Monday, October 27, 2014

Illegitimacy: America's racist past and present dooms its present and future...

I recently got into a lengthy discussion with some friends that makes me wonder how much longer the country can survive. Why? Because of such starkly different views on the nation, our history and the role of government. Frankly, I've never felt so bewildered in my life as to how people looking at the same information can come to such differing results… and I’ll point out, most of my interlocutors were white liberals.

The original catalyst for this discussion was Ferguson, MO. Almost immediately upon the killing of Michael Brown various friends posted comments on Facebook or linked to pieces discussing the disparity in the way blacks and whites are treated by cops. I was told by a black friend that a black man knows that every time he encounters a cop, regardless of the circumstances, his life is in danger. That cops can and do regularly stop, harass and abuse black men for no other reason than they are black. Ferguson and Brown were just the latest example of that racist reality.

I expressed some incredulity. While I suggested that it might be in fact true that police had a more heightened sense of awareness when dealing with blacks, I posited it might have more to do with the fact that black men, while they make up about 6% of the population, are responsible for approximately 40% of the violent crime in the country than racism. Somehow that didn't seem to fly. "No" that could not be the cause of the disparity. It had to be the racism on the part of some cops and the institutional racism on the part of the institutions that make up our justice system.

I further posited that even if it were the case that black men received a heightened level of attention from police, they could usually minimize the possibility of a negative outcome by being polite, respectful, and, even if they thought they were being unconstitutionally stopped, wait until afterward to file a grievance rather than get into a Constitutional argument and altercation with the officer who’s both worried about his own safety and that of the public. Indeed, I suggested that was likely good advice for anyone, black, white or otherwise, and it was the opposite of what Rodney King had done and increasingly what Michael Brown appears to have done. In hoping to lighten the tone somewhat I linked to Chris Rock’s great “How not to get your ass kicked by the police!” which is funny, but it makes some very good points as well. That didn’t seem to fly either.

The discussion devolved into suggestions that the United States always is and always has been a fundamentally racist country where whites have privilege (that they refuse recognize or acknowledge) and blacks are fundamentally unable to succeed. That was untrue on its face I suggested. To support the former they pointed to the Constitution. I explained that – while slavery is indeed a stain on the American history – the fact of the matter is that the 3/5 compromise was the only way that the Constitution could have been ratified, and that the Constitution put a stop (in 1808) to the importation of slaves, which had the impact of making slaves more valuable to their owners, and thus less likely to be literally worked to death as happened in far greater numbers in the Caribbean or South America where replacement slaves could be brought in without constraint. In addition, I pointed out, while some Founding Fathers such as Washington and Madison did own slaves, many others did not, including John and Sam Adams, and Ben Franklin freed his slaves and became the president of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society. In addition, a quarter of a million whites died during the Civil War to end slavery and save the Union.  I was told I was an apologist for slavery and the Founding Fathers...

I then pointed out that in this racist country where blacks can’t succeed, blacks not only dominate the ranks of sports and recording artists, but are CEO’s of such great American companies as McDonalds, American Express, Xerox, and Merck… and of course Barack Obama was elected to the most powerful position on the planet, twice!

But none of that mattered because America is racist and blacks are disempowered because of the color of their skin. It has nothing to do with unwed motherhood. It has nothing to do with government schools that don’t educate. It has nothing to do with government regulations that make it difficult for young black men to find a job. It has nothing to do with a culture that sometimes ostracizes learning as “acting white” and communities where the number one killer of young men between the ages of 15 & 34 is ... other young black men.  And of course it has nothing to do with government dependency.

There are certainly examples of cops misbehaving and sometimes abusing blacks – and others. We see those videos regularly. But those are the man bites dog stories because the majority of instances do not include abuse and we don’t hear about them. With over half a million cops on duty in the United States every day, even if it were 10 videos a day of such behavior, that would be a drop in the bucket of police interactions with citizens. (That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be dealt with when it arises however.)

And here’s the problem that makes one think that the country just might be doomed. Despite the fact that slavery has been gone for 150 years and Jim Crow for 50, despite the fact that there are 35,000 black millionaires in the United States, America is apparently a place where blacks cannot succeed. Despite the fact that blacks have achieved some of the highest positions possible in Fortune 500 companies, been elected or appointed to the highest positions in the land, dominate a variety of entertainment arenas, America is a racist nation where blacks can’t succeed. Finally, because our Constitution was an imperfect document which made only baby steps towards ending slavery 226 years ago, America is forever doomed to be a racist nation.

It appears to be the case that there is nothing that whites or that the nation can do that will satisfy those who are focused on race.  From 50 years of government set asides and redistribution to a plethora of regulations mandating “diversity targets” in everything from home loans to staffing to college admissions, it never seems to be sufficient to atone for the country’s imperfect history. Increasingly it's becoming evident that there is a large and growing segment of the population that refuses to recognize that progress occurs, even while imperfection persists.

Unfortunately for the nation, as long as the Constitution is our foundation and an apparently racist white majority remains, blacks (and a growing list of other oppressed groups) have no chance of success and therefore everything in the country, from laws to property to achievement, are illegitimate. And of course, once something is deemed illegitimate it's open to being used or taken by the government to satisfy the demands of the dispossessed. Illegitimacy is rarely a good foundation for a well functioning representative government.  As the ranks of those focused on identity politics grow, calls for government action grow along with them... such things do not bode well for America’s future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Clarity of Government Purpose - Potentially the Silver Lining Behind of the Ebola Cloud

When the Ebola scare is done the damage it will have done is likely to be far more reaching than just the individual victims themselves. Of all of the things the government is supposed to do, protecting its citizens is likely very close to the top in most people’s minds.

Indeed, government is supposed to do for citizens that which they cannot or choose not to do for themselves – limited of course to those things it has been constitutionally empowered to do. National defense being the prime example. Others include the court system, international treaties, tax policies, etc. Americans have not traditionally – at least for the country’s first 150 years – looked to government to become the provider of all things or the solver of all problems.

Today, for a large part of the population that is no longer true. Whenever something bad happens, they look for government to fix it. A sluggish economy, high unemployment, a failed automobile manufacturer, you’ve lost your job, you can’t get insurance, you can’t support your kids or you want to build a new stadium, look to government for a solution. Or, competitors are eating away at your natural monopoly, your kid can’t read, you think the CEO makes too much money, you haven’t paid your water bill in months and the water company has turned off your service… look to the government for a solution. Usually these solutions come about in the form or a check or government using its police power to force other people to do your bidding.

The result of government spread so wide, doing so many things, having its tentacles in virtually every aspect of American life is that not only does it do a bad job at practically everything, it often fails spectacularly at those limited things it’s supposed to be doing in the first place.

The Ebola situation is the perfect example, writ large. Ebola is a disease in that until recently was largely confined to Africa. While Ebola is not the continent’s largest killer, what makes it somewhat unique in that it kills 70% or more of the people who catch it, usually within a few weeks. And, we don’t really know how it’s transmitted, but we know that coming into contact with a carrier – even after they are dead – or their body fluids can transmit it. Can it be transmitted by mosquitoes? We’re told no, but viruses mutate. Can it be become airborne – thorough say, sneezing? The goalposts seem to be moving. Can it be transmitted by touching objects a carrier has touched? Don’t know for sure.

Ebola has, by everyone’s measure, the potential to become a true epidemic. As such, Ebola might be one of those things that most Americans agree is rightly a government interest, something the government should be focusing on and doing what it can to inform and protect citizens.

Unfortunately, thus far the government’s action has been an abysmal failure, beginning with Barack Obama’s inexplicable decision against imposing a travel ban from the nations where Ebola is raging, and his September 16th assurance that the chances of Ebola reaching American shores were “extremely low”. Four days later US patient zero, Thomas Eric Duncan, landed in Dallas from Liberia.

A week later Duncan was in a Dallas Hospital with Ebola. Since then, two nurses who treated Duncan have come down with the disease. When the first nurse, Nina Pham, came down with Ebola, CDC director Tom Frieden suggested it was her failure to follow protocol that caused her contraction. Later it turned out that Ms. Pham had followed all protocols from the CDC, the same agency that in August said: U.S. hospitals can safely manage patients with Ebola disease.

A month in, confusion reigns. The CDC goes from reassuring the public that Ebola requires contact with a victim and is not a respiratory ailment spread like the flu, to later warning that just standing within three feet of an infected person poses a risk. At the same time news emerges that Amber Vinson, the second nurse to treat Duncan, was told she was OK to fly by the CDC after calling to report her possible symptoms. Later CDC Director Tom Frieden stated that she should not have flown.

While all of this chaos is going on, politics rears its head when the administration and Democrats suggest the GOP is to blame for having called for budget cuts. Then it emerges that not only did the GOP give both the CDC and NIH more money than requested by the president, but that the agencies had wasted tens or hundreds of millions of dollars studying things like the propensity of lesbians to be fat, the impact of TVs and gas generators on a village in Vietnam, and what bus riders thought of HIV videos. Indeed, over the course of 5 years the CDC spent more than $2.6 billion on HIV and AIDS grants that the agency itself admitted: “have no objectives” or were otherwise useless.

What the Ebola crisis is putting on full display for the American people is the malfeasance and ineptness of a government that takes $3 trillion of their money each year yet can’t seem to get the basic things right. One doesn’t need a PhD in biology to understand that making it more difficult to travel to the US from a country infected with this virus is a good thing. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist that recognize that millions allocated for health research shouldn’t be wasted replacing perfectly good furniture or buildings. It doesn’t take a 140 IQ to understand that a person recently exposed to a deadly virus shouldn’t be given the OK to fly on a commercial jet. But in modern day America, that’s how government operates – or as in the case of a travel ban… doesn’t.

If the government is making horrendously bad decisions, providing conflicting and inaccurate information and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars in an area that literally involves life and death, and one that is playing out on the front pages of every newspaper in the country, just imagine how badly their mismanaging everything else they are doing from the mundane to the obscure, most of which is played out behind closed doors with the help of cronies and lobbyists and political financiers. Maybe the silver lining of the Ebola cloud will be the long overdue recognition by a majority of Americans that not only is government not the solution for everything that might go wrong, but maybe it’s meddling failures are behind many of things that go wrong in the first place.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A solution for American economic malaise - Detroit as a proving ground for economic prosperity.

The United States is in the midst of an economic malaise. 92 million Americans are out of work. 35% of the population is on welfare. The economy is barely growing. While incomes for the richest have been skyrocketing, the middle class has seen their incomes decline by 5% in the last 5 years. The federal debt stands at $17 trillion, up $6 trillion since Barack Obama became president. All of this while the Fed has been pumping tens of billions of dollars a month into the economy for years…

Although Barack Obama has made much of this worse, the truth is, things have been going the wrong way for half a century and rather dramatically for a quarter century. Of all of the problems that exist today – and their numbers are legion – there are two that are most troublesome: regulations and taxes. These two things have hammered the fount of American prosperity, the middle class.

First is the regulatory state – particularly federal regulations. Being an entrepreneur, running a successful small business (from whence 2/3 of all new jobs emerge) takes a great deal of work, tenacity and effort. Unfortunately however, the cost of complying with regulations has skyrocketed over the last 40 years. From the EPA to OSHA to the NLRB to HHS and a seemingly endless array of acronymmed bureaucracies come regulations that strangle job creation, and in the process, prosperity. According to the US Chamber of Commerce – no friend to small business – the cost of complying with government regulations at all levels has almost quadrupled since 2000… and all of those increasing costs contribute to the growing death rate among small businesses, which in turn take jobs with them.

Then there are taxes, again, particularly federal taxes and the insane complexity of the IRS tax code. This can be summed up in one measure: According to the Tax Foundation’s 2014 International Tax Competitiveness Index the United States ranks 32 out of 34 developed countries in terms of the competitiveness of our tax system – and if it weren’t for our relatively low consumption taxes, ranked 5 out of 34, we’d be dead last. That means, for companies seeking to invest their money, of the 34 OECD nations, only 2 of them have tax structures that are less inviting than the United States, Portugal and France. Imagine that, that the United States tax system is less attractive to investors – and prospective employers – than Turkey, Estonia, Chile… and even the dysfunctional Greece! While the United States does have advantages… for investors, tax consequences are an extraordinary driver of their choices. And unfortunately for American workers, the government is making the choice to invest in the United States less and less appealing every year.

Despite what you might hear on the Sunday morning news programs or read in the NY Times, this new American malaise is not an intractable problem, is not an unsolvable problem, in fact, the solution is rather simple. Fix those two problems. “How?” you say.

First, sunset every federal regulation on the books. If necessary, pass a Constitutional Amendment that states that every federal law has 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 sunset after 10 years, regardless of the margin of passage of the underlying law. If such regulations demonstrate themselves to be effective and necessary, they can be renewed. If a regulation were deemed or proven to be sufficiently important to be granted permanent status it should then be passed as a law rather than remaining a regulation.

Second, implement the Fair Tax – although a 10% flat tax might be a distant second suggestion. In 2014 investors have the world at their fingertips. Choices abound from Estonia to Singapore to Switzerland to Canada. If the United States were to implement the Fair Tax, not only would the economy be jolted by an immediate influx of an estimated $2 trillion from the offshore holdings of American companies, it would likely experience an additional annual influx of hundreds of billions of dollars of direct investment from foreign companies seeking to set up shop in the United States. Those additional trillions of dollars would result in the creation of millions of jobs – and these would be real jobs in the real economy, unlike the boondoggles inflicted on the country by President Obama’s “Stimulus”. In addition, the resulting savings of the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted each year simply trying to comply with the incomprehensible IRS tax code could be spent on useful things – or just fun – and the hundreds of millions of hours saved could be spent on work or leisure.

Of course it’s one thing to point these things out and another to actually get them done. So, as in an effort to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of the above I’d like to suggest using Wayne County, Michigan – where the disaster area known as Detroit is located – as an “Enterprise Zone” proving ground. This demonstration would turn Wayne County into a federal tax and regulation free zone. Eliminate all federal regulations within the county and eliminate all federal taxes save a 23% embedded tax.

This wouldn’t impact public safety or individual rights as public safety and law enforcement are state and local functions while citizens’ rights don’t come from regulations but from the Constitution… which would still be in force.

Creating a county wide Enterprise Zone centered on the country’s most economically dysfunctional city would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the potential prosperity free market competition can create. Massive amounts of investment would take place and a cacophony of companies would be started, sometimes built on nothing more than an entrepreneur’s idea and a willingness to take a risk. And at the same time, jobs would be created… lots of jobs would be created, with employers competing for the best workers.

While there would be some logistical challenges to implementation due to the fact that the proving ground would be surrounded by non participating counties and cities, at the end of the day the results would demonstrate clearly the potential benefits of dialing back the twin garrotes of federal action that have been strangling American prosperity for half a century. With actual data in hand then the debate over applying the same to rest of the country could begin. Maybe then the country could get back on the road to prosperity where a rising tide lifts all boats rather than today’s perpetually receding tide that leaves most American boats slowly sinking in the mud of the exposed sea floor.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thirsty Californians and unemployed New Yorkers - Sacrifices to Liberalism's Global Warming Delusion

Liberals often live in a fantasy world that ignores the real world right in front of them. They continue to pour trillions of dollars into poverty programs despite the fact that poverty persists and grows. Their go to solution for failing and failed government schools is always spend more money rather than embrace solutions that actually work such as charter schools or voucher programs. It’s no surprise then that their tired solutions rarely ever solve the problems they are ostensibly focused on.

Strangely, that dynamic exists even when the problem itself is fiction. The perfect example of this is the state of California. In an effort to address congestion on California roads (which is a real problem) and to fight man-made global warming (which is a fiction) California is planning on spending anywhere from an estimated $68 to $98 billion taxpayer dollars to build a high speed rail link from Los Angeles and San Francisco. This, despite the fact that most traffic in California is from people traveling within metro areas, not between them. Think about it, LA’s worst traffic is usually 10-15 miles on the 405 or I-10 during rush hour, not on I-5 north of the city. A high speed rail ticket between LA and San Francisco that was originally projected to cost $50 is now expected to cost more than $81. That’s a round trip cost of either $100 or $162. Today you can get a round trip plane ticket between the same two cities for $135. What’s more, the line will likely require additional hundreds of millions of taxpayer subsidies annually just to maintain operations... and it will increase carbon emissions!

So there we have it, California plans to spend what will likely be in excess of $100 billion to build a rail system to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and another that can’t be solved by such a system. This, while the state is facing a real problem that it actually can solve: a shortage of water. The state has been gripped in a drought for years, but even in non-drought years water is a problem in California. In addition to families with no water, in the San Joaquin Valley, dubbed “America’s salad bowl” vegetable farms are left idle as there is no water for irrigation. (The drought is not the only cause there…) The $100 billion that the state is wasting building the rail boondoggle could be spent instead on desalinization plants up and down the Pacific coast. Recently the nation’s largest desalinization plant opened in San Diego… but it almost didn’t as years were wasted fighting litigation by environmental groups. That $1 billion facility will produce enough drinking water for approximately 250,000 people annually. Using that metric, for the amount of money California is wasting on the rail system it could desalinate enough water for 26 million people, more than 65% of its population.

The reality is however that the state doesn’t need to build desalinization plants to support 65% of its population. It’s likely that building the capacity necessary to provide water to 20% would be more than sufficient to address most water issues, and that could be done for approximately $30 billion. But that’s not on the books. Given that California is the epicenter of liberalism in the US, that’s not a surprise.

If there is a second center of liberalism in the US, it’s undoubtedly New York, and not surprisingly, it suffers from the same problem as California. Only in New York the tool of choice for seeking to slay the faux dragon of man-made global warming is not absurdly expensive transportation subsidies, but rather absurdly expensive green energy subsidies. New York has recently agreed to spend close to $1 billion subsidizing multi billionaire Elon Musk’s money losing solar panel installation company, SolarCity. This, while the governor of a state with a 6.6% unemployment rate continues to ban the fracking for natural gas, a cleaning burning fuel that has pumped billions of dollars in to the economies of states from North Dakota to Pennsylvania while creating tens of thousands of good paying jobs. So once again, a liberal state is spending boatloads of taxpayer dollars to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist while at the same time it refuses to look at a viable solution to real problems – in this case unemployment and energy prices.

And so it goes with liberalism, using rational solutions to attack real problems takes a back seat to solving fake problems that dovetail with the left’s worldview, regardless of the consequences. California is in the midst of a water shortage that is having devastating consequences on millions of its citizens on a daily basis. New York is seeing jobs and citizens flee the state for lower taxes and better job prospects. In both states the governors have decided those very real problems are not as important as pandering to their political base by tilting at the windmill of global warming. The result is actually worse than if the state did nothing at all. If they were doing nothing the taxpayers would at least be no worse off than they are now. Unfortunately however, the taxpayers in the 4th and 1st highest tax states (respectively) are on the hook millions or billions of dollars and will be much worse off in the long run. Such is liberalism: obscure failure in the real world by selling grand designs of some future success that never quite works out as promised… then simply count on voters to forget about that failure as you dazzle them with your next quixotic mirage.