'Cause I Said So…

I Would Like A Real Explanation, Governor Perry

Remember when you were a kid, and you were busted for doing something you weren’t supposed to? What was the first thing you would say? It was probably “I’m sorry!” If you had a smart-alec like my Father, you would have been asked “Sorry for what you did, or sorry for getting caught?” With my Dad, you had better know the difference.

Well, guess what? I want to know why Perry apologized for his actions. Was he “sorry” because people didn’t like the policy, or was he “sorry” because he over-stepped his constitutional authority as governor? There is sure as heck a difference between the two.

In 2007,  Governor Perry’s (R-TX) issued an executive order mandating every girl going into sixth grade in a Texas public school to receive the Gardasil vaccine. He then quickly rescinded his order, when public opposition grew too great. Every explanation I’ve read was merely an attempt to justify his actions. “He was sorry for upsetting parents, but his motives were pure.” Well, I have another of my father’s favorite sayings: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

So, one more time for those riding the short bus, what is his explanation for subverting the constitution of the State of Texas? Why did he think he could pass law without the state legislature? Why couldn’t he have had a bill sponsored in the legislature? What does this tell us about his attitudes concerning executive power, before he possibly ascends to the highest office in the land?

Is he sorry because he did it, or because he got caught?

If we truly believe in the “rule of law”, are these questions really inconsequential?

An Assignment for the Willing

Posted in Cinema, Ethics, Films, Health Care, Media, Medicine, Morality, Movies, Popular Culture by kevinsoberg on March 19, 2011

Last weekend, I watched the movie Never Let Me Go (2010), starring Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley. I had an immediate reaction to it and have been thinking about it ever since. The more I consider the theme and plot of this film, the more it affects me and the more I have to say.

What my reactions were and what my thoughts have been are for another posting. I have much to say about it, but not in this post. I don’t want my thoughts on it to bias or direct your reactions. This post is for one purpose: I want you to watch the movie.

I want you to watch Never Let Me Go and think. I want you to think about what you are watching and think about how it makes you feel. Then, when the movie is over, I want you to think about it some more.

I don’t work for the production company. I don’t work for the distributor. I have no financial interest in it in any way. Hell, I don’t even review movies.

Why am I asking you to do this? Because I believe your reactions and thoughts about this movie tells me, and can tell you, a lot about your thoughts on any number of subjects. Call it a Rorschach test, if you will.

Do I think the writer, the producers, the director, or any of the actors had my reactions in mind when creating this work? No, nor do I care. I have no way of knowing their intentions, not without possibly reading a lot of interviews. Even then, their intentions would be beside the point. My visceral and intellectual reactions to this film are mine.

If I were to watch a documentary on the Soviet Union, my reactions would be the same regardless of the perspective of the documentarian, pro or con. My reactions to viewing totalitarian socialism would be based solely on my personal philosophies. Even if dressed up and prettily painted, I would react negatively to totalitarianism given my libertarian beliefs.

Now, go watch the film, if you are willing. I know it’s available on Time/Warner Cable systems’ OnDemand. I don’t know about the other cable systems or the satellite providers, or what video rental places have it. I’m kind of doing this on the fly.

I have a lot of work to do, myself. I now have to put all these thoughts down into something which will be, hopefully, cohesive and understandable. Please, give me some time, as I am ponderously slow.

The Purpose of Government to a Free People

The purpose of any government is to get things done. Its existence may not be considered legitimate. The person(s) in power may not be you. The methods used may be to your detriment. The things done may not be to your liking. Regardless, it is there to get something done. Who, what, why and how? These are answered by the type of government you live under.

The purpose of government in an authoritarian society (monarchy or oligarchy) is to do things to the “people” (subjects) at the behest of and to the benefit of the ruler(s). There are innumerable examples of such governments throughout history. The prevailing characteristic is: Either you’re “in” or you’re “out”. These tend to be very static societies, with change only coming violently from either outside by invasion or inside by revolution. Any loss of control by those in power can lead, domino-like, to the complete collapse of civil authority.

The purpose of government in a “democratic” society is to perform “collective action” with the consent of the majority. However, just because decisions are made “democratically” doesn’t necessarily make the individual any freer. If you are in the minority, you have no say in what these actions may be or in how they are achieved. In a “pure democracy” you have no rights other than those agreed to, at any given moment, by those with the most votes. History shows these societies to be short-lived due to roiling factionalism, which leaves them vulnerable to invasion due to weakness or to takeover by authoritarians offering stability.

Luckily, the Framers of our current government were students of history. They understood that the only way to be truly free was for government to protect an individual’s Life, Liberty and Property, not just from others but also from the government itself. They knew there could be too much democracy. They also knew there should not be a permanent ruling-class. The only solution was to marry those who govern to those governed, within a framework which limited the intrusive power of government. The Men who created our government had deep wells of personal experience and historical perspective from which to draw, but first they had to contend with their contemporary situation.

A little history…

The Founders may have given us a country, a Constitutional, Federal Republic, but it had a weak and ineffective government under The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The Founders cannot be blamed in any way for this compact. The Articles of Confederation was a necessarily hurried creation in a time of rebellion against their colonial Master. The authors didn’t see themselves as creators of a “nation”, but as writers of a treaty, an 18th century American “NATO”. Their States were their countries, and to these States they gave their allegiance. The Articles were drafted to protect them from their mutual enemy… and, to a certain extent, to protect them from one another.

After the conclusion of hostilities with Britain, many found the Articles to be insufficient to the task of properly governing such a large nation at the federal level. Some called for amending the Articles to expand and enhance its meager powers. A convention was called and delegates were sent to Philadelphia to propose modifications to the Articles. Within short order, the delegates came to the agreement that the Articles should be set aside, and a new document created. This action being outside their assignment, the delegates agreed to continue in secret until they could present a completed document to the Congress and the States. To this end, they wrote a new contract between the States, replacing the existing federal government with an entity answerable to not only the States, which will have created it, but also to the People, from whom they believed all legitimate political authority is derived.

The new contract, our current Constitution, gave representation, in many and varied ways, to both the States and the People. Direct accountability to the People was the element absent from the Articles of Confederation. The Framers were able to justify the broadening and strengthening of federal government authority beyond those under the Articles based, in part, on direct accountability to the People. However, our Constitutional, Federal, Democratic Republic limits those areas of action within the purview of the Federal Government. All other areas are reserved to the States and to the People. To emphasize this last point the very first Congress passed an amendment, the Tenth Amendment, to the new constitution saying exactly that.

So, “collective action” is performed, as in a democracy, but this action is constrained and compartmentalized. Unlike a “pure” democracy, the political rights of the current minority are protected on par with the majority. Like an authoritarian government, a select few make law and administer the state; however, power is not absolute and position is legitimized by citizens. An individual or faction may not get always their way, but none shall be “punished” for being on the out of the current majority. Unlike in a national government such as Britain’s, our sovereignty is maintained by the People and exercised concurrently by multiple levels of government, each assigned its unique areas of responsibilities.

In the appropriate areas and at the proper levels, our governments perform those collective actions we want performed. The federal government was given great power, but its actions were to be limited in scope to primarily national defense, and commerce, both interstate and international. Within these areas it was given a wide field, but it was not to venture beyond its estate without trespassing upon the properties of another, the States. As well, the States’ governments have greater or lesser power, depending upon their own constitutions and the wishes of their Peoples, but have responsibilities separate and unique to them from the federal level of government.

[Oddly enough, it’s never commented upon that the federal Constitution establishes no qualifications as to the type of government required at the State level. Under the Constitution, no State is required to be a Constitutional, Democratic Republic. Theoretically, a State could possibly have been a Constitutional Monarchy, as long as they convened a legislative body, and sent representatives to Congress. According to the Constitution, the States set the rules by which representation is elected. So, theoretically any qualifications could have been created.]

Now, the very nature of what constitutes a legitimate government action is often debated. However, by its very definition a legitimate government action must take place, if at all, at the correct governmental level according to the divisions of powers. As well, the perceived need for an action, even in the case of an “emergency”, does not automatically legitimize it. Many argue that the proper level of government is that which is able to muster the resources needed to perform the desired action. They don’t know their history.

An observation…

At this juncture, it must be pointed out that a proper and lawful action by an American government is not that difficult to discern, if one can read the English language. The Constitution of the United States of America is written in plain language, as are each of its amendments. The delegates to the convention were learned men, but few had a formal education. So, it is not necessary to have a law degree, any post-secondary education, or a Ouija board to comprehend the meaning of the document. At most, the notes from the debates, kept by James Madison, are all one may need, though a copy of the Federalist Papers would be illuminating. Also, all State constitutions are written in English. So, I foresee no problems on that account.

If one bothered to read the writings of those involved in constructing the Constitution, one would find their plans for the federal government somewhat grander than that which preceded it. However, it was never meant to be an all-encompassing entity involved in the daily lives of its citizens. Unless one lived in the vicinity of the Capitol or a military installation, the US Postal Service (a constitutionally mandated institution) would be one’s only possible daily interaction with the federal government.

There was never to be a behemoth in DC being THE government. It was only to be a government. Your only directly elected federal official was to be your Representative. Senators were to be selected by States’ legislatures. You were not to be overly concerned with who was the President, as he was primarily the administrator of laws passed in Congress. Very few “life or death” decisions were to be made in Washington. Without direct taxation, only those involved in commerce beyond State borders were directly affected by the federal government. That is how it was supposed to be.

Your most important political interactions were to be with State officials living in your community and whose Capitol is closer to home. You would truly know those with the most direct impact on your life. They would not be some distant person seen only in TV ads or read about in the newspaper. If things functioned as constructed, one would not feel compelled to give to federal candidates or become fervently involved in federal elections. Time and energy would be spent on local and state candidates. State and local officials would be true governors and not primarily mere administrators of federal mandates and “largesse”.

There exists a fairly simple a process to determine whether a need is a legitimate government action. Answer these questions (in the exact order given): Can the “necessary” action be taken by the individual? Can the action be taken by the family? Can the action be taken by private associations (churches, public service organizations, businesses, etc.)? Can the action be taken by municipal or local governments? Can the action be taken by State government, within the constraints of its constitution? Finally, must the action be taken by the Federal government, within the constraints of its Constitution? At any point you are able to say “yes”, stop. That is the correct place for action to occur.

Some may say that is a harsh and restrictive test. They would be right. In a society where citizens are truly free, collective action must be taken only when absolutely necessary, and then only at the level closest to the individual. There are many arguable reasons for this, but the overriding rationale is Liberty. No person should make demands on another for what he is able to do for himself. Similarly, no family, locality, or State should demand of another anything it is able to provide for itself.

Once the appropriate level of government decides a lawful action requires being done, it must then determine how it will be taken and how it will be financed. All actions taken at any level of government come at a cost, and these costs are borne exclusively by the citizens. Whether taxed directly or not, no one is immune to the costs of government. Every dollar spent by a government is a dollar taken out of the private economy, whether it be borrowed or taxed. So, these actions must be performed as efficiently and economically as possible.

Practical suggestions for necessary government…

To minimize government overhead and long-term recurring costs, few government buildings and installations should be held permanently;

As government exists to perform tasks and not to provide jobs, permanent employment with its attached costs of non-salary benefits and retirement should be limited to only essential personnel;

For taxpayers to benefit from competition in costs and services, all non-essential functions should be outsourced to third-party contractors which must bid at regular intervals;

All government programs should include “sunset” provisions, which would require new, separate enabling legislation and a vote by politicians to remain in effect;

As all federal and state governments have Civil Service laws protecting employment, labor unions and collective bargaining should end for all government employees;

All federal and state lands which are not permanent parts of the parks services should be put up for sale to private entities, thereby paying down the debt, eliminating operating costs and generating tax revenues for States and localities;

To return intended powers to the States’ governments and to end the wasteful and coercive effects of the separation of tax revenue generation from government spending, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution should be repealed;

To end the socially divisive and economically distorting effects of the generation of tax revenues based on the income of individuals, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution should be repealed;

As federal taxes are meant to generate revenue for necessary spending and not to control behavior, it should be raised as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible which should be exclusively by a consumption tax by way of a Constitutional Amendment;

To prevent the constant growth of federal government, a Constitutional Amendment should be passed limiting spending to a fixed percent of Gross Domestic Product;

To recreate the citizen legislators envisioned by the Framers, and to end the near permanent ruling class with its focus on seniority, a Constitutional Amendment to limit the terms of Congressmen should be passed; and

To end the exchanging of blame for wasteful spending between the Executive and Legislative branches of federal government, a Constitutional Amendment giving the President a line-item veto should be passed.

The purpose of government to a free people is to secure our God-given rights to Life, Liberty and Property. Proper government does not encourage citizens to see one another as either host or parasite, as a means to further its own power. Men are only truly free when they live without fear of their government or their fellow citizens. The only way we, the American People, can regain the Liberties established, enjoyed, and fought and died for by the Founders and Framers of this nation, is to return to the original ideals they so heroically espoused. To do that we must look back to their original intent by wiping away the over two centuries of accumulated detritus that politicians and jurists have used to obscure that most beautiful document which begins “We the People of the United States of America…”

The Democratization of Risk

Posted in Business, Capitalism, Finance, Government, Government Debt, Liberty, Morality, Politicians, Regulation by kevinsoberg on June 25, 2010

I was up at my regular time the other morning reading my news and blog sites, and doing a bit of tweeting. A tweet by Jonathan Hoenig (@JonathanHoenig) directed me to his then latest post, When in Doubt about a Stock, Stay Out (http://bit.ly/bYw1uN). He gives good, common sense advice on investing in the market. Thing is, it got me thinking, which is never good…

Was there ever a time when people dealt with the foreseeable negative results of their own actions, or inactions? It sure as Hell doesn’t seem to be the way of the world, anymore. People no longer seem willing to be at fault for anything they do or for the decisions they make. As a case in point, let’s look at the financial markets…

Over the last couple of decades, greater numbers of people have entered the markets. Now, this is of great benefit to us all. We need the middles classes to be an investor class. The markets are helped by an increase in capital available to corporations allowing them to more cheaply tap needed resources. Additionally, this lessens the burden to employers and to government, which have historically been on the hook for providing retirement income to seniors.

Unfortunately, two things have happened to negate the benefits of this expansion of the investor class. The first is the way business and investment news is reported. The second is increased government involvement in the markets. Both have had their own deleterious effects on the markets and on “investors”.

In the old days of the thirty-minute network news program, most people received their financial information in a fifteen second blurb reporting on the ups or downs of the NYSE or on the movement of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. For more in-depth information, the average person would go to their local paper for a closing snapshot of the markets movement from the preceding day. If there was an unusually interesting day in the markets, there would be a few articles in the Business Section. The hard-core investor and the financial types could always go to the news stand for the Wall Street Journal or the Investors Business Daily, but these were specialty publications as far as most people were concerned.

This hands-off, multi-layered approach to financial reporting all ended in the late 1980’s. Introduced not only were the 24-hour cable news networks, but close on their heels came their siblings, the Business and Finance channels. With the advent of these networks, came the increased presence of financial reporters, personalities, and gurus. Financial reporting became more and more about chasing the new “hot” stock pick or about setting the new record high.

“Live from the floor” footage of the NYSE, the NASDAQ or the CBE told the riveting tales of the daily ups and downs of the markets. Personalities were trotted out to pinpoint the under-valuation or the unexpected movements of a particular company’s stock. IPO’s and LBO’s were the order of the day. The markets were going gangbusters. Everything was going up and up… until it all went south.

No one saw it coming. Except they did. They just didn’t talk much about it. It didn’t fit the narrative they were telling or the product they were selling. “Irrational exuberance” was the order of the day. All of the danger signs were there, but few wanted to see them or at least admit it if they did.

I’m not just Monday (or more appropriately, Friday) morning quarterbacking this one. I cashed out of the market a year in advance of the crash. When I passed this advice on to others, I was called crazy. “You wouldn’t believe how much I made last month.” These were the same people who asked me why I didn’t warn them, after their stock holdings lost over half of its value.

In the wake of the busting of the “Tech Bubble”, yet more “reforms” were made to the U.S. financial system, as if that was what was needed. God forbid any one look at the decisions “investors” made during the “boom.” Weren’t there already regulations requiring disclosures to the SEC? Wasn’t insider trading already illegal? Didn’t each company have to prepare a carefully created prospectus for potential investors? No, there must be some grand conspiracy to defraud people of their hard-earned money. Really? Across the entire stock market?

How could that be? Wasn’t there already a virtual “alphabet soup” of financial regulators? Yeah, there was. Our financial markets have been heavily regulated since the Great Depression. There were no inherent problems or major gaps in regulation in the financial markets. In very few cases were there any findings of malfeasance or fraud on the part of corporate leaders. Yes, many people lost a lot of money, but, for the most part, only due to their own greed. That’s right, I said it.

“How dare you?” Yeah, I can hear it from here. I dare say it because it’s true. Greed IS NOT profiting from hard work or careful investing. Greed IS trying to get something for nothing. Those who chase financial market “bubbles” are not investors. They are gamblers. You want to bet your retirement or your kid’s college fund on a roll of the dice? Take it to the Indian Reservation. Stay out of the market.

“What about those poor Enron employees who lost everything?” Too bad. The first rule of investing is “diversify risk”. Risk diversification means NOT putting all of your eggs in one basket, which is exactly what they did. If you work for a company, that’s one big egg. If your company has a retirement plan, either defined benefit or defined contribution, that’s another big egg. Do you have: an Employee Stock Option Plan, a 401K, an IRA, other personal investments? Egg, egg, egg, egg. If you put all that money (and risk) in one place, guess what happens when there is a downturn? Exactly…

Instead of placing the blame for bad “investment” decisions squarely where it rests, which is on those responsible for their own portfolios, what do politicians do? Pander. Time after time, we have to hear the moaning on Capitol Hill about the “poor little guy” who was “snookered” out of his life’s savings. Who made him put all of his money in one “investment”? What’s next? Are we going down to the riverboats to feel pity for those who put all that they have on “Black”, “Red”, or “00”? Are we going to offer them a bailout or sue the casino? I call “Bullshit!”

I’m not just saying this about individuals. As far as I’m concerned this goes for companies, unions, governments… whatever. If you’re a corporate “leader” who signs an unrealistic labor contract, then you, your employees and your investors must deal with the consequences. If you’re a union “leader” who thinks he can bleed a business or industry dry, then don’t be surprised when it dies of anemia. If you’re a government “leader” who “kowtows” to public employees in hope of securing re-election, then you must make the hard decisions when economic difficulties arise and you have budgetary shortfalls.

For too long people have been trying to take the easy way to “success”, however they may define it. They have loaded up on risk in any number of ways. When the ax finally falls, as it most assuredly will, they go running for help. To whom do they run? Us, as always. They come running with their hands out asking to be made whole for the losses they have incurred. Why wouldn’t they? They have learned we’ll open up our wallets and paychecks for every sob story told.

Most of us were taught as children that we could only succeed if we made the right choices in life. We were taught to work hard, study, save, and spend wisely. Others have been taught to do the opposite, if not directly, then by example. Too many people (and they include businessmen & politicians, manager & workers, taxpayers & tax spenders) have learned that they can behave however they want regardless of risk, and the cost will be borne by everyone BUT themselves. They have learned that they can democratize risk, and we have allowed it.

The end result of decades of bad decision-making being paid for by innocent third parties is ever more bad decisions and ever more payouts. Where are we today? Public and private debt is at all-time record highs. The value of our total national government obligations is close to 90% of our GDP, our national income. We have hit a wall. It’s time for people to learn that if they fail because of bad choices, we won’t be there to catch them anymore. We just cannot afford it.

Rand Paul, Libertarianism and the Civil Rights Act

[Note: This is the second of three posts concerning Rand Paul and his post-victory foray into the land of the MSM. Let me tell you up front, I’m not a full-blown Libertarian. I do tend toward Libertarian thought, but I am most definitely very Conservative. I’m not necessarily a huge supporter of Rand Paul, and I don’t live in Kentucky. I say “Give the people what they want.” They seem to want him. Also, I am not a supporter of his father. He sometimes borders on “tin-foil hat” land (if you know what I mean?), and I don’t buy his argument about why he takes earmarks. However, I cannot stand the way Rand Paul has been attacked for taking a thoughtful and principled stand, and the way in which his views have twisted to mean something completely different from what they actually are. I felt that I had to say something. So, here it is…]

Rand Paul raised quite a stir last Wednesday (May 19, 2010) with comments made in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow, as reported by The Huffington Post (http://tinyurl.com/2bpfare). What people don’t take into consideration are five very important things. First, Ms. Maddow broached the subject, not Mr. Paul. Second, there is no movement to repeal any provisions of the CRA. Third, the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) has been decided by the Supreme Court. Fourth, even if the CRA were repealed tomorrow, it would have no effective difference in our world. Fifth, Mr. Paul was absolutely correct.

Rachael Maddow brought up the subject of the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act (1964). Obviously, she did so knowing how he had responded previously when asked about the issue, which was in standard Libertarian fashion. Maddow decided to set Mr. Paul up for a “gotcha” moment, having negatively framed follow-up questions ready for however he answered. If he answers one way, he is leader of an evil cabal set upon returning Blacks to the cotton fields. If he answers the other, he is an ideologically inconsistent or lying leader of the evil cabal seeking the return of Blacks to the cotton fields. A word of advice to Mr. Paul, don’t go on shows where ideologues control the cameras and the mikes (but the weekend shows aren’t them).

There is no movement to repeal the Civil Rights Act. There are no groups holding rallies. No one’s chanting, “Hey, hey, hey. Gotta end the CRA”. Even in the hard-core, skin-headed, white supremacists’ wildest racist dreams, they know better than to believe it would ever happen (and I use racists in this example due to their very impure motives).

The Civil Rights Act will not be overturned in whole or part for the unforeseeable future. It has weathered multiple Court challenges to its many provisions. I don’t believe there are even any cases in the pipeline to bring it up before the Supreme Court for review. It’s here to stay, judicially.

If the public accommodations provision of the Civil Rights Act were rescinded, the world as we know it would change in no perceptible way. Customers of all races and creeds would continue to eat in restaurants throughout the country. Hotels would still take in all weary travelers who can afford to stay in them, turning none away if a bed was available. Hospitals would tend to the sick and wounded of every shape and color. We have actually reached the point where the good intentions of those who proposed this law have come to fruition. We have a law we no longer need, because the overwhelming majority of the people in this country now see the kind of behavior it sought to prevent as reprehensible. Brava!

However, Rand Paul and the Libertarians are 100% correct in saying that the “public accommodations” provision of the Civil Rights Act was and is unconstitutional. Another thing, the politicians who proposed, backed and, ultimately, voted for those provisions knew so as well. They knowingly passed an unconstitutional law because they believed in its good intentions and because they “must do something” (the three most dreaded words in a Republic).

I’m not saying the entire law was unconstitutional. The provisions of the Civil Rights Act concerning actions by State governments were exactly in line with the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment. Civil Rights Acts passed in the wake of the Civil War sought to do many of these palliative measures. Unfortunately, most of these laws were overturned by Democrat appointees to the Supreme Court. In the rush to complete Reconstruction, proper protections for former slaves were never permanently implemented. Those laws which did remain on the books eventually went unenforced as the Democratic Party and its landed (white, former slave-owning) interests quickly retook control of State legislatures.

It must be stated (unfortunately) that a “true” understanding of Libertarianism leads one to oppose government action favoring any one group over another. The ideal is to have the least possible government intrusion into one’s life. Whenever government picks winners and losers, we all actually lose due to the misuse and misdirection of power. So, you will find no one with a truly libertarian bent thinking “it’s just fine” for someone to be racist. However, you will find those using the libertarians’ arguments to forward their own sectarian concerns, but these same people would change their tune the moment Statist arguments worked more in their favor.

The “public accommodations” provisions of the Civil Rights Act extended the reach of the federal government well beyond the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment. It unleashed federal power on the private sector in ways we are dealing with to this day. Institutionalized race-based preferences, quota systems and other “affirmative actions” are still in use. No company of any size can operate without a Human Resources department which must document all points in the hiring process as a defense against possible charges of civil rights violations. All of these intrusions into the private sector can be traced back to the passage of these provisions. They were the nose under the tent of federal involvement.

If, as I’ve said, the “public accommodations” provisions have been “successful”, how can I argue that they were wrong to have been implemented in the first place? As long as the government (at whichever level) acts as a neutral referee, it’s in the best interest of liberty for people to live as they please, in accordance with minimal laws. The moment government dictates the non-criminal actions of its citizens (criminal actions being those which deprive another of their life, liberty or property) it ceases to be a truly free society. The racist who refuses to commercially associate with another does only himself harm, by his loss of a customer. The would-be customer is at most inconvenienced by the inaction of this idiot.

Yes, there are emotions involved, and they are a real concern. However, does government exist to police emotional grievances? Which grievances and of what size will government involve itself, and who will make that determination? Can’t grievances be created by addressing some grievances more than others? Once you’ve begun down this road, at what point does it end?

The problem with using extra-constitutional powers to combat perceived “wrongs” is that the powers are left in place long after the wrongs have been addressed. These powers become a permanent fixture from which the tentacles of power can reach ever further into areas unintended by even those who proposed the original “solution”. As a result, politics becomes about what “can” be done instead of being about what “must” be done. Seeking political office becomes about getting and maintaining control of government to have access to these “new” powers. How government affects our lives becomes a matter of who is in charge, not a matter of true Constitutional authority. We always hear “we are a nation of laws, not men.” How can that be so when the document fundamental to our laws, and liberty, is not even understood or paid heed to by our “leaders”?

A Word of Advice on “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”

Posted in Free Speech, International, Morality, Religion by kevinsoberg on April 28, 2010

Just in case you have not heard, May 20, 2010 has been declared to be “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”. Why is that? First, Comedy Central censored South Park episode #200 (Here’s the story: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3yjw4mf). Second, a cartoonist took offense to the incident (Here you go: http://preview.tinyurl.com/372qb96). There you have it … the new cause célèbre. Now that you’ve been informed, I’ll get to my point.

I’m not a big fan of religious iconography. Maybe it’s my Southern Baptist upbringing, but I’ve never seen the need for visual depictions of Jesus Christ. We Baptists generally don’t have them in our churches or in our homes. It may have something to do with the extensive Bible readings we do in our religious education and church services. We’re taught to see Jesus as our personal Savior. Since I can’t really know how he appeared in his physical incarnation, I’ve developed an image of Him in my own mind.

That being said, I’ve never really been offended by those who feel being avant-garde requires they attack others’ sensibilities, even when that means their being disrespectful to my Lord. I’ve always felt those individuals reveal their lack of maturity in their misdirected attacks on the beliefs of others. Their immaturity acts as a sure sign to all that their opinions are to be discounted. So, I can understand how Muslims may not appreciate some depictions of Mohammed.

However, this is America, and the freedoms of religion and speech are natural rights. People are free to be disrespectful to any and all religious groups, including mine. Furthermore, the so-called restrictions on illustrations of Mohammed are not Koranic, but have instead become commonly accepted but not universally so. You can find many early illustrations of Mohammed, though most have been destroyed or altered by adding a veil over his face. So, get over yourself. If you must be angry at someone for going against your religious beliefs, then give yourself a warm, fuzzy feeling thinking of them burning in Hell.

Now, to all of those who are going to draw Mohammed, I have one piece of advice: Be mature.

I know a lot of people’s immediate reaction is to go all out and be as offensive as possible. Is that what is called for in this situation? The threats against Stone and Parker were for the mere act of depicting Mohammed, not how they depicted him. The purpose of this event is show solidarity with Stone & Parker and to show those who threatened them that we will not be intimidated. The purpose is not to show how immature and disrespectful you can be.

Draw Mohammed if you wish, but do so respectfully. Don’t give the enemies of freedom any ammunition with which to attack us. Be mature.

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Love of Markets Not Always Love of Big Business

Posted in Business, Capitalism, Free Markets, Free Trade, Government, Leftism, Morality, Politicians, Politics by kevinsoberg on March 27, 2010

It is widely purported, by those on the Left and fellow-travelers in the major media, that when the “free market” and “capitalism” are defended, “big business” is actually being discussed. This is not necessarily the case. Most would expect me to say emphatically that it is not the case, but I believe in telling the truth. Like other words and phrases, the “free market”, “capitalism” and “big business” have had their meaning distorted. There are those more interested in furthering their own aims than they are the truth. In this case, these deceivers fall into two groups: those opposed to free markets, and those opposed to capitalism.

Many on the Right tend use “free markets” and “capitalism” interchangeably because one is thought to be essential for the other. They are wrong to do so. Capitalism is a system that primarily uses the “profit motive” to distribute goods and services throughout an economy. The idea of the “free market” is the belief that an individual has the right to conduct trade with any other individual without government interference. Now there are other economic systems which allow profits, but only capitalism can truly be married to “free markets.” However, capitalism can exist without “free markets.”

All economic systems produce goods and services. People must be fed, sheltered and clothed. These can be done either by individuals or by collective enterprises. The bigger the economy and the more complex the products produced, the larger these enterprises must become. Economies of scale and concentration of expertise are required for large-scale enterprises to supply those things necessary for a growing, progressing human population, regardless of system. In most economic systems these enterprises are called “big businesses“.

Now, who are those opposed to free markets? You may be surprised to find some of the biggest opponents are businesses. Seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? How can any business be against an open market? Well, the purpose of any business is to maximize shareholder value. If a business can do this by restricting competition, then that is what it will do, if possible. The managers of a business are not ideological, their priority is profit maximization. People in business believe in the profit motive; therefore, capitalism; just not necessarily the free market.

Another group opposed to free markets is politicians. Politicians in all parties seek ways to get, hold and expand their power. One method for this is to restrict markets. These restrictions are alterable in any number of ways and their expansion or adjustments are opportunities for influence peddling to interested persons. All those affected by the restrictions, positively or negatively, have a reason to seek the favor of politicians. These politicians can get campaign donations, under-the-table deals, promises of future jobs, etc. and most important to them, their ass kissed.

Politicians live to have people need them so that they can exert power over them. “Big Business” is the perfect foil for the politician. These businesses can be extorted for favors while simultaneously used as scapegoats for all that is wrong with the economy (national or local), with employment, with financial markets, with health care, with transportation, with energy policy, with the environment, etc. This behavior leads to further attempts by these businesses to influence the politician, sometimes preemptively, against stop targeting them.

Microsoft is the perfect example of this phenomenon. In 1990s, Microsoft had the vast majority of the PC operating system software market, but had almost no presence in Washington, DC. However, its competitors began spending money on lobbying efforts in DC in an attempt to get the government to turn its attention to this financial giant. As a result, Microsoft was targeted by the US government for anti-trust violations. In addition to having their product market restricted, Microsoft began spending vast sums on lobbyist and now has a large, permanent presence in DC to prevent future attacks on its business. The only winners were the politicians and their campaign contributors.

Another example is Altria (formerly Phillip Morris Companies Inc), the owner of the tobacco company Phillip Morris USA (PM), which manufactures the Marlboro brand of cigarettes. Marlboro is the largest selling brand of cigarettes in the US, resulting in PM being the biggest tobacco company. In the ‘90s PM began lobbying the US government for the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to take control of the regulation of the tobacco industry. Tobacco and alcohol manufacturers were purposely excluded from the Pure Food and Drug Act (1908) which established the FDA. PM wanted the FDA to regulate tobacco, because it knew the resulting limitations on product marketing would help prevent competitors from eating into their market share and boost their profits. PM spent $101 million on lobbying from 1998 to 2004. President Obama signed the law changing regulatory authority in 2009. Once again, the winners were politicians and their contributors.

Those who believe in Free Market Capitalism have neither a love nor hate for “big business”. We have a love for freedom and for the consumer. Businesses exist to produce things consumers want at a profit. The consumers are protected by the competition of an open market, which prevents any one company from permanently monopolizing that market. Government should act as a disinterested third-party. It should police the market only for anti-competitive business practices resulting in actual damages to consumers. It should not prop up inferior competitors, or target companies whose only crime is being successful. Unnecessary government interference has a detrimental effect on the market and the consumers.

Finally, there are people on the Left who do not believe Capitalism is a “moral” economic system. They protest against the meetings of the World Trade Organization and G-10. They hope to turn public opinion against the system by “exposing” the worst abuses of “big business”. They have every right to do so, and, inadvertently, their exposes can actually strengthen the market. Most are too ignorant to realize free market capitalism is premised upon “perfect knowledge” and the more we learn of how some companies operate the better for the market. So, keep it up guys. Just tell the complete truth more often. OK?

Shameless Hypocrisy

Posted in Democrats, Government, Health Care Reform, Leftism, Morality, Politics by kevinsoberg on March 18, 2010

I’ve had a thought percolating for quite a while now. However, it wasn’t until the passing of Ted Kennedy that it finally gelled into a thesis. Here it goes: “Shameless hypocrisy is a hallmark of the Left.” I don’t know if it’s ever been said straight out like this (If it has, please let me know. I want to give attribution.). I’m not saying I’m the first to point out the Left’s hypocrisy. The evidence is everywhere, and each of us can name countless examples.

I’m not the first to say how completely shameless their phoniness has been. Like a mountain on the landscape, it’s a permanent presence. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a hypocritical politician, activist, theoretician or philosophy on the Left. First and foremost, what kind of political theory believes giving “power to the people” means taking away the individual’s economic, medical, educational, philosophic decision-making powers? It is the height of hypocrisy, and brazenly so.

Hell, the life of Ted Kennedy was a parade of shameless hypocrisy. A man, who “championed the poor,” born to and living amongst privilege. A man whose vast financial holdings were in tax sheltered investments, yet who railed against the rich and called for increased taxes. A man who cared for “the people,” yet allowed a woman to die, unaided in his own car. A man, who preached about our responsibility to our fellow-man, yet took no responsibility for how his actions affected others. The leading proponent of “health care reform” was the creator of the hated HMO. Well, you get the point.

I’m not saying hypocrisy is unique to the Left. Hypocrites exist on both sides of the political spectrum. However, on the Right they are savaged when discovered. Ended careers litter the political highway as a testament to our impatience for them. Only on the Left are hypocrites honored and promoted.

Who are the Left’s heroes? Bill Clinton — the man was somehow a serial philanderer and a promoter “women’s rights.” Hilary Clinton — the model “woman of the Left” who rode her husband’s coattails to power while allowing him to disrespect and dishonor her. President Obama — a “racial healer” who attended a racist’s church for 20 years. Al Gore — the “environmental savior” who personally consumes more energy than a small town. How many of the Left’s leaders have gone to elite universities, avoided taxes, become rich while in office or as a result of connections made while in office, sent their kids to private schools, shook down corporations for sweetheart deals or campaign contributions, used the “unfair” US healthcare system to extend their lives, and left a carbon footprint the size of the Jolly Green Giant?

Yet, who are the Left’s “bogeymen” on the Right? Ronald Reagan — attacked as an “amiable dunce,” “just acting,” or “asleep at the wheel,” but somehow freed hundreds of millions of people and brought the world back from the brink of Armageddon. George W. Bush — an “inarticulate idiot” who freed tens of millions of people, including the half of these populations who were basically treated as chattel, women. Sarah Palin — another “brainless twit,” a woman who rose from obscurity to become the governor of her state through her own actions and under her own terms, and a true “feminist.”

However, it’s not just that the Left allows their politicians to remain in office once the hypocrisy is discovered. No, the Left uses hypocrisy as a political tool, and does so shamelessly. It can be seen as simple expediency: Do whatever is necessary to advance your side’s pursuit of power. However, what does that say about your ideology if all principles can be pushed aside in the accumulation of power? “What have you gained if you’ve lost your soul?” Their arguments reflect no guiding principles save the pursuit of power for its own sake.

Try having a consistent constitutional argument with a leftist. They claim unenumerated rights are discernible within the document, but deny those rights clearly enumerated. They favor federalizing constitutional rights, or demand states’ rights, whichever is convenient and necessary at the moment to expand government power. They purport that the Commerce Clause allows the federal government to regulate almost all activity within the states, but that the federal government can’t regulate medical marijuana within a state. They will argue that the only way to assure non-discrimination is to mandate discrimination. They claim the “right to bear arms” and the “takings clause” to be only in regard to the federal government, while their favored rights are enforced down to the local level (i.e. the freedom of religion equals a ban on public religious ceremonies).

The only continuing threads in leftist thought are the accumulation of government power (federal preferred, but state/local will suffice) and the undermining of the civil society (the public arena outside government purview). Unfortunately, one ultimately precedes the other. Historically, the reduction of a community’s religiosity and family centeredness leads to an expansion in government to fill the vacuum left in those areas of society. Chicken or egg?

Leftist politicians could not get in political office in America without the aid of shameless hypocrisy. The Left couldn’t gain power if its true creed were known. “Give us ever more power over your life. You don’t know, and can never know, how to properly take care of yourself. Let us make those decisions for you. Some things are too important for you to decide.” It’s not exactly a winning slogan. Without unapologetic lies and obfuscation, what do they really have? All that remains is a never-ending drive for further government control.

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Thought We Couldn’t Legislate Personal Morality?

Posted in Health Care, Health Care Reform, Medicine, Morality by kevinsoberg on March 15, 2010

I was having a discussion with a physician who’s on call at an Emergency Room, as a surgeon. We went back and forth over the different proposals, and I got him to admit that the Democrat’s plan was not ideal. However, he insisted that something has to be done to improve the current situation because of the hardship it causes doctors. He explained to me that Emergency Room physicians have to contend with the following situation:

1.  If a hospital receives federal Medicaid/ Medicare dollars, they must admit all patients, regardless of ability to pay.

2. Physicians must treat all patients.

3.  Physicians bill these patients separately from the hospital itself.

4.  If patient has no third-party payer (insurance, Medicaid or Medicare), then the doctor must attempt to recover fees on his own.

5.  Recovery rates are very low.

I was thinking to myself, “Man, is this a screwed up system of payment for the physician or what? He has no control over his client. No proof of ability to pay. Must take all comers. No compensation by the hospital. Must seek reimbursement himself. This is terrible.”

I couldn’t imagine an automotive shop operating under that model. The mechanic would have to do the work not knowing if the client was going to pay or not. If they didn’t, he was screwed. He ‘d then have to go after the client himself trying to get his money.

I began to commiserate with him. I was telling him what a terrible compensation model it was. My goodness, the law requires him to possibly work for free. Suddenly, he acted as if I had offended him in some way. He asked, “Do you think I treat these patients because the law requires it? I’m a DOCTOR! I took an oath to heal the sick. I’d see to these patients no matter what the law says.”

Suddenly a light bulb went off. He’s acting according to his conscience. He’s following his own moral code when he treats these possibly indigent patients. His personal reward is of no consequence in this situation.

SCREW HIM!

What do you know? He turns out to be a another self-righteous prig. Don’t you dare tell me how selfless and moral you are. You want to take money from others by force of law to compensate you for the cost of practicing your morality. If it’s really that important to you, then just be happy for the deed you perform, no matter the price you pay.  Then, I’ll thank you for your avocation. Otherwise, quit whining.