Tag: big brother


 It’s All Coming Apart

Earlier this year I wrote about the nascent Arab Spring and how I was hopeful that this movement, and this desire for freedom, would continue to spread. Stories like this one today continue to fuel my hope that this is true. The tangled web of government (in every country) has become so heavy, so onerous, that it has become impossible for people to continue ignoring it in the normal conduct of their daily lives. A ever-growing number are emerging from this miasma and asking (I hope), “Does it really need to be this way? Can we not find a better way of living on this planet?”

I refuse to believe this tsunami of anti-government rage is a simple coincidence of overindulgent editors around the globe looking for flashy stories because it has been a slow news year. This is the news. This is what is happening right now. This is a worldwide movement. Only a fool could deny it at this point. Further, it seems virtually no country on earth has been left untouched by it, and there are also no signs of it slowing down. Certainly, it has been exacerbated by the global economic troubles of the past few years, but that should not be allowed to overshadow the deeper philosophical meaning.

The people who are rioting in the streets, who are toppling their current regimes, are not motivated by unemployment, or the depreciation of their property values. This is not about money. It is about recognizing the basic human rights to life and liberty. It is about living one’s life with a sense of dignity, without being told how by an oppressive government. Surely, this is something to which we can all relate.

 Wasting Money To Make Money

As a kid I remember collecting Susan B. Anthony dollar coins when they first came out in 1979. This attempt to resurrect dollar coinage in the United States was an unqualified failure — for a number of reasons. The most important being that it was something new and people are resistant to change (no pun intended). But it was also easy to confuse the Susan B with quarters, as they were the same color, and only slightly larger. So the total indifference by the public to this new coin was attributed by most to these factors. Fast forward twenty years, and take two: the Sacagawea dollar. It corrected the perceived issues with its predecessor, being larger and a different color, making it impossible to confuse it with a quarter. And it mattered not one whit. A decade later, the only place you can expect to find these coins in circulation is change from a Metrolink ticket machine.

Given this impressive track record, it should come as no surprise that Congress once again jumped into the fray and approached the problem with unassailable logic: if the Sacagawea dollar was good, then surely 44 more dollar coins (displaying the images of all of our former Presidents) would have to be that much better, right? So it is written and so it shall be. Here we are now, not even halfway into this new program that began in 2007, and we are learning just how pointless and wasteful this whole thing has become. NPR is reporting today that the US Mint has produced, and the Federal Reserve is storing, a billion of these coins which now sit languishing in vaults all over the country. The cost so far for producing these is over $300 million. But is anyone calling for an end to this madness? Hardly. In fact, since the program was created by an act of Congress, it would be against the law to stop. So we will continue minting coins that no one wants until every former president’s face appears on one. Total cost to taxpayers at that point will be something north of $700 million dollars, not counting the cost to store and guard all of that loot for almost a decade.

All of this wouldn’t be so bad if Congress had the political will to eliminate the paper dollar bill and at least save a little money in the process (although the NPR story points that there is reason to believe that there wouldn’t be any savings at all in pursuing that), but no one is brave enough to kill the iconic symbol of our economy. The political will is there to go on producing worthless coins for years, however. Well, at least Ecuador (which uses US currency) is happy.

 Neo-Prohibitionism

In January 1920, the 18th Amendment became the law of the land in the United States, banning the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. It took almost fourteen years for us to realize and acknowledge what a huge mistake that had been, but the 21st Amendment finally repealed Prohibition. But not before a huge and profitable black market was established that fueled the growth of a massive organized crime presence throughout the country. And it was the astonishing acts of violence perpetrated by these mobsters in defense of their “turf” that ultimately convinced America that Prohibition must be repealed.

But we didn’t learn our lesson. Instead, in the last forty years, we simply shifted the target of our Prohibition (to other drugs) and we also allowed Congress to forgo the supreme inconvenience of amending the Constitution before passing an endless stream of legislation that has created more crime, more violence, and higher incarceration rates than were ever seen during the Roaring Twenties. And public sentiment is not as bad this time around because we’ve also managed to outsource much of the violence.

If the drug-related violence in the US is not shocking enough to warrant comparison to the mobsters of days gone by, one need only look south to the hellscape that Mexico has become as a result of our so-called War on Drugs. Mexicans now yearn for gangsters who only shoot automatic weapons at each other, instead of the kidnappings, beheadings, and mass graves that now make up their daily news. The cruelty and brutality on display every day by the drug lords can perhaps only be described as medieval, and Mexico is on the verge of becoming a failed state, simply because we have made the drug trade so insanely profitable.

I’m sure Mexicans are ready to repeal Prohibition. Too bad it’s not their decision to make.

 Maybe I’ll Just Leave Instead

I’ve written before about the Law of Unintended Consequences, and I never have to go far to find another example of it in action. With a scenario that is right out of Atlas Shrugged, Oregon lawmakers are scratching their heads wondering where all of the state’s millionaires are disappearing to after they targeted the rich with one of the highest income taxes in North America. The state treasury has admitted that despite the higher rates, revenues are down because some 10,000 rich residents have voted with their feet and waved goodbye to Oregon in their rear-view mirrors. The story goes on to say:

All of this is an instant replay of what happened in Maryland in 2008 when the legislature in Annapolis instituted a millionaire tax. There roughly one-third of the state’s millionaire households vanished from the tax rolls after rates went up.

I would ask if anyone is really surprised by this news, but clearly some are, or at least they like to pretend they are. Oregon Democrat Phil Barnhart, one of the architects of the tax increase, said that this was only temporary and instead blamed the decline on the state’s economy. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s aware of the real cause, but just can’t bring himself to admit it. Or maybe he really is that dumb.

 Anti-Government Rage

Today’s story on CNN about protests in Egypt describes them as “an unprecedented display of anti-government rage.” It further ascribes the rage to similar anti-government tumult in nearby Tunisia. I would also offer the influence of last week’s referendum in neighboring Sudan, which had roughly 99% of southern residents of that nation demanding independence from the northern half. What is going on in Northern Africa?

Couple these events with our own recent shootings, and I would say we have plenty of evidence of anti-government rage right here at home. Although the pundits continue to speculate on the motives behind the Tuscon rampage of Jared Loughner, and the shooting of four police officers in Detroit by Lamar Moore, I can think of no better way to characterize these actions. We continue to live in interesting times. The question is, are they getting more interesting? I think I can certainly make the argument that the trend has not decreased. But are these stories becoming more prevalent?

I have no empirical evidence to offer, but as I think back to stories from the past nine months or so, the incidents seem to be increasingly common to me, at least anecdotally. When you consider the sometimes violent reactions to austerity measures in place like England, Ireland, and, most dramatically, Greece, even Europe is not immune to the anti-government sentiments. Are we headed towards some kind of global crescendo? It is starting to feel like it.

[Update Feb 3, 2011] More dominoes are now wobbling, as anti-government protests have spread to Yemen, Albania, and even Moscow.

 Government By The People

There are those who would argue that we need government to act as a watchdog for no other reason than people need to be watched or they will do bad things. But the fact that people are imperfect is not an argument *for* government, it is an argument against it. For these same dishonest, greedy, untrustworthy folk that need to be watched occasionally find their way into positions of power. Why would we want to allow ourselves to be ruled by the same people we don’t trust?

Furthermore, people are often patently unqualified for the positions for which they are elected. Either because of mental deficiencies, a failure to understand basic principles of human nature, or simply a lack of common sense. A couple of examples of this have recently made themselves known, and they are too good not to share. First, is this video of Georgia congressman Hank Johnson demonstrating a profound misunderstanding of basic physics and geography. Who can watch this and not cringe in embarrassment for the man? And yet, his vote in the House of Representatives carries as much weight as any other. Why should the good people of Georgia be victims of this imbecile?

The second, and most recent, example is this segment from The Daily Show where they lampoon San Francisco’s misguided attempt to ban McDonald’s Happy Meals. Are you not as stunned as the correspondent at Councilman Eric Mar’s shocking display of cognitive dissonance? And yet, he has just as much power as his fellow council members. Why should the good people of San Francisco be subjected to this moron?

People are flawed. We all seem to know this, but still some of us insist on believing in the transfiguration of being elected to public office. That somehow our elected officials become imbued with superior knowledge and wisdom, infallible judgment, and moral character that is unimpeachable. Why do we continue to believe the myth that government by the inferior people is better than no government at all?

 The Market Cannot Fail

I came across this article by author Henry A. Giroux recently, and I found myself drawn in by the first paragraph or so, strongly agreeing with his words, and then the cracks began to show. He rails against the invective of the talking heads on television, and the mindless jingoism of the current Tea Party movement, all of which is to be applauded, but then he concludes by claiming that in light of “the most painful evidence imaginable of the failure of laissez-faire economics and the destructive force of the alliance of big business and government against the interests of ordinary Americans … the Tea Party movement wants to abolish government and expand even more the deregulated capitalism that has unsettled the lives of so many of its members.” I’m not sure how he got here from there, but I am not willing to make that leap with him. The failure of the free market is not a foregone conclusion, no matter how much the pro-regulation movement would like to believe it to be true.

My first question is, how does laissez-faire economics fail? By what criteria is the author judging it? I contend that the market cannot fail. It does exactly what it is desgined to do. You can go into Wal-Mart and not find what you’re looking for, and call that a failure of the market. But in reality, the market has provided exactly what customers want, with the constraint that those things can be provided at a profit. When you do not find what you’re shopping for, it simply means that there is not enough profit in providing that good or service.

I see two problems with this author’s assessment. First, our economy is not laissez-faire. Quite the contrary, government regulation of markets has never been more burdensome, and it gets worse on a daily basis. Here is a definition of laissez-faire:

1 : a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights

2 : a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action

Can anyone claim that this is an accurate description of the marketplace in the United States? Hardly. Second, even if it was laissez-faire, a market that rewards only those entrepreneurs who satisfy their customers is, by definition, a success.

I completely agree with the evil collusion of corporations and government, and it is interesting to me that we can agree on something like this, and yet be so far apart on the other aspect of his statement.

How about the recent example of Apple’s tribulations with the iPhone 4 and its poor reception? Consumer Reports came down hard on Apple, claiming the problem seriously hampered the abililty of the device to function as a phone. Within days of this poor review, Apple responded with a fix (or at least a work around), to mollify its angry and disappointed customers. No government intervention was necessary. No regulatory agency stepped in. Just a well-respected free market watchdog organization, whose opinions are valued by millions of consumers. That was enough to cause many to question Apple’s reputation in the marketplace, and that potential damage to their reputation was enough to motivate them to address the issue. This incident is a perfect illustration of how the free market is self-regulating. Many might argue that this regulation is not strong enough or does not go far enough. But anything more than this places an undue burden on the market (which consumers experience as higher prices) and serves only to distort the market signals that would otherwise cause self-correction (which consumers experience as problem resolution taking longer than it should).

I am wary of anyone who looks at the major problems our economy has experienced in recent years and wants to affix blame to the market itself. How can anyone look at the sub-prime mortgage market and claim that it is laissez-faire? The mortgage industry is one of the most highly regulated areas of our economy, so you cannot blame the free market and call it a failure. The market as it is currently configured is not free, so the source of failure must be elsewhere.

 Appetite Care Reform

I am hereby starting the national dialog on reforming our nation’s Appetite Care laws. Your appetite cannot be ignored, after all. If you cannot afford to address your appetite issues, then you will surely die. So, clearly, you have a basic human right to appetite care. But not everyone sees it this way.

There are a number of greedy appetite care providers out there, charging exorbitant rates for their services. The other day I went into one of these places, and got served and then they proceeded to give me a bill! I tried to explain that I had been there once before when I was hungry and had paid them the last time I was there. They tried to deny me coverage — they said hunger was a pre-existing condition! This is outrageous! Are we supposed to just go without? Obviously, the government needs to step in and do more. The current Appetite Care system has been wildly successful, so why not just expand it to include all Americans? It seems like a no-brainer.

 TSA Follies

Having spent a few weeks on the road this year, I’ve had more exposure to the TSA recently than I really care to. This, coupled with the announcement that the current theater that passes for airport security will be enhanced with random hand-swabbing, is enough to bring into sharp relief the myriad reasons that I dislike the TSA and everything for which it stands. This isn’t new, of course. I’ve written about the TSA before and that I believe common sense will eventually prevail, and the TSA will be relegated to the dustbin of history. I look forward to one day regaling my grandchildren with stories of the post-9/11 world, and their slack-jawed reaction to the sheer absurdities of this life. So here is the start of a collection of these stories.

In January, traveler Bucky Turco took a photo of a TSA agent sleeping on the job at LaGuardia airport. Granted, the agent was not on duty at the time, but gaffes like this do little to improve the TSA’s image. Also in January, a terminal at Newark was on lockdown after a TSA agent left his post, allowing a man to duck under the rope to say his goodbyes to a friend. I suspect incidents like this are fairly rare, but again, they do nothing to improve the general perception that the TSA is is suffering from a severe lack of professionalism. Whether you leave your post, or fall asleep on the job, no one is going to believe that you are taking the security of passengers seriously.

In yet another story from January, an agent in Philly tried to remedy his boredom by playing a prank on traveler Rebecca Solomon, planting a plastic bag of white powder in her bag, and then letting her off the hook with a grin and a “just kidding!” Using your position of authority to meet women was a helpful plot device in the recent movie She’s Out Of My Leauge, but when it comes to real life, these agents need to stay a bit more focused. The agent was subsequently terminated for this behavior, but it does lead one to question, where did that bag of white powder come from? Was this simply the desperate action of a lonely guy, or are TSA agents actually trained to use tactics such as this?

What about the agents that detained Ron Paul campaign staffer Steve Bierfeldt at the St. Louis airport in 2009? His quick thinking to record audio of the entire incident on his iPhone helped him win his case and reestablish some proper boundaries around the agency’s outrageous power grab. The TSA subsequently “issued a new policy directive making clear that its safety screening procedures would be strictly limited to passenger searches for the purpose of safeguarding flight safety.” We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Bierfeldt for standing up for all of our rights, and striking a significant blow in defense of common sense.

 We’re From The Government, We’re Here To Help

Ignoring for the moment the complete absurdity of giving a third-grader detention for eating a Jolly Rancher, let’s explore this story a little deeper. In other words, follow the money. Because the real story here doesn’t appear until the tenth paragraph, when the school district superintendent, Jack Ellis, says, “failing to adhere to the state’s guidelines could put federal funding in jeopardy.” There it is. The federal extortion racket is at it again.

If you watched any of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, you know that he ran up against this same nonsense, except the logic there was reversed. At the elementary school in Huntington, West Virginia, where he was trying to eliminate chocolate and strawberry flavored milk (because, as he put it, they contain more sugar than a can of “fizzy pop”), it took several attempts before the school district finally got “approval” from state authorities to remove a food item that was bad for the children’s health.

So in one state, the extortionists punish a child for eating sugar, and in another state, they punish the school for trying to reduce the sugar intake of their students. But in both states, the root cause is the same: fight the system and lose your funding.

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