One of the most well known such single issue organizations is the National Rifle Association. The NRA is an advocate for 2nd Amendment rights, which is a strong Constitutional position to take. It’s “incumbent-friendly” policy however is not very logical. It supports many Democrats who, while supporting the 2nd Amendment, shred the rest of the Constitution. In 2010 the NRA supported 53 pro 2nd Amendment House Democrats, most of whom were facing pro 2nd Amendment Republicans. It didn’t matter to the NRA that the House under Nancy Pelosi was running roughshod over the Constitution and therefore, to borrow a idea from Martin Niemöller, once the Constitution was in tatters there would be no 2nd Amendment to protect. Smart.

A similar scenario is playing itself out in the GOP primary and the beneficiary of such absurdity is Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum surged in Iowa and almost beat the regrettably frontrunning Mitt Romney. How did he do it? A big part of it was that he was essentially the last man standing in the anti-Romney corner. A significant part however is his focus on social issues, particularly his strident anti-abortion message. (In Iowa, according to St. Louis Today, among Iowa caucus-goers who regard abortion as their most significant issue, 55% voted for Santorum.)

While the notion of being anti-abortion is certainly mainstream in the GOP, having abortion as a voter’s single issue, or most important issue during what is going to be the most important election in a century makes no sense at all. There are so many threats to the nation as a whole that to base one’s vote on that single issue is absurd – particularly as abortion rates have dropped by 30% in the last 20 years and a president's impact is minimal regardless. How did unborn babies fare in the Soviet Union? Not particularly well. How did unborn girls fare in China over the last three decades? Not well either. Counter-intuitively, the Socialist Mecca of Europe has lower abortion rates than we do, but one wonders if that might be because they’ve stopped having sex or something because they are not having many babies either…

Voting for the candidate who is most vociferous in his defense of your one issue to the exclusion of everything else is suicide. While candidate Rick Santorum speaks about limited government and lower taxes and overregulation on the campaign trail, Senator Rick Santorum was far from a constitutional conservative. He voted in support of most of George Bush’s big government agenda, he voted against NAFTA, voted for steel tariffs and was a huge supporter of earmarks. And just in case there’s some uncertainty as to Rick Santorum’s view of the role of government, in 2004 he laid out his view very clearly:
One of the criticisms I make is what I refer to as more of a Libertairanish right. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be alone to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, that we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. That is not how traditional conservatives view the world. There is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.
Obviously Rick Santorum has never heard of the United States. Both his record and his words make it crystal clear that he is no friend of limited, constitutional government. Big government has set us on a course to turn the United States into a socialist / statist Mecca. Unfortunately for everyone involved (and that includes unborn babies) that Mecca is more like a nightmare of economic malaise, sub standard medical care, a lack of individual freedom and long term social decline. Rick Santorum may sound great on babies, but he will do nothing to take us off that path to disaster. Those single issue voters who are supporting him just might want to think again, or consider the prognosis for the country (and its unborn babies) once America becomes an economic basket case and modern day dystopia.

Monday, January 2, 2012

19th century slavery created the GOP, will 21st century slavery be its demise?

Will 2012 bring an end to the Republican Party? It would only be fitting that a party formed almost 160 years ago on the basis of stopping the expansion of slavery would be destroyed by its support of the modern day expansion of slavery of a different sort.

That is exactly where we stand. The GOP was formed in 1854 in reaction to the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act which essentially opened up the West to the expansion of slavery. Many Northerners understood that mostly poor free men and could not compete with giant Southern landowners who employed slave labor. The Kansas Nebraska Act heralded the end of the delicate balance between slave and free states that had largely been in place since the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. Slave states already having disproportionate congressional power, the Kansas Nebraska Act would provide the foundation them to gain significantly more economic power to grow as well.

Drawing its membership from the remains of the Whig Party and the anti-slavery wing of the Democratic Party, the GOP’s first candidate for President, California’s John C. Frémont lost. Their second candidate however did somewhat better: Abraham Lincoln.

Fast forward and the party ended slavery (and passed the civil and voting rights acts a century later) has become a party of modern slavery in the form of big government. Although the Democrats have traditionally been the party of big government, today they share that label with a vapid GOP.

2012 is the best opportunity Americans have had in 30 years to attempt to throw off the yoke of government tyranny. In the wake of the 2010 elections when the GOP not only won an historic victory in the House, but in the Senate such small government candidates as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee prevailed, one would think that the party understood where the future of success with the American people lay. Unfortunately however that does not seem to be the case.

On a national scale the Republican Party cannot seem to understand its place in this historic moment in time. In 2012 the slavery that Americans face at the hands of the federal government is clear:
  • A tax code where half the population pays no income taxes and more than a third receive government subsidies. (This is at its core a massive and growing redistribution of wealth from wealth creators to wealth consumers.)

  • A federal spending binge that has more than doubled in the last two decades, consequently distorting capital markets and destroying free market solutions.

  • A nanny state that stymies a citizen’s right to live his life as he chooses and do with his property what he chooses. (Federal laws and regulations are so numerous and complex that the ABA and other organizations who have attempted to catalog them have repeatedly failed. Says one researcher: "There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime")

  • A regulatory nightmare that grows darker each day for entrepreneurs and businesses who are inclined to try and start or grow businesses to meet the desires of markets or consumers.

  • An unrelenting growth in legislative and regulatory distortion of free markets to favor the politically connected.

Not the kind of slavery that was the catalyst for the formation of the GOP, but slavery nonetheless. And the party has been complicit in much of what brought us to this point.

In the face of such oppression, rather than offer voters a slate of candidates who are competing on the basis of who will make greater cuts in government spending, who is most willing to eliminate unnecessary and unconstitutional departments and agencies, who will do more to reduce regulation and who will allow citizens to keep the greatest share of their incomes, the Grand Old Party has as its frontrunner a big government, crony capitalist who is not beyond playing the wealth envy card. Nowhere in the GOP field is there a candidate who vows to cut government spending to what it was two decades ago. Nowhere in the GOP field is there a candidate who vows wage war on government regulation.

In 1980, when Americans saw all too clearly the consequences of an unabashedly progressive agenda, the GOP responded (despite the wishes of party insiders) with Ronald Reagan, a man who was not afraid to clearly articulate that government was the problem and that it must be restrained and cut – remember he promised to shutter the Education and Energy departments, only to be stymied by a Democrat controlled Congress.

Today, 30 years later, when federal spending has increased by 500%, when government regulation is exponentially more intrusive, when half of the population is relieved of paying for the operations of government, the GOP field is populated by big government advocates or those who want to simply trim around the edges and rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic.

A GOP victory in 2012 with a lukewarm conservative who is happy to simply slow the rate of increase in government spending and to tentatively trim government regulations will be a defeat for the American people. The country will become Greece or Italy… only more slowly. A better outcome for the country might be another four years of Barack Obama. At least by 2016, assuming the country hasn’t collapsed by then, a party might emerge that will finally present the American people with a real choice between slavery and freedom.