Friday, February 13, 2009

Republican parrots sound like Paul

The Republicans sound today exactly as Ron Paul sounded during the campaign. He has clearly changed the way conservatives talk about fiscal policy. It's too bad that they caused this absurd mess. Dr. Paul said today that not only did members of Congress not even get a chance to read the bill, but they didn't even get a full copy until well into the night. The copies circulating had handwritten notes, where someone, for example, had drawn a line through "$100M" and replaced it with "$150M".

It doesn't take an Austrian School devotee to figure out that this centrally-planned miracle elixir is futile. Heck, John T. Flynn told us that over fifty years ago, when FDR tried it. What is unfortunate is that the cosmetic state of politics in this country, the R vs. D Perpetual War, has replaced the blame squarely on "them". We all get to complain about the other guys, while we all simultaneously getting shafted by those in charge. The change from Clinton to Bush signified only that Bush's cronies would get rich instead of Clinton's. The change to Obama has signified only a change to his cronies leeching big bucks from the American public. If we do not take our country back, remove unlimited federal power, restore the Constitution and acknowledge that Congress acts like the Animal Farm pigs (changing the rules at whim, giving the "more equal" citizens undeserved bonuses, etc.), the collapse of the dollar and perhaps the American way of life are imminent. I, for one, hope the country itself falls apart before its ideals are totally lost.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Short List of Grievances

Being a libertarian, small 'l' or big 'L' is inherently frustrating. I'd like to outline a few of the ways in which being a liberty-loving individual sometimes drives me, and I'm sure others, to the brink of throwing up my hands and admitting that the best ideas will not win.

1. The Preface: Libertarians have the distinct displeasure of having to argue against nearly everyone in politics, and most people's political views. Of course, since (as Sean so wonderfully wrote in the last post on this blog) politics is a game, any attack on a politician must come from the 'other team'. This requires libertarians to preface every conversation about Obama with "I didn't vote for McCain"; to have a preamble before discussion can begin in order to not be dismissed immediately as a 'bad guy', 'enemy' or 'one of those'. Of course, since libertarians aren't a mainstream factor in one of the two parties, then we cannot be correct about anything and are immediately dismissed as 'kooks', 'crazies' and 'one of those'.

2. The liberal assumption of evil: Arguing with liberals and conservatives is always annoying, because their positions are illogical, or at least inconsistent. The liberal I is often worse because he presumes that those who do not agree with him are flawed, or even bad, people. He wishes to marry whomever he likes, work wherever, live wherever, say whatever and pray wherever (if ever) he likes; however, he does not wish for all of us to spend whatever we like. He'd prefer to take our money and spend it on the things he deems most important, as though he is sage enough to determine which things are most important, and I am too stupid to realize that feeding hungry children might be a good idea. While conservatives have a million and one ideological fallacies as well, the liberal tends to assume that anyone not willing to pay absurd amounts of taxes wishes to see babies starve, millions of homeless, and so on until every non-liberal is Monty Burns, Ebenezer Scrooge and Lex Luthor rolled into one. Frederic Bastiat so eloquently writes:

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.

We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

3. Getting zero credit: The biggest credit crunch in this country is not a matter of mortgages and small business owners. It's the lack of credit given to Ron Paul, Peter Schiff and the few other folks on television and print media who consistently get things right. Mr. Schiff, for example, has YouTube clipsfor miles outlining all the times Arthur Laffer, Ben Stein and the rest of the Keynesians and neoconservatives laughed at his dire predictions for government intervention. As Mr. Schiff says in that last clip, going against the so-called experts, the big shots and the consensus opinion is unpopular, but what is more amazing is that when inevitably proven right, those same clowns will take all the credit for 'fixing' whatever was wrong (for and infinitely higher price and in tenfold more time) and the scenario will repeat itself indefinitely.

4. Senator Harry Potter (D-Privet Drive): Homer Simpson said that beer is the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. Talk to liberals and conservatives alike, and they'll tell you that the solution is always government. It is as though, upon being elected to office, a regular man or woman passes Platform Nine and Three Quarters, dons a robe and grabs a wand. They become capable of superhuman life saving magic spells, which make the world a better place. Paradoxically, Democrats and Republicans distrust 'politicians' as a group, just as they despise 'the media' and 'corporations'. These broad terms, for some reason, have an inherently negative vibe (it's hard for me to recall someone using any of the terms as a broad stroke in a positive light), yet somehow health care, education, regulation of business, food safety and an ever-growing plethora of other "necessary" government controls. Politicians are merely individuals, just as corporations and media outlets are run by individuals. Yet we never expect private citizens to be capable of solving their own problems. Instead, we ask the wizards to conjure up a spell that will force everyone else to realize what's good for them.

Of course, that's just for starters.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Real Change We Need, Part III

Today is January 25th, 2009. Barak Obama has now been President for five days, and has already started to undo the plicies of his predecessor. Between setting a date for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay Prison, and removing former President Bush’s ban on abortion funding, the long-awaited change promised by Obama on the campaign trail is finally here. But new residents in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are not the only things America needs. While past articles have focused on voting, the media, and third parties, this essay will discuss arguably the most important area where the United States needs change: the way people think about politics.

Every four years, America elects a new president. Every two years we install new Senators and Representatives. But, as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The majority of the new leaders we elect come from the same two parties, groups with ever-increasing similarities, as previously discussed in part I of this series. The campaigns often employ the same people, even if those people are well known for being underhanded in their political strategies (such as Karl Rove, who has been a fixture in Republican politics since the 1970s and has a long history of employing questionable electioneering tactics; see this 2002 CounterPunch article, as well as his wikipedia entry). Politicians on both sides consistently spin their previous statements, as well as those of their opponents to gain an advantage and appear more palatable to the general public. While one can look at any election to see this, it is evident even in this past 2008 Presidential election. While then-Senators Obama and Clinton had harsh words for each other throughout the primaries, the various critiques and insults hurled toward each other simply disappeared once the Democrats agreed on a presidential candidate. Immediately after, erstwhile-Senator Clinton turned around and began marching in lockstep to Obama’s beat. For his part, once he won the election, Obama moved to make Clinton Secretary of State. This would have been unsurprising if not for President Obama’s consistent ridiculing of Clinton’s foreign policy experience during the primaries (“What exactly is this foreign policy experience? Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crises? The answer is no.”). David Gergen, an advisor to presidents from both sides of the aisle, had this to say: “That was then; this is now. Campaigns are ever thus… Generally speaking there is a recognition that campaigns bring a certain amount of hyperbole, and when it's over you try to find the most talented people you can find to work with you." While it is refreshing to hear Mr. Gergen acknowledge what we all know to be true, it would be even more refreshing to hear honesty from candidates during the elections. There is something to be said for a person changing his or her mind on a subject, but it rarely seems that this is the case in politics. More often, I am left feeling as though I have been lied to; it is as if you asked someone if pepperoni pizza was good, and he or she told you it was the worst food ever created, and then you turned around to see them eating a slice. “Well,” they might say, “there was a certain amount of hyperbole in what I said about the pizza.” Every time a politician goes back on a campaign promise or position, I feel tricked. It would be nice to hear any candidate or politician say what they actually think about any issue, and then stand by their statement. It is disappointing that when debates are televised, CNN and other stations have to have ‘fact-checkers’ standing by to tell the American people what parts of a candidate’s statements were and were not true. Even now, after being commander-in-chief for only five days, President Obama has already received an exception to his own law. After signing an executive order on Wednesday prohibiting lobbyists from working for the President in sectors they have previously lobbied in, the administration has already issued a waiver for William Lynn, a candidate for Deputy Secretary of Defense. You can watch the story here, or read about it here. To me, these are signs of how far America has fallen from its noble origins, and by undermining his own rules, Obama is already following in the footsteps of both George W. Bush and Richard Nixon by placing his administration above its own laws.

The core problem, as I see it, is that politics has become a kind of game, where election to office is a figurative trophy to be won, and the major political parties are the opposing teams. Politics has become the biggest sport in the United States, and the Democrats and Republicans are the Yankees and the Red Sox of the game; different in name only. With election to office no longer about who is more qualified to lead and now about which team is winning, politicians have no reason to be honest with the American people. There is no incentive to take an unpopular stance, or admit that your opponent is a capable leader; the idea now is to get into office by any means necessary, including outright lying about anything. This ‘politics is a game’ attitude is why we see elections full of doubletalk and positioning. As it is now, modern attitudes toward politics have forced voters to sort through a quagmire of sidestepped questions, reversed positions, and outright lies. Elections almost seem constructed to confuse the voters and blur the issues; certainly not the way to choose capable leaders.

An extension of this thinking helps lead to the various scandals that rock the political world every so often. When politics is only ‘a game,’ it ceases to exist as anything but a vehicle for personal gain. In the last few months alone, you can see two excellent examples of this kind of thinking. The first is former Senator Ted Stevens, who effectively sold his political views to an oil services company. “Prosecutors said Stevens ‘took multiple steps to continue’ receiving things from oil services company VECO Corp., and its founder, Bill Allen. At the time, the indictment says, Allen and other VECO employees were soliciting Stevens for ‘multiple official actions.... knowing that Stevens could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO during that same time period.’ VECO's requests included funding and other aid for the oil services company's projects and partnerships in Pakistan and Russia. It also included federal grants from several agencies - as well as help in building a national gas pipeline in Alaska's North Slope Region, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.” Instead of acting in a way that he thought would best benefit Alaska, and the United States as a whole, Senator Stevens followed VECO’s lead. The strange thing here is that Stevens’ net worth, at least in 2003, was $1,417, 013; he could have gotten by fairly well without the gifts.

A second example of the blatant use of public office for personal gain is, of course, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who has been arrested by the FBI “on corruption charges, including the allegation he schemed to benefit from his power to name President Barak Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate, after years of invesigation.” Blagojevich planned, it appears, to auction off Obama’s Senate seat, saying “is a fucking valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.” Blagojevich is also alleged to have attempted to “engineer the firing of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board -- which has written unfavourably about the governor -- in exchange for providing the newspaper's parent company help in the sale of Wrigley Field...” as well as to have “withheld $8-million in funding for a children's hospital while trying to leverage a political contribution from its chief executive officer.”

Blagojevich’s actions are appalling, but not altogether unexpected. Just like Ted Stevens and many others in the past, the Governor saw his office only as a means for personal gain and aggrandizement, an outgrowth of the ‘politics is a game’ attitude. This is what America needs to change. Politicians need to realize that their offices are not proverbial golden-egg-laying-geese, or simple trophies to put on their mantle, but that they are responsibilities to the people of the United States. The citizens who put politicians in office expect them to lead the nation, not take advantage of their position, and when they do not take their jobs seriously the system gets abused and the average person gets manipulated and lied to. Of course, the average citizen needs to do his or her part to change the system too; taking politicians to task for abuses and lies, learning about the candidates and government as a whole, and using critical thinking, instead of blindly following our leaders, or clinging to irrational beliefs (like ‘Obama is a Muslim’). The fabled government "of the people, by the people, for the people" needs its people to take charge and fix the system. To put it simply: America as a whole needs to see politics not as a game, but as a service to the rest of the nation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Politicians are Always Funny.

Tonight on the Daily Show, John Hodgman asked what Jon Stewart would say upon Obama's inauguration, when "comedy dies." I hope that as President Bush shatters the record for "longest lame duck tenure in American history" (the Quackie Award?), comedy will begin to shift to the inevitable idiocy of an Obama Administration. It doesn't seem likely, though. The Stewarts of the world will likely praise St. Barack until they sound like Evangelicals circa 2002. You know, when George W. Bush could do no wrong.

So what's funny about Obama? How about his Cabinet appointments, which might as well be labeled Clinton the Third. Obama is claiming that he's not appointing anyone (ANYONE!!) new to Cabinet level positions because those folks need to have the experience to run a country. If we wanted to have all of Bill Clinton's cronies back, we would have voted for his wife. His reaction to Barbara Walters questions about the issue were a six on the unintentional comedy scale.

Obama will continue most of the policies of the Republicrats. The one-party system isn't going anywhere. Foreign intervention isn't going anywhere. Economic intervention, high taxation, encroachment upon civil liberties, erosion of states' rights and a slew of other attacks on Americanism and the Constitution. I guess if Stewart and his ilk can't keep me laughing, I'll be doing a lot of crying.

George Carlin, my hero.

George Carlin was a hero of mine. He was everything I would like to be: smart, funny, creative, a challenger to all authority, successful, witty and somehow both happy and angry at the same time. He used his medium, comedy, so well that sometimes it was important to remind one's self that what he said was not only funny, but true. When Carlin died, the mainstream media decided that they needed one fifteen second clip to sum up an author, actor and comedian whose career spanned five decades. They, of course, chose the Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. They failed to mention, in most cases, that Carlin's recognition of the things that are wrong and excessive in this country was nearly always spot-on. He was skeptical of authority and government, and realized that the "owners of this country" don't want this place to be fixed. Here's the late genius in a particularly poignant clip, which I will quote a few times for those unable to watch (language is salty, NSFW and awesome).

"There's a reason education sucks, and it's the same reason that it will never, ever, ever be fixed. It's never going to get any better, don't look for it, be happy with what you got. Because the owners of this country don't want that. I'm talking about the real owners now, the wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they're irrelevant. The politicians are put there to give the illusion that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you! They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations, they've long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, city halls, they've got the judges in their back pocket and the own all the big media companies so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They've got you by the balls! They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying, lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interest.

They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard thirty fucking years ago. They don't want that. You know what they want? They want obedient workers. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And now they're coming for your Social Security money. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it all from you sooner or later because they own this fucking place. It's a big club, and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the big club."

Here's an extended version of the clip, as created for the Ron Paul Presidential campaign.

Carlin was marginalized upon his death. Since public schools are indoctrination centers which tell us that we have to choose between members of the "big club," it's up to us to remind each other and our progeny that we can do better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ah, Tony Perkins

Mr. Perkins, in charge of the Family Research Council, just said on CNN that "fiscal conservatism" means small government, and "social conservatism" means personal responsibility. Really? First of all, the two cannot be separated, but commonly are, both by liberals and conservatives, to fit their narrow agendas. If a fiscal conservative wants small government and low government intervention in financial matters, then it is logically inconsistent to decide that one wants the government to dictate one's socially acceptable behavior. The reverse is also true, but on to Mr. Perkins's claim about personal responsibility.

Social conservatism does not mean personal responsibility. It just simply is not true. Personal responsibility, like personal liberty, are not just non-partisan issues, but a-partisan issues. They simply are not ideas which are developed or motivated by any one area of the political spectrum. They are, however, abused and misrepresented by many areas of the political spectrum. Social conservatism is the idea that the government has the right and/or duty to enforce moral behaviors on its citizens, not merely to protect one another from harm but to promote tradition and moral order, however one defines that order. Personal responsibility is the idea that when a person engages in behavior, he or she is responsible for the effects of that behavior, legally and morally. The big difference is that morals are not laws. Morals and traditions, due to our Constitutional rights, do not have to be followed, so long as they do not break a law.

Logically, we have to decide then whether morals should be laws. In this country, the founders of the nation thought that the law should be designed to protect people from being harmed. Prisons are made to house those who have done harm, and civil suits can be filed for compensation; however, the legislation of taste is one of the things we are protected from in America. One ought not be prevented from acting because the action is distasteful, unpleasant or annoying, only directly, demonstrably harmful. That is true personal responsibility, not legislating some religious sect's preference.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pragmatism v. Idealism

There has been a lot of talk lately about how great it will be for the next four years to have a pragmatist in the White House. Obama, the media loves to note, is a pragmatist, willing to cross the aisles to negotiate and be flexible enough to represent all the people. Why on earth would we want that?

If Obama is what I fear he is, a purely pragmatic, solution-obsessed politician, then an Obama administration has no principles. He will see an issue, discuss the possible uni-partisan answers, and come to an agreement which partly satisfies everyone. There is an extent to which that process is effective, but it only goes so far. Sometimes pragmatism is bad. Negotiating on issues of principle is impossible if one seemingly defers to pragmatism over principle. Obama does not appear to have any core issues with which he will not part, except a string of murky notions of hope and fairness. Where does he put his foot down? Even if I dislike the issue, I hope he can put aside practical solutions and be a man of principle. Indeed, it seems that we are going to go from an unflinching ideologue to an unflinching pragmatist.

The Lincoln comparisons with Obama have begun already, because Lincoln appointed a group of politicians with whom he was not particularly enamored to serve as his Cabinet. I find no fault in appointing those from differing political perspectives to positions on one's staff. Obviously, GroupThink is to be avoided in politics, but Obama has a strange fascination with Lincoln. Having dissenting opinions around one helps to knock out bad ideas and facilitates the molding of good ones. Every good leader knows that. As Matthew Pinsker notes, though, it did not work out too well for Lincoln.

Finally, there is the Union-stomping elephant in the room. Lincoln's Presidency has become a myth, much like Franklin Roosevelt's reign. Lincoln ruined the very nature of a voluntary union of states under a common law by forcing the Confederacy back into the United States. Putting the issue of slavery aside (and keeping it legal in states which did not secede), Lincoln declared a war to save the Union, but the 'Civil War' led to Lincoln maiming the Constitution. He suspended habeus corpus, founded a state, imprisoned and killed civilians, did not support equal rights for blacks (at least not before deporting them), and so on. The excellent Tom DiLorenzo explains here.

Obama is like Lincoln in a few good ways, like his oratory and aims for unity. Let's hope he's not going to ignore the Constitution and strip states of even more of their rights.