Friday, June 29, 2012

The Day After

Yesterday was shocking and depressing for people with faith in the Constitution and freedom. Much of the day was filled with people trying to make sense of the Obamacare (now ObamaTax) decision.  So see a broader perspective for what Justice Roberts did. The best of these I read was Sean Trende’s piece, “The Chief Justice’s Gambit," which was definitely worth reading.

But I am not in favor of a “broader” purpose for the Supreme Court. Just tell us whether a law passes constitutional muster or not. And if the explanation is so obscure that plain-thinking Americans familiar with the Constitution itself can’t see where you’re coming from, maybe we need to mostly ignore the reasoning as far as precedent is concerned.
One good thing is that the majority of the court (Roberts plus the four voting against constitutionality) state clearly that the mandate cannot be construed as a constitutional extension of the commerce clause. In fact, Roberts spent so many pages (about 20) saying that, the immediate assumption by CNN and Fox News was that the law must have been struck down, which they needed to walk back a few minutes later.
What I think should not have happened was that, rather than throw out a bad law (that’s a euphemism for what this monstrosity actually is), Roberts went out of his way to find a way to allow it. He declare that the mandate is simply a tax. The biggest tax on middle and lower class Americans (or maybe bigger than on any people at any time in history)—even though Obama et al spent a great deal of energy and words asserting that it was not a tax. [Ironically, in oral arguments, the administration’s lawyer, Verilli, had to argue one day that the law was certainly not a tax, and another day that it certainly was; even Sotomayor pointed out that you can’t have it both ways.]
This law was passed without any help from Republicans—at a time when no GOP help was needed. This is all, in its entirety, the fault of Democrats, who had total control of both houses at the time. Still, it required finagling, bribery, and midnight manipulation to shove it through one weekend night in March 2010. I think we can say without doubt, if this had been billed as a huge tax on low and medium earners, there is no chance it would have passed.
One description I saw of how this mandate/tax works goes something like this:
Customer: No thank you. I don’t want to purchase that pack of  gum.
Salesperson: OK, tax on that will be $2.35. 

I spent much of yesterday doing summer reading: 1776, by David McCullough. I think I’ll post more about this next week, in honor of the 4th of July. But the idea that struck me was that, during the early part of the Revolutionary War, the good guys were severe underdogs. If they could have stepped back and seen how outgunned they were, they might have resigned themselves to the tyranny. But they trusted Providence (the hand of God intervening to help them) and just did whatever they could conceivably do for their great cause. They were mostly everyday people, unqualified for what was required of them. And yet we know the outcome.
It may be that what we just experienced was the equivalent of Bunker Hill:
Bunker Hill was proclaimed a British victory, which technically it was. But in plain truth His Majesty’s forces, led by General Howe, had suffered more than 1,000 casualties in an appalling slaughter before gaining the high ground. As was observed acidly in both London and Boston, a few more such victories would surely spell ruin for the victors (p. 8).
We suffered a literal loss yesterday. But it may be that the limit to the commerce clause, as well as the ability for states to opt out of the Medicare section—followed by determined follow-up by voters and their new representatives this November—this “victory” by the anti-freedom side will surely spell their eventual ruin. With the help of Providence, may it be so.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mandate Does Not Equal Freedom

Tomorrow we are expecting to hear the final verdict on Obamacare from the Supreme Court. In the aftermath there will be plenty to time to go over the reasoning. So for now there is either just predicting what’s about to happen, or restating the arguments. There are people better at both of those than I am, so this post will be short, and mostly directly you elsewhere.

My fairly safe prediction is that the mandate will be struck down, stronger than 5-4, more likely 6-3.
The question of whether the whole law will be struck down is less certain. By logic, when there is no severability clause (and in 2000+ pages, there was certainly room for such a clause), then the law cannot stand without the mandate. The debate in oral arguments included  the question of whether it was up to the Court to go through all of those pages and see what could be kept and what couldn’t; the justices were rightly indignant about being expected to do that. That is not going to happen. But some say that meant they should leave the rest of it alone, and others say that meant they should throw it all out and let Congress start from scratch. It will probably be 5-4 whichever way it goes.
If any part of the law remains, that will be incentive for opponents (the majority of Americans) to vote Obama out so it can be repealed ASAP. If none of it is left, there is fear Obama will do his dictator thing and insist on keeping socialized medicine limping along through illegal use of executive order.
So, no matter what decision comes down Thursday, we’re not yet free of this albatross.
In the last hours I’ve read a couple of commentaries worth quoting. Jay Cost talks about the mandate as a method of redistribution of wealth—not for “fairness,” from wealthy to poor.
First, the individual mandate represents an enormous transfer of wealth, completely independent of income or social status. It transfers resources from the healthy to the sick, from the young to the old, without regard to who has more money to begin with….
Second, the mandate itself is the method by which the Democrats have delivered literally billions of dollars’ worth of patronage to the key interests groups that lined up with them during the health care debate. The party sought to apply new layers of regulations upon doctors, nurses, hospitals, retirement care facilities, etc., and they rightfully feared a rebuke from these key “stakeholders,” as the Obama White House called them. What better way to buy their silence than to require 30 million Americans become their customers, whether they want to or not!
In reference to the failed public option, Cost said, “none of those stakeholders whom the mandate bought off wanted to compete with the government!”
This piece byVictor Davis Hanson wasn’t specifically about Obamacare, but more a referendum on the overall failure of the current presidency. The whole thing is probably quotable, but here are just a couple:
In less than 40 months, Obama destroyed the greatest bipartisan good will that any recent president has enjoyed, and has done more to discredit Keynesian neo-socialist politics than have all of talk radio, Fox News, and the internet combined.
The private sector is not doing fine, but shortly will be when it is assured taxes won’t soar, energy will be cheaper, and Obamacare will cease.
One way or another, let’s look forward to the end of this monstrosity.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Borderline Ruling

The Supreme Court decision early today on the Arizona illegal immigration law is just out, so what I’m doing here today is giving my first impression. It’s possible I will understand it differently in time. But here is the summary.
There were four provisions of the law under question:
  1. Section 2(B): When Arizona law enforcement reasonably suspect that somebody they have lawfully detained is in the country illegally, they must check immigration status.
  2. Section 6: Arizona law enforcement can make warrantless arrests if they have probable cause to believe that the suspect is in the country illegally. The person is then turned over to federal immigration authorities to deal with.
  3. Section 3: It’s a crime under Arizona law for illegal immigrants to fail to carry alien registration documentation.
  4. Section 5(C): Unlawfully present aliens can’t knowingly apply for, solicit, or do work in Arizona.
The first was upheld unanimously. The other three were struck down in a split decision (5 to 3, with Kagan recused).
So there’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that the essential question was upheld. Arizona is not racially profiling or otherwise infringing on rights when they have detained someone lawfully and then additionally check on their legal status. To most observers, that was pretty much the total question.
However, the other sections are troublesome. The second part (section 6) says Arizona can find out a person is not legal and can then arrest them on suspicion of being in the country illegally. Now they can’t arrest. I’m not sure that means they can’t detail—until the federal government responds to inquiry and then takes possession of the illegal detainees. They may still be able to detain and hold. But it sounds like the Obama administration is making it clear they’re not going to help, with information on legality of suspects, with taking custody of detainees, or with enforcing the law on illegal immigration.
The third provision (section 3) was struck down as unnecessary, because it is exactly a repetition of current federal law. So it’s not struck down as wrong, but as unnecessary for a state to put into law when federal law already makes the requirement.
The fourth one (Section 5(C)) was struck down, but it is still unlawful for illegals to work; it just places the burden of weeding out illegals on the hirer, where it has been, rather than also on the hired.
The first one, that was upheld, was in part because claiming a class of people have been harmed by a law that has not yet been implemented is problematic. Once the practice is allowed, there is the possibility that someone could then claim to be the subject of racial profiling, and could then start a new lawsuit related to this provision. The good thing is that the ruling says the law in itself does not discriminate, and if there is no illegal practice in implementation, it will be legal. But they say that remains to be seen.
I’m troubled by the separation of federal and state law. You don’t want state laws to preempt federal law on those things that are properly in the federal purview. You wouldn’t, for example, want a state to make trade arrangements with a foreign nation at odds with federal policy. For example, if Florida decided it would start importing cigars from Cuba while that is against federal law, you’d have a problem. It’s appropriate for federal law to cover border integrity. But what you’d expect to be a problem would be a state refusing to enforce federal law; you don’t expect there to be a problem with a state using its resources to comply with federal laws already on the books. That’s not a conflict; that’s a synergistic success.
Unless you have a federal government whose policy is at odds with federal law. Then you have a state complying with federal law that the federal government is refusing to enforce—and they sue the state not for interfering with the actual law, but interfering with policy at odds with the law.
In my opinion (and I think this matches Scalia’s dissent), the state should not be prevented from having or enforcing laws in complete compliance with federal law.
The tenth amendment points out that, while enumerated powers are delegated to the federal government, all others are reserved to the states and the people. In other words, the people and the states have delegated some specific duties to the federal government (and no more than what is spelled out). And the people and states could only delegate those powers if they had those powers in the first place. The state and individual do not cease to be able to protect themselves when they have delegated the general protection to the federal government. If an individual is attacked in his home, he can call for help from local or state law enforcement, but he doesn’t need to cower with no power to protect himself; he can pull out a weapon and protect himself, even killing the attacker, any time the next higher up government protection isn’t successfully protecting him.
The same must be true for a state. If a border is not being kept safe by the federal government to whom that duty was delegated, then the state has every right to continue to protect itself; that right was never absent.
I think the border states should not only go ahead and protect themselves, they should charge the federal government for any costs incurred. There should be a way to intercept money headed to the federal government from the state, and those costs deducted first (I don’t trust the federal government to reimburse—just saying). Because it simply adds insult to injury for the federal government to fail in their duty and charge the victim for the costs of protection they failed to provide.
So the troubling thing about the ruling is a basic misunderstanding about the relationship between state and federal law. I wish we could better trust the court—especially this week, when the nationalized health care ruling is scheduled to come down on Thursday.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Only the Shadow Knows

A couple of nights ago, when Political Sphere got home from work (he gets off at midnight), I told him, “It’s official; Eric Holder is contemptible.” Yes, Congressman Issa had held the vote as promised, when Holder stonewalled and failed to provide any of the documents that had been subpoenaed.

Now, we have known he was contemptible for some time—at least since he announced that he would not prosecute voter intimidation cases against the New Black Panthers. Because he is racist. There is no other explanation for that. He is not head of the DOJ for US citizens, but only for selected special interests that he favors.
There are plenty of reasons for us to hold him in contempt. But the contempt ruling from Congress means the same as it would in a court of law: he failed to respond to the subpoena.
Early on there was a dribble of documents that were supplied, only a tiny fraction of what was required, but there were some few hundred pages supplied. At that point Holder and the Obama administration were saying the president and head of the DOJ had no knowledge of the operation. That is a huge admission of incompetence in the administration, but it is an attempt to exonerate the higher-ups.
They could not claim executive privilege on something that had never come before them. But now suddenly that is the claim. Executive privilege has a legitimate purpose. The President must be able to get candid communications from those who brief and advise him, or else he’s not in a position to make a fully informed decision. So those advisors must be able to speak openly without some public scrutiny of every word later. That is the main purpose. An additional but weaker argument for executive privilege would be national security—that sources or processes and procedures, if they were to be open to public scrutiny (including international scrutiny, which the news media assure), could endanger those who work to secure the nation.
Executive privilege may not be invoked to cover up wrongdoing; that was settled by the courts during the Nixon era. And yet, the more Holder insists on EP while simultaneously insisting “I knew nothing,” and “The President knew nothing,” the more he sounds like a liar trying to obstruct justice. Why would he risk going to prison to cover up documents that show no wrongdoing by him or the president? More likely, he’s withholding documents that would prove wrongdoing that would also likely lead to prison.
So this was what I was opining to Political Sphere, when he came up with another theory altogether. Here is how he tells it (with tongue firmly in cheek—and have you noticed how difficult it is to talk that way?):
Some say that Barack Obama’s previous claim that he and Eric Holder knew nothing about Fast and Furious contradicts his extension of executive privilege over said Fast and Furious documents. Au contraire. He is merely admitting what conspiracy theorists have known for decades—that there is a shadow government that rules over the president’s every decision. They were the ones who authorized the Fast and Furious operation, which they failed to mention to either Obama or Eric Holder. Happens all the time. No need to interrupt his golf game.
So, truthfully, they had no knowledge; they wouldn’t lie about such a thing. Executive privilege can still be invoked, even on information the president and his DOJ head did not know about, because, well, the shadow government would not be pleased to have its machinations, er, um, policies and processes revealed.
Right. Now I totally understand. Who wouldn’t do the same in their shoes? Obama and Holder have my sympathy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Executive Disorder

There seems to be some misunderstanding about what an executive order is. In short, it is an order by an executive to carry out (that is, execute) the duties of that role. It doesn’t sound that difficult to understand.

In the federal government, with powers carefully separated, an executive doesn’t make law, but carries out the laws set forth by acts of the legislative branch. So this week when President Obama made an executive order to offer some sort of legal status to grown children of illegal aliens, that wasn’t accurately an executive order at all; that was a law change by fiat—not a power we have granted to the executive branch.
Back in the early days of the country, one of the first orders by the executive, President George Washington, was to place an order for a set of dishes to be used at state diplomatic dinners. Diplomatic relations with foreign dignitaries was a role required of the executive branch, so it seemed reasonable. And when the funding for the order came before the legislature, which had power over the budget, Congress granted funding for the request.
Over the decades, executive orders were mostly policy statements to the various specific departments directed by the executive. These aren’t laws. They aren’t even regulations. They are policies and procedures that are intended to meet the objectives of the law.
But over the decades, particularly recent decades, Presidents have pushed the boundaries. Back in President Truman’s day, the Supreme Court pushed back. Truman tried to put all steel mills in the US under federal control. The Court saw that as making law and disallowed it. Which put future presidents on warning, and since then they have mostly cited the law they are supporting when making executive orders.
Executive orders have been used to fight wars without the formal declaration of war, but in those instances Congress has followed up with authorization. It was seen mainly as a timing issue of immediate military needs.
Problems began to mount in the last few decades when the executive branch granted power to regulatory agencies, with intrusive legal authority that never passed through Congress. One of the “causes” of executive order overuse has been contradictory laws and regulations. The US legal code is pretty convoluted—even incomprehensible to the non-legally trained public. And that leaves a lot up to interpretation. Executive orders have been used to direct policy during a particular administration, in a way saying, “While I’m in office, we’re going to interpret the law this way.” Or maybe just saying, “We’re going to focus enforcement here with limited time and resources.”
Rather than the executive branch interpreting and then picking enforcement priorities, a better solution would be to insist on clarity in the code, but we’re not likely to get that in the short run. Real arguments come when the president’s policy simply disagrees with the law, so he uses executive orders to circumvent the law or simply ignore it.
An example would be Obama’s ending the Mexico City Policy, thus authorizing taxpayer funds to be used for grants to international groups providing abortion services. That was done his first week in office. A couple of months later he removed restrictions on taxpayer funding for  embryonic stem cell research (research that, by the way, continues to produce zero successes, while non-embryonic stem-cell research continues to make headway; it’s about wanting to sacrifice embryos more than it is about advancing science.)
In the current administration “executive orders” are simply a maneuver to exert power when Congress hasn’t seen fit to grant it. There’s even a catchy name for this “program”: “We Can’t Wait.” It combines executive orders, regulatory rulemaking, and recess appointments to avoid needing Congressional approval before doing whatever Obama wants to do. Note that all the czars appointed by the president are extra-constitutional, so none of the regulations put forth by any agency headed by a czar should be given authoritative weigt. And pretending that Congress is in recess during a weekend shows “he won’t wait,” but it hardly illustrates Congress as the roadblock he claims.
Shutting down an executive order, at least in this day and age, is difficult. Congress can overrule, but requires a supermajority. Even cutting off funding is more difficult than it ought to be. And a Supreme Court ruling requires a lawsuit by someone who can show damage from the action, and time for the issue to work its way up to the Supreme Court.
So Obama orders at will, with a “what are you going to do about it?” arrogance. The quickest, simplest approach is to vote the president out of office, and toss out all his executive orders along with him.
Which means, executive orders are arbitrary and temporary—bad things when you’re dealing with a society that functions by the rule of law. As Thomas Sowell explains this week, anyone who comes forward and claims their parents are illegal aliens risks making that known when the Obama rule could disappear within the year. And who is going to hire a newly identified suddenly legal alien, putting in the training and investment needed for a new employee, if there’s a risk the next year of being charged with hiring illegals?
If the change had been through congressional debate, those questions might have been answered. The arbitrariness would have been eliminated before a rule became law. There are reasons to wait for Congress. In general, the less Congress does, the better off we are.
But Obama “can’t wait,” or maybe can’t be bothered with details like the Constitution. He prefers being an autocrat. This executive does a lot of ordering, but what he creates is disorder.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dad Rules

There’s this book beginning, of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, that says, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I disagree. I think it’s just about opposite. Misery is based on someone, or several people, breaking promises and failing to follow God. The same things are pretty much a given: selfishness, broken promises, hurting one another.
But in happy families, there will be a wide range of experiences, a lot of well-intended trial and error, fun, boredom, disappointment, exultation, and life spreading before us in all its variety.
I was thinking of this for Father’s Day weekend, about what it takes to be a good father. There’s not one single form; there’s as wide a range as there are good men. But there are some rules. (Someone reminded us of these in church yesterday, and now I wish I’d written them. I’m just relying on memory here.)
A Dad will:
·         Spend time, more than money.
·         Work hard for and with his family.
·         Enjoy playing with his family.
·         Love the mother of his children.
He can be athletic or not. He can be good with a grill or not. He can be loud or quiet. He can be polished or a little rough. He can be himself, whatever that is—if he’s trying to be his best self.
Mr. Spherical Model, near the beginning of the Dad job,
about 22 years ago.
Here are a few of the quirks we’ve observed in our household Dad, Mr. Spherical Model.
·         Vacations are for doing things you don’t normally get to do, or see things you don’t normally see; so there’s no excuse for wasting a minute. You fill every minute. Ten+ miles a day should be minimum.

·         Sports are for girls every bit as much as for boys—and Dad will just about always be the coach (which explains why daughter Social Sphere learned basketball instead of dance).

·         A dad that is big enough to intimidate just by walking in a room and looming over everyone gets the luxury of acting friendly to the kids’ friends.

·         Being considered an honorary teen for several extra decades is better than a lot of worldly honors.

·         It’s good to be one of those dads/grandpas/neighbors who loves holding babies and is sure he has the secret formula for calming fussiness.

·         When you say no to a daughter and she texts back that she hates you, you can be sure that she doesn’t really hate you and an apology is forthcoming; but you can save the texts to illustrate the amusing anecdote later.

·         Sure, save for a daughter’s wedding, but no matter what, it will cost more than you ever envisioned—but if you’ve been a good Dad all along, then she’s probably choosing the right groom, and it’s worth it.

·         Never swear around the Mom or kids, and the kids won’t swear around their Mom either (and maybe not around their friends either).
There’s more, of course. So far it’s been nearly three decades of being a Dad for Mr. Spherical Model. And so far we’ve raised our three children to be young adults we can be proud of (and thankful for). And we’re on to the dessert course—grandparenting.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rebutting Shock Doctrine

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend that I have spent some time thinking about; I promised I would. It was concerning a documentary designed to worry us about our loss of freedom. I’m very much interested in ways of restoring and preserving our freedom, so I paid attention. But there are ways to gauge whether what you’re hearing is truth or simply propaganda. I suggest starting with a few questions:

·         What is the point of view of the information source?
·         Do the themes coincide with known principles?
·         Is there documented and verifiable evidence following a line of logic, rather than implication and accusation?
The case study today, to practice identifying truth vs. propaganda, is a documentary called Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, who also wrote a book by that name.
What I was told about it was that this documentary was about this economist from Chicago named Milton Friedman, who along with his powerful followers, has been involved in all kinds of crises around the world, where big businesses take advantage of chaos (possibly of their making) and make big money at the expense of the people.
To begin with, I am fairly familiar with Milton Friedman, a free-market economist and Nobel laureate, who has indeed spread free-market principles so that now, after three quarters of a century of Keynesian and socialist experiments in government controlled economies, free-market principles (lower taxes, less regulation, and limited government) are widely accepted as mainstream and provably true. I’ve heard him speak in person, and in various online videos, lectures, and debates. He is always calm, logical, and consistent. And there isn’t anything conspiratorial about his massive body of work. Here are a couple of my favorites: an Uncommon Knowledge classic, and a panel debate along with a young Thomas Sowell, against Frances Fox Piven and others.
I was given the name of this video with the evidence, but not the name of the person, but it was easy enough to find online. Naomi Klein is a Keynesian disciple, and probably also a socialist. She supports the Occupy movement, along with Frances Fox Piven. So, before I even look at either her writings, speeches, or documentary, I know that she favors a government controlled economy and quite likely radical disruptive means to that end.
What she claims is the pattern of the Milton Friedman-style free market economics is actually the pattern of Cloward & Piven—leftists whose goal is to inflect socialism worldwide. They are among the 60s and 70s radicals who gathered groups to occupy banks with the intention of forcing banks to give business and housing loans to people who could not qualify based on merit. Some of this action against banks started in Chicago, where training was provided by community organizers that a young Barack Obama met with weekly (see Stanley Kurtz’s Radical in Chief, pp. 34-35). The disruptions were intended to force banks (or whatever target) to capitulate to the demands of the trained crowds, or else lose business, because the crowds were too overwhelming for local law enforcement. The demands led to changes in banking, including lowering of standards, which led to unsafe lending practices, which resulted in the housing bubble, bank failures, and inevitable economic crash we recently experienced.
Klein tries to instill a fear of Milton Friedman, but she never tells the truth about him or his beliefs. Milton Friedman never advocated creating chaos for the purpose of starting with a clean slate. The “shock therapy” theme she ascribes to him doesn’t appear in his writings. She shows him using the term one time, in the 1970s, in Chile, but we do not get to hear it in context. What we do know is that it is not the context she implies. She wants us to believe that he created, or at least encouraged, the chaos in Chile under severe dictator Pinochet, including economic upheaval, saying that such “shock therapy” would create a blank slate on which to impose “purer” free market economic principles. But even the timing of the supposed quote shows that such a suggestion is impossible. Friedman was brought to Chile a year after union-led riots in the streets began, so there was already chaos—caused not by freer markets, but by a combination of tyrannical policies and labor unions—just as Cloward & Piven would prescribe. (The debate panel linked above mentions both Piven's and Friedman's views on the situation in Chile as it was ongoing.)
She also quotes Friedman from an op-ed he wrote at age 93, shortly before his death, following the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. Here is Friedman’s supposedly damning statement: “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity."
I’m sorry if I don’t see the problem with the statement. I was in Houston at the time, where our crime rates (temporarily?) skyrocketed following the importation of the New Orleans poor, who were brought here for refuge. New Orleans was a city where it was easy to live poor. Generations of people were born and raised in housing projects, with no attempt to leave, were trapped by a system of government largesse combined with ingrained laziness and hopelessness. The schools in question were failing to meet even the lowest expectations of a public school system. Transporting these people to other parts of the country did indeed give them an opportunity to find an alternative, better way of life. There’s nothing in Friedman’s statement to disagree with. Nor is there anything to imply that he prefers a crisis to simply choosing free market alternatives.
Klein implies that any movement toward lower taxes, deregulation, and freer markets is the chaos inducer, but she shows nowhere that such policies are implemented. She only recounts dictatorships followed by union-led rioting.
Until she gets to Margaret Thatcher. There, she again shows union-led riots in the streets, claiming that lower taxes, less regulation, and other basic free-market principles were so unpopular that Thantcher had no right to try them. Oddly, she claims that Thatcher may have created the chaos of the Falkland Islands War to force through free-market ideas. The piece is rather vague, however, about how Thatcher persuaded Argentina to invade the island of English-speaking British citizens, or why it would have been better to abandon those citizens to the Argentine invaders, where they would have to submit to dictatorial rule in a language they didn’t speak. Thatcher did what a leader is expected to do: provide protection from foreign invasion. And she dispatched the whole thing in a mere three months.
Klein repeats the argument with the Soviet Union, claiming that Friedman’s Chicago “gang” had control of our government so that no aid would be offered to Gorbachev in his efforts toward freedom unless he followed the “drastic” “shock therapy” version of moving toward freer markets that would induce chaos.
Eventually Klein offers a clue about her point of view: she claims that the Keynesian policies of price controls implemented during the Nixon and Carter years worked brilliantly, but all that progress was ruined by Reagan, who subscribed to those terrible Chicago free-market ideas.
Klein is considerably younger than I am. I lived through the Nixon price controls. (Interestingly, Dick Cheney, in his memoir, talks about that season when he was working for Donald Rumsfeld in the Nixon administration; price controls weren’t the result of some brilliant group of economists coming up with the correct numbers, but rather the guesses of a few staffers during an all-night session trying to meet a deadline. And Nixon knew they wouldn’t work but figured giving in to the Democratic Congressional pressure would allow evidence that they didn’t work. If that was true, he was right. See In My Time, pp. 59-61).
During my first college semester, I took basic economics and had the advantage of a free-market teacher, which was somewhat rarer in those pre-Reagan days. We talked about those price controls—and why they never worked. The lesson stuck because I had lived through the price control experiments and knew how harmful they had been to the economy and spent my college years seeing Carter's policies provide malaise and what Reagan accurately termed a high misery index.
Klein’s main point is that freer economic policies always lead to chaos. And she insists that Milton Friedman’s style of free-market economics was radical, experimental, and manipulative on the world stage. But she provides no evidence that upheaval in the places she shows iwas caused by anything but political unrest against tyranny combined with purposeful union-led rioting, rather than actual grassroots dissent (tactics embraced by her cohorts, but not by her enemies).
She seems to define free-market economics very differently from how I do. To her, big business in collusion with corrupt government equals free-market economics, and insists that is Friedman’s plan.
I heard Milton Friedman speak in person in 1980. During that speech, he showed that better conditions for more people are provided by free markets than any other way—in other words it is the most moral and ethical system. About big business, he warned that they aren’t promoting free enterprise when they ask for handouts and regulations and controls to avoid competition.
Naomi Klein is considered one of the world’s foremost young intellectuals—a consideration only given to “leftists.” She did not complete her university degree in journalism and makes money by encouraging socialist philosophy. Her works, as far as I can see, are neither well documented, well thought out, or remotely truthful. But if you follow her thread of thought to its logical conclusion, she is saying that more government control is the only good economic system, and big business, which she equates to the free market, is a worldwide conspiracy intent on draining money from the poor to enrich themselves.
Milton Friedman could easily have rebutted Klein, if he had found her worth bothering about. Thirty-two years ago, I heard him say this:
The two greatest enemies of free society are intellectuals and businessmen—for opposite reasons. Intellectuals want freedom for themselves but no one else. Businessmen want free enterprise for everyone else, but special consideration for themselves.
Do large corporations take advantage of crisis situations? Certainly. They offer bribes in exchange for special favors, and legislation that protects them from competition. This is what we call “crony capitalism.” It’s rampant not just worldwide, but in our own country today. It is the practice of socialism to claim fairness while elites decide who gets favored, often based on bribes and corruption. Crony capitalism does not resemble in the slightest the principles taught by the late Milton Friedman.
If Klein were honest, she could say outright that she is in favor of governmentally controlled economy, and then present actual evidence to support her views. Instead, she vilifies an enemy of her viewpoint in a way that not only distorts his views beyond recognition, but hides her own intentions from the casual observer.
The basic principle, that whoever earns the money should decide how to spend the money, is still true. Klein is apparently among those elites who think you’re too stupid to know how best to spend what you earn, so you should subject yourself to your betters to decide for you. But she can’t come right out and say that, so she obfuscates. She’s about propaganda, not truth.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Restoring the Republic

US Rep. John Culberson (R., TX)
A couple of evenings ago I got to hear Rep. John Culberson (R., Texas) at King StreetPatriots. He was my representative until the recent redistricting lined us out. I appreciated that he was both conservative and responsive. Hearing him speak was enjoyable. He knows history and adds in little extra details here and there to illustrate points about today. He’s a great fan of Thomas Jefferson, and believes if we apply core Jeffersonian principles, we can get back to the Constitution. We can restore our republic.
Rep. Culberson used a visual illustration about rights. He poured a full cup of water into a glass he called individual rights—the rights God gave us, not rights granted by some governmental entity. From that cup he poured an ounce, not too much, into a cup he called states’ rights—the things he grant to the state and local governments to keep order in our lives. From that cup he poured just a trickle into a third cup labeled federal government. The only powers the federal government has are the few enumerated things—so we can protect our borders, avoid piracy on the high seas, not much else. Anything not poured into that cup (i.e., enumerated in the Constitution) is in the small amount in the states’ rights cup or, mostly, in the individual rights cup. (Every time he took a sip of water, he said, “I’m drinking that out of the federal government cup.”)
The purpose of the evening was to outline a specific plan for shutting down whole sections of the federal government. While I think he needed another hour to fully flesh out his idea, I think we got some of the basics. In essence, he is looking at federal legislation in conjunction with state legislation and litigation over individual rights.
If you are an individual who feels your rights have been abridged, he would like you to contact him to see if your case can serve to bring the issue in front of the courts. This was the main action item he asked of the audience. (Personally, I feel violated for having been forced through a TSA scan without probable cause. I don’t know if this is enough, but it is an example.)
An example of legislation includes changing federal grant money bills to make all grant programs disappear in two years, so that there is a need to look at the purpose again, and requiring states to opt in, rather than the typical status quo in which states must opt out of perpetual programs.
He also suggests following the method of codifying done in Texas: sunset and repeal of all federal law, and then recodify in plain English (can be understood by layman without law degree). He believes this can be done logically and systematically, because he saw the results in Texas. He wants to get rid of any federal programs that are redundant of state programs (education, welfare) so no money for such programs gets filtered through the federal government; he suggests any money a state has put into such programs be divided into two parts: one to pay down the national debt, and the rest to go to the state to handle those issues itself.
He said every federal law should identify the portion of the Constitution granting federal power to make such an action.
He would cause ever executive order to be defended as to legality and powers granted to the executive branch.
He said we should repeal five or ten laws for every one that gets passed.
There were a few quotable moments. When he was recalling the attempt to reform the prison system in Texas, he said, “It’s like fighting a fog bank.”
Talking about the refusal to allow prayers at funerals at Houston’s Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, he told how the official who made that rule was fired. That happened because he is on the committee for veterans’ benefits, and threatened to allow funding if that person wasn’t removed. It took that much influence to make it happen. He said, “If you can’t fire somebody for interfering with a veteran to pray over a grave, you can’t fire anyone for anything.”
He talked about the imbalance of power that happened during the Civil War, but even speaking in the South, he was clear that Lincoln valued the Constitution and individual rights, and he personally believes that if Lincoln had lived, the balance would have quickly returned. I hope he writes a book on that someday.
Especially I hope he and others who believe in God-given rights are quickly successful in restoring our republic after there has been so much damage.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Overruling God

new baby Political Sphere on the way--we're excited!
Back in 2003 I was at the state capitol in Austin to testify on DOMA legislation (which passed and was then essentially nullified by the US Supreme Court’s erroneous Lawrence v. TX decision a month later). That testimony was on a day when 700+ proponents of the legislation showed up in person. Only a relative handful testified, but the opposition gathered local forces and dragged everyone they could muster to come and testify against it. This meant that testimony took a long time. It took a long time for the state committee to get to us at all after other issues on the agenda. And then they postponed some of the testimony for several hours; I was among those. I eventually testified just before 2:00 AM.

While waiting in the hallway, I had a conversation with a couple of people waiting there even longer, to testify on an abortion issue. They wouldn’t be heard until our issue was fully covered—so probably somewhere around 4:00 AM. I’ve forgotten the name of the young woman I talked with; she was an attractive 30-ish woman lawyer. I came across her at the capitol once or twice more in the following years. I remember being very grateful that she was there, dedicated to work on that particular issue.
To do unpaid lobbying, like I was doing, takes energy and time, and I couldn’t give so much that my children’ schooling suffered (two were there with me that day—quite a field trip). So I felt like I needed to depend on someone like this dedicated young woman, who took it in stride that she was put off till almost morning to provide needed information on an important incremental issue in the pro-life debate.
And since then I still haven’t specialized in this issue. I have my stand; it is what I consider very pro-life (allowed but not encouraged in cases of rape and incest, where the woman was deprived of the choice whether to engage in the causal behavior; and in cases where the mother’s life is in jeopardy—which often puts the baby’s life in jeopardy as well).
Sometime maybe I’ll go into more detail about why I allow for exceptions; I think my viewpoint is entirely morally supportable. But that’s for another day. What has my interest today is a statement by the president that keeps echoing, I believe because it reveals something philosophical in his thinking that we should be wary of.
This is from some time ago (spring 2008, during the previous presidential campaign). He was talking about sex education, and using his daughters as examples: "I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."
Let me rephrase that a little more fully: “I think God got it wrong; the natural consequence for having sex as an unmarried teenager is too severe; pregnancy should not be the result. And since God is wrong, I’m going to correct the error by intervention, making it easy for God’s mistake to be corrected with a simple surgical procedure so that the natural consequence doesn’t punish any young people against my will. And I will use my governmental position to make sure the taxpayer foots the bill for this God-caused error. So let it be written; so let it be done.” (To make it actually sound like Obama, add a liberal supply of umms and uhs to the above version, and take out the Yul Brynner quote.)
It is the assumption that God got it wrong and that Obama therefore has the right to impose the correction that I find very troubling. If he is willing to overrule God on something so basic and well-known as the fact that pregnancy can result from sex, what would be the limits of his assumed authority?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Texas or California

Yes. Yes I do think Governor Walker’s victory Tuesday in Wisconsin is indicative of what will happen nationally in November. It was a statement about what works better: doing what’s right to get people working and keeping more of their own money, instead of mounting debt to pay for union and special interest demands.

This special election doesn’t necessarily show who will win the Wisconsin electoral votes in November, but it might. One thing that it wasn’t was close. That is going to be important, because rigging elections only work when they’re within a couple of percentage points. In Wisconsin, I understand, Madison had an incredible turnout: 119% of registered voters. We shouldn’t worry with Eric Holder’s DOJ sending in an army of poll watchers, though. Oh yeah, except it’s his DOJ that has refused to prosecute voter fraud but claims that voter ID laws are intended to cause voter fraud. (Read Injustice, by J. Christian Adams. I wrote about it October 12th, October 18th, and March 14th. )
Anyway, my reasoning for believing the Walker victory is a predictor is that I believe the ideas of truth win out over the lies that are necessary to convince people to submit to tyranny.
A couple of days ago I read a piece by political analyst Michael Barone, wherein he talks about the migration from high-tax states to low-tax states—which happen to be more economically vibrant places to make a living. With the current downturn in the economy nationally, mobility has nearly subsided. But what happens when (if?) the economy improves? Here’s his summary:
Continued domestic out-migration from high-tax states? Certainly from California, where Gov. Jerry Brown wants to raise taxes even higher. With foreign immigration down, California is likely to grow more slowly than the nation, for the first time in history, and could even start losing population.
Fortunately, governors of some other high-tax states are itching to cut taxes. The shale oil and natural gas boom has job-seekers streaming to hitherto unlikely spots like North Dakota and northeast Ohio. Great Plains cities like Omaha and Des Moines are looking pretty healthy, too.
It's not clear whether Atlanta and its smaller kin--Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Jacksonville—will resume their robust growth. They've suffered high unemployment lately.
But Texas has been doing very well. If you draw a triangle whose points are Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, enclosing Austin, you've just drawn a map of the economic and jobs engine of North America.
Texas prospers not just because of oil and gas, but thanks to a diversified and sophisticated economy. It has attracted large numbers of both immigrants and domestic migrants for a quarter century. One in 12 Americans lives there.
America is getting to look a lot more like Texas, and that's one trend that I hope continues. [Emphasis mine.]
I think we could reasonably use California and Texas as the metaphorical picture for what doesn’t work and what does. The snapshot hasn’t always looked like this. California was at one time vibrant and rather conservative. When that changed, outgrowth began (somewhat balanced up until recently by international immigration); since 1990, Californians have been pouring into other states. We left in 1989, only to find ourselves followed to the northwest by Californians who drove up housing prices and tended to institute some of their cultural oddities in their new home. (This was affectionately called “Californication.”)
Texas, on the other hand, was run endlessly by Democrats up until the early ‘90s. In-migration increased in Texas once air conditioning was invented, but oil and computer technologies have been major draws. Since the state became statewide conservative (except for a few odd pockets like Austin and inner cities), it became a great place for business. We came here in 1998, a few years after the conversion.
What we have before us is evidence that high taxes and strangling regulations give you economic calamities of European proportions. But low taxes (Texas has zero income tax; California is about to raise theirs to 13%), and business-friendly laws lead to relative prosperity. From where I sit, inside this triangle of economic engine, unemployment is too high and opportunities that were here before the recession that started in 2008 have not yet returned. But compared to the nation, our distress is much less—and we are likely to recover as soon as the federal government gets out of the way, because we’ve already gotten out of our own way.
Wisconsin has made significant progress since Governor Walker was elected on a promise to do exactly what he did that so upset the unions that they tried to recall him. This week the people strongly voted to keep moving toward being more like Texas. Good direction.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Not All Cultures Are Equal

I like food from lots of different cultures: practically anything with a lot of fresh (or simply prepared) fruits and veggies and simple grilled or roasted meat, poultry, fish or shrimp. There are lots of ways of coming up with variety of flavors and styles using those basic requirements: Tex-Mex, Italian, Asian, Indian, French provincial, Greek, etc. We have an extraordinary variety here in the Bayou City, with more authenticity than we find in other domestic cities we’ve spent time in. (My guess is you can get this variety in NYC, but I haven’t done more than drive through, many years ago.)

It’s hard to pick a favorite. I’m used to American food, but chicken-fried steak with thick gravy and potatoes along with canned green beans just won’t sit well with me. (Nothing at McDonalds or most fast foods, with the exception of salads, meets my personal cuisine culture either.) American culture is a mix of other cultures, so we probably combine handed-down food ideas with other cultures several times a week, and sometimes in the same meal.
So I’m not saying one cuisine is better than all others, only that I require that general freshness and healthfulness from my food, whatever the cultural heritage.
Similarly, there are particular rules for civilization that lead to thriving culture. That is not to say that certain flavors are better than all others. But it is true that not all cultures lead to thriving culture. Thriving requires a freely religious people, who are honest and family oriented. (See the civilization section of Spherical Model.)
Yesterday I read a piece by Victor Davis Hanson, where he dared to state the politically incorrect fact that not all cultures are equal. His words:
I lived in Greece for over two years and often travel to northern and Mediterranean Europe and North Africa. While I prefer the Peloponnese to the Rhineland, over the years I have developed an unscientific and haphazard—but often accurate—politically incorrect method of guessing whether a nation is likely to be perennially insolvent and wracked by corruption.
Do average passersby throw down or pick up litter? After a minor fender-bender, do drivers politely exchange information, or do they scream and yell with wild gesticulations? Is honking constant or sporadic? Are crosswalks sacrosanct? Do restaurant dinners usually start or wind down at 9 P.M.? Can you drink tap water, or should you avoid it? Do you mostly pay what the price tag says, or are you expected to pay in untaxed cash and then haggle over the unstated cost? Are construction sites clearly marked and fenced to protect pedestrians, or do you risk walking into an open pit or getting stabbed by exposed rebar?
To put these crude stereotypes more abstractly, is civil society mostly moderate, predicated on the rule of law, and meritocratic — or is it characterized by self-indulgence, cynicism, and tribalism?
The answers to these questions do not hinge on race, money, or natural wealth, but they do involve culture and the way average people predictably live minute by minute.
I think we can even ask these questions about our own cities and regions, or even neighborhoods. Maybe we need to start by asking some of them about our own homes, and move out from there—which is the way a thriving culture grows.
I read one other item about culture this morning. This is from Facebook; a friend posted a letter from an emergency room doctor. I don’t know the original source, but I'm including the doctor's name as given.
During my shift in the Emergency Room last night, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient whose smile revealed an expensive shiny gold tooth, whose body was adorned with a wide assortment of elaborate and costly tattoos, who wore a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and who chatted on a new cellular telephone equipped with a popular R&B ring tone.
While glancing over her patient chart, I happened to notice that her payer status was listed as "Medicaid"!
During my examination of her, the patient informed me that she smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and somehow still has money to buy pretzels and beer.
And, you and our Congress expect me to pay for this woman's health care? I contend that our nation's "health care crisis" is not the result of a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses.
Rather, it is the result of a "crisis of culture", a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of one's self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. It is a culture based on the irresponsible credo that "I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me."
Once you fix this "culture crisis" that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you'll be amazed at how quickly our nation's health care difficulties will disappear.
Starner Jones, MDDuring my shift in the Emergency Room last night, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient whose smile revealed an expensive shiny gold tooth, whose body was adorned with a wide assortment of elaborate and costly tattoos, who wore a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and who chatted on a new cellular telephone equipped with a popular R&B ring tone.

While glancing over her patient chart, I happened to notice that her payer status was listed as "Medicaid"!

During my examination of her, the patient informed me that she smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and somehow still has money to buy pretzels and beer.

And, you and our Congress expect me to pay for this woman's health care? I contend that our nation's "health care crisis" is not the result of a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses.

Rather, it is the result of a "crisis of culture", a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of one's self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. It is a culture based on the irresponsible credo that "I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me."

Once you fix this "culture crisis" that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you'll be amazed at how quickly our nation's health care difficulties will disappear.
His point is that the health care “crisis” can in large part be solved by changing our culture. If we look at many other “crises,” we might find far more solutions in cultural change than in political tinkering.