Monday, June 24, 2013

From Obamacare to Immigration "reform" Is Anyone in Washington Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

The Wall Street Journal had a rather heartbreaking piece a few weeks about families of people with mental illness. Many families seem to feel helpless in the face of federal privacy laws that keep parents from knowing about their grown children’s medicines, treatments and even diagnoses. While parents are often able to be involved in the treatment of their children as they grow up, once they reach maturity the parents are often locked out. The same is often true for families of those who become mentally ill later in life.

Laws that are meant to protect individual privacy often limit families and professionals from helping the mentally ill until it is too late and they end up harming themselves or others. Somewhere between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the road leading up to HIPAA and Jared Loughner opening fire in Tuscon, AZ, the common sense of regulations seems to have gone out the door . As a result, society and the mentally ill have been paying the price ever since. Mental illness is certainly one of the most difficult issues a family and a community can face, and federal laws that obstruct common sense solutions do nothing but to complicate the challenges.

Which is exactly why every time the federal government seeks to do anything it should be looked at with great deal of skepticism. Because it’s not just the treatment of the mentally ill that the government messes up. The majority of the things the federal government does are failures, and most certainly lack common sense. Take for example President Obama’s EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) which has sued Dollar General and BMW for racial discrimination. Their crime? Screening out of their potential employee pool applicants who had been convicted of "Murder, Assault, Battery, Rape, Child Abuse, Spousal Abuse (Domestic Violence), Manufacturing of Drugs, Distribution of Drugs, [and] Weapons Violations." And since more blacks than whites were convicted of those crimes – and therefore dismissed from consideration for employment – Dollar General and BMW are guilty of racial discrimination.

If there were an entry in the dictionary under “lacking common sense” this action would be example number one with a picture of a smiling federal bureaucrat next to it. Even a fifth grader would understand that forcing a company to consider more convicted murders and rapists for employment simply because of their race is ridiculous.

But then most of the people in Washington would likely end up losers on Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? One can only imagine that 5th graders would have been smart enough not to give us Obamacare. One doesn’t need to be a genius to figure out that Obamacare was going to be a disaster from the beginning, but of course we had to pass it before we could find out what was in it. The dunces in Washington promised that insurance premiums would go down. Instead they’re going up. The dunces in Washington said if you like your insurance you can keep it. Millions of people are finding they can’t. And of course the dunces in Washington were sure that access to government guaranteed healthcare would improve health outcomes. A landmark study in Oregon puts that lie to rest.

Now the dunces in Washington are trying to sell the American people another thousand page bill of goods that goes against basic common sense. This time in the form of the immigration bill. They claim that rewarding 11 million illegal immigrants in the country will somehow stop people from coming across our borders. So giving a gift to those who came to the US illegally (just as happened in 1986) is supposed to show that the US is finally serious about closing down the border? The CBO is not so sure.

They claim that giving the 11 million people here illegally some legal status should benefit the country because they will pay taxes. Actually, according to the IRS, many of them are already paying taxes thanks to individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Not only that, the IRS is actually sending thousands of “aliens living in the United States who are ‘not authorized to work in the United States.’” tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent refunds, 24,000 of whom apparently live in one house in Atlanta. Talk about close quarters!

They claim that they are absolutely, really, totally promise to secure the border this time… Ted Cruz points out that we heard this before.

Common sense tells you that if illegal immigration is to be tackled, the first thing you do, as you would with a sinking ship, is fix the holes rather than rearrange the furniture or dance cards. But then the people in Washington are not well versed in that basic element of everyday life that most citizens (including 5th graders) employ to get through their days. Unlike bureaucrats, most citizens don’t have the luxury of changing the rules to fit their worldviews, regardless of the consequences. No, they have to deal with actual reality rather than the fairy tales of good and effective government that politicians and bureaucrats tell themselves.

Unfortunately, whether regular citizens have family members with mental illness, are simply seeking to run a successful small business or have any one of a thousand other everyday issues to deal with, in almost all every case they will find that beyond the normal complexities of life they will likely have to deal with a plethora of decidedly non common sensical intrusions by the dunces in Washington who fancy themselves as sages and kings.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

NSA, FBI, IRS and the 4th Amendment: Why freedom matters…

I remember once when I was in college I took a trip home to the DC metro area with my girlfriend. She and I went to the movies not far from where my mother lived in a rather rough part of town called Capitol Heights, MD. I have no idea what we saw. I do however remember that we had a terrible time, and it had nothing to do with what was on the screen and everything to do with what was going on in the theater.

Not long before this at a different theater a few miles away in Oxen Hills, MD. I was standing in line with a friend and I saw two teenage girls fighting not 10 feet away. I grabbed one of the girls and someone else grabbed the other. That’s when I noticed that the other girl was bleeding profusely and the girl I grabbed had a 12 inch steak knife in her hand. It was something about a baby’s daddy is all I knew. Needless to say we didn’t see a movie that night.

So at this different theater we were hoping for better results. As soon as we sat down I wasn't so sure. People were talking to the screen, smoking in the seats and being rather raucous. My girlfriend mentioned the smoking and I said that if that was the only problem we encountered that night we would count ourselves lucky.

I mention all of this because when you think your life may be in jeopardy, it’s hard to enjoy entertainment… and that’s the whole point of movies. Movies require your buy in for success. They require you to turn off reality. They require you to become connected with the characters. They require the suspension of disbelief and much more if you are to get everything out of the movie and enjoy two hours of entertainment.

If you can’t do any of those things you can’t become engaged in the movie. If you’re worried that someone’s going to pull a knife, a gun or set the place on fire, you’re going to be busy looking around to scan the theater, listening for commotion or trouble and generally paying attention to everything but what’s on the screen. As a result you'd probably miss much of the storyline and likely would end up doing little more than wasting your time and money.

Just as movies require your buy in for success, so too does life. And that’s the problem with all of this seemingly ubiquitous government surveillance. The danger is not so much that Big Brother is watching and trying to control our every move. They don’t have to. Our knowing they could be is enough. Somewhat like the Observer Effect in physics, the observing itself impacts the people being observed.

Think about it this way, if you think it’s tough to enjoy a movie when you’re worried about what’s going on in the theater… imagine how difficult it would be to write a compelling, engaging movie while the whole time a government agent is standing over your shoulder. Whether you realize it or not, you’re writing that movie... it’s your life story.

How much different would your story be if you knew your every word and action might end up as part of some government dossier on you? How much could you embrace freedom and focus on having fun, sowing your wild oats, finding your passion, or risking failure to pursue some crazy dream if you were constantly wondering what some government bureaucrat with the power to throw you in prison or take your kids away might think of it?

And that’s the problem. Knowing our government is actively looking at emails, phone calls (or "just" meta data in some cases) as well as our online surfing and purchasing habits sends a chill down your back. With 315 million people in the country they're probably not looking at you… but they might be. Imagine you’re a journalist pursuing a story on the undue influence a company or union is having on a piece of legislation. How hard are you going to dig knowing officials could be watching? Or maybe you’re staying in a loveless marriage for the sake of your children but you have a mistress who makes you happy. Maybe you’re visiting a website of a fringe candidate who has some ideas you agree with but others you don’t. Maybe you’re unhappy with your job and are spending a lot of time on  Maybe you're researching erectile dysfunction.  Or perhaps you’re inventing a technology that will put a big government contractor out of business. How many of these things or others would you think twice about doing because you’d be worried about government snoops twisting your motives into some sham case or sharing your info with your family or neighbors or employer or anyone else?

We already know that government regulations touch virtually every aspect of our lives, but most of us apparently believed the fiction that we had a 4th Amendment right against unlawful searches and could therefore mitigate our exposure to government control. As the IRS scandal showed, there are instances where we have no choice but to interact with government, and the more they know about you the more force they can bring to bear on that engagement. The combination of a heavily regulated society and an all knowing government make for an oppressive mix.

Living a successful life and finding happiness are difficult enough in the best of times, when we spend our days trying to focus on making the best decisions for ourselves and for our families. How much less successful will we be if we now have to worry about what some faceless government officials think about our activities and what the consequences of their opinions will be? Is that really a recipe for a successful and fulfilling life?

Maybe your name will never land on the desk of some partisan or self-serving rouge government official’s desk. But that’s not the point. When the fear that it might is enough to cause citizens to change their behavior, the damage is already done. It’s difficult to imagine a more effective way to throttle back the freedom and creativity that made the United States the most successful and prosperous nation in the history of the world. All of this is particularly troubling today as technology is changing the world at an unprecedented rate, and it’s only getting faster. If the United States seeks to maintain its primary position in the world, it will require its citizens to be as focused on creativity and success as they can. It’s hard for them to do that as they're nervously worrying about Big Brother lurking around every computer monitor, phone line and street corner…

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Police State of Obamaville...

When people think of a police state, they usually think of heavily armed, uniformed police kicking in doors and dragging out family members in the dark of the night. A police state doesn’t require police kicking down your door… at least not in the beginning, particularly when one is evolving from some other form of government, say for instance a constitutional republic. I’m not sure any police state ever came about as a result of some politician saying “When I get elected I’m going to use various elements of the government to take away your civil liberties, oppress my opponents and crush any opposition.” Typically dictators come to power promising to restore order amidst chaos or empowering the people against a tyrannical or corrupt regime. Putin was seen as bringing order to a crumbling Russia while Castro led a revolt against the corrupt Batista and Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew a hated monarch.

But this is the United States and by definition it could never become a police state.

But just for argument’s sake, let’s imagine someone had designs on becoming a dictator and wanted to turn the US into a police state, what kinds of things might be helpful? Obviously no dictator worth his salt wants to have opponents running around shining a light on his actions or stirring up the population against him or his policies. If only there was a way to keep opponents quiet. One way might be to choke off their funding by keeping them from raising much money and by intimidating their supporters. Check and check!

Of course, what good is being dictator if you can’t listen in to what subversive things people are saying about you… or anything else? Not much. As such it would be great to have a program where the government could listen in on every single phone conversation going on in the entire country… Not just when citizens are talking to known terrorists overseas, but simply when they are talking, period.. Check! But young people barely talk on the phone anymore… all they do is text, so you’d want to make sure you can see what’s going on there too. Check!

Unfortunately for you, every conversation in the country doesn’t occur on a phone as sometimes people still actually talk face to face. You might consider placing listening devices everywhere so you could listen in on those conversations too. Not likely however given the logistical nightmare it would be. If only there were a way to use their phones as listening devices, even when they’re turned off. Check! And maybe you could use the phone’s GPS data to track where everyone was at any point in time… and who they were with. Check!

As popular as talking on the phone is, people still spend a lot of time on computers at home. You’d probably want to have a program that allows you to monitor virtually everything anyone does online. Check!

Of course there is more to life than just what people say to one another.

It might also be helpful if you could make it so that a big portion of the population were dependent upon a check from the government (i.e. you), that way you could use that dependency as a tool with which to keep people in line and to whip up populist sentiment against anyone who was seeking to oppose your policies. Check!

As healthcare is pretty important to people, it might be very powerful tool to have if you could figure out a way to put the government in charge of everyone’s healthcare. Need that gall bladder operation or that cholesterol medicine? Let’s see what you’ve been up to first… Check.

Finally, as every good dictator knows, it’s important to disarm your enemies and potential enemies. Here you’d have to be very creative. A national background check before someone could buy a weapon would be a place to start. This would be particularly helpful if the agency operating such a system was allowed to define who it thought might be too dangerous to own a gun. A national registration where gun owner’s names and addresses were listed would be nice, and it would tell you exactly where to go to collect the guns whenever you’re ready. Not quite yet, but working on it.

But of course this is all hypothetical. As President Obama said: “If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.”

I think we have some problems here… Even if this unprecedented level of power were exercised by someone as honest and virtuous – not to be confused with perfect – as George Washington, a man who turned down absolute power twice in one lifetime, it would be a problem. Barack Obama is certainly no George Washington and in his hands all of this is a giant problem. This power in the hands as one as arrogant, perfidious and incompetent as Barack Obama is the equivalent of setting fire to the Constitution itself.

As a nation of laws and imperfect men operating in a world where millions of people seek new ways to harm us daily, there are certain things that government must do, many of which may seem unseemly in the light of day. Most Americans understand that. The America Barack Obama is creating is something all together different. If a government listens to conversations of its citizens in some limited, controlled circumstances, most Americans would accept that. If however that power is virtually unlimited, and more onerously, it is combined with a government that simultaneously seeks to control virtually every aspect of a citizen’s life, from what they can say and who they can support, to what healthcare they can get to their ability to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights to the economic opportunities available to them, then the Constitution becomes little more than a piece of framed artwork.

All that being said, we owe Barack Obama a great deal of gratitude for all of this. Before him Americans were seemingly happy to continue moving down the one way path of allowing government to take control of more and more of their lives as they deluded themselves into believing that only men of great character would control the levers of power. By demonstrating with crystal clarity exactly how fragile our liberty is in the wrong hands, perhaps Americans will come to, push back and begin reining government back into the box our Founding Fathers drew for it so that no one of any stripe can turn it into a police state. Barack Obama may well end up transforming America after all. Hopefully it won’t be in quite the way he intended.