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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Archive for January, 2010

Are we sure smaller government is the answer?

Posted by Free to Think on January 26, 2010

In a recent online discussion, I was asked why I was so sure smaller government is the answer. So let me just briefly touch on some basics.

I have argued that America has not only been divided by the haves and have-not, but by two mindsets. The “Entitlement Society” feels that Americans need to depend on the guidance and support of the government. They feel it’s necessary for lawmakers to rein in the greed of American businesses and of the public with detailed regulations. They say it’s in our best interest to renounce our freedoms and privacy, so that the government may monitor us to keep us safe from harm. They say we should trust legislators to take the money we earn and allocate it to corporations, banks, farmers, seniors, the poor, and other categories of people and groups in a way that that will make society most fair to everyone.

The “Independent Society” feels our Founding Fathers had the right idea: let’s keep the least amount of power possible in the hands of government.

Just one result of Big Government is that America is drowning in debt, and piling on more at an alarming rate. President Bush expanded the federal budget by a historic $700 billion through 2008. President Obama would add another $1 trillion. Obama has repeatedly claimed that his budget would cut the deficit by half by the end of his term. But in just one year in office, the deficit has quadrupled. No matter what your political affiliation is, you cannot deny that a society that spends more than it earns is in deep trouble. We simply can’t afford everything we’d like to do.

Secondly, there are so many thousands of pages of legislation passed every year that these days Congressmen regularly vote on laws without even reading them through (that may seem too ludicrous to even believe, but read more about this issue here or here). And even if they did read every page, lawmakers simply don’t have the skill set to micromanage every aspect of every business, industry and life choice. Nor do they have the right.

The authority of Congress is clearly spelled out in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution. The founders of this nation limited the jurisdiction of our legislators so our government wouldn’t grow too powerful and threaten the liberty of the people. Unfortunately, these constitutional parameters have been ignored in recent years by Congress, and their violations overlooked by the media and the public. Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government given authority to spy on citizens, tax them for the purpose of redistributing wealth, meddle in the politics of foreign countries, create social programs, subsidize farms, or bail out failing corporations, to name just a few. Yes, there need to be laws and programs, but this should be created with prudence. Every bill that’s passed has implications and unforeseen repercussions on our lives and freedoms.

Oh no, you say! Without copious regulations big business will become too powerful! But on the contrary, the more regulations the government writes, the greater the involvement of the powerful corporate lobby, who have a hand in drafting proposals to their own advantage. As I’ve described above, politicians don’t have the time to read all the regulations they pass, and often rely on business “experts” who are representing the very companies that are being regulated (and who are also usually big financial supporters) to advise them. The little guy and the American public have no such opportunity. Yes, there should be and are laws to uphold contracts, guard individual’s rights, protect against monopoly and unscrupulous business practices, etc. But the less the government controls industries, grants corporate welfare and bails out companies, the less power big business AND big government will have.

Our poor educational system is an excellent example of how a mountain of regulations and complete control by the government doesn’t necessarily lead to a high-quality product. It’s not really the government’s fault. There are just too many variables to contend with, which is precisely why free enterprise works. The U.S. Post Office delivered our mail the same old way for decades. There was no competition and no reason to change. First Class mail is protected by legal monopoly, put in place as a “funding mechanism.” Despite this, the USPS has not been able to perform the simple task of delivering mail without running a deficit year after year. It took a private company to take the initiative for coming up with overnight mail that dramatically transformed the industry.

But the most important reason for smaller government is because, as Gerald Ford aptly put it, “a government big enough to give us everything we want is a government big enough to take from us everything we have.” You may happen to like the guy in office today, but every new power the Executive and Legislative branch grants themselves will be available to the next guy in office, someone with whom you may not be quite as enamored. Every subsequent administration can tweak these powers for their own uses. For example, if the government seizes control of our health care system, it becomes their domain. The bickering, concessions and details of the plan the Republicans and Democrats have fought so hard about will be moot years down the road. Reality will set in, the price tag of what they are trying to achieve will skyrocket, and they will have the power to alter their expectations of what Universal Healthcare should achieve and their demands upon the public. As time goes on new legislators will be elected, ones you may not have voted for. They will decide what they think is best for the public, and the healthcare program will change even more. And the American autonomy in healthcare will be forever gone.

But, you ask, can’t we trust our politicians to respect the wishes of the people and have the best interest of the American public at heart?

Perhaps it can be said that Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson had the people of his state at heart when he negotiated millions in kickbacks for Nebraska last month in exchange for backing the Senate’s health care reform bill. Perhaps the other congressional Democrats also had the best interest of the people in mind when they agreed to this bribe, knowing that his vote was vital to passage of their bill. After all, it’s just a few million taxpayer dollars. But is this how congressional business should be run? The people of Nebraska, recipients of the proposed windfall don’t think so. The majority wanted this provision struck from the plan, and Sen. Nelson’s approval ratings have dipped dramatically.

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy was first elected when his brother was president in 1962. His life-long reign (more on why it’s so difficult to defeat a sitting member of the Senate later) helped him attain the power to be appointed Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. But was he out of touch with the people?

It was an ironic twist that it was Kennedy’s vacant seat, usurped by a Republican, that swung the balance of power on the healthcare proposal. Scott Brown’s triumph in the special Senate race in one of the country’s most liberal states, marked the third statewide loss in a row for President Obama’s party.

“In some ways this election was a referendum for health care.” said AP reporter Liz Sidoti. “Health care dominated this race.” So did this make the Democratic leaders stand up and take notice of public opinion, instead of continuing to blindly concentrate on advancing their agenda? Well…not initially. “Despite all of the activity in Massachusetts…we’re right on course,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially following the election. “We will have a health care bill and it will be soon. Regardless of what happened in Massachusetts, we believe it will happen.”

Just four days later, her arrogance had seemed to recede as reality set in: she had to admit that there just weren’t going to be enough votes to jam this legislation through.

So are our representatives finally starting to listen to the public?

On Sunday USAToday reported, “Obama to reintroduce himself during State of the Union Wednesday.”

Silly me! I thought we had made his acquaintance during the campaign and his first year of office!

In an interview with ABC News Obama said, “The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office,” he said. “People are angry; they are frustrated.”

Frustration is good. Now, it’s time to stop settling. That “change” everyone so desperately wanted is not going to be easy, and a bigger, more powerful federal government is not the way to achieve it.

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More of the Same

Posted by Free to Think on January 12, 2010

I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I’m trying to light a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America.”

– Lee Iacocca, “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?”

For eight years I was one of George W. Bush’s loudest opponents. While Congress blithely fell for the misinformation fed to them by the Bush administration, I was a vocal foe of initiating a war in Iraq. I was shocked at how easily Bush had gotten away with abusing his Executive Powers, instituting unconstitutional laws such as the Patriot Act, which sanctioned wiretapping, warrantless search and seizure, and detaining without charge of American citizens.

Like most of America, in the last Presidential election I wanted change. The problem is I wanted real change.

And now, one year after the Democrats have taken over the Executive Office, what change do we see?

The Democratic platform that most distinguished Obama from Republican rival McCain during the 2009 election was the promise to end the war in Iraq. In January 2007, Obama offered legislation to remove all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008.

“The days of our open-ended commitment must come to a close. It is time for us to fundamentally change our policy. It is time to give Iraqis their country back,” Obama said in his speech. “When it comes to the war in Iraq, the time for promises and assurances, for waiting and for patience, is over. Too many lives have been lost and too many billions of dollars have been spent, for us to trust the president on another tired and failed policy.”

Yet today the war lingers on in basically the same form as the McCain proposal Obama had so fiercely attacked during the election.

In February 2009, just one month after taking office, President Barack Obama announced that he’d withdraw most of the U.S. combat troops from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, but planned to leave approximately 50,000 U.S. troops there through December 2011. Sen. John McCain lauded the plan, which was very much in line with what he had proposed all along.

Kudos to Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) who was willing to speak out: “You cannot leave combat troops in a foreign country to conduct combat operations and call it the end of the war. You can’t be in and out at the same time.”

Meanwhile the war continues on, with little press or discussion. An ABC story about Iraq last week focused on the semantics of how to refer to the armed forces there now, since all 38 countries that had been supporting our war effort have pulled out. The dropping of the name “multi-national” removes one of the last reminders of the “coalition of the willing” that the Bush administration used to describe our invasion.

The U.S. will linger there for at least another two years. Obama has failed to mention that the plan to remove the final 50,000 troops by Dec. 31, 2011, is exactly the same as the Bush administration’s withdraw pact with Iraq from 2008.

Is that change?

The Obama administration has yet to reinstate American’s civil rights by revoking even one unconstitutional law that was passed by George W. Bush. On the contrary, in September Obama sought to extend three contentious provisions of the USA Patriot Act that were set to expire – a bill once described by President Obama as “shoddy.”

One of the most controversial provisions of the law – the so-called national security letter – won’t be expiring. It allows the FBI to obtain phone, bank, and other records without judicial approval. In other words, Big Brother is here.

Is that change?

The Democrats also promised us transparency, but have repeatedly failed to deliver it.

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government,” states Obama’s official website. (I cannot refrain from wondering who decided to capitalize the word “government,” which is not a proper noun.)

Yet Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times reports that Senate and House plan to push the extremely controversial healthcare legislation through Congress behind closed doors, a move that’s very unorthodox.

C-SPAN requested to televise the reconciliation hearings. The request was rejected. For what purpose? National security? Certainly not, but perhaps to allow privacy for the back-room deals Congressional leaders will be making, using our tax dollars as bribes to buy votes. This is standard practice, and why the negotiations such as these really do need to be televised.

Is that change?

As you may recall, both presidential candidates made strong, albeit vague references to making healthcare affordable for everyone in the 2008 campaign, and neither candidate specifically endorsed the very controversial Universal Healthcare. That is, until after Obama took office. It wasn’t until June 2009 that Obama proclaimed his intention for a universal health system, declaring, “We have decided that it’s time to give every American quality healthcare at an affordable cost.” Interesting. Who is “we” and why didn’t “we” specify this intention during the campaign if “we” are so sure this is what America wants? Perhaps because too many voters would have felt that “quality affordable” health care is not something the government should be or is capable of delivering? Polls vary depending on the source, but it’s obvious that American opinion is divided. Do “we” compel participation in a healthcare program that more than half of the population doesn’t want, or is unsure about?

I’m not satisfied. Are you?

Failure to deliver on promises and ignoring the wishes of the public is not exclusive to Democrats. The “fiscally responsible” Republican Party vowed sounder spending when Bush took office in 2001 and then proceeded to ratchet up the deficit for the next eight years.

Unfortunately, few politicians in either bloated party have the ability to see beyond granting themselves more power in one arena or another. Personal ambition gets in the way of tackling difficult issues. But it all makes perfect sense: if you were a politician, think of all the programs you’d want to support with your constituents’ tax dollars. Think of how annoying it would be to have to deal with the taxpayers who disagree with your plans.

The fact is that our government is no longer run by the people, but by career politicians and lawyers who simply don’t have the skill set or the motivation to make the wisest, most judicious decisions. The President is almost certain to have the support of all Congressmen in his party. Career politicians rely upon funds from their political party for reelection. Of course they feel pressure to vote in line with their powerful partisan leadership.

When faced with the dirty work of telling the American public that our country’s deficit is leading us into bankruptcy and we need to cut our budget, wouldn’t you prefer to look like the generous benefactor, promising more benefits and ignoring our debts?

It’s much easier to make campaign promises than to deliver in the face of difficult obstacles. When there’s no consequence for breaking your pledges, why wouldn’t politicians promise away?

When all our nation has is the powerful Demo-Republican monopoly, where does it leave a citizen who believes in responsible spending, a smaller, less intrusive government, a reduction in foreign combat and presence, a return to personal self-sufficiency, Constitutionally-sound laws, and freedom for Americans to lead their lives without the moral judgment of elected officials? These are the entitlements I wish our leaders would be willing to address. These goals have been paid a lot of lip service, but neither party has demonstrated the ability to fulfill them.

We must hold our civil servants to their promises, and demand greater accountability.

It’s not about whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Lee Iacocca, the phenomenally successful CEO who turned around the Chrysler Corporation when they were on the verge of bankruptcy, understands leadership.  “Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us. And don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument, and it’s part of the reason we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions. We’re a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together,” says in his book, “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?”

I couldn’t agree more.

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