March 2009


If any additional evidence was needed that Congress has lost the reigns of its passions, it was adequately provided by the furor over the AIG bonuses.  The Congress of the United States, each member of which was sworn under oath to uphold the Constitution, voted overwhelmingly to impose a 90% tax on certain income received by certain people at one particular company.  The reason given:  AIG took federal TARP money, and we the mighty Congresspeople are wise stewards of the taxpayers money, and these bonuses are obscene, and therefore we must confiscate them.

Laying aside the fact that the bonuses were contractual obligations made before TARP, and forgetting that Barney Frank and Chris Dodd whining about fiscal prudence is like Michael Jackson saying he really prefers grown women, and pretending for a moment that Congress, Obama, Geithner, and the rest weren’t fully aware months ago that the bonuses were scheduled,  the issue that trumps all is the Constitutional one.

Recall the Constitution.  It’s that dusty 18th-century relic that is, at least nominally, in the eyes of most people, The Law of The Land, to which at least a passing attempt at conformity is to be made.  Section 9 – Limits on Congress:  “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.”  A bill of attainder is one that singles out a particular person or group of persons for punishment or special negative treatment.  It is trial, conviction, and sentencing by legislative act.  In the founding era this was a common practice:  if you got on the wrong side of Parliament, it might simply vote away your shirt.  This is exactly what the house did, Democrats and Republicans:  like a mob of angry sixth graders it cried, “We loathe you because you are being paid a lot of money; we don’t care whether or not you are contractually entitled to it; so we’re going to tax it almost all away.”  That this dictatorial act spits on Section 9 must be clear to every single member of that body.  The despicable truth is, the members voting yea simply do not give a damn.

Congress has shown again that our sacred Constitution, and the rights it protects, are to be appealed to, expanded, manipulated, ignored, or perverted, only as required to protect and defend the limiteless right of the federal government to enact the will of those in power.

Yesterday President Obama made the most remarkable statement, speaking at the Edison Electric Vehicle Technical Center in Pomona, California:

For decades we’ve avoided doing what we must do as a nation to turn — turn challenge and opportunity.  As a consequence we import more oil than we did on 9/11.  The 1908 Model T — think about this!  The 1908 Model T earned better gas mileage than the typical SUV in 2008.  Think about that, a hundred years later and we’re getting worse gas mileage, not better.

Mr. Obama apparently finds no incongruity in comparing the 1908 Model T Ford with today’s SUV’s.  Let’s have a look.  The Model T had a 20HP inline 4-cylinder engine, and the entire car weighed about 1,200 pounds, depending on whether you wanted, say, a roof.  The top speed of the “T” was 45 mph, but most people kept it under 25.

Today’s SUV typically has a V6 or V8 with over 250 horsepower (The SUV I proudly drive has 275 and gets 17 to 24 mpg).    Top speeds typically exceed 120 mph, and of course we have the freeways to allow 80 mph and more on a regular basis.  SUVs have a gross vehicle weight ranging from 4000 to 7000 pounds.   And, of course, the vast majority of them have roofs.

Yet, astoundingly, Obama is bemoaning the fact that the Model T got better mileage that some SUVs do today.  To say this with sincerity, he must believe either or both of the following:

1) SUVs should somehow be designed to get better mileage than a Model T.  If he believe this, it would bely an unparalleled ignorance of current technology and the advances made in combustion engine efficiency.  Consider this, Mr. Obama:  the Model T engine displacement was 2.9 liters.  Today’s engines of comparable size easily turn out 200 horsepower with similar gas mileage.  That’s a 10-fold increase in efficiency.

2)  We should eliminate SUVs and all drive crackerbox cars that approximate the mileage achieved by the eco-friendly Model T.  If he ascribes to this belief, he would be falling prey to the extreme Luddite silliness that plagues the modern enviro-socialist movement, and which finds a sympathic ear in the modern Democratic party.

Either way, its scary:  either the president is a fool, or a socialist.  But then, aren’t the two inseparable?

Winston Churchill famously quipped, “We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”  This was good economics and good political rhetoric, but also prescient of our current situation, because the force against which Churchill wielded this quip and much more verbal armament was the march of Eurosocialism that has now engulfed the once-proud continent and is opening its jaws to swallow ours as well.

The Churchill quote is economically sound because of the truism that every dollar spent by government must derive from one of three sources.  The government can tax,  removing money from the private sector by confiscating the earned wealth of its citizens.  The government can borrow, removing money from the private sector through voluntary exchange of debt instruments.  The government, finally, can inflate, effectively removing money from the private sector by reducing the spending power of every dollar held by its private citizens.  There are no other options.  Try to think of one, and it always fits snugly within one of these categories.

Collectivists know this, but some are lured by the chimera of the Keynesian multiplier, by which a dollar spent by government propagates more effectively through the economy, generating 2 or 3 times its nominal value, whereas a lowly privately-spent dollar is, well, just a dollar.  The “magic dollar” theory is now, at the dawn of the 21st century, 70 years of age and as thoroughly a myth as any idea can be, having been debunked time and again by economic studies of real data.

Other collectivists don’t care two hoots about economics; they simply want government to expand in scope and power on a Brandonian scale.  Loosen the reigns, and before you finish your double-soy-latte the United States will be Sweden, where government spending consumes 54 percent of total GDP.  Wait a bit longer, and we’ll be Scotland, Northern Ireland, or Wales, where the figure is 72 to 78 percent. Lest we forget, those countries are actual nations with actual leaders who think that state confiscation of three-quarters of the economy is just jolly-good.   There is no need to decipher what Eurosocialists like Mr. Obama want.  Mr. Obama is clearly, by his own utterances, beguiled by Europe, and he, like Europe’s own hard-left leaders, wants government to consume the maximum politically-feasible amount of your earned wealth.  Do not resist.  You will be happier.  Trust us.

A government big enough to give you everything you want,
is strong enough to take everything you have.

-Thomas Jefferson

Most people probably don’t know that Dennis “Alien Abduction” Kucinich introduced a bill in 2005 to establish a federal Department of Peace and Nonviolence.  Despite the fact that the name sounds like a Monty Python skit, which at least affords a bit of humor, there would be little reason to care two hoots were it not for the fact that the bill has be reintroduced and the current political scene may give it the lift it needs to pass.  Read the bill for yourself.

According to the bill’s preamble, the new department would “be dedicated to peacemaking and the study of conditions that are conducive to both domestic and international peace.”  Doesn’t that sound pretty?  Like a soft, furry kitten.  Who doesn’t like kittens?

Take a gander at a few of the offices (read the text for the plethora of associated powers, duties, and authorities) this bill would establish:

The Office of Peace Education and Training
The Office of Domestic Peace
The Office of International Peace
The Office of Arms Control and Disarmament

…and my personal favorite:

The Office of Peaceful Coexistence and Nonviolent Conflict Resolution

The bill reads like a 10,000-word answer to a Miss America pageant question, and it doesn’t take more than a cursory examination to reveal that it is yet another attempt to grow the size and scope of government, to thrust its tentacles into yet more corners of our free society.  This bill would not make society better; it would make it measurably worse for all of us, peaceful citizens or no.  Mr. Kucinich, sir, please see if the aliens will take you.  It’s probably much more peaceful on their planet.

Last night, in a delirium caused by insufficient sleep during a whirlwind spring-training junket with my son, I flipped on PBS.  Ordinarily I would classify this decision as lunacy had it been taken by me in a more sober state.  It was a local show, the kind where local self-proclaimed experts (SPEs) expound on local topics and spew mediocre local opinions flavored with local anecdotes and carried along by mostly incoherent, grammatically incorrect sentences.  If I recall, there was a Wildlife and Nature SPE, another Environment/Smart Growth SPE of some ilk I can’t remember, and former Republican state senator Laird Noh (from my district, as it happens).  The topic was, generically, the “Future of Idaho” or some such.

Here now is proclaimed the Brilliant Opinions Expounded by the three SPEs:

SPE #1:  Idaho is being “changed” because, you know, people move here a lot but don’t really move here to “be here” and appreciate what Idaho has to offer.

SPE #2:  Energy is really going to be the big problem because, you know, we just can’t rely on those “big dams” anymore and the government is going to have to really take a more active role.

SPE #3 (simultaneously reading from and bemoaning an excerpt from a real estate magazine):  “600-acre ranch in spectacular central Idaho, views and wildlife abound, sparkling trout stream running through property, bordered on three sides by public lands, six million dollars [verbal stress on ‘six’]”

The common thread in all three beliefs is the condescending odium directed at individual liberty.  Apparently there should be some universal test to see if you appreciate Idaho with sufficient verve to move here.  And of course – this goes without saying – it is just plain wrong for such beautiful property to be offered freely for sale, let alone at a price only the rich can afford.  Instead, we should… what?  Force the property to be sliced into trailer-size pieces everyone can afford?  Confiscate it and turn it into public land?  Oh, and after private property rights have been suspended, we’d all be better off if the government simply took over the power industry; those private concerns have just too much profit motive.

These are reasonable people, and all three beliefs are entirely mainstream.  They form part of a growing collective conscious regarding private property that is communistic at its core.  This worldview denigrates private ownership of resources and at its most degenerate denies the validity of private ownership of property at all, which its adherents are apt to call “the land.”

Our nation’s founders believed, and it remains true today, that economic liberty must, without compromise, be solidly rooted in private property.  Without that bedrock, the entire edifice of freedom will collapse.

Unwittingly, our three SPEs accurately articulated the basics of Marxian doctrine.  No PBS viewer, however, was able to detect it since it looked like everything else on that channel.  SPE #3 should know better.  Instead of sniffing his way through real estate clippings on third-rate PBS shows, he might use his political influence to advance, rather than denigrate, liberty.

Apparently believing his legacy was not adequately tarnished, President Bush last August signed the law known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).  This multi-headed monster has as one of its warm, fuzzy goals:  the protection of innocent children from the lurking menace of lead and lead-based products.  This train has been running since 1985, when Congress first made it illegal to use lead pigments in the inks, dyes, and paints used in children’s books.  The recent change strengthened these provisions, added requirements even on distributors and retailers to test each and every children’s product offered for sale, and, most eggregiously – applied the law not simply to currently-manufactured products, but to all children’s books.  The results have been predictable.  In a declaration just prior to the February 10 effective date, the Consumer Product Safety Commission advised used booksellers to “discard” books printed prior to 1985 or risk fines reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Stop for a moment and ponder this:  the United States government is, ahem, “advising,” that private citizens offering books for sale discard our nation’s storehouse of children’s literature.

And now here’s the punch line.  The number of documented cases of children being sickened by lead from a book, whether pre- or post-1985, is exactly….zero.

Check out Walter Olson’s excellent compilation of this lunacy.

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