Friday, May 28, 2010

Hey Brother, Could You Spare $146-$240? Futureshock Deductions, Courtesy of the CLASS Act

      In another example of how the federal government doesn’t work for the average American, next year you will be approached by your employer about a new payroll deduction.  The deduction, which funds long term care in the home, will cost anywhere from $146 to $240 a month depending on whose estimate you accept as valid.  It’s all part of a hidden bill with the recently enacted healthcare reform law known as the CLASS (Community Living Assistance Services and Support) Act.  


You’ll likely find that that the option is voluntary at first, but the reality is this: in a time where many of us have few dollars to spare, how many of us have an additional $146 to $240 a month to buy long term care insurance administered by the federal government?  And how long will it be before this entitlement program, like so many others, becomes a mandate on workers as the government realizes that without full participation, it cannot possibly fund the existing pool of beneficiaries?  


Here’s your reality: next year the federal government will inform your employer about their obligation to tell you about the program.  You’ll likely be told that for the nominal fee of $146 to $240 a month, you’ll receive $75 a day worth of flex cash benefits to cover long term home based care after a five year vesting period.  How many you are likely to consent to a deduction of up to $240 a month?  How many of you could realistically spare an additional $240 a month deducted from your paycheck to fund yet another government program which will likely go down the same road as countless other programs before it to insolvency or abuse?  


Social Security was a pay as you go program, until rampant unemployment in the 80s forced the federal government to develop a reform of Social Security due to the fact that there weren’t enough current workers to pay in to Social Security at a rate which would fund the existing pool of beneficiaries.  The government changed Social Security by raising the withholding tax that funded the program, thereby generating a surplus.  


A little known fact of that reform was that the surplus would be automatically loaned to Congress by law each and every year that a surplus occurred.  The American people are used to hearing about rampant budget deficits and an exploding national debt, but given the existing national debt of $13 trillion, how angry do you suppose the American people would be to hear that the actual debt was $2.5 trillion higher?  That’s because Congress has used the surpluses from Social Security to artificially reduce the deficit for each and every year since reform was enacted.  It’s all an accounting trick.  The amount that Congress has gone into the hole over the past 40 years of consecutive deficits is somewhere around $15.5 trillion.  That’s over 100% of our GDP, which places us in the company of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and other such nations who find their sovereign debt threatened with a downgrade.  


There isn’t much of a reason to trust that Congress will resist the temptation to utilize the money generated by the CLASS Act deduction for purposes other than the funding of long term home care.  After all, they’ve robbed Social Security for nearly three decades with impunity.  At a time when the share of personal income generated by private wages is shrinking, the government wants individual Americans to consent to giving up $146 to $240 a month to fund this folly of a program.  


When the time comes, and it will come sometime in 2011 when your employer approaches you about signing up for the deduction, you might want to pause and reflect on the revenues that you’ve already paid into our government and its programs.  Do you really trust the government to be a good steward of your money after its shameful performance of the past 40 years?  With two wars still ongoing, a $13 trillion deficit, shrinking wages, and rampant unemployment, do you really want to consent to the funding of yet another government program with your hard earned money?  Do we really want to give the federal government more money to work with?  

Do you trust the federal government to refrain from making the program and the deduction mandatory when the inevitable occurs and benefits exceed the amount of voluntary payroll deductions?  Washington has had enough of our money and then some, given our national debt and IOUs to Social Security, not to mention unfunded obligations to Medicare and Medicaid.  It’s time to say no.  


In the upcoming elections, we can take the first step towards clamping down on Washington by engaging in a thorough repudiation of its spending policies.  Every elected official who voted for the healthcare reform bill, and every elected official who supported it from afar, ought to be voted out of office in 2010 and the elections that follow.  We have gone too long as absentee lords of our government, and it is time to remind them that they serve at our pleasure and for our purposes.  Spending us into debts that will crush both our generation and that of our children and their children is unacceptable.  The debt must be confronted, and that means reining in government spending in every area.  Any candidate who refuses to commit to hard and specific cuts in government expenditures should not be elected to office.  The futures of our nation and our paychecks are at stake.  Vote your wallet and your checkbook in November 2010 and in every subsequent election if you would seek to retain and add to the contents of either.  


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Reflections on the Declaration of Independence and Our Current Circumstances



It is a habit of mine to revisit those documents so instrumental in the organization and structuring of our country from time to time.  I am an enthusiast for the archaic facts of history, as I find that it increases my understanding of how things came to be the way that they presently are.  It also enables me to distinguish between the true and the false where ideological appeals are concerned.  


What is remarkable to me in my most recent revisiting of the Declaration of Independence is how many parallels can be drawn between that document and the present reality of this country.  The litany of complaints in that document reads like a list of objections drawn from the present in the United States. 


Let’s take a look at one of those objections.  “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”  Ladies and gentlemen, government regulation costs us nearly $1.2 trillion a year.  Our businesses pass these costs on to us in the form of higher prices and lower wages.  And it’s only growing as we speak: our tax code alone results in a compliance cost of some $192 billion dollars, and it is currently over 3.5 million words in length, and on an average day, 1.5 new regulations are added to that tax code.  


This isn’t confined to Republicans or Democrats.  Both parties have participated in the rampant increase in the size, scope, and authority of the federal government over the past 70 years.  Both parties have encouraged a growth in the voracious appetite of federal agencies for ever greater amounts of funding, which they then consume for the ostensible purposes of promoting or protecting national interests, which inevitably fall into neglect regardless.  


We’ve heard how the Securities and Exchange Commission’s employees possess a proclivity for viewing pornography on the job.  Small wonder, then, that our economy imploded not under the weight of regulation and oversight, but rather from the neglectful eye of overseers who were too busy watching people copulate on their computers.  Therefore, these same overseers could not be bothered to tear themselves away from the carnal congress unfolding in full glory so that they might, say, investigate the FBI’s warnings of rampant mortgage fraud.  


Today we have a Congress and regulatory apparatus doing everything but the one thing that might prevent a future collapse: firing the incompetent, perverted, dilettantes who violated workplace policy and wasted our money and replacing them with competent professionals who might actually investigate charges of fraud.  The economic collapse was, as it turns out, entirely foreseeable, but not if your eyes were full of the offerings of Vivid Entertainment or Wicked Pictures.  I am no prude. If you must watch pornography, do it on your own time in the privacy of your own home.  Do not, however, do it on my dime as an employee of the federal government and expect me to be lenient or understanding when your negligence is at least partially responsible for the collapse of the world economy.  The issue is not one of ensuring that banks have higher capital reserves on hand; it is instead one of ensuring that government employees tasked with oversight and enforcement are doing their jobs as opposed to viewing pornography for hours at a time while at work. 


We have other reports of the Minerals Management Service employees and their tendency to use crystal meth on the job and view pornography as well. This, according to a US Interior Department report which found such behavior was included, but by no means constituted the entirety of regulatory shortcomings over at that particular agency.  In addition to the drugs and the pornography, employees of the Minerals Management Service accepted gifts from the oil companies they were tasked with overseeing, and generously allowed the oil companies to sign off on their own inspections.  That is, the employees of the Minerals Management Service never inspected anything.  They gave the appropriate documentation to the employees of the oil rig in question, and those employees filled out the inspection sheets.  No surprise that the inspection sheets indicated a flawless record in most instances.  


We can perhaps understand why it is that the deepwater well operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico is currently hemorrhaging oil into the water right now.  After all, the employees of the department tasked with overseeing its compliance with basic regulatory requirements for safety and operational feasibility were otherwise occupied with pornography and the ingestion of crystal meth.  It is also no surprise that several other wells have been capped after a  review which found that they possessed multiple design flaws which could have led to similar operational failures. 


We pay on the order of $1.2 trillion to comply with federal regulations, and we paid an additional $3.518 trillion in 2009 to get these results.  That’s $4.7 trillion, or nearly a third of our GDP.  I don’t know how one could credibly argue that we need more spending when the staggering amount of spending we already have has failed to produce a result which works.  No amount of spending will wipe out a culture of corruption that is ingrained within our government from the top to the bottom.  You can’t give individuals who watch pornography at work and use drugs on the job more money to do their jobs and expect that issues will magically be resolved by your beneficence.  


We have enough government spending in this country.  In point of fact, we have more than enough spending.  What we do not have is a return on our investment, and the reason we do not have it is that we have allowed our government to metastasize to a point where its bureaucrats and employees, who happen to be our employees, do not feel as though they are culpable for their actions.  Until that changes, we will continue to have widespread fraud in our markets and ecological catastrophes in our public waters.  


I have no objections to unions or unionized workplaces.  As a staunch believer in the First Amendment and the right of individuals to associate freely, I have no real issue with workers organizing to get themselves a better deal where matters of compensation are concerned.  Do I believe that they should be able to compel everyone who enters employment in a specific workplace to join them? No.  Free association goes both ways, and making employment contingent on mandatory membership in a union is a violation of basic individual rights and liberties. I don’t care one whit about the practical implications for unions.  Rights are not suspended for purposes of pragmatism, at least not legitimately.  


I also do not believe that union membership should keep you from culpability for your actions.  If you watch pornography at work, you ought to be fired immediately. If you use drugs on the job, or come to work intoxicated, you ought to be fired immediately.  I have no problem with a process being enacted to ensure fairness and ferret out slander from truthful accusations.  But in the event that you are found to have engaged in such behavior on the job, especially if you are a taxpayer employee, and government employees are taxpayer employees, you ought to be fired.  


We have come to a point in our society where failure is incentivized. Far from suffering rightful culpability, federal employees receive a great deal of leniency and many chances at redemption.  Not surprisingly, we have lax enforcement and a record of incompetence and corruption within government bureaucracies.  This culture of corruption is widespread.  It has stretched into our private sector as well, as the financial sector has come to understand over the past 30 years that if they fail, they will be bailed out and made whole by the federal government.  The costs have been high, some $23.7 trillion so far in the case of the TARP bailout.  


With each failure, our elected leaders and unelected employees insist that the answer is more. More money. More resources.  More power. More offices and departments.  The only things they want less of are accountability and oversight of their own performances and results.  


In closing, I will leave you with these words, from the Declaration of Independence: ...--That to secure these rights (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness), Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just consent from the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  With a government whose direct and indirect cost to the economy consumes nearly a third of our GDP, and a national debt which currently exceeds $13 trillion and which has an additional obligation of $2.5 in IOUs to Social Security, I would say that our government has become destructive to the security of our right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of our own Happiness.  It is time to institute a new government, and to re-organize its powers and re-establish its foundations and principles in such a form which shall be most likely to effect our safety and our happiness.  


 



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The Primacy of the Individual: The Intent Versus the Result in Statism and the Dangers of Leftism


Even as individualists, many of us want to group ourselves according to some larger identification or affiliation.  Since my gradual transition to minarchism began as the outgrowth of my move into libertarianism some ten years ago when I supported Harry Browne, I have been perpetually amused by the insistence of many anarchists and minarchists alike that they want nothing (or at most, as little as possible) higher than the individual as a mode of organization.  One has only to look at the wide spectrum of denominational affiliations within anarchism, minarchism, and agorism to see that there are higher modes of affiliation and even organization within our spectrum.  


How this would result in something other than statism or at least a construct which resembles statism in at least some respects has never been explained to me.  People group and cluster together naturally, being social animals.  They recognize collective interests, agendas, and beliefs and they group and organize around those commonly held ideals and causes.  In this natural process, what inevitably emerges resembles in every way statism on certain levels.  We have the declarations and statements of belief, assertions of various rights, organizational hierarchies and the processes thereof up to and including democratic votes, and all of this resembles on a certain level statism.  


The ideological purity insisted upon by some within anarchism and its affiliated movements does not ring true with me.  One of the reasons I’ve been turned off by statism and political ideologies in general is the obsession with doctrinal purity despite the overwhelming evidence that the doctrine in question does not worked as claimed when applied in a real world environment.  Let’s take the Drug War, the War on Poverty,  the War for Morality, and any other crusades and movements of the past 50 years.  Drugs, Poverty, and Immorality continue their unabated advance.  If anything, the efforts to combat these ills have arguably led to the perpetuation and expansion of the problem.  


On the same level, I’ve increasingly become disillusioned with government.  I just don’t see that it has ever worked in the way it was ostensibly supposed to work.  I don’t see that it ever even came close.  Government is a sort of beast created in a laboratory, where under laboratory settings, the beast would function in a controlled environment according to its design and purpose.  Unfortunately, the beast escapes the laboratory and makes it into the real world, where it wreaks unholy havoc.  


I am no longer an idealist.  I love animals and children, though I entertain no illusions about either.  The key to managing an animal or a child is to establish dominance in the relationship, to make both understand who is in charge.  Time and time again as a teacher, I had to learn and re-learn this lesson.  I also witnessed the natural result which inevitably occurred when parents had not established dominance or control in their relationships with their children early on.  


I feel the same way towards government.  It’s an unruly beast, and in order to make it conform to your purposes and desires for it, you have to beat the living hell out of it.  You may even have to kill it and get yourself a new one.  


I distinguish between my government and my country.  I love my country, and my love is rooted in the land and the common principles which I do honestly feel bind us.  There’s a decency among most of us.  We’ll help others in need.  I like what we are when our fellow man is in need.  I regret that we aren’t the same way when there isn’t an ongoing catastrophe.  


I love our Constitution, I love our Declaration of Independence, our various charters, and our flags.  I like the idea of being a part of something larger than myself.  Maybe it is the traditionalist within me, but being American gives me purpose, direction, and a sense of relevance in much the same way that being a Theist does.  There’s a spiritual impact I feel when I’m out and about in our country.  I love the land, and I love feeling that on some level, it’s mine as an American to have and to hold, to cherish and to defend.  


I love the history of our nation, good and bad.  There’s as much to be gleaned from the mistakes and errors of our past as there is to be celebrated from our shining moments.  For me, America is the land and the people, and the sum of their beliefs, philosophies, and the shared and individual experiences which make up our history.  These are very often at odds with government, which for me, is the state.  Government is the conduit for the very worst within us to be magnified and exposed in all of its ugliness.  The political component brings out the absolute worst within our country.  


I draw a distinction between Republicans and Democrats and what I consider to be the insidious evil within our society: the Left.  I firmly believe most Republicans and Democrats aren’t that far apart on values.  Your average Democrat comes from a manufacturing background, and was perhaps a member of a union.  Your average Republican likely comes from a similar background, but may or may not be a member of a union.  The working class tends to inherit their class and their political affiliation from the generation which came before them.  


They share similar values, even as you go up the social and economic scale.  I have yet to meet a Democrat in Alabama who does not abhor partial birth abortion.  In fact, I have to meet a Democrat anywhere that I’ve gone who does not regard it as more suited to the laboratory of Dr. Mengele than an American physician’s office.  We tend to acknowledge that teenagers will make mistakes with drugs, alcohol, and sexuality, but we don’t necessarily agree that the government ought to intervene to educate them on either of the three subjects.  We tend to regard such instruction as falling with the purview of parents and elders within a child’s immediate social circle, be it their family, their church, or their neighborhood.  


The Left does not regard sex education as the purview of parents for precisely the same reason it does not regard traditional family structures in high regard: it seeks to deracinate the traditional values and beliefs of any society in which Leftists exist.  It seeks to challenge and overturn convention, and not to erect anything better in its place, but rather to arrive at a sort of nihilistic destination where individuals are no better than subjects in some grand scheme or experiment conducted by ideologues and academics who want to tinker with the lives and beliefs of others and their cultures.  


The Left constructs some noble goal or some laudable end like the reduction of teen pregnancy or the reduction of sexuality transmitted diseases; and it proposes a program or agenda to accomplish its end.  The reality of the matter is this: the stated or ostensible goal of a Leftist is never the genuine goal.  Teen pregnancy goes up, not down, and the rate of transmission where venereal diseases is concerned skyrockets as well.  The idea is to change normative standards, to introduce alternative modes of sexual conduct in the name of limitless individual expression.  


It never once crosses the Leftist’s mind that limitless individual expression is not freedom at all, but rather an invitation to voluntary enslavement.  People can die as a result of their bad habits.  In point of fact, we refer to behaviors as bad for the very reason that they are a danger to human life.  We construct rules within a society or point to certain behaviors as virtuous because they lead to the perpetuation and the prolonging of life.  We don’t condone overconsumption or promiscuous sexual behavior because neither works to perpetuate or prolong life; rather, both are likely to shorten lives.  


We can’t force individuals to choose virtue, but we can erect societies where failure isn’t incentivized in the form of endless safeguards, bailouts, and nanny state regulations.  Protecting people from consequence does not result in greater survivability or happiness; it results in indolence and enslavement to whatever entity rescues individuals from themselves.  The point of salvation is freedom, not bondage.  


Leftists have a fatalist view or outlook on nearly everything.  Their idea is never that individuals left to learn on their own in the marketplace of behaviors can over time learn for themselves what works and what doesn’t; it is instead that individuals of a certain caliber or class are incapable of learning anything.  The Leftist regards the poor or the mentally disabled in the same way that they would regard a stray animal: they seek to spay, neuter, and yes, even subject them to euthanasia.  History is a testament to this. Look at the so-called progressives and the various movements they have spawned, eugenics and population control especially.  


Human beings are not animals, and anyone who would propose to treat them with the same management techniques and husbandry methods employed by farmers seeking to build or cull their livestock is unfit to hold power over the life of another human being.  If we regard the Leftist with cold contempt and even hot hatred; it is because he is contemptible by virtue of his low esteem for the life, autonomy, and right to self-determination of his fellow man.  

The reply of the Leftist is that someone must, absolutely must, provide some redress for the suffering of these poor dullards.  They are overrunning the Earth, consuming beyond the capacity of the planet to replenish itself, and they must be stopped to ensure the greater good of the human race.  Implicit within such logic is the fact that the Leftist does not regard whoever falls into the category of “they” as part of the human race, or at least as a part of the human race worth preserving on the same level as the class occupied by Leftists and their peers.  In truth, the Leftist regards such individuals as altogether separate from himself.  He may even, as history has shown, construct a classification system to relegate these others as being somehow akin to animals.  


The great danger of Leftism is this: it wears virtually every mask available.  Leftists have been Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and every other sort of partisan, religious, or ideological denomination under the sun.  The measure of Leftism is its obsession with pragmatism as the basis for action against or over others.  


It is from this pragmatism that many of the coercive abuses of the state spring.  Leftism is the soil from which the great heresies of statism spring: security as a justification for surrender of liberties rather than the means to the end of liberty; eugenics and forced sterilization; slavery and segregation; the reduction of women to a lesser status before the law with lesser privileges where suffrage and other matters were concerned; and the reduction of embryos from human status to mere protoplasm in the event of an abortion while simultaneously preserving laws which classify the murder of a pregnant woman as the murder of a child as well. If you would have a government function within the limits prescribed by its citizens, you must keep Leftism out of elected office and out of bureaucracy.  In point of fact, if you would have any sort of a society whatsoever, you must expel Leftists from your ranks the minute they reveal themselves.  


The Leftist is a vampire who sucks the lifeblood out of a society, a cancer and a pox upon culture who corrupts everything from public discourse to private conversation; and he encourages the proliferation of racial bigotry and resentment, gender inequity, slavery, and the equivocation of consensual sexual relationships between adults of sound mind to that of a man or woman who molests an animal or a child, neither of whom possesses the requisite mental faculties to form consent to a sexual encounter.  The Leftist must be identified, and he must be cast out and purged.  He sows only endless abstraction, and all in the service of tearing down the agreed upon conventions and normative standards of the society in which he exists.  


The Leftist seizes upon rights not as the end to realize his own Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, but as a means to overturn the Life and Liberty of others with whom he disagrees.  He seeks at every turn to utilize his freedom and autonomy to overturn theirs.  The end result of the open society which tolerates a Leftist is the extinguishing of individual self-determination, autonomy, and eventually, the extinction of the open society itself, which is replaced with a totalitarian or autocratic regime.  


The liberal or the conservative may be a Leftist.  As I have said before, Leftism is malleable to any ideology or affiliation, so long as pragmatism is introduced and melded with the the ideology or affiliation in question. When a conservative transitions to a point where agreed upon absolutes like the sanctity of life or the autonomy of individuals up to and including sacrosanct rights become mere means rather than ends unto themselves, he is a Leftist, as is any liberal who takes the same position.  When anyone comes to a point where they say to themselves, this is more important than life or the rights of individuals to their lives, their beliefs, and property is concerned, they have effectively removed themselves from whatever society in which they previously existed. They have committed treason.  From that point forward, they can only work to overthrow the freedom, self-determination, and autonomy of others who do not align themselves with the Leftist.  Everyone who does not believe as a Leftist believes become the Other, or the Enemy.  The freedom of the Leftist differs from your freedom and my freedom in that it is mutually exclusive to the freedoms of others who disagree.  


When Christian conservatives argue for boycotts against a sitcom on the grounds that it is immoral or promotes indecency, their position is not to make a statement of belief.  It is instead to deny others the right to determine for themselves whether or not the program in question is decent or indecent.  There is a fail safe method of determining merit in entertainment: ratings, and/or the money which flows from those ratings in the form of advertising dollars or sales.  The Christian conservative boycotts not as an exercise of free speech, but as an attempt to intimidate and coerce advertisers and producers of entertainment so that they will not defy the standards advocated by Christian conservatives.  It is the same with liberals who object to conservative programming in the same manner.  They are not content to let ratings or sales serve as an arbiter of a program’s success or failure.  They simply do not want anyone to be able to have the option of watching the program in question at all.  


I exercise my freedom by turning the channel or putting in a DVD.  The Leftist seeks to deny me the opportunity to choose for myself. His is a war on Ideas, an effort to drive all competing Opinions and Ideas from the marketplace in order to limit the options of consumers to only those which the Leftist deems appropriate or good.  Politicians who cater to this tendency, who inculcate within their constituencies an entitled attitude so common to Leftists, are not politicians at all: they are demagogues. 


Virtue is the foundation of any free society, and the ends of freedom is to find that behavior which works in the marketplace of conduct.  That is why individuals who save their money and live within their means build wealth more quickly than individuals who do not.  The Leftist seeks to dominate the marketplace of conduct to pick the winners not according to the merit of their behavior in a marketplace, but according to his own set notions of the way things ought to be.  He fails every single time.  


The last three of our Presidents have proven that, contrary to the myths and innuendos, drugs will not ruin your life.  All three used drugs.  They learned on their own that repeated, frequent, and abusive drug use was perhaps not the way to go through life.  My own personal experience taught me more or less the same lesson.  I see nothing wrong with recreational use; though I don’t see anything right about it either.  It’s a choice individuals ought to be able to make on their own time.  I firmly believe that if they were able to do so, overall drug use would decline both as a result of their epiphanies and as a result of removing some of the illicit qualities of drug use.  


The Leftist believes in the efficacy of the Law above all else.  He believes that the Law can prevent or deter crime.  We execute more people in this country than any other nation on Earth besides China, and we have the highest homicide rate regardless.  We have an abundance of laws and we incarcerate more people than any other nation on Earth besides China.  Crime continues to multiply.  


The Law does not prevent or deter crime.  It merely identifies a behavior as criminal and prescribes a course of action for the eventual occurrence of the behavior.  The Law is important in that it provides orderly processes and defined consequences for an action. It discourages vigilantism by providing a legal recourse to address violence against others, whether in their lives, persons, or property; and it provides a means for individuals to stand equally before the Law so that they may be held accountable for their crimes or their torts.  At least, that’s the way it ought to work.  


Just as the conservative traditionalist Leftist believes in the deterrent efficacy of the Law, his liberal counterpart believes in the rehabilitative efficacy of the law.  One does not rehabilitate or deter through the law.  One merely provides a consequence or redress commensurate with the crime or the tort in question.  


But the Leftist seeks not correction, but rather some abstract notion of justice.  Tell me, what is justice?  Is it the reciprocity of consequence?  Do we want that?  Do we want the state raping rapists so that they may know what they’ve done to their victims?  Does the acknowledgement of earlier wrongs which excuse present wrongs somehow constitute justice? Do we want the state taking into account the abuse suffered by a murderer as a child when sentencing him for his crimes?  Does this somehow mitigate the free choice he made when he chose to kill his victim?  


To invite this sort of nonsense into a society, to entertain it as a basis for governmental action, is to overturn absolutes and institute situation and circumstance in their place.  It is to invalidate the real and the actual in order to entertain the hypothetical.  It is to rob the meaning and significance from every area of our culture.  It is to say that an individual may own himself and his property, and that he may be entitled to pursue his own happiness with both as he sees fit, if and only x does not occur or is not presently occurring.  No individual may claim freedom based in individual rights or liberties in such an environment. His rights are dependent not upon his mere possession of humanity, but rather upon the situation or the circumstance in which he finds himself.  He is at the mercy of the Fates.  


It is to exchange civilization for barbarity.  We arrive at a debate where an attorney working in the employ of the United States Federal Government, whose salary is drawn from your tax dollars, can argue that the President has the right to sexually mutilate the child of a suspect in order to compel that suspect to divulge information.  The infant has no rights. He is a mere object to be exploited for an end.  His humanity is stripped and his claim to autonomy reduced to nothing.  He can make no objection to his own mutilation as the interrogator crushes his testicles in order to compel his father or his mother to divulge information that they may not even have to begin with. After all, they’re just suspects.  They haven’t been tried or convicted of anything.  When you look upon what Leftism has wrought, and the way in which it turns the State away from its intent of upholding, defending, preserving, and even expanding individual liberty and power, you can see where Leftism and the primacy of the individual are incompatible.  You can further see how intent and result are separated and rendered awry in statism. 


The problem is not statism per se; it is the appropriation of the state by Leftists of various stripes who put pragmatism before principle, results before process, ends before means, hypotheticals before what is presently real and known.  They proliferate laws, regulations, and bureaucracies, all in the name of arriving at Utopia and inevitably they arrive at Dystopia instead.  The problem of Leftism highlights a greater problem among those individuals who believe in sacrosanct individual rights: a lack of resolve and an obvious discomfiture on our parts to reckon with the obvious danger of allowing those who would exercise their rights in order to overthrow the rights of everyone else.  At some point, we cannot continue dealing in theories and endless abstractions ourselves.  We have to resolve to fight the Leftists in order to ensure our own survival.  


This naturally means surrendering some of our doctrinal purity to work with those whose opinions and outlooks differ from our own, but whose foundational ideals are nearly identical: individual rights are sacrosanct, non-negotiable, and the ends to which everything else from our government to our armies serve as means.  We can coexist because of this common foundation and outlook, but we cannot coexist with the Leftist.  His success entails our obliteration.  He builds the gulags, ghettos, and concentration camps for us.  He proposes our sterilization or our lobotomization.  He dreams of not only procuring nuclear weapons, but deploying them against his enemies.  We are fast approaching the hour when our own abstractions and silly theoretical bifurcations will no longer matter: our survival, and indeed the survival of the world in which we live, will depend on rising to meet the threat of Leftism once and for all.  


I leave you with this, the warning of German pastor and activist Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemoller: “When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.  When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent: I was not a social democrat.  When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.  When they came for the Jews, I remained silent: I wasn’t a Jew.  When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”  


Every time you hear the government assert for itself the power to hold individuals indefinitely without trial or legal counsel, or any time you hear of the President’s newfound authority to execute Americans without trial or due process, you think of your silence, and realize that it is your complicity which empowers the Left in its quest.  When they do inevitably come for you, there will be no one left to speak out.  These are your fellow citizens, convicted of nothing, only accused by a government whose record should give you little comfort or confidence about its motives and purposes.  


“And this guilt lies heavily upon the German people and the German name, even upon Christendom. For in our world and in our name have these things been done.”  


-F. Niemoller


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Limitations and Understanding: The Individual Above the State


When considering the state and its proper function in society, we must first begin with the notion of what a state is under various forms of society.  In the totalitarian society, the state is the source of power and possesses absolute control over property.  In the democratic society, the majority possesses power up to and including the power over private property.  That is, the majority may vote themselves the property of the minority.  Finally we arrive at the republican society, where the individual possesses power over his property and his person, and the power which he possesses serves as a check on both the majority and the state.  We call these powers rights, and we acknowledge that they are sacrosanct and non-negotiable.  


The exception to this notion of individual rights as being sacrosanct is of course the exercise of individual liberties in a manner whose net result or logical conclusion is the overturning of individual rights for everyone else outside of a particular ideological construct.  This is why we acknowledge the right of individuals to worship freely according to their conscience but deny them the power to seize control of government and enact ordinances or statutes which would serve to reduce other forms of worship to a lesser status in the eyes of the law.  


The concluding sentence contains within it the important distinction: in a legitimate republican society, individuals may not be more equal or less equal in the eyes of the law or the institutions tasked with upholding the law.  We allow for democratic selection of elected representatives, but we place them in manacles as their offices have enumerated powers which serve to limit their ability to act.  Democracy, like fire, possesses the power to destroy anyone who handles it carelessly or without regard for its intrinsic destructive power.  


In much the same way that we as parents or adults acknowledge the privilege of children to make choices within the parameters that we set, we set up democracy in such a way as to limit majoritarian power.  The child can pick the strawberry or grape drink while the lemon lime drink is not available for selection; the voter can pick the partisan of his choice with the understanding that the partisan may only go so far in a given direction owing to the enumerated powers of his office.  


Key to both forms of democratic selection and choice is an understanding of limits.  Without that understanding, problems emerge.  The child who does not understand at the outset that lemon-lime is not an available option will become petulant and surly; as will the voter who does not understand that the campaign promises his candidate holds forth to gain votes are impossible to enact owing to the constitutional limitations of the office the candidate seeks.


In America, many of our current problems stem from a lack of understanding where limitations on government power are concerned.  The federal government may not exercise any power it is not expressly authorized to exercise by the Constitution.  The powers not delegated to the federal government fall to the states via the 10th Amendment.  There are implicit powers within the Constitution, things which flow naturally from the executive branch, whose occupant and subordinate officials must evolve methods of executing the laws passed by Congress.  Executive orders, national security directives, and the like are reasonable when exercised to execute the the letter of the law, so long as that law is consistent with the Constitution and does not overstep the limits placed upon laws by the rights contained within the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments.  


This is the key distinction: constitutional consistency and alignment, and functions which fall within the parameters and limitations set forth by individual rights.  The government has no power to overstep the rights of individuals.  Indeed, the government exists solely to uphold, defend, and even expand the rights of individuals insofar as it explicitly codifies rights in the form of amendments. We know that the rights contained within the Constitution are not the only rights we possess.  The Framers and Founders explicitly spelled out as much in the Ninth Amendment, recognizing as they did the inherent danger in allowing individual liberty to be seen in the same light as enumerated powers.  


Rights are therefore uniquely distinguished from government power.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that there are other, unenumerated powers which exist for the government. If the laws do not conform to the limitations placed upon government by the enumerated powers of the Constitution and the rights of individuals which exist as a barrier to government authority and reach, then the laws are invalidated by virtue of their unconstitutionality.  If the laws do conform to the Constitution and do not overstep the barrier of individual liberties, then there may be implicit executive powers which must be exercised as a matter of practicality for the purpose of carrying out the law.  


The point which we must convey to individuals is that their rights are superior in every way to government power; for not only do they serve to limit government power and reach, they also serve to establish that individuals have other rights not expressly enumerated, rights which give unto individuals vast prerogatives to exercise their self-determination, to define for themselves who they are and what they would be if given the opportunity to make themselves into anything as a logical extension of their own labors and industriousness.  


We must also guard against individuals seeking to claim for themselves the power to exercise their rights in a way which makes a mockery of the claims of others to those same rights.  Equality before the law is the basic premise of a republican society, and without it, our society will collapse into fractious divisions and schisms.  Indeed, due to the the failure of individuals to comprehend the limitations of the state as a basis for their own empowerment, we have individuals seeking to assert for the state virtually unlimited powers so that they may enact their personal vision and prejudices as the law of the land.  This works out well when they have the majority, but when political tides change, we see that reciprocity is possible and likely.  No society which functions according the rule of a see-saw can have order and stability for long.  It is time that we understand that regardless of who has power, there will be limits upon that power which serve to promote a kind of stasis within our society that acknowledges the individual above all else, especially democracy.  

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Barack Obama: Inaction as a Form of Governance

After a year and a half of the Obama Administration, we may safely say certain things about the Obama way of governing.  At the forefront of the Obama approach to any problem is the printing of money accompanied by a laissez-faire approach to the systemic issues which underlie any major catastrophe.  The Obama Administration has realized the rub of the world economy, which is that it isn’t built on anything resembling reality in either accounting or trade.  


For example, one might have safely foreseen the danger involved in assembling an economic union with a dozen countries, all of whom retained their national identities and the unique prerogatives thereof, while instituting a single currency for the entire economic union.  Predictably enough, those countries with strong economies began running a trade surplus with the others, who, due to their unique prerogatives in welfare and pension obligations and the lack of a distinct currency of their own were unable to adjust their currency to stabilize in the face of mounting trade deficits.  This was not a surprise.  


The fact that the European Union mandated a strong deficit policy meant nothing in a regulatory and financial environment where one could shuffle one’s obligations to the future with securitized devices and thereby come in at under 3% of GDP in the current year.  Fiscal responsibility, like everything else in today’s world economy, was and is an illusion.  Greece never met the criteria for entry into the European Union, and neither did Portugal, Italy, or Spain.  But that was no matter to the likes of France and Germany, because they had captive partners who could buy up their arms and munitions.  In the case of Greece, their recent bailout is contingent on their continuing purchase of such arms so that Germany and France can continue to be enriched.  


Why exactly does Greece need more weapons?  Why is it a good idea to encourage arms proliferation in the area of the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey?  These and other questions have no logical answer, because there is no logical sense in continuing down the primrose path to a better armed Greece when Greece can’t even meet its obligation to its pensioners and creditors without a bailout.  


The great accomplishment of the Obama Administration has been to gain for itself a reputation for being a socialist regime when in fact Obama has shown a deference to industry which is quite stunning.  Say what you will about the government takeover of GM and Chrysler, but without that government takeover, GM and Chrysler would no longer exist.  There isn’t anything in the GM and Chrysler takeover which didn’t favor shareholders, who will eventually emerge with restructured, leaner, and more competitive companies whose debt is backstopped by the United States government.  Creditors did get screwed over, but unions and shareholders will ultimately come out of the morass of their own making with an intact company rather than the fossilized remains of an extinct former employer.  


Healthcare reform was more of the same.  Oh, the real socialists in Congress had hoped for single payer universal healthcare, but the speed with which they were shuffled aside in the debate and the near non-existent influence they had ought to have informed the larger public as to the true ideological leanings of Barack Obama.  The man and his allies in Congress accomplished a bill which reads like a Christmas list for the health insurance industry. The industry will receive over thirty million new customers, whose premiums will be subsidized by the government in the event that they cannot pay.  The total payoff for the health insurance industry?  Over $300 billion dollars.  


The death panels of the insurance industry will no longer be paid for by health insurers who retain doctors and medical professionals to review treatments and deny coverage. The cost will be shifted to the government’s vast new bureaucracy, and the liability will be non-existent, because that bureaucracy is exempted from such liability.  You can’t sue them, and you can’t sue your insurer, either, because they won’t be the ones making the decision to deny your treatment, or that of your child, or your mother, or your grandmother.  You have no recourse.  It’s the ultimate medical liability cap: 0$.  You can’t sue to force treatment, and you can’t sue to collect damages after the fact in the event that your loved one dies from the denial of treatment.  


The other stated reasons to pass healthcare reform were largely cosmetic.  They didn’t matter to begin with.  We know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this legislation will not contain costs or lower the deficit.  In point of fact, a remarkably similar scheme was attempted in New York back in the 1980s, a scheme which led to higher premiums and higher costs before it was jettisoned.  


It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that this occurred. After all, Michelle Obama achieved notoriety by developing a program for the University of Chicago Medical Center which shuffled the uninsured and Medicaid patients away from the hospital to other local clinics and hospitals.  As an administrator, Mrs. Obama made $317,000 a year for her efforts.  The emphasis of the Urban Health Initiative was not on providing care; it was instead on shifting the liability or cost of that treatment to other area hospitals.  By limiting their potential exposure to unreimbursed or lower reimbursed care, the University of Chicago Medical Center generated greater profits.  


That’s the healthcare reform bill, in a neat summation: the emphasis isn’t on providing care or lowering costs, it’s instead on shifting the liability.  Younger, healthier individuals won’t have the option of purchasing catastrophic policies which fit their individual needs as consumers.  They’ll be obligated to purchase comprehensive insurance policies, because their money is needed to subsidize the hospitals who treat lower reimbursement patients from Medicare and Medicaid.  It may be coercive, maybe even unconstitutional and deeply immoral, but it’s also highly pragmatic if you’re a health insurer or a healthcare provider seeking to lower your exposure to liability while maximizing your profits. 


In much the same way, the explosion of TARP from a sub-$800 billion bailout fund for the financial sector to a now staggering $23.7 trillion bundle of liability for the U.S. taxpayer represents a shifting of the liability from private banks who will get out from under their bad loans (and the accountability for those loans, which might have included, and arguably should have included, bankruptcy and insolvency up to the point of liquidation) and shuffle those loans to the U.S. government and the taxpayers. Moreover, those same banks now have $23.7 billion in liquidity to play with in the investment markets.  That’s how we went from 6,500 to over 11,000 in the markets in the span of roughly thirteen months.  


But investment doesn’t always yield jobs, especially when you’re investing in derivatives.  I’d like anyone to show me how a derivative creates jobs in the wider economy.  I’ve asked a variety of individuals, and no one has been able to show me a single job created in construction, manufacturing, the service industry, or any other sector of our economy from derivatives.  I’ve been able to show them an avalanche of eliminated jobs, and even a staggering amount of wealth that is no more.  


Watching CNBC can be informative from time to time.  Today, Larry Kudlow argued against the guaranteeing of sovereign debt and for the guaranteeing of banking debt without any obvious indicator that he understood how the guaranteeing of the latter led in many ways to the guaranteeing of the former.  We’ve dealt with banking and industry bailouts for the past thirty years.  The bill has come due.  Welfare in its various forms results in the purchase of private goods by its recipients, so in a very real sense, we could argue that welfare is nothing more than another subsidy to industry, especially given the trend in privatizing the administration of various welfare programs, which has seen defense contractors and weapons manufacturers take up the role of administering food assistance programs.  


We’ve dealt with out of control defense spending for the past forty years.  Our military is administratively top heavy by any reasonable assessment.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has acknowledged as much, and he wants to eliminate a number of officer positions as a result.  However, it’s too little, too late, and it would be instructive to examine the reasons why we haven’t already cut defense spending.  That’s right, we’re subsidizing the defense industry, and that industry has a lobby which has proven particularly effective at combatting any attempt to rein in military spending or address military graft and waste.  I might ask why we need a McDonald’s in Gitmo or the Balkans, and why it is that at a time when one of our generals has expressed concern that our nation’s children are too damned obese to be expected to fight in combat as adults that we are feeding our current troops fast food on foreign bases?  


But then again, I’m not Barack Obama, and I’m not that deferential to or solicitous of the concerns of private industry when those concerns run counter to the public interest and national security.  Which brings me to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, an ecological and economic crisis which threatens to overturn the economies of the Gulf states by decimating their seafood and tourism industries.    Not only did our government fail to have the requisite equipment available for deployment (burning booms were recommended back in the 90s, a decade and a half ago, to be exact), but they’ve deferred to BP at virtually every turn.  BP is used to being handled with care, given their repeated disregard of safety regulations and environmental requirements, not to mention their apparent lack of common sense, which has led to multiple disasters on land at their refineries.  


Despite being instructed to cease and desist with the use of a particular chemical dispersant, BP continues to use the dispersant and in doing so, it flouts the authority of the federal government and indicates just what a respect it holds for that government. From the inception of its response, BP has lied about the amount of oil being spewed into the Gulf of Mexico at every turn, and they have failed at every turn to contain the spill.  The federal government’s response?  BP will pay for it.  


Yes, we know that BP will pay for it eventually. But in the meantime, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be throwing everything we have at this crisis in an expedient manner which reflects the pressing nature of this crisis and its implications for the economies and environments of the Gulf states.  Now is not the time for studies and commissions.  We have to prevent the oil from saturating our marshes, wetlands, and beaches any more than it already has.  


We have troop surges halfway around the world when things aren’t going as planned.  We spend trillions to protect and secure the ground situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, while allowing an oil spill to threaten to implode our Gulf states on any number of fronts.  This threat is immediate, and it requires an immediate response.  If we have over $2 trillion and counting for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the rebuilding of their infrastructure, and $23.7 trillion loans and guarantees to backstop Wall Street and prevent it from absorbing the culpability of its bad business decisions, we’ve got the money to pay for the effort to save the Gulf of Mexico now and we can bill BP later.  


Inaction as a form of governance is beneath contempt.  It is one thing to remain quiet and detached when it is called for.  Our best course of action would have been to allow the banking industry to collapse so that its sickest institutions could be purged and liquidated, and so that the entire financial sector could emerge healthier and better and wiser for the experience.  It would have been better to do nothing than to pass a healthcare reform law which will add to our already staggering national debt and create an increase in the already onerous cost of healthcare for consumers.  


When action is called for, our government does not answer the call.  When our border security functions as an invitation to illegal crossing, and our Gulf states face the threat of economic and environmental implosion, waiting for BP to decide what to do is unconscionable.  Standing by as oil washes into our wetlands and on our beaches with a cavalier attitude is absurd.  Insisting that a private company will bear the cost of making a local economy whole when its market capitalization clearly indicates that it will not be able to do so is patently disingenuous at best and outright deceitful at worst.  

Barack Obama has shown himself at every turn to be unconcerned with the plight of average Americans and the matters that concern them.  He has offered them remedies which will only compound their problems at a later date, or he has stood by with a detached air of sickening certitude and arrogance.   As unemployment climbed beyond the level which he and his administration insisted would serve as a ceiling, he offered no balm or respite.  As millions of Americans continue without employment or the prospect thereof, their unemployment benefits are cut off due to partisan bickering and they have no jobs which will hire them due to their overqualification or the simple fact that for every available job, something on the order of eight applicants exist.  


The debt continues to climb, the deficits continue to mount, and the bifurcation between this administration’s treatment of Wall Street and industry and that of its concern for the plight of ordinary Americans has never been starker.  Short of manna from heaven or some other form of deus ex machina, what are Americans to do? They certainly can’t count on their government to deliver anything, and what is more, they can’t count on their government to have the decency to get out of the way when others try to do something.  


As Louisiana waits for the Army Corps of Engineers to complete its study of the viability of sand berms as a means to stopping oil from pouring into its wetlands and estuaries during spawning season, its citizens and officials quietly simmer, knowing that over 21 miles of berm could have already been in place if only the federal government had stepped aside.  As inventors and private companies express bewilderment over the failure of BP to return their calls or even express a passing interest in the potential efficacy of their products to provide a solution to the problem, our federal government obstinately refuses to do anything to provide an incentive for BP to seek alternative solutions to its current course, which by all accounts is failing to keep oil off of our shores and fisheries.  


The United States of America deserves better than a government which functions as an anchor around the neck of local citizens and bureaucrats who desperately want to take their own fates in their own hands to do something, anything, besides what the federal government is doing: nothing whatsoever of substance or significance.  It is time for each of us to recognize the import of what is occurring: our federal government no longer serves the interest of this republic.  It’s heart and mind lie elsewhere, and it’s ears are deaf to our petition.  When the law ceases to be a means of recourse whereby both parties are equal before its institutions and the government sworn to uphold the law, the people may justifiably take matters into their own hands. 

 

And so, Louisiana, build your sand berm, and to hell with government by inaction or obstruction in the case of endless studies and commissions.  The federal government may not answer to the people of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, but their state governments do.  It is time for the state governments to do what the federal government will not do: represent the interests of their people above all else.  It is time for the government of Arizona to realize that the federal government is refusing to enforce border security, and is obstinately refusing to even process those individuals who are picked up by the Arizona authorities for being here illegally.  Governments exist to enforce the laws and defend the freedoms and liberties which make such laws necessary and even proper.  The foundation of freedom is the idea that freedom enables men to choose virtue of their own volition and reap the rewards or suffer the consequences of their choices.  When the law becomes an impediment to this, and the institutions of government and their authority incentivize and even condone the choice of vice while impairing or offsetting consequence, it is time to do away with the government as a pox on civilization.  We shall not regress to chaos and disorder simply because our government refuses to act in a manner consistent with the very law it is sworn to uphold, and the interests of its people.  We have the right and the power to take up our own interests and contend for the survival of our way of life, governments of inaction be damned.  


Barack Obama will serve out his term.  He was elected democratically, and our Congress lacks the fortitude or decency to impeach him for his obvious failings.  Democracy does not always produce the best result, and the obvious tragedy of the election of 2008 is that no better alternative was there to be had.  In 2012, it is up to us to see to it that a better alternative exists, and that a better alternative is elected.  It is time for we the people to take our fate and our survival, and that of our republic, into our own hands.  Governments are as inactive as we allow them to be, and they will grovel before a determined, armed, and fed up electorate.  We have turned out multiple incumbents in the primaries, and come the general election, we must sound together in a stentorian chorus that our issues and grievances will no longer be ignored.  Government by inaction, regardless of its heading by a photogenic and oratorically gifted president, is not a government which can pass electoral muster. Gird yourselves up with indignation and rage, and mount up for war at the ballot box in November, while realizing that this election is the first of many where we will compel our government to meet the demands of the people.  

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