Monday, March 26, 2012

What we can learn from Thomas Jefferson and Star Trek... a recipe for limited government

How many people marry the first person they ever kiss or date or even have sex with? Not that many. The average age an American loses their virginity is 17 while the average age they get married is 27. Nonetheless, despite a decade in the dating pool, experiencing everything from one night stands to years of living with someone, when people finally take the plunge, half of all marriages end up in divorce.

There are lots of things that one might take from that observation, but the thing that is most compelling is that despite their best efforts, people are not perfect. They make mistakes. After spending the first 10 years of their adult lives trying to get it right for what is arguably the most important decision of their lives, half the population still gets it wrong and asks for a “do over”. Despite all efforts to make a good decision, half the time we get it wrong. And that’s with everyone involved seeking a common goal!

So the question is: If, with everyone involved seeking to do what’s in their and their partner’s best interests, we get it wrong half the time, how often does government, with its myriad players involved, many promoting conflicting, even mutually exclusive positions, get things wrong? No doubt far more often that individuals earnestly seeking a lifetime of happiness.

Unfortunately with government, unlike marriage, rarely, even in the face of abject failure, does a law or regulation get thrown out. Once a law is on the books, they almost never come off regardless of their cost or efficacy. Of course if it were only a few laws there wouldn’t be much of a problem. It’s not a few. In terms of actual federal laws, today there are somewhere in excess of 20,000 on the books. That is nothing when compared with the regulations those laws have spawned.

The Code of Federal Regulations is the list of all of the regulations of the United States – which are based on the bills passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. Today the Code contains over 150,000 pages of regulations. And those regulations are growing fast. In 1970, 183 years after the Constitution was ratified, the Code contained 53,000 pages. Today, a mere 40 years later we’ve actually added 100,000 more. And the pace is actually increasing and becoming more onerous.

If these regulations had little impact on our lives it wouldn’t matter if there were millions of them. Unfortunately their impact is anything but little. Federal regulations alone (and there are lots more laws at the local level) cost Americans over $1 trillion per year, or approximately 7% of our GDP and more than we actually pay in income taxes. And those are just the direct impact costs. Imagine how many companies are never started, how many would be entrepreneurs settle for secure government jobs, or how many companies fail because of the phalanx of federal regulations? No doubt the number is huge.

This leviathan of government regulation is made all the more worse because it has spawned an army of millions of federal government employees and lobbyists, none of whom wants to put themselves out of work. The intractable problem of government growth and increasing regulation will not solve itself. It’s going to take brute Constitutional force.

A Constitutional Amendment should be passed that states that all federal laws have an implicit sunset provision of 10 years unless it passes each house of Congress by at least 60%. It would also stipulate that all federal regulations would sunset after 10 years, regardless of the margin of passage of the underlying law. The effect of this Amendment would be a greatly diminished the number of zombie like federal regulations that never die, regardless of their cost, efficacy or unintended consequences. Each sub 60% law would have to be re-authorized each decade.

The most obvious impact of this change would be that politicians and bureaucrats would no longer be able to spin yarns about milk and honey without any accountability. At the time of reconsideration, each sub 60% bill (or every regulation) would have a decade’s worth of hard data to analyze, making it far more difficult to hoodwink the public with rosy scenarios that have no basis in reality. The beauty of this proposal is that it would force legislators and regulators to defend a law’s actual results rather than opine on its promised virtues. Given that most government programs cost more than projected, rarely work as promised, and often have significant unintended consequences, a decade should be a long enough time to inflict any law or regulation on the country and her citizens.

This proposed Amendment would apply to all existing laws and regulations, giving each 10 years from the day of ratification before it expired. The result of this would be immediate and twofold: It would dramatically slow the growth of government and regulations while simultaneously beginning to make government more efficient. By forcing politicians and bureaucrats to focus on defending their existing laws and regulations (AKA power) it would immediately diminish their incentive to create new programs. At the same time, given that politicians and bureaucrats would have to argue against a law’s or a regulation’s actual consequences rather than it’s promised benefits, it would force them to focus their attention on producing demonstratively positive results rather than just spending more money or accumulating more power.

In the Omega Glory episode of Star Trek Captain Kirk and company come upon a planet where the inhabitants are speaking the garbled versions of the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. The people don’t know the actual words or even what they mean but do so because that was what has survived through the generations. In a similar way, when laws and regulations (and the bureaucracy they spawn) calcify and become completely detached from the original goal for which they were established, they cease to be proper tools of government and instead become simply another instrument of government power and coercion. By putting in place a mechanism for objectively evaluating the success or failure of government actions in relation to the problems they were intended to address, this Amendment would both demand real accountability on the part of government as well as give citizens a reason to remain engaged in its workings.

I can think of no better mechanism for putting Thomas Jefferson’s words into action:
When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My take on Hollywood's heartwarming paean to Barack Obama

I’ve just sat through the 17 minute homage to Barack Obama narrated by Tom Hanks. How is it possible that Barack Obama’s approval rating is even close to 50%? Why isn’t it 100%? According to Hanks, Barack Obama is the real deal. Fearless. Intrepid. Selfless. And most of all: Successful. Like Lincoln before him, the events of the day forced his hand and the resulting display of courage and skill showed the greatness of the man.

Like most of what Hollywood creates, this movie is fiction, utterly devoid of a real connection to the real world. In reality, Barack Obama is easily one of, if not the worst President in American history. If he were a contestant on Jeopardy he would have a five digit negative score.

The crime in Hollywood however is not being inaccurate, it’s being boring. If I were writing a script for our hero President it might include a bit more action.

Here’s an outline of my script:

It’s a cold November when the economy is in turmoil, and Americans are trudging to the polls in the final climax of a battle between the proxy for the hated oil industry President and the beloved man of the people. Finally night fell and victory is his. The despot from the state of Texas who led the country into two wars and lined the pockets of his Big Oil friends had been vanquished - along with is would be successor. America now had a leader worthy of respect where Americans could once again be proud to say they’re American. This new President is going to save the planet from turning into a fireball, make sure fairness and equity reign supreme and make America respected again around the world. He’s going to stop the bloodletting, both fiscal and actual and like Lincoln before him, he’s going to save America. Americans weep in the street at their good fortune.

Our Protagonist in Chief rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. The first thing he does is pass a three quarter of a trillion dollar stimulus bill that will rebuild the infrastructure of America, bridges, roads, railroads… the literal foundation of the country. More importantly, it’s the working people that count and his bill is going to put Americans back to work and keep the unemployment rate from even approaching 8%, 1% lower than it would be without his brilliant plan. At the 11th hour, after a knock down drag out fight our hero signs the legislation into law and the economy is saved. The country lets out a collective sigh of relief. That was close.

Next our hero turns his attention to saving the tens of millions of Americans who are at risk of dying in the street because of the healthcare system leaves them to suffer at the hands of the greedy pharmaceutical companies. A minor bump in the road to salvation is experienced when the lionhearted Ted Kennedy passes away and is replaced by the milquetoast Scott Brown. No problem. After much hand-wringing our hero saves the day as he maneuvers around Brown and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is passed. Americans from coast to coast are now finally safe from medical tyranny. Bells are ringing in the street as people gather in public places to give thanks for their having elected such a brilliant tactician.

Our bold young hero is recharged and poised to take on the scourge of red ink that is bedeviling the government and constraining its ability to serve its citizens. But before he can implement his secret plan to return to fiscal rationality the nation is confronted with the news that things are far worse than he might have ever imagined. This calls for something audacious. Deficits be damned! Our hero throws caution to the wind and has his minions write three budgets in a row that bust the bank. He doesn’t want to, but in the face of such great economic danger, and despite the potential danger to his legacy, he knows he must.

Fast forward in my movie to three years later and all is right in the world. Our hero has vanquished all evils and after playing a few rounds of golf per week is rested and ready to take on all comers. He has delivered the nation from the brink of Armageddon and to the land of milk and honey.

As we see the silhouette of our intrepid hero against the setting sun we understand that he is anxiously awaiting the next day to arrive so that he can once again share his greatness with America and all of humanity. If only the citizens would repeal the 22nd Amendment America he could spend his life making their lives better.

Unfortunately for actual citizens, my story too is fiction. Three years after our hero takes office, virtually everything he has touched has turned to a disaster. His $787 billion stimulus plan not only did not keep inflation from getting to the 8.8% he warned of, but it bumped up against 9.9%, a full two points higher than what his plan was supposed to produce. Not only that, it created almost no jobs and those that did were ridiculously expensive.

Almost exactly two years after his ObamaCare mandate passed the CBO now suggests that rather than costing a mere $938 billion over 10 years as the President suggested, in reality it will cost at least $1.4 trillion, and it has already increased costs for private insurance and it’s not even fully implemented yet.

Finally, our savior’s 2013 budget. Rather than saving $3.2 trillion over 10 years is in actually going to increase them by $3.5 trillion over the decade.

In reality, as the movie closes it is not our hero that we see, but rather the crumbling silhouette of once great nation growing faint against a setting sun, not unlike Athens’s Parthenon or Rome’s Coliseum that suggests a long gone past glory.

If Americans want to watch fiction about a mere mortal who overcomes great adversity to become a demigod I might suggest Braveheart or Gladiator rather than this paean to Barack Obama. At least in that case it’s a pretty straightforward transaction where you spend a few bucks for a couple of hours of good entertainment. In the case of this Obama fiction you are not only being asked to sacrifice 17 minutes of your life, but when it’s over you’re being asked (or told) to sacrifice your liberty and property too. If nothing else it certainly brings a tear to one’s eye…

Monday, March 12, 2012

What might Albert Einstein think about Barack Obama's Green Energy Obsession...

As I’ve written before, I was a very uninformed young person for the first half of my life. I remember watching a movie in the Florida State student union about how Campbell’s Soup treated workers unfairly. I quickly decided to start my own boycott. Inexplicably, they somehow survived my boycott. I once went to the Tallahassee airport to try and meet Gary Hart before his presidential campaign imploded and I also sat on the stage when Jessie Jackson gave a speech during his 1984 race for the White House. As a Political Science undergraduate one of my professors, a self described Bolshevik, explained the great successes of the Soviet Union thus: Their economic and political system had to be superior to ours, otherwise how could they produce the weapon systems we were so scared of? Made sense to me… There were probably numerous other episodes but my brain has apparently, thankfully, forgotten most of them.

The reason I mention this is because we all did things during our college years that we might want to forget. Luckily for me, none of my nonsense was captured on video. Not so lucky for our President. The video of him encouraging a gathering of Harvard students to embrace the man and the message of the late leftist Dr. Derrick Bell has been making the rounds of the Internet. Although Democrats (and most of the media) suggest this is nothing more than a student showing support for the first black tenured professor at Harvard Law School, I’m fairly sure the President would just as soon not have to deal with the issue during an election campaign.

Luckily Americans recognize that by the time most of us reach middle age, the explorations, experimentations, the ill advised exhortations have been tempered by time and real world experience. Most of course does not mean all, and while one might be inclined to offer a pass to the President for what said in college two decades ago, the same cannot be said for his equally ill advised words two weeks ago.

Of course I’m not talking about Professor Bell. I’m talking about President Obama’s “Energy Speech” delivered last month. Aside from the fact that he makes a number of factual errors, the biggest problem is that the President doesn’t seem to learn from actual experience.

The President seems determined to run the United States off an economic cliff for the sake of his belief in the scam known as “Green Energy”. Not only has he wasted billions of taxpayer’s money on boondoggles like Solyndra, the very expensive and nonworking Fisker-Karma and the rapidly shrinking National Renewable Energy Lab, but more importantly he has added, literally, $243 billion a year to what Americans pay for gasoline. (130 billion gallons a year X $1.86 – the increase in the price of gas since Obama took office) That’s more than 10 times what Americans spend on the NFL, Hollywood movies and in Starbucks annually! Of course there are other unseen costs Americans must bear as businesses have to wrap their increased energy and transportation costs into everything they offer, be it canned tomatoes or package delivery, but those are too numerous to discuss here.

The problem is not a lack of accessible energy as the President suggests, rather the problem is his laser like focus on the illusion of economically viable “renewable” or “sustainable” energy to the explicit detriment of the demonstrably viable and abundant energy sources that fueled the 20th Century. More concerning is that he maintains that focus in the face of the repeated failures of virtually every aspect of the Green Energy hoax:

From subsidized windfarms that are now being subsidized further to stop operating to General Motors halting production of its heavily subsidized Volt because no one wants to buy it to the $50 light bulb that won the Department of Energy’s prize for a “green” but affordable light bulb. Add to that the fact that Green jobs are largely an expensive mirage and you have the makings of what must be a parody of a plan to actually revive the economy. Then when you think about the closing of actual, functioning plants across the country due to increased regulation, and the quixotic support for foreign fossil fuel exploration, it seems like more than just a parody, it’s like he’s mocking the American people.

But, no, really, his intentions are good… Well, even if they were, one must remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don’t think the President is insane, which leads me to the conclusion that he’s doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same results. He believes so strongly that he is right about his green agenda that he simply refuses to believe that things will not turn his way eventually. He’s a modern day Walter Duranty, where billions of dollars are being wasted and millions of jobs are being destroyed yet somehow he doesn’t see it, or doesn't care. Like Duranty’s reporting of the economic miracle that was the USSR while Stalin used an iron fist to inflict bloodshed and starvation across the Ukraine and other areas of the Soviet Union, President Obama’s words increasingly ring hollow. More and more often when Americans hear “We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices” or “We’re focused on (oil) production” or “The only real solution to helping families at the pump in the medium and long term is clean energy. That's how we'll save families money” they recognize they are being lied to in a way that seems almost impossible to believe coming from a President.

Perhaps the President thinks the government’s education industrial complex has eradicated the critical thinking or skepticism gene from the average American so that they will simply believe something because it’s delivered by a man with a smile and an air of confidence. As much damage as government schools do, I don’t think they’ve succeeded in that yet.

At the end of the day most Americans are willing to look past the defiant words of a college student looking to make his mark on the world. I think they are less likely however to accord the same deference for equally nonsensical words uttered by someone old enough to have learned that the world does not actually operate like the ivory towers of academia, where theories and speeches and a lack of real world consequences rule the day. As much of a headache his words at Harvard might be causing for the President, his more current words are causing a much bigger one for the American people. This will take more than aspirin to fix…

Monday, March 5, 2012

Democrats falsely claim conservatives are racists. Let's pretend it's true... So what?

From the moment that Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring for President, Democrats have been accusing those who disagree with him of being racists. They are of course being disingenuous, pernicious and at the end of the day, most importantly, wrong.

But what if they weren’t? Let’s say somehow the entire universe of conservatives was made up of racists… so what? Does it change the veracity of their stated disagreements with President Obama? If it were in fact the case that conservatives hate him because he is black does that mean that their well thought out, reasonable and clearly articulated reasons for opposing him are somehow less valid? No, of course it doesn’t.

This issue makes me think of hate crimes. I’ve never been a supporter of hate crime legislation. Not because I like crimes or hate, but because it's the act that makes something a crime, not the real or imagined hate. If someone beats up someone else because of their race or sexual orientation or religion, they should be prosecuted for assault, period. Is a victim any less injured or dead because the perpetrator assaulted them for their money instead of their – fill in the blank characteristic? No, obviously not. That’s ridiculous. The criminal justice system should deal with the crime and not worry about trying to look into the soul of the criminal.

In the same way, politics should focus on people’s words and actions and not try and look into the souls of the various participants. Why? Because that is all we can really know about a person. As George Bush discovered with Vladimir Putin, it’s impossible to look into someone’s soul and know what is going on in there. Along those same lines, when Steve Jobs died I wrote that it was possible that he was selfish son of a bitch, but I’d never know. What I do know however is that his words and actions did a great deal of good for hundreds of millions of people around the world. It didn’t matter if Jobs thought PC users were mental dwarves when compared to the Mensa like intelligence demonstrated by those who use Macs. He opened up iTunes to everyone and changed the world of music. It’s what he did that changed the world not what was going on in his soul. But of course race plus politics is something altogether different.

Race has been an issue swirling around Barack Obama since he first declared his candidacy and then continued once he became President. There was the whole Jeremiah Wright deal and Obama’s spending two decades in his church but somehow inexplicably never hearing a single racist comment. There was his knee jerk reaction that the Cambridge police department "acted stupidly" without knowing the facts of the case. There was his attorney general dropping voter intimidation charges against the demonstrably guilty New Black Panther Party. And just last month the President revived African-Americans for Obama. Can one imagine the outrage if Mitt Romney created a Whites for Romney organization?

To the degree that race is an issue for President Obama, it’s either been because he is making it so or because his party is using it as a red herring to deflect criticism of their agenda. The most obvious example of the latter was during the ObamaCare debate when the Democrats famously accused protesters of using racial epithets and spitting on black congressmen. The late Andrew Breitbart did a good job of dispensing with those charges.

That brings us to the basic element of liberal politics. Their default position towards anyone who opposes Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s socialist agenda is to accuse them of being racist and that is supposed to be the end of the conversation. In that kind of an environment a conservative simply cannot win – how do you disprove something for which the mere accusation itself is seemingly enough to prove guilt? You can’t. My suggestion therefore is to take a different tack altogether: Don’t try. Rather, I suggest playing the hypothetical card. Instead of trying to disprove the undisprovable, instead suggest: “Ok, let’s pretend I am what you have painted me to be, and let’s assume that’s not going to change… now let’s talk about the issues.”

Now of course many of the good and principled liberals will demure to discuss the issues because they feel it’s inappropriate to discuss politics with racists other than to demonstrate their own non-racist bona fides. In that case you might then suggest to them that if their leader can advocate sitting down and talking with people who want to wipe the United States off the face of the planet they might deign to talk with people who simply want to discuss things like the tax code, the EPA and healthcare.

Don’t hold your breath however. Apparently liberals / Democrats believe that if one is racist (or more accurately, is labeled racist by them) then you are simply not qualified to have a voice in the political arena and your issues need not be addressed. That’s quite a leap for a party whose Senate leader for a decade was a man who had been an Exalted Cyclops of the KKK and filibustered to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Conservatives need not acquiesce to the liberal’s attempt to stifle public discourse. By calling their bluff and taking the non sequitur of racism off the table, conservatives have the opportunity to expose the liberal agenda for what it is, nothing but a recipe for disaster of a cleptocratic nanny state. In doing so and by discussing the facts rather than letting Democrats malign the messengers of the messages they fear, perhaps we can once again allow the American people to focus on the real issues facing the country rather than parrying with shadows of a Democrat created illusion with no basis in reality.