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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Do We Need A New Political Party?

“We have heard of the impious doctrine in the old world that the people were made for kings, not kings for the people. Is the same doctrine to be revived in the new, in another shape - that the solid happiness of the people is to be sacrificed to the views of political institutions of a different form? It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object.” James Madison, Federalist No. 45.

Last week, newly elected Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz said a new party has to be started according to a report in The Blaze. On his Monday evening broadcast, Glenn Beck agreed that Democrats and Republicans are essentially the same today, but that even the GOP has lost its principles.

Beck came to Cruz’s defense after the newly elected senator came under fire for remarking that President Obama is the most “radical” president in history.

The real political spectrum, according to Beck, is not about just left and right or Democrat and Republican, but rather about people who value freedom and those who do not. Or, in the more literal sense, a range spanning from anarchy to totalitarianism.

Founders like such as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were fearful of political parties. Madison saw the dangers of political parties when he wrote in Federalist 45:

“ the views of political institutions of a different form? It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object.”

Since the adoption of the Constitution the United States has had many political parties — some lasting and some irrelevant. Throughout most of its history, American politics have been dominated by a two-party system. However, the United States Constitution has always been silent on the issue of political parties; at the time it was signed in 1787, there were no parties in the nation. Indeed, no nation in the world had voter-based political parties. The need to win popular support in a republic led to the American invention of political parties in the 1790s. Americans were especially innovative in devising new campaign techniques that linked public opinion with public policy through the party

The longest lasting political party is the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party evolved from Anti-Federalist factions that opposed the fiscal policies of Alexander Hamilton in the early 1790s. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison organized these factions into the Democratic-Republican Party. The party favored states' rights and strict adherence to the Constitution; it opposed a national bank and wealthy, moneyed interests. The Democratic-Republican Party ascended to power in the election of 1800.

After the War of 1812, the party's chief rival, the Federalist Party, associated with the disloyalty and parochialism of the Hartford Convention, lost much of the favor it had previously enjoyed, and eventually disbanded in the late 1820s. Democratic-Republicans split over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe, and the party faction that supported many of the old Jeffersonian principles, led by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, became the Democratic Party.

Along with the Whig Party, the Democratic Party was one of the major political parties in the United States until the Civil War. The Whigs were a commercial party, and usually less popular, if better financed. The Whigs divided over the slavery issue after the Mexican–American War and faded away. In the 1850s, under the stress of the Fugitive Slave Law and the Kansas–Nebraska Act, anti-slavery Democrats left the party. Joining with former members of existing or dwindling parties, the Republican Party emerged.

The Whig Party was a political party active in the early 19th century in the United States. Four presidents of the United States were members of the Whig party. The party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party. In particular, the Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the presidency and favored a program of modernization and economic protectionism. This name was chosen to echo the American Whigs of 1776, who fought for independence, and because "Whig" was then a widely recognized label of choice for people who identified as opposing tyranny. The Whig Party counted among its members such national political luminaries as Daniel Webster, William Henry Harrison, and their preeminent leader, Henry Clay of Kentucky. In addition to Harrison, the Whig Party also nominated war hero generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Abraham Lincoln was the chief Whig leader in frontier Illinois.

The American Whigs were modernizers who saw President Andrew Jackson as "a dangerous man on horseback" with a "reactionary opposition" to the forces of social, economic and moral modernization. Most of the founders of the Whig party had supported Jeffersonian democracy and the Democratic-Republican Party. The Republicans who formed the Whig party, led by Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, drew on a Jeffersonian tradition of compromise and balance in government, national unity, territorial expansion, and support for a national transportation network and domestic manufacturing. Jacksonians looked to Jefferson for opposition to the National Bank and internal improvements and support of egalitarian democracy and state power. Despite the apparent unity of Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans from 1800 to 1824, ultimately the American people preferred partisan opposition to popular political agreement. This was something Madison feared and warned against in his famous essay published in Federalist 10.

The party was ultimately destroyed by the question of whether to allow the expansion of slavery to the territories. With deep fissures in the party on this question, the anti-slavery faction prevented the re-nomination of its own incumbent President Fillmore in the 1852 presidential election; instead, the party nominated General Winfield Scott. Most Whig party leaders thereupon quit politics (as Lincoln did temporarily) or changed parties.

The Republican Party was founded in the Northern states in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, modernizers, ex-Whigs and ex-Free Soilers, the Republican Party quickly became the principal opposition to the dominant Southern Democratic Party and the briefly popular Know Nothing Party. The main cause was opposition to the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise by which slavery was kept out of Kansas. The Northern Republicans saw the expansion of slavery as a great evil. The first public meeting where the name "Republican" was suggested for a new anti-slavery party was held on March 20, 1854 in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin.

The first official party convention was held on July 6, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. By 1858, the Republicans dominated nearly all Northern states. The Republican Party first came to power in 1860 with the election of Lincoln to the Presidency and Republicans in control of Congress and again, the Northern states. It oversaw the saving of the union, the end of slavery, and the provision of equal rights to all men in the American Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877.

The Republicans' initial base was in the Northeast and the upper Midwest. With the realignment of parties and voters in the Third Party System, the strong run of John C. Fremont in the 1856 Presidential election demonstrated it dominated most northern states.

Early Republican ideology was reflected in the 1856 slogan "free labor, free land, and free men", which had been coined by Salmon P. Chase, a Senator from Ohio (and future Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the United States). "Free labor" referred to the Republican opposition to slave labor and belief in independent artisans and businessmen. "Free land" referred to Republican opposition to plantation system whereby slave-owners could buy up all the good farm land, leaving the yeoman independent farmers the leftovers. The Party strived to contain the expansion of slavery, which would cause the collapse of the slave power and the expansion of freedom.

Over the years both parties morphed into something their founders never expected them to be. The Democratic Party morphed from the anti-federalist policies of Andrew Jackson to the progressive policies of the administrative state of Woodrow Wilson to the socialistic policies of the New Deal and finally to the big government nanny state policies of the Great Society. Today the Democratic Party is certainly not the party of Andrew Jackson or Grover Cleveland. It has become the progressive party of Lyndon Johnson and Barak Obama.

Likewise the Republican Party has changed from its roots of liberty and free enterprise. Around the end of the 19th century the Republican Party became controlled by the northeastern, big business factions. This began with William McKinley and spilled over to Theodore Roosevelt and the growth of the Progressive movement in the United States. Though McKinley's administration was cut short with his assassination, his presidency marked the beginning of a period of dominance by the Republican Party that lasted for more than a third of a century. Historians regard McKinley's 1896 victory as a realigning election, in which the political stalemate of the post-Civil War era gave way to the Republican-dominated Fourth Party System, which began with the Progressive Era.

Theodore Roosevelt succeeded McKinley on the latter’s assassination in 1901 and thus began a series of Republican presidents until 1932. There was, however, an 8-year period from 1913 to 1921 when the Democrat Woodrow Wilson occupied the White House. Wilson’s election in 1912 did not represent a shift in political power in the United States, but was due to a split in the Republican Party between the incumbent president William Howard Taft and his third party challenger Theodore Roosevelt. When Roosevelt’s nomination by the northeastern Republican establishment, headed by Taft and Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt bolted the party and founded his Progressive (Bull Moose) Party. The election of 1912 featured four candidates: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and the socialist leader Eugene Debs. Wilson received only 41.8% of the vote while Taft and Roosevelt received 27.4% and 23.2% respectively. Debs received 6.0%. This split propelled Wilson to the White House for the next eight years During his eight years Wilson brought forth the growth of the administrative state, tremendous growth in government, participation in the First World War, and the growth of the government elites and masterminds.

By 1920 and in the depths of a mini depression with unemployment at 8.7% and disgust at effects of Wilson’s War the public turned back to the Republican Party and elected the Warren Harding. Harding was a self-made newspaper publisher who served as a member of the Ohio Senate, 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and U.S. Senator. He was the first incumbent United States Senator and the first newspaper publisher to be elected President. He also coined the phrase "Founding Fathers."

Harding was the compromise candidate in the 1920 election, when he promised the nation a return to "normalcy", in the form of a strong economy, independent of foreign influence. He and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge, defeated Democrat and fellow Ohioan James M. Cox in the largest presidential popular vote landslide (60.36% to 34.19%) since popular vote totals were first recorded.

Harding’s administration was filled with crony capitalists and his political friends known as the “Ohio Gang” But the economy grew at a rapid rate through a period known as the “Roaring Twenties.” Following Harding's sudden death of a heart attack in 1923, members of the Ohio Gang were effectively removed from the corridors of power by Harding's Vice President and successor, Calvin Coolidge.

Coolidge restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor's administration, and left office with considerable popularity. As a Coolidge biographer put it, "He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength." Coolidge praised the achievement of widespread prosperity in 1928, saying: "The requirements of existence have passed beyond the standard of necessity into the region of luxury." Some later criticized Coolidge as part of a general criticism of laissez-faire government. His reputation underwent a renaissance during the Ronald Reagan Administration, but the ultimate assessment of his presidency is still divided between those who approve of his reduction of the size of government programs and those who believe the federal government should be more involved in regulating and controlling the economy.

Coolidge was succeeded by the Republican Herbert Hoover. Hoover, a globally experienced engineer, believed strongly in the Efficiency Movement, which held that the government and the economy were riddled with inefficiency and waste, and could be improved by experts who could identify the problems and solve them. He also believed in the importance of volunteerism and of the role of individuals in society and the economy. When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, Hoover tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression with government enforced efforts, public works projects such as the Hoover Dam, tariffs such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, an increase in the top tax bracket from 25% to 63% and increases in corporate taxes. These initiatives did not produce economic recovery during his term, but served as the groundwork for various policies incorporated in Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.

For the next 20 years the White House was occupied by Democrats. This included Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. The election of 1952 brought another Republican, Dwight Eisenhower to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Eisenhower was president during the height of the Cold War. Among his enduring innovations, he launched the Interstate Highway System; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which led to the internet, among many invaluable outputs; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), driving peaceful discovery in space; the establishment of strong science education via the National Defense Education Act; and encouraging peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act. He was the first term-limited president in accordance with the 22nd Amendment. Eisenhower's two terms were peaceful ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958–59.

With the election of John Kennedy in 1960 until today the Republican Party has been populated with a mixed bag of politicians while the Democratic Party has moved farther and farther to the left. Republican Presidents such as Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and his son George W. Bush, while expressing conservative and constitutional ideologies did little to turn back the vision of our Founding Fathers. There was a brief period when Ronald Reagan pulled the government back to this vision of liberty and the respect for private property, but he was thwarted by a Democratic controlled congress.

The administrations of Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and now Barack Obama have pushed the nation so far to the left and the expansion of Wilson’s administrative state. Since Ronald Reagan the Republican Party has followed the Democrats in their desire to gain and retain political power. Today’s Republican Party, with the exception of a few Tea Party members, has done little to return to principals of Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan and constitutional government. In my view his is why the Republicans are losing support among conservatives and conservative leaning independents who comprise the majority of the electorate.

I believe that, as I stated above, with the exception of a few conservative Tea Party supported politicians such as Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, the Republican Party, like the Whigs, is becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the electorate. Like the Whigs they have become divided over the issue of the size of government, and more importantly what the functions of the federal government should be.

The issue that divided the Whigs and was the catalyst to the formation of the Republican Party was slavery. This was a constitutional issue. Other attempts at forming a third party like the Bull Moose Party were centered on individuals. This time we have another constitutional issue that a new party could be formed on — and that issue is the Debt. We are $16.5 trillion dollars in debt and climbing. We live with a perpetual $1 trillion plus deficit each year, a deficit that requires more borrowing that increases the debt. 87% of Americans believe we have a spending problem. That is a far greater percentage of those anti-slavery groups in 1854. We are on track to the Tytler Cycle that states:

  • From bondage to spiritual faith;
  • From spiritual faith to great courage;
  • From courage to liberty;
  • From liberty to abundance;
  • From abundance to complacency;
  • From complacency to apathy;
  • From apathy to dependence;
  • From dependence back into bondage

Whether or not this cycle was developed by Alexander Fraser Tytler is irrelevant. The cycle is true as Alexis de Tocqueville stated in his book Democracy in America some 178 years ago:

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.”

For the past 100 years politicians from both parties have been bribing the electorate with free stuff in order to gain and remain in power.

Since Ronald Reagan the Republican Party has been more concerned with getting elected than adhering to the principals of our Founding Fathers as expressed in our organic laws of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Northwest Ordinance, and the Constitution. They have, like the Whigs, become the party of go along to get along. That’s why many are considered Republicans in Name Only (RHINOs). As demonstrated by the 2012 election they had no real message except jobs. This did not garner a ground swell of support from the constitutional conservatives.

The Republicans may as well stop their soul-searching and look at the reality of the Democrat electorate. In addition to those Republican voters who stayed home on Election Day, the hard-core (so-called) progressives, the inadequate Republican ground game, and those who pay little or no federal tax and are happy to elect those who promise to take larger sums from those who DO pay, there's a more profound and possibly intractable problem. It seems clear that many, many voters — we will never be sure of their numbers — neither hear, nor are interested in hearing, the stance of constitutional conservatives or Republicans. I'm often incredulous at the self-satisfied political ignorance and gullibility of successful, otherwise high-functioning and intellectually curious Democrats. The range and depth of their ignorance regarding easily ascertainable facts is astounding ("No, President Obama has NOT increased the deficit: that's a lie! For your information, President Obama has spent less than any President in history!"); and many, in my experience, cite the New York Times as their irrefutable source of information, with phrases like: "The Times didn't mention it so it can't be true or relevant."

For these people, it really doesn't matter what conservatives or Republicans think or say. They won't hear it! Republican positions are totally lost — unheard and meaningless — to a growing number of the electorate, including huge swaths of highly-educated and effective leaders in society. It would be understating the issue to note that the Republican/conservative "brand" has been sullied — but it begins to convey the nature of the problem. It’s more accurate to say that the Republican/conservative brand has been effectively nullified for many people. For a growing number of voters, it doesn't matter what Republicans say: they have bought into the idea — nurtured by the press, educators at every level, and almost the entire entertainment industry — that Republicans are the "bad guys". Furthermore, and possibly more disturbing, is the fact that this apparently mushrooming group of voters is largely unaware of and unconcerned about their stance.

Imagine trying to discuss the strengths of Judaism with members of the Hitler Youth, or the weaknesses of Mao's Great Leap Forward with a cadre of the Red Guard: would your ideas be heard and rationally considered? Or suppose you were running for office and these youngsters could vote: would they vote for you? When you discovered that you'd lost their vote and consequently an election, would you then ask yourself, for example, whether the ideas or nature of Judaism were at fault for your inability to persuade them?

That's about the level of it with much of the U.S. electorate: they've totally bought into the liberal stance — which these days includes refusing to hear or even consider ideas of the blacklisted opposition — and there's no indication that they'll be coming back to a more rational stance.

To call these people "zealots" would be overstating their political energy, but calling them "partisans" is somehow off point. Many of them, but for their political stance, would be considered bright or knowledgeable, as I'm sure were many of the Hitler Youth, the Red Guard and members of like organizations, who were often specially selected for their academic, athletic and social skills.

When I was young, it was a matter of pride that we'd try to familiarize ourselves with both sides of an argument: my teachers mostly attempted to present alternative views fairly and encouraged us to research opposing political stances independently. To this effect in my twelve grade civics class we would be given topics to research and debate before the class. Now educators at every level mostly seem to expect adherence to the liberal/Democrat position, and both challenge (even threaten) those who disagree, and create an environment where alternative views and their proponents are mocked (or worse).

To Republicans and conservatives, I'd say the same thing to you that I'd say to a Rabbi rejected by the Hitler Youth. If you think that the Democrats heard, digested and rejected your arguments in the last election, you're deluded. Your brand is so soiled that you will not be heard by this generation short of a calamity on the order of the one that befell the Nazis. Your misreading of the times and the situation is startling. You look like bewildered youngsters trying to please a psychotic mother, looking for cues in an electorate and media that derides and, in many cases, despises you. In terms of convincing the electorate of the good sense of your positions, there may not be workable solutions: but take a first step by facing the truth: you have allowed the culture to drift for decades, and one feature of the drift is the acceptability of determined mindlessness including the mindless rejection of you and whatever it is that you proclaim. You still have a substantial choir to whom you preach but probably a larger counter-choir that not only doesn't hear you but aggressively covers its ears when you speak.

Another element that makes the position of Republicans and conservatives almost untenable is the range of techniques for destroying them that are accepted by many Americans and the mainstream press. The most effective and destructive technique is so-called "political correctness", a method of silencing those who disagree with a group or party controlling the political agenda. It's a technique that depends on a constant reinforcing dialogue between the media and compliant citizens. Political correctness is a capital political concept because the participants silently acquiesce to its dictates; it's a self-modulating system where groups of people self-monitor and groom each other into conformity; through unspoken or overt threats of censure, it propagates itself; and, among the willing, it inevitably leads to the control of thought. If we freely restrict our speech to only "allowed" topics, in short order we restrict our thinking as well. In the end there is no more powerful political tool than thought control, which is why mastery and management of information is a central issue in all totalitarian regimes. What has required the overt elimination or forced domination of media outlets in most autocratic regimes has been yielded up easily by our group-think media, who now march along in near lockstep while trumpeting their independence. Political correctness must be a beautiful thing to behold if you're a politician inclined toward domination.

Another technique is the investigation and censure of politicians and groups who don't fit the media or left wing paradigm, while ignoring or manipulating scandalous information on political allies. When potentially damaging information about left wing allies is ignored by the mainstream media, it simply "doesn't exist" to growing numbers of otherwise well-informed acolytes. This is why Sarah Palin is regarded as perhaps the most heinous and hated American politician today to a large portion of the population, while Bill Clinton is lionized and his wife may be the brightest woman in the western world. With enough investigation and diligence, anyone can be destroyed and almost anyone can be elevated. Again, who is destroyed and who idealized is totally within the control of the mainstream media and the left wing. Conservatives and Republicans cannot substantially affect these processes because of the nullification of their brand advanced through the press, the entertainment media and educational institutions.

We are observing the regression of a culture — one that is moving away from sophistication and proudly stepping backward from civilizing attempts. We have seen primitive behavior in our own culture and others. When people look to a label or a skin color as all that need be said about a person; when information from trusted sources of information are grossly biased so only one side is heard or even "exists"; and when physical or administrative violence against people is belittled, laughed at or ignored. It's a cultural regression and, as the unifying, reassuring legal structures and precepts wither, as information sources become untrustworthy, and as physical and administrative violence worsens, it becomes increasingly difficult to reverse.

When the Whigs lost their credibility and influence in 1854 a group of courageous men meet in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin to form a new party dedicated to the abolishment of slavery. Six years later the first Republican President was elected and a bloody civil war ensued, but slavery was abolished once and for all. It is going to take a like group of men and women to take a similar action to bring our nation back to the vision of our Founding Fathers. It will be a bloody fight and the people leading that fight will have to be tough-minded and principled. All we need now is a name for this new party. Perhaps Constitutional Party might work.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Oscars

“What's fascinating is, people in Washington would rather spend time in Hollywood, and people in Hollywood would rather spend time in Washington.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Last night I watched the 85th Academy Awards show — now known as the “Oscars” in honor of the statuette that is given to the winners. Once again the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) chose the Dolby Theater (formerly the Kodak Theater) as the venue for this gala night where Hollywood honors itself.

As usual the show was too long as were some of the acceptance speeches. The host, Seth MacFarlane, did a fair job, but to me some of his trials at humor fell short of the mark. I thought there were some highlights during the 3 hour and 35 minute show and definitely some low points. Here are my highlights:

76-year-old Shirley Bassey singing the theme song to Goldfinger during the salute to 50 years of James Bond 007 movies for which she received a standing ovation.

The tribute to 50 years of James Bond movies — no doubt the longest franchise in movie history with 23 films. It’s interesting to note that the first 007 movie — Dr. No had a filming budget of $1.2 million and the budget for the latest 007 film — Skyfall — was $230 million. This shows how the cost of movies has escalated in the past 50 years.

The musical performance by the cast of “Les Misérables.” Although the musical performances were a bit too long they did add a bit of entertainment to the commercial-laden show.

Adele Adkins singing the theme song she and Paul Epworth wrote for Skyfall for which they received the Oscar for best original song.

MacFarlane’s joke that Argo, a film about a secret operation to free some of the hostages during the Iran hostage crisis, was so secret the Academy did not know who the director was.

Now for the low points:

William Shatner dressed as his "Star Trek" character, appearing on a screen less than 10 minutes into the telecast to cut off what he called MacFarlane’s offensive jokes. Shatner said he was coming from the future to “stop you from destroying the Academy Awards.” He then went on to hold up a news article that read “Seth MacFarlane Worst Oscar Host Ever.”

Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow not being nominated for best director while their films were box office hits

Jane Fonda appearing on stage as one of the presenters. The 75-year old has been was showcased no doubt in an attempt to rehabilitate herself for her traitorous efforts during the Vietnam War. I would venture to say that every Vietnam vet watching the show was tempted to turn off the TV when she walked into the spotlight.

And no doubt the lowest point was when the aging and boring Jack Nicholson turned to introduce Michelle Obama as the presenter for the best picture award. Ms. Obama appeared on the big jumbotron screen above the stage flanked by a cadre of military members to introduce the films and then announce the winner. The only thing she lacked was the addition of firefighters, first responders, and actors playing doctors dressed in white lab coats. However, you have to give her some degree of credit as it was after midnight on the east coast.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the FLOTUS appearance was the work of Obama supporter and friend Harvey Weinstein and his daughter Lilly, who arranged for Academy representatives and show producers to secretly fly (via Disney's jet) to D.C. just two weeks ago to make the magic happen.

"This makes no sense, it adds nothing to the show," one industry expert told FOX411's Pop Tarts column with a bemused laugh, while another surmised it as something of a "suck job."

"Forget separation of church and state — we need a separation of Hollywood and state," conservative journalist Michelle Malkin retweeted, while others weighed in that it was "tacky and tasteless" and cheapened the Presidency.

After all they threw all the campaign parties, I guess it was Hollywood's way of acknowledging their continued love and support of the Obama's.

Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar acceptance speech for best original screen play for his horrible film racist film “Django Unchained.”

Now for my take on the winners and losers for best actress, actor, director, and film.

The Oscar for best actor went to Daniel Day-Lewis for his performance in “Lincoln.” I have not seen the film so I really have no opinion on this category, but I did like Ben Affleck’s performance in “Argo.”

Jennifer Lawrence took home the Oscar as best actress for her performance in "Silver Linings Playbook." In my opinion the best actress award should have gone to Jessica Chastain for her performance in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Her role of as the female CIA analyst who spent 10 years of her life doggedly chasing down Osama bin Laden was compelling and realistic.

The award for best director went to Ang Lee for his film "Life of Pi." I have not seen the Life of Pi and I am sure it is a beautiful and inspiring film but I think his award was cheapened without Affleck and Bigelow being in the running. This is the politics of Hollywood. Thank heavens Spielberg did not receive the award for his boring and historical inaccurate film “Lincoln.”

The Oscar for best picture went to "Argo." This is only the fourth time in the history of the Academy Awards that the nominee for best picture did not include the director. I was rooting for either Argo or Zero Dark Thirty. I thought both films were great and told compelling tales of the dedication and heroism of the much maligned people of the CIA.

Argo is the story about a CIA covert operator’s (Tony Mendez) effort to get six of the U.S. State Department employees out of Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. While taking some license with historical facts the film still tells a great story of Mendez’s dedication and heroism — heroism for which he was awarded the Intelligence Star by the CIA.

Argo is historically flawed in a few of the scenes depicted in the film and for a few things not mentioned in the film:

  • The climax of film is a chase down an airport runway, as gun-toting members of the Revolutionary Guard try to stop the plane bearing the American refugees from taking off. "Absolutely none of that happened," says Mark Lijek – one of the freed hostages. "Fortunately for us, there were very few Revolutionary Guards about. It's why we turned up for a flight at 5.30 in the morning; even they weren't zealous enough to be there that early. The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the U.S. ambassador's residence in Berne. It was that straightforward."]
  • The part of the plot about the Revolutionary Guards discovering the diplomats' identities is fictional. They had left Iran with their fake identities with no hassle. So the scenes of trouble with the bearded guard at the last check point, the scene of the commander raiding the Canadian ambassador's residence, and the entire chasing scene at the airport and even on the runway are fictional.
  • There is a sequence in the film where the six go on a location scout in Tehran to create the impression they are movie people. According to Mark Lijek, the scene is total fiction.
  • "It's not true we could never go outside. John Sheardown's house had an interior courtyard with a garden and we could walk there freely," Mark Lijek says.
  • The screenplay has the escapees—Mark and Cora Lijek, Bob Anders, Lee Schatz and Joe and Kathy Stafford—settling down to enforced cohabitation at the residence of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. In reality, after several nights—including one spent in the UK residential compound—the group was split between the Taylor house and the home of another Canadian official, John Sheardown.
  • The major role of producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, is fictional.

The film depicts a dramatic last-minute cancellation of the mission by the Carter administration and a bureaucratic crisis in which Mendez declares he will proceed with the mission. Carter delayed authorization by only 30 minutes, and that was before Mendez had left Europe for Iran.

On the other hand:

After the film was previewed at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012, some critics said that it unfairly glorified the role of the CIA and minimized the role of the Canadian government (particularly that of Ambassador Taylor) in the extraction operation. Maclean's asserted that "the movie rewrites history at Canada's expense, making Hollywood and the CIA the saga's heroic saviors while Taylor is demoted to a kindly concierge." The postscript text said that the CIA let Taylor take the credit for political purposes, which some critics thought implied that he did not deserve the accolades he received. In response to this criticism, Affleck changed the postscript text to read: "The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments." The Toronto Star complained, "Even that hardly does Canada justice."

In a CNN interview, President Carter addressed the controversy by stating: "90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. And with that exception, the movie is very good. But Ben Affleck's character in the film was only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process."Taylor himself noted that, "In reality, Canada was responsible for the six and the CIA was a junior partner. But I realize this is a movie and you have to keep the audience on the edge of their seats." In the film, Taylor is also shown threatening to close the Canadian embassy in the movie; in reality, this did not happen and the Canadians never considered abandoning the six Americans who had taken refuge under Canadian protection.

Affleck asserted: "Because we say it's based on a true story, rather than this is a true story, we're allowed to take some dramatic license. There's a spirit of truth" and that "the kinds of things that are really important to be true are—for example, the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. stood up collectively as a nation and said, 'We like you, we appreciate you, we respect you, and we're in your debt.' There were folks who didn't want to stick their necks out and the Canadians did. They said, 'We'll risk our diplomatic standing, our lives, by harboring six Americans because it's the right thing to do.' Because of that, their lives were saved.

Historically flawed or nor I still think it was a very good film about an actual event. As I have said before — “don’t get you history from a movie. Instead use the movie as a motivation to delve into the facts and learn history on your own.”

I did, however, think Zero Dark Thirty was a little bit better than Argo and I also thought that Bigelow should have been nominated for best director and her writer Mark Boal should have won for original screen play. Boal’s screen play was far better than Quentin Tarantino’s for Django Unchained.

Zero Dark Thirty and Bigelow were doomed from the get go by the Hollywood elite. People like Ed Asner, the unabashed Marxist, and Martin Sheen called for a boycott of the film. They wanted the boycott on the basis that Bigelow and Boal glorified torture in the film. Of course Asner in his performance in “Roots” was a slave master. Did he endorse slavery? Oh, how shot the memory of the liberal progressive. As C. Roger Denson writes in the Huffington Post:

“We expect actors as talented and esteemed as Martin Sheen, Ed Asner, and David Clennon to know all about the principles of irony, catharsis and sublimation at play in theatrical dramatizations. Simply stated, these are methods of portraying human events and behaviors that are detrimental to real people and societies, but which -- besides providing fuel for artistic and entertaining dramatizations -- are crucial to our understanding that simulation of inhuman behavior can be for a higher end. An end such as informing audiences of the hidden and heinous activities we want to eliminate from our lives and our governments -- not least of which are those activities of which many in the audience may be unaware.”

Even Rotten Tomatoes, a publication devoted to criticizing films gave ZDT a 94 out of 100 rating.

The film, which has sparked outrage among both Democrats and Republicans in Washington over its depiction of torture, and allegations that the Obama administration leaked classified intelligence to help the making of the film, won no major Oscars on Sunday and only one award overall.

Just three months ago, the thriller, which culminates in Osama bin Laden’s killing by US Navy Seals, was a strong contender to pick up the biggest prize of Best Picture, as well as the Best Actress and Original Screenplay awards.

By the end of Sunday night, however, it had picked up just one award – a shared Oscar for Sound Editing, which was a tie with Skyfall.

Early signs of trouble came in mid-December when leading US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, both Democrats, and John McCain, the Republicans’ 2008 presidential candidate, sent a letter to movie studio Sony Pictures, castigating the film.

They called the film “grossly inaccurate and misleading” for suggesting torture helped the US track the al Qaeda leader to a Pakistani compound, where he was killed in 2011.

Three weeks later, the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, was omitted from the Oscar’s Best Director shortlist, chosen by about 5,800 movie industry professionals who make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Bigelow was one of only four big directors to be snubbed while the film did receive five Oscar nominations

In January, Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan pointed the finger at Washington, writing: “Chalk up this year’s nominations as a victory for the bullying power of the United States Senate and an undeserved loss for Kathryn Bigelow.”

This is chilling as now these senators are calling for hearings to determine how much information Bigelow and Boal received from the CIA in the making of the film To this extent Boal has hired an attorney to represent him. These actions by the United States Senate harken back to the days of the Dies Committee (HUAC) and the Hollywood Ten — something the liberals in Hollywood still harp on. This is McCarthyism in reverse and it has a chilling effect on free speech.

It should be noted that the entire cast of ZDT is supporting a effort to get Dr. Shakil Afridi freed from a Pakistani prison. Afridi has been imprisoned for giving help to the United States for going door to door in Abbottabad under the guise of giving vaccination in order to collect DNA to determine if it truly was bin Laden sequestered in the compound where he was thought to be. Fox News reports:

“Zero Dark Thirty" actress Jessica Chastain has thrown her support behind the effort to free the jailed Pakistani doctor who was integral in helping the U.S. track down and kill Usama Bin Laden.

"[It ] breaks my heart he's still in prison," Chastain told Fox News on Sunday on the red carpet of the 85th annual Academy Awards, referring to Dr. Shakil Afridi.

Chastain played a C.I.A. agent who directed the operation to find Bin Laden, but told Fox news "there are hundreds of unsung heroes" in the successful operation and she didn't think there was "one person who should be credited."

Bob and Kira Lorsch and their RHL Group took out a full-page ad with the headline: “Oscar, Help Free Afridi. America’s Abandoned Hero.”

The ad, part of the group's “Free Dr. Afridi” campaign, read in part: “Dr. Shakil Afridi is the man who verified Usama bin Laden’s location in Pakistan for the United States. Without Dr. Afridi’s sacrifice, we may not have pinpointed the location of the world’s most dangerous terrorist. His Reward… he was abandoned, captured and is still being tortured by Pakistan ever since Bin Laden was killed in May 2011. After all, who will stand up to help America next time if this is how we treat our friends?”

The advertisement also acknowledged a number of individuals and organizations it says have championed the issue, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the cast and crew of "Zero Dark Thirty," and Fox News Correspondent Dominic DiNatale and Producer Sib Kaifee, whose exclusive reporting has helped shed light on the Afridi case.”

You can read my critique of Zero Dark Thirty by clicking here.

For those of you who managed to miss the Oscars or don’t much here is complete list of the winners:

1. Best Picture: "Argo."

2. Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln."

3. Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook."

4. Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained."

5. Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables."

6. Directing: Ang Lee, "Life of Pi."

7. Foreign Language Film: "Amour."

8. Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, "Argo."

9. Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained."

10. Animated Feature Film: "Brave."

11. Production Design: "Lincoln."

12. Cinematography: "Life of Pi."

13. Sound Mixing: "Les Miserables."

14. Sound Editing (tie): "Skyfall," ''Zero Dark Thirty."

15. Original Score: "Life of Pi," Mychael Danna.

16. Original Song: "Skyfall" from "Skyfall," Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth.

17. Costume: "Anna Karenina."

18. Documentary Feature: "Searching for Sugar Man."

19. Documentary (short subject): "Inocente."

20. Film Editing: "Argo."

21. Makeup and Hairstyling: "Les Miserables."

22. Animated Short Film: "Paperman."

23. Live Action Short Film: "Curfew."

24. Visual Effects: "Life of Pi."

All in all the night of the Oscars was average. Once again the Hollywood elites pushed their liberal agenda on the film makers demonstrating the films they approved of and those they don’t. The only true way to judge a film is to see it yourself and notice the public’s reaction by the box office receipts.

According to through their first 65 days of release, Zero Dark Thirty has made over seven times as much in U.S. box office receipts as did The Hurt Locker, with nearly $90 million in receipts just in the United States. That figure then represents the real difference between being pro and anti-American at the U.S. box office.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

To Sequester Or Not To Sequester — That Is The Question

“We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval — 1816

The news is full of talk and debate of the subject of something called “Sequestration.” But what does sequestration mean?

According to the Glossary of Political Economy Terms sequestration means:

“Originally a legal term referring generally to the act of valuable property being taken into custody by an agent of the court and locked away for safekeeping, usually to prevent the property from being disposed of or abused before a dispute over its ownership can be resolved. But the term has been adapted by Congress in more recent years to describe a new fiscal policy procedure originally provided for in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985 — an effort to reform Congressional voting procedures so as to make the size of the Federal government's budget deficit a matter of conscious choice rather than simply the arithmetical outcome of a decentralized appropriations process in which no one ever looked at the cumulative results until it was too late to change them. If the dozen or so appropriation bills passed separately by Congress provide for total government spending in excess of the limits Congress earlier laid down for itself in the annual Budget Resolution, and if Congress cannot agree on ways to cut back the total (or does not pass a new, higher Budget Resolution), then an "automatic" form of spending cutback takes place. This automatic spending cut is what is called "sequestration."

Under sequestration, an amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the Budget Resolution and the amount actually appropriated is "sequestered" by the Treasury and not handed over to the agencies to which it was originally appropriated by Congress. In theory, every agency has the same percentage of its appropriation withheld in order to take back the excessive spending on an "across the board" basis. However, Congress has chosen to exempt certain very large programs from the sequestration process (for example, Social Security and certain parts of the Defense budget), and the number of exempted programs has tended to increase over time — which means that sequestration would have to take back gigantic shares of the budgets of the remaining programs in order to achieve the total cutbacks required, virtually crippling the activities of the unexempted programs.”

As the former owner of a medium-sized business my partners and I were forced to make cuts a four times in my 33-year tenure as an owner and principal. These cuts were due to turn-downs in the economy — turn-down that reduced our client base.

When these turn-downed occurred we, as principals, would gather and the CFO would present us with his financial projections showing that if we did not make cuts our bank would freeze our line of credit — credit we needed for cash flow and payroll. He would show us where our expenditures had grown and how we needed to reduce these costs if we wanted to remain a healthy, viable business and protect our most valued employees. It was up to us, as managers to make the tough decisions as to where to make these cuts — cuts that were very distasteful to some of us.

We would always begin with our general and administrative costs — costs for things such as office supplies, new equipment, travel, etc. The problem was that these cost reductions, while prudent and necessary were never enough to satisfy the CFO’s projections. We had to cut deeper and this was always with staff. Our largest expense, amounting to almost 50%, was employee costs. These costs included direct payroll and indirect employee costs including; medical insurance and employer contributions to Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, state disability insurance, and other mandated taxes.

In times of economic growth we always managed to add staff that we thought was needed. We would have to consider a secretary here and marketing assistant there. Sometimes it was a project engineer or project manager who did not have enough work. All of these people were good people who had been scrupulously hired and trained. This was always a tough decision and created vigorous debate on who should be laid off. Everyone had a favorite and it inevitably came down to my favorite was more important than your favorite. Eventually, after painful debate decisions were reached and the necessary reductions in staff took place. Of course as the economy turned and we entered a period of growth we would once again over-staff and have to go through this painful process again.

Our federal, state, and municipal governments go through the same cycles. The difference is that their “line of credit” can be easily increased by borrowing for the people and other governments and they can increase revenue by imposing new taxes and raising the existing taxes.

The politicians who control spending all have favorites and like us each one2013-02-20-chronicle has a favorite more important than the next person’s favorite. It is those favorites that placated their constituencies and keep them in power. It tough to tell those who voted for on the basis that would get more free stuff to tell than that free stuff was going away. This is why we ended up with sequestration calling for across the board cuts.

During the summer 2011 debt ceiling battle, President Obama's White House came up with the idea of sequestration. It is a mechanism designed to trigger automatic spending cuts in the event that a congressional "super committee" couldn't agree to at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

Congress passed the White House proposal, and Obama signed it into law. And in November 2011, Obama vowed, "I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one."

How times have changed. With the automatic spending cuts scheduled to go into effect March 1, it's now Obama who is imploring Congress to undo them. As is his wont, he's resorting to demagoguery to make his case.

Surrounding himself with first responders during a speech on Tuesday, Obama predicted a virtual apocalypse if the cuts he once supported now go into effect. "Emergency responders like the ones who are here today -- their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded," he said. "Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which mean more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings."

In the real world, however, the sequester cuts are actually modest when viewed relative to the budget as a whole. As the accompanying graph demonstrates, the $85 billion in combined cuts to defense and nondefense programs amount to just about 1 percent of money spent by federal, state and local governments. Over a decade, the $1.2 trillion in scheduled cuts are barely more than a rounding error when compared with the $48 trillion the federal government would otherwise spend, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

To say sequester will not be painful for many would be untrue. But if Obama wants to preserve his credibility, he should probably stifle the Chicken Little routine. The historical and continued growth in government spending will not even stop to take a breath, because the "cuts" in spending are actually just reductions in the projected growth of government spending.

Even with sequester's $84 billion in cuts (2.5%of federal budget) this year, government spending will be higher than it was last year. In fact, spending is projected to increase every year over the next decade.

If Obama can't manage an ever-growing budget like this one without turning criminals loose on the population, then perhaps he's out of his league serving as president. I don’t think he would have lasted long at one our principal meetings.

When the Budget Control Act was adopted, it called for the automatic cuts to begin on January 1, 2013 —three months into the U.S. Government’s fiscal year (October). To the surprise of no one, the House and the Senate and the President didn't want to live with the fruits of their fruitlessness; and so on January 2, 2013 they passed a quick law delaying the effects of sequestration until March 1, 2013 — five months into the fiscal year. That bill was grandly named the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. That's the one that raised income taxes on rich people and payroll taxes on the rest of us thus providing tax relief to no one.

You might have noticed that the House, the Senate and the President are so worried about this looming March 1 deadline that they are — all 536 of them — on vacation. Here's what we know: The Congress and the President are incapable of cutting anything from any program, ever. If the only way to reduce spending is by instituting automatic cuts, then I am for allowing sequester to take effect and see what happens.

Instead of letting obsolete government programs die, bureaucrats come up with new excuses to keep spending. The Washington Post reports on a federally supported program that is so bad that even President Obama wants it cut. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship spent 80 percent of its money on overhead. Three Republicans introduced legislation to end it, but the subsidy lives on, because one senator, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., likes it. So America continues to move toward bankruptcy. Instead of addressing that, the politicians will spend more. Instead of announcing 15 new 'manufacturing' hubs, the president should just announce 300 million 'do whatever you want with your own money' hubs. Then American citizens can do as they please.

Many lawmakers view commitment as nothing more than a marriage of convenience that lasts only through Election Day. Where else can a presidential candidate run for office proclaiming 'Read my lips: no new taxes' and within months of assuming office, support a massive tax hike on the American people? Politicians including President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania pledged fidelity to the Second Amendment during their campaigns, yet now these Democrats propose and support the most comprehensive attack on gun ownership in generations.

The debate over cuts always centers on the efficacy of the program being cut and not on the constitutionality of the program. What warrant in the Constitution allows for financial support for teachers, local police, and firefighters? As important and useful these classes are they are to be supported from local property taxes. It makes great TV, however, to line up doctors, firefighters and cops behind the President as he whines about how this miniscule cut will cause great harm to the citizens. That’s just so much balderdash.


The scheduled implementation of the sequestration spending cuts is a little less than a week away, which has Republicans, Democrats, bureaucrats, special interests, and the media warning that the apocalypse is nigh. Sequestration isn’t the ideal way to cut spending, but it would be a start. And despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the areas of federal spending targeted by sequestration should be cut. Here are a few recommendations — recommendations based upon the constitutional validly of the program or the bloated budgets that have grown over the years.

Let’s begin with the Department of Defense. While all defense spending falls within Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. However, over the years the DOD has such a massive budget that many within the department have no idea on where the money is being spent. The Department of Defense oversees a vast array of people and assets at home and abroad. We would improve the nation’s security by reducing our global overreach and adopting a more restrained and defensive strategy. We should cut the number of military personnel and reduce overseas deployments to save money and relieve burdens on military families.

The department spent about $688 billion in fiscal 2012, or $5,800 per U.S. household. It employs 2.3 million people, and it spends $230 billion a year on procurement, research, and construction. I am sure that under intelligent management the managers in the Pentagon can survive a 2.5% cut without affecting our national defense one iota.

The department’s budget is built on an excessively ambitious strategy that tries to do too much, but leaves the nation less safe from true threats. Defense is a core federal function, but much of the work of today’s military has little to do with protecting our vital interests.

Rising personnel costs have added to the ballooning defense budget. The Army and Marines have grown 15 percent since 2001, driven by the view that future wars will resemble those in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is not in our interest to topple foreign regimes and attempt long-term nation building. For combating terrorism, we do not need such a large Army as we have today. We have seen what small, well trained special operations units and technology, such as UAVs, can do in today’s asymmetrical warfare against terrorism.

Cuts to federal pay: With projections of huge federal deficits for years to come, policymakers should scour the budget looking for places to cut spending. One area to find savings is the generous compensation paid to the federal government's 2.1 million civilian workers.1 Total wages and benefits paid to executive branch civilians amounted to $236 billion in 2011, indicating that compensation is a major federal expense that can be trimmed.

During the last decade, compensation of federal employees rose much faster than compensation of private-sector employees. As a consequence, the average federal civilian worker now earns twice as much in wages and benefits as the average worker in the U.S. private sector. A recent job-to-job comparison found that federal workers earned higher wages than did private-sector workers in four-fifths of the occupations examined.

The federal workforce has become an elite island of secure and high-paid workers, separated from the ocean of average American workers competing in the global economy. It is time for some restraint. Federal wages should be frozen or cut, overly generous federal benefits should be overhauled, and the federal workforce downsized through program terminations and privatization. It is unfair to ask taxpayers to foot an ever-increasing bill for federal workers, especially when private-sector compensation has not kept pace.



As a note on the size of the federal workforce I can testify to a personal experience I had at the Department of Commerce in 1998. This was during the Clinton era of “downsizing the size of the federal government. I had an appointment with an Assistant Secretary of Commerce at the Hoover Building in Washington D.C. When I walked into his office I noticed two women sitting in his outer office talking with each other. I paid no attention to this as I was more concerned about my meeting with the assistant secretary. When I entered his office and introduced myself he was very polite and attentive to my comments regarding international trade, specifically for my firm’s wish to offer geographic information services in turkey. As we were talking he kept glancing out of his window at the two women in the outer office. Finally he could not contain his frustration any longer and launched into a tirade about the inefficiencies and bloated size of the federal work force. He told me had been saddled with these two women, without his request or need, because the department where they previously worked had no need of them and wanted to reduce their staff and look good. He proclaimed, with some degree of disgust, that this is the way the federal government downsizes and pushed employees from one department to the other to hide them. That’s the way it works all throughout federal and state government. I believe the federal workforce cut be cut by at least 10% to 15% during the next five years by attrition and buy-outs if the executive was branch was serious and the various departments were strictly monitored for playing hide the pea game. If my firm could do this without skipping a beat I am sure the feds can do the same.

Federal Grants to Firefighters: In 2012 the House passed a $40.6 billion Homeland Security appropriations bill for fiscal 2012. The Constitutional Authority Statement for the bill cited Congress’s authority to appropriate money and the General Welfare Clause. Citing the General Welfare Clause might be appropriate for activities associated with the common defense of the nation. However, it is not an appropriate justification for something like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, which distributes federal taxpayer money to local fire departments.

Firefighting is a purely local concern and should be funded by those who benefit from a local fire department’s services. Why in the world am I paying federal taxes in Pennsylvania to a bureaucracy in Washington so that it can turn around and send a check (minus a cut for the bureaucracy) back to my local fire department as well as to thousands of other fire departments across the country?

In a Cato essay on constitutional basics, Roger Pilon explains that the General Welfare Clause clause was not intended to provide cover for Congress to spend money on whatever it wanted

“The General Welfare Clause is followed by a detailed listing or enumeration of activities that Congress is allowed to engage in. Were this passage to be read simply as authorizing Congress to tax and spend for the general welfare, as many read it today, Congress would have been granted all but unlimited power and the enumeration of particular powers immediately thereafter would have been to no purpose. Thus, the passage must be read as permitting taxing only for those enumerated ends; and the clause restricts such funding to the general welfare only, not to the welfare of particular parties.”

Our Founding Fathers did not intend to give Congress a blank check to spend money on the passions of the day or to placate a narrow group of constituents at the expense of the people in order to garner votes to retain their power. As Alexis de Tocqueville stated in his Democracy in America:

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.”

Head Start and Other Subsidies: The Department of Health and Human Services runs a vast array of health and nonhealth subsidy programs. Outside of Medicare, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the department spends about $125 billion a year on more than 400 different programs.

There are four HHS state and local subsidy programs aimed at the low-income population: Head Start, the Child Care Fund, the Social Services Block Grant, and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance. These programs are intensely bureaucratic and susceptible to fraud and abuse. There is also little evidence that the programs generate much of a return for the large taxpayer resources invested in them. For example, a recent authoritative study found that Head Start offers no lasting advantages to the children who take part in the program. It found that by the third grade any advantage a child had from participating in Head Start had been lost.

There are no economic or constitutional reasons why the federal government should be involved in these four programs and the other state and local welfare activities of the HHS. Congress should end HHS state and local aid programs, and individual state governments should decide for themselves what taxpayer support, if any, is appropriate for these sorts of activities. As I have stated to ad nauseum the powers enumerated in Article I, Section of the Constitution provide no warrant for these welfare programs. It is left to the individual states to decide if they are worthy of taxing their citizens to support them.

Under the Constitution, the federal government was assigned specific limited powers and most government functions were left to the states. The Framers reinforced this decentralized structure with the addition of the Constitution's Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Providing welfare or social services to individuals, despite the good intentions of policymakers, is not a constitutional role of the federal government.

Practically, federal funding of state and local activities results in multiple levels of wasteful bureaucracy and poor program oversight. Funding for welfare programs originates at the federal level, goes through state and local governments, and then to nonprofit groups and the ultimate recipients. As the money flows through each level, a portion is lost to administrative overhead. Each government and organization involved consumes program funding with proposal writing, funding allocation issues, reviews, reporting, regulatory compliance, litigation, and many other bureaucratic activities. It’s time to end these programs for two main reasons: they are unconstitutional and they are wasteful. But once again the politicians have promised free stuff and are unwilling to go back on those promises.

Community Development Programs: During most of the nation's history, there was little fiscal interaction between the federal government and local units of government. The federal government had a limited set of responsibilities, and most governmental functions were left to the states. Local governments were subsidized and regulated by state governments, but generally not by the federal government.

That structure changed dramatically during the mid-20th century as the federal government launched an array of housing, urban renewal, and community development efforts. It was a grand experiment to use the seemingly vast resources of the federal government to try to micromanage the life of cities and neighborhoods. The experiment was a grand failure, as illustrated by the many public housing projects that became plagued with crime and disorder.

In recent years, some housing and welfare programs have been reformed, but the federal government still funds an array of "community development" activities for local governments. Community development funds were originally targeted to large cities in decline, but today funding is spread widely to communities rich and poor, large and small.

In 2009, the Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $13.2 billion through its Office of Community Planning and Development. Here is a list of the main programs:

  • Community Development Block Grants: This $8 billion program provides formula-based grants to localities for a range of development projects such as parking lots, museums, and street repairs.
  • Home Housing Program: This $2.3 billion program provides formula-based grants for "affordable" housing.
  • Homeless Assistance Grants: This $1.6 billion program funds local governments and nonprofit groups that offer assistance to the homeless.
  • Housing for Persons with AIDs:. This $289 million program provides housing assistance for low-income persons with HIV/AIDs.
  • Self-Help Homeownership Grants: This $50 million program provides grants to nonprofit groups that build low-income housing. The beneficiaries provide "sweat equity" by contributing labor toward the construction of their homes.
  • Rural Subsidies: This $24 million program funds a wide range of projects in rural areas.

According to HUD, community development programs:

“Seek to develop viable communities by promoting integrated approaches that provide decent housing, a suitable living environment, and expanded economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income persons. The primary means towards this end is the development of partnerships among all levels of government and the private sector, including for-profit and nonprofit organizations.”

That description sounds warm and fuzzy, but the reality is that community development programs have a history of wasteful and ineffective spending.

Once again the Constitution provided the federal government with a modest array of enumerated powers and left most government responsibilities to the states. During most of the nation's history, local units of government were not financially tied to the federal government. The New Deal of the 1930s started to change that with major federal encroachment into formerly state and local policy areas. The federal government's micromanagement of local affairs accelerated in the 1960s with President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" and the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965.

Proponents of federal intervention claimed that state and local governments did not have the capacity to address urban blight, affordable housing, and economic development. That led to the launching of a huge range of urban grant programs, which President Johnson believed would create "cities of spacious beauty and living promise." (See President Johnson’s 1964 Great Society Speech) New aid programs were created for housing, urban renewal, education, and many other activities.

There were more grant programs enacted during the Johnson administration in just over six years than in all of the preceding years in U.S. history combined. There were 109 separate aid programs for state and local governments enacted in 1965 alone.5 President Johnson called his policies "creative federalism," but his activism dealt a severe blow to the federalism of the nation's Founders. By the end of the 1960s, many policymakers believed that the federal government should spend money on just about any local activity that it wanted, and questions regarding constitutional propriety were seldom considered.

Public Housing and Rental Subsidies: From Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman to Bill Clinton, American presidents and their housing administrators have cut the ribbons on new versions of subsidized housing projects. Their theory has been consistent: private markets fail to provide housing for people with low incomes, and thus government subsidies are needed to fill the gap. Even presidents such as Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, who did not promote the construction of new public housing, accepted the idea that housing markets fail the poor and backed housing vouchers for rent in private dwellings.

Since the 1930s, the federal government has funded one expensive approach to low-income housing after another — without seeming to notice that the new approaches were made necessary less by market failure than by the failure of past public policies. Public housing projects erected to replace slums soon became "severely distressed," in the phrase used by one congressional study. Housing vouchers meant to end "concentrated poverty" instead moved it around. The low income housing tax credit program provides large subsidies to developers and few, if any, benefits to low-income families.

President Obama has said that his administration will end programs that have failed. Let's hope that the administration takes a fresh look at housing programs and recognizes the distortions and damage they have created. They have failed not because of poor architecture or design, nor minor management problems, but because of much more fundamental factors. Federal housing programs distort markets in ways that undermine neighborhoods, they encourage dependency, and they do not create incentives for long-term maintenance and improvements. They also rest on the false premise that the private sector cannot provide housing for those of modest means.

Federal housing subsidies have also been expensive to taxpayers. In 2009, the federal government will spend about $25 billion on rental aid for low-income households and about $8 billion on public housing projects.

Most people agree that big public housing projects can be noxious environments for their tenants. They are disproportionately home to extremely poor, single-parent households, along with the crime, social problems, and poor academic performance associated with that demography. Ironically, public housing was originally meant to serve lower middle class working families. But as the economy boomed after World War II, those families found private homes in the growing suburbs, and by the 1960s they had abandoned public housing. Left behind were poor, nonworking families, almost all of them headed by single women. Public housing became a key component of the vast welfare network that gave young women their own income and apartment if they gave birth to illegitimate kids. As the fatherless children of those women grew up and went astray, many projects became lawless places, overrun with gang activities.

Public housing projects have also damaged the city neighborhoods that surround them. They have radiated dysfunction and social problems outward, damaging local businesses and hurting nearby property values. They have also harmed surrounding cities by inhibiting rundown areas from coming back to life by attracting higher-income homeowners and new business investment. Fear of those who live in housing projects has driven away striving, upwardly mobile people who are the ones that make neighborhoods flourish.

City policies have often made matters worse by ensuring the permanence of public housing. Since public housing cannot be bought and sold on the768px-Robertaylorhome market, it has disrupted the healthy recycling of property that helps dynamic cities grow and that spawns opportunities for rich and poor alike. Unlike privately owned buildings, public housing has almost always become property permanently fixed in a particular, low-value use, even as surrounding cities and metropolitan areas have changed.

In recent decades, hundreds of thousands of public housing units have been demolished after falling into disrepair and being overtaken by crime and disorder. Chicago's Robert Taylor homes, for example, consisting of 28 apartment buildings of 16 floors each, were completed in 1962 and demolished by 2007. Chicago's infamous Cabrini-Green complex has also been mainly demolished, as have many other troubled housing projects across the nation.

To replace some of the units of these complexes, the Hope VI program was launched in the 1990s as the latest incarnation of public housing. Hope VI focuses on creating low-rise projects with a mixed-income group of tenants. Such projects are predicated on the theory that if higher-income families live in the same complexes as poor families, the successful tenants will set a good example for the less successful tenants. Perhaps so, but so far there is no evidence of this. It might be just as likely that the children of the dysfunctional families set bad examples for the children of the more successful families.

For a good explanation of this issue see Michelle Malkin’s article “Who Failed Chicago?” in

We’ve actually been down this path before. There was a small sequester back in the mid-1980s, shortly after the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law was enacted. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the sequestration helped restrain the growth of spending and helped bring about a record amount of deficit reduction in 1987.

There was a similar (unsuccessful) fight in 1989. Here’s what then-Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon wrote in 1989.

“…the sequester has become the focus of partisan debate. Each side accuses the other of being responsible for “deep and arbitrary” budget cuts. Some legislators say we should do whatever it takes to cancel the sequester, even if it means higher taxes. While sequester is certainly not the ideal way to resolve this year’s budget dispute, there are reasons to believe that the fiscal discipline of a sequester is the medicine we need to cure the budget process. For all its drawbacks, a sequester is real deficit reduction. Instead of budget gimmicks, accounting tricks, phony cuts, and “revenue enhancements,” a sequester would reduce spending levels by a fixed percentage in eligible spending programs. In other words, unlike most deficit reduction packages, sequestration would actually reduce the deficit.”

The only argument against a sequester, at least among conservatives, is that a sequester would impose too much of a burden on the defense budget. But I’ve already explained in this post that the defense budget will climb by about $100 billion under sequestration.

I don’t know whether Republicans are the stupid party, but I know they will be very stupid if they don’t take the sequester and declare victory. I fact I would recommend going far beyond the sequester with its 2.5% cut and shoot for at least a 10% to 15% cut in the real budget — not a cut in the proposed increase like the game played by the politicians. If they cannot cut the programs I have listed they don’t deserve to manage so much as a child’s lemonade stand.

H/T to the Cato Institute

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How the Federal Government Hijacked Education – Part 3

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

In the first part of this essay on government intervention in education I covered the vision of our Founding Fathers for learning and liberty. The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 demonstrated not only the vision of our Founders, but their actions toward supporting learning at the local, municipal and state level. In this part I will move forward to the 19th century and the beginning of the progressive takeover of education in the United States.

In the second part I explained how the progressives in government and academia began to push for more and more intrusion by the central government into our educational system.

In this third part I will show how a 184 pound object orbiting the earth and going beep, beep, beep, influenced our education system more than Madison, Washington, and Jefferson and even Dickson and Barnard would have never seemed possible.

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first human contrivance to escape the Earth's atmosphere. Its engines were powerful enough to thrust a 36-pound satellite into orbit. Unbeknownst to its designers, it would have a similar effect on the American education system. In the Soviet mastery of rocket science, our federal government discovered lessons in administration. It did not turn to meet the challenge through the defense power, which is its own under the Constitution and was the obvious response. Rather it used the situation as a lever to manage education.

The "National Defense Student Loan Fund" — contrived in response to the launching of Sputnik-was a system of subsidized loans to students. The federal taxpayer would supply 90 percent and colleges 10 percent. The colleges would be responsible for collections and would be at risk for its 10 percent. The title of the law is, of course, an attempt to find justification for it under the defense power given to Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. (Today we have the "National Direct Student Loan Program." We become progressively less squeamish about constitutional justification.)

(The federal government began guaranteeing student loans provided by banks and non-profit lenders in 1965, creating the program that is now called the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. The first federal student loans, however, provided under the National Defense Education Act of 1958, were direct loans capitalized with U.S. Treasury funds. Today we have advanced to the Federal Direct Student Loan Program as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. To view a brief history of the federal student loan program click here.)

When the central government entered the education system with vigor under the authority of National Defense Student Loan Fund many people thought this was a good idea. After all didn’t we want to pass the Russians in the space race? To do this we believed we needed more engineers, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and other related technical experts. To accomplish this desire the central government initiated the NDSLF. Progressives and conservatives alike thought this was a worthwhile expenditure of federal direct taxes. It’s Constitutionality could be validated under the defense enumerations in Article I, Section 8, although when reading these 19 enumerated powers it is quite a stretch to find the authority unless you take a broad view of section 19 — the “necessary and proper” clause. No matter how you strain to find justification a can of worms had been opened that has grown beyond belief.

Finally after years of congressional overreach in spending federal fund for education — something Andrew Dickson White could not foresee the Department of Education was founded in 1979 under the Carter Administration. Henry Barnard’s Office of Education had finally grown into a full-fledged cabinet level department with spending, regulatory, and coercive policing powers. The primary functions of the Department of Education are to "establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.”

Today The Department of Education operates a wide range of subsidy programs for elementary and secondary schools. The aid and all the related federal regulations have not generally lifted academic achievement. The department also provides subsidies to higher education through student loans and grants. Unfortunately, that aid has fueled inflation in college tuition and is subject to widespread abuse.

The department spent about $98 billion in 2012, or $830 for every U.S. household. It employs 4,300 workers and operates 153 different subsidy programs. Was this the vision of Madison, Washington, Jefferson, or even Andrew Dickson White? I think not. For a timeline on how federal government spending for education has progressed from the Northwest Ordinance to today click here. You will see that with each passing year it became more acceptable to ignore the Constitution and provide the central government with more and more power and money to control education in the United States. Every step along the path from 1787 to 2009 seemed like a good idea at the time. But as with all good ideas each successive one became more intrusive on our liberty and property and always with the mantra for the children as the rallying cry.

Today we hear of Big Pharma and Big Corporations, but we don’t hear too much about Big Education. Big Education has become and industry onto itself employing millions and spending into the trillions. It is supported by the vested interests of academia, politicians, and unions in a symbiotic relationship. Academia wants larger grants, more expensive facilities, and larger subsidized student enrollments to support more tenured professors and their grandiose schemes.

Teachers unions spend millions of dollars in dues collected from their members to support politicians who will spend more and more dollars on education so they can elevate the compensation and tenure of their members at the expense of the taxpayer while claiming they are for the children.

Local school districts fearful of asking their local taxpayers for increases in property taxes to pay for federally mandated programs and misguided expansion programs look to the central government for federal dollars — dollars that come with coercive mandates for curriculums that require more expenditures — curriculums such as the teaching LGBT history and social mores that the local citizens object too. This is far cry from what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they passed the Northwest Ordinance or 1787 and the Land Ordinance of 1785.

With this symbiotic closed loop of Big Education we have no more engineers or mathematicians that were envisioned when the first Sputnik was rocketed into orbit. In fact test scores have been dropping and the high school dropout rates have been climbing among Blacks and Hispanics. For all of the federal money spent on education our society knows less about the organic laws of the nation and the liberty they promote than the farmer of 1787.

Many subsidized and unqualified college students — students who are admitted due to mandated racial, gender, or ethnic quotas drop out after one or two years. Those who do go on take frivolous courses that lead towards degrees like women’s studies and Black history that will provide them with little or no skills to enter the workforce. As long as the college receives the federally guaranteed loan money they care little what happens to the students. It’s the student that is burdened with repayment — if they ever do — for years to come.

At the beginning of the 20th century influential progressives like Theodore Roosevelt, John Dewey, Herbert Coley, and Woodrow Wilson began to initiate a total takeover of education in the United States. While the progressive politicians used the power of the federal purse in total disregard of the Constitution the academics like Dewy began changing what is to be taught in our schools and universities with total disdain for the Northwest Ordinance.

Influential academics, like Dewy, began listening to the Marxist philosophies being espoused by the “Frankfurt School. Philosophies based on the teaching of Karl Marx and other socialist. Associated in part with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main the leading members of the Frankfurt School developed the theories of “critical thinking”. While critical thinking may be useful in some professions it is the antithesis of the beliefs of our Founders as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Today some of the precepts of the Frankfurt School have migrated in to our K-12 system at the middle school level where children are being indoctrinated in political correctness and class envy while learning virtually nothing of our organic laws.

Several years ago at the Field Museum in Chicago, there was an exhibit of the possessions and life of Qianlong, the greatest of the Chinese Emperors. The exhibit told a glorious tale. Qianlong was very rich, and he wielded great power after his father conquered China.

The exhibit was at some pains to say what a just ruler the man was. He loved his people. He was energetic and caring in their service. In one place the exhibit materials made the point that the glories of a great national China, as exemplified by the benevolent Qianlong, have been restored to China today. Of course the people who rule that great national China today had to give permission for the exhibit to visit Chicago. Likely they had some influence over what the exhibit said. That would explain some things about it.

A mural in the exhibit shows the Great Emperor visiting a town. The entire population of the town is ranged before him. He is being carried in an ornate chair by hefty men. All the townspeople are on their knees.

That is the meaning of mandarinism. One need only look in the Encyclopedia Britannica to see that not quite everything was rosy and fine during the rule of Qianlong in China. Nor is everything fine there today. China was, and still is, ruled by mandarinism. That is one reason why the exhibit was not candid about the evils that came under the regime of Qianlong.

The Founders of our nation did not intend to establish mandarinism. That is why they taught that responsibility and authority ought to go together. That is why they did not give the federal government power to manage education. It was too important for that. For the sake of education, and for the sake of freedom, the federal government should get out of it.

Powers and interests are so arranged today that it seems hopeless that any good can be done. The modern research university has replaced the liberal arts college as the standard bearer in education. It is entrenched, immovable, almost almighty. Its force is enrolled nearly exclusively on one side of the political spectrum. Politicians bask in its favor or quail before its frown. Bureaucrats work with it hand in hand.

Perhaps the time has passed when politicians of either party should seek to regulate this behemoth. The answer may be less rather than more involvement. It may be time, or long past time, for us to demonstrate what we are by another great act of delegation, another great episode in which the most powerful make treasures available to individuals in their multitude, to husband and direct as seems best to them. In the Northwest Ordinance, the precious resource of Western lands was sold outright to ordinary folk, without condition. The boldest and most persistent people in the world had crossed the ocean and braved a wilderness to secure land. The government owned the land. It gave it up.

In the Homestead Act, the government did the same thing, but this time it did not charge a fee. Once again a wonderful asset was given away. It was not given to barons and earls. It was not given to friends of those in power. There was no chance for bureaucrats to say who got what. There was one grand act of disposition, the same for one and all.

In 1959 the germ of an idea passed Congress, but it was vetoed in the White House by President Eisenhower. The idea was that ordinary folk could give their money to colleges instead of to the government. The great asset that government holds today, greater even than its vast holdings of land, is the enormous claim it holds upon the wealth and income of the American people. There is no good reason why the people cannot give that money away themselves. Some way should be found.

Of course the powers of modern education will object to this. They will say that this is easy for private colleges such as Hillsdale College to recommend. We have found a way to survive without money from the taxpayer. The answer to that is-yes, with great difficulty they have. What one can do, so can another.

These powers will also say that education is so very important, that people must be taxed to pay for it even if they do not want to be. That is a despotic argument, the kind of thing to which our brightest intellectuals are too much given these days.

These powers will say finally that we do not care enough about education. As Frederick Bastiat said so many years ago:

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

The answer to that is that people do care about it just as the Founders of America did. It is vital to all that is good and true. Therefore it ought not to be left in the hands of people who believe in neither good nor truth. It is too important for that. Let ordinary people decide, place by place and family by family, what is to be done.

This argument cannot be won until it is started. After it is started and it will continue for a long time. It face many challenges from the entrenched statist and progressive politicians, bureaucrats, academics, and unions that have a vested interest in the present system of using direct taxes to fund our massive k-12 and higher education system.