Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yes Nancy We Are Serious

     Two years ago, the legislation known as Obamacare, was written in the dark of night and rammed through Congress using parliamentary tricks so as to avoid debate. It was passed with only Democrat votes (the first time in our history a major piece of legislation didn't have bi-partisan support). Some of those Democrat votes came as a result of bribes (Ben Nelson's cornhusker kickback and Mary Landreu's Louisiana purchase) and some as a result of lies (the administration's assurances to Bart Stupack and other pro-life house Democrats that no Federal money would be used for abortions under the bill). Before the bill was passed, Nancy Pelosi uttered her now famous line that we had to pass the bill in order to find out what was in it. A less-famous statement by former Speaker Pelosi, but a more telling one, was when she responded to an inquiry about the constitutionality of the bill by saying, "Are you serious?" No matter how the Supreme Court decided the case regarding the constitutionality of Obamacare, the oral arguments before the court this week sent a resounding, "Yes" to Mrs. Pelosi's question of two years prior.
     Listening to the oral arguments presented to the Supreme Court by both sides this week was just slightly more fascinating than listening to the pundits on the left expressing dismay at how badly their ideology holds up under the scrutiny of the Court and constitutional common sense. In typical Liberal fashion there was no self-examination of the folly of their position, after all they can't possibly be wrong. So they blamed everyone from the the Conservative members of the court who decide cases on the basis of the Constitution (what a concept) to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who had to defend the indefensible. That is not to say that Paul Clement, who represented the 26 States who brought the case before the Court, didn't do an excellent job presenting the opposing side. But at the very core of the argument is the individual mandate which is just a door, that once opened, removes any restraint on the Federal government. The foundation of the Constitution, and of our entire system of government, is based on restraint of Federal powers. If the government is able to compel citizens to engage in commerce to purchase health care, then it can compel citizens into any behavior the government deems beneficial. This, my friends, is tyranny at its worst. This case, more than any other in recent memory, is a slam-dunk and without the specter of politics coloring the issue, should be decided 9-0 in favor of striking down Obamacare. But then politics influences even a court whose members are given life time appointments for the express reason that they not be influenced by politics.
     The Supreme Court, in addition to deciding weather the individual mandate is constitutional, will also decide the issue of severability. Most legislation is written to include a severability clause which states that it is the intention of Congress that if any part of the law is found unconstitutional, the rest of the law will stand. Nancy Pelosi removed this clause from Obamacare, which means according to the letter of the law, if the Court strikes down the individual mandate the entire law must go. Because without the clause the only conclusion the justices can come to is that it is the intention of Congress that if any part is found unconstitutional, then they would not have passed the rest of the law on its own merits. There is little reason to believe that the letter of law will be followed in this case, and the Court may decide to strike the mandate and leave most of the rest of the law intact. This will still be a victory for liberty because the forces of those who sanction limitless government will have been turned back by those who believe in the constitutional principle of enumerated Federal powers and that freedom can't exist in an environment of unrestrained government. Unfortunately, for someone who believes as former Speaker Pelosi, the Constitution is not to be taken seriously.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It's All About Me!

     When I consider the problems in our society, most can be attributed to selfishness. This selfishness is not to be confused with self-interest, which is what creates opportunity for others and prosperity in general. The baker makes bread to sell to you so that he can support his own family. If he makes good bread at a fair price, his business will thrive and he will create opportunity for the people he will have to hire to support his business. Those people work for the baker, not as a favor to him, but in their own self interest to support their families. They buy goods and services with the money they make, and invest with the money they save, and the wealth of the nation is created. Only free-market societies can do this, that is why the least amount of wealth is in countries who have command economies with over-burdensome government interference.
     But back to my original point, that selfishness creates not only financial problems for a society, but also cultural ones. This is one of the reasons that the self-esteem movement of the last 20 years has been so destructive. It has taught a generation of children that their self-esteem is dependant on someone else handing it out wholesale like bubblegum instead of earning it through their own accomplishments. These children grow up thinking they are the center of the universe and develop anxiety problems later in life when they learn they are not. It's no wonder that since the 1960s, when the emphasis moved from civility to self, that there has been a steady increase in the cases of depression. Depression, after all, is a self-centered condition. It's the total submersion into oneself which causes feelings of being alone which can lead to depression. That is why there are many sources that recommend people who are depressed reach outside themselves by helping other people in order to feel more involved in something other than self.
     There are many visible examples in our society of the, "It's all about me" syndrome. Some are small and seemingly mundane, like when parents plaster bumper stickers on their cars announcing to the world how special their kid is for getting good grades in school.  Getting good grades use to be expected of children, it wasn't a grand accomplishment worthy of an advertisement on the parent's car. These parents have unwittingly inculcated in their children the thought they are special to the world for simply doing what they are suppose to do. It takes context away from accomplishment. Getting good grades is put on the same level, by these parents, as much larger accomplishments that may be worthy of the more visible attention. The same thing is true with the many sports programs that teach kids that everyone is a winner. When children grow up believing this, they feel victimized when they find out it's not true in the real world. Children have to learn how to lose and also that they may not have the skill in an area of endeavour that someone else has. This is how they are able to define their own strengths and weaknesses. Parents who shelter their children from life's realizations, to keep their egos from being bruised, are doing their children a disservice. As Abraham Lincoln said, "I learned more from my failures in life than I did from the successes."  One thing I've learned from my own personal failures is that I'm not the center of the universe and I should always strive to make myself a better person. Sadly, this is a lesson lost on graduates of the self-esteem movement who have been told there is no need for them to better themselves through accomplishment.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Apple's Wealth Redistribution

     This week Apple Corp. announced it would be instituting a $2.65 per share dividend and a 10 billion dollar stock buy back program. This comes on the heals of public pressure to do something with the 100 billion dollars in cash the company has accumulated as a result of their phenomenal success. Steve Jobs, when he was alive, resisted giving a dividend or buying back stock. His theory was that the best way to reward shareholders is by increasing the value of the company with innovative products that people wanted.
     I scratched my head when I heard the news of an Apple dividend because it only amounts to 1.8 percent a year. The stock has increased in value by 8000 percent over the last 10 years, which averages 800 percent a year. And for the foreseeable future there seems to be no stopping this tech juggernaut. The best incentive any company can give investors is an increase in share value like Apple has provided in the last decade. Apple's 100 billion in cash is wasted on a dividend and should be saved to purchase a company that would add value to Apple. At the very least the cash should be saved to act as a buffer against hard times.
     So why did Apple redistribute its wealth with a dividend and stock buy back? The answer is more political than it is financial. Apple, under the leadership of Tim Cook, wishes to curry favor with the anti-capitalist and anti-success media. It's not enough for a company to have stellar earnings quarter after quarter, the left in this country thinks they are required  to pay penance for their success. It is also the same thing which motivates companies to have "green" initiatives. They want the mainstream media to print favorable stories about them and how much they care about the environment. This slavish adherence to political correctness has no place in business. Companies exist for one reason; to supply a product or service that people want. If they do this task successfully, they make a profit. The more profit they make, the more people they can hire. Their success also means gains for their shareholders. The shareholders can take their gains, if they so choose, and invest in other companies, their own businesses or in the general economy. This is how an economy grows and prospers and provides opportunity and wealth for those who participate in it. This fact is sadly missed by those in the main stream media, the Democrat party and, apparently, by Tim Cook.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lower Expectations-The Result of Hope and Change

     The mantra of President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was, of course, hope and change. I doubt that his 2012 campaign will recycle those empty ideas, considering he and his party will have been in power for four years by time the election takes place. And pushing change when you are already in power is an endorsement for your opponent. I remember during the last election cycle, I heard a quote by an ancient philosopher who said, "Hope is the worst evil because it prolongs the torment of men." That bit of wisdom was never so true as it has been the last three years. Many people have accepted the concept of hope in lieu of real economic growth and prosperity.
     The average growth rate in the gross domestic product since 1947 is around 3.2 percent, the average growth the last 3 years has been solidly south of 2 percent. The average number of jobs that the economy needs to create to sustain average GDP growth is around 250k. The raw data shows that we have lost 2 million jobs since President Obama was inaugurated. These statistics are for a normal economy, most economists would agree that when the economy is in recession, 4-5 percent growth in GDP and 400-500k jobs a month is needed to right the economic ship. The current numbers are nowhere close to these levels, yet many people believe our economy is in a solid recovery. The reason is that their expectations for what is a strong economy, have been lowered by the administration and the Democrat party.
     Therein lies the greatest offense committed by this administration upon the people of this great country, they have lowered the people's expectations for themselves and their country. The left in this country has not only trained people to look to the federal government to solve economic problems (which only a vibrant private sector can accomplish), but also personal problems such as health care, education and a host of other issues that range from free contraceptives to protecting them from bullys. The President has even said in speeches that the United States has to accept a role of mediocrity because we can no longer be the world's leading economy. He and his minions have convinced a sizable segment of the population that they should trade their own potential greatness, and their personal freedoms,  for the false sense of security that an ever-increasing central government can supply. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said, "Any man who would trade his liberty for security deserves neither freedom or security." In other words, the best indivdual security is a function of the greatest individual liberty.
     The current administration has not only transferred wealth from producers to non-producers, but it has transferred people's confidence in themselves to confidence in an ever more powerful government. This creates less opportunity and prosperity for everyone because government is not capable of growing wealth, it can only confiscate it. The result is a society that accepts the lowest common denominator instituted by government instead of the unlimited potential of each individual.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Obama Agenda-100 Years In the Making

     When I was a teenager in the 1970s, my mother was very politically active. She would always warn us about the occupation of America by the Communists. My other siblings and I use to poke fun at her because we assumed that she meant some sort of military occupation. In recent years I have discovered two things; 1) My mother was talking about an occupation of our government and institutions by a Communist ideology and 2) My mother is a very wise woman. Her supposition was prompted by the awareness of the Communist manifesto from the 1950s. It stated that the United States could not be defeated militarily and would have to be destroyed by tearing down the institutions which made it great, i.e.  its family structure and moral underpinnings supported by a vibrant religious community. And for the last 50 years or so that's exactly what has happened.
     The Progressive movement, which actually started about 100 years ago with Woodrow Wilson and continued through FDR, Lyndon Johnson and others, has been an antecedent to the current administration. Modern day Liberalism, which is actually an enemy of its root word liberty, is actually nothing more than Wilson's regressive Progressive ideology. The Progressive ideology is based on tearing down the institutions of independence, such as the family, community and faith. The Progressive knows that in order to succeed he must confiscate independence and replace it with an ever-increasing and powerful reliance on government. You can not do this when there are strong families and communities and a strong faith-based society. The Progressive also can't succeed with a strong free market. Free market capitalism necessarily breeds independence and self-reliance, two things which are destructive to the cause of Progressivism.
    Which at long last brings us to the Obama administration. The Obama administration has passed 3500 new federal regulations in each of the last three years. Regulations not only have a real cost to businesses (banks now spend 1.2 man-hours being compliant with federal regulations for every man-hour they spend on their core business) but the regulatory beast allows government to control more of the free market, thus making it less free. This breeds more dependence on government. An environment of over-regulation also allows government to pick winners and losers by selectively prosecuting businesses for the expressed purpose of controlling them. The regulations are so voluminous and complicated that in some industries, millions and even billions of dollars must be spent in order to comply. This necessarily excludes the smaller entities from participating. This should never be the case in a free society. Government should exist in the background and allow the markets to operate and self-correct when necessary. Thus creating the most opportunity and prosperity for the greatest number of people. Sadly, we have rushed head-long into a system which is less prosperous because it is more highly regulated by those who don't understand or have any stake in it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Greek Tragedy At Home

     This week the private bond-holders of Greek debt are going to be asked to sign their names to a deal which will ensure at least a 53.4 percent loss of their investment. It is also looking as though they will not be allowed to insure that debt with credit default swaps. All this while the public financiers of the Greek debt, the European Central Bank, et., al., will protect themselves from loss and actually be able to profit from the deal. With this kind of assault on free market principles I wonder why anyone would invest in European sovereign debt.
     Just as I was becoming indignant about the European debt crisis, I remembered that a worst situation happened in this country just three years ago. I am, of course, referring to the bailout of the GM and Chrysler, when President Obama, with no authority to do so, forced the bond-holders to relinquish their rightful stake in those companies and give their equity to the unions. This heavy-handed government interference with the free market, as much as anything else, has lead to uncertainty in the markets and sluggish growth in the economy.
     We were told that if a government bailout was not proffered that bankruptcy was sure to follow. In the case of GM, a bankruptcy occurred anyway. The government bailout was used to transfer wealth from the legitimate bond-holders to the unions. It was also used as a method for the Obama administration to close profitable dealerships owned by Republicans, who did not support him. The ruse was also used to allow the administration to force the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles that no one wanted to buy. Only five thousand of the fifteen thousand Chevy Volts sold in the last year were bought by private individuals, the rest were purchased by the government to shore up sales. When the government interferes with the free market in this way, it can only lead to manipulation and crony capitalism. It also dissuades investors from entering into long-term debt, fearing that the government can confiscate it from them and give it to groups who support the administration.
     If we are ever going to get back on the path of a healthy economy, the free market forces must be unencumbered by the fear that an over-reaching government will violate their equity stake simply for political gain.