July 30, 2010

Weiner Goes Ballistic

Seriously? This is a congressman!

The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty...

The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

George Washington, First Inaugural Address (1789)

July 29, 2010

Why Doesn't the Fourth Amendment Apply Online?

Via Cato @ Liberty: "Compare and contrast."

Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Supreme Court (Katz v. United States):

[S]earches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment---subject only to a few specifically established and well delineated exceptions.

The Washington Post:

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

What was wrong with the original?

Obama Insists On Performance Standards For Teachers

From The Atlantic:

Today, President Obama wades in to a controversy that threatens to split one of the Democratic Party's most generous source of donations and activists, the teacher unions, from the whole. [...] Obama wants more accountability for teachers.

This is good stuff. As it is, it's almost impossible to fire teachers no matter what they do. It's one of the reasons American education is failing. Predictably, unions beg to differ.

The teachers unions contend that there is no universal metric that can reliably assess teacher performance, particularly in poor neighborhoods where students experience intense social dislocation. Part of the problem is that nothing seems to work: not charter schools, not tying teachers to student performance, not throwing money at schools, not even curricula reform.

It's unlikely that the president will push for any major, significant reform which would entail the complete privatization of education. That would solve its problems entirely.

Allow fair and full competition between schools and that test scores will go up. Parents, after all, will send their children to the best school available to them. But without choice, anything goes, and those trapped in the public system will never have the same chances in life as those who enjoyed the good fortunate of being educated in a private school.

Accountability is a good and necessary step toward improving education but it won't do as long as the system remains unchanged and the premise that every child has a "right" to schooling remains unchallenged.

Smoking Increasingly Banned Worldwide

Around the world, legislators are hard at work to make it more difficult for people to enjoy one of the worst of their habits: smoking. Even in the United States, states and cities endeavor to prohibit the use of tobacco in more and more places.

Smokers in New York must feel like something close to pariahs these days as their mayor, Michael Bloomberg is toying with the notion of banning smoking from public parks and beaches. Bloomberg, who quit smoking himself several years ago, has crusaded to ban tobacco from bars and restaurants citywide, citing the dangers of second hand smoking. Now he also intends to free the workplace from the cancer sticks.

Because of heavy duties on tobacco, smoking has become an expensive habit in New York City. A pack of smokes is likely to cost the consumer somewhere between ten and fifteen dollars already. Taxes on cigarettes bring in over $400 million for the city every year.

New Yorkers aren't the only victims of paternalistic government. Earlier this year, the state of Wisconsin was among the latest to ban smoking from restaurants and workspaces. In Uganda, the legislature is thinking about banning smoking from people's private homes; a measure already undertaken in different parts of California. In Australia, Canada and Scotland, people may no longer smoke in public parking lots nor in the privacy of their own cars whenever they're carrying children, all at the expense of fines or, in the case of China, a prison sentence.

In GdaƄsk, Poland, people are subject to a €25 fine for smoking on beaches while different cities in India have banned candles from restaurants because they could be used to light a cigarette. New Zealand is likely to enact a ban on smoking altogether. Such laws have previously been enacted in Bhutan, Egypt and Iran but to little avail. Unsurprisingly, people will smoke even if it's illegal.

Few people may be fully aware of the terrible effects which smoking can have on their health. Yet all people know that it's bad for them. That isn't stopping more than one billion people worldwide from enjoying it though.

Still, smoking rates have declined considerably in recent decades, especially in the developed world. In the United States alone, between 1965 and 2006, smoking rates dropped from a little over 40 to just 20 percent of the population. Bans and taxes were hardly responsible. People stopped smoking because they realized that they were ruining their health.

No matter the pervasiveness of smoking bans; no matter the duties lawmakers impose on tobacco products, people will smoke if they want to and that's their right. People control their own bodies, not the state. It is not the government's place to try to protect people against themselves, no matter the consequences.

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 29, 2010.

July 28, 2010

Warming Up For a Republican Victory

The Republican Governors Associations has put out another add reminding voters about the upcoming midterm elections and their supposed significance.

As much as I oppose the wave of Big Government programs and spending enacted under this administration, let's not forget though that Republicans are not without blame. Until about two years ago, they were the big spenders. It was the Bush Administration that pushed for homeownership and in effect caused the financial meltdown, simultaneously dragging America into two expensive wars, one of which was, by any account, unnecessary, if not a strategic blunder.

The Republican Party should embrace the libertarian sentiment of the Tea Party movement and should return to its constitutional conservative roots but it can't make a claim yet to being the party of limited government and respect for civil liberties mere years after launching the Iraq War and passing the PATRIOT Act.

Although the ad correctly identifies the problem as relying too much on government in Washington and too little on the potential of individual citizens, for understandable political reasons, it still likes to portray Republican lawmakers as Guardians of the Constitutions who will make everything right. The real change must come in people's entitlement mentality which has allowed government to grow so exponentially in recent years. A simple Republican victory this fall won't accomplish that, especially not if the party continues to accept that government has a place in education, health care and welfare.

July 27, 2010

Abolishing the Department of Agriculture

Amid the controversy surrounding Shirley Sherrod's firing and subsequent rehiring by the Obama Administration, Jacob Hornberger has a good idea: get rid of the Department of Agriculture altogether---"along with all the socialist programs that enable those welfare-state bureaucrats to dole out other people's hard-earned money to farmers."

Where is the morality in forcibly taking some people's money from them and giving it to others? Who's the compassionate saint in this process? The federal bureaucrat? The taxpayer? The IRS agent? Congress? The president? The voters?

Actually, none of the above. When "help" to another person is the result of force or coercion, the entire process is morally delegitimized.

There is nothing moral or economically sound about subsidizing farmers. It is a market disturbing measure that puts unsubsidized farmers at a disadvantage.

Subsidies are defended in the name of "fairness" because farmers, in the United States, are subject to a variety of regulations and red tape which makes it harder for them to compete with farmers from developing countries. But just what's "fair" about impoverishing struggling farmers from other parts of the world in the process?

The answer should not be more government interference in the form of subsidies; the answer is less government. Allow US farmers to produce and trade freely on an international market and everyone will profit.

July 26, 2010

They who can give up essential liberty...

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin (1818)

July 25, 2010

US Budget Deficit To Reach $1.47 Trillion

The White House released its Mid-Session Budget Review on Friday, which projects that the deficit will reach $1.471 trillion by the end of this year. That's 10 percent of the US economy. In nominal dollars, it is the largest deficit in American history. As a percentage of the economy, it is the largest since World War II.

The administration is evidently expecting record deficits for years to come. The government will be another $1.4 trillion short in 2011, followed by sustained deficits that never fall below $698 billion. The national debt, which, at the end of 2008, stood at $5.8 trillion, will soar to $18.5 trillion by the end of this decade.

No matter the spending frenzy, all Keynesian hopes of revitalizing the US economy have been positively shattered. Unemployment still hovers around 10 percent with no hopes of returning to prerecession levels for at least another four years. Meanwhile, the country's mounting debt burden may well end up slowing down the recovery while the countless of market disturbing measures passed as "stimulus" already have the private sector fretting about turning a profit in the years ahead.

The Mere Notion of Boycotting Israel is Repellent

Jacob Weisberg at Newsweek is right.

The stronger case against a cultural boycott of Israel is based on consistency, proportionality, and history. That supporters of this boycott seldom focus on China or Syria or Zimbabwe---or other genuinely illegitimate regimes that systematically violate human rights---underscores their bad faith. Boycotters are not trying to send the specific message, "We object to your settlement policy in the West Bank." What they’re saying is, "We consider your country so intrinsically reprehensible that we are going to treat all of your citizens as pariahs." Like the older Arab economic boycott of Israel, which dates back to the 1940s, the cultural boycott is a weapon designed not to bring peace but to undermine the country.

I don't like to scream "antisemitism!" but the singling out of Israel by many of the left is something that always strikes me as peculiar, especially in the face of such gross human rights violations in countries as China, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela. Yet you don't often hear them complaining about those countries. Guess what they have in common, besides executing dissidents?

July 24, 2010

Obama a Marxist? Really, Congressman?

Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo had quite the op-ed in The Washington Times last Thursday. President Barack Obama, wrote Tancredo, is "an enemy of our Constitution" and should be impeached.

Just what makes the president such a menace? For one thing, "Obama is determined to see things done his way regardless of obstacles. To Mr Obama, the rule of law is a mere inconvenience to be ignored, overcome or 'transcended' through international agreements or 'norms'."

The administration's flat out rejection of two federal court decisions ruling its moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico unconstitution are a case in point but other than that, one would be hard pressed to maintain that the president has truly ignored existing law. The Democrats' health care agenda and financial reform schemes may well be argued to contradict the limited government philosophy inherent in the Constitution (I, for one, do) but there's a way to overdo it, Mr Tancredo:

Mr Obama's paramount goal, as he so memorably put it during his campaign in 2008, is to "fundamentally transform America." He has not proposed improving America---he is intent on changing its most essential character. The words he has chosen to describe his goals are neither the words nor the motivation of just any liberal Democratic politician. This is the utopian, or rather dystopian, reverie of a dedicated Marxist---a dedicated Marxist who lives in the White House.

If that hasn't your pants on fire yet, consider this: "Mr Obama is a more serious threat to America than al Qaeda." Why? Because Obama "can accomplish with the stroke of his pen what bin Laden cannot accomplish with bombs and insurgents." Is the president conspiring to kill thousands of Americans as well? Tancredo doesn't say. Rather he compares the President of the United States with the world's deadliest terrorist and won't volunteer any evidence in support of this preposterous assertion.

Mr Tancredo, you're not helping. There are many good arguments to be made against the interventionist, Big Government policies of this administration. America is well underway to becoming a welfare state. Indeed, in many ways, it already is. But Communism hardly lurks around the corner. The president is not a murderer. He is not attempting to destroy the essence of America, even though, to the likes of us, it may seem so on occasion. Pretending otherwise is outright nonsense and it does the people who try to oppose the Obama Administration rationally a great disservice.

The Declining Pull of American Unions

James Rosen has an interesting blog post about union power in US elections up over at Fox News. That power is substantial, but it's on the decline.

Organized labor spent some $75 million on federal election candidates in 2008. More than 90 percent of that money went to Democrats.

Approximately 15 million Americans belong to a union, but they represent only 12 percent of the American workforce. That's down from a peak of nearly 36 percent in 1953. Nonetheless, "unions have scored an impressive string of victories on various policy agenda items," according to Rosen, "most recently including the recess appointment by President Obama of Craig Becker, the former counsel to the Service Employees International Union, to the National Labor Relations Board."

"The most recent report from the Department of Labor showed that more union members are public employees than private sector employees," notes Michael Barone, columnist for the Washington Examiner and coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics. "So, in effect, the union movement has become a movement in large part of taxpayer-supported workers, whose leaders can put a lot of money into elections and try to elect state legislators, members of Congress, who are favorable to giving their members more money." It's amazing that just 15 million of Americans would chose to be in on this game!

Indeed, in spite of the significant political pull which unions continue to enjoy, Americans are increasingly skeptical about them. "Workers understand," according to conservative UCLA economics professor Lee Ohanian, explaining the decline in union membership. "They would like to have the opportunity to call their own shots. They can't do that with unions. And businesses understand that if they get unionized then that extremely limits their ability to hire workers."

July 23, 2010

The origin of all civil government...

The origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent?

Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted (1775)

July 21, 2010

The Cycle of Government Interventionism

From Cato @ Liberty:

Ezra Klein and Jonathan Chait argue the only way government could reduce inefficient Medicare spending was to create a new health care entitlement program. Think about that.

It's the typical cycle of government intervention at work: first, regulation is passed or programs are enacted "for the common good"; next, the regulation or program inevitably fails; the private sector takes a beating; the economy turns down, at which point more regulation is proposed and an expansion of government pushed through, all in order to save society from the ills of human greed and the free market.

More government however won't fix health care. The only viable and the only moral alternative is to privatize health care entirely.

In a free market, patients chose their own doctor and doctors chose their patients. Without the interference of any regulator, patients will be able to receive the best care their money can buy, with the doctor's voluntary consent. Quite probably, millions of people will be left uninsured but without a government to protect them against their own irresponsibility; without any element of coercion, health care can be affordable.

July 20, 2010

ObamaCare: Bad Medicine Indeed

From the Cato Institute:

For better or worse, President Obama's health care reform bill is now law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act represents the most significant transformation of the American health care system since Medicare and Medicaid. It will fundamentally change nearly every aspect of health care, from insurance to the final delivery of care.

The length and complexity of the legislation, along with the promises and scaremongering that accompanied the national debate before it was passed, rendered it nigh impossible to objectively gauge the bill's likely impact. But now that it's law, Michael Tanner has been able to author Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law and he concludes:

  • While the new law will increase the number of Americans with insurance coverage, it falls significantly short of universal coverage. By 2019, roughly 21 million Americans will still be uninsured.
  • The legislation will cost far more than advertised, more than $2.7 trillion over 10 years of full implementation, and will add $352 billion to the national debt over that period.
  • Most American workers and businesses will see little or no change in their skyrocketing insurance costs, while millions of others, including younger and healthier workers and those who buy insurance on their own through the non-group market will actually see their premiums go up faster as a result of this legislation.
  • The new law will increase taxes by more than $669 billion between now and 2019, and the burdens it places on business will significantly reduce economic growth and employment.
  • While the law contains few direct provisions for rationing care, it nonetheless sets the stage for government rationing and interference with how doctors practice medicine.
  • Millions of Americans who are happy with their current health insurance will not be able to keep it.

"In short," writes Tanner, "the more we learn about what is in this new law, the more it looks like bad news for American taxpayers, businesses, health care providers, and patients."

A Mosque Near Ground Zero?

There's been much heated discussion recently about the possibility of a Muslim prayer house being erected near Ground Zero in New York City, until September 11, 2001 site to the World Trade Center. Since it were Muslim terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers, building a mosque nearby would be close to an abomination, opponents allege. I beg to differ.

The propaganda which is espoused by Muslim fundamentalists and which inspires naieve Muslim youngsters to extremism, even terrorism, portrays the United States as a bulwark of intolerance and hatred, set to destroy Islam in favor of what they perceive to be barbarism. (We call it liberty.) Sadly, they're not wrong entirely on at least one score: since 9/11, discrimination against Muslims has been on the rise, both in the United States and in the rest of the Western World.

The United States was founded by people who sought to escape from religious persecution in the Old World. They sought out a free haven to live by their own rules and express their own beliefs and they succeeded. For over two centuries, the United States has been home to many religions which, nearly always, managed to coexist peacefully. Quite a feat considering that religion has so divided people all over the world for so many centuries.

Muslim extremism poses a unique threat however. Unlike virtually all other religions and sects established in the United States, Islamic fundamentalism (though certainly not Islam as such) denies the very order which ensures religious freedom: one that is steeped in a firm commitment to personal liberty.

The extremists allege that the United States is a nation of excess. They claim that it fosters ignorance, intolerance and hatred; that it is imperialists because it has, at times, sought to impose its values and its will upon different parts of the world.

What better way to prove them wrong than by erecting a monument to the very religion which they believe cannot exist in harmony with the American Way of Life, near the very place where they launched so violent an attack against that way of life? What better way to prove to the world that in America, liberty always trumps tyranny, than by remaining true to the principles which have guided the country since its very inception? New York should build a mosque near Ground Zero because no terrorist act, no matter how destructive, may shatter America's commitment to freedom.

Man Jailed for Importing Orchids

How about that? One George Norris from Texas was imprisoned for 17 months in 2004 because he had illegally imported orchids to the United States. His house was raided, his savings ransacked to pay for a lengthy trial, his livelihood destroyed, all because he shipped a few plants into the country? It's hard to believe but it happened.

Read more at the Heritage Foundation or watch Norris on Fox Business' Stossel Show which aired last week.

It is the greatest absurdity to suppose...

It is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defence of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property.

Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists (1772)

July 19, 2010

Porn Producer Cleared of Charges

Charges against the porn producer I posted about a few days ago have been dropped, reports the Washington Post.

John Stagliano had come under federal prosecution on obscenity charges. District Court Judge Richard Leon said evidence presented by the Justice Department's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (OPTF), which was established under President George W. Bush in 2005, was "woefully insufficient" to link defendants to the production and distribution of two DVDs at the heart of the case. In other words, the case was dismissed on a technicality yet the judge, whom I'd like to declare hero of the moment, noted the following in his rebuke: "I hope the government will learn a lesson from its experience." Let's hope it does indeed.

Unfortunately, the OPTF will still be there with the power to investigate and prosecute porn film producing companies while US obscenity law remains a legal maze, leaving everyone in doubt about just what "obscenity" means to begin with. Stagliano's ordeal has come to an end but the porn industry as such still has the Federal Government to fear.

Frank: Financial Reform Would Have Prevented Crisis

Although the financial reform bill that was hammered out by Democrats last month does nothing to address the very causes of the recession---the semigovernment entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their manipulation of the mortgage market---the bill's primary sponsor in the House of Representatives, Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, said on Friday that it could have prevented the crisis if it had been in place all along.

According to Frank, who spoke with PBS' Charlie Rose, one of the reasons the bill would have averted financial turmoil is a set of "very tough rules that prevent the kind of mortgages going to people that can't afford them." The congressman conveniently bundles these together with all "abusive subprime mortgages," which perpetuates the Democrats' practice of blaming banks for selling bad mortgages but not the individuals who applied for the loans while knowing that they could never afford to pay them back.

Yet the bill does not, at all, curtail the entities that were largely responsible for providing such unsustainable mortgages. The government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren't even mentioned in it. Frank is no stranger to leaving those noble institutions, which are supposed to allow low income families to own property, alone. When Republicans pushed for tougher regulation of the two mortgage giants in 2004, Frank was among the Democratic lawmakers who pretended that everything was fine and that Fannie and Freddie were not to be restrained.

Rather than curbing the enormous market disturbing influence of Fannie and Freddie, Frank is going after small banks which, he believes, aren't lending out "enough" money yet to businesses. Democrats in the House have therefore urged the Federal Government to purchase $30 billion worth of stock in small banks to encourage them to provide additional credit. "And we will increase the dividend they have to pay us if they don't do that lending," Frank warned.

The lack of economic recovery, according to the Massachusetts congressman, is wholly to blame on Europe's debt crisis. "It was doing well," he said, "and then the crisis in Europe hit." The United States is still "gaining private sector jobs," though, "but not nearly at the rates that we had been in April and May or March and April."

Unfortunately this is simply untrue. At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey cites Bureau of Labor Statistics which show plainly that private sector job growth in the United States has been minimal since the beginning of this year. There were no "hundreds of thousands of new jobs" as Frank claims; there was no surge last spring. "The private sector," writes Morrissey, "has lost 3.2 million private sector jobs since Barack Obama's inauguration."

Just as the White House urged the rest of the world to keep spending ahead of the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada last month lest austerity measures imperil the global recovery, Frank believes that the opposition is "rooting for failure" when it proposes to discontinue unemployment compensation programs and restore balance to the budget. Republicans "don't mind that" though, according to Frank, "because they think they'll benefit from it in the congressional elections."

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 18, 2010.

July 18, 2010

Biden Blames Republicans For Lack of Stimulus

After President Barack Obama complained about Republicans blocking supposedly crucial recovery measures in Congress and alleged that they were making a stand "on the backs of the unemployed," Vice President Joe Biden appeared on ABC's This Week on Sunday to add insult to injury.

According to Vice President Biden, the Recovery Act, which is worth some $787 billion of stimulus funding, was sized down under pressure from moderate Republicans whose support was deemed necessary to enact it. "I think it would have been bigger," he said. "In fact, what we offered was slightly bigger than that."

Just how much bigger Biden wouldn't say. Ultimately the Democrats managed to get just three Republican votes on their Recovery Act. This didn't stop several GOP legislators from scrambling for stimulus money for their states once it was law, of course.

Biden was responding to criticism that the administration's so-called stimulus package has, so far, yielded little result. He boasted that so many as three millions jobs may have been "saved" because of it and reminded listeners that it were the Republicans who had let Wall Street "run wild." So not only did they create the problem, for according to Democrats, it was private banks and their "greed," not the gargantuan semigovernment entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac nor the Federal Reserve and the historically low interest rates it set, which inflated the housing bubble; now Republicans are blamed for scraping a few pennies on the stimulus as well.

In spite of the billions of dollars already thrust into the national economy by this government, millions of Americans are jobless while signs of recovery are scarce. If only Republicans had been a little less frugal, would all be right today? Probably not.

The vice president further claimed that many Americans, including experts, "don't even know" what's in the administration's signature legislative accomplishments, among them its health care bill and financial reform. Because they don't, he said, Democrats are currently polling poorly, but he expects them to "shock" the nation come November when the midterm elections for Congress are due.

So it is a Tax?

When Democrats this spring were hard at work trying to get their health care reform bill passed through Congress, they denied high and low that the penalty Americans would be subject to under the bill's insurance mandate was anything like a tax.

Health care reform will force Americans to have "minimum essential coverage" starting in 2014. "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase," said the president last September on ABC's This Week. But now, The New York Times reports that his administration is defending its blatantly unlawful mandate in court as an exercise of the government's "power to lay and collect taxes."

Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.

Many states are fighting the health care bill because they argue that the Federal Government is overstepping its constitutional boundaries by making them party to its assault on individual rights.

Under the Constitution, Congress can exercise its taxing power to provide for the "general welfare." No doubt that's exactly how proponents of this bill will defend it for insuring all Americans serves their welfare, no? But just as Democrats lied when they promised that health care reform did not mean more taxes, that argument is false.

Health care in the United States is in such a dire state because of government interference in the first place, notably due to the massive entitlement programs that are Medicare and Medicaid, due to government price controls, regulations and fiscally incentivized employer-based insurance schemes, all of which drive up costs at the expense of the average consumer. Yet we are to believe that even more government involvement will somehow make things better? There's ample evidence to the contrary! Countries with freer health insurance markets deliver more affordable care but wherever government insists on providing for the "general welfare," prices skyrocket and quality declines. This will also happen in the United States as soon as ObamaCare is fully enacted.

Rand Paul, Making Sense on Taxes

Unlike the president, Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky understands what tax increases would mean for the still struggling US economy. "If there is any one thing that could push us from a recession into a depression possibly," he warned last Saturday, "it would be a large tax increase."

President Obama lambasted Republicans in his Weekly Address yesterday for supposedly making an ideological stand on the back of the unemployed. "They've got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don't need them and didn't even ask for them," he complained, "but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help."

Paul, son of libertarian Texas Congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, makes more sense. "The other side believes that government creates jobs and that government is the answer," he told a Lexington crowd this weekend. "Our side believes that entrepreneurs and businesses in the private sector create jobs."

He further warned that if the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush are allowed to expire next year, it could push the economy over the edge. Democrats, on the other hand, consider it a nifty way to take care of their budget woes. Taxing the rich like before would take away almost half of their deficit, currently at a record height of over $1 trillion.

Republicans like Paul understand that higher taxes will quickly and inevitably curb growth and prolong the recession. What the budget, and the economy, needs is less government, not more of it.

July 17, 2010

It's All the Republicans' Fault

The president who campaigned on a promise to change Washington and end partisan strife once and for all launched what was quite probably his most vicious attacks on Republicans yet in Saturday's weekly address. The opposition, he alleged, was making a stand "on the backs of the unemployed."

"Too often," said Obama, "the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress." Although the Democrats hold solid majorities in both houses of Congress, which has allowed them to pass monumental health care legislation and enact financial reform, it is the Republicans, evidently, who are to blame for the lack of economic recovery.

Senate Republicans have thrice blocked initiatives from the governing party to extend unemployment benefits because they fear such expenditure will add significantly to an already mounting national debt. "Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it's a form of welfare," the president complained---though it is. "They say it discourages folks from looking for work," which it does, although the president has yet to meet an American "who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family." If only all Americans lived up to that, there'd be no need for welfare in the first place.

Unemployment benefits are a welfare provision and they do discourage people from finding work. Although they are a permanent facet of America's welfare state, Obama insists that they amount to an "emergency expenditure." He is angered by Republicans who "suddenly" want to change that.

They say we shouldn't provide unemployment insurance because it costs money. So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they've finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They've got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don't need them and didn't even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help.

It's rather depressing to have the President of the United States express so many falsehoods in a single paragraph. For one thing, Republicans, unfortunately, don't oppose unemployment benefits on principle. As Obama said, they have championed them for years. Some Republicans legislators are worried though that extending such insurances now is fiscally irresponsible and they're right. Democrats have failed to introduce a budget this year and are financing government programs on emergency provisions, or "redeeming resolutions." Meanwhile, the deficit is expected to reaching $1 trillion by the end of this year while the total debts amount to more than $13 trillion.

Obama's predecessor was left with a handsome surplus only to plunge in the red fairly rapidly. Yet the simple assertion that Republicans "turned a record surplus into a massive deficit" fails to consider two rather important events: the bursting of the dot-come bubble in early 2000 and the attacks of 9/11. Both cost the American economy dearly while the subsequent war in Afghanistan---which Obama has always defended as righteous---added significantly to President Bush's deficit.

The Bush tax cuts the president refers to may continue to frustrate Democrats but if so, they fail to consider that the rich already bear the grunt of government's costs.

In 2007, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 40.4 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 22.8 percent of adjusted gross income. Both of those figures were up compared to 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of adjusted gross income and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes. In spite of President Bush's tax cuts, wealthy Americans today shoulder more of the income tax burden than they did before them.

Lastly, the notion that the "need" of some---in this case, the unemployed---justifies the taking from others---"the rich"---is flawed and dangerous. Flawed, because it is not a proper function of government to extend charity to those in need. Dangerous, because such help can only come at the expense of others who are effectively denied possession of their income. "Spreading the wealth around," no matter how the president may feel about it, is something Republicans will always oppose---and with them, a majority of Americans.

But "think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who've lost their jobs since the recession began," Obama pleas. "Over the past several weeks, more than two million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire." Don't they deserve help?

Why, everyone is free to help whomever they like. But no one has a right to do so with other people's money.

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 17, 2010.

Some writers have so confounded society with government...

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.

Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

Porn Under Persecution

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is supposed to protect freedom of speech, no matter how reprehensible. Yet because of the legal maze that is obscenity law, an American pornography producer and director now finds himself indicted on an array of charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life.

John Stagliano is the founder and owner of the Evil Angel pornographic film studio. His company, based in southern California since 1989, is successful. Indeed, it is ranked among the top ten of adult film producers in the country and certainly among the most profitable. Dozens of people are employed by Evil Angel and hundreds work for it on a regular basis, including several hired specifically to handle the incredible amount of paperwork a business of its kind has to cope with due to extensive legal interference from different layers of government.

Evil Angel works rather differently than most of its competitors. Richard Abowitz at Reason Magazine, which has been covering Stagliano's trial expertly, explains:

Before Evil Angel, traditional adult companies gave directors a flat budget for making a movie, then pocketed the profits. What was not spent on the actors, set, and production became the director's take-home pay. Once the director turned in the completed movie, he no longer held any financial stake in the project. The obvious economic incentive was to make the cheapest porn movies possible.

Stagliano changed that. He entered into partnerships with his directors. They paid to make their own movies, Evil Angel paid for distribution and marketing, and the profits were split between the two. Many of the industry's top directors quickly partnered with Stagliano's company. The quality of their films readily improved and so did sales.

Although Evil Angel diligently complied with all red tape it had to handle and although all of its actors are condescending adults, federal prosecutors found reason to charge John Stagliano nonetheless; because pornography, they argue, is obscene.

Throughout the past fifty years, courts have struggled with defining just what "obscenity" means. Currently on the books is the so-called Miller test, which dates back to 1973's Miller v. California. The Supreme Court at the time devised a set of criteria which must be met in order for a work to be legitimately subject to state regulation. Foremost among them was "whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards [...], would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest." Just what "community standards" are remains a matter of dispute.

In fifty years' time, few justices have dared argue that perhaps the "average person" is best served by relying his own judgement. The trial of John Stagliano is but the latest example of the government knows best mentality that appears to have taken hold of America. Notably, not a single complaint was ever lodged against him or his company by a private citizen or corporation. That citizen is supposedly protected from "unlawful exposure to obscene materials" by the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (OPTF) formed in 2005.

In Stagliano's case, an FBI special agent ordered films which Evil Angel distributed and purchased them at the taxpayer's expense. Why his business is suddenly deemed criminal is difficult to ascertain for the presiding District Court judge on the case, Richard Leon, shut the press out of the jury selection process while the courtroom monitors that will display the crucial evidence are all arranged to be out of the sightlines of journalists and interested parties, viewable only by jurors and lawyers. Stagliano, moreover, has been denied the use of expert witnesses. So much for fair trial.

The problem won't go away when Stagliano's ordeal comes to an end. If he is released as innocent, the OPTF will still be there, deciding arbitrarily which pornographic content is to be considered obscene and which is not. If a jury finds him guilty, nearly all adult movies may become taboo with porn actors, directors and producers fearing for their freedoms.

Speaking Up for American Capitalism

Amid all the anticapitalist rhetoric espoused by policy and opinion makers alike, few businessmen dare rise up to the challenge and defend the free market outright. Gregg Sherrill, Chairman and CEO of Tenneco, Inc. is a notable exception.

With capitalism under persecution worldwide, the business community has in part itself to blame. As accusations of greed and selfishness are thrown around, renowned bankers and captains of industry appease, apologize and compromise, but to no avail.

Businessmen attempt to appease the loudest of their opponents who will never relinquish the struggle. They apologize for their very existence, denouncing "inhuman capitalism" as much as the most collectivist of commentators. And they compromise on the free market, relying on lobbying instead, on private manipulation and on pull in order to extract momentary favors from government.

Because they never stood up and said, "Wait a minute!" businessmen undermined the market and let it take the fall for faults that were not its own. As it is, defenders of capitalism have become scarce and capitalism itself, a forgotten ideal.

Gregg Sherrill, fortunately, is not afraid to make the case for American capitalism---and he urges his colleagues to do the same. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Sherill, who has been with Tenneco since January 2007, attests that, "other than those companies that were a part of the system of easy credit and disguised risk that so spectacularly collapsed, American business as a whole has nothing whatsoever to apologize for." The good news, he believes, is that, "despite the political cacophony, and our silence, most Americans still instinctively understand this."

Sherill quotes a Pew Research Center poll which found that 70 percent of Americans still rather live in a free market than a socialist economy, "even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time" in the former. So why are the 30 percent in charge of the rest, he wonders.

According to American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, the "game changer" was the economic crisis. As he writes in his book The Battle, "the opportunity to expand the 30 percent coalition was not the Democratic sweep in 2008. It was the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which was used as a tool to attack the free enterprise system.

The alternative, promoted by the current administration, is a vast expansion of government. It sincerely believes that regulated markets work best. This is a "profound mistake," writes Sherrill. "Other countries have tried this strategy in various ways, especially over the last century. The results have often been negative, and at times disastrous. None has come close to the levels of growth and individual prosperity driven by the American free enterprise system."

Yet as Washington prepares for the November midterm elections and the specter of losing numerous seats, perhaps even their majority in either house of Congress, looms over Democrats scrambling for every vote, "the danger," according to Sherrill, "is that people will buy into the false perception that government can fix our current crisis, which will lead to policies making our economic recovery more difficult."

I'm proud to be part of an economic system that still offers the greatest opportunity for individual prosperity and quality of life. I believe my colleagues in all segments of American business and industry share that pride. It's time we find our voices and speak up. We have a powerful story to tell.

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 17, 2010.

July 16, 2010

Newt Gingrich For President?

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told the Associated Press this week during a trip to Iowa that he has "never been this serious" about running for president. But what are his chances?

Financially, the Republican stalwart is in excellent condition. Politico reports that his political action groups, foremost among them, American Solutions for Winning the Future, raised nearly $3.5 million during the past three months: an impressive windfall for a politician who has yet to announce plans for a definitive candidacy.

The website is quick to point out some of the problems stemming from certain donations however. Gingrich's advocacy group received, for instance, $500,000 in contribution from a controversial casino magnate and another $100,000 from the Dallas based Plains Exploration and Production Company which owns deepwater drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. "American Solutions has positioned itself as a leader in supporting offshore oil drilling and opposing efforts to make it easier to form unions," notes Politico.

[T]hose contributions, combined with earlier donations from energy companies and fiercely anti-union businessmen, can be expected to fuel opponents' allegations that Gingrich has been engaged in pay-to-play politics since leaving Congress in 1999.

At the same time, American Solutions has a major fundraising advantage. As a so-called 527 group, it can accept unlimited contributions prohibited by rules governing federal election campaigns and political action committees.

So Gingrich is likely to have the means to fund a presidential campaign. Does he have the appeal to make it through?

At February's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Gingrich received a meager 4 percent of the votes in the event's presidential straw poll, far behind libertarian Texas Congressman Ron Paul. So did former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee though, and he's considered a likely Republican frontrunner for the 2012 race nonetheless.

CPAC participants listed "reducing the size of Federal Government" as their priority and Gingrich has been carefully trying to boost his fiscal conservative credentials since. Last April he lambasted Democrats in a Washington Post op-ed for turning America into a "secular-socialist machine." The Obama Administration, he alleged, was ignoring the will of the people, enacting socialist policies and actively denying America's religious heritage. But above all, it plunged the country in the red with a stimulus package that has yet to yield results.

His latest book, To Save America, expresses a similar sentiment, blaming the administration of using the recession as an excuse to expand government. As early as March 2009, Gingrich thrashed Republicans for allowing increased spending during the Bush Administration and for not doing enough to block President Obama's early initiatives. As Americans identify the deficit as their number one concern, Gingrich promises to restore balance to the budget and save America from mounting debt. He hasn't been really clear yet on how to do it though.

The former Speaker may be able to bridge the divide between small government conservatives and libertarians currently rallying behind the Tea Party movement on the one hand and the Religious Right on the other but he should take care not to cosy up to either camp, in which case moderate, centrist voters will likely swing to the left in 2012.

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 16, 2010.

July 15, 2010

The Mysterious World of Obamanomics

Lately the White House has been boasting that its so-called stimulus measures have "created or saved" somewhere between 2.5 million and 3.6 million jobs. Yet some 2.3 million jobs have been lost since Barack Obama took office. What's the magic?

Daniel Mitchell, a tax reform expert with the Cato Institute, explains that the administration is justifying the job losses by asserting that the US economy "actually would have lost about 5 million jobs without the new government spending."

"I've decided to adopt this clever strategy to spice up my social life," writes Mitchell.

Next time I see my buddies, I'm going to claim that I enjoyed a week of debauchery with the Victoria's Secret models. And if any of them are rude enough to point out that I'm lying, I'll simply explain that I started with an assumption of spending -7 nights with the supermodels. And since I actually spent zero nights with them, that means a net of +7. Some of you may be wondering whether it makes sense to begin with an assumption of "-7 nights," but I figure that's okay since Keynesians begin with the assumption that you can increase your prosperity by transferring money from your left pocket to your right pocket.

Mitchell, of course, is a gentleman, so rather than sharing the intimate details of his nightly escapades, he quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial which similarly lambastes the White House's economic fantasies:

White House economists [...] said the unemployment rate would peak at 9% without the stimulus [...] and that with the stimulus the rate would stay at 8% or below. In other words, today there are 700,000 fewer jobs than [Christina] Romer predicted we would have if we had done nothing at all. If this is a job creation success, what does failure look like?

All of these White House jobs estimates are based on the increasingly discredited Keynesian spending "multiplier," which according to White House economist Larry Summers means that every $1 of government spending will yield roughly $1.50 in higher GDP. Ms Romer thus plugs her spending data into the Keynesian computer models and, presto, out come 2.5 million to 3.6 million jobs, even if the real economy has lost jobs. To adapt Groucho Marx: Who are you going to believe, the White House computer models, or your own eyes?

July 14, 2010

Obama's Disastrous Energy Policy

USA Today may think that "President Obama's attempt to use the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to help propel comprehensive energy legislation has failed," but Conn Carroll of the Heritage Foundation doesn't believe it for a second.

After Federal Courts twice invalidated the president's moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, describing it as "arbitrary and capricious," his administration reissued a similar, if not more restrictive ban last Monday. Majority Leader Harry Reid is meanwhile expected to introduce a bill in the Senate soon that will cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. "Taken together," writes Carroll, "the president's Cap and Ban approach to energy policy will accomplish exactly what he set out to do from the very first day he was sworn into office: decrease the amount of carbon the US economy emits by drastically increasing the cost of energy."

Senator Reid's scheme would reduce the carbon American power plants emit by forcing them to produce more and more renewable energy with each passing year. "This is essentially cap and trade but without the trade," notes Carroll.

"If these new renewable energy sources were actually cost effective," he writes, "there would be no need to mandate them." After all, companies, looking after their own interest, seeking to bring down costs and maximize profits, would readily exploit renewable energies if they could make money from it. But they can't. Wind and solar power are far more expensive than traditional fuels. Mandating energy companies to increasingly make use of such methods nonetheless will inevitably drive prices up. "The ultimate victim of these higher energy prices will be you the consumer and the American economy," according to Carroll.

Taking the full cost of renewable energies into account, the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis found that such a policy would:

1) raise electricity prices by 36 percent for households and 60 percent for industry; 2) cut national income (GDP) by $5.2 trillion between 2012 and 2035; 3) cut national income by $2,400 per year for a family of four; 4) reduce employment by more than 1,000,000 jobs; and 5) add more than $10,000 to a family of four's share of the national debt by 2035.

"And that is just the 'cap' half of President Obama's Cap and Ban approach," notes Carroll. The drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico is already causing enormous damage to the local enemy. More than 200,000 jobs are dependent on offshore drilling in the region while 35,000 workers are directly involved each day when the rigs are in use. The American Petroleum Institute forecasts that if the drilling ban remains in place, more than 120,000 jobs may be lost in the Gulf area as companies move out. The people whose lives haven't been wrecked yet by the spill have their livelihoods threatened because of this irrational, arbitrary policy, unlawfully enacted by the White House.

Heritage analyst David Kreutzer has crunched the numbers and found that a full Obama Administration ban on all offshore drilling would be absolutely devastating to the US economy. Between now and 2035, an offshore drilling ban would: 1) reduce GDP by $5.5 trillion; 2) reduce job growth by more than 1 million jobs by 2015 and more than 1.5 million jobs by 2030; and 3) increase the total expenditures for imported oil by nearly $737 billion.

Meanwhile, there are vast reserves of oil and natural gas waiting to be exploited underneath the Atlantic coastline, beneath the northern coast of Alaska, and on land, in Colorado and Wyoming. Combined, these regions hold over two hundred billion barrels of oil and two thousand trillion cubic feet of natural gas that are recoverable with today's technology. That's more than most OPEC nations. If fully developed, it would be enough to free America from the import of foreign oil for almost fifty years.

Yet, according to the president, "drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long term energy needs." Instead, his administration is set to subsidize currently unprofitable renewable energies, stifling necessary progress in these sectors at the expense of millions of Americans who will either lose their jobs, see their energy bills go up, or both.

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 14, 2010.

July 13, 2010

How Dreams of Equality Are Destroying American Schools

The New York Times reported last month that increasingly, "educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents." They are wondering whether it's healthy for children to have just one best friend.

"I think it is kids' preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults---teachers and counselors---we try to encourage them not to do that," said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. "We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends."

At a time when public schooling in the United States is in an absolutely dire state, education professionals are evidently pushing for even greater egalitarianism among kids. Rather than act on their natural inclination to select merely a single or a handful of friends, they ought to socialize more, these do-gooder profess, to understand that they're part of "society", not individuals. Some of them have now come to oppose standardized testing because poor results might hurt the feelings of underperforming students while others are fighting against vouchers and charter schools, alleging that they privilege some children at the cost of an even greater divide in American society.

Meanwhile, private schools are showing that students can do better, and they do it at a lower price tag. But the conservative elements preventing the American education system from moving forward---particularly the teachers' unions and their representatives in Washington---still insist that it is their job to foster equality, whatever the costs.

The solution? Free children from government schools and allow competition to improve education throughout the country.

On Tax Relief and Deficit Reduction

Republicans have the left positively confused as they say to favor tax cuts on the one hand, regardless of their impact on the deficit, yet block the extension of unemployment benefits on the other, citing budget concerns.

Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona insisted on Sunday that Congress should extend President George W. Bush's tax cuts for high income Americans even as they would add to the deficit. "Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to, if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs," said the senator during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "You do need to offset the cost of increased spending," he added, "and that's what Republicans object to."

Clear and simple? Not according to The Huffington Post, which calls it "deficit fraud"---and not according to the White House. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs accused Kyl on Twitter of pretending that the wealthy "need" tax cuts "while middle class families are on their own to fend for themselves as a result of [the] Bush economy."

Press Secretary Hari Sevugan for the Democratic National Committee deviated even further from the truth by claiming that "tax cuts for the rich at the expense of working people is the same backward policy Republicans used to put the nation in this hole, and it's the same policy they promise to return to if put in a position of power again."

Steve Benen neatly summed up the left's position at the Washington Monthly, calling it "quite a message to Americans."

Republicans believe $30 billion for unemployment benefits don't even deserve a vote because the money would be added to the deficit, but Republicans also believe that adding the cost of $678 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy to the deficit is just fine.

Were the Bush tax cuts reversed, it should surely make the current administration's job at balancing the budget much easier. But trying to beat the Republicans at their own game by pretending that they are proposing a fiscally irresponsible policy is disingenuous.

In all fairness to the Democrats, President Bush's economic policy wasn't terribly different from what they're doing. It was under President Bush, after all, that, in the name of "compassionate conservatism" and with hopes of creating an "ownership society," the foundations for today's recession were laid. It was under President Bush that the semi-government entities Fannie Mea and Freddie Mac were allowed to go wild and ruin the home mortgage market. And it was under President Bush that the first banks hit by the turmoil that ensued were bailed out with billions of dollars of taxpayers' money.

President Bush plunged the country into the red but his successor added significantly to that with the nationalization of automakers, a momentous overhaul of the health insurance industry and a multibillion dollar stimulus package that has so far yielded little result except the questionable assurance that things would be far worse without it.

In reaction to President Barack Obama's interventionist policies and under pressure from the popular Tea Party movement, Republicans are once again preaching fiscal conservatism. Democrats meanwhile still seem to think of economics as a zero-sum game in which lowering one person's taxes must come at the expense of another person's government handouts. They won't see that the economic activity stirred by a lower tax pressure will eventually benefit the whole of society.

Rather a tax cut is something that "adds" to the budget, they believe, while the rich, in spite of already bearing the grunt of government's costs, would force "working people" to "fend for themselves"---what atrocity! This administration seems to think that ordinary Americans simply can't do without government yet if opinion polls are any indicator, more and more people are beginning to realize that in spite of all its good intentions, it's government that is the problem.

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 13, 2010.

July 10, 2010

White House Wants Business to Stop Complaining

Politico reports that the Obama Administration is set to launch a coordinated campaign aimed at pushing back the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that the president may be promoting an anti-business agenda.

After passing a health care reform bill that puts insurers at a disadvantage and is expected to cost business dearly; after threatening the high tech sector with antitrust investigations in spite of it being nearly the only profitable and certainly the only free market left in America; after using BP's oil spill last April to impose an unlawful moratorium on deepwater drilling throughout the Gulf of Mexico and launch an attack on Big Oil altogether; and after hammering out a financial reform scheme that leaves the prime instigators of the recession, the semi-government entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac untouched at the cost of multibillion dollar tax hikes and regulation on the part of private banks, the White House is trying to assure businesses by saying---it could have been a lot worse.

Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel urged business leaders on Thursday not to recoil against the president but be grateful for his support on at least half a dozen counts: his advocacy of international free trade for instance. (That is, of course, disregarding the protectionist nationalization of automakers.) Billions in his stimulus package benefit business owners moreover, according to Emanuel, while financial reform will provide greater stability.

Just last month, Obama's top advisor struck a rather different tone on ABC's This Week where he blamed the opposition for continuing to promote lower taxes and deregulation. "They think that the government's the problem," he complained about the Republicans then as though it were a preposterous assertion.

The administration is similarly disappointed with businessmen who just don't seem to realize how good government's been to them. Politico notes that, "in the White House view, some business leaders listen only to Obama speeches being tough on BP or on the excesses of Wall Street and assume Obama is hostile to business across the board." West Wing aides complain of them wining, as though the "sensible and comparatively modest ideas" the administration is pushing are something of an "intolerable burden." They're still making billions in profits after all, so what's the problem?

The White House may like to pretend that Obama's rhetoric is somehow divorced from reality but it was the president himself who, speaking to reporters at the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada two weeks ago, reminded listeners that he was simply doing what he said he'd do. Indeed, he urged people to "learn that lesson" about him for next year, he will "start presenting some very difficult choices to the country." Rest assured though, businesses have nothing to fear!

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 20, 2010.

July 6, 2010

Administration Braces for Court Challenges

With a five to four conservative majority on the bench, the Obama Administration may soon begin to sense more resistance from the justices of the Supreme Court against its progressive agenda.

The Court wrapped up its term last week with by reaffirming citizens' right to keep and bear arms as protected in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Earlier this year, in another decision frowned upon by Democrats, the highest judicial body of the United States gave corporations the same campaign finance rights as ordinary Americans. For over sixty years, Congress and states had barred corporate and union spending to sway elections. The Court's opinion struck down those laws as unconstitutional censorship.

The Democrats were appalled. They saw the ruling as a radical move aimed to tilt the political system in favor of Big Business just as they were working to reform the country's financial system. President Barack Obama publicly criticized the decision during his first State of the Union address before Congress. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is still angered by what he regarded as a partisan insult to the independent judiciary.

The divide on campaign finance regulation is likely reflective of clashes to come. The administration may be waging a war on capitalism with efforts to restrict the business freedoms of banks, insurance companies and the energy industry; the Supreme Court will have the final word on those laws. With Robert in control, that may be setting the stage for dispute.

"Presidents with active agendas for change almost always encounter resistance in the courts," said Stanford University law professor Michael W. McConnell, quoted in the Los Angeles Times. "It happened to Roosevelt and it happened to Reagan. It will likely happen to Obama too."

The administration is already under attack in the courts. Attorneys general in so much as twenty states are fighting the health care bill, claiming that its mandate to buy health insurance oversteps Congress' constitutional powers and tramples on states' rights.

The president's moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of BP's oil spill last April has met a similar fate. A federal judge in New Orleans ruled that the president exceeded his authority with the measure. Citing potential harm to businesses and workers, Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the United States District Court opined that the administration had failed to justify the need for such "a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium" on oil and gas drilling. The White House immediately announced that it would appeal the ruling while Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised to issue a new order imposing a moratorium on deepwater drilling along with more detailed information to prove its necessity.

Lastly, the administration is feeling the heat on immigration reform since it announced its intention to block a controversial Arizona law which is due to take effect July 29. Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona says she will fight the challenge all the way up to the Supreme Court if need be.

It may well take another year or two before any challenge to the Obama Administration's agenda reaches the highest court.

According to Professor McConnell, the administration's broad set of regulatory moves made a clash almost inevitable. "It does not mean the courts are being political," though. "It is the way the institutions are designed, to create checks and balances."

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 6, 2010.

July 4, 2010

All Anger On the Republican Front

The Democrats may be falling in the polls and President Barack Obama is certainly unpopular but the Republicans have no reason to take their newfound success for granted. To the contrary. The party has now to stop boasting and define its vision of twenty-first century conservatism lest it risk being thrown into the opposition again in 2012.

Two years after the end of neoconservatism and the defeat of "maverick" John McCain, the Republican Party remains without direction and without leadership. The most visible and most vocal of political figures on the right, Sarah Palin, may have been embraced in part by the Tea Party movement but the conservative base at large hardly considers her a viable candidate for the presidency.

Republicans have a tough legacy to reckon with. Opposition to Obama's favoring of Big Government and his administration's war on capitalism are ample cause for consternation with the political right yet it were the Republicans who initiated the spending frenzy under President George W. Bush. They have still to decide whether to capitalize on the more libertarian sentiments currently shaping the popular right as represented by the Tea Parties and Glenn Beck or to stick to the ideas that used to bear fruit.

Solid attempts at redefining American conservatism have been made. The call for constitutional conservatism was cheered by a series of Republican stalwarts last February; Tea Party candidates like Rand Paul of Kentucky are winning Senate nominations; Congressmen like Ron Paul and Paul Ryan continue to crusade for the free market. But the party on the whole fears that it may alienate part of its traditional base when it moves toward a more libertarian direction.

Both major parties in the United States are broad and inclusive by necessity. Whereas, in European terms, Democrats can be anything from socialists to centrists, the Republican Party has moderates, business conservatives or Rockefeller Republicans, libertarians and neoconservatives along with the Christian Right and the sort of intolerant, gun toting blowhards personified in the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Mainstream Republicanism in recent years has been fueled by religious sentiments, nostalgia, "family values" and promises of security and strong defense. Today, the small government philosophy of the party is what ties the aforementioned groups together---except that the alliance of evangelicals and neoconservatives which twice made Bush president in recent years has little to show for in this regard.

A fierce apprehension of anything the Democrats do is all that appears to unite the right. So, according to The Economist, Republicans are reducing themselves into exactly what the Democrats say they are---the Party of No. They may well lambast Obama for expanding the deficit, notes the newspaper; "it is less impressive when they are unable to suggest alternatives."

Out of power, a party can get away with such negative ambiguity; the business of an opposition is to oppose. The real problem for the political right may well come if it wins in November. Just as the party found after it seized Congress in 1994, voters expect solutions, not just rage.

The paper fears that electoral success in November may lead Republicans to think that they lost the White House because John McCain was not conservative enough. "That logic is more likely to lead to Palin-Huckabee in 2012 than, say, Petraeus-Daniels." The Economist reminds Americans that British Conservatives made the same mistake when New Labour cast them out of power in 1997. "Only with the accession of the centrist David Cameron in 2005 did the party begin to recover as he set about changing its rhetoric."

Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 4, 2010.