Thursday, April 26, 2012

THE QUADRILLION DOLLAR SOLUTION


I sent our taxes in on the 13th, then attended Pat Roberts’ town hall meeting. Roberts appeared to be quite comfortable, due in large part to his popularity and years of experience. There were a large number of dignitaries present compared to the very few I saw at Tim Huelskamp’s event the day before. It’s good to know what side one’s bread is buttered on. Being seen or photographed with Pat Roberts is like money in the bank. Being seen around Tim Huelskamp is toxic.

During the Q&A session a young woman, probably a university student, asked something that’s on the minds of a lot of young people.  Shouldn’t the rich pay “a little bit more” in taxes as a matter of fairness to the rest of us? There was an aura of fear that hovered over her, understandably so. Like a lot of people her age she’s worried about her future. Jobs are scarce, the federal government is in big time hock to the People’s Republic of China, and hyper-inflation may be waiting in the weeds. As things stand today her share of the federal debt is 138 thousand bucks. Give it a few more years and her share will increase to 177 thousand.

She needs help. If I’d only known before I mailed the checks in. I’d have signed them over to her.  That would have been far better than seeing the taxable portion of our retirement nest egg being spent by the General Services Administration on booze, bonuses, and a Vegas holiday. 

Actually, I don’t think she was asking a question. I think she was silently screaming, “Somebody help me! I’m doomed before I ever launch my career.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days. How do we fix this god-awful mess? How are we going to slice this American pie? What’s a fair sized slice? Who does the slicing? And, what happens when the pie runs out because everyone is eating pie and there’s no pie makers guild around to make more pies?

I was stumped till early Sunday morning. Then I read the Washington Post. Sheila Bair, former Chairperson of the FDIC has come up with an ingenious solution for everything that ails America. All it would take, according to Ms. Bair, would be for the Federal Reserve to tweak its easy money policy just a tad.

Since the financial meltdown a few years ago the Fed has been lending money to the banks and hedge funds that got us into this mess at near zero interest rates. Seeing opportunity knocking, the banks and hedge funds have been re-investing the money in high-yield securities. The “carry trade” profits have been enormous. Talk about a gravy train.

As soon as I saw the rest of her solution I realized we’ve been looking at things the wrong way. Instead of trying to punish the culprits we just need to find a way to get on the train. And, Sheila Bair has found it.

Her recommendations? Have Ben Bernanke print 1.2 quadrillion (that’s a bit more than 10 to the 15th power) dollars and lend it to us at the same rate it’s being given to the fat cats. Then send a $10 million check to 120 million American households. Families could divvy up the loot. Each person would be free to re-invest the money however he or she pleased. Young people could buy Google stock or Portugal bonds, depending on how much risk they’d be willing to take.  Retirees like Nancy and me could buy ten year bonds at two percent and live like royalty. Then, in years eight through ten we could spend like drunken sailors till all the money is gone.

It’s a beautiful plan. As Bair observed, “Think of what we can do with all that money. We can pay off our underwater mortgages and replenish our retirement accounts without spending one day schlepping into the office. With a few quick keystrokes, we’ll be golden for the next 10 years.”

I’m really excited. This is the hope and change I’ve been looking for.

There are a couple of potential hitches. First, Congress would have to approve the plan. I think this would be relatively easy. Our government is addicted to borrowing and spending. For those who think this may be even too large or complex for our government, keep in mind that they’re the guys who’ve given us a 73,000 page tax code. The second hitch would be what to do when the loans come due and we’re tapped out. Again, that’s relatively easy. In ten years we’d all too big to fail.  We could then declare collective bankruptcy and demand a bailout of $20 million per household. It would work. After all, congress loves bailouts every bit as much as they love borrowing and spending.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

AN IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY?




“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”
-          Conan the Barbarian (Responding to the question of what is best in life)
I’m sure there are some Gazette readers who think I’m a fool for letting my religious views creep into the ballot box with me. I have no defense. I’ll maintain my right to be a fool. I realize that being a fool swimming against the tide of all the superior wisdom around me could be dangerous, but I’ll take the risk.
It’s now the middle of March. When June rolls around the Supreme Court will render its decision on the Affordable Care Act. Judging by the apoplectic response of progressives to the three days of argumentation, supporters of the Administration are worried. The President was clearly concerned. Declaring that the Supreme Court was treading on dangerous ground if they thought of overturning a law that had passed by a solid majority, he laid down the gauntlet. Some scholars are speculating that his comments were aimed at Justice Kennedy, who is considered to be the swing vote. Some say the President’s comments were nothing more than an unfortunate slip of the tongue.
I think there’s more to it. It’s a matter of power, with a bit of deceit mixed in.
Was the President telling the truth when he warned the justices that the law had passed by a solid majority? The final vote was 219-212. Further, it took some back room wheeling and dealing with 6 pro-life Democrats to win final passage. How did he get their support? By telling them he would draft an executive order prohibiting public funding of abortion. I don’t think fifty years from now the President’s signature would be worth a nickel on the Antiques Roadshow.
The only remaining hurdles are nine judges. The President knows that the Supreme Court has the authority to overturn the law and its individual mandate. He studied law at Harvard. He’s well aware of Marbury v. Madison. This isn’t about knowledge or instruction. It’s about power and intimidation.
Alexander Hamilton understood this. Here are some of the things he had to say about the Supreme Court in Federalist 78: “The judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.” “There is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.” “Liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have everything to fear from its union with either of the other departments.”
The Supreme Court doesn’t always get things right. Dred Scott comes to mind. But our Founders set the Court up as a mechanism to protect the People from tyranny. In 1866, the Supreme Court overturned the capital conviction of Lambdin Milligan on the grounds that trying an American civilian in a military tribunal was unconstitutional. Justice David Davis, with the future in mind, wrote the following in his opinion – “The nation has no right to expect that it will always have wise and humane rulers, sincerely attached to the principles of the Constitution.” In 1935 the Supreme Court held that a Jewish poultry farmer’s economic freedom trumped the National Industrial Recovery Act (Schechter Poultry Corp v the United States). Franklin Roosevelt was so furious with the decision he concocted a scheme to pack the Supreme Court with justices who would do his bidding. Thankfully, it failed miserably.
Where do we go from here? If the Court overturns the law, is there a possibility that Barack Obama or a future President will use the “exceptions clause” under article 3, section 2 of the Constitution to circumvent the Supreme Court? If the law is upheld, could some future President find a way to ramrod a bill through the legislative branch mandating that all American workers join labor unions or buy a shiny new Chrysler? Could a pro-business Republican, with the consent of Congress, mandate that all Americans, including progressives, purchase trillions in stocks or bonds to prop up failing banks like Goldman Sachs when the next financial crisis inevitably comes? Jim Powell, senior fellow at the CATO Institute, seems to think these notions aren’t that far-fetched.
In 1973 Arthur Schlesinger warned of the dangers of an “imperial” presidency and the “expansion and abuse of presidential power.” When asked how it could happen he responded, “Through the mystique of the mandate, through the secrecy system, through executive privilege and impoundment, through political and electronic surveillance in the name of national security.”
I may not like every decision the Supreme Court makes, but I believe they’re essential to the maintenance of individual liberty. They’re our last line of defense. I pray in this case they decide in favor of the People.

RESPECT IS A TWO WAY STREET




Our Presidents may or may not merit our respect.  The Presidential office certainly does.

A few weeks ago Tim Huelskamp used what some consider inflammatory language concerning President Obama. It may or may not have been unprofessional. If it was, it was in keeping with a great American tradition. Huelskamp didn’t yell fire in a crowded theatre or threaten assassination.  He exercised his right to free speech.

I wouldn’t have used Huelskamp’s words, but I’ve seen and read worse things said of Presidents. Clark Clifford, one of Lyndon Johnson’s secretaries of defense, once described Ronald Reagan as an “amiable dunce.” Clifford was considered to be an absolutely brilliant man. He championed the policy of mutually assured nuclear destruction, a brilliant strategy if there ever was one. Interestingly, history records that the “amiable dunce” took the measure of the Soviet Union without firing a shot.  George McClellan, architect of our Civil War’s Peninsula Campaign and champion of the strategic retreat in the face of an inferior enemy force, wrote to his wife in 1861, describing Abraham Lincoln as “the original gorilla.” George Herbert Walker Bush, a decorated war hero, was called a wimp. Lyndon Johnson, who fell prey to superior intelligence of Robert McNamara, Clark Clifford, and others in his brain trust, had to listen to the almost daily taunts of “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”  Bill Clinton was called “Slick Willie.” At 5’11” and 260 pounds, Grover Cleveland could have played nose tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs. Some called him the “stuffed prophet.”  Others called him “Uncle Jumbo.” James Madison was only 5’4”. His political enemies occasionally called him “Little Jemmy.”

How did the Republic ever survive these onslaughts?  You don’t suppose it’s been because the peoples’ right to freedom of speech is far more important than some notion of imperial superiority, do you? Our founders seemed to think so. They thought so highly of free speech they enshrined it as an addendum to our Constitution.

I came close to voting for Barack Obama in 2008. I actually sent contributions to his Presidential campaign. My accountant, who is also my wife, didn’t say so, but I think she was a bit miffed when the $200 donation to the Obama for President Campaign hit our credit card.

There was a lot I liked about him then. There’s a lot I like about him now. I loved “hope and change”. I was na├»ve enough to believe he could really make the oceans recede.  But I decided not to vote for him. What changed my mind?

I’m a pro-lifer. It’s an important consideration for me when I enter the voting booth. I don’t ask people to agree with me about this, nor do I ask for their advice when I go to the polls. Once I step into the voting booth my detractors have no control over me. They may think I’m uninformed, and that’s alright. I think there are a lot of over-informed people who pretend they vote for the right reasons.

I abandoned my belief in Barack Obama because he deceived me and millions of pro-lifers. There’s no delicate, polite way to put it. During the campaign he tried to curry favor from us. He told us he understood how we felt and said he had great empathy for us. Then I checked the record. In 2003, as a member of a state senatorial committee in Illinois, he was one of the deciding votes against the “born alive” bill, which would have prohibited Illinois abortions in cases when a “procedure’ was complicated if the “fetus” survived an attempted abortion. He told pro-lifers like me that he voted to kill the bill because he claimed it didn’t contain provisions to protect abortion rights legalized in Roe v Wade. It was a lie and he knew it.  Now, it’s one thing to vote in line with one’s principles; it’s another when one deceives a prospective supporter to gain votes he or she would otherwise lose. That’s deceit of the highest order.

I withdrew my support and asked for my money back. I never got it.

I once believed Barack Obama’s narrative about transparency and honesty, but facts are stubborn things. Ask whistleblowers like Thomas Drake. Ask yourself why Barack Obama, who promised to be the most transparent President in history, has used antiquated law to squelch dissent more often than any President in our history. Ask yourself why he feels so compelled to bully the Supreme Court into submission. Read Federalist 78 and do your own thinking.

I will never lose respect for the Presidential office, but I also deserve respect. I am a Citizen.

The first words of our constitution read “We the People.” Barack Obama doesn’t reign supreme, nor does any other President. We do, and we also deserve respect, not deceit.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

THE SHELL GAME - PART ONE - COMPASSION




And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”  - Luke 9:25 (New International Version)
Everything is big these days. We’ve got big business, big government, big media, big religion, big education, and blockbuster entertainment. Everything is so big it gives the rest of us the sense that we’re very small, institutional props to be used as vehicles for the institutions to become ever bigger. They constantly clamor for our attention. “I’ll protect you.” “I’ll be the champion of your cause.” “If you follow me I’ll bring you justice.”
Our experience tells us we should be wary, but we can’t resist.  They pull us from both the left and the right. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s Huey Long or his modern counterpart promising us that “every man will be a king,” or some mega church superstar telling us our contribution to the cause will not only bring eternal bliss, but also a Florida time share.
It’s fascinating. They know it’s a shell game. We know it too. But we keep looking for the magic pea under that walnut shell.
Why are we such easy marks? I think it’s got something to do with the way we’re wired. We don’t like to feel small and we gravitate toward something that appears big and important. We get hooked and become what Eric Hoffer termed “true believers.” Once that happens we rarely, if ever, question what’s happening to us. If we did, I’m afraid we’d find they’re getting bigger and richer while we’re getting smaller and poorer.
How do they hook us? By cleverly disguising the three walnuts, one marked compassion, one marked meaning, and one marked a cause.
Compassion is almost always the easiest button to push.
A little over two years ago a devastating earthquake flattened much of Port au Prince, Haiti’s capitol. According to Haitian government estimates over 300,000 people died and nearly a million were displaced. The international response was almost immediate. The task of reconstruction was huge, but the willingness to respond was even greater. Billions of aid dollars were pledged.  Compassion seemed to be the order of the day and we all felt good about it. There was even talk of fixing everything that has plagued Haiti for decades.
That was two years ago. You’d think that massive doses of compassion would change things. But that’s not the case. As the New York Times recently reported, “Haiti and its international donors were far behind in helping the hundreds of thousands still living in makeshift camps and the millions without formal jobs.” Billions have been raised, but very little aid has reached the people of Haiti.  How could that be? The U.N.’s Nigel Fisher is just as puzzled as we are.  “It's not so easy to track the NGO resources that were raised, and we guess that there were maybe $2 billion raised by NGOs around the world ... that has been difficult to track," he says.
I suspect once we pick up the “compassion” walnut there won’t be a pea in sight, which means some organizational shill is probably buying diamonds in Antwerp right now thanks to the generosity of widows who were donating their mites for what they thought was a good cause.