1.30.2009

200 STRONG

POSTED BY CINCINNATUS
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An encouraging item from the Cato Institute regarding the "consensus" among economists that immediate government intervention is needed to stimulate the economy. Thanks to Tony for the link.

1.29.2009

A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

BY CINCINNATUS

Believe it or not, yesterday’s passage of President Obama’s proposed stimulus package (see here)
has made me hopeful. Not because it passed, but because every House Republican and 11 Democrats opposed the bill. Citing the excessive spending measures and padding of bureaucracies that have repeatedly failed financial audits, Republicans are standing up to the measure and refusing to apologize. Their vocal opposition to the proposed inclusion of funding for family planning interests, which have no place in a measure aimed at stimulating the economy, has already forced retreat on the part of the Democrats, who withdrew it after a few lame attempts to defend it (see lame defense attempt here at littlecog). While Republicans still have a long way to go to win back my trust, it’s good to see them at least giving more than lip service to fiscal responsibility and conservatism.

And there’s a lot to stand up to. This
editorial by the Wall Street Journal, which breaks out some of the unbelievably wasteful spending measures proposed by the Democrat majority that have absolutely NOTHING to do with creating jobs or stimulating the economy, has sent this conservative into a rage. Where are President Obama’s promises of a package free of pork now (see here)? Why isn’t he standing up to this? And why did it take the Democrats right up until the day before the vote on the bill to release the details (you can read the plan, in vague, rhetorical broad strokes, here)? Worse still is the closing of the WSJ op-ed piece, which addresses one of the big questions of the stimulus’ aftermath, which has as yet gone casually ignored: will these spending increases be the new “spending floor” for Congress going forward, or will they roll back the glut when the economy turns around? The answer is almost certainly that the stimulus package will become the new baseline for spending, as the special interests and programs receiving this money will scarcely accept cuts. And Congress will almost certainly attempt to quietly get away with increasing the budget in 2010 beyond the final stimulus figure; whether they will or not depends entirely on us.

I will be keeping a watchful eye on the Senate, which is set to vote on the House bill as early as Monday and is in the process of drafting a bill of its own as we speak, reportedly with an even higher price tag attached to it. But in the current climate, with Republicans maintaining a cogent and honorable opposition that uses Obama’s promises of bipartisanship and fiscal responsibility against him, I don’t see either the House or Senate bill passing any time soon. What remains to be seen is if the Republicans will suffer for delaying action of addressing the crisis, and if so what compromises they’re willing to settle for in order to cling to what little political capital they have left over from 2008.


As always, stay tuned…

1.28.2009

RESPONSE TO THE "OPEN LETTER"

BY CINCINNATUS

Many of you may recall a letter that I wrote and posted on this blog, which stated plainly that I would support no major party candidate until they had satisfied certain requirements, primarily in the area of fiscal responsibility, government reform and taxation. You can read the original letter here. Yesterday I was pleased to receive a response from Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the recipients. It appears below.

While I was disappointed at the absence of the signed, glossy photo I had eagerly anticipated, I was pleased to have elicited some - any - response to the letter that I mailed out over a month ago. Nevertheless, I have to point out the glaring inconsistencies in Senator Brown's response in light of his voting record, which you can review here. While Senator Brown (or his intern) touts fiscal responsibility as a matter of great import, I see he has been a strong proponent of the progressive tax policy, massive increases on entitlement programs, and was a vocal proponent of the TARP. So while I appreciate his response to my letter, I am sad to say he has failed to meet the conditions enumerated therein and will not receive my support.

1.27.2009

LUSCUS' 8 CONFLICTS TO WATCH IN 2009

BY LUSCUS

Apologies for the delay, but I thought it would be a good idea to offer a few of my predictions for foreign affairs in 2009. They range from the hugely beneficial to the barely relevant to our daily lives, and pose a very diverse range of challenges to our new President and the world order.

The Predictions

1. Syria comes in from the cold. This has been bandied about for several years now, with America reaching out in 2005 to offer a 'Gaddafi' deal in the hopes that Syria will cease funding of Hezbollah and Hamas, refrain from interfering with Lebanon, and make peace with Israel in exchange for economic aid and access to the global market. Great Britain made a renewed push in November and December of 2008, with hopes that a Golan Heights deal would be the irresistible lure to a reportedly curious President Al-Asad.

This is part one of a three-step path to peace in the Levant. Syria and Iran have kept the Palestinian fire stoked with increasingly powerful weaponry for use against Israel. If Syrian support ends and some arrangement can be worked out with Iran, the table is set for a real solution to the Israel/Palestine question. Luscus is most in favor of a hybrid state (surprisingly similar to that presented by Pres. Gaddafi recently at a teleconference at Georgetown University, his published 'white book', and in an
op-ed for the NYT).

2. Pakistan comes dangerously close to another military coup. Going against conventional wisdom, military intervention in Pakistani politics has generally been a net positive. While I will not dismiss the gross violations of human rights that have occurred in 1958, 1977, and 1999, the military has been a main secular force in promoting stability and limiting corruption. Aside from jailing the Chief Justice of their supreme court, Iftikhan Chaudry, Luscus has been a fan of Musharraf. With the current presidency of "Mr. 10%" Asif Zardari and the rise of the Paksitan Muslim League, several circumstances could arise in which the military might feel necessary to intervene: breakdown in US-Pakistan relations, political and military failures in the North-west Frontier Province and/or Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, or economic collapse. The latter has been stemmed by a $7.6b loan from the IMF, but in this economic climate, who knows if that is enough?

3. Civil war in Sudan. The 2005 peace agreement allows for a popular vote on secession to occur in 2011, but a combination of pressure for action on Darfur, spillover from the Congolese conflict or northern Uganda, and the issue of the
mysterious arms shipment hijacked by Somali pirates from Kenya in September 2008 could lead to preemptive action by Khartoum. However, as President al-Bashir is already under indictment for war crimes, he may be hesitant to engage in further military action. But on the other hand he might feel that he has nothing to lose.

4. Military coup in Philippines. It seems that every year sees a new plot to overthrow President Macapagal Arroyo and the government of the Philippines. With rumors of US Special Forces being taught Tagalog (don't ask), this may be signal of preparation for a larger conflict.

5. Violence in the Crimea possible talk of secession, or Russian irredentism. With both the Russian and Ukrainian navies based in Sevastopol, this ethnic-Russian conclave of Ukraine might see movement to rejoin Russia (the Crimea was added to Ukraine in 1954 by Khrushchev should the political situation in Ukraine continue to deteriorate, or if Russo-Ukrainian tensions escalate due to the ongoing dispute over gas transfer and payments.

6. Resurgence of violence in Congo. This is perhaps the easiest prediction, what with three major conflicts inside or along DR Congo's borders.

First, that the winding-down of the Ugandan conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army (caused by the death of General Joseph Kony's spiritual inspiration, Alice, and breakdown of ceasefire talks between the government and Kony's son) does not occur, and fighting breaks out and spreads on both sides of the border. Second, the pursuit into DR Congo of Hutu militias by the Rwandan government, accused of complicity in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis. In 1996, the Hutu groups, fleeing from confrontation at the end of the Rwandan conflict, ran rampant through then Zaire, sending it into civil war and causing the transfer of power from Pres. Mobutu to Pres. Laurent Kabila (father of current president Joseph) and the re-naming of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lastly, this could be a pure collapse of government authority within the borders due to pressure from groups which have become entrenched and seeking greater permanence within the political structure.

7. Potential collapse of Mexican state. This is unlikely to occur in totality, but any increase in power held by the Sinaloa and Gulf drug cartels could threaten the government's legitimacy and definitely threaten state control of at least two of its northern provinces. President Calderon being a strong ally of the United States, as well as the proximity to our southern border and Mexico's rising preeminence in the flow of drugs to the US, expect increased American support.

8. Great Britain bankrupt. Considerable attention was paid during the collapse of Iceland's economy and government, what with the country's banking sectors making up a far larger share of its GDP than sustainable by its central bank. Other finance-intense economies have definitely taken notice. While this isn't 100% likely, the role played by 'the City' in the United Kingdom's economy is congruent to the situation in Iceland, albeit on a larger scale. Should the economic situation worsen, it remains to be seen how far the UK can remain solvent. Without a strong American manufacturing industry to fall back on (as has been the case in past crises), the increasing talk of joining the Euro should be taken as a sign of desperation. But on that point at least, the mood is not very different elsewhere.

Conclusion

I will insist that the best approach to our foreign policy is what I describe as 'Wilsonian Realism' that is, a realism moderated by an understanding that international consensus and international norms are wildly beneficial to our national security and to international stability at large. Its main aims are to provide for political stability through the promotion of international forae (formal or ad hoc), and a gradual focus of all countries towards good governance and responsible leadership, no matter the country's political form. Alternately, a Metternichian liberalism could be an apt description, of a slow and deliberate concert of powers-approach to promoting security, stability, and steady economic growth. Governor Richardson enumerated a similar policy in his Foreign Affairs article as a presidential candidate.

On a financial level, a new New Deal is foolish as a single package, as is now favored by the Democratic majority. A quick stimulus, combined with both the Judicial restructuring of mortgage rates to prevent foreclosures and a slow, gradual, ad hoc investment in our interstate commerce infrastructure (read: not simple handouts for individual states). As is a 'Bretton Woods II', as the global economy is too complex to be managed via a gold standard, or any alternative non-national reserve currency. Toward that end, greater transparency in accounting practices combined with a tightening of the screws on tax-havens and the abuse of FDI for market manipulation should put us on a more even keel.

This by no means is an exhaustive list - merely one that has compiled some of the major areas I have been following. Insight into the immediate futures of India and North Korea - perhaps the two elephants missing from the list - would be too complex, requiring a diplomatic sequence of Rube Goldberg proportions.

1.26.2009

ONCE AGAIN, WHY NOT JUST THE TAX CUTS?

BY CINCINNATUS

I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing me say this, but this article in the Wall Street Journal reignited my ire over the concept of “stimulus packages.” It is, or at least should be, common sense that whenever the government is involved in spending large sums of money, special interests and political patronage always play a role. As Melloan discusses in this article, while the intention is to put more money in the pockets of average Americans, vast sums of money are siphoned off in the process as politicians throw bones to groups of influence. President Obama has promised that the stimulus package will contain only “green pork,” that is to say only pork for private interests that meet certain environmental standards. While this sounds lovely (to some), there is a problem: Obama has no legislative authority but the veto, which he will not use when the stimulus package hits his desk, bedecked with the usual pork we see out of Congress.

I’ll give credit where it’s due; a portion of the stimulus, about 40% of the total amount, will be (if promises are kept) aimed at moderate tax cuts. But I have to again illustrate that tax cuts + massive spending are not a recipe for national economic recovery. It has to be one or the other. And if the federal government is willing to sacrifice a billion some odd dollars for the sake of the economy, why not just make it all tax cuts? Something we learned from the Bush tax cuts (and Keynesian economists never seem to want to discuss) is that they led to increased revenues for the government, as private citizens were able to parlay the money they kept into greater wealth. So once again, if the government is willing to spend/sacrifice money for the sake of the economy, the opportunity should be taken to ensure that the fix will result in a sustained increase in the size of citizens’ wallets, rather than a one-time lump sum or a “leaky” transfer of wealth, as Melloan calls it.

Additionally, while tax cuts are essential and I applaud anyone who advocates for them responsibly, I have to take issue with the fact that the Obama administration still has its eye on either letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 5% (those who create jobs) expire or repealing them before 2011. Lawrence Summers has
recently reiterated this goal after David Axelrod expressed it a few months ago. This is dangerous and, if it comes during the recession or its recovery, will have disastrous effects on all of us (as I have warned repeatedly; see here, here and here). The government can spend all the money it wants (and it is) on infrastructure and “job creation,” but if it saddles those in the private sector who actually create lasting jobs with inordinate taxes, it will all be for naught.

1.22.2009

MON DIEU!

BY CINCINNATUS
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Before I even start, this story is totally real, it did not come from the Onion. Apparently former French President Jacques Chirac's dog, Sumo, which suffers from clinical depression (no seriously, stay with me), mauled him yestereday. I'm going to let that sink in for a second.

I'm not sure how this story could get any more French, but I'm open to suggestions...

1.21.2009

VOODOO ECONOMICS

BY CINCINNATUS

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m getting increasingly irritated by the element of mysticism with which politicians insist on treating our faltering economy. There doesn’t seem to be any coherent strategy at this point, which may or may not be a reflection of the lack of private sector/financial grounding most of our politicians have. This is the environment that led to the passage of the TARP. Our politicians seem to be treating the economic crisis as an angry volcano god, and they’re scurrying about throwing virgins (read: money) into the rumbling maw in feeble hopes of appeasing it. The nomination and ongoing confirmation of Tim Geithner as the president’s Treasury Secretary is proof of that. We’re told over and over again that he’s “the only man” that can get the country through the economic wilderness like a latter-day Moses. Just FYI, Geithner is one of the architects of the original TARP bailout plan. Perhaps we aren’t looking hard enough.
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1.20.2009

IT'S GOOD TO BE THE KING

BY CINCINNATUS

The best part of being president, of course, is the Chevy Suburban in your entourage with the gatling gun. Behold...

...the president's gatling gun Suburban escort...

Thanks to Luscus for the video.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA'S INAUGURAL ADDRESS

POSTED BY SEACHRANAI

Today Barack Obama addressed, as his predecessors have before him, the nation which has elevated him to its highest seat of authority. He spoke of faith (in God and each other) and our Constitution, the philosophical mortar and brick of our democracy, concepts which have been found waning from modern political discourse (expressly among this country’s left). This gives me hope. Below are his words this afternoon, as many forums of news and commentary will provide. I am curious as to what the thoughts of this forum are on these words. Do they resound in you like a choir full of hope, or do they ring empty as hollow rhetoric. From Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States:

My fellow citizens,

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

PEACEFUL REVOLUTION

BY CINCINNATUS

Today we witness peaceful revolution, a bloodless transfer of power from ideological rivals that reaches back to 1801, when Federalist John Adams turned over the still unfinished White House to his political enemy and lifelong friend, Republican Thomas Jefferson. The campaign that preceded that particular election was, as was common in the day, one of rancor, lies and vicious character attacks (modern politics doesn’t hold a candle to the shenanigans our Founders got up to). For the twelve years preceding Jefferson’s inauguration, the American government had been dominated by the Federalists, who feared what they considered the radical ideals of the Republicans, which they were certain would devolve into mob rule and anarchy of the sort raging in France. They even attempted to dismantle the Republicans through Congressional legislation with the infamous Alien & Sedition Acts. Through it all, however, Jefferson and his Republicans persevered, and on March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson strolled casually to his inauguration as the third President of the United States through the streets of Washington to the Senate chamber. His inaugural address, considered by most historians to be his finest speech, was one of humility, political reconciliation, and broad hope for the nation’s future. If you will indulge me, I will cite the following excerpt:

“During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Two hundred and eight years have passed since that day, and here we are again, watching the mantle of executive power being transferred from one man to another in peace and by the popular will of the people. No shots fired, no palaces stormed, as they were in the despotic systems of the Old World and the scattered nations of modernity where tyranny is allowed to dwell still. Despite our political rhetoric as Americans, where free and open debate is not only permitted but celebrated, the will of the majority must be and is respected, and all of our best wishes are bestowed upon our new president, regardless of party or ideology. But though we wish our new president well, those of us who opposed his election are no less resolute as a result of his victory. We will be the loyal opposition, Mr. President.

Let we at The Children of the Revolution be among the countless today that will offer you and your family sincere best wishes and congratulations, President Obama.

1.19.2009

THE CALM OF DESPOTISM

BY CINCINNATUS

I’ve been reading quite a bit about the Founders and the American Revolution lately (per my New Year’s resolution), and as I learn more and more about the extraordinary men who led the charge for independence and the challenges they faced, I find it impossible not to juxtapose those tumultuous, uncertain times with our own. The events of our revolution weren’t necessarily extraordinary when laid against modern times; Parliament levied overburdensome taxes upon the colonists that restricted their ability to transact business and conduct trade, without the consent of the colonists themselves. After an overwhelming outcry from the colonists, some of these taxes were repealed, but others were implemented for the sole sake of assertion of the Crown’s authority over the colonies. When the Americans grew even more restive, the Crown suspended colonial legislatures and stripped the colonists of rights due even the lowest of British citizens. Colonists were, for instance, faced with the compulsory provision of quarter for British troops sent to occupy their own cities.

It isn’t really until the British pushed the American colonists to this extent that the events became extraordinary, not of themselves, but because extraordinary men rose up to defy the Crown and the greatest empire of the day. They did not know they would win. In fact, many expected they would end up dangling from a gallows. But they chose to challenge tyranny rather than quietly bear their heavy chains, not because they saw a betterment of their immediate fortunes (again, the gallows), but because the principles of human dignity and the tradition of British rule of law, which the Crown had now forsaken, demanded it. You (should) know their names: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, Henry, Rush, Hancock, etc. They rose up and gave birth to a nation that has, despite it all, endured now for 233 years. But of course, you (should have) learned all this in American history class. What am I getting at?

What I’m getting at is a powerful and potentially depressing point. As I read the history of our nation’s birth, I look about our modern political landscape and ask the question: would any of our political leaders today have had the courage and wisdom to have risen up and challenged this sort of tyranny? Would they have even recognized it as tyranny? Would they have instead tried to bargain with tyranny, as many delegates to the Continental Congress hoped to do? I look around and find myself able to point out perhaps a handful, out of the 545 representatives, senators, justices and the president that make up our federal government. You may feel differently, but in the nation we have become, a nation of taxation, government largesse and intrusion, I fear that we may have already passed the threshold that our Founders would have tolerated. And even as I write that, I can hear the jeering of people of both political stripes: that the nation and the world was different then, that this country belongs to the living and not to the dead, and that the Founders never meant to have us be enslaved to their particular thoughts and systems.

While those criticisms are correct to a certain extent, they also miss the central argument and betray an unsatisfactory answer to my prior question on the part of the respondent. Our circumstances today, with burdensome taxes (borne most heavily by business), federal intrusion into every aspect of government, state government dependent upon federal subsidy, government surveillance of law-abiding citizens without warrant, and repeated overstepping of government authority, are very near to what the Founders observed in their time. Those who would say that we should ignore the Founders in changing times, that we should calm down and cool it, are implicitly stating that they would not have stood up alongside them and challenged the tyranny of the Crown had they been there. Today’s politicians would probably not stand up to heavy taxes or think them tyrannical, as they themselves levy them freely upon the citizenry. They clearly will not stand up to inordinate federal control, as they have seen to its entrenchment. They would not have stood up to King George and pledged their Lives, Fortunes or sacred Honor to the defense of liberty.

I’m not advocating armed insurrection, as I’m sure many of you are worrying. Thankfully the Founders did that heavy-lifting for us and established a system of government by which revolutions are bloodless. What I’m advocating is that revolutionary spirit fostered by men like Jefferson, that readiness to challenge government and be unyielding in the protection of our rights. I’m basically reminding you all that we must remain steadfast and not “calm down and cool it,” as I’m sure the Founders were advised to do by many (not least of all King George himself). Stay vigilant and steadfast. Don’t shy away from debate. Don’t assume the benevolence of government. Don’t give up the fight just yet. We have a lot of work to do together. Let’s start by asking our politicians, “Would you have affixed your signature to the Declaration of Independence, or would you have hanged those that did?” And make sure they tell you why.

1.16.2009

OVERDUE THOUGHTS ON THE WAR ON TERROR

BY CINCINNATUS

On the whole, Mr. Miliband’s
argument is sensible, but his closer, “Terrorists succeed when they render countries fearful and vindictive; when they sow division and animosity; when they force countries to respond with violence and repression. The best response is to refuse to be cowed,” triggered memories of militant pacifist comments made in the immediate post-9/11 days of my college experience to resurface. In turn, they led me to organize and lay down my particular thoughts on the War on Terror, which I realized had heretofore not been cogently expressed on this blog.

Let me be clear on two things. Government repression of the civil rights of its own citizenry is a wholly improper response to terrorism, and torture is both unacceptable and unreliable. Furthermore, the concept of continual warfare that could span generations is one that raises my conservative “spider-sense.” The Founders warned their posterity to avoid long or frequent wars, both for their devastating effect on humanity and for their potential to turn democratic governments into authoritarian tyrannies. I feel strongly that it is the responsibility of the citizenry to ensure that the government does not unnecessarily expand wars or trample the rights of its citizens in doing so. The American government is obligated to avoid war unless the country or its citizens are attacked or under direct threat. But I do understand reality: when we entered the era of nuclear proliferation and now the era of terrorism, fighting a war after it has come to American soil became an unviable option. Preventive measures have to be adopted, such as rigorous border security and, most important of all, a well-funded and well-equipped foreign intelligence apparatus that focuses on the human intelligence tradecraft rather than relying too heavily on technology. Our military should rightly receive a great deal of funding and remain the best-trained fighting force on the planet. It should be fearsome and overwhelming, but capable of nimble, surgical operations, such as those carried out by our special forces. And if we can get a missile defense program up and running that neuters the efficacy of ICBMs and tactical nuclear warheads, well then I’d be happy to help foot the bill for that too.

But the War on Terror walks a fine line, in my opinion. Invading Afghanistan was an appropriate response to the September 11 attacks. The PATRIOT Act was not. Invading Iraq was not necessary to defeating terrorism, but because we did, victory there is essential to doing so. I think that everyone can agree (particularly the Iranians, who perpetrated the deaths of countless American soldiers in Iraq with impunity) that the current over-extension of our military renders our foreign policy toothless in many cases. This will have to change, and this is where I agree with Miliband most strongly. The greatest fallacy of the War on Terror is its suggestion that terrorism is monolithic. It is not. Terrorism is a method of warfare and organization utilized by disparate groups with wide-ranging and often conflicting goals. The war is not fought in one or even two theaters of operation, but globally. We cannot kill every last terrorist, though it would be gratifying, and even if we did we would still be faced with their sons and grandsons and great-grandsons, largely radicalized by the institutions that drove their fathers to take up arms. While unpopular to say, the War on Terror cannot be won in a conventional sense. While maintaining a strong national defense and an agile military, the final solution to terrorism is to force the nations that harbor and nurture terrorists to resolve their internal issues. Primarily, this means pressuring moderate Islamic countries to confront the radical elements within them. This will be even harder than Iraq and Afghanistan have proven to be. It could take generations. But it has to be done, or we guarantee that we’ll be playing terrorist “whack-a-mole” across the globe. In doing so we render ourselves unable to deal credibly with more monolithic threats, such as the reassertion of Russia or a nuclear Iran, unless we start flexing our nuclear muscle, which will cause a whole slew of new problems and exacerbate existing ones.

I don’t particularly want to see us invading any more countries, especially Iran (if you know anything about the topography of Iran and military tactics, you understand that invading and occupying that country would be virtually impossible). I want to see the United States publicly more active in developing international coalitions to pressure irrational actors, and privately more active in causing mysterious strokes, heart failures and plane crashes that remove hostile dictators. I want to see the United States keeping the fight against terrorism where it belongs, overseas, rather than within American borders. That means not listening to my phone conversations without a warrant, illegally detaining me or torturing me. I want to see us supporting foreign governments that are sustainable, democratic and reform-minded, rather than backing tin pot dictators one after another until their latest student massacre forces us to withdraw our support and become the face of evil to the revolutionaries that seize power. I want us to aggressively promote human rights, economic liberty and democracy around the globe, and a good start is to ensure that we are practicing them at home so that we can serve as a credible example.

ROLLING BACK THE BAILOUT

BY CINCINNATUS

This article raised my spirits this morning, though I admit that without seeing the details of their case I cannot judge their chances of success. It sounds like some conservatives with backbones (FreedomWorks Foundation, led by Dick Armey) will be challenging the constitutionality of the TARP by filing a lawsuit. With the Supreme Court’s current make-up, I am hopeful that rational minds will prevail and strike down the Bailout (in its current form, anyway) as unconstitutional. To me, apart from the staggeringly idiotic waste of money it represents, the TARP bailout has troubled me for its clear violation of the separation of powers, conferring unprecedented discretionary spending power to the executive branch with no Congressional oversight to date. Again, I am hopeful that this will kill the concept of the bailout in its current form as a federal institution, but $350 billion worth of damage is already done and who knows how much more of the second $350 billion will be spent before this lawsuit sees the light of day. And I’m sure that Congress will find a way to navigate through the Supreme Court’s ruling (whatever it may be) to resurrect the bailout in a new and “constitutional” form.

1.15.2009

WHO'S THIS FOR?

BY CINCINNATUS

This is all well and good, electric cars are great, but I have to ask who they’re showing these off for, especially after the Big Three bailout. Is this for Congress’ benefit or ours? And do they really think they can sell them? That $109K electric car from Tesla they mentioned ain’t exactly gonna fly off the shelves. I find their optimistic claims of electric cars going mainstream in two to three years a bit unrealistic, but what do I know? I suppose when I start seeing plug-in, electric SUVs that cost the same as or better than those running on fossil fuels I'll believe it.

1.13.2009

WORTH THE TROUBLE?

BY CINCINNATUS

As more and more
documentation accrues showing a clear conflict of interest represented by Hillary Clinton’s nomination for Secretary of State, I continue to shake my head and ask, “is she worth the trouble?” Is there really something so special about Hillary Clinton that it’s worth compromising American foreign policy, or at the very least appearing to compromise American foreign policy, just to have her in the Cabinet? The coming Obama administration has been adamant about repairing America’s image around the globe and engaging in an aggressive diplomatic campaign to make more friends than enemies. That’s why the Clinton choice really has me scratching my head.

I know what some may be thinking: the Clinton supporters had to be made to feel welcome. But why? They largely voted for Obama anyway. The PUMA movement never materialized for McCain on Election Day. What recourse do they have now? Clinton will surely not challenge a sitting Democrat president for her Party’s nomination in 2012. Indeed, President-elect Obama could have made a strong statement by shutting out the Clintons altogether from his administration, both to make good on his promise for a “new politics” and to assert himself as the unquestioned leader of his Party. Such a move could have sent the Clintons tumbling into the “dustbin” of history with Jimmy Carter, anachronistic relics of a bygone era, no longer relevant.

But Obama didn’t do that. Instead, he’s chosen to make himself the butt of his own “McCain will serve Bush’s third term” quips by surrounding himself with former Clintonites and elevating Clinton herself to such a prestigious position in his government. I think it’s fair to say that Obama will serve out Bill Clinton’s third term, no? We shall see. But I once again have to assert that, if Obama seriously intended to deliver on his image of change in Washington and an end to “politics as usual,” he could have done better than Hillary Clinton (plus
baggage).

THE MANTLE OF PEACE

BY LUSCUS

As the most recent episode of the recurring Gaza conflict escalates, the world is in an uproar against Israel and the civilian casualty rate. For the latter, this is rightly so. There is also an increasing fury with America's silence, and president-elect Obama's in particular. What the world can't remember, is that Obama now receives the same intelligence briefing as President Bush, something that can be vaguely summarized as such:

Hamas has 20,000-25,000 armed troops in Gaza, and an established tactic of firing rockets from schools, hospitals, and highly-concentrated civilian areas so that any targeted response results in a high civilian casualty count.

There is a good chance that Syria will come in from the cold in 2009. This has been a quiet rumor that is slowly getting louder. A peace agreement between Israel and Syria that would see the Golan Heights return to Damascus' control in exchange for the cessation of funding/arming Hamas militants would be the biggest step towards peace since the 1973 peace between Israel and Egypt.

Former Iranian President Khatami's political clout is growing, at the expense of current president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The president serves at the whim of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. If you don't remember, in 2003 President Khatami unilaterally offered to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program and reach an influence sharing agreement with the United States. This was declined, likely at the behest of Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. With oil prices remaining well below OPEC's desired $80 per barrel, Ahmedinejad will be unable to afford his generous demagogic grant/welfare programs. With any luck, he will be replaced.

This is not to excuse Israel for its sloppy execution of this engagement, costing far too many civilian lives than is reasonable or morally acceptable in pursuit of its goal. At minimum, they should take strides to provide for the medical treatment of women and children wounded in Gaza, perhaps by building a civilian hospital outside of the border. For president-elect Obama, a recommitment to a greater peace should be loud and unequivocal.

The biggest danger at present is that Israel fails to deliver the 'knockout blow' to Hamas, and a further radicalization of the group and territory escalates the conflict. President Bush's legacy was further tarnished by this happening against Hezbollah. Failure to achieve a strategic checkmate on Israel's part would make Obama's silence damning.

But there is hope. If Israel devastates Hamas' military capacity, trades the Golan Heights for peace with Syria, and oil prices change the political winds in Iran, then-president Obama could reap the windfall of success that eluded his two predecessors.

YOU'VE GOT THE WRONG CONSERVATIVE

BY CINCINNATUS

I read this article by Froma Harrop on RealClearPolitics, and I have to ask: which conservatives is she talking about when she declares that we "contend that taxes must be raised"? She casually discards the option of cutting federal spending by assuming that conservatives agree the government should be responsible for stimulating the economy, something which we do not in fact agree on. She seems to back up this erroneous argument by saying that, because Republicans in Congress claimed to be conservatives and took the deficit to new heights in Washington, conservatism cannot legitimately claim to be the ideological home of fiscal responsibility anyway. Finally, she hems us in by saying that conservatives don't like debt (at least she got that one right) and so our only option is to raise taxes. Riiiiiiiight...

While I agree that if a reduction in federal spending does not occur then taxes will have to skyrocket (I'm talking MASSIVE increases, especially on corporations and the wealthy), this conservative is of the mind that we haven't even gotten our hands dirty on spending cuts yet, and, as I've said repeatedly (see here and here), the government is not going to spend us out of this recession. We've got plenty of jungle yet to hack away at before we even talk tax increases.

1.10.2009

TEACHING CONSERVATISM: "TAXATION 101" or "RENDER UNTO CAESAR"

BY HARIOLOR
I
Rebate – Prebate – Cut – Credit – Deduction – Refund. These are among the most potent tools in a politician's arsenal of political jargon. This is because few issues can speak as clearly to the heart of the voter as does tax policy. This is understandable. When you earn money, whether in return for work, as dividend on a wise investment, or from some lucky windfall, you inevitably will give some of it up as tax. For most voters, paying taxes is a miserable reality with little evident reward that reliably invokes impassioned tirades from even the least politically-minded among us. Why then do we seem to tolerate so well paying so much in tax, and why do we feel so helpless to change things? To answer these questions, we will have to go back to the roots of the tax system as we know it, beginning with the fundamental (and very conservative) question: why do we have taxes at all?

Government, at its most basic, is explained with brilliant clarity in Thomas Paine's Common Sense. I would suggest as your first homework assignment that you read through it (it's short!), as it is one of the foundational documents of America. Essentially, the founders of our country understood that people, by nature, will tend to come together into groups. This is natural, because you can get more done as a group than as an individual. As long as your work is altruistic, no government will be needed, because everybody will act in the best interests of everyone else (including themselves), because they recognize the interdependence of the group. But after awhile, conflicts of interest may arise, even among the most altruistic individuals. This is because utility cannot be reliably measured, so it is impossible to determine how best to allocate the resources (materials, labor, ingenuity, etc) available to the group. This is where an economy must develop. The individuals make decisions about what, to them, is the most important use of the asset. If everyone was altruistic (and aware of their situation), there would still be no need for government, nor even law. Every transaction would be as fair as possible, and everyone would rest easy knowing that society as a whole was providing them with exactly as much or as little as they deserved. Alas, humans are not perfect.

Fortunately, our founders, for all their apparent idealism, were often harsh, even cynical pragmatists. So it was that they recognized that sometimes people would not be altruistic in their decisions, they might be entirely selfish, willfully harming others to advance their own ends. Other people might feel they have been wronged when, really, they haven't. This conflict is at the root of law. Laws exist because we can either fight with each other when one party in an exchange feels wronged (whether they are or not), or we can come to some sort of an accord through civil means. Sometimes we can reach these accords of our own (this is negotiation), other times we need some impartial advice (this is arbitration). At times though, we have an irreconcilable conflict. The only solution then is to have some codified standard that we can point to as a fair solution. Not fair because it is absolutely equitable, but fair because it can be applied equally to anyone (this is adjudication). Congratulations, now we have a civilization. Notice, there is still absolutely no need for tax...but...

We'll need people now to make decisions as to what standards are fair, and probably people to enforce those standards, and other people to apply the standards to each situation. We could achieve this through a collective screaming match, but that would probably devolve into war long before we came to an accord. As such, we have to make a decision: do we give up civilization and go back to isolation (where we are maximally free, but less prosperous because we are alone), or do we give up some of our freedom in exchange for security (and maybe greater prosperity). Our founders, in their wisdom, begrudgingly acknowledged the necessity of giving up some measure of freedom in order to ensure that there was some sort of civilization at all. However, they believed strongly (well, most of them) in limiting the power of the authority that creates and enforces the law – namely, government. In particular, they wanted to limit the national (federal) government, because they knew that each community was unique, and would have different needs better served by different laws. But here's the rub, and you've certainly figured this out already: you aren't going to get people to create, apply, and enforce the laws for free. And that's not to mention the need for an army to protect our civilization from others that might attack us for whatever reason - even our militia might want to be paid while they're away from their normal jobs, fighting on our behalf. So what now?

As you have surely guessed the answer is to grant the lawmaking body of government the authority to levy a fee on certain transactions between entities (groups or individuals) in order to raise revenue to fund the activities of government (which themselves were to be grossly limited, but that's a different rant). These levies, or taxes, or capitations (there are many words for what boil down to very similar things) could be executed in only a few ways. One would be to tax goods when they change hands. These are tariffs, sales taxes, duties, and the like. Another way is to tax goods when they are produced. These are excise taxes. The third way would be to tax entities based on their apportionment of property, income, or changes in net worth. These are property taxes, income taxes, and capital gains taxes.

In order to grant the federal government the power to levy taxes, a power lacking in the failed Articles of Confederation, the founders drafted Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution to say: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

Notice that Duties and Excises are all trade-related taxes. The founders did not believe that the federal government had any business taxing individuals or businesses based on their worth or income. This was in line with the conception of the federal government held by the founders: namely one which was present as a necessary evil, limited in its authority, and subject to the will of the people (as voters in the several States of the Republic) as a servile entity that provided the minimum necessary legal and military support to ensure the freedom of the people be best preserved. The inclusion of the word impost, meaning simply something levied, left some room for maneuvering with regards to the nature of other taxes that might be levied. The built in defense against Imposts becoming individual taxes, however, was the requirement of uniformity. Because all taxes must be uniform, it is impossible to fairly apportion equal amounts to states with unequal distributions of population and wealth. Therefore Article I includes Section 9, Clause 4, stating: No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken. This says that direct taxes on individuals may only be levied in proportion to the population in the states where the taxes are levied.

These were inconvenient realities, however, when the Civil War came around, and a whopping 3% income tax on incomes over $800 (a tremendous sum in that time) was levied against the American people to fund the war effort in 1861 (nearly ninety years after the founding of the nation). The tax was rescinded in 1872 as reconstruction progressed and the federal government found themselves no longer needing wartime funds. In 1894 tariffs on trade were reduced, and a peacetime income tax of 2% on income over $4000 was imposed. This lasted only one year before the Supreme Court ruled that apportionment of direct taxes was impractical and was for all effective purposes banned by the US Constitution.

Queue the Sixteenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, which explicitly revokes the apportionment requirement for direct taxes on incomes from any source by reclassifying them as indirect taxes that need only be applied uniformly to all citizens – this is the root of virtually all modern taxation. In 1939, in the wake of the Great Depression, the Congress made the final stroke that would ensure far-reaching tax authority by defining income as: gains, profits, and income derived from salaries, wages or compensation for personal service . . . of whatever kind and in whatever form paid, or from professions, vocations, trades, businesses, commerce, or sales, or dealings in property, whether real or personal, growing out of the ownership or use of or interest in such property; also from interest, rent, dividends, securities, or the transaction of any business carried on for gain or profit, or gains or profits and income derived from any source whatever. [phew!]

So there you have it. Government is a necessary evil that protects otherwise good and cooperative people from unjust treatment by creating and enforcing laws. The government of the United States is [was] peculiar in that the people elect each other to the government, allowing those laws to be changed as necessary on an ongoing basis to best serve the needs and desires of the constituent voters. Government, however, requires funding to function effectively, even in its most limited form. Therefore, the government was permitted to enforce uniform taxation on commerce, as oversight of interstate and international commerce was already part of the federal government's role. Slowly, as government grew ever larger (a phenomenon the founders warned us of) it required greater and greater funding, particularly as post-Depression America learned to depend ever more on the federal government as a source of social welfare programs (charity by coercion, as the cynics might call it). Once the government had wrestled away the authority to tax “all income from whatever source derived”, all bets were off. So now we have a tax system that taxes you any time you:

Buy anything
Sell anything
Earn anything
Inherit anything
Trade anything
Extract anything from the dirt (oil, coal, buried treasure...)

Of course, this list looks frighteningly unfair, and we must remember that every single line of the entire ridiculously large and complex tax code exists for a reason. But since the little list above says that just about everything you do can be taxed, why do we need so much law about it? Well, for two reasons:

One reason is that people hate paying taxes, so they find creative legal loopholes to avoid paying them. As soon as a loophole is discovered, it is closed with a new addition to the tax code. After all, taxes are meant to be uniform, and if you're clever enough to legally avoid the tax – well shame on you, they'll get you next time.

The second reason for all the messy tax code is that Congress figured out that once they had virtually unlimited power to tax the people, the had virtually unlimited power to shape our behavior. If you don't want people to smoke, tax it. If you want people to buy more goldfish, give a tax credit for goldfish purchases. If you want people to stop importing cheap shoes made in Bangladesh, put a heavy tariff on cheap shoes from Bangladesh. Politicians will smile winningly while manipulating you with taxes, using one of these lines of reasoning (every time, I guarantee):

[your favorite social program] needs to be funded
[your favorite social vice] needs to be restricted
[your favorite social behavior] needs to be supported
[your favorite social class] needs to be more fairly treated

So it is that we have taxes that are marginally progressive but pragmatically regressive, offset by deductions for dependents, based on age, social status, legal status, offset by income caps, offset by rate changes depending on marital status, offset by rate changes for investment losses, offset by deductions for all sorts of expenses, offset by direct credits for having children, going to school, getting sick, not getting sick, helping the environment, and on and on and on.

None of this is necessary. And most of it was never intended by the founders to be constitutional. So accept that there will be taxes. Indeed, there should be taxes. But only because we need some sort of government, and that only to protect our sovereignty as a nation and to guarantee the rule of justice. So the next time you hear about a tax hike for “the rich” remember that “the rich” drive commerce, and those higher taxes will lead to higher prices for you. When you hear about a “tax cut” for the poor, remember that a cut being implemented means that politicians know your taxes were already too high to begin with, and probably still are, but the group getting the cut is a politically expedient poster-child for whatever cause-of-the-moment politicians are latching on to. It really is that simplistic.

Above all else, remember that your money is your money. The government only has a right to it if you give them that right. You give them that right by voting for politicians that raise taxes. Politicians only raise taxes to punish the rich (and thereby appease the poorer classes), and/or to fund government spending. Since even the most die-hard Democrat will laugh at a joke about government inefficiency, it should be clear to every American that funding government projects is a horrible idea. Indeed, history proves it so. And since there is no way to seriously claim that punishing the rich for being rich is in any way fair (to whom is a progressive tax fair, exactly?) or remotely American (sorry Biden, but you're dead wrong on this one if the Constitution and the founding fathers are any gauge), then why ever vote for anyone that raises taxes? The cynic in me has some answers, but the realist in me says that only a champion reader has suffered through my rant to this point, and I need to stop. Hopefully, you've learned something, or at the very least will think long and hard the next time you hear any politician of any political stripe talking about any kind of tax policy. Unless the politician is suggesting massive repeals, simplifications, and accompanying cuts in government spending, you can be absolutely and completely certain he/she is simply using tax as a political tool to manipulate you into voting against your own best interests. Every time this will be true, without exceptions. I guarantee it.

1.09.2009

THE COMING TRAIN WRECK

BY CINCINNATUS

I was greeted by this saddening news this morning: the US jobless rate rose to 7.2% at the close of 2008. According to the article, this is the highest jobless rate since 1993. The article, for the sole purpose of sensationalism (all too common in today’s media), also cites that number of jobs lost as the largest in the post-World War II era; this tidbit is meaningless as economies grow and shrink over time, as do populations. The percentage is the real figure of concern, and by any measure it is troubling.

What’s even more troubling is the thought of the government repealing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest tax bracket (which amounts to a tax increase regardless of the soft language used by its proponents) during this recession. David Axelrod, President-elect Obama’s senior advisor, has already promised that it will happen. Mr. Obama has tried to suggest that he may favor a delay of eliminating these tax cuts until their scheduled lapse on January 1, 2011. In either case, the administration has made the argument that they will go, sooner or later. And when they do, countless jobs will go with them.

If what Mr. Obama has said about this economy getting worse before it gets better is true, then it may be well near the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010 before we start to see a significant turnaround. If Mr. Obama’s stimulus package is passed, however, we can count on that recovery being stalled even further, as even some Democrats are beginning to recognize (see
here). While it may be a fashionable notion for Congress to spend us out of this recession, the fact remains that federal money has to come from the private sector, either now or later, in the form of taxes, debt or the issuance of fiat currency. Furthermore, the assumption that Congress is in any position to allocate that spending to the right places is the supreme logical fallacy; Congress will spend based upon lobbying, political expediency, and lastly economic advice (sound or otherwise). The outcome will be a repeat of the TARP fiasco, with Americans being squeezed even harder by government incompetence. The best place for any stimulus money is in the hands of the American taxpayer in the form of lower tax rates across the board (the government should have to learn to live with less during economic hard times, not the people).

So let’s assume that Mr. Obama’s stimulus is passed, and that the economic turnaround occurs, despite the president’s misguided efforts, in January of 2010 (for the sake nice, round numbers; I’m being charitable). What happens when it comes time to pay the piper several months later and the Bush tax cuts lapse? And bear in mind, the Obama administration will have to recover some of the money spent on its stimulus programs, which dwarf expected revenue from increased taxes on the wealthy, as they will not want to enter the re-election season with the largest federal deficit in American history; they may not be able to wait until 2011 to start collecting on the rich. As Mr. Obama is fond of saying when evading difficult questions, there will be some tough decisions to make. I leave the results of those decisions unsaid, but point only to the decisions themselves: tax rates increased on the wealthiest tax bracket (business owners) above and beyond the pre-Bush tax cut levels, and perhaps an increase in taxes on middle class Americans as well.


We’re currently watching the makings of a train wreck fueled by good intentions and political posturing. The government cannot avoid the inevitable collision of increased spending and current tax rates forever. The ensuing wreck may ensure that our economic recovery is left up to the next president to solve.

1.08.2009

DON'T BE FOOLED BY RED HEARINGS

BY SEACHRANAI

In the spirit of “cooperation”, and ushering in a “post-partisan” era of American politics, the Democratic majority in congress yesterday held a “hearing” on the implementation of a massive government spending “stimulus” package.

Now if you are wondering why there are so many quotes in the previous sentence, let me explain. “Cooperation” and “hearing” are in quotes because the Republican minority was not allowed to invite speakers to participate in the hearing, which means this isn’t really a hearing at all – more of a “presentation” or perhaps “political infomercial”.

Furthermore, the term “stimulus” is in quotes as a great number of economists believe that such spending will not stimulate the economy at all. On a related note, all empirical evidence in the global history of government economic policy supports this skeptical view. No wonder they weren’t invited to the “hearing”. Rep. John Boehner, held his own “hearing” in the form of a less ostentatious six page list of
dissenting remarks on the matter.

Lastly I’d like to point out that the term “post-partisan” is in quotes due to its sheer irony. Our current “partisan” or “bi-partisan” debate can best be traced back to Newt Gingrich who made a conscious effort to invite both sides to the table in the 90’s to ensure all views were aired in the public forum before the Congress passed legislation. Under Democrat Party control prior to the Gingrich era, open debate of views skeptical of the majority party’s opinion were often quashed. Partisanship is not bad – in its most base ideological form, it represents elected officials standing fast to the values on which their constituents had elected them. If anything, we are currently seeing a shift to a “pre-partisan” era in which open, intelligent debate is being replaced with one sided rhetorical grandstanding to create the illusion of a comprehensive forum. It is the political equivalent of sitting at your desk and pretending to work – perhaps you put on a good show, but ultimately you get nothing accomplished.

STIMULUS PACKAGE

BY CINCINNATUS

I think it’s fair to say that the “bailout” has officially become a laughingstock (it’s been an unofficial laughingstock for quite some time now). When I read
this today I just about soiled myself in the ensuing giggling fit. It seems Larry Flynt can’t keep his profits up, so he and Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis are asking Congress for a modest bailout of $5 billion in the name of America’s sexual health. Given the salacious nature of this whole topic I’m not going to dwell on it, and frankly I don’t think anything I write could add any more humor to it all.

I’ll just take a moment to remind Congress of the power Larry Flynt held over them during the Lewinsky scandal (see
here). If you don’t pony up the blackmail money, who knows which one of you will have your peccadilloes splashed across the pages of Hustler?

1.06.2009

THE TRANSPARENT PRESIDENT

BY CINCINNATUS

With the withdrawal of Bill Richardson from consideration as Commerce Secretary under a cloud of scandal (see here), one starts to wonder exactly how transparent and transcendent the new Obama administration will actually be. With a campaign message that focused on ethics and keeping lobbyists out of the White House (a message I find wholly appropriate given the current state of our politics), President-elect Obama seems to be bending if not altogether breaking his own rules in deference to paying political patronage. Once again, he may become the victim of his own image and branding, which has created seriously high expectations from both his supporters and his opponents.

Obama’s Elliot Ness-like “Untouchable” mystique was never altogether unassailable (the Tony Rezko dealings, his rapid rise through the notoriously corrupt Chicago political machine), but by playing on the disillusionment of Americans and making himself larger than life by careful image cultivation, he managed to not only survive the 2008 election season but emerge victorious. He raised the stakes in doing so, however, and promised Americans an Obama that he certainly cannot deliver, in large part because he invited voters to project their wants and beliefs onto him rather than be entirely honest about his own political views and goals. Even with the “honeymoon” he’s absolutely certain to enjoy with the media for the first 3 to 6 months of his presidency, he unfortunately faces too many perils to remain the romanticized Barack Obama of Americans’ imaginations.

But the first cracks appearing in the Obama veneer are in the realm of ethics; a very bad way to start. President-elect Obama outright broke his own promise to keep special interests out of his White House when he nominated Senator Clinton for the job of Secretary of State. Her conflicts of interest are well-documented (now that the
list of donors to the William J Clinton Foundation have been pried from their hands). Whether or not she allows herself to be influenced by these interests, the level of scrutiny that will result from her association with them will have a profound impact on how she conducts American foreign policy. In either case, she is a poor choice given Obama’s pledge to have a transparent government free of lobbyists. There were countless, more eminently qualified candidates out there with much less political baggage. But the Clinton machine has to be fed, so he threw them a sizeable bone.

And now he’s faced with the Richardson issue, something he was well aware of when he tapped the New Mexico Governor to serve as Commerce Secretary in his administration. The grand jury investigation of a California firm that donated to Governor Richardson’s campaign and was subsequently awarded a large contract by the New Mexico Finance Authority had been in the news since August, according to Richardson’s team, and was on the Obama team’s radar since a few weeks prior to Richardson’s nomination. The President-elect once again chose political expediency over adherence to principle. Richardson, who broke ties with his former patrons the Clintons to support Mr. Obama during the primary campaign, is almost certainly fuming now that his nomination has come to an abrupt end well after he disclosed the investigation.

If you feel I’m being too exacting, please don’t misunderstand. I know there are realities in politics, but the point is that President-elect Obama promised to transcend traditional politics. He promised to keep corruption out of his administration altogether. He’s compelling all applicants for jobs within his administration to undergo a rigorous background check that has been well-publicized in the media (not by accident). He has promised us a break with “old politics.” I wouldn’t have any problem with these promises whatsoever, if he was at all serious about keeping them. Indeed, I would be the first to applaud him. But sadly he’s demonstrated that he’s willing to break them where political capital is to be gained, the Clinton nomination being the prime example. And he hasn’t even been inaugurated yet.