Monday, September 30, 2013

Prosperity's Bible & Einstein's Definition of Insanity

Albert Einstein defined Insanity thus: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

One has to wonder what Einstein would think of the left’s continued desire to inflict centralized planning on the citizens of the United States. Central planning has been a failure virtually every time it’s ever been implemented, whether in the Soviet Union, Venezuela or here. And we’ve seen a lot of it here, and, not surprisingly, a lot of failures. Education, check. Mortgages, check. Welfare, check. Amtrak, check. We are already seeing the wheels coming off of their most recent foray into state control, Obamacare.

Despite everything we’ve seen, despite the track record of abysmal failure, liberals seem to think that centralization can solve everything. As disheartening as liberalism’s failures are in the social and education spheres, the real tragedy is what they have done in the economic sphere. It’s economic prosperity that gives liberals sufficient benefits that they have the luxury to chase their fantasy of a world filled with lollipops and fairness. And they are killing the golden goose.

The thing that liberals don’t get is that prosperity doesn’t come from some grand master plan. Rather, prosperity is the result of people taking risks, people working hard, and yes, people seeking to win. American prosperity is the result of billions of decisions made by millions of individuals over the course of two centuries. Decisions to risk everything to start a business. Decisions to start again after one or five or ten failures. Decisions to ignore conventional wisdom and take the road less traveled. Decisions to put a road where one didn’t previously exist. Decisions to invent things that seemed impossible. American history is replete with millions of stories of courage, perseverance, industriousness and optimism. Many of those stories you and I will never hear about or know about, but that doesn’t mean we don’t benefit from them. We do, because those entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors are the oxygen that keep the American economy from collapsing in the face of the left’s burdensome regulatory state. The problem is, as the regulations increase fewer and fewer people have the strength to withstand the onslaught of paperwork and fees and the intimidation by a burgeoning regulatory apparatus.

It might be worthwhile for liberals to look at how we got here in the first place.

Why did most of the inventors and entrepreneurs and innovators who created our prosperity take those risks? There are probably as many reasons as there are dreamers, but one thing is for certain, most of the people who helped build the most prosperous nation in the history were driven by a desire to improve their lot in life. Most of them didn’t come from a life of privilege. Most of them didn’t grow up in risk free bubbles where everything was provided to them by some government agency. Indeed most of them came from middle class households (or below) and wanted to create something better for themselves and their families. Not sure that’s true, check out this year’s Forbes 400 list. Of the 400 richest people in the United States, fully 68% of them made the list as a result of their own efforts, not because they were born in a golden bassinette or with a platinum spoon in their mouths.

A better source might be something call Prosperity’s Bible. That’s not the real title, but it’s appropriate. The actual title of the book is They Made America. From Robert Fulton, Samuel Colt and Cyrus McCormick to Juan Trippe, Ted Turner and Steve Jobs, it’s full of two centuries of the most important innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs in American history. These men – and a few women – built things, invented things, but most importantly, changed things. They helped drive a tiny nation of immigrants to become the most prosperous nation in human history. And they brought their fellow man along with them by creating jobs, opportunity and a dramatic improvement in the standard of living around the world. And in many cases, from Carnegie to Rockefeller to Gates, after they created it they gave much of their wealth away for the benefit of others.

But virtually none of these giants did what they did (except perhaps some of the railroad barons) at the behest of the government. Amadeo Giannini didn’t lend money on a handshake after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake because of any government mandates. Garrett Morgan didn’t invent the gas mask and the traffic signal in pursuit of government contracts. Chemist Leo Baekeland didn’t leave Belgium because there was no government support for his research – there was, plenty – no, he came to America to build a business… which he did, and one of the things he invented was plastic. Rockefeller didn’t rationalize the petroleum market to support some government regulation… although he did save the whales in the process.

And that’s the key to why liberalism has always failed, and always will fail.  It seeks to replace individual drive, individual achievement, and individual responsibility with government mandates, government support and most perniciously, government regulations… all enforced by nameless faceless bureaucrats who have no idea what it takes to succeed in the real world most of us live in.  Liberalism seeks to remove the risk of failure from the human condition.  It seeks an equality of outcome separate from an equality of effort. It seeks to restrict anything that might ever have a negative outcome.   It seeks to mold a world made of imperfect people into a perfect Stepford world where everyone is the same, no one has more than their share and everyone is told what they can’t do and what they must do by regulatory busybodies. 

Obamacare is just the latest in a half century long march of mandates, regulations and other aspects of centralization that have gutted American prosperity and in the process created tens of millions of wards of the state who have no desire to, nor understanding of how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and go out and make something of themselves, create prosperity for their families and their country, to change the world by doing something of consequence.

Americans of all stripes could benefit from picking up a copy of They Made America. It shows in black and white exactly what it takes to create prosperity on an unprecedented scale. If liberals picked it up they might finally recognize that success can’t be mandated but it can be inspired and stop living up to Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Obamanization of your neighborhood... turning your community into the south side of Chicago

Next to families, communities are perhaps the single most important part of American life. Communities are made up of the places we shop, the churches we attend, and perhaps most importantly where we live. Aside from where we work, our homes are probably the places where we spend the most time. It’s at home where we typically can be most relaxed, where we can be ourselves, where we can feel comfortable, or at least usually have some level of control.

If you are like most Americans, your home, whether it’s an apartment you rent, a single family home you own or anything in between, is the single biggest expense you have and we usually take great care in figuring out where we want to live. Everything from the number of rooms to its proximity to your job to quality of the schools to the price all play a role. Another big part of the decision about where we live is the understanding that we are making a significant commitment, not only in terms of dollars, but in our time as well.

One of the great aspects of the American Dream has always been the notion that one of the benefits of hard work and becoming successful is that we give ourselves more options in terms of where we can live. We may have more income to spend on housing which may allow us to buy a bigger home or move to a nicer neighborhood. We may have more highly valued skills that expand the number of cities or states we can go for a job. Whatever it is, for most Americans a core element of the American Dream involves some element of housing. The ability to choose where we live, the communities we want to be a part of are integral to the concept of being American.

With the advent of the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s, many limitations of homeownership based on race were eliminated. As a result communities across the country became integrated as minorities found that they too could move anywhere they could afford to buy or rent.

That ability for anyone to live where they want, to live anywhere they can afford to purchase or rent is a core American freedom. While there is no “Freedom to live where you want…” enshrined in the US Constitution, that’s because the Founders understood that it was such a basic freedom that it didn’t need to be codified. Needing such a declaration would be the equivalent of needing one that says “The freedom to breath air is protected.” Some things are so basic that they simply don’t need to be stated. The freedom to live and raise our families where we choose has lasted for two centuries, but it may not last much longer.

If you are one of those homeowners or renters who has chosen to live in a good neighborhood, worked hard to move to a community with (relatively) good schools, if you’ve decided to move to a community where trees and green lawns are common, the Obama administration is coming after you. If you and your family struggled to leave behind the crime, deprivation and crumbling schools of the city for the relatively tranquil suburbs, don't get too comfortable, the Obama administration is planning on sending you back to the future.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the people who inflicted the squalor and tragedy of public housing on citizens and communities for five decades, have decided that they are now not only qualified, but also have the power, to decide what your neighborhood and community should look like. That’s right, the Obama administration has decided that they have the power to decide what your community should look like from an economic, racial and ethnic makeup. Essentially they can decide who should live in your neighborhood. If you’ve moved into a neighborhood that only has single family homes they can force local authorities to zone for apartment buildings or high rise condos. If you’ve moved into a community that recognizes that owners tend to take better care of their properties and therefore limits rentals… too bad. If the citizens of your community choose not to rent to those using Section 8 vouchers for payment, too bad, the government can force them to do so. Essentially, the government that gave us a failed education system, figured out how to make welfare pay more than work and loses billions of dollars annually on green energy boondoggles now plans to manage our neighborhoods…

Our communities are the core of American life. They are where you spend the majority of your non working hours. They are where you are the most vulnerable – i.e. where you close your eyes and go to sleep. They are where you raise your children, send them to school and volunteer at their scouting functions. They are where you go to church and the Rotary. They are the anchor around which much of your life revolves. So the question is, for something that is so fundamentally important, who is better positioned to decide what your community should look like, some nameless cog in the machine of government sitting behind a desk in Washington or the people who live in the houses, mow the lawns, attend the churches, raise their families and pay the property taxes? If you said the latter, you must be one of those anti-government zealots who the Obama administration thinks is a threat to America. Welcome to your new neighborhood. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Some unsolicited advice to Barack Obama on Syria

What happens when a majority of voters elect an unqualified hack as the head of state? Lots of bad choices and lots of bad outcomes. After watching Barack Obama make mistakes on the world stage for five years you might have thought he was beginning to figure out what he was doing. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong.  He’s as clueless as ever…

First he suggests (correctly) that as Commander in Chief he doesn’t need Congress’s permission in order to act militarily in Syria. Then he proceeds to ask Congress for authorization to do just that, with the absurd suggestion that somehow the rest of the world will look differently on the missiles raining down on Syria if there is political unity along Pennsylvania Avenue. Does Barack Obama even understand what the role of the Commander in Chief even is?

So he’s a little confused about what his actual role in running the military is… not particularly surprising given that before being elected to the most powerful position on the planet the only thing he ever ran was a community organization and some law school classes. At least he’s sure why he’s decided a military attack is necessary… because he drew a red line in the sand and wanted to be very clear to the Assad regime that if “we start seeing a bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized, that would change my calculations, significantly…” That is a pretty clear statement. Or maybe not.  Somehow that clear statement has morphed into “I didn’t draw a line in the sand…” Perhaps President Obama should ask his friend Al Gore about the thing called the Internet where he can look up what he actually said. 

Whatever the message Barack Obama was hoping to send to Assad and the rest of the world, I’m pretty sure it’s not the one of fecklessness and ineptitude they're getting. In addition to misunderstanding both his role in leading the military and forgetting who drew a line in the sand, he’s lost any element of surprise by telling Assad what to expect and not to worry because nothing is going to happen before Congress finishes their deliberations. And he also let Assad know that regime change is not the goal.

Then there is the Secretary of State’s constant pronouncements about the makeup of the rebels, who any bombing would ostensibly benefit: “I just don't agree that a majority are al-Qaeda and the bad guys…” he told a House Foreign Affairs Committee. Unfortunately, one of the key advisors to the administration on the issue of the rebels has been Elizabeth O’Bagy, who, it turns out, is a paid propagandist for the rebels themselves. So it appears that the main source – or at least a significant source – for the President’s contention that the rebels are good guys is someone who’s paid to tell the world… that the rebels are good guys. No problem there. Interestingly in a moment of morbidly vaudevillian juxtaposition, in the very week the Secretary of State is trying to convince Congress of the benign nature of the rebels, a video surfaced of those very rebels cold bloodedly executing captured Syrian soldiers as they lay kneeling on the ground.

All of this showcases a President who is simply not up to the task of successfully leading the nation during a crisis on the international stage. It might be one thing if this was fresh ink on a newly minted presidential canvas, but it’s not. From Iran to Iraq to Libya to Egypt we have seen this president in the starring role in a series of movies that went very badly very quickly. Taken together all of this suggests that whatever Barack Obama chooses to do in reference to Syria, things will turn out badly for the country.

Sending some cruise missiles seems to be the solution of the day. Of course bombing Syria could have a vast array of unintended consequences. It may provoke Syria and or Iran to attack Israel. Russia has already said it will support Syria if it’s attacked and it appears that China is sending ships to the region. An attack might destabilize Syria in such a way that the rebels take over and we see another failed state like Libya or the ascent of an al-Qaeda affiliated power like in Egypt. An attack might cause Assad to use even more chemical weapons just to demonstrate that he cannot be intimidated. Worst of all, the possibility exists that somehow the US is sucked into a situation where it does indeed require American boots on the ground, this time without any real understanding of what victory is, what it would look like or how to achieve it. We can't forget the outcome the President is hoping for, that Assad will realize that crossing Barack Obama is a dangerous game and he then decides to stop killing innocents in his own country - at least with chemical weapons. 

Then there is the option of doing nothing. If you listen to the President and his supporters, taking no action might result in Assad using chemical weapons again – assuming it was he who used them in the first place – and will embolden not only Assad, but Iran, North Korea and many other not-so-nice regimes around the world to do whatever they want with impunity.

Of course doing nothing is not the opposite of bombing. Doing nothing is one option, but so is crafting sanctions and seeking worldwide condemnation. Sanctions rarely work of course, but perhaps by convincingly laying out his proof Barack Obama can use his oft touted charm to win over the whole world on the side of effective sanctions. One wonders if Russia and Iran will be susceptible to such a charm offensive?  Another option would be to equip Assad's enemies to overthrow him, assuming any can be found who are actually pro-American, or at least not anti-American.

At the end of the day Barack Obama's poor performance over the last five years has left the country with few good options. Given the pickle he’s created, I’d like to give President Obama some unsolicited advice.
Finding an alternative to bombing is likely your best option, and if the case for sanctions is made forcefully and effectively, it might actually work.  If nothing else it might get some allies on our side and create something similar to the "coalition of the willing" George Bush assembled.  If, however, you are sufficiently confident that Assad is a threat to the country and her allies that military action is necessary, your message on Tuesday night  – rather than being a argument for why Syria should be bombed – should instead provide background on a strike that is taking place at that very moment.
If he is seeking to send a message, seeking to show actual leadership and has decided to bomb Syria regardless of what Congress does, he should strike quickly and with overwhelming force rather than wait until Congress says it's OK and then inflict some limited pinprick of an operation. If the goal is to show the world the negative consequences of using banned weapons then the resulting pain had better be pretty harsh, otherwise the world will recognize the US as the paper tiger it has become under the ill-equipped president the American voters have inflicted on the world.

There are some important if’s in that paragraph, but uncertainty and bad choices are what you get when a nation chooses to elect such an unqualified man as its head of state. Let's hope he doesn't fumble us into WW III.