Sunday, January 31, 2010

News flash: snow is cold, slick and icy

I’m thankful to be alive. For a moment I thought I had breathed my last. Snow has fallen, and if it weren’t for the local news I’m sure I’d have assumed room temperature by now. From their expert, on-the-spot reporters I have learned that snowstorms produce icy conditions, slick roads and cold temperatures.

Maybe I shouldn’t joke about death. I could meet my end at a moment’s notice. None of us are promised our next breath. So, for that next breath I am truly grateful. However, is there really a need for talking head reporters to tell us how to deal with every natural weather condition? To be brutally honest I don’t need it. In fact, I consider news coverage of most storms as an insult to my intelligence. Let me give some examples.

One reporter was “live on the street” in Salisbury, NC. He told me that I shouldn’t venture out in the two to four inches of snow. First, two to four inches isn’t exactly the storm of the century. Second, if roads were so impassable, how did the reporter get to Salisbury? Did he go by dogsled? Maybe a helicopter dropped him in on a cable, kind of like when Lucy Ricardo was lowered onto the cruise ship.

After telling me the gravity of my situation, the newsroom staff joked with the reporter about the coffee shop patrons across the street, who came out to wave at the news cameras. How did those people get to the coffee shop? I’ve heard that some people live at Starbucks. But I always considered that a metaphorical statement. My guess is that these people drove their cars, which rendered as ludicrous the entire report about impassable roads.

Another reporter positioned himself near the intersection of NC Highway 273 and I-85 in Belmont, NC. This guy came complete with props. He and his snow shovel proved that ice could actually be present in snow. Well how about that? Join him for his next jaw-dropping report, when he verifies the presence of water vapor in clouds. Please! The reporter shoveled the snow aside so viewers could see the ice patch he’d discovered. He scraped and scraped. He kept talking, but who could hear him? His shoveling obscured his every word. Good thing he had nothing worthwhile to report.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse out came the driving instructions. The shoveling reporter admonished a passing motorist for driving too fast for conditions, and then informed me that the offending driver was the type who’d be in the ditch thirty minutes later.

That’s a bit presumptuous. Who is this reporter is to determine the intentions or abilities of the car’s driver? The car looked to be traveling no more than 20 MPH. It wasn’t slipping, sliding or spinning in the least. And why say that the car would be in the ditch in thirty minutes? The reporter barely knew what was happening in the present, much less the future. That car could have slid into the grass at any moment. Or, its driver could’ve completed the journey without incident, just like untold numbers of drivers do every time snow falls.

That reporter ventured into the cold and snow, violating the very safety instructions he conveyed to me, just so I’d know that snow can be icy and roads can be slick. Stay at home next time, pal. Sit in front of the fire. Drink some hot chocolate. You served no useful purpose whatsoever.

If there’s anything worse than a Nostradamus wannabe reporter who states the obvious it’s a reporter who has no idea what’s going on. The final reporter I saw, before turning the channel in disgust, combined those two characteristics into one mindless, wholly unwatchable segment.

No remote report is complete without the perky blonde, and “Winter Blizzard Icy Blast 2010” (or whatever mindless moniker the media hung on this storm) is no exception. Let’s call the perky blonde “Bunny.” It just seems to fit.

Bunny was strategically perched on a highway overpass--bridges will freeze before the main roads, in case you didn’t know--and kicked off her report by telling me that it’s cold outside. Uh, Bunny, there’s snow and ice everywhere. I think I can figure out I don’t need my swim trunks today. Thanks anyway. Maybe you can return in August and tell me all about the summer’s heat.

If Bunny’s report were a prize fight it would’ve been stopped right there. Unfortunately, there was no referee and Bunny wouldn’t throw in the towel. At least she’s persistent. Bunny next told me that sleet was falling and could be plainly seen hitting her face. “It feels like hail,” Bunny exclaimed.

Bunny my dear, sleet can be difficult to see when you’re looking through the living room window. It’s nearly impossible to see on television. You’d have a better chance identifying stegosaurus DNA with a magnifying glass. However, I did learn one thing; Bunny has never been outside during a hailstorm.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t the worst of Bunny’s report. Remember that part about not knowing what you’re looking at? Well, Bunny’s obliviousness to her surroundings became evident just before she signed off. She told me that the roads were slick (thanks for the tip . . . again!) but that there were many cars traveling the interstate.

Bunny, switch to radio. On radio you can paint any picture you want and the listener will never know the difference. Television cameras have this tendency to show the situation as it exists. One car passed while Bunny talked about the high volume of traffic.

I’ll give the weather forecasters their kudos; they got this one right. The snow fell just as they predicted. But snow has fallen before, in much greater volumes, and will fall again no matter what Al Gore says. This isn’t the storm to end all storms. It’s not the end of the world. I’m confident in my knowledge that snow is cold and ice is slick; that roads can be slippery and that frigid air accompanies winter storms. I really don’t need reporters to share that information. I can walk out the front door and see it for myself. Unless I slip and bump my head, chances are good that I won’t die. Neither will you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spend $400 in 15 minutes? Child’s play!

A few days before Christmas I read a newspaper report about a stolen debit card. Apparently the victim’s wallet was taken from her purse, which hung from her shoulder, while she shopped. Such a theft is a shameful indictment on human nature, especially at Christmastime. But it’s not at all surprising.

The thief wasted no time in using the ill-gotten windfall. While the victim was submitting the police report a female suspect was making purchases at the same store where the theft occurred. According to the newspaper’s account the thief spent $400 in 15 minutes.

That’s a fair amount of money. It may not be a leap-from-the-window loss, but more than most people care to lose. An employee would have to earn $50 per hour just to cover the 15 minute spending spree, based on the eight-hour day. That’s an annual salary of $104,000. Not too shabby in these economic times.

But this pickpocket went through $400 in 15 minutes. A worker must make $1600 per hour, $64,000 per week, over $3.3 million per year to earn the equivalent of what this thief stole. The CEOs of Home Depot, Motorola, eBay, and UPS don’t earn that much, according to the Forbes 2008 list of executive salaries.

The 500 CEOs on the Forbes list received a cumulative salary of $6.4 billion in 2007, making the $400 debit card theft seem like child’s play. However, I’m not condemning CEO salaries. Although CEOs are routinely demonized, their earnings are child’s play compared to the federal government’s expenditures. Do you realize that those CEOs will have to earn that $6.4 billion each and every year until 2565 to offset 2010’s federal budget of $3,550,000,000,000? That’s $3.55 trillion. I think I smell pirates, and they aren’t cruising the Somali coastline or the corporate boardroom.

CEOs would fare a little better if they pooled their $6.4 billion to combat Congress’ recently passed $290 billion increase in the debt ceiling, which will float Washington for about six weeks. CEOs need only to chip in their next 45 years worth of collective earnings to satisfy government’s increased borrowing. The entire Forbes list can be funded for their entire working lives on what the federal government can spend in a month and a half.

Let’s see how these corporate “robber barons” stack up against other significant numbers. We’ll begin with the national debt, which increases faster than the human eye can follow. According to the national debt grows by $1 million every 25 seconds, standing at $12.3 trillion. Now let that figure roll around in your head for a minute or two. How long would our CEOs have to work to fund the current debt? Only 1,926 years. And that’s assuming the debt remains static, which it doesn’t.

In reality, the debt’s growth rate will consume the collective salaries of the Forbes top 500 CEOs in just two days. As for the middle class, the debt’s growth rate will erase a $40,000 annual salary every second.

2007’s CEO salaries could pay off our Social Security obligations in 2,207 years, Medicare Part D in 2,921 years and Medicare in 11,616 years. Our unfunded liabilities exceed $107 trillion. That’s 16,744 years in CEO pay. Worse yet, these unfunded liabilities could be satisfied only if you had 80 cents for every hour that has passed since scientists say the universe was born some 15 billion years ago. Sadly, those liabilities would increase by about $3 million before you finished writing your check.

Somehow losing $400 in 15 minutes doesn’t sound so bad now. The federal government can lose $36 million in that amount of time. Keep that in mind the next time a politician says the federal budget has been cut to the bone.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A cautionary look at Scott Brown’s victory

Who would’ve thought that someone with an “R” beside their name could win federal office in Massachusetts? If you had bet a C-note on Scott Brown’s chances before Christmas the taxman would be knocking on your door. And now a Republican fills the seat where the ever-errant Ted Kennedy parked his fat caboose for nigh on to half a century. Amazing!

Republicans are understandably euphoric. There is a joy and optimism not seen in the Grand Old Party since 1994. Early in the Obama administration I wrote that Democrats were repeating Clinton’s mistakes, which led to that Republican Revolution. It is beginning anew.

However, there is a problem with emotional highs; they wane. I hate to rain on the Republican parade, but a word of caution is in order. This game is far from over and the cause of limited government and individual liberty has a long way to go. With the Super Bowl around the corner a football analogy may be in order.

Your team trails 24-20 with time running out. They have the ball on their own one-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage they gain eight yards. That’s a good start. But cause for celebration? Not quite. They’re still ninety-one yards from victory. If your team thinks that their eight-yard gain is the ballgame they’ll go home losers just as surely as the sun rises in the East.

That’s about where we stand in restoring “a Republican form of government” (U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 4). If the Republican Party is the vehicle for attaining that goal--and that’s quite an "if"--then we have been pinned on our own one-yard line, our backs against the wall with no room for error, since the 2006 and 2008 elections. We got there because Republicans forgot the reason they were elected.

Republicans fumbled. They drank deep from the well of government excess, becoming intoxicated with the power that comes with spending other people’s money. They forgot, or chose to ignore, the party’s core beliefs. The Republican Party put itself, and the republic, on the one-yard line.

Electing a Republican in Massachusetts exposes vulnerability in the opponent, a window of opportunity that can be exploited. Scott Brown’s victory is a good start, an eight-yard gain. But not only do we remain ninety-one yards from pay dirt, we haven’t a first down yet.

Like I said, I don’t mean to sound pessimistic or belittle the significance of Brown’s win. Republican Senators from Massachusetts have become as rare as tripping over 20 pound gold nuggets. It’s just that there are far too many experts treating this gain as victory. It’s not.

Yes, it will derail the healthcare power grab for a season. But we remain a long way from restoring constitutionally limited government, from reasserting state’s rights, and from recognizing the value of the individual over the “collective good”. Complacency is a valid concern.

Voters have short memories and experts are less than, well, expert. George H.W. Bush’s victory in 1988, following eight years of Ronald Reagan, prompted “experts” to declare that Democrats would never again win the White House. Four years later we had Bill Clinton. In 2004 the “experts” declared the Democrat Party all but extinct. Two years later the Democrats took control of Congress.

In 2008 the Democrats gained the White House and extended their congressional majorities to quasi-authoritarian levels. Some “experts” pondered the end of the Republican Party. Other pundits said it would take fifty years for the party to regain its feet. But Republicans have fared well in recent special elections.

It appears that electoral winds are shifting toward Republicans. Is that a positive step? Or, does it merely mean that we may lose our liberty at a slower pace. Republicans had ample opportunity to scale back government and restore fiscal sanity between 1994 and 2006. How did that turn out again?

Certainly Scott Brown’s victory in the deep blue Bay State is a repudiation of the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda. But it is, at best, the opening play of what promises to be a long, hard drive. We’re still 91 yards from the winning score.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rep. Weiner, we aren’t a nation of whiners

Was the Massachusetts Senate race a bellwether on government healthcare? Maybe so. Scott Brown made opposition to the Reid/Pelosi agenda paramount in his campaign. He won. And it’s significant for a Republican to have won the seat Ted Kennedy occupied for 47 years.

Does Brown’s election mean that healthcare reform is dead? Not necessarily. Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe remain Senate wildcards. If just one of them defects—and both have been known to “reach across the aisle”—some form of healthcare bill could proceed. Thus far both have held the line.

This Republican solidarity is no surprise to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who doesn’t think a GOP defection is likely. Prior to the election, Rep. Weiner said a Scott Brown victory would signal the death of healthcare.

Mr. Weiner likely means healthcare reform will die. In that case I hope he is correct. But considering the leftist’s mindset, Weiner may mean that healthcare will disappear altogether, as if it can’t exist without government.

Such flawed thinking about government is why we have a $12 trillion debt and more than $60 trillion in unfunded government promises. It is why the dollar is becoming play money and American businesses have difficulty competing. It is why we have a mortgage crisis and a housing bubble, and why we depend on a communist country half a world away to float our debt. In short, the idea that government can provide all things to all people is why we are on the cusp of national bankruptcy.

No one needs the government’s permission to receive healthcare. Each of us can do that on our own. Go to the doctor if you’re sick; you’ll be treated. If you lack insurance you can always pay the bill directly. Clinics also offer payment plans for patients who can’t afford to pay their bills in full.

What’s more, you don’t have to visit the family doctor every time you get a headache or experience post-nasal drip. Finally, hospitals and emergency rooms are required to provide essential medical care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. All of this could change in the name of “reform”, leaving everyone dependent on the federal bureaucracy.

Dependence on the central government for daily and personal needs is the politician’s vehicle to reelection. Dependency is an enslaving cycle that robs people of their initiative, motivation, dignity, self-respect and, finally, their liberty. Need food? Call on government. Need housing? Call on government. Need medicine? Call on government. Need healthcare? Well, you get the idea.

Politicians like Anthony Weiner believe that all good blessings flow from government. In return, all power and authority returns to those who wield government’s reigns. It’s a tidy little circle, and the antithesis of liberty.

Rep. Weiner, not all Americans are the pitiful, selfish, pathetic, whining beggars you need to maintain your House seat. Perhaps your district is comprised of such people. But that cannot be the case for the nation overall. If so, we are doomed as a nation and a people, for freedom cannot survive on dependency. Furthermore, centralized systems eventually collapse under their own weight.

No Mr. Weiner, America isn’t a nation of whiners, although we have our share. America wasn’t established, secured, or built by people who waited on government programs. Ours is a nation founded upon the independent spirit of each individual.

We can make our own decisions. We can reap our rewards and suffer our consequences--in healthcare and other matters--just fine without you, Mr. Weiner. Finally, healthcare will not die without your magic finger. In fact, minus government’s manipulative hand, it will be much better and more readily available.

Here’s hoping that Mr. Weiner is correct about healthcare reform being dead. Here’s hoping, too, that America will tell congressmen like Weiner that we’re sick and tired of government meddling. We are not the whiners he believes us to be.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Taxing bonuses is flawed policy and bad precedent

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone passing the hat for “Big Finance” these days. But why do people assume that financial institutions are inherently evil while government is inherently good?

The mortgage bubble and resulting financial problems weren’t a free market problem. They resulted from government manipulation. Yet in many minds government is seen as the savior while banks are the drunks at the Baptist picnic. For that reason alone Rep. Peter Welch’s Wall Street Bonus Tax Act will garner some degree of support.

Welch’s bill (H.R. 4426) promises a 50-percent tax on excessive bonuses paid at banking institutions that received bailout money. It’s a classic leftwing tactic. Welch plays the class envy card, reminding financiers that they owe their reemergence to “hardworking Americans.” However, I would remind Mr. Welch that most “hardworking Americans” opposed TARP--the plan that provided the funding--from the outset. Yet Congress passed it anyway.

Hundreds of institutions became beneficiaries. Some have repaid the money; some haven’t. But banks had to practically beg the Treasury Department for permission to repay their TARP debt. And political connections played a role in the distribution of TARP funds from the start.

A University of Michigan study claims that banks in congressional districts where the representative sits on the finance committee were 26-percent more likely to get bailout funds. That figure is even higher if a bank’s executive is on a Federal Reserve Bank board.

Such backdoor shenanigans in Congress are nothing new. Representatives exchange favors with the well-connected every day. Therefore, how can anyone believe that in taxing bonuses Rep. Welch has any interest at heart other than his own?

I’ll win no popularity contest if I’m perceived as defending banks and their bonus packages. However, my goal isn’t to exonerate or condemn banks. I’m here to defend the free market process. There is a better method than congressional meddling for determining which financial executives deserve bonuses. There’s also much to fear when Congress uses the tax code to control compensation.

First, Rep. Welch only wants to tax “excessive” bonuses. Who is he, or the federal government as a whole, to decide what is and isn’t excessive? Basically, “excessive” means beyond a necessary or proper limit, which is an arbitrary concept at best.

What may seem excessive in one circumstance can be quite routine in another. Once Congress seizes the right to determine appropriate compensation for bank executives it has established precedent to set “proper limits” on salaries for anyone. Who will be next? Barbers? Truck drivers? Play-by-play announcers? Should healthcare reform include wage controls in the medical field? Don’t bet the farm that it won’t.

Such authority in the hands of government isn’t just dangerous to our liberty, it is fatal.

Does that mean I favor bonuses for bank execs? That depends. As stated, there is a better way to set wages. I prefer to see the free market, not pandering politicians who are seeking reelection, determine compensation.

If you’re unhappy with the bonuses paid at your bank you can do business elsewhere. If you stay, then bonuses must not bother you that much. In addition, government bean-counters shouldn’t force, cajole, or lure banks into nonsensical lending practices. Banks should operate on sound financial principles, not politically correct notions about social justice.

Good practice and due diligence are rewarded in the free market. Wise and prudent banks will prosper while depositors and investors will flee foolish institutions in droves. Government manipulation serves only to protect the irresponsible, defer risk and send the entire system tumbling like a house of cards.

Government’s market interventions have proven destructive. Allowing government an inroad to wage controls promises a similar, or worse, result. If Congress can punish banking executives for their compensation the door is wide open to do likewise to everyone.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Freedom on the auction block

Prior to the mid-19th Century, town squares often included an auction block. On those auction blocks human liberty was bought and sold like livestock, cotton, tobacco, or any other commodity. It’s not a prideful part of our nation’s history.

However, such transactions aren’t a scar upon the United States alone. Nor was slavery invented here, contrary to politically correct notions. Nearly every nation, culture and race has engaged in selling human liberty. In some parts of the world it is still openly practiced and culturally acceptable.

Advanced societies have long since abandoned auction blocks. What’s unique about the United States is that we ended legal slavery at an earlier age--less than 100 years--than other nations in which it’s been practiced. Yet there remains one place in America where selling human liberty is routine and celebrated: the U.S. Senate.

Look at how the Senate healthcare bill unfolded. Lacking needed votes, Sen. Harry Reid and his minions opened our wallets and went shopping. When the spree was complete the votes were there and the bill moved forward.

It began with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), once a critic of the Senate plan. But when Reid sent $300 million to the bayou Landrieu had a change of heart. One Washington Post writer concluded that her payoff could look like a bargain before the wheeling and dealing was finished. That writer might be a prophet.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) sought $100 million from a series of amendments that will spread money around the country faster than Sooners can cross an Oklahoma prairie. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, grabbed $10 billion for his state. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) won concessions that will exempt 800,000 elder Floridians from the bill’s proposed Medicare cuts. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) garnered up to $100 million to offset Medicare costs in his state.

The American Medical Association got a piece of the action, too.
Medicare fees for physicians disappeared, as did subsidy cuts to selected physicians. Taxes on cosmetic surgery were dropped in favor of a 10-percent tax on tanning salons. In return the AMA, which apparently has more pull than the tanning salon lobby, endorsed Reid’s bill. The entire process is enough to make your head spin, or your stomach turn.

To be bought and sold in such manner is an affront to all a person is or ever will be. But, strange as it sounds, it isn’t the ultimate insult. To see our liberty sold by our representatives and bought with our money takes pain and abuse to a new level. It’s like opening a wound, filling it with salt, then bandaging it with concertina wire.

Yet supporters defend the treachery as standard Senate fare. Sen. Charles Schumer said it’s why we have a Senate. And Harry Reid called the vote-buying and pork-barreling “compromise”. Both are as far from legitimate Senate action as the East is from the West.

The Senate’s job is to enact laws within constitutional limits that protect life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and state’s rights, not circumvent them all. And compromise isn’t paying Senators to sacrifice their principles to Harry Reid’s perverted image of the public good. Deeds that Senators defend as compromise would get the rest of us jailed for bribery.

Liberty can’t forever suffer the selfish maneuverings of a recalcitrant government. Congress has become the chains of our subjugation. Maybe we can stop this assault on liberty. Maybe we can’t. But if we stand idly Congress will continue to sell us and our freedom without a second thought.

Our constitutional, legislative and human liberties are on the auction block whenever Congress is in session. Each time a vote is sold or bought the auctioneer’s gavel falls and what remains of our liberty is presented to the highest bidder. Isn’t it time to bury this custom once and for all?