Friday, August 31, 2012

Screwed by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

In the book, Screwed, Dick Morris and his wife Eileen McGann lay out situation after situation in which the United States is losing its sovereignty or being threatened by powers abroad. Many of the chapters deal with treaties and deals being made at the international level. While it is all scary, I'm hoping it's hyperbole. First of all, if his predictions are true, America is in big trouble. Second, because so much of it is at the international level, it feels as if there is nothing we can do.

The first issue brought addressed is our economy and the world’s attempts to control it. We already give large amounts of power to an unaccountable and unelected Fed. We are also allowing the G-20 and IMF to make policies that would impact us negatively.

Next they describe international treaties being pushed by various nations that would abrogate our sovereignty. These include the International Criminal Court, Law of Sea Treaty, United Nations Small Arms Treaty, European code of Conduct in Outer Space, Conventions on the Child, and Agenda 21. Each one of these treaties would affect everyday Americans and the freedoms we experience.

We also face serious threats from China. They manipulate their currency to our detriment. They hack into our technologies and steal our secrets. They have hacked into our electrical grid. We could use the leverage we have over them in respect to trade to demand they stop doing all of these things. 

Although we financially prop up Pakistan, they make it a habit to betray us. We must use the money and our relationship with India to pressure them to work with us in our fight against terrorism. We could also refocus our efforts and so rely on them less.

Afghanistan - Get out! We are there, propping up a corrupt regime. Only keep enough forces to hunt down terrorists and forget the nation-building.

With Saudi Arabia, we’ve made a deal with the devil. This barbaric regime commands our respect because we need their oil, but no longer! Open up America to fracking and more natural gas drilling and finally we will be able to achieve true energy independence. We must rid ourselves of alliances with these purveyors of evil.

The United Nations is corrupt. Since we pay 22% of the budget of the UN, we must use this leverage to force them to clean up.

Another institution with threatens the world is the World Bank. They give and give and give to corrupt regimes in the name of compassion and only end up making the problem worse. We must stop funding them.

Foreign aid is just as devastating. We prop us corrupt regimes as well with our dollars, and for thanks, we get nations that hate us. We must instead go the route of trade and investment by private corporations in order to truly help the struggling nations.

Here in our own backyard, we have the alliance of Iran and Venezuela. Like Saudi Arabia, we must stop buying Chavez’ oil and become energy independent. This would bankrupt Chavez and end his Iranian alliance and end the threat of an Iranian toehold in our hemisphere.

Finally, domestically, we have the very real problem of our own corrupt politicians using the revolving door of politics to make friends and then sell that influence to the highest bidder after retirement. They actually lobby on behalf of some of our enemies! We must ban this kind of influence peddling.

Hopefully, the next election will give us a president who truly fights for America!

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen

One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen tells the story of a family that left everything behind in San Francisco and traveled around the world for a year. He details their adventures in a format that lets the reader feel as if he is along for the ride. They travel to 40 locations, some very exotic, and 5 continents. Along the way, their family learns not only geography and history, but gains a sense of what is important and what matters.

The journey began by selling their house and possessions and spending 6 months planning for such an adventurous trip. The first leg took them to Costa Rica. Their children had a hard time adjusting to the new non-schedule and familiarity and the first three weeks were pretty tough. But once they settled in to the nomadic lifestyle, they developed a rhythm. 

Next, they headed to Europe and the city of Lights. After begging the children, ages 9,7, and 3, to attend museum after museum and church after church, they journeyed to Greece to visit family. The welcome, food, and sights of Sardinia tempted them to just stay and call it home, but they had more destinations to conquer. Istanbul presented a magical scene and renting a houseboat to cruise around the Burgandy canals of France gave them a much needed time of relaxation. The classical ruins of Ephesus taught ancient history in a way no textbook could match.

Africa called next. After the endless cultural expeditions of Europe, the kids thrilled to the opportunities presented by a continent in which any type of animal may turn up around the next corner. They saw 30,000 elephants in Botswana, rafted the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, and came closer to the wildlife than they cared to while camping in the Hwange National Park.

The next major leg took them to India and more family connections. The kids lit up to see thousands of camels at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan, India. And although it’s a typical tourist destination, the Taj Mahal enchanted just the same. Here the children were able to experience some of their Jain religious heritage at an ancient temple.

Wanting to get off the beaten path, they traveled next to the west side of Australia where no one goes! Although they found it enchanting, spending 3 weeks over Christmas and New Years with good friends, they pressed onto the drive through the Nullarbor to Sydney. The long hypnotic drive through no where, with nothing to look at felt perilously close to danger and they imagined breaking down in the middle of the desert. Finally settling in Sydney for an extended period to put the kids in school for a few months, they  experienced one of the the most harrowing adventures. While taking his daughter out to boogie board at the deserted Surfers Point, David caught a wave without realizing his daughter was not behind him. When he glanced back at her, he discovered she had been caught in a current and was being whisked away from him at a dizzying speed. Using every swimmers’ skill he possessed, he caught up to her and brought her safely in. 

After a good long time of living a civilized life, the next stop took them to a most dangerous part of the world, Indochina. Desperately wanting to see the Angkor ruins in Cambodia, they planned a trip to land of “stifling heat, bad accommodations, and the imminent threat of land mines, revolution, and bandits.” Not recognizing exactly the danger they were in, they were stunned to see news of a coup merely a week after leaving. Laos and its remaining charm and mystery of the old world enticed them as well.

Finally they experienced the British handover of Hong Kong, headed to Hawaii, then home.

In a “Was it worth it?” epilogue Cohen believes it was in fact worth it. He would have changed some things (reconsider bringing a 3-year-old), not sell the house, and avoid really dangerous countries. But for the new perspective and opportunity to discover more about life, he believes it was absolutely worth it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Men in Black by Mark Levin

Men in Black by Mark Levin is one of those books that really makes one hopeless!

Mark Levin traces the history of the Supreme Court and describes case after case which has enriched their power at the expense of the people. They have become, in fact, tyrants as they dive deeper and deeper into all aspects of our lives. He says, "The Supreme Court is abusing and subverting its constitutional role. It has chosen to become the unelected, unassailable social engineer of American society." We must, as Americans, defy tyranny and return our country to its Constitutional roots.

We learn as Americans at an early age that the Supreme Court was established to decide the Constitutionality of laws passed by the Congress. However this idea of “judicial review” was considered and rejected by the founders. They knew that to allow the judiciary to overturn laws would necessarily introduce a partisan component into what they designed to be an independent branch. Even so, the federal judiciary as created by the Constitution posed an enormous problem. The anti-Federalists recognized the court would have the ability to ultimately subsume all power to itself, with no one to restrain it. How prescient!

It didn’t take long for the Supreme Court to use the ambiguity of the Constitution to usurp the power to decide the Constitutionality of laws. In Marbury vs. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall, intending to protect the supremacy of the Constitution, gave his court the authority to nullify unconstitutional laws. Thomas Jefferson immediately recognized the egregious breach of power. “To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.” He recognized 200 years ago what we have seen come to fruition since, the tyranny of unelected and unaccountable judges.

Of course the moral philosopher-king as envisioned by Plato could judge rightly and with wisdom. Unfortunately we are not a nation run by moral philosophers. We are a nation of fallen men, governed by fallen men. As such, the Supreme Court has used its unlimited powers in many deleterious ways.

On such case of judicial overreach involves the striking down of prayer in schools. Although this nation was explicitly founded on religious principles and beliefs, the court decided that freedom of religion meant freedom from religion. Our nation has been in legal turmoil regarding what is Constitutional and what is not ever since. The problem goes back to the original sin of the misinterpretation of the “establishment” clause. The court interpreted far too broadly what constituted “establishing” a religion to include state sanctions of anything of a religious nature. Now we exist in a Wonderland where “holiday” trees are O.K., but Christmas trees are not, where Santa is acceptable, but baby Jesus is verbotten, where “God bless you” after a sneeze may or may not incite legal action, where our own Declaration of Independence with its four references to God may be unconstitutional, or even the Constitution with the “year of our Lord” reference may make reading the Constitution in schools... UNCONSTITUTIONAL!
Another area into which the court intruded was the issue of privacy. Activists on the court, determined to make abortion legal, found the right buried in the “penumbras, formed by emanations” of actual rights. It’s actually embarrassing for its ephemeralness of reasoning. However, not only did the Supreme Court dare to go where no founder would have ever intended, into the very womb of a woman, but they intentionally laid the groundwork for future cases involving birth control, homosexuality, and gay marriage. 

On another hot button issue, race relations, the court began inserting itself with disastrous results as early as the 1860s with Dredd Scott. Only a civil war and a 100,000 dead could right that particular wrong. The Supreme Court’s track record on racial issues since then has been equally disastrous. “At various times in our history, the Court has promoted slavery, segregation, and internment based on race and ethnicity. Today it promotes reverse discrimination.” The do-gooders on the Court have not only not made race relations better, they have laid the foundation for never-ending animosity.

The Court has actively championed anti-American ideals. Illegal immigrants are granted the rights of citizens by an activist court. Terrorists are similarly welcomed into the fold. Socialist policies are mandated from the bench or are given the green light. Rather than protecting the 10th Amendment and states’ rights to protect their authority, the Court has run rough shod over our liberties and allowed the all-powerful Federal government to intrude into our lives. Free speech has been silenced when the Court finds it distasteful to its liberal values. Campaign “reform” which limits our most basic and important mode of speech has been repeatedly upheld. Being unaccountable to ordinary Americans has made the courts ignorant of the values of ordinary Americans.

The left, more than the right, has recognized and used the power of the courts to its advantage. While appointing very leftist judges, they have “borked” or threatened to “bork” conservative judges appointed by conservatives. They have filibustered appointments to the bench for years at the behest of liberal activist groups. What they cannot pass legislatively, they pass by judicial fiat. By not allowing the people to work through controversial issues at the ballot box and in open conversation, the left has created an increasingly polarized nation full of politically correct opinions foisted upon the dissenters.

So how to return to the Constitutional judiciary our founders intended? Policing themselves through the impeachment process hasn’t worked. We need to change the way judges operate. Maybe fixed terms with a renomination and confirmation process at the end of the term would help limit judicial fantasies. Create a “legislative veto” in which 2/3 of the legislature can limit or nullify a court ruling would return some authority back to the people. Use recess appointments to avoid filibusters. The judges can serve until the end of the second session of the current congress before having to face the confirmation process. These reforms may help lead the way to a more Constitutional court system.

“[L]ook at where we are today. It’s difficult to find any aspect of society where the federal government doesn’t have some role or influence. And the Supreme Court,  more than any other branch or entity of government, is the most radical and aggressive practitioner of unrestrained power... We must oppose tyranny, whatever its form.”

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Paul Ryan's Catholicism and the Poor (Wall Street Journal)

It's brilliant.

Someone is twisting the Catholic Church's teachings on caring for the poor, but it isn't Paul Ryan. His controversial budgetary ideas demonstrate that he has a better grasp of Catholic social thought than do many of the American Catholic bishops.
The culmination of centuries of theological and philosophical thought, the church's teachings cannot simply be satisfied by a government edict to "feed the poor." Commanding "Let there be light!" works fine for God, but for mortal beings, edicts don't carry the same punch.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long supported government interference in the economy as a means to help the poor. But we suspect the bishops haven't fully thought this through: If God really did favor a top-down approach to poverty reduction, why wouldn't He establish a government with the power to wipe away poverty on demand instead of leaving things to chance and the possibility that someone like Mr. Ryan would come along and mess up His plans?
Perhaps we dehumanize the poor when we treat them as nothing more than problems to be solved, and we dehumanize the rich when we treat them as wallets to be picked.
Wealth and poverty are catalysts for bringing the rich and the poor together in community, and community is the hallmark of the church's mission on Earth. Government is not community. Government is one of community's tools, a coercive one we use when it is necessary to force people to behave in ways they would not otherwise behave voluntarily.
But that word—voluntarily—is key, and it's where Mr. Ryan's religious detractors go awry: Charity can only be charity when it is voluntary. Coerced acts, no matter how beneficial or well-intentioned, cannot be moral. If we force people to give to the poor, we have stripped away the moral component, reducing charity to mere income redistribution. And if one really is as good as the other, the Soviets demonstrated long ago that it can be done far more efficiently without the trappings of church and religion.
All people have the moral obligation to care for those who are less fortunate. But replacing morality with legality is the first step in replacing church, religion and conscience with government, politics and majority vote. Coercing people to feed the poor simply substitutes moral poverty for material poverty.
The bishops dance with the devil when they invite government to use its coercive power on their behalf, and there's no clearer example than the Affordable Care Act. They happily joined their moral authority to the government's legal authority by supporting mandatory health insurance. They should not have been surprised when the government used its reinforced power to require Catholic institutions to pay for insurance plans that cover abortions and birth control.
To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien (a devoted Catholic), the government does not share power. Paul Ryan knows this. The bishops would be wise to listen to him.
Mr. Davies is professor of economics at Duquesne University. Ms. Antolin is a Catholic theologian.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Real Crash by Peter Schiff

The Real Crash by Peter D. Schiff tells the scary story of how bad our economy is and how to fix it. The solutions are radical and not likely to happen anytime soon. That makes the whole thing even scarier.

The crash of 2008 was not THE crash. That one is still to come. We have traded one bubble for another. We are now in the biggest bubble of them all - a government bubble.  And it, like all the bubbles before it, will pop. It will be painful. According to Schiff, there simply is no easy way out. The hope is that we will rise like a Phoenix after the devastation to rebuild, and this time, do it right.

Thanks to the Fed, the U.S. has been able to borrow and print unprecedented amounts of money. When the Fed creates money out of thin air, that money has to go somewhere. So investors rush into the next hot thing with their cheap money, whether it be dot-com stocks or housing, creating a bubble. Now the government is sucking up huge amounts of money and when it comes crashing down, nothing will be spared. 

So what are the proffered solutions?

1. Jobs - The government and its policies are standing in the way of entrepreneurs creating more jobs. Taxes, the minimum wage, high unemployment insurance payments, and regulations all work to keep jobs from being created.

2. Deregulate the financial industry - The regulations governing the financial industry have created an environment in which the incentives are skewed. The rewards are private and the risks are public. Case in point, the FDIC. Having a federal guarantee for deposits allows banks to be riskier than they otherwise would be. Government regulators give the public a false sense of security in the investments. Regulations keep out smaller competitors, thus creating “too big to fail” entities. Finally bailouts should be abolished. Allow financial institutions to fail.

3. Return to the gold standard - This one is my favorite. Our money is literally worthless. These crumpled green pieces of paper only have value because we believe they do. But gold has real value and cannot be created by fiat. As our paper money becomes increasingly worth less, inflation steals value from savers. A dollar deposited in the bank a hundred years ago is worth considerably less today. But because inflating money feels like “free” money, politicians of both stripes cannot wean themselves off of it. Rather than using inflationary fiat money, we should return to the normal of deflation and falling prices (think cell phones).

4. Tax reform - I love this revolutionary idea: End the income tax. The Constitution authorizes two kinds of taxes - direct and indirect. Direct taxes are paid by the people in the states according to their percentage of the population. (i.e. California with 10% of the pop. would pay 10% of the revenue being raised.) This kept states honest in reporting their population and it kept poor states from seeking to gouge rich states. Direct taxes were envisioned as a way to raise revenue in emergency situations like war. Indirect taxes are levied through middle men, like a sales tax. You do not pay the government directly. The benefit of indirect taxes is that they are self-regulating. If you don’t want to pay the tax, you do not engage in the taxed activity. While the government made due for over a 100 years with indirect taxes and fees, the idea of an income tax was first raised in 1894. After being declared unconstitutional for not being a direct tax, the Constitution was amended. Now Congress has virtually unlimited taxing power. We could not have a worse system vis a vis economic growth.   Government should be able to fund itself with fees. If it cannot self-fund, get out of that area. All additional taxes should be in the form of a consumption tax, which does the least amount of harm to the economy. Second-best option is the flat tax.

5. End Social Security and Medicare - They are quite simply unsustainable and immoral. Wealth is transferred from poorer working people to wealthy retirees. Even the poor retirees are hurt as they generally die earlier and therefore do not get out as much as a richer person would. Let Social Security die a slow death by abolishing the payroll tax and moving wealthier people off of it. It can eventually be rolled into standard welfare for the poorest retirees. 

6. Fix Higher Ed - We spend too much on education and get too little in return. College is a bad investment for many. Young people lose four years in which they could be developing crucial skills and come out deeply in debt. We must stop the subsidies of education by the government, which only drives up the prices astronomically and stop advising every student to go to college. In fact, if we want to be truly radical and really reform education, we should end ALL government involvement in education, period. 

7. Reform health care - Start with repealing Obamacare. Get government out of paying for health care. This raises prices just like we have seen in education. End the tax deduction for insurance or at least make it applicable to those with private accounts. Insurance shouldn’t be employer-based anyways. This highly distorts the market and drives up costs. End the mandates on insurers. Open us the practice of medicine to people other than PhD’s. Sell insurance across state lines. Make insurance true insurance, rather than pre-paid health care.

8. Put government in its place - Government is too big. It must be shrunk down to its Constitutional size. Not only should government not do what private individuals can do, what it does do should be as local as possible. Abolish agencies and get the government out of as much as possible.

9. Admit the U.S. is bankrupt - We are simply too far gone. We cannot make good on the promises made by government. We would do best to admit we are broke and then enter into a bankruptcy restructuring program. We should attempt to repay what we can of our debt and enter into negotiations on how to get out from under it. Liquidate as many assets as possible to pay the debt. Pretending we can pay it off, trying to hyper-inflate the money supply, or raising taxes to ludicrous levels will not get us out of this mess. Default.

There you have it. Peter Schiff’s radical solutions to our overwhelming problems. Where do I sign up?!?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Road to Freedom by Arthur Brooks

In The Road to Freedom, Arthur Brooks makes the moral case for capitalism. Too often, free-market enthusiasts burnish charts and graphs and numbers to support their claims, but as Brooks points out, the moral argument will defeat the numbers argument most of the time. Fortunately, the free-market case IS a moral argument. Not only do the numbers support capitalism, morality supports capitalism.

Why then is the free-market moral? Number one, it allows us to earn our success. Study after study shows that earned success leads to happiness far more so than being handed material wealth. The apologist of the free-market must first argue that this system is the most likely to produce HAPPINESS.

Second, it is the most FAIR system. Unfortunately our definition of “fair” can vary from person to person. If we are talking about equal distribution of wealth, capitalism produces decidedly unfair results. But, if we are speaking about keeping what you earn and what is rightfully yours, capitalism delivers. If a person is asked whether someone has a right to what they did not earn, the answer is usually a resounding, “no.” The free-market therefore leads to more fairness if less redistributive equality. Which definition should be used to shape public policy is the ability to keep what you earn. Redistribution is totalitarian and oppressive.

Third, capitalism leads to greater generosity and a higher standard of living. In short, a rising tide lifts all boats. One has only to consider the example of North and South Korea. Here, two very similar cultures and people groups went down two very different paths. Obviously, the path of the freedom of markets led to a better standard of living for all the citizens of South Korea, and the path of government enforced “equality” made everyone equally miserable. In addition, beneficiaries of free enterprise are far more generous. When the government takes care of everyone, no one feels the need to give. But a prosperous society will donate to charity, not only for the benefit of the recipient, but for the rewards to the giver. Free people learn, “it is better to give than to receive” rather quickly. 

Although it is the more moral system, our country is moving away from this most beneficial way of distributing scarce resources. Some facts:
  1. U.S. Government spending has massively expanded as a percentage of GDP.
  2. America’s tax system is highly progressive, with more and more people paying no income tax at all.
  3. The tax and regulatory burdens on American business are heavy by the world standards and growing.
  4. U.S. National Debt has grown steadily since 1980.
  5. Economic growth has been in general decline for 50 years.
Does this sound like a moral system, benefitting the citizens of the U.S.?

So where does the government have a role?

First, a very basic safety net is needed. The U.S. should not have it’s citizens dying in the street. However, with 1 out of 7 Americans on Food Stamps, the safety net has become extremely large.

Second, the government is needed in places where the market will not work. There are four areas of market failure:

  1. Monopolies
  2. Negative externalities (i.e. pollution)
  3. Public Goods (i.e. military)
  4. Asymmetric information
Any of these must be present before the government should get involved. Unfortunately, like the safety net, we have broadened these definitions to include far too much. Yet even in cases involving these four situations, the government may not need to act. It’s possible that market solution can be found. (As Mitch Daniels says, “If you can find it in the Yellow Pages, government should not be doing it.”) Sometimes the government solution is not reasonable. (i.e. shut down all factories to avoid pollution) Sometimes the cost of government intervention clearly outweighs the benefits (i.e. Kyoto treaty).

This is where worldviews come into play.  For those that believe man and the world are fallen, we recognize that some problems do not have solutions. Those that believe the world and mankind are perfectible will often look to the government to provide the utopia they believe possible. Utopian fantasies ALWAYS lead to totalitarianism. But people, working together in community can and do solve many problems thought to be intractable. As long as the government does not tear up our social fabric, many times, we can solve the problems ourselves.

“...the key to our success lies in free enterprise - the system our founders left us to maximize liberty, create individual opportunity, and reward entrepreneurship. Free enterprise creates the opportunities our ancestors came to America seeking - the opportunities that allowed them to pursue their happiness in a new land. It is the free enterprise system that treated them fairly for the first time; instead of being penalized for lacking a noble birth, they were rewarded for their hard work and personal responsibility. Free enterprise made a country of immigrants into the most powerful, prosperous nation in the history of the world.”

We are in danger of losing what made America great.