On Independence

Today, we celebrate the 233rd “birthday” of our country. It is an auspicious day, one that our Founding Fathers felt would be celebrated in perpetuity with games, ceremony, and fireworks. I think that if they were among us today, they would be pleased that the quintessential July 4th celebration is a cookout with family and friends, and then watching fireworks together as a community.

However, one thing that we tend not to do (like so many other times) is ponder the words that propelled that generation – THE Greatest Generation (with all due respect to the other Greatest Generation) to fight a desperate war for five (more) long years against one of the world’s superpowers, and more to the point, against what many considered to be their countrymen. I think that, especially in the times we live in, it is important to hear those words with renewed thoughtfulness:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to altar or abolish it, and institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

There was nothing really earth-shattering about the ideas reflected above when they were written. They had been around for many years, some would say thousands. What was (and remains) earth-shattering was that for the first time, these ideas would become the foundation, the bedrock, of a new society and new form of government.

Many would argue that we, as a country, have never lived up to its promise. In many ways, they are right – our country has failed many times to live up to those ideals. The unfortunate part is that, because of our unique ability for self-flagellation, many people focus so much on the failings of America that they do not (or choose not) to see the good of America. If for nothing else, this country has given mankind the true understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state. We do not exist for the state – the state exists for us. The ideas promulgated in the Declaration resonate throughout the world.

In the times we live in, the words contained in the Declaration have become all the more important. I think that, if Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and the rest of their generation were here among us, they would be very disappointed with us. I suspect many of them would wonder why we let government become a more and more intrusive part of our lives, and how we have allowed a political class to be formed that, for all intents and purposes, does not serve the general Welfare, but their own narrow interests.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

They understood what it was to live in tumultuous times, so I think they would have a special understanding of ours. I also think that they would wonder amongst themselves when we would decide we had had enough. They would probably counsel that the American people had thrown off one yoke already, but that the beauty of the system they left us was that, instead of having to pick up a rifle to change the system, we have but to pick up a pen (or in many cases, an electronic polling booth).

I think that they would scoff at the idea that government has to solve all of our problems for us, rather than us solving them for ourselves. I suspect that they had had quite enough of government solutions, thank you, and would wonder why we are content to allow the same. In their eyes, the government was often by and large the problem, and that any so-called solutions offered by it would lead to more of the same.

 So, on this commemoration of the signing of that most auspicious document, let us all look at it with renewed understanding of its promises and our responsibility to help uphold them. Let us also work with renewed vigor to try and restore our government to its rightful place, not as our lord and master, but as our servant. And let us all try to live our lives, as Americans, as the founders wrote at the end of the Declaration:

And for the support of the Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

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Are You Kidding Me?

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson

Yes, I have been absent for quite awhile. My only excuse is busyness and trying to finish up an MBA degree. Never fear, in just a few short weeks, I will be free to opine on the issues of the day. However, since I am off today, I thought I would take a few minutes to pass along something that happened this morning.

I was watching the news (MSNBC……yeah, I can’t write that with a straight face, it was Fox) this morning, and they had a Representative on talking about the health care issue.

When the anchor asked him about a proposal on the Senate side to tax people’s health care benefits, except those who are union members, he said that union members are covered under collective bargaining agreements, and the government shouldn’t be getting in the middle of agreements between private parties.

I almost spit my coffee out onto the TV! This guy should get some sort of award for having the guts (gall?) to get on the television and say that (especially someone from the Democrat party). Let’s see…..

  • Bank of America/Merrill Lynch
  • T.A.R.P.
  • AIG
  • Chrysler
  • General Motors
  • The “pay czar”
  • “Cap and Trade”

I know, I  know….”but they took tax dollars, so we have a right to tell them what to do!” Really? Our government has a right to abrogate contracts? They have a right to strong arm a corporation into purchasing another? They have the right  to, essentially, determine who wins and who loses in the free market?

I hope that the readers of this blog are not so naive to think that your government did these things to “protect working class Americans”. That rhetoric is as hollow as it is played out…although I must admit the whole class warfare thing has worked out pretty good for Mr. Obama. The government is no more interested in your well-being as it is in giving back the power that we have so willfully given it over the past 75 years or so.

In the end, the health care debate isn’t really about health care…just as much as the “green” debate isn’t really about the environment. It is about power and control. I am sure there are people involved in the debate that mean well. But you know what the saying is about the road to Hell. And I believe that even those who say that the government should socialize medicine (or anything else for that matter) generally really think that is the best solution. But when that person is part of the government, they are going to “solve” problems in a way that increases the government’s power and control.

Power and control are a zero-sum game. If the government increases its power and control, ours as individuals necessarily decreases. There is no magic formula whereby the power over our own lives increases as the government’s power increases as well. It just doesn’t work that way. Governments are why the phrase, “give them an inch, they’ll take a mile” was invented. Out Founding Fathers understood this…that governments (of all kinds) become more tyrannical over time by their very nature.

So when the government tells me its wants to “help” me by reforming health care, please excuse my skepticism, because I seriously doubt that any government “reform”…of whatever area…is going to lead to a solution that is going to increase my control (i,e, freedom and liberty) over my own life.

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Time for a Third Party?

The topic of a third party is one that our society has wrestled with for a long time, from the Whigs in the 19th Century to Teddy Roosevelt’s running as a third party candidate to Ross Perot’s Reform Party to the candidacy of Ron Paul in the recent elections.

I have to admit that I have generally been against attempts to create a viable third party. The problem is not having a third party per se, but that our governmental system is set up in such a way as to promote a two-party system. This is somewhat by design, as the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid creating too many factions in society. So my skepticism at creating a viable third-party is mostly born from this understanding.

That is not to say that I have always felt that a major political party, in my case the Republican Party, has always represented my interests. As a matter of fact, for most of my adult life I was a registered Independent, because I really felt that neither party aligned with me philosophically. However, in practice, I usually voted for Republican candidates.

The past few years has been especially tough for conservatives. Most of us were underwhelmed with President Bush’s fiscal conservatism the last few years of his presidency, and the Republican Party put forward a presidential candidate that most of us really did not get behind until Palin was picked as the VP running mate.

Political parties, by their very nature, exist to do one thing: create an organization that gets as many of its candidates elected as possible. They are not think-tanks or special interest groups. Despite popular opinion, political parties have traditionally been places of moderation – the tent, as they say, has to be big enough to get a majority of people to vote for their candidates. While this has generally been a good thing, in that it has a moderating tendency in our political discourse, it has also led to both major political parties having a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

This does not mean that political parties want policy positions to remain the same. Each side tries to effect policy, which in turn makes its supporters happy and more likely to support their candidates (and give money). It does mean that the systemic rules don’t get changed all that much, since both sides take advantage of the rules when they are in power. Which is all well and good – if you think the system is correct.

Increasingly, many Americans are feeling like there is a systemic problem with our government as it has evolved. It isn’t so much a Democrat versus Republican thing, but a growing awareness that most of our governmental officials are not serving the people. Granted, currently this voice is the loudest from the conservative side of things. This isn’t in my estimation, because a Democrat won the White House. It is because there is a growing sentiment that this administration is but the proverbial icing on the cake when it comes to moving the government, and the society, further and further away from the core values of America as voiced in our founding documents.

Of course, well meaning people can disagree on what was meant by this or that in the Constitution, and can even argue over whether the Constitution is “living” or meant to fixed and relatively unchanging. However, I think that the unease felt by many comes from a more fundamental sense than just arguments over the Constitution. The unease, I think, comes from a sense that there has been a fundamental shift in the relationship between the individual and the government that has really begun to culminate over the past several years.

Which leads us back to a third party.  There is a bit of a dichotomy in this argument, especially on the conservative side of things. Those who would think of joining a third party are disposed towards this because of the issues that they have with the two dominant parties. Also, among those with a libertarian bent, there is a skepticism towards collectivization at any level. The problem with all this is that, unless you organize with others that share a like-mindedness, your individual voice is no match to those that can organize effectively and present a united front to those in power.

So, the question remains…for those on the conservative side of things, is it time to put our weight behind a third party, to make it more viable? This issue is frought with concerns, not the least of which is the practical consideration that it would probably mean being political outsiders for at least a decade or so. Maybe the solution isn’t so much a political party, but a political action committee (PAC). PAC’s can be bi-partisan, and would provide some freedom of action to support the candidate that most represents what the PAC stands for. The question is whether this approach would lead to fundamental change within our government, bringing it back towards what it was meant to be?

I know that I have come to the conclusion that both major political parties no longer speak for me, or to me, on the fundamental issue of the relationship between the individual and the government. I believe that there are some in the Republican Party trying to correct its course, but I am not so sure that what isn’t needed is a massive change in course. Correcting it, at this point, is just not going to do it. Radical? Perhaps…but so was the Declaration of Independence when it was written. It completely altered the relationship between individual and government. The problem is that most of us have forgotten what the relationship is supposed to be, because we have all lived with a sort of creeping tyranny over the past several decades. Sometimes it barely moves, or even goes backwards. Other times (like now), it seems to be moving at a sprint. However, make no mistake that the government that we have allowed to come into being, under both parties, is massively different than what was anticipated by the founders of this country.

At the end of the day, the decision ultimately resides where it should: with each of us as individuals.  We still have, at least at this point, the right to associate with whomever we choose. The decision shouldn’t be made lightly. My only request (as if I have the place to make requests) is that it be done with an understanding of what that decision means. To paraphrase a popular saying nowadays, “Choices Matter” – the decision to support this side or that, this party or that, should be made with contemplation and forethought. Some may choose to do nothing, which of course is their right. This choice, too, has consequences. As the Rush lyric goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

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Meet The New Boss

As our government goes into hysterics over the bonuses paid out to executives in the AIG Financial Products division, there is a new wrinkle to the story…

In today’s New York Times, there is an article describing a plan by the Obama administration seeking to put regulatory limits on executive compensation. This won’t just cover institutions that have received federal “bailout” money, but “all banks, Wall Street firms, and other companies.” This, as part of new regulations to supposedly strengthen federal oversight of the financial industry.

Yes…you read the previous paragraph right. The Obama administration wants to be able to dictate how executives at private companies are paid. I can somewhat understand wanting to have a greater hand in executive compensation at companies that have received federal monies. Even this doesn’t make total sense…no other institution dictates how a company that receives a loan can spend the proceeds…and weren’t we told that these bailouts were an “investment” by the American taxpayer? That we would get a return? Sounds like a loan to me…but I digress.

The very idea of anyone in government wanting to do this should be frightening to..well, just about anyone that works in the private sector (which, maybe is the point??). I hate to keep beating the proverbial dead horse…but once we allow the government to dictate to individuals in the private sector what they can and can’t make, we have started down a very dangerous slippery slope. If this goes through, and lets face it, the political environment is such that it could, since these guys are all evil, greedy, capitalists, what is to stop the government from expanding it? Obama says that health care costs are a large part of the economic problem…so, in an effort to control costs, why wouldn’t the government want to dictate how much health care executives make? Then doctors? Then nurses?

You could fill in the blank with just about any industry. Therein lies the problem. The whole point of private enterprise is that it is private, meaning not controlled by the public (government) sphere. It is one thing for the government to want to regulate commerce (in the interest of having a level playing field), but another thing entirely for the government to become involved in the inner workings of private enterprise.

“Wait”, you say, “these guys make way too much money and really screwed up our financial system.” First, who is to say they make too much money? You? Me? The President? The only people that have a right to dictate how much is too much are the owners of the company, i.e. the shareholders. Whether XYZ Company wants to pay their executives $1 Million or $10 Million each is really nobody’s business but the owners. No, I agree that their pay ought to reflect what they are doing for the company…if you make the owners lots of money, you should be compensated. If not, then maybe there is no bonus that year. And if the compensation system is out of whack, the owners (shareholders) ought to vote with their dollars.

Second, I would argue that the system is broken precisely because the government has, in all honesty. stuck its nose where it doesn’t belong. By attempting to dictate outcome, the government created the conditions for a situation that we now blame on “greed”. To be blunt, that is the whole point. One of the defining tenets of capitalism is that each person is free to maximize their own self-interest…if I can make $50,000 at one business or organization, and $100,000 at another, I ought to have the ability to decide to go with Company A or Company B. Now maybe I choose to stay at Company A, because there are other factors that contribute to my “self-interest.”  Again, it is MY decision to determine what my self-interest is. It is up to the sum total of our self-interests (i.e. the market) to determine winners and losers. So, our government decided that more people needed to “win”…and then, when companies lost because they made bad decisions, our government stepped in to keep them from the pain of losing…again dictating outcome. The government has forgotten that there is already a mechanism for determining what to do with companies that lose…called declaring bankruptcy and being sold off to the highest bidder.

Unfortunately, our society has been brainwashed into thinking that we ought not suffer from our actions or decisions. We are teaching our kids that from an early age. We don’t keep score in sports, and we don’t give grades in school. We try and protect their fragile little psyches from the pain of losing and the elation of winning. This, or course, has no bearing on real life. So the natural tendency of people who have been raised like this, as adults, is to not so much level the playing field but level the outcome. Hence the idea that the government (because the government is ALWAYS fair) ought to step in to make sure these people don’t make so much money. Which may seem like a good idea to many of us…until the government gets around to dictating how much lawyers can make…or doctors…or electricians…or secretaries. If we are putting in votes, I vote for the government to dictate how much athletes can make. How come Congress isn’t passing laws to tax A-Rod ninety percent of his salary because he took performance enhancing drugs?

I am sure that there are going to be all kinds of arguments trotted out by the administration and others that support this move. There will be ties made between this and “fiscal responsibility” (as if someone that trots out a $3 Trillion budget can say one word about it, in all seriousness), and that these people’s greed is hurting the rest of us. It will all sound good and helpful and…well, right. It still does not remove the fact that this step is another attempt to further government control over the private sector, and by extension, our private lives.

In closing, I refer you to a quote by James Madison, that describes the proper perspective between the government and the private sector. Perhaps our politicians would do well to read a little of Madison’s writings:

“The rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted.” – James Madison

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Whither AIG ?

More words have probably been written about the situation with AIG in the past 96 hours then can possibly be read. So I am not going to dwell too much on the issues that got us to this point. However, I think that what is happening (even as I write this) in Washington, in our name, needs to be brought to the surface.

Like most people, I find it extremely difficult to swallow that the executives at AIG that caused the problems with the company got the types of bonuses that they did. Most of us will never see that kind of money, even if we become super-successful in our lines of work. However, after hearing Ed Liddy yesterday talk about his rationale, I can understand the decision. Leaders, no matter what size organization they run, are often given the choice of the lesser of two evils. I have no reason to doubt his explanation as to why he didn’t do more to abrogate the compensation contracts of the executives in that particular division.

The larger issue here is how our government is responding to the AIG mess. I, for one, have been quite embarrassed by the behavior of our politicians, especially in Congress. It goes through both sides of the aisle – from quips about the “Japanese” way to shrugging off death threats, our so-called leaders are acting out of emotion. Quite frankly, acting on emotion is what got us here is the first place.

Then there is the constitutionality of the whole matter. I am not a lawyer, and I did not attend law school. But I do know something about our Constitution. What is being lost here, in the rush to “do something”, is that the Congress is treading on very slippery ground. The framers of our Constitution specifically prohibited the Congress from passing what are called Bills (or Acts) of Attainder (see here and here. These usually seek to enact laws that punish or impose some other type of “pain” on a specific group or class of people. The Constitution also prohibits Congress from passing Ex Post Facto laws, or laws that are retroactive to a certain date or action (Article I, section 9, clause 3).

So, I ask the question…does not what our Congress is contemplating today not fit into this definition? Not only is law it is seeking to pass argeted at certain people, it is also being contemplated after the fact. The whole point of having this prohibition in the Constitution is to keep the government from using its ability to write laws as a weapon against the people. As stupid as the idea is of the folks at AIG taking these bonuses, Congress is “doubling down” on the stupid bet by contemplating passing laws to tax or other wise confiscate the bonuses from these executives (as well as others). All to cover their you-know-whats for specifically allowing it in the first place. I could go on and on about this topic, but I am sure you get the point.

At risk of sounding fatalistic, I would tell you to call and email your representatives…but it isn’t going to do any good. They are going to do what they want, Constitution be damned (just as an aside…when do you think was the last time any of them read it?). I am going to, but I also like jousting with windmills. You may even agree with what Congress is doing today. If you do, just ask yourself what happens when the “them” that Congress is going after becomes you? Once the door is opened, what is to stop government from using its power to putatively punish you? One of the points of the rule of law is to protect all of us from the fickle tides of emotion. When our government stops paying attention to the highest law of the land, the rule of law erodes. Once the rule of law begins eroding, all of us become subject to the ebbs and flows of emotion.

Part of the result of the American Revolution was the institutionalization of the rule of law; that no one person, no matter the office, is above it. When emotion replaces reason and the rule of law, you get not the American Revolution, but the French Revolution.

(Here is another great article about the bonuses by Johan Goldberg of the National Review.)

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Conservatism and Minorities

Found a great article today in the Wall Street Journal by Shelby Steele regarding why conservatism has such difficulty gaining traction among the various minority groups in our country. Instead of rehashing his argument, I highly recommend that you read it here.

I freely admit that this is a question that I have struggled with. Traditionally, most minority groups in this country, especially African-Americans, have tended to side with Democrats. On the one hand, it is easily understood, with the link between John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights movement. On the other, the argument can by made that the Democratic Party of JFK is not the Democratic Party we have today.

However, I think the issue goes much further than that, and Steele touches on it. It is not so much of a problem of substance, but one of image. To put it bluntly, conservatism suffers from a marketing problem. We tend to not be a bunch that engage in very much sign holding, protesting, or other actions that bring attention to our cause (although this may be changing…it is too early to tell). Let’s face it – a three day policy conference about how to deal effectively with some societal ill is not nearly as exciting as carrying signs and chanting slogans about that same ill.

The issue – the conundrum – is that conservatism, at its root, seeks to instill the very things that many minorities in our country are looking for (at least I think they are). Individual liberty, equality of opportunity, and the ability to provide as good a life for you and your family as you are willing to work for are all things that would seem to resonate loudly with minorities. Instead we have been tarred by the Left as xenophobic, greedy, racists, and mean to puppies and kittens. I am sure there are some that label themselves as conservatives that are…but I would put forth the argument that they either misunderstand conservatism at its root or use it as some sort of anti-liberal tag.

Unfortunately, I have few ideas of how to fix this. I do know it starts with passionate, articulate champions of conservative ideals…from all walks of life. The next is to give them as much opportunity to talk to the people of America about what conservatism is (and is not) as we can. We also need conservative politicians who put values over politics, ones that will say what they think, and vote what they say. But that is the topic for another post.

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Quote of the Day

Here is something that caught my eye this afternoon. It is a quote by Friedrich Hayek, an economist who was a contemporary of John Maynard Keynes and one of his greatest critics. It speaks to a question that is, and ought to be, fundamental to our times. Namely, who knows better how to allocate our economic resources, individuals or government?

The real question is not whether man is, or ought to be, guided by selfish motives but whether we can allow him to be guided in his actions by those immediate consequences which we can know and care for or whether he ought to be made to do what seems appropriate to somebody else who is supposed to possess a fuller comprehension of the significance of these actions to society as a whole.

Hayek was firmly against Keynes’ theory of aggregate demand, which led Keynes to the belief that government ought to maipulate the economy to maintain aggregate demand (and thus, full employment). To make the point a little more clearer, Keynesian economics is what is driving our government wanting to bail out and “stimulus” the country back to economic health.

Just as an aside, I strongly suggest (if you are interested in economics) to read some of Hayek’s writings. His defence of classical economcs is in large part where the economic and fiscal principals of modern American conservatism come from.

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