Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sundry thoughts on the Christmas Season

Merry Christmas! If the greeting offends, consider this your invitation to stop reading and engage other activities.

Each December heralds renewed assaults on our Christmas traditions. We must forego any Christmas themed activity on public property to maintain the separation of church and state, a concept credited to Thomas Jefferson. True, the Founders wisely avoided establishing a Church of America. However, Jefferson's words don't indicate a man interested in silencing religious expression or debate:

Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them; they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only.

Engaging in pure and open religious expression would, in Jefferson's mind, elevate genuine religion. Can we not apply Jefferson's approach in determining the nature and spirit of the season? We can. Therefore, I conclude America recognizes December as the Christmas Season, not the "holiday season." If not, why aren't there seasonal television specials titled A Charlie Brown Hanukkah and How the Grinch Stole Kwanzaa?

The Nativity couldn't unfold in today's America as it did in ancient Bethlehem. Depending on Joseph's age, he could be charged with statutory rape for allegedly impregnating his teenage fiancé. He would surely be charged with kidnapping for transporting the underage Mary across state lines, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Once in protective state custody, Mary would've received counseling and family planning advice from the nearest Planned Parenthood facility. Thus we would have the Greatest Story Never Told.

Consider the shabby treatment Rudolph received from Santa and the reindeer. The reindeer snubbed Rudolph because of his shiny nose, and Santa wouldn't even consider Rudolph for the sleigh team for the same reason. But once the fog rolled in and Rudolph's perceived liability became a needful asset Santa asked, "Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" Then "all the reindeer loved him." Rudolph must've been an exceptional sport. Else he would've told Santa and "all of the other reindeer" to kiss his rosy-red nose.

Many people experience a mild depression known as the post-Christmas blues. For all of the intense preparation, the excitement lasts but a few hours. Yet you can find hope and optimism among the cold leftovers, shredded wrapping paper, and bulging credit card statements. After December 25th you won't be exposed to Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Jingle Bell Rock, or Holly Jolly Christmas until at least next Halloween. If you still have the blahs, try seeking next year's Christmas joy in a tiny stable rather than a big box store.

Why is there a Holly Jolly Christmas anyway? Anyone who has ever tried to plant, prune, or trim that prickly stuff can tell you there's nothing "jolly" about holly.

Christmas is often abbreviated as Xmas, which most Christians find an offensive indicator of the holiday's escalating secularization. Actually, Xmas is neither new nor insulting. The abbreviation dates to 1551. The "X" is the Greek letter "chi," which is the first letter of Χριστός (Christos), the Greek word for Christ. The "X" is a direct reference to Christ, not a replacement for Him. Furthermore, crosses used for crucifixion came in several configurations: T, …, l, and yes, X. When you see Christmas abbreviated as "Xmas" remember its origin, think of the "X" as representing Jesus' cross, and refuse to be offended. Doing so entails dual benefits. You'll be happier and your antagonists will be suspicious.

In traditional America, immigrants came to our shores seeking a new life in the great melting pot. They retained their heritage, but they adopted and celebrated American culture and tradition. Those immigrants were determined and resourceful. In contemporary America we celebrate diversity, and immigrants are uncommitted and demanding. However, in the spirit of Christmas, I will make peace with modern multiculturalists: a Merry HanuKwanzMas to all, and to all a good night!

♫ Santa Claus ain't coming to town ♫

♫ No need to watch out. ♫
♫ You might as well cry. ♫
♫ Go on and pout, I'm telling you why. ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming to town. ♫
♫ There won't be any reindeer, or sleigh for you to see. ♫
♫ We've banned them all so we can prove our great sensitivity. ♫

It's no joke! The North Pole's favorite son was banned from his annual appearance at the Hollings Cancer Center in South Carolina. Said spokeswoman Vicki Agnew: "Because of our state affiliation, we decided not to have a Santa presence this year." The Center, Agnew continued, wanted to be "more secular and respectful to all beliefs. People who are Muslim or Jewish or have no religious beliefs come here for treatment."

Doesn't that make perfect sense? We can't have the State promoting biblical characters like Santa Claus, now can we? After all, according to the Book of Blitzen, Chapter Three, it was Santa Claus who led the Israelites out of the Arctic Circle, parting Rudolph the Red-nosed Sea along the way. And the Gospel according to Comet tells how Santa came to grant strength to the lame, sight to the blind, and knowledge to the foolish.

Ms. Agnew contends the decision wasn't "meant to be cold." If that's true, then it was meant to be stupid; it's the only other plausible explanation. What a shame Vicki Agnew wasn’t there when Santa was bringing knowledge to the foolish; she could use a miracle.

Oh well, 'tis the season. America has come to herald each Christmas with renewed assaults on common sense. We ban Santa Claus and prohibit nativity displays. We purchase "holiday" trees from big box stores whose clerks are instructed to greet us with the innocuous "happy holidays." Schoolchildren participate in "winter celebrations" rather than Christmas plays. And we endure it all so as not offend the perpetually offended. Has Christmas ever genuinely insulted anyone who wasn't seeking insult to begin with?

Frank Cloyes, the Center's volunteer Santa, wonders when all this politically correct nonsense will end. "Let's have a little joy in our lives," he said.

Mr. Cloyes can take some solace. The Hollings Center revisited their lunacy after South Carolinians revolted. However, his fundamental complaint remains unresolved. Political correctness is the antithesis of joy, existing only to prevent joy and prohibit fun at every turn. Life must universally suck for PC multiculturalists to be satisfied. And the nonsense won't end until enough people summon the courage to tell hand-wringing busybodies like Vicki Agnew to go jump in a hole. In the meantime the Priests of High-minded Sanctimony will continue sacrificing America's cultural and spiritual traditions to political correctness, their god most high.

♫ So you better not count on seasonal cheer. ♫
♫ It hasn't a chance with bureaucrats near. ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming, ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming, ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming to town. ♫

Friday, December 23, 2011

The GOP field: A wolf without teeth?

Can we say 2012 is a golden opportunity for the Republican Party? What case can the Democrat incumbent present for reelection? The economy is anemic and job growth remains sluggish despite announced declines in unemployment rates. Republicans have the momentum from 2010 and enjoy popular support for repealing Obama's signature achievement: ObamaCare.

Voters seem to like Obama personally. Yet their political ideals are more commensurate with conservatism. Sixty-four percent of Americans view big government as the country's greatest danger. Republicans are expected to hold such views. However, when 64-percent of independents and a sizeable number of Democrats also fear big government, Obama -- the commissar of czars -- has a problem.

Reasons abound for Republican optimism. So, you'd think the Republican Party would be drooling like a hungry wolf circling a wounded sheep. But further examination indicates the GOP may be a wolf that lacks teeth for the kill.

While voters prefer the generic Republican to Obama, only one GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, leads Obama in head-to-head polling. And his "lead" is within the margin of error. According to Rasmussen's December surveys the President enjoys leads of five points over Newt Gingrich, seven over John Huntsman, eight over Ron Paul, and double-digits over everyone else. The logical question is why voters would prefer an unidentified Republican over Obama but favor Obama above an identified Republican? There are several explanations.

First, Republican candidates are under a media microscope. Any faux pas generates instant negativity. Another reason is the incessant sniping. While negative ads are productive, pettiness is a drain on approval ratings. Once there's a nominee and the GOP targets Obama's record the named candidate will fare better. The easiest explanation is that no votes have been cast, meaning the polls are subjective. But a fourth scenario seems most plausible.

The Republican Party's preferred candidates haven't, as yet, generated excitement. Voters are ready to ditch Obama for a Republican. But they don't hear a consistent GOP message that reflects their current mood. Something is missing in the top tier, be it message, articulation, attitude, or believability.

A steady majority of voters believe the nation is heading in the wrong direction, charging headlong toward an all-powerful central government. Yet they possess little faith in the GOP's dedication to fundamentally altering the national course.

The antithetical poll result isn't doomsday for the GOP. But it does indicate the electorate's mindset. There's no interest in another Bob Dole, George Bush, or John McCain-style candidate. Voters distrust the burgeoning central government and its disastrous economic machinations. Opportunity knocks for a candidate who articulates a coherent message of fiscal discipline, national sovereignty, states rights, free markets, and international strength sans adventurism. In short, there's support for a Republican with conservative teeth.

Obama is the weakest of sheep. But if the Republican wolf expects to gum him out of office, get set for four more years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chasing threats while ignoring tyrannies

The most effective hiding place is often in plain sight. The human mind is more attuned to detecting potential threats than recognizing ones openly presented. For instance, a woodsman tramping through brush is wary of snakes. But while walking a cleared path the woodsman may fail to notice a snake until the last moment. Like a snake, the State is striking openly at our liberties while we're focused on possible threats among the briars and brambles.
Critics warned that Anwar al-Awlaki's death presented a threat to every American. Awlaki, you might recall, was an American citizen until killed in a targeted drone attack. His demise portended open season on typical American citizens who espouse ideas the State deems subversive. On the surface the argument appeared plausible.

Awlaki was an American citizen, but he was hardly typical. He wasn't targeted for opposing big government, occupying Wall Street, or criticizing U.S. policies. Awlaki dumped America for an area of Yemen known for hostility toward his homeland. Once there he allied with an organization that had declared and demonstrated its belligerence toward the United States. Awlaki willingly joined a foreign enemy on foreign soil, making himself a target in the process. That's quite different from killing American citizens on U.S. soil for alleged subversions. Anwar al-Awlaki's death established no precedent through which any governing body can legitimately execute an American citizen without due process.

Another example is the reaction to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (H.R. 1540). The law provides for indefinite detention of people engaged in terrorist activities, without trial, until such hostilities cease. Critics contend H.R.1540 authorizes military detention of any American citizen the State desires. Such warnings strike a chord with advocates of gun rights, pro-choice activists, and protesters of government from all political persuasions. But are the criticisms accurate? Maybe not.

Subtitle D, Section 1031(a)(d) of H.R.1540 authorizes the military to detain "covered persons" without trial until hostilities cease. So what constitutes a covered person? According to Sect. 1031(b)(1)(2), a covered person must have been involved in the 9/11 attacks, be a member or substantial supporter of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces, and have committed hostile acts to aid those forces. Also, 1031(e) specifically states that no part of H.R.1540 can "affect existing law or authorities, relating to the detention of United States citizens," or "lawful resident aliens."

Section 1032(a)(2)(A)(B) further restricts military detentions only to persons authorized under Sect. 1031 and clearly identified as members or affiliates of al-Qaeda and their allies. Only if subsection (B) were misapplied to include citizens engaged in sedition or outright revolt could the perceived threat materialize. Even then the rules change little. Since its inception the central government has enjoyed the authority to suppress insurrection. Finally, Sect. 1032 (b)(1)(2) plainly declare that the military's detention authority under H.R.1540 does not extend to U.S. citizens or lawful resident aliens.

Of course, laws can be changed, meaning H.R.1540 could someday become an imminent threat to fundamental liberty. The same can be said of Awlaki's demise. However, neither example allows the State to kill Bill Jones for his limited government activism or indefinitely detain Joe Smith because he criticized the State. While slippery slopes are legitimate concerns, indiscriminately incarcerating or assassinating citizens isn't a slippery slope; it's a headlong leap over a cliff. Slippery slopes aren't so noticeable.

People will react when they perceive assaults on basic liberties. Wouldn't detaining or killing citizens without due process be an open invitation to rebellion? Therefore, it makes no sense for the State to employ such tactics. It's much easier to grow tyranny a bit at a time, in plain sight, until the public becomes accustomed to abuses and willingly accepts blatant despotisms.

Both Awlaki's killing and H.R.1540 are like snakes in the brush. Both examples may be dangerous, but the dangers are more perception than reality. Because the threats are perceived we are more suspicious and willing to consider their potential dangers. While our eyes are focused on detecting the large snakes in the brush, we're ignoring the smaller vipers on our daily path; vipers that are continually poisoning our liberties.

Not much is said these days about Transportation Security Administration procedures that border on sexual predation. Yet their invasive tactics continue to expand. TSA agents recently detained a teenage girl because her purse displayed a decorative depiction of a revolver on the outside and were accused of strip-searching an 85-year old woman. It doesn't stop there. The TSA is conducting random detentions and K-9 inspections of interstate tractor-trailer and bus traffic. We'll eventually become so accustomed to encountering uniformed federal agents that their presence will be routine.

Such occurrences aren't unique to federal authorities. A Michigan sheriff has conducted indiscriminate checkpoints on busy highways. An Ohio sheriff's office faces civil proceedings for strip-searching a woman. Now, strip-searches aren't new and are sometimes necessary. But male officers assisted in stripping this woman, who was then left naked in a cell for six hours. Even if a woman deserves arrest, are we comfortable with our wives and daughters being subject to strip-search at the hands of male officers?

The first known arrest of a U.S. citizen using a Predator drone aircraft recently became public. But both federal and local authorities have previously utilized Predator drones, equipped with technology capable of determining individual activity from 10,000 feet, inside U.S. airspace. Furthermore, cameras are nearly as common as traffic signals on metropolitan street corners. While only the naïve expect privacy in public places, the possibility of constant surveillance should give us pause.

There's no need to seek affronts to liberty in the death of one defector to Yemen, nor do we need find them in legislation where their existence is, at most, miniscule.
Assaults on our liberty are happening right before our eyes. Why scour the bushes to find a snake when there are vipers aplenty in our path? Freedom would be better served if we were more attentive to obvious threats than to those existing in perception. Threats to liberty aren't always found in targeted enemies or slippery slope legislation. Too often the greatest threats are encountered daily, hiding in plain sight.

This column was first published at American Thinker.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A date that still lives in infamy

It seemed a normal Sunday morning for Oahu's military contingents. Early risers were out for morning chow, Sunday services, or the beaches and golf courses. Some would sleep in, burdened by the lingering affects of a late night. No one awoke anticipating war on 07 Dec 41. But the plan of the day changed when the first Japanese warplanes swarmed over Hickam Field, Schofield Barracks, and Battleship Row.

Within hours, well-trained Imperial Japanese Navy pilots had decimated the Pacific Fleet's battleships, destroyed hundreds of aircraft and buildings, and killed thousands of men. The attack drove a nation still reeling from a decade of economic depression to the edge of panic. Rumors swirled and West Coast residents feared a Japanese armada would appear on the Pacific horizon at any moment. In terms of national horror, only the War Between the States exceeds Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

You're fortunate if you've been privy to a firsthand account of the raid. I enjoyed that opportunity with Bill Rudder -- a Gastonia, NC newspaper man and inventor after the war -- who was an electrician with the 259th Q.M. Detachment assigned to the 7th Bomber Command at Hickam Field on 07 Dec 41. His contribution won't place him alongside Alvin York or Audie Murphy in American military lore. But Bill was there, he fought, and he lived to tell his story.

After realizing Pearl Harbor was under a genuine attack Rudder and two buddies, John Strickland and Sanford Garrett, rushed to the armory. They were given Springfield bolt-action rifles, an infantry staple from the First World War. Once armed and having overcome problems loading the Springfield, Rudder aimed ahead of a Japanese aircraft and sent a .30 caliber slug hurtling into the Hawaiian sky. He hit nothing, but jokingly claimed to have fired the first American rifle shot of World War II. Undeterred by his miss, Rudder joined fire on another Japanese plane, which trailed smoke and crashed at Fort Kam. Rudder later examined the wreckage, finding American-made Philco tubes in the Japanese plane's radio.

In the photo Mr. Rudder's vehicle is seen parked at the base of a flag pole while a bombed building burns in the background. According to Mr. Rudder, the tattered American Flag was the result of repeated machine gun fire from Japanese fighters. What a story.

The late Bill Rudder won't commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. In fact, few men remain who witnessed America's entrance into the Second World War. The youngest Pearl Harbor survivors are in their late eighties and their numbers are dwindling. As they die, so too will die their innumerable stories of anonymous bravery, stories like Bill Rudder's.

The last American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, passed away last February. In May, the world's last known WW I veteran, Claude Choules, died in Australia. When the last "Bill Rudder" dies America's firsthand connection to WW II will be forever lost, just as our connection to the "Great War" is lost. Pearl Harbor, 07 Dec 41, will remain a date that lives in infamy. But it will live as factual history, lacking the personal reference to which we've been accustomed. It will be a great loss.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The question of character

If a political candidate's personal conduct doesn't reflect their public character, said character is only as good as the nearest camera lens. That seems the reality, as determining political character becomes more and more a matter of party affiliation than genuine ethics.

For instance, Republicans roasted Bill Clinton for his womanizing ways. Yet many are excusing Herman Cain for what seems equivalent behavior. Democrats reverse the roles. Although Cain's guilt remains unconfirmed, Democrats treat him like the Devil incarnate. Clinton, conversely, could philander to his heart's content while Democrats marveled at his ability to lie. Is it too much to ask for a little consistency?

Herman Cain's credibility faces a stern test from Ginger White, a supposed 13-year mistress. Cain supporters are left wondering if their candidate is a scoundrel or the victim of an elaborate media smear. Either way no one should be surprised. Scoundrels abound in political circles and newsrooms have a history of intolerance toward Republicans. But media bias doesn’t mean a candidate is immune from personal investigation. That fact appears lost on
Cain's attorney, who said of the purported affair:

This appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults - a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life.

The explanation seems founded in privacy rights and liberty. What happens between candidates and their spouses is their business. But when marriage vows are compromised it raises questions about a candidate's honesty and integrity. Thus the lawyerly explanation is just spin and illusion, as one of our distinguished Founding Fathers would attest. Thomas Jefferson said, "When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property." For my money, Jefferson's logic applies to anyone aspiring to assume a public trust as well. There is no private life for anyone who desires to become President.

Extramarital affairs aren't automatic disqualifiers from public office, as Jefferson himself would confirm. Furthermore, waiting for a perfect candidate is itself an exercise in imperfection. However, seeking public office means exposing one's life to public scrutiny. Any situation that speaks to a candidate's trustworthiness becomes the public's business. If a candidate genuinely expects privacy on the campaign trail the public should question not only their credibility but also their judgment.

Since lawyers speak for their clients we must assume Cain's counsel spoke for him. Therein lies a problem for Herman Cain's
teetering candidacy (Cain has since left the campaign). Whether the various allegations against him are true or false have taken a back seat to a greater principle. When a man would assume a public trust he must consider himself public property. Transparency hardly seems an unreasonable requirement for a prospective leader.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A picture worth a thousand Squatters

It began as a gaggle of unnoticed activists, grew to national status, and became a cesspool of licentiousness, crime, lewdness, and violent threats right before our eyes. Big Labor and the Communist Party USA support its murky agenda, as do domestic and international statists right up to President Obama. Welcome to Squatting Any Street.

Amidst the slogans and chants emanating from impromptu communes across the country, the only clear message from Squatting is that banks suck and Squatters are
entitled. Other than that, Squatting Any Street's message has been incoherent. Yet no internal chant or external criticism can define Squatting with the clarity of a single photo taken at Squatting Los Angeles.

Plainly, this protester is upset. His sign implies that the greedy banks, the greedy rich, and the responsible people all suck. The wealthy become rich when everyone else gets hosed. End of discussion.

His view is common among Squatters. The mythical possibility of legislating economic fairness has consumed leftist orthodoxy since hotdogs became synonymous with ballpark concessions. Yet foreclosure, while an undesirable course, is the natural result of an unpaid mortgage. Squatters may believe banks foreclose indiscriminately to pad their bottom line. But with real estate values in decline, what profit is there for banks to possess properties worth less than their liens?

Notice the Squatter's contrasting message. If the banks got rich while homeowners were unfairly foreclosed, from what were the banks bailed out? Their profits? One Squatter with one sign exposes a fatal flaw common to Squatters. It's impossible for banks to simultaneously be both rich and poor. Expressing anger toward both circumstances is putting two and two together and coming up with six.

Only a failing bank can receive a government bailout. When a solvent institution receives government funds it is a subsidy. Truly, neither subsidies nor bailouts are part of a free market economy. But there's a distinction between them. Is it too much to ask Squatters to determine their message before they protest? Anyway, TEA Partiers were railing against both personal and corporate entitlement long before the first Squatters pitched their tents.

A single sign has illustrated the degree to which Squatters have missed the point. They blame free markets and capitalism for bank profiteering on both sides of the housing bubble. But banks can't simultaneously be rich enough to be greedy corporations and poor enough for bailouts. The concept contradicts itself. Government's "fair" lending regulations drove banks to issue risky loans. Government then mitigated the risk with subsidy assurances. The housing crash wasn't the fault of free markets or capitalism. It began, grew, and culminated with government's usurping of the free market.

Squatters should realize that without the federal government's politically-driven manipulation of the housing market the banks wouldn't have issued so many ill-advised loans, the housing bubble would never have existed as it did, and Squatting Any Street would be as academic as the nearest tent city.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One more precedent for tyranny

From the minute the Affordable Care Act was signed into law it was destined for the Supreme Court. Lower courts are split on the issue, with some contending ObamaCare oversteps federal authority while others accept it as the central government's legitimate function. The stakes will be high when the Supreme Court hears arguments next summer. Either ObamaCare will be scraped, establishing precedent to dismantle years of unconstitutional federal actions, or it will be upheld and liberty will again yield to tyranny.

From a limited government perspective it's difficult to see how the law can stand. The Constitution was written to restrain the central government, insuring it could legally act only within specified guidelines. Yet when courts, which are part of government, are the last arbiters of constitutionality, the guidelines are often blurred. Legalese supplants original intent, ensuring the Constitution lacks solid meaning. Jurisprudence is reduced to a legal playground where obvious liberties and logical conclusions yield to manipulation.

District of Columbia Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman's recent opinion upholding ObamaCare's individual mandate represents such an abuse of judicial oversight. And lest Silberman's decision be dismissed as another wacky ruling from a pinko judge, understand that he's a Reagan appointee, an associate of Clarence Thomas, and considered a forceful conservative jurist. However, his decision represents nothing liberty can admire. In fact, Silberman's opinion confirms how the federal behemoth consumes those who enter its lair, regardless of said person's original ideals.

Federal authorities -- whether legislators, executives, or judges -- become part of a governing apparatus where there's no benefit in limiting federal power. Fueling the bureaucracy becomes the goal and the central authority is enabled to act as it wills. On
page 29 of his ruling Silberman concludes that Congress has the right to force citizens to purchase health insurance under the Commerce Clause. If he's correct, every conceivable economic transaction is subject to congressional oversight. In fact, according to Silberman's opinion, people retain neither economic liberty nor individual rights. We aren't endowed by our Creator with unalienable and self-evident rights, but are granted privilege as the central authority finds pleasure. The entire experiment in self-government is turned upside-down.

Consider Congress' constitutional authority to "regulate commerce . . . among the several states," found in Article 1, Section 8. In Judge Silberman's opinion, "to regulate" means "to adjust by rule or method . . . to direct . . . to order; to command." The definition is technically accurate, prompting Silberman to assume an unlimited ability for Congress to affect commerce, even to the point of forcing citizens to engage in commerce that doesn't yet exist. However, Silberman's opinion flies in the face of the Founder's vision.

James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution, would reprimand Judge Silberman. Madison described the federal government's constitutional powers as "few and defined" while recognizing those remaining in state hands as "numerous and indefinite." Madison found Congress' authority to regulate commerce only within its enumerated powers and not beyond. Consider, too, his assessment of the General Welfare clause:

With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.

If the Framers considered Congress' ability to promote the general welfare constrained only to specifically delegated constitutional authorities, why would they empower Congress to regulate commerce at every turn? The idea is preposterous when liberty is held as a right of human existence. Yet it's perfectly sensible when the purpose is expanding government at freedom's expense.

While Silberman recognizes the Framers' distinction regarding what commerce Congress can regulate (
p.29), he invokes judicial precedence to override the Founder's vision. To support the decision he writes, "Supreme Court jurisprudence over the last century has largely eroded that [the Framer's] distinction." What should be apparent is the lack of judicial authority to amend the Constitution through convenient interpretation and erroneous application.

Doubtful Judge Silberman meant to highlight a problem inherent to judicial activism, yet he did just that. Relying on precedent involves a fatal flaw. If one foolish ruling precedes a second foolish ruling, a foolish precedent is established. Subsequent rulings based on the foolish precedent will necessarily be of equal or greater folly. Precedent is therefore no substitute for original language when ruling on constitutional matters. Ironically, Silberman cites one of the most foolish, anti-liberty precedents in U.S. history to support his ruling.

According to Silberman,
Wickard v. Filburn (1942) confirms Congress' power to force citizens to purchase health insurance. Filburn, a farmer, violated federal law when he grew more than his allotted quota of wheat, not for open sale but for his family and livestock. The Court unanimously upheld the law under the pretense that had Filburn not grown the excess wheat he would've purchased it on the open market. His action contradicted Congress' interest in preserving the national wheat price and supposed authority to stimulate commerce. Remember, foolish precedent equals foolish rulings, and foolish rulings produce foolish regulations.

If Congress can force the public to purchase health insurance because health care affects the overall economy, it can force the public to purchase anything. Automobile sales affect GDP. Can Congress then compel a citizen to buy a car? Can Congress also force an individual to buy a subsidized model from a subsidized manufacturer, say a Chevrolet Volt? Under such a pretence, the economic decisions the central government can force upon the public are infinite.

What's more, in light of Silberman's ruling based on Wickard v. Filburn, there's no private act government cannot manage. A homeowner has no right to remodel their residence due to the work's affect on the construction market. A car owner has no right to perform maintenance due to the affect on repair businesses. A landowner can't even grow tomatoes for personal consumption without undermining produce prices. Every economic act becomes a matter of privilege rather than right. The Court's decision on ObamaCare thus carries implications far beyond health insurance. At issue is whether citizens enjoy inalienable rights or the federal government holds unlimited authority.

Rejecting the individual mandate would undo a century of federal expansion based on foolish judicial precedent. Rulings like Wickard v. Filburn would be exposed as twaddle and the concept of constitutionally limited government would gain a foothold. Overturning ObamaCare means far more than overturning ObamaCare. It offers a sliver of hope that liberty has not perished.

Upholding federal authority to force individuals to buy government approved products is yet another blow to freedom. The foolish precedent will become further entrenched and every American will suffer as a result.

The stakes are high. The Legislative and Executive branches, combined with a generally complicit Judicial branch, have placed the Framers great experiment in self-government on life support. The question is whether the Supreme Court will establish a new trend based on liberty or follow the century-old precedent toward greater tyranny.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A case for free market bank regulation

Bank of America (BAC) has rescinded its plan to charge customers a $5 monthly debit card fee. Shall we praise bank regulators for their swift action in preventing the exorbitant charge? Well, no. Then we'll credit politicians for legislating against greedy, big bank profiteering, right? Wrong again. The free market drove BAC to drop the debit card fee.

Several banks have floated similar debit card fees -- some already assess the monthly charge -- and each met the same fate as BAC. Customers informed their financial institutions that they would rather pull their assets than pay the fee. Banks responded in predictable fashion. Banks need customers to remain solvent; therefore they heed their customers' complaints and outrages, whether or not they are reasonable. That's the free market in action. Unpopular fees and programs are abandoned just as surely as profits are taken. Everything depends on what the market will bear.

The $5 debit card charge was never a product of free market capitalism. It was the result of political machinations, most notably on the part of
Sen. Dick Durbin. Durbin's amendment to the Dodd-Frank bank reform legislation placed an arbitrary cap on debit card interchange fees, which banks impose on retailers for each swipe of a customer's card.

Banks collect this fee to maintain their electronic networks, retailers distribute the fee among their customers, and customers enjoy the convenience of cashless transactions. Such business-customer relationships aren't invariably perfect, but they are at least agreeable between the involved parties. Once politicians meddle in that relationship, as Durbin did, unintended consequences become the norm. Enter the debit card fee. Yet the fact that Durbin made matters worse didn't stop him from telling BAC customers to "vote with their feet."

Well, bank customers have voted with their feet, or at least threatened to do so. I'll wager that not a single disgruntled customer walked into their bank and said to the teller, "Dick Durbin told me to withdraw my money." Blowhard politicians aren't necessary for customers to decide what fees they should or shouldn't accept. Customers needn't occupy public parks for banks to hear their complaints. The only thing necessary to kill the monthly debit card fee was for customers to exercise their free choice in an open marketplace.

Markets compel businesses to please their customers or risk losing them to more amenable competitors. Banks couldn't collude on behalf of debit card fees, even if they so wanted, because they're more interested in retaining current customers and attracting new ones from institutions that assess unpopular charges. The mere threat of losing customers was enough to render debit card fees a poor business decision. When market forces reign there's no need for protests, tents, and signs, nor is there a need for pandering politicians with superhero complexes to deliver customers from corporate evil.

However, markets move both directions. Just as the market wouldn't tolerate debit card fees, which are noticeable, the market may tolerate other fees that aren't as noticeable, just as it once tolerated the higher interchange fees. No one considered the interchange fees retailers paid on debit card transactions until government placed price controls on them. The banks then looked to other areas to recoup the lost revenue, which led to the debit card fee. Since the market has rejected the debit card fee, banks will look for another way to boost revenue.

Frankly, a $5 debit card charge is benign in and of itself. If a customer uses their card 50 times per month the average cost per transaction is a paltry 10 cents, a rather innocuous expense for the convenience of using a debit card system. And make no mistake; customers aren't paying the banks for the privilege of using their own money, as the populist argument holds. Customers pay for the use of the bank's computer and network systems, all of which cost money to purchase, operate, and maintain.

There's little purpose in defending or criticizing the banks, their customers, or the debit card fee. The marketplace spoke and a verdict was rendered. Customers preferred to seek new institutions rather than pay their banks a monthly debit card stipend. Banks would rather have more customers paying smaller, less recognizable fees than have fewer customers paying larger, high-profile charges. Both entities weighed their options and arrived at a conclusion with which they could live. Markets may not always react as swiftly as they did in this case. But they will always react, and they will produce the best possible compromise in any given situation.

All businesses attempt to maximize profits while all customers seek the best value for their money. These interests combine in a free market, making astute businesses profitable while rewarding prudent customers with quality services, all at an agreeable price. Government interference upsets that balance, imposing undesirable results on everyone.

First Published at Mises Daily )

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Will Perry's fumble put him on the bench?

Did Rick Perry's fumble -- forgetting the name of an agency he wants to eliminate -- seal his fate? The pundits think so; there's just no way Perry can recover. Even though he has campaigned for months, stating his opposition to education, commerce, and energy bureaucracies on innumerable occasions, he's finished. But does a momentary brain freeze disqualify someone from high office?

There are better reasons for voters to avoid checking Perry's box. His position on illegal immigration rubbed many conservatives raw. Perry widened that rift when he said opponents of granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens "have no heart." Rick Perry's campaign has unquestionably stalled. But he isn't losing conservatives because he fumbled at one debate.

The GOP hierarchy would love to make Rick Perry disappear, too. Bluebloods have little time for candidates whose platform centers on eliminating entire federal agencies. They have no time whatsoever for candidates who overtly flirt with seceding from the union. Such posturing doesn't sit well with the Republican powers that be, the same powers who've stuck us "staunch conservative" presidential candidates like Bush I, Bob Dole, Bush II, and John McCain.

There is precedent for believing Perry's campaign is finished. One blunder cost Dan Quayle his political career. He misspelled "potato" and no one has seen or heard from him since. However, the Quayle story unfolded in a different era. Recent history suggests a change of attitude since his day.

One fumble is no longer an automatic ticket to the electoral bench. "Qualified" politicians and great orators routinely drop the ball. Yet they've lived to gaffe another day. Barack Obama, oft-hailed as the most articulate and intelligent President in American history, has put the ball on the ground more times than
Brett Favre.

Obama once claimed his
healthcare overhaul would bring greater "inefficiencies to our healthcare system." He told a suburban audience that his health insurance reforms would reduce premiums by 3000-percent. Obama expressed his desire to campaign in all 60 states and equated his bowling skills to a Special Olympian. What's more, the Orator-in-Chief is quite ordinary without his teleprompter. None of these fumbles placed Obama on waivers.

For Rick Perry it's a different story. One fumble means he's unqualified to be president. Why? Because he isn't glib? Because he isn't a great debater? Because he isn't polished, focus-grouped, and completely canned? I'm not endorsing Perry. But if that's the reason he's out of the race it's time to re-examine the qualities we seek in a President.

Substance, ideas, and honor trump style, platitudes, and empty promises -- the common fare dished out by "articulate" candidates -- every time. Have we become so superficial as to admire candidates who speak in sound bites and parrot rehearsed answers to scripted questions, both with rapid-fire predictability? If one memory fumble sends Perry to the bench, I say it speaks worse of the voters' intellect than of his.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Herman Cain has arrived

Political candidates are nowhere until their ethics are challenged, their morals are questioned, or their character is assassinated. No one can be considered a viable candidate for elected office until they're targeted for destruction. Judging from this week's news, Herman Cain has arrived.

A story that began with
two women alleging "inappropriate behavior" has grown to include a third woman, female staffers from a conservative talk radio show in Iowa, and hush money from the National Restaurant Association. Yet the details about what occurred, if anything, have thus far been silenced, if they're known at all. With each "revelation" the Cain saga seems more and more like Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings.

If you'll recall, Anita Hill offered no credible evidence of "inappropriate behavior" on the part of Thomas. It was a case of "she said" so "he did." The seriousness of the charge trumped the nature of the evidence. But at least we knew the accusations against Thomas, and his accuser. All we know about Cain is that anonymous women once accused him of misconduct, which could mean anything from a passing compliment, to a wink, to a grope.

No claim against Cain has, as yet, become
public. But the lack of details hasn't prevented the media -- namely Politico -- from running with the story. Funny how the public's need to know is quickly served whenever scandal descends on a conservative, especially when that conservative's popularity has been steadily rising.

The media had little interest in Bill Clinton's sordid and sundry escapades. Juanita Broaddrick was treated like a stalker, Paula Jones was dismissed as trailer trash, and media outlets had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Lewinsky affair. Reporters and anchors marveled at Clinton's uncanny aptitude for misrepresentation. The dominant media also ignored John Edwards, at least until the National Enquirer broke Edwards' sleazy story and it grew too big to cover-up.

Not even the civil rights activists will come to Cain's defense; he'll have to exercise his demons alone. If he were a proper black man, one firmly planted on the leftist plantation, he could play the race card. But as a black conservative, Cain isn't black enough to charge racism. He's fair game. Assassinating a conservative's character is always in season, regardless of their race.

I'm not necessarily defending Herman Cain's innocence or endorsing his candidacy. But he does exhibit some likable qualities. For example, he's a Washington outsider without political experience. We need another politician with experience in creating trillion dollar deficits and multi-trillion dollar debt like Eliot Spitzer needs a dose of Cialis.

Everyone has skeletons in their closet. A political candidate's skeletons are held in reserve until said candidate gains momentum. There's simply no need to waste time and effort demeaning an also-ran. The fact that Herman Cain is the eye of a media storm means he's now considered a viable candidate.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reagan speaks on deficits, spending, and debt

Government spending and national defense are among the key topics whenever Ronald Reagan's legacy is discussed. Reagan is credited with rebuilding the military into a force capable of projecting America's presence anywhere in the world. He is also criticized for increasing the national debt even though federal revenues increased during his administration, which is an indictment of Congress' long-term lack of fiscal discipline.

Today's America can only
long for the late Ronald Reagan's leadership. Then again, perhaps he's still on the job. A portion of his legacy can help us appreciate our military prowess while simultaneously understanding our unimaginable indebtedness.

The Gipper would certainly be pleased with the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), a state-of-the-art warship right down to the life rafts. The USS Reagan epitomizes the term "
supercarrier." With a 90-aircraft air wing, fire and forget missile defenses, and various radar, jamming, and countermeasure systems, the Reagan is adequately equipped to fulfill the former President's defensive strategies.

Since its commission in 2003 the Reagan has indeed impressed America's military might on all who see her. She's a crowning achievement in technology, maneuverability, speed, and reliability. For some Americans the Reagan represents the nation's commitment to excellence and innovation, and complements the former President's "peace through strength" ideology. But the USS Reagan stirs emotions on the other side of defense spending, too.

To Americans critical of military spending, the USS Reagan represents waste and a bully mentality. She is a $4.5 billion floating testament to misplaced national priorities. A progressive peace activist might argue that the USS Ronald Reagan is a budget-busting monument to America's military-industrial complex.

The Reagan is justified in Congress' constitutional duty to "provide and maintain a navy" (Art. I, Sect. 8). Even so, for the purpose of honest debate, a few points must be conceded to the Pentagon's detractors. Certainly there's waste in the defense budget, waste that can be trimmed without sacrificing needed upgrades, unit cohesion, or overall preparedness. Also, $4.5 billion is a pile of bucks no matter how you stack them, meaning the Reagan can illustrate our record budget deficits, federal spending, and national debt. But not in the way defense critics think.

What could each American household do with its share of the Reagan's $4.5 billion price tag? You might take the family out for pizza, but that's about all. Based on Census Bureau
statistics for 2003, the USS Reagan cost each American household only $40.43, meaning the ship's construction had little impact on Washington's chaotic finances. However, it can help us understand the vastness of federal spending.

Any attentive person knows the federal deficit has grown unchecked, reaching
$1.3 trillion in both 2010 and 2011. What isn't so obvious is that each $1.3 trillion in deficit spending would buy 288 aircraft carriers built to the same specs as the USS Reagan, with spare parts to boot. The federal government spent $3.6 trillion last year alone, a total that could build the Reagan 800 times. Based on the accumulated national debt -- currently $14.8 trillion and closing in on 100-percent of GDP -- we have borrowed enough money to provide the USS Ronald Reagan with 3,288 sister ships, again with spare parts leftover.

If many aircraft carriers are a good policy, are bigger aircraft carriers a better policy? Just how big would the USS Reagan be if its size were measured in federal spending? Dividing the ship's final construction cost by its overall length ($4.5 billion/1092 feet) shows that each foot of the Reagan cost the taxpayer $4.12 million. How much carrier can we then buy? Well, that depends on the chosen model.

The "Annual Red Ink" class, based on our $1.3 trillion deficit, could build a "supercarrier" measuring 315,533 feet from bow to stern. And that's the dove version. A more hawkish model, the "Yearly Expenditures" class (based on $3.6 trillion in annual spending), sails at an overall length of 873,876 feet. Now that's a "super-supercarrier." Not enough? Try the "National Debt" class, a genuine "super-duper-supercarrier," boasting a flight deck 3,592,233 feet long.

The USS Reagan's actual 1092-foot long flight deck is impressive. But the enormity of a carrier deck based on the aforementioned numbers is unimaginable. For ease of comprehension let's convert the feet into miles and apply the results geographically.

The "Annual Red Ink" class of aircraft carrier would be 59.75 miles long, approximately half the length of Long Island, NY. The "Yearly Expenditures" class, at 165 miles long, would stretch from Atlanta, GA to Montgomery, AL. Saving the best for last, a pilot on the "National Debt" class could travel from New York City to Myrtle Beach, SC and never leave the flight deck.

The point of this illustration isn't that America should've constructed 3,288 aircraft carriers. The point is to highlight the central government's disregard for its fiduciary duties. Washington spends a trillion dollars like the rest of us put change in a Coke machine. Slick-talking politicians can continue their lies, pretending to understand the fiscal mess they've created. But thanks to the USS Ronald Reagan and a 13-digit calculator, politicians can't continue bankrupting this country while believing the public is ignorant of the disservice they're committing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

America's useful idiots cheer their attackers

Imperfections notwithstanding, humans are a rather forgiving bunch. We've been known to forgive people who've stolen from us, damaged our property, or attacked us outright. We've forgiven con artists, robbers, and swindlers of all stripes. The more magnanimous among us can even forgive their rapist, or their loved one's murderer. A big heart is essential to granting absolution in lieu of vengeance. Therefore, when such forgiveness is accorded, the gracious party rightly earns public respect.

To revere a forgiving victim is one thing. But what would we think of someone who encouraged their assailant? What would we think of a woman who cheered her attacker during a sexual assault? How about someone who applauds while their neighbor is being murdered, or roots for the thief who's burglarizing their home, or praises the thug who's vandalizing their property? We'd think them foolish, if not tetched.

"C'mon," you say, "no one is stupid enough to cheer their attacker."

You could lose the farm on that bet. Blindly crediting people for common sense and rationality is a risky proposition. Americans regularly cheer their attackers, especially when the consequences from the attack aren't immediately perceptible or experienced.

Washington has been herding America into centralized despotism for generations and the Obama administration is quickening the pace. Eventually, we'll be left groveling before government for our every need, or begging from the foreign nations to whom our so-called leaders have indebted us. Who would cheer the charlatans who are selling us down the river? Listen to the
audience at an Obama rally.

Whenever President Obama proposes increased federal spending or another bankrupting entitlement program his supporters shower him with adulation. He promises a few hundred billion dollars for "shovel ready" jobs, or "green energy," or to keep teachers, police, and firemen on the job, and his audience glorifies him like a redeemer, as if he were riding a donkey down a road paved with palm branches. Such was the case when the President touted his $447 billion jobs proposal during a speech at North Carolina State University.

The President invariably claims his spending initiatives will be "paid for." The rhetoric is deceptive, if not a full-blown lie. Washington is overspending by $1.5 trillion annually, has accumulated a debt ten times that amount, and holds long-term benefit obligations that
exceed our total national assets. No federal spending is "paid for." Every dime is borrowed against the future incomes of the people who cheer Obama, like the students at N.C. State. Obama pledged debt to them and their children and they showered him with love and adulation in return.

Obama is sinking the country even further into unsustainable programs and unimaginable debts. His attack on our fiscal future is a repeated punch in the gut. And the "useful idiots" cheer him wildly, as if he is delivering us from evil.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protests capitalism and liberty

Opposition to crony capitalism, we're told, is motivating Occupy Wall Street. The protesters, we're told, are simply fed up with a business cycle wherein politicians push legislation to benefit large corporations, receiving campaign cash and other perks in return. In this the age of TARP bailouts, stimulus packages, and quantitative easing the complaint sounds reasonable, if we accept what we're told.

Many large corporations are unquestionably in bed with the federal government. Strange as it sounds, onerous government regulations offer some benefits to big businesses. For instance, regulations hinder start-up companies, preventing competition. Established companies possess the regulatory and legal experience, along with the political connections, necessary to navigate government's red tape. Small companies struggle just to gain a toehold, much less keep pace. Therefore, large companies have opportunity to bury small competitors beneath bureaucratic compliance and regulatory paperwork, and it's easier than direct competition.

However, a longing for free market competition isn't driving Occupy Wall Street. A movement dedicated to restoring market forces to our economy and breaking the bond between government and business already exists. If the occupiers actually supported such worthwhile goals they would ally the TEA Party. Yet TEA Party activists are routinely
demeaned as racist, sexist, and obsessively phobic.

Pundits can
compare Occupy Wall Street (OWS) to the TEA Party if they want. But the proof is in the pudding; occupiers have little in common with TEA Partiers. OWS may indeed hold corporate welfare in disdain, as does the TEA Party. But the similarity ends there. TEA Partiers also oppose the personal welfare state, the entitlement mentality that perpetuates said state, and the lack of personal responsibility that forms its foundation. Occupiers revel in entitlement, irresponsibility, envy, and wealth redistribution.

The occupations represent a segment of Americans diametrically opposite the TEA Party, a segment that is either oblivious to its surroundings or can't comprehend what it sees. Their motivations are similar to the demonstrators we've seen in European socialist democracies, notably Greece and Britain, where the economies crumble under entitlement's weight while the marchers demand even more.

Huddled in their de facto communes, the occupiers have no qualms with government choosing winners and losers, or funding more entitlement programs. They consider social spending obligatory and student loans are a basic human right. Punitive taxation on the "1-percent" is a matter of economic justice and everyone should have the job they like at the wage they desire. In short, occupiers expect Utopian results from more of the same irresponsible government spending and regulatory burdens that created the current budgetary and economic chaos.

The "99-percenters" aren't marching for freedom; they're clueless on the concept. Private property rights are a cornerstone of personal liberty. Yet they are anathema to the occupiers' worldview. The New York protesters see no contradiction in
squatting on private property, dishonoring the desires of the owner, and refusing to recognize the property owner's legal and moral right to tell the occupiers to pack up their autumn of love and head for the hills. Despite an agreement that zoned Zuccotti Park for public use, the park remains privately owned. Occupiers can chant, shout, and drum about freedom until the cows come home, but it means nothing until they've shed their open contempt for property rights.

The occupiers just can't grasp the contradiction in marching for freedom while demanding more government. As previously stated, Occupy Wall Street is about government growth. The only way to achieve their goals is to centralize authority, redistribute wealth, expand the entitlement attitude, and trust in a false promise. In the name of freedom the Wall Street occupiers are demanding cradle-to-grave collectivism. They're serving government at the expense of liberty, both for their fellow citizens and themselves.

The concept is unpopular, but you can judge people -- or in this case, a gathering of people -- by the company they attract. A quick glance at organizations aligning with OWS reads like a who's who of collectivism, from labor unions and to the
Communist Party USA. Some of the world's most repressive regimes are lending support, too. A general in Iran's Revolutionary Guard endorsed the OWS movement as a means to end Western capitalism. And Venezuela's socialist dictator Hugo Chavez has nothing but kind words for the occupiers.

Doubtful the typical occupier is a genuine, card-carrying communist. Most occupiers would likely balk at the idea of promoting communism, or even socialism. But progressivism, labor unions, militant strongmen, and dictators don't line up on the side of human liberty, and each has cast its lot with OWS. Can we then conclude that authoritarians see Occupy Wall Street's true nature much clearer than do the occupiers themselves? I think so.

The "99-percent" are a deluded bunch. First, 99-percent of our country isn't
consumed with class envy or "economic justice," however it's defined. Second, OWS protesters are simply the fertilizer from which state control of our economy, our culture, and the population overall will continue to grow. Occupy Wall Street is an instrument, a means to an end, with the typical occupier personifying everything Vladimir Lenin could've wanted in a useful idiot.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dick Durbin tests the Water Balloon Theory

No one likes high bank fees, especially in an era of bailouts, Wall Street occupations, and Washington deciding which banks survive. So a $5 monthly debit card fee creates an ideal situation for a manipulative politician, and Sen. Dick Durbin is ready to reap the populist hay.

Bank of America initiated the $5 debit card fee and you'd have thought they'd reinstated debtor's prison. No sooner was the fee announced than
Durbin pounced.

Bank of America customer, vote with your feet. Get the heck out of that bank. Find yourself a bank or credit union that won't gouge you for $5 a month and still will give you a debit card that you can use every single day. What Bank of America has done is an outrage.

Did Durbin forget that Bank of America never charged a monthly debit card fee until he legislated "fairness" into the banking industry? No, he didn't forget. He's just a hypocrite. Then, to cover his trail, this dim bulb encouraged a bank run that would, if fulfilled, result in Bank of America's insolvency.

Yesterday the federal government bailed out "too big to fail" Bank of America with 45-billion taxpayer dollars. Today Dick Durbin has declared B of A expendable. I don't know which is more insulting: the inconsistency, or Durbin's belief that Bank of America customers need his prompt to seek a new bank if they find the debit card fee egregious.

How can Durbin feign such self-righteous indignation over the debit card fee anyway? He
created it. Durbin's amendment to the Dodd-Frank banking reform legislation placed an artificial cease-and-desist order on the debit card fees banks once charged. Bank of America predictably sought new revenue streams to replace those Durbin's amendment disallows. It's the natural action for an institution whose revenue is disrupted.

When a business is squeezed in one area it will redirect its quest for profits, a phenomenon clearly illustrated in my Water Balloon Theory. If you fill a long balloon with water and compress one area, the water will be forced to a new location. No matter how hard you squeeze, you can't contain the water in one place. It will always move to a spot of lesser resistance. The only way to stop the process is to compress the balloon until it bursts.

Sen. Durbin tried to disprove my Water Balloon Theory, but he failed. His attempt to constrain the bank's fee structure simply forced those fees to a new location. At Bank of America the bulge appeared in the form of a $5 monthly charge for debit card use.

The Water Balloon Theory remains intact. Exerting political pressure on businesses will push their hunt for profits in a new direction. Continually increasing said pressure will cause businesses to fail, just like a balloon. We should apply this theory whenever we're tempted to demand congressional action on a perceived unfairness. Otherwise we, like Durbin, will end up all wet.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Anwar al-Awlaki's death spurs 5th Amendment debate

Anwar al-Awlaki's death has stirred an interesting debate. Can we celebrate his departure as one less al-Qaeda operative? Or, should we lament the killing of an American citizen abroad as another step on the slippery slope toward domestic tyranny?

The slippery slope argument doesn't lack precedent. Governments are notorious for targeting their own citizens. Nazi Germany systematically eliminated Jewish citizens, Stalin's Soviet Union imposed a famine on Ukraine, and Chairman Moa oversaw millions of Chinese deaths. Just this year Syria, Iran, Egypt, and Libya have trained government guns on their own people, killing them without trial. There's no denying the dangers of a government that recognizes no bounds.

However, the Constitution's Fifth Amendment forces our government to recognize boundaries, specifically that no one can be deprived of life without due process. So, how does the Fifth Amendment square with Awlaki's death? Despite living in Yemen, Awlaki was American born and a U.S. citizen. Does his death establish the
assassination of American citizens as standard federal procedure? One such death certainly doesn't place our government on par with history's most brutal regimes. But there are questions. Liberties and safeguards lost or surrendered are seldom regained.

Awlaki was an inflammatory critic of the United States. If he can be denied due process and killed because government leaders don't approve of his positions, could it lead to other Americans becoming government targets? If so, we're in grave danger. Pro-life activists and Second Amendment purists could be declared enemies of the state. Advocates for state's rights and a limited federal government would surely run afoul of the central authority. Should they be eliminated?

Anwar al-Awlaki's activities were certainly detestable. He was an al-Qaeda recruiter and jihad preacher who incited radicalism against the United States. But the Fifth Amendment question remains. Awlaki was an American citizen and his life was snuffed without due process of law. There've been other notorious Americans -- Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, and the Unabomber -- who weren't killed without trial. What makes Awlaki different from them?

American citizens retain their constitutional protections whether they're home or abroad. Numerous Americans have engaged in questionable activities while overseas, including former President
Jimmy Carter. None became missile targets. In fact, not even al-Qaeda operatives in the United States have been denied due process, as Awlaki allegedly was. Two Minnesota women suspected of raising funds and recruiting fighters for the Somali jihad group al-Shabab were recently arrested, not bombed.

However, one key factor has thus far been ignored. One of the central government's fundamental functions is to address threats to the citizenry. If government lacks either the ability or the will to defend the nation it cannot maintain the security necessary for liberty to flourish. Therefore, common sense establishes a line beyond which threats to security must be eliminated, even when posed by U.S. citizens. Anwar al-Awlaki crossed that line.

There are stark differences between mere rabble-rousers and someone like Awlaki. The fact that Awlaki left the United States doesn't mark him for death. But he left his country for a region where a recognized enemy is known to reside for the purpose of joining and aiding their cause. Essentially, Awlaki chose to become an enemy fighter.

Awlaki actively recruited al-Qaeda operatives with his radical doctrines and sermons. His résumé includes the Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas Bomber, and the failed Times Square bomb plot. No doubt a rouge government could manipulate evidence to cast suspicions on someone it would prefer to eliminate. But there's no need for cloak and dagger conspiracies in Awlaki's case. His decision to become a foreign enemy made him a legitimate target.

Anwar al-Awlaki's fiery departure didn't compromise our Fifth Amendment right to due process. The deaths of Randy Weaver's wife and David Koresh at the hands of federal authorities were much more troublesome to the cause of liberty than Awlaki's.

The dividing line between an imaginary enemy of the state, someone targeted solely for speech or activities the state doesn't approve, and a genuine enemy of the nation is quite clear. If we fail to see that truth it's simply because we choose to ignore it.

Debating the strategic value in Awlaki's death is an endless argument. But he wasn't killed because he didn't blindly support the federal government. He wasn't killed because he criticized America's foreign or domestic policies, or because his religion was strange, or because he was a quirky hermit on a mountaintop. Awlaki was killed because he left his country to voluntarily join an identified enemy whose hostilities toward the United States are well-documented. He was a legitimate target and the Fifth Amendment needn't shed a tear at his wake.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The curtain rises on Obama Theatre

When the curtain went up on Obama Theatre's latest presentation, staged at a town hall meeting sponsored by, the performance was the same as it has always been. A theatre critic would describe Obama's act as tired, tedious, and repetitive. The President delivered the same stale routines and predictable themes upon which he's long relied. There was nothing new, nothing creative. His message was inescapably vacant and laughably sophomoric.

Yet one scene stood out, wherein an obvious
cast member sheepishly asked Obama, "Will you raise my taxes?"

Shouldn't we expect more dynamic dialogue from an Obama production? And such a tepid delivery on the part of the supporting actor! Where's the feeling? Where's the enunciation? Even a theatrical novice realizes that persuading Obama to raise taxes is like persuading Lindsay Lohan to party, Charlie Sheen to toot his own horn, or Pamela Anderson to take off her clothes.

The tax masochist recited his lines and relinquished the spotlight, which is common for co-stars in an Obama production. He was simply another supporting actor in the class envy song and dance Obama has performed on every stage short of Broadway. The leading man -- President Obama, defender of the powerless and champion of the downtrodden -- boasts a substantial résumé of similar performances. The town hall meeting was just his latest credit.

When Obama plays the advocate for affordable housing there's a
Henrietta Hughes in the audience. When Obama needs to demonstrate his powerful personality a smitten supporter swoons like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert. When Obama bullies the rich about paying their "fair share" a wealthy capitulator begs for a tax hike. And we're supposed to believe these displays aren't staged? Obama and his entourage of conspirators are as natural as FD&C Yellow No. 10 and as predictable as a date with Jenna Jameson.

The Obama Show grows more tiresome with each performance, especially when it includes wealthy stooges begging pathetically for an opportunity to pay higher taxes. For the umpteenth time, any rich person who thinks they own too little stock in the federal treasury can write a check to Uncle Sam any time they choose, and for any amount they deem fair. The fact is that Obama's affluent fawners aren't at all interested in
paying more taxes. But they don't mind everyone else paying a little extra to support the Obama agenda.

Obama and his interchangeable troupe of supporting characters are playing us for suckers and we should be up in arms. Yet a goodly number or our countrymen gobble up this indigestible tripe and beg for an encore.

The curtain goes up on Obama Theatre every time a wealthy person begs the President for the privilege of making greater contributions to the IRS. The intent is to convince Americans that surrendering their production to big government is both sensible and patriotic. But each dramatization is pure fiction, staged for the immature and gullible patron.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

MSNBC attacks achievement

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) might think twice before agreeing to another appearance on MSNBC. What's to be gained from discussing issues with an interviewer whose mind is the political equivalent of a black hole? Credit Fleming for trying, but he must realize that MSNBC is nothing more than an outlet for left-wing activism.

MSNBC's Chris Jansing
scolded Rep. Fleming for opposing Democrat tax policy. Jansing asked Fleming to explain his own high income -- his business interests gross $6 million annually -- but paid no attention to his answer. Fleming took more than his "fair share" and that's all that mattered. The condescending Jansing continued to prod Rep. Fleming:

You do understand, congressman, that the average person out there who's making maybe 40, 50, $60,000 out there, when they hear you only have $400,000 left over, it's not exactly a sympathetic position. You understand that?

It's difficult to tolerate someone so arrogant in their ignorance as Chris Jansing. An honest interviewer would've at least listened to Rep. Fleming's explanation of how his gross receipts are dispersed, especially since she raised the issue. But not Chris Jansing; she heard from Fleming only what she wanted to hear. Like so many journalists she played the role of ideological puppet, as if the DNC had a hand in her back.

Sadly, Chris is partially correct. Too many Americans aren't sympathetic when a deceitful, immoral, and fiscally irresponsible ideology deploys government to steal their neighbor's earnings. And I can give her one big reason why. Look around your newsroom, Chris. Then look around the newsrooms at the vast majority of broadcast and print media. Finally, Chris, look in your own mirror.

Journalism sold out long ago. Rather than providing balanced information, journalists promote a vision in which one person's failure is the result of another's achievement. The predominant American media now serves an ideology bent on expanding the State, making it no different from the operatives at TASS and Pravda during the Soviet Union's heyday. You understand that, Chris?

Thinly veiled media attacks on achievement are common and predictable. Thus the question isn't how to reform the media, but how to undo the petty jealousies and animus toward achievement Democrats and their media apologists have created. As long as this mindset exists politicians will parlay class envy into electoral success, never fully explaining who the "greedy rich" are or what constitutes their "fair share."

Certainly Chris Jansing's brand of journalism is secure in the First Amendment, wherein she and her colleagues can compromise their profession to their heart's content. But there's a funny thing about freedom; it runs both ways. Those of us in the great unwashed are equally free to criticize media propagandists whenever they're encountered.

Achievement has its attackers. But let it be known this day, achievement has its defenders, too.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The problem with Paul

As Social Security is considered the third rail of national politics, Ron Paul is the third rail of the Republican Party. Paul's detractors are vehement in dismissing the Texas representative as the party's loose nut. Contrarily, Paul's supporters are dedicated to crowning him the savior of the GOP and the United States overall.

If Paul is as inconsequential as the haters claim, they needn't work so hard to dismiss him; he'll render himself irrelevant. But the GOP hierarchy cringes when Paul speaks because he's correct on so many issues. Audit the Fed? Ron Paul has a calculator. Worried about federally controlled healthcare delivery? Dr. Paul supports free market solutions to rising healthcare costs. Tired of burdensome regulations and Washington's shredding of our Constitution? Paul promotes personal liberty and states rights, viewing bureaucracy like a drunk at a Baptist picnic. His position on limited government offends Beltway Republicans who've fallen in love with federal largess.

Ron Paul is crystal clear on America's domestic problems. However, when it comes to foreign policy, the more Ron Paul talks the more his fatal weakness is exposed.

That's not to say Paul's foreign policy
positions are total flawed. For instance, Paul suggests a non-interventionist policy would save money. He's obviously correct. Fewer foreign engagements would require lower government expenditures. Besides, acting as the world's policeman isn't a conservative principal. Conservatives weren't interested in policing the world when Clinton engaged the Kosovo conflict and Libya is on no one's agenda. Paul's non-interventionism doesn't necessarily equate to a refusal to defend the United States.

On terrorism, Paul believes America's presence in Muslim lands provokes hatred toward us. Paul reasons, "What would we do if another country . . . did to us what we do to all those countries over there?"

Well, what would we do? We'd fight, of course, just as we did following 9/11. Were another country to establish a military presence on U.S. soil we would summon every weapon from pitchforks to Tomahawk missiles against the foreign occupier. Americans would demand all-out war against the infiltrators. Should we not do unto others as we would have them do unto us?
Paul believes our "foreign occupations" spurred the 9/11 attacks. There is some credibility in his assertion, for the prior mentioned reasons. However, "foreign occupation" falls short in explaining the reason Islamists choose violence. The culture reflected in the jihad movement relishes conflict. If there were no Israel, Islamists would find another justification for violence. The Muslim Brotherhood was
anti-Zionist before the post-war establishment of Israel. If there were neither a United States nor an Israel, another enemy would spark the fanatic's flame. Even in biblical history, pre-Islamic Arabs and Persians fought not only with Jews but with each other. Any reason, provocation, or insult, whether real or perceived, can stir Islamist violence.

America certainly isn't perfect; we've made foreign policy blunders. Whether for better or worse, the United States has propped-up unpopular dictators to further our interests in the Middle East. If an outside interest so meddled in our affairs we'd be seething and rightly so. But the problem with Ron Paul, his fatal flaw, is his belief that America will be safer if we bring all troops home and adopt a quasi-isolationist foreign policy.

Paul's view of international relations is similar to the one America held prior to World War II. The U.S. thought neutrality was an option in an increasingly hostile world. Thus Hitler's Germany went from a defeated and demilitarized nation to a burgeoning and aggressive war machine. A huge price was extracted, in blood and money, for our ambivalence. Is the next Third Reich on the horizon? Maybe not. But protecting U.S. sovereignty relies on the ability to respond quickly to gathering threats.

A strong and ready military is essential to our survival, but not necessarily the "neo-con" view of militarism. While America can and should promote liberty and a better opportunity to an oppressed world, we aren't responsible for overthrowing dictators in every third-world hellhole. Suppose we follow Thomas Jefferson's advice: "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Was Jefferson averse to the aggressive use of force? Ask a Barbary pirate.

America would be better served if all its military engagements were defensive in nature. This is especially true if we continue fighting wars like police actions, which has become our standard strategy regardless of the party in charge. Yet an aggressive foreign policy must remain an option for dealing with demonstrable threats. The jihad has a track record of attacking the
United States and her interests, at home and abroad. America must confront Islamists even if it means acting preemptively, unilaterally, or overwhelmingly. The reason for Islamic terrorism is found in the prejudices and cultures of the Islamists, not on an air base in Riyadh.

This is the problem with Ron Paul. On domestic, economic, and constitutional issues he is right on target. Ron Paul is correct in believing the United States isn't responsible for forcefully establishing freedom and self-government throughout the world. But Paul is dangerously wrong regarding how America must deal with external threats in the modern world.

President Ron Paul isn't the answer. Federal Reserve Chairman Ron Paul? Now that has a nice ring to it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lemonade Wars: The State battles entrepreneurialism

The United States is a nation of cultural icons. Some places, symbols, and activities shout "America" with the voice of three-hundred million citizens: the Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium, an Independence Day cookout. High on the list of those iconic symbols is the front yard lemonade stand. It represents the essence of budding entrepreneurialism and self-reliance.

Only the heartless can deny the joy of buying a lukewarm glass of "ice-cold" lemonade from an enterprising youth. The lemonade stand, and similar entrepreneurial adolescent pursuits, is the stuff of Americana, pure Norman Rockwell. Not only are the young shopkeepers cute, they're participating in an activity as old as mankind. The lemonade stand proprietor has entered the world of capitalism, where merchant and customer voluntarily exchange items of value. Tragically, the child's lemonade stand, like capitalism, finds itself increasingly in the State's regulatory crosshairs.

Governments are targeting neighborhood lemonade stands throughout the land of the free. The reasons behind these "lemonade raids" are similar no matter their location. Young businessmen and businesswomen, like their mature counterparts, are running afoul of local codes and health ordinances, lacking required permits and licenses, or tripping over bureaucratic red tape. When even the childhood entrepreneur can't escape the overbearing and burdensome tentacles of government's regulatory octopus, what chance has the adult?

The Massachusetts State Police
closed a 12-year-old boy's green tea stand because he didn't secure the requisite permits. Coralville, Iowa conducted a veritable raid on unsanctioned lemonade stands. Police in Midway, Georgia closed a lemonade stand because the three girls who operated it failed to obtain licenses and permits that cost $50 a day. A similar instance occurred in Appleton, Wisconsin. Villa Rica, Georgia police sent a Girl Scout troop home because they didn't have a peddler's permit to hawk their cookies. In New York, a city councilman summoned police to an unauthorized cupcake shop.

As would be expected, the various government agencies responsible for protecting the public from these snack food speakeasies defended their decisions, as well as the regulations that preceded them. The New York councilman, Michael Wolfensohn, said all vendors must conform to local ordinance, even if the "vendors" are two kids with a pan of brownies. Wolfensohn called police because they're "trained to deal with these sorts of issues."

And all this time you and I thought police were trained to deal with suspected criminals, not with people trying to make an honest dollar. Unless selling brownies for profit is a crime, or the teenage dealers were pushing hashish brownies, there's no reason for the police to be involved, save to investigate Councilman Wolfensohn for impersonating an intelligent human being.

A spokesman for Villa Rica defended the town's ordinance as a safety issue, enacted after a previous incident where a child seeking charitable donations ran into traffic. While no one wants a youngster to become a traffic statistic, the official explanation defies logic. Are we to assume a peddler's license would prevent an exuberant child from rushing into the street? Children chase balls, pets, and other objects into traffic every day. The presence of a permit will do nothing to curb potential harm to children. Parental supervision and oversight will further safety far more than will a peddler's permit, and parents were present when the Girl Scout cookie sale was shuttered.

One side affect of the crusade against lemonade stands is the fear of police each incident instills in children. Subjecting children to police questioning over trivial incidents, like unlicensed lemonade stands, compromises the trust for police officers we attempt to teach our children. In defense of the officers themselves, most weren't enthused with confronting the treat-bearing scofflaws. In both the Villa Rica and Appleton cases the responsible police departments issued apologies and made amends.

If the examples offered were isolated events we might let them pass. But they're
not isolated. There must be an explanation for government's hostility toward adolescent entrepreneurs. Liberty certainly isn't served when police departments are transformed into lemonade stand task forces. But is there benefit to the State? It would appear so. Over time, children will become accustomed to such bureaucratic meddling, and police presence, in their daily business. The cause of liberty is curtailed while the power of the State intensifies.

Children aren't becoming wealthy selling lemonade by the drink. Nor are their lemonade stands a threat to established businesses, which shouldn't expect protectionist policies in a competitive market anyway. But a child gains valuable lessons in capitalism and self-reliance when they operate a lemonade stand, or any similar part-time business. There lies the problem for the State. Self-reliance is the antithesis of collectivism, as collectivism relies on an ascending State.

Doubtful there's a widespread government conspiracy to socialize the under-16 lemonade market. The lemonade stand per se isn't a threat to government power. However, genuine independence -- learned in youth -- is a danger to the State's authority. The State's natural bent is to restrain self-reliance, and the easiest way to accomplish that goal is to stifle individualism before it starts.

The State has examined the neighborhood lemonade stand and, through necessity rather than conspiracy, deemed it a menace. In fact, the State has examined entrepreneurialism and found it dangerous, except for those entrepreneurs who are willing to play ball with the State. The message is clear. Anyone desiring to enter the business world must do so with the State as a not-so-silent partner. Otherwise, their enterprise will be fined, regulated, egregiously taxed, or closed outright. The decision rests less on the rule of law than on the State's arbitrary and
heavy hand decisions.

What better way to prepare tomorrow's entrepreneurs for the collectivist marketplace than to deny them the ability to operate the simplest of businesses today? Certainly boys and girls can't afford the permits, licenses, insurance policies, and health code upgrades that would put them in compliance with government regulations. However, introducing youth to the bureaucratic swamp is a lesson that serves the State long term. Children become indoctrinated to the concept of the State meddling in all affairs, personal and private. It's a highly effective tactic, for the State.

Some youth will realize the road to business success in America's increasingly socialist economy is to grease the palms and oil the skids of various government councils, boards, and commissions. These few learn to grant deference to the State in earning their individual livelihoods. Others will become discouraged with entrepreneurial pursuits. They will see bureaucracy for the monolithic obstacle to economic advancement it has become, and consider the regulatory burden too heavy to bear.

The State wins in either circumstance. Those willing to conform to the State's mandates acknowledge the State's authority over the individual's ability to exercise life's most basic liberty: the right to earn a living. The nonconformist entrepreneur, who rejects both the idea of begging a bureaucrat for the right to earn a living and being subject to the State's burdensome regulatory oversight, withdraws from the proprietor sector of the marketplace, becoming a wage-earner.

Both the willing conformist and the resigned nonconformist are easier to influence, regulate, and control than the self-reliant entrepreneur. Properly indoctrinated, people view the State as the ultimate arbiter of the ability to earn a living. Whether that authority is considered just or amoral is inconsequential, as long as the State's authority is acknowledged. And it all starts at the lemonade stand.

This article first appeared at American Thinker.