Tuesday, March 31, 2009

American Security

From the Telegraph comes this report on Barack Obama's upcoming visit to London for the G-20 Summit:

An estimated 500 people will make up Mr Obama's entourage, including 200 secret service agents, as well as policy makers and support staff.

He will fly to Britain tomorrow on Air Force One, flanked by cargo planes which will hold all the transportation he needs while in Europe.

An estimated 35 vehicles will be brought to the UK for the presidential visit.

A US Air Force C-17 transporter will bring Mr Obama's armour-plated limousine, nick-named The Beast, which is strong enough to withstand a chemical attack.

It will also carry Marine One, the VH-3D helicopter which will transfer Mr Obama from Stansted airport to the centre of London, to the US Ambassador's residence near Regent's Park.

Marine One never flies alone for security reasons and is just one among a number of decoy helicopters, designed to confuse potential terrorists.

During his visit, Mr Obama will be protected by his round-the-clock secret service team, who ensure that the area around the President is "sterile" with only those approved in advance allowed to approach. . . .

Mr Obama's wife Michelle will have her own bodyguards, who will form part of her eight-strong support team, which includes a secretary and press officer. . . .

If he falls ill, or is subject to any form of injury, he will be able to call on his medical team of six who are permanently on call to deal with any scenario.

And this:

The presidential convoy of Kevlar-protected limousines, armoured cars, communication vehicles and ambulances as well as the hi-tech helicopter that will carry him from airports to embassy residences will be ferried to London and around Europe by a huge US air force transporter plane.

Good. America wants and expects our President and his family to be safe from terrorism.

So what's wrong with the rest of us wanting to be safe from terrorism?

Hey, a secure border would really help with that.

Is that really too much to ask?

Vladimir Lenin on Socialism

The aim of socialism is not only to abolish the present division of mankind into small states and all-national isolation, not only to bring the nations closer to each other, but also to merge them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Do American Socialists Know What Socialism Is?

According to pollster Raghavan Mayur, reporting in Investors Business Daily, 39% of Americans interviewed agree that "the U.S. is evolving into a socialist state."

Of these, 63% are Republicans and 47% are Independents. These figures have doubled since late last summer, before Barack Obama came to power. Clearly, Republicans and Independents see Obama as a socialist leader.

Democrats don't agree. Only 13% of the polled Democrats think America is heading toward socialism, a percentage that is down from 20% last August. It seems that the number of Democrats who view Obama as a socialist is dwindling.

How can this be? Of the great majority of Democrats in the study who don't think that socialism is down the road, about 30% believe in government control or ownership of key industries, want a government-run health care system, and think government should redistribute wealth and income. Another 20% are "on the fence" when it comes to government-run health care, although they don't want to pay higher taxes for it.

My take is that many Democrats don't know that they support socialist precepts, and many who do know believe that America will not adopt these beliefs as policy. Others view socialism through the fashionably rose-tinted glasses worn in American universities. I have long suspected that many liberals don't hesitate to support actions that put America's interests at risk because they believe that the U.S. is invincible and that they personally will come to no harm.

Mayur's figures, if they accurately represent "the American mindset," are not heartening for supporters of capitalism. If we assume that the 13% of Democrats who anticipate a socialist U.S. also approve of socialism, then about 60% of Democrats accept socialist precepts. Of those who most strongly desire wealth redistribution, more than half are in the black and Hispanic demographic, with Hispanics accounting for 50% of the people being added to our nation's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

I'll be looking forward to Mayur's follow-up efforts to understand how Americans are "coming to grips" with the concept of socialism. If American liberals are to learn about the pitfalls of socialism before it's too late, they'll be needing all the help they can get.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

First Prayer of the First Continental Congress, Part II

O! Lord, our heavenly father,

To thee [these American states] have appealed for the righteousness of their Cause; to Thee do they look up, for that countenance & support which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under thy nurturing care: give them wisdom in council, valour in the field. Defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries. Convince them of the unrighteousness of their cause. And if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, O! let the voice of thy unerring justice sounding in their hearts constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their enerved hands in the day of battle.

--Reverend Mr. Jacob Duché

(To be continued next Sunday).

Many thanks to Hercules Mulligan at Meet the Founding Fathers for posting this treasure.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

EU President on Obama's Economic "Plan"

All of these steps, their combination and their permanency, is a way to hell.
- EU President Mirek Topolanek, former Czech prime minister, condemning the Obama economic "recovery" plan.

Note: Considering the prolonged suffering of Czechoslovakia under Nazi and Soviet regimes, I'd say Topolanek knows what he's talking about.

But the The New York Times twisted into a knot to put a positive spin on Toplanek's statement, going so far as to quote a Czech translator who said, "while for many Americans hell is truly a horrifying concept, Czechs don’t make such a big deal out of it."

Talk about gallows humor.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Terrorist Next Door: Income Assistance, Free Housing? Food Stamps? Medicaid? College Grants?

From AFP:
President Barack Obama's intelligence chief confirmed Thursday that some Guantanamo inmates may be released on US soil and receive assistance to return to society.

"If we are to release them in the United States, we need some sort of assistance for them to start a new life," said National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair at his first press conference.

"You can't just put them on the street," he added.

Question: Will released enemy combatants qualify for unemployment benefits?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thomas Jefferson on Private Enterprise and Taxation

A wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Homeland Security Looks for Guns and Money Heading South

Yesterday morning Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a plan to enhance security at our southern border: keep drug money and guns from heading south.

That's right. Why keep illegal aliens and drugs from
coming into the U.S. when we can keep illegal aliens and money and guns from going into Mexico?

It does make sense, though, in a sadly ironic way. The idea is to slow down the flood of money and weapons into the hands of horrifyingly violent drug cartels so that the violence in Mexico doesn't become so pervasive that it spills over into the U.S.

Talk about closing the barn door after the horse is gone. Huge amounts of money and guns are going south in exchange for huge amounts of drugs coming north. About $50 billion flow into Mexico's economy from illegal drugs each year, and the Brookings Institution estimates that about 2,000 firearms cross the border into Mexico each day. Homeland Security's victories at the southern border, though individually impressive, are almost less than a drop in the proverbial bucket. Last Friday Customs officers in Laredo, Texas, found nearly $3 million hidden in a bus. In the last nine weeks, one effort, called Operation Armas Cuzadas, captured $4.5 million. This fiscal year, a partnership between the ICE Attaché in Mexico City and Customs and Border Protection recovered $25 million. During the second week of March, 997 firearms were seized at or near the border.

Mexico's drug criminals don't really need more weapons. Since 2007, more than 10,000 people in Mexico have been murdered by organized crime. Since January of 2008, almost 1900 people have been murdered in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. For a truly disturbing investigative report on the extent of the problem, see "Mexico's War on Drugs: Journey into a Lawless Land," by Richard Grant in The Independent. Grant's statistics on the dependence of Mexico's economy on the illicit drug trade don't inspire hope that a solution to the problem can be found, at least not in our lifetimes.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has asked for 1,000 troops to guard the border. "I don't care if they are military, National Guard or customs agents," he said. However, it doesn't look like Napolitano believes in the kind of tough love Perry has in mind. Like her boss, Barack Obama, she's for communication, lots of communication. Oh yes, and investigation.

Homeland Security will be sending 95 more Border Enforcement Security Task Force personnel to bring local, state, and federal personal together to find and dismantle criminal organizations. A few intelligence analysts will go to the border too. Thirty new officers will act as liaisons between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement. Fifty new agents and officers will go to border field offices to work in the Violent Criminal Alien Sections of the Criminal Alien Program.

A hundred additional Border Patrol agents will inspect outbound shipments, and customs will also get three new Mobile Response Teams of 25 officers each, in case things get out of hand.

About 360 officers and agents will be redeployed from elsewhere to the border and to Mexico. Mexico also will get a dozen more ICE Attaché agents to work in "troubled areas . . . such as Ciudad Juarez and Hermosillo."

New technology headed to the border is intended to detect money, weapons, and violent criminal aliens. Smuggled cash and weapons cross to Mexico in trains, passenger vehicles, luggage, and on people. To prevent money and guns from getting into the hands of South-of-the-Border really bad guys, southbound train cars and passenger vehicles will be screened for "anomalies" using non-intrusive inspection equipment. To help catch smuggler's vehicles, passenger vehicles will be screened using an increased number of mobile X-ray units. Nearly half of the 110 outbound lanes headed to Mexico will get upgraded license plate readers.

To help nab violent criminal aliens, biometric identification equipment will be used. Customs also will get a dozen new teams of "cross trained" dogs that can detect both currency and weapons. Eight additional Law Enforcement Tactical Centers will help Customs share information with local enforcers.

Governor Perry is not greatly impressed. He wants help keeping the bad guys out.

While we appreciate the additional investigative resources, what we really need are more border patrol agents and officers at the bridges to conduct increased northbound and southbound inspections, as well as additional funding for local law enforcement along the border to deny Mexican drug cartels access to the United States [italics mine].

Too late to wish for border guards the likes of El Paso natives and Border Patrol Agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, who weren't above shooting a fleeing repeat-offender drug dealer in the rear end after they caught him hauling a million dollars worth of illegal drugs into the U.S.

How much money will Homeland Security's new direction add to our budget? Not a lot, according to Napolitano. Much of the border policing upgrade will be "revenue neutral," that is, funded by "realigning from less urgent activities, fund balances, and reprogramming."

Hold on a minute. "Realigning from less urgent activities"? Exactly what activities might be considered "less urgent" than acting as customs inspector for our southern neighbor?

Napolitano's recent displeasure at finding out that illegal alien workers had been busted in a raid give one obvious signal, as does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's cry that deporting illegal aliens breaks up families. The inability of Congress to fund E-Verify to help employers sort out who is legal and who is not speaks volumes too. (I've posted on this here.)

It very much looks like politics as usual. A little here, a little there. A program that looks like the border enforcement many Americans want and need, if only they don't read the fine print.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Questions about a Constitutional Law Professor

More than most, Barack Obama is acquainted with the Constitution of the United States.
He was president of the Harvard Law Review, holds a degree from Harvard Law School, and taught a course at the University of Chicago Law School "in the due process and equal protection areas of constitutional law."

As President of the United States, he is also leader of his party.

Thus, it is not too big a stretch to assume that the leader of the Democrat Party is reasonably well acquainted with the Constitution of the United States.

Last Thursday, the House passed an infamous retroactive 90% bonus surtax bill to recoup some of the bonus money the House itself approved. Among the yes votes were those of 243 Democrats, nearly all the Democrats in the House.

I understand that legal minds can argue about the constitutionality of this bill, if passed, until AIG pays off the national debt. However, as has been widely reported, the leader of the Democrat party, a constitutional law professor, suspects that the bonus tax would be unconstitutional. That should mean something to him. In 2007 he stated, "I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike [George W. Bush] I actually respect the Constitution."

President Obama will not, he said, "govern out of anger," referring of course to the anger Americans feel that hard-earned money that they will be paying out every April 15th until they die, and then some, will end up in the pockets of the very same bankers who were complicit in landing us in our economic disaster. That's a lot of anger, and I'm sure President Obama would like nothing better than to be seen as some kind of heroic figure calmly and rationally turning back the tide of American rage.

However, as a mere non-lawyer, non-politician attempting to figure out (albeit along with many others) what the heck is going on in my country, I cannot help but observe: If Barack Obama, the constitutional scholar, doesn't think the bonus bill would be constitutional, why has the party that he leads just passed the bill in the House? If Barack Obama, the President, doesn't want to govern out of anger, why has he and his party been stirring the angry pot with such vehemance?

Of course he has many reasons for distracting the American people, but distraction does not necessarily take the form of anger, a dangerous emotion indeed.

It seems this president has no problem with inflicting the suffering of anger on the American people.

"This isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about our fundamental values.”

These are words Obama spoke when he was stirring the anger pot. How right he was. His reaction to the AIG mess tells us plenty about his fundamental values. And it is not good news.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Immigration "Reform": Stealth First

Last week I predicted that President Obama would greet the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with smiles of support. Photos would record the event for instant public adulation.

Was I wrong!

The White House barely acknowledged last Wednesday's meeting and, as far as I can tell, no photos of the event have surfaced. Not even one of the President shaking a Congressman's hand. A brief White House statement acknowledging the meeting failed to mention the Hispanic lawmakers' agenda , which was, according to Congressman Luis Gutierrez, "to bring about comprehensive immigration reform this year."

Well, well, a stealth meeting with 24 Hispanic Congressmen focusing on substantial "cambio" in immigration law.

Cam Simpson of The Wall Street Journal explained it this way:
The interest of the White House in limiting attention to the controversial issue is most likely a sign of how difficult it will be for Obama to muster the support needed to win passage of substantial change, especially as he spends his political capital trying to fix the economy and on reforming health care.
That's putting it mildly. Americans are getting crooks in their necks from ducking to avoid legislative missiles flying "under the radar." Is that a Doppler effect we hear? Wham! Stealth $3 trillion deficit. Duck! Another $4 trillion. Watch it! $2 trillion more. Every time we lift our heads we discover something else that got blasted by low-flying Congressional debris; take your pick: retirement, tuition, job, savings, whatever you've got (or used to have).

The barrage continues:

First, new Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano says she wants to place the burden of responsibility for illegal aliens taking U.S. jobs on the employer, but Congress doesn't want the employer to know who is legal and who is not.

In February, Napolitano was very unhappy to discover that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had not figured out on their own that they'd better forget about busting illegal alien workers. The first time ICE raided a manufacturing plant on her watch, she ordered an investigation of the department. Napolitano wants ICE to focus on the employers who hire illegal immigrants and on "overall immigration reform." Interestingly, in a stealth move that no member of Congress will own up to, funding disappeared from the February $787 billion spending bill that would have paid for Homeland Security/Social Security's E-Verify program. That program, of course, serves employers who want to verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees.

Second, Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to get on Mexico's good side, quick, which might help explain why lately she has been out and about telling cheering Hispanic audiences that it's un-American to throw illegal aliens out of the U.S. Pelosi is in deep do-do with the Mexican government for throwing Mexican trucks out of the U.S. with a Teamster-friendly stealth provision buried in Congress's $410 billion Omnibus spending package.

This provision violated a NAFTA agreement made under President Clinton, and, according to Investor's Business Daily, Mexico considers Pelosi "one of Congress's worst trade protectionists." Just to get her attention, Mexico has since targeted California table grapes with a 45% tariff, immediately shutting down many grape shipments from California to Mexico. A total of $2.4 billion brand-new tariffs on 89 formerly duty-free U.S. goods will cost the U.S. 40,000 jobs in 40 states.

What will the President do? The chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Luis Gutierrez, was optimistic:
The president showed the CHC that, although it is very early in his administration, he understands that for the immigrant community it’s the 11th hour, and there is no time to waste.
No time to waste? I guess not. President Obama is planning a visit to Mexico in less than a month. The White House doesn't mention trade war, but says Obama's discussion with Mexico's President Calderón will focus on "how the United States and Mexico can work together to support Mexico’s fight against drug-related violence and work toward effective, comprehensive immigration reform."

Then, a few short weeks later, "in early May," according to Eva A. Millona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, "the President . . . will be laying out his plan for [immigration law] reform. . . ."

Ah yes, Obama can certainly be expected to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

There may be dancing in American streets come the fifth of May and waving of flags (this time U.S., not Mexican, flags), but, as the economy shrinks and taxes rise, the fight for jobs and cheap labor will be real enough.

I'm ducking, I'm ducking.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Prayer of the First Continental Congress, Part I

O! Lord, our heavenly father, King of Kings and Lord of lords: who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth and reignest with power supreme & uncontrouled over all kingdoms, empires and governments, look down in mercy, we beseech thee, upon these our American states who have fled to thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves upon thy gracious protection, desiring henceforth to be dependent only on thee.

--Reverend Mr. Jacob Duché

(To be continued next Sunday).

Many thanks to Hercules Mulligan at Meet the Founding Fathers for posting this treasure.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More Thomas Jefferson on Government Spending

To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The New Patriotism: Si se puede?

(Note: This is a corrected post. My original had some incorrect dates. Apologies.)

You may have honorably defended your country in a theater of war, but if you want to be considered a real patriot these days, you'd better be able to say "Yes we can" in Spanish.

Fox News followed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she
addressed a "cheering crowd . . . chanting, "Si se puede," who were gathered at St. Anthony's Church in San Francisco to stop immigration raids and deportations:
You are special people. You're here on a Saturday night to take responsibility for our country's future. That makes you very, very patriotic.
Not just patriotic, not very patriotic, but very, very patriotic.

Maybe she should nominate them for the Congressional Gold Medal.

Hmmm. . . If the U.S. is their country, does that make, say, Mexico, our country?

Pelosi was a guest of Chicago Representative Luis Gutierrez, who toured the U.S., speaking and collecting petitions that ask President Obama to "stop the immigration raids and deportations that", he says, "are tearing our marriages, families and children apart." Gutierrez delivered the petitions on Wednesday.

What makes me think that, at that meeting, President Obama didn't "refuse to hear" Hispanic arguments about morality and government obligations, as he did so callously during his Monday meeting with American veterans, who, incidentally, also have "marriages, families and children" who suffer post-combat (and before and during) when their veteran loved ones suffer.

I expected the President to be all smiles for his fellow Chicago politician and the Hispanic Democrats. I also expected photos.

So far, no photos of smiles that I've tracked down. Today Congressman Gutierrez will be giving a press conference at Rebano Companerismo Cristiano Church in Chicago to report on his meeting with the President. We'll see.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tears, No Laughter

Many thanks to Yukio Ngaby at Critical Narrative for an early alert about Barack Obama's intention to make wounded warriors (and their wives) pay for medical treatments related to their injuries, including buying their own prosthetics to replace limbs blown off by (what's the administration's latest term for terrorists?). I greatly respect Yukio and other bloggers who were able to get the word out using coherent sentences, something that I certainly was unable to do for hours after hearing this news.

Just want you to know, Yukio, that I did manage to leave a few choice words for my senators and representatives (all Democrats), then alerted my local newspaper, as you suggested. The President's plan was news to all but one senator's office, where the person who answered the phone admitted to having had "a few calls" on the subject.

Investor's Business Daily, however, was aware of the travesty and managed to quote a "furious Commander David K. Rehbein of the American Legion," who, together with representatives of 11 veterans groups, met with Barack Obama on Monday:
[The President] refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by [the plan].
According to CNN, at that meeting, Barack Obama challenged those veterans "to come up with an alternative way to raise revenues."

I'm getting sick again. If American veterans want medical treatment for their combat injuries, their Commander in Chief thinks it's up to them to figure out where the money should come from?

For people who chose to believe it, Obama had a different story way back in October:
  • Barack Obama will restore our sacred trust with our nation's veterans:

    Obama and Biden are committed to creating a 21st Century Department of Veterans' Affairs that provides the care and benefits our nation's veterans deserve [italics mine].

Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that "the Obama administration" is abandoning the plan. And a whole lot of Democrat back-pedaling was going on, including by the head of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, Daniel Akaka, and his counterpart in the House, Bob Filner, who decided that the plan was "DOA."

Obviously, some career politicians have managed to grasp that Obama's slap-every-veteran-in-the-face plan would come with a certain political price tag. Surprise! Not every American hates the military! This little plan might even make it hard to get Americans to empty their pockets for free health care for illegal aliens still waving the flags of foreign nations in public demonstrations on U.S. soil. These politicians have recommended a retreat.

This is a sad, slim, and probably temporary victory of sorts. If victory can be defined as finding out that not every politician in Washington has totally and completely vacated his or her sanity.

But I am not comforted. I will never forget.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What's a Few Russian Tu-160 Long Range Strategic Bombers among Friends?

. . . especially when each one is capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads. Hey, if those Russian pilots need to "stretch their legs" in Cuba or Venezuela on their way home from bomber "reconnaissance patrols," no problem.

At least that's what defense analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.Org told the Miami Herald:
In purely military terms the odds of the U.S. fighting either Venezuela or Russia are pretty low. A few bombers more or less would not make much difference, in any event.

Gee, and I was about to worry.

I have my reasons: Vladimir Putin is on record that Russia should “restore its position in Cuba,” and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Sechin, challenged the U.S.'s "exclusive rights" to Latin America.

They're not joking. Last September, Russia sent a couple of their Tu-160 strategic bombers for a little soujourn in Venezuela, and then, in November, they sent along their nuclear-powered flagship, Peter the Great. This warship, like its namesake, is no powder puff. Hillary Clinton can make light of red buttons (let's "reset") all she wants, but there are enough genuine red buttons aboard Peter the Great to initiate unimaginable carnage: it is armed with 20 nuclear cruise missiles and up to 500 surface-to-air missiles.

Hugo Chavez loved every U.S.-hating minute of it. In the last four years, Russia has agreed to sell him more than $4 billion worth of armaments, and that's just the beginning. Maybe Obama once thought that sharing a socialist agenda with Chavez and having a propensity to schmooze with the enemy would smooth the way, but Chavez recently stated that Obama has the "same stench" as George W. Bush, a man whom Chavez frequently called a "devil."

I just hope Hillary doesn't hand another red button to a Russian dignitary. You never know what he'll do with that middle digit.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Benjamin Franklin: Except the Lord Build the House

God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Hush over Progressive Paradise

A few weeks ago, at a time when one might reasonably expect considerable post-Obama-victory crowing and cheering in my little corner of Progressive Paradise, political topics had all but disappeared from public conversation. While the President and and his entourage of Democrat lawmakers were busy stuffing enough money to fund 35 Manhattan projects (in today's dollars) into a hurry/hurry/rush/rush spending package, my normally politically opinionated neighbors had nary a word to say. What was going on?

I suspected that my Progressive friends and neighbors were confronting private realizations that, in their haste to rid themselves of all things George W. Bush, they had managed to saddle themselves, their families, and their retirement accounts with a probable loser. Big time. A loser whom they would have to find some way of supporting if they didn't want to lose their credibility here in Progressive Paradise.

Three weeks later, political banter is still in exile here.

To me it seems an eerie and unwholesome kind of quiet, like the calm in the eye of a storm that cannot be enjoyed because it is deceptive. People seem to be in an introspective mental state equivalent to that of soldiers quietly milling around as they await their next orders. Indeed, it is not too much to portray my Progressive friends and neighbors as foot soldiers of the Progressive movement. They certainly are among the many whom Obama's political machine expect to take up the next popular cause.

This abstinence from political expression can't last forever, especially among people so unused as these to having their political ideology challenged. I wonder if, when the chatter begins to flow freely again, who will show themselves to be defectors. I am looking forward to meeting them.

Friday, March 13, 2009

But Not a Single Photo of Obama Signing Away $410 Billion. . .

Marcus Aurelius on Government Spending

The object . . . is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Learning Something New: Debt versus Deficit

Learn something new every day. That's what Grandma advised, and it's a good practice. For me, it often is an exercise in humility, in which I get a little taste of how wrong I can be about something I thought I knew.

Take a little term you and I have heard being discussed zillions of times: budget deficit. Hey, I always thought it meant debt, as in how much some person or entity owes. Nope. I just looked it up. Deficit means the amount by which a sum of money is too small.

That definition took me aback for a minute. (When was the last time a sum of money looked just right?) But I think I get it. A deficit is what Mr. Micawber was complaining about when he advised young David Copperfield:
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
In this case, Micawber's deficit was the six pence difference between income and spending in a single year.

Debt is something else again. It is an accumulation of deficits. In other words, if Mr. Micawber were six pence short year after year, then the total of his deficits would equal his debt.

Ed Hall, who maintains the U.S. National Debt Clock, explains the U.S. National Debt this way:
Add up all the deficits (and subtract those few budget surpluses we've had) for the past 200+ years and you'll get the current National Debt.
Ed also warns:

Politicians love to crow "The deficit is down! The deficit is down!" like it's a great accomplishment. Don't be fooled. Reducing the deficit just means we're adding less to the Debt this year than we did last year. Big deal -- we're still adding to the Debt. When are we going to start seeing the Debt actually go down?

End of today's lesson. I've been fooled plenty of times in the past, thinking that reducing the deficit was getting our country out of hock. Not that we'll be hearing any politicians crowing about their reduction of the deficit anytime soon.

Now, if I can just figure out how to pay my tax bill . . . .

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

For More Laughter through Tears

take a look at the Comedy Central video posted by Mad Minerva in her "DVDs, Diplomatic Debacles, and the Delightful Jon Stewart." Embarrassing-even-to-watch insights into the difficulties you can get into when you enlist amateurs to do the work of serious people.

For viewers young enough not to remember: During the Cold War, pressing the "red button" meant launching a nuclear attack with the intention of annihilating your enemy. (Still could.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Miss Mannerly:Dealing with Unwanted Guests

Dear Miss Mannerly:

Recently, social obligations forced me to entertain a foreign head of state and his wife on short notice. Through no fault of my own, my entire state department was busy and I couldn't find my social secretary. I was all on my own.

At the very last minute, I found out that this couple had brought me some gifts. They even brought gifts for my children. To make matters worse, the gifts were very unusual and pricey. I was completely unprepared for this extravagance, especially from a mere prime minister of the world's first industrialized country.

One of my aides quickly rummaged through the closet and came up with a basket of DVDs for the couple. Everyone likes Hollywood movies, right? And regifting is good for the environment. My wife couldn't find her social secretary either, so my aide had to call the White House gift shop to get a couple of toy models of my favorite 'copter for this couple's kids.

Now we are being called tacky cheapskates, and we have done everything--I mean everything--to show that we aren't cheapskates.

My wife says this couple are trying to pull off some snobby colonialist power play and we should send the gifts back to show them that we don't need their help! But I say they are just trying to suck up to us and we should keep the gifts. What do you think?

Dear Gentle Person:

A little thoughtful exchange of gifts between people who would like to become friends is a charming custom. Miss Mannerly suggests keeping a few little treasures tucked away for just such an occasion, such as some Steuben crystal, antique prints and posters, or even, for the head of state who happens to be a technology buff, the very latest in Teleprompter software.

Monday, March 9, 2009

George Washington on Government Spending

No pecuniary consideration is more urgent, than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt. . . .

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Following the Money (1)

In the movie, All the President's Men, when Bob Woodward was trying to comprehend the incomprehensible in governmental activities, Deep Throat appeared in the shadows and advised him to "Follow the money." Indeed. In my experience, no matter how irrational a governmental activity seems on its face, as I examine it through the lens of financial transactions, the decisions involved do begin to make sense.

As Americans watch our assets turn into liabilities by the billion day after day, it's seems an especially good time to attempt to follow the money. Lacking a key to even one financial boardroom, I'll have to start my attempt to figure out what is going on with the broadest possible strokes.

Our biggest creditor, as just about everybody knows, is China. The U.S. and China have been swapping wealth for a long time, with the U.S. getting low-priced goods produced at low labor (and other) costs, and China getting U.S. dollars. Lots and lots of them. China has the largest hoard of other countries' currencies on the planet, about $2 trillion worth. (By comparison, the U.S. has stashed away about $70 billion in foreign exchange.)

The Chinese government and Chinese companies have been in the habit of loaning money directly to the U.S. treasury, but for the last number of months, China has been cutting back on these loans.

Interestingly, in the first half of 2008, China loaned $46 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through bond purchases, but then sold off more than half of those bonds before November, a worrisome fact that reportedly contributed to the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to bail out financial institutions to the tune of $700 billion.

Then, in late January, at the Davos World Economic Forum 2009 held in Switzerland, Wen Jiabao, Premier of the People's Republic, came right out and blamed the world economic crisis on the United States, with our "prolonged low savings and high consumption," "financial institutions in a blind pursuit of profit," failure to supervise and regulate financial innovations, etc. (An article published in the Wall Street Journal following Wen's speech provides a basic view of the current financial relationship between China and the U.S.)

A month later, Hillary Clinton, on her way to Beijing in her role as U.S. Secretary of State, said that "pressing" the Chinese on human rights issues couldn't be allowed to "interfere" with discussions on "the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." That certainly was more an attempt to gain Brownie points from Chinese leaders than to align the Obama administration with the respect for human liberty underlying the very existence of these United States.

Of course, China is not our only creditor or our only critic. But it seems logical to examine our asset drain to China as we try to understand how we got into this financial mess and how we can get out again.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Vladimir Lenin on Government Spending

The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Laughing through Tears

Maybe it's just me, but I had a good time looking through various graphic artists' takes on Barack Obama's new logo for his spending package, which he plans to have emblazoned on every pork project in the bill.

Michelle Malkin reported on it, and by digging a bit into her links, I found some hilarious observations posted on Free Republic.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thomas Paine on Government Spending

We still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping at the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without a tribute.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chief Justice John Marshall on Government Spending

An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation.

John Marshall, McCullough v. Maryland, 1819

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Faith of My Fathers

I think I finally understand why eliminating the secret ballot for workers contemplating forming a union shop has been nagging and nagging at me.

Surviving in my family's oral history are stories of my immigrant forebears' participation in early struggles for unionization. I'm not talking Las Vegas casino workers signing pre-printed "We want a union" cards handed out by professional organizers with 401(k) plans and good dental benefits. I'm talking steelworkers and anthracite coal miners with 19-inch biceps bringing bare fists and clubs into contests with strike-breakers and job seekers attempting to cross picket lines to take the striking workers' jobs.

Life was hard for these people, and work was dangerous, when they could get it. Striking workers took to the streets and engaged in hand-to-hand combat to protect the survival of their children.

Back then, unions helped. Steelworkers still fell into open hearths glowing with molten ore. Coal miners still got swept into early graves by Black Lung. But most unionized workers also got to go to the same job every day instead of begging, hat in hand, for a new shot at the same job every morning at the company gate. Wages improved.

Those hardy people and their descendants weren't shy about fighting for their families or for their country either. Poison-gassed in a French trench, exploded into smithereens on a Belgian road, riddled with shrapnel in an Italian field, blown out of the sky over London (and on and on), my family members gave and gave and gave, but they never gave up.

They had faith in the USA. They were proud to sacrifice to help others have the right to vote and the other freedoms they enjoyed.

I can promise you this: These people never--I mean never ever--considered for one moment that they were sleeping in mud and fighting and dying so that trade unions, legislatures, Congresses, or even a president could take away their sacred right to a secret ballot.

Granted, labor unions aren't what they used to be, and neither are votes. Like many an institution that started out with a great idea, unions have become self-oiling cash machines of little use to anyone but the bureaucrats and fat cats that feed off them. Do union members really benefit as they once did? In some unions, maybe. I haven't seen it. Mostly, as far as I can tell, labor unions exist as mechanisms for collecting union dues, which are used for various purposes including greasing the skids for politicians who will do whatever it takes to keep those union dues rolling in. I can hear the wheels turning: Are those pesky secret ballots limiting the number of union shops because workers don't want to pay union dues for benefits they're already getting? Get rid of 'em! Coercion is so much more efficient.

And votes. Your vote may be sacred to you, purchased as it was with the blood of so many who would have loved to live, but it sure as hell isn't sacred to open-border enthusiasts, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now!), certain senate seat ballot officials, or, back to today's topic, labor unions. Belief in the power of the vote is being diluted, not by scandal, but by a total absence of outrage in high places. Valid votes seem so inconsequential to the political process today that you need a research staff to find anyone in power lifting a finger to protect them.

The Democrat Party malfeasance of depriving workers of the secret ballot has been underway in Congress for years, infuriatingly dubbed (in the current mode of doublespeak) the Employee Free Choice Act. In 2007, George W. Bush threatened to veto it if it passed, which it almost did. Unless it gets concealed by the dust cloud being kicked up during Obama's spending spree, you can expect to see it again sometime this year, maybe even this month. Barack Obama, who professes to believe that "unions and their organizers" can "lift up this country's middle class," and who has publicly stated that he agrees with the bill's outlines, will of course, get what he wants.

Okay, another expected defeat for traditionalists like myself, a defeat (unlike others pending) that is not even a sacrilege against the Constitution, which doesn't guarantee the right of a secret ballot. But I don't even apologize for fearing that this is just the middle of the beginning of the end of the secret ballot across the board. First workers fill out a convenient card, bypassing that pain-in-the-neck secret ballot, getting people used to the idea. Later, somewhere down the line, you and I point and click on a convenient screen (maybe even the TV screen following a really rousing speech), bypassing that pain-in-the-neck trip to the polling place. Goodbye, secret ballot, goodbye.

Grandpa and his pals would never have let it get this far.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Father of the Constitution on Government Spending

I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.

- James Madison
(objecting to Congress appropriating $15,000 to assist French refugees)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More Thomas Jefferson on Government Spending

And I sincerely believe . . . that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.