How to Fix DC’s School Problem: Lose the Schools

Last week, the U.S. House of Representative passed the SOAR Reauthorization Act.  (Next week they will, no doubt, be debating other clever backronyms for other equally banal bills.)  SOAR, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results, is, like so much of what government does, benevolent on its surface.  After all, who doesn’t like giving money to disadvantaged children in one of America’s most disadvantaged cities?  It’s almost as fun as handing out puppies!

But, also like so much of what government does, someone else ends up paying for it.

First, the whole concept of Congress legislating anything that happens outside the halls of federal government but inside the borders of the District of Columbia flies in the face of what the District was meant to be.  The “taxation without representation” nonsense on the license plates and the ongoing quixotic call for D.C. statehood are just so many sour grapes.

D.C. was never meant to be a permanent residence for anyone.  It was created to house the federal government at a time when the fledgling nation was still very much a delicate alliance of independent states, not the ironclad country that it has increasingly (although lately, decreasingly) become since the end of the Civil War.  Part of the reason for this should be abundantly clear now that five out of the top ten richest counties are bedroom communities for federal government officials and lobbyists: government service was never meant to be a permanent gig or a road to wealth, so why would anyone want to stick around long enough to put down roots, especially in a humid, mosquito-infested cesspool like the one that D.C. was at its nascence?

But there’s no turning back now.  D.C. is one of the largest cities in America, and its future is undeniably tied to the whims of Congress and the president.  (This fact was intriguingly examined in both The West Wing and House of Cards, where it was used as a political football by a president seeking to control Congress.)

But when the federal government runs roughshod over the 10th Amendment as it has for so long now, it’s at least somewhat checked by the desires of political leaders in state capitals who either have a genuine interest in the future prosperity and freedom of their states or simply want credit for whatever program Congress is seeking to shove down the people’s throats.  I’m sure D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser has similar desires, but, being only one person with her entire budget at the mercy of Congress, she doesn’t have quite the power of a governor and his legislature (except when she has the president on her side, as displayed in the aforementioned TV shows).  So, then, D.C. becomes a hyperbole of every bad (and sometimes good) idea that the federal government has – all that power laser-focused on a mere 68 square miles.

So what’s the problem with SOAR?  Well, nothing, really – just as there’s nothing wrong with giving kids puppies.  The problem is in who pays for the puppies, and for the scholarships.

When you’re taxing 300 million people and using it to educate a mere 1,244 children, that’s not bad at all.  But it’s also the federal government doing what it does worst: picking winners and losers.  Don’t get me wrong: I have a lot more faith in the future of the boys and girls attending D.C. private and charter schools on an Opportunity Scholarship than I do in whatever cockamamie green energy scheme made it to the president’s desk this week, but it’s still a dangerous precedent that’s been set – and all the more dangerous because, ironically, precedents for federal fiscal support of something as controversial as school vouchers are rather tenuous.

Now, if I were a congressman, I probably would have voted for SOAR, too, just to keep the money coming, and I applaud President Obama for his support of it as well (words I don’t often write), but at some point, SOAR will become a political football, and the unfortunate children of D.C. will be held hostage.  Furthermore, regardless of the future, there are thousands of children in D.C. schools who, while perhaps not as “disadvantaged” as the ones taking advantage of Opportunity Scholarships, are still at a disadvantage.  (And many of them could be worse off, since D.C. Opportunity Scholarships are awarded through a lottery.)  There is a better way – as Reagan may have said, not necessarily an easier way, but a better way.

The ultimate solution to this problem lies in D.C. ceasing to be a quasi-state, with its public infrastructure tied to the whims of the federal government.  For education, this means that residents need to start sending their children to schools outside D.C.  This is where permanent residents of the area should be living anyway.  In turn, schools in Maryland and Virginia (and the other 48 states, for that matter), should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own, with limited ties to federal or state mandates.

While people often lament the state of public education in this country (and rightly so), I’ve never heard anyone feel sorry for the children going to private schools.  Wouldn’t the answer, then, be to send all of our children to private schools?  And before you protest, trust me when I say that this solution doesn’t necessitate only the wealthy getting an education; after all, many of the children using D.C. Opportunity Scholarships may attend private schools – even Sidwell Friends, home to First Daughters Sasha and Malia Obama!

Cross-posted at

In Defense of $4.5 million Super Bowl Ads


So this meme is going around (as memes tend to). And it’s got things exactly wrong (as memes tend to). It was shared by the Other 98%, a “grassroots network of folks committed to kicking greedy corporate asses for the harder working classes. And we have fun doing it.” Naturally. Yea Socialism! Let’s burn some s*** down!

There’s so much irony here. Off the top of my head I can name several “greedy corporations” that made this meme possible. (Because, you know, “you didn’t build that.”) Someone took the photo with their Android, Windows or Apple smartphone (or perhaps a Nikon or Canon SLR). Someone used software and hardware created by Windows or Apple or some other tech giant to create the meme. She posted it to Facebook using an internet connection provided by Verizon, Comcast or some other communications corporation. And I’d be willing to bet that she was doing all this while sipping a latte at Starbucks and listening to Beyonce rail against the very people who protect her wealth.

But irony aside, this meme goes to the heart of what is wrong with our society and the key difference between socialism and capitalism.

Let’s assume for a moment that the creator of this meme is genuine in her concern for hungry children and the homeless. She is assuming that, because $4.5 million was spent on Super Bowl ads (depending on when it was run, this is actually less than the cost of a single :30-second ad) that it won’t go to “feeding the foodless and housing the houseless.” But again, that’s exactly wrong. The money spent on advertising in conjunction with the Super Bowl helps multiple times more than that same dollar amount could put to directly helping the poor (i.e. giving them a “hand out”). Now don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should help the poor directly, especially those who are the eluded to “2%”. With great wealth comes great responsibility and all that and some folks, naturally, are in a hard place because of little or no fault of their own. But a poor man never gave another man a job.

Socialism assumes that the pie is only one size and can never grow. Peyton Manning earned $2,051,000 just for winning the Super Bowl (and, yes, he did earn it). But that doesn’t mean someone else went without that money. In fact, because Peyton earned that extra bonus, lots of people other than he are going to benefit. There’s his family, of course, and his agent. Those are a given and they, undoubtedly, contributed to his success through their support. But there are the advertisers too, especially those in Denver. And here’s the real kicker; because their local boy made good, these advertisers are going to pay for the privilege. Some local car dealer or plumbing company or mortgage broker is actually going to give Peyton another big pay out just to drive around their cars or refinance his mansion with their mortgage company. Why? Because they’re making the safe bet that the $100,000 they’re paying him on top of the $1 million dollars they’re paying the commercial producers, TV stations, and newspapers, is going to translate into $10 million in added sales. And it doesn’t stop with the advertisers. There’ll be a parade. There’ll be lots of Peyton Manning jerseys sold by people making minimum wage (but, hopefully, just happy to have a job) and on and on.

Capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other force in history. And that’s not just a side effect but by design because not only has a poor man never given another man a job; a poor man has never plopped down $100,000 for a new Mercedes. Capitalism wants people to be wealthy. Capitalism wants people to “waste” money on heated seats, tickets to the Super Bowl, and $5 lattes. If it didn’t, the guy installing that heated seat that feeds his family on the $70,000 a year he makes; the gal selling peanuts at the Super Bowl for, well, peanuts; and the barista, who is working her way through college so she can get a job doing what she really wants, providing free health care to poverty stricken children in Sudan; they’d all be the ones in need. And not only is that a horrible thing tangibly, but it’s a horrible thing, a much more horrible thing, mentally, because when you rob a man of his job you rob him of his dignity.

So who really cares more about the poor? Is it the socialist who doesn’t really care about the outcome as long as he “feels” he’s doing something (or even the socialist who does care about the outcome, even if he is blind to the reason for his failure)? Or is the capitalist, who, even if he is the greedy S.O.B. the “other 98%” like to chastise and just wants to make his next million, is giving not just the barista a job when he walks in to buy his latte every morning; but the farmer who grew and harvested the beans; the deckhand who worked on the ship that transported the beans to Los Angeles and the trucker who took them the rest of the way to Denver; the biology professor who is teaching the barista the anatomy she’ll need to save a child’s life; and the biology professor’s dry cleaner, who came to this country from North Korea with nothing but a $20 bill sewn into his sock and a dream that he couldn’t achieve in his homeland because someone was too concerned with “equality” and the “poor” to realize that there’s no virtue in everyone being equally poor?

Socialist caveman cartoon
“What, Ug? You want to paint some wildebeests using the berries we picked today? What a waste! Those berries could have fed someone! Go out and kill a mammoth!”

And, finally, the other great benefit of “wasting money on needless things”, is
that the needless things of yesterday become the necessities of today and help make our lives so much better. After all, what is absolutely necessary but the few berries and maybe a fish or a deer our cave-dwelling ancestors were able to scrounge up and the cave they dwelled in. And even if they aren’t the necessities of today, we, as humans (and even most animals), realize that there is much more to life than subsistence living. There’s even much more to life than the benefit of being able to call a tow truck from the side of the road in rural Montana during a snowstorm because you have that “needless luxury” called a cell phone. There’s the joy come from enjoying a movie with friends or a decadent chocolate cake with your wife (or by yourself). So the next time you watch a few million dollars go up in fireworks, or learn that some internet billionaire spent the equivalent of your life’s wages on a painting by someone you’ve never heard of, rejoice! It means capitalism is working and it means more and more people are living a better life today than everyone who came before them.


End lobbying? Might as well ban pencils to prevent misspelling words

It seems that, of all things political, lobbying and campaign finance raise the most ire among “the American people.”  They point out that “if we could just get money out of politics,” problems of corruption and the new “golden rule” would largely vanish.  They might be right, but the solution, in this case, is worse than the problem.

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly ruled in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and later Citizens United (2010) that money is a form of political speech and thus protected by the First Amendment.  The case is even clearer with lobbying.

The main problem with lobbying is that most people have no idea what it is.  They envision K Street folks dressed in $2,000 Brooks Brothers suits, pitching ideas that benefit only Wall Street over $200 lunches at Charlie Palmer Steak.  Certainly this happens, and certainly it is a bit grotesque.  But what those beating the anti-lobbying drum the loudest always forget is that they themselves are lobbyists, too.  Or at least they are any time they send an email, make a phone call, or march on the Capitol steps.

The widespread use of term “lobbying” dates back to the Grant administration, when Grant, oftentimes enjoying a cigar and brandy in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., would be approached by people asking him to push forward this or that policy and often “helping” him in the decision-making process by buying him additional cigars and snifters of brandy.  It seems, in many ways, we haven’t evolved much from those days.  That can be discouraging – that is, until one really begins to think about it.  Gaining access to our elected officials is easier than ever, what with technology the way it is.  And it bears repeating: every time we send an email, we’re lobbying.  Sure, some will say that’s different from the paid lobbyist representing the “special interest” group or corporation.  But it’s different only in orders of magnitude.

And these “special interest” groups wouldn’t even form if it wasn’t for the widespread interests of the people behind them.  Health care is a massive lobby, but only because most people in America are concerned by rising health care costs.  And while lobbying in some areas has become a way to make money off the taxpayer by taking advantage of loopholes, is it really the fault of the corporation?  If someone was handing out hundred-dollar bills and you knew someone was going to get them, wouldn’t you stand in line, regardless of how those bills were acquired, and especially if the person handing them out said it was all legit and not only your right, but your duty to accept them?  It’s a game, to be sure, but these days, sadly, you either play the game or get left behind.

So there’s a problem.  I assume those calling for the end to lobbying aren’t calling for the end of all citizen interaction with their legislators so I’ll give them that.  But if that’s the case, where do we draw the line?  The problem with creating more and more rules is that they almost always create more and more loopholes.  Do we say no one is allowed to be paid for lobbying efforts?  Well, then, only the truly rich would be able to lobby, for even a group of working mothers getting together to encourage lawmakers to strengthen drunken driving laws would be at a loss.  They could send emails, sure, and many of them do.  But if they wanted to devote their full time to it, or even just one person’s full time to it, they’d have to start raising money.  Everyone’s got to eat, after all.

Truly, the biggest reason lobbying has become such a massive industry is because of the massiveness of government.  Up until the federal government went after Microsoft with an anti-trust lawsuit, Microsoft didn’t have a government affairs division and spent little, if any, money lobbying government.  After being targeted by the Clinton Justice Department, Microsoft quickly realized that government isn’t just going to leave you alone.  No one is allowed to sit the game out.  So they ponied up and went into the lobbying business.

So what to do?  The answer, as it almost always is, lies in less government, not more.  The only reason corporations employ teams of lawyers to navigate the legislative waters is that these waters are so treacherous and hard to navigate.  Let’s take Indian Reservations as an example.  Tribes spend millions of dollars lobbying all levels of government for all sorts of things.  Maybe they want to run a casino or hunt whales in an area where it is otherwise illegal.  Maybe they want to mine for natural resources.  Maybe they’ve started a tribal business and want tax breaks.  Of course, there are other groups that don’t want to see this happen.  Maybe they are anti-gambling, or wish to protect sea mammals or trees.  Maybe they’re business owners who believe they should be receiving the same tax breaks as the Indians.  Now, instead of creating the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a massive Reservation system across the nation to pay attention to this particular “special interest,” why not just remove government from the decision making process altogether?  Make gambling either completely legal or completely illegal.  Institute a flat tax for every person or corporation.  Quit fiddling around the edges of the law to carve out special favors for your lobbyist friends, and watch how quickly those “friends” disappear.

We shouldn’t be blaming the lobbyists for showing up to the trough every time Senator So-and-So dumps a fresh load of slop into it.  They’re just doing what any of us would do.  No, instead, we should be blaming Senator So-and-So for taking our money and giving it to those we feel don’t deserve it.  (And funny how those we feel don’t deserve it are usually the ones whose policies we disagree with.)

Lobbying is nothing other than our freedom to ask our legislators to do something we think will benefit the nation (or us personally if we are short on morals).  Giving money to those legislators who we think are doing the most good in order to ensure that others hear about their acts and thus re-elect them is also nothing other than our freedom to do with our earnings what we see fit.  If our legislators are not acting in the best interest of the nation, then it is the fault not of the system we’ve instituted, but of the legislators themselves.  Outlawing lobbying to prevent corruption makes as much sense as outlawing guns to prevent murder or pencils to prevent spelling errors.

Cross posted at

We Learn from our Mistakes

The Washington State Legislature is back in session and that means one thing: time once again for government to ignore the things they should be doing, like making sure they’re not releasing rapists and murders before their prison terms have been fully served; and butting in to things they shouldn’t, like raising the legal age for smoking to 21.
I’m not a smoker, Scotch and a good Tuscan Red are my poisons, so I don’t have a dog in this fight other than the dog I like best; the dog named freedom. Yeah, yeah, that’s trite, but it’s true. And it is so because our society has slowly but surely, like that proverbial frog in boiling water, given away many of our freedoms already, however small they may be. Is smoking as important as voting, criticizing government, or owning a gun? I’d hope not, although for some I’m sure it is. The most important thing is that it’s not for me to decide. Am I okay with limited restrictions on certain behaviors where those behaviors may impose restrictions on the rights of others? Sure. (And banning smoking in a private bar, where people can choose to go or not, is not one of those restrictions. It’s a violation of private property rights.) But beyond those very limited instances where the risk to others’ safety is beyond dispute, say in the case of drinking and driving, government needs to leave the citizenry alone. (And, no, I’m sorry, but if you think walking past a smoker 20 feet away is going to induce vomiting, an asthma attack, or early onset emphysema, you have a serious health issue, and your respiratory system is not it. Or, if it is, you need to be living inside an actual bubble.)
So why is government pushing to raise the legal age for smoking to 21? They think 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds don’t have enough sense to make an informed decision on whether to smoke. Okay, that makes sense on some level. I do agree that a lot 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds are pretty foolish. Heck, I sure did a lot of dumb things at that age. But here’s the thing; I’m wiser now than I was then not so much because I’ve aged but because I’ve made mistakes. It’s absolutely true that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. And if we continue to raise the age to do this and that, relying on government to, quite literally become our parents’ nannies, then the age of wisdom will just continue to increase along with it. Lawmakers championing this bill point out that 90% of daily smokers started before turning 19. (I’ll go one further and bet that the large majority of those started before they were 16, which is partly why this proposed law is rather pointless.) So, okay, raise it to 21. You may detract a fair amount of kids from smoking. But then you might as well raise the age to 25, or 30, or 99, as one person commented on the article. And I actually agree with this sentiment more than I agree with those just wanting to raise it to 21. If tobacco is really as dangerous as Chicken Little is saying it is, then, yes, ban it completely. But then we might as well ban a whole host of other things and all go live in those bubbles, where nothing can hurt us. To throw out another cliché, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. So I, for one, want a little risk in my life; or at least the opportunity to legally choose which risks I’m going to take and which ones I’m not.
Of course the other logical argument that many pose around issues of the age of legality is that anyone who can die for this country should be able to smoke, drink and do anything else that is legal in the general sense, so set a limit and make that a limit for everything. I fully support that, but instead of making it 21 (or 30, as a few folks opined on the article) because “kids don’t know enough to make sound decisions”, let’s keep it at 18, or maybe even lower it to 16 or 14, or 12.
This is what scares me far more than cigarette smoke; the age or reason continues to march upward. We have become a nation of infants. College kids now need “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”; they fear “micro-agressions” and “hate speech”. And way too many people are bringing “emotional support turkeys” on board airplanes. I wonder how our youth would do today if they had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow. No one can know because if you so much as let your child walk more than a few blocks away from your house unaccompanied you’re visited by CPS.
Now don’t get me wrong, some lessons are too painfully learned to be taught by the school of hard knocks. I don’t advocate giving an eight-year-old a shotgun, at least not unsupervised. I don’t think twelve-year-olds should be hitting up nightclubs and “cruising for chicks” (an activity, regardless of how it turns out, that is far more dangerous than smoking, by the way). But here’s what else I don’t advocate; government raising my children. I have two small boys, three and one. When they are old enough to understand basic logic I will sit them down and explain the benefits and downfalls of life’s various risks, drawing on, guess what, my own mistakes made in youth to guide them. And you might as well call CPS now, because I also plan on letting them sample a glass of Sangiovese before their 21st birthday (and maybe even a glass of Glen Livet if they’re good). Why? Mostly because I don’t want them turning 21 and buying a six-pack of Budweiser. (An uncultured palate is the real crime of under aged drinking.)
Jews mark the gateway to adulthood with the mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13. At this point the young man or woman becomes responsible for his or her actions. Back in the Revolutionary War, kids this young were even marching off to war with a drum or bugle in their hands and during World War II it was relatively common for young men to lie about their age just to have the chance to kill some Nazis. How far we’ve come. Now a kid that age who brings a GI Joe to class gets suspended. Our children are too old and our adults too young. It’s time to reclaim the mantle of responsibility. It’s time for us all to grow up. It’s time for us to take risks, for when we do, we fail; and when we fail, we learn. And only through learning do we mature. (Of course, the other argument for keeping the legal age for smoking at 18 is perhaps even more valid and was offered to me by an 18-year-old girl I knew my first year of college: “Live fast. Die young. Leave a good looking corpse.”)

Cross posted at

Form a Committee!

Oilman T. Boone Pickens has jumped into the political fray once again.  Like many of us, he’s fed up with the current political climate and dearth of “qualified” candidates for president.  So he’s got a revolutionary new idea.  We (he?) should put together a “bipartisan screening committee that vets presidential candidates like we do anyone else applying for a job.”  Capital idea, T.  (Or do you prefer to be called Boone?)  As you point out, the current system of picking a leader is more akin to Reality TV than the hallowed system our forefathers envisioned.  (Or is it?  I’d have to double check but it seems it’s been quite some time since we had politicians literally shooting each other or beating each other with their canes on the floor of Congress.)


But I do have to ask, who gets to serve on this brilliant committee of yours? Who elects the electors, so to speak?  And I will assume that, by “recommend” you actually mean “recommend” and that the decisions of this committee are in no way binding on the electorate as a whole so I’ll leave that dystopian thought alone.

And therein lays the rub.  Like I said, capital idea.  The only thing is, you’re about 227 years too late to the game.  Sure, your ideal committee may be considerably smaller than the committee known as the registered voters of the United States, but the fact remains, we have a vetting process.  And our vetting process, unlike many other nations, is more thorough than most.  We all like to bemoan the seemingly endless campaign season but would a two-week campaign like they have in France, or even a three-month campaign like they recently had in Canada (it’s usually shorter than that) really be more preferable?  Maybe folks would pay more attention, but I doubt it.  If the press and the people can’t properly vet a candidate in two years, I don’t see how they’re going to do it in two months.  Politicians are masters at obfuscation and the less time they have to obfuscate the better for them and the worse for us.

And as to your smaller committee, provided its decision is not legally binding, we already have those too.  Sure, most of them are not bi-partisan like you call for, but what the heck does bi-partisan even mean anymore?  People tend to coalesce around single issues; tax policy, foreign policy, guns, “family values”, the environment, etc.  I’d like to think most of us are intelligent enough not to be single-issue voters but most of us also tend to hold one issue above all others regardless of party.  So we join forces and form committees like the League of Women Voters or the Conservative Political Action Committee or the Americans for Tax Reform.  Then most of us tend to coalesce around the two biggest committees; the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

So maybe I shouldn’t call it such a capital idea after all, Boone.  Or perhaps it is best to quote Winston Churchill’s famous line about democracy being “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Pickens ends his idea with a challenge for readers to come up with something better.  What have I got?  Well, like Reagan said in his landmark speech of 1964, “there is a simple answer – not an easy answer – but simple.”  And that answer is education, both in reason and in morality.  Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying the founders gave us “a republic, if you can keep it.”  John Adams stated that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The apparent decay of our nation rests at no one’s feet but our own.  We cannot blame our politicians.  We cannot blame the faceless bureaucracy as comforting and convenient as those scapegoats may be.  We turn out the first Tuesday of November every year to elect leaders from among us.  Any of us can run and because of this “experiment” started more than two centuries ago we alone are responsible not only for the triumphs we face, but also for the failures.

So I agree.  Form a committee, but not one to recommend a president.  Instead, form a committee to raise our children up with knowledge, wisdom, and morality.  Form a committee to help the struggling family buy groceries, then invite them over to your home for Christmas Dinner and share something so much more important than food; your table and your love.  Form a committee to help the kid struggling with his civics homework and tutor him after school every Tuesday.  Form a committee to plant a tree or clean up a park.  Form a committee with your neighbors and promise to watch over each other’s homes when you are away.  Form a committee to be that shining city on a hill that Christ spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount.  Be an example; for change happens not from pontificating and the passage of laws, but from example.  We will never legislate our way to peace and prosperity.  The only way to reach these hallowed ends is through personal action.  We do this, we form not just committees but communities that serve as moral and reasonable examples for the rest, it won’t matter much who our president or other political leaders are for we will be the leaders of our own destinies.  And we need not even wait until next November for our election is today.

Cross posted at

Show 039 – Drive-In Dinner at Mel’s

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????Tonight we celebrated the Great American Drive-In and the most famous drive-in of them all, Mel’s (made famous by the film American Graffiti). In between bites of burgers and fries and sips of shakes we discussed the President’s State of the Union address. Our bistroyer guests were Bob Pishue, Director of Transportation Policy at the Washington Policy Center; and Ross Hubbard, real estate investment guru with ML Jackson Real Estate, who gave us ideas of how to build wealth through real estate.

Bugs Bunny vs. Kim Jong Un


Sony has canceled the release of The Interview.  Par for the course in a nation that has lost its backbone.

America has surrendered to a stupid little country with a dictator better cast for an Austin Powers film than reality, and nary a shot has been fired.  LAME!  Now, of course, it isn’t the United States Armed Forces surrendering to North Korea, but if one of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios is throwing away a $43-million investment two weeks before it is set to start paying dividends, can the rest of society really be that far off?  After all, truth is stranger than fiction, and life imitates art imitating life all the time.

I blame Obama.  Yes, yes I do.  It sounds trite, but it’s true, because Obama, if he stands for nothing else, if he has failed at nothing else, he has failed at executing his paramount duty as president: protecting this nation from foreign threat.

Sure, Obamacare is a disaster.  Our national debt is spiraling out of control.  There’s the Lois Lerner thing, the Fast and Furious thing, the amnesty thing.  The list can go on and on, with major failures by Obama and his pals in Congress, but at the very least, those things are largely internal, and Congress is equally complicit.  Protecting our homeland from foreign threat, though, really falls under the purview of the commander-in-chief.

Of course, people are flipping out because he’s recommitting troops to the Middle East to combat ISIS (as he should) without any sort of congressional oversight, so there’s that whole War Powers Act thing.  But I’m not talking about direct action; I’m talking about setting the tone of the nation.  I’m a big believer in the separation of powers and a limited executive.  But one thing the president can do without any sort of legislation or executive order is use the bully pulpit.  Teddy Roosevelt understood this when he talked about speaking softly and carrying a big stick.  Reagan understood it when he told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”  George W. Bush understood it.  Even Clinton understood it to some extent.

There’s a reason why most big guys you meet don’t go throwing their weight around.  They don’t need to.  But even more important than one’s size is how one carries oneself.  The Duchy of Grand Fenwick comes to mind, and isn’t it sadly ironic that a Peter Sellers comedy is now reality.

Obama has the bully pulpit.  So far he’s used it to tell Putin’s puppet that he’d have more flexibility after the election (indeed), drawn fake red lines in the Syrian sand, called ISIS the JV team (one instance where he should have used less hubris), and apologized to a bunch of other enemies while throwing our allies under the bus.  To his credit, he did say we should all go to the movies on Christmas.  (I could probably make a joke about the War on Christmas here, but I won’t.)

Sorry, Barry.  It’s too little, too late.  You did say you were going to fundamentally transform America.  Well, congratulations.  We’re a nation of cowards now.  A vague threat from a couple of guys sitting in their underwear in their mothers’ basements eating North Korea’s answer to the cheesy-poofs have now completely derailed a major motion picture release.  I just hope Seth Rogen and James Franco didn’t take the majority of their pay in box office percentages.  And that’s really something.

As I said, we’re cowering in fear of a kid who’d probably still be carded were he to go to The Interview if it had been released.  We’re cowering to a nation that levels threats on a regular basis and so far has managed to launch only a few missiles into the ocean miles off their intended course.  (Yeah, they killed a few South Koreans, and as tragic as that was, it really doesn’t amount to much in the way of threats.  Walking down the street in Detroit is more dangerous.)

I’m sure there was plenty of chatter from the jihadis (and the North Koreans) when Team America: World Police was released.  Same goes for Zero Dark Thirty.  Heck, there was a legitimate bomb scare outside Comedy Central after South Park did an episode making fun of Muhammad.  And probably the granddaddy of them all: during World War II, Warner Brothers turned out plenty of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons making fun of a couple of dictators that were actively killing millions of people.  When a cartoon rabbit and a cartoon waterfowl have more backbone than you do, it’s time to take a serious look behind you to see if your spine is still there.

But I guess this is par for the course (with no apologies to the Golfer-in-Chief).  We pulled out of Iraq because they wanted to play a little footsie during Status of Forces negotiations.  We threw a no-talent hack with a camcorder under the bus when we couldn’t heed warnings and common sense to protect our consulate in Benghazi.  We let Putin mow over half of Ukraine while setting eyes on the rest of Eastern Europe.  The only “threat” we seem to take seriously these days is a Canadian oil pipeline.  Maybe Sony should release a film lampooning Stephen Harper next.

 Cross posted at

Bureaucratic Sociopaths

I’m sure the overwhelming majority of bureaucrats, e.g. un-elected civilian employees of government, are good people trying to make a difference in the world. There are probably a decent number of bureaucrats who are lazy slobs with a lifetime meal ticket no matter what they do but, when push comes to shove, genuinely feel bad when someone is screwed over by the system. Then there are the special subset of bureaucrats who can be classified as nothing other than sociopaths. These folks belong in a hospital for the criminally insane. They lack empathy for those screwed over by the system and their standard response to any complaint is “sorry, that’s just policy” or “I empathize with you but that’s just the law.”

At the extreme end of the scale these folks were “unwilling” members of Hitler’s Third Reich. “Oh, six million Jews? Yeah, that’s a shame. Wish that hadn’t happened but I was just following orders. What was I supposed to do?” A bit down the scale we have all those American bureaucrats of the 1940s that went around arresting Japanese-Americans and throwing them in internment camps. (This, by the way, is the better response to someone who you’re tempted to call a Nazi. It’s less trite and they’ll be less likely to dismiss you with Godwin’s Law or Reductio ad Hitlerum.)

At the fairly tame end of the scale (but one, nonetheless, sociopathic), lay people like Jennifer Niemeyer, Supervisor at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, who has about as much empathy as a chunk of granite (although I’m sure she’d tell you differently).

The story is here and has already garnered a slew of responses but, nonetheless, if you are as angered by this wanton display of militarism over something as harmless as a baby deer, I encourage you to email or call the Wisconsin DNR (and copy the governor’s office since Scott Walker seems to be a pretty reasonable guy) and add your voice. Beware, though, you may just receive a response like this:

My initial email:

I’m sure you’re getting plenty of hate mail about Giggles the fawn. I won’t be hateful as, hopefully, whoever is reading this is just as sickened by the DNR’s actions as the rest of us are. Instead, you can just add me to the growing list of people who find these actions unconscionable and, in all likelihood, illegal. The people involved in this decision should be immediately fired for their actions and the DNR should immediately give training to the rest of its staff on the appropriate response to wild animal capture. And you can tell Miss Neimeyer that her response equating an animal shelter to a drug cartel is not only incredibly stupid and wrong, it’s also incredibly offensive and borderline libelous. She should also be fired for her actions.
Mark Griswold

Jennifer’s response (not sure it she’s the same Jennifer as named above)

I thank you for your comments on the situation.
Last week our warden staff had the difficult and emotional job of removing a fawn that was illegally taken out of the wild and into captivity.  None of our staff take joy in these situations.  The department does the best it can to educate the public about keeping wild animals in the wild.  In the end, we are charged by the citizens of Wisconsin to carry out state laws mandated by the legislature.  It is a responsibility we take very seriously.  We don’t have the ability to pick and choose which laws to enforce. Our staff took precautions to keep everyone safe as they executed the required search warrant.  We are always very empathetic to those involved in these situations and understand how difficult they are to all who are involved.
Thank you,
Jennifer- CSWeb

My response:

How dare you! To call coming in with a SWAT team and a search warrant overkill (pun definitely not intended) is a gross understatement. You can hide behind your laws and bureaucratic jargon but you know what you did was wrong. And was comparing an animal shelter to a drug ring really necessary? That is not the response of an empathetic person. That’s the result of someone who would rather make a mockery out a sad situation.

A little piece of advice from someone who has been in the PR industry for awhile. Sometimes unfortunate things happen. Sometimes government bureaucracy leads to poor decision making as in this case. The correct response would have been:
“We are deeply troubled and saddened by the events surround the death of Giggles. Our department is looking in to what can be done in the future to help these situations come to a better conclusion.”
And then, in the future, you’d instruct DNR personnel to call the wildlife shelter (because, guess what, wildlife shelters are not drug rings and I know you know that so I’m confused as to why you’d say something so hurtful in your initial response to this situation), let them know that the policy is to have a wild animal unable to fend for itself in the wild transported to an appropriate facility within 24 hours and then, finding out that the shelter was already planning on doing so, thank them for their service to the wildlife community and hang up the phone. And, sure, I suppose you could send a DNR agent (one without assault rifle drawn) out the next day to make sure the transfer is in process. Heck, you could even send a vet out to make sure the deer doesn’t have a communicable disease since I understand you don’t want those things to spread. But, I’m guessing from the lack of response to that fact, Giggles did not have CWD. [Chronic Wasting Disease, the toehold they’re using to justify their excessive use of force and stupidity.]
I sincerely hope you take this advice to heart. If all you can do is hide behind laws and bureaucratic jargon then you are not fit to serve the public. Just remember, all those people who threw the Japanese into internment camps in the 1940s were just “following the law”. Ask yourself, would you have been one of them?
By the way, Jennifer, if it is indeed the law that a 13-member SWAT team needs to show up without warning and kill something as defenseless as a fawn, please forward me that section. I mean, I’m sure you can, right? You might be a cold-hearted bureaucrat but I’m sure you’re not a liar, right?

“Jessica” then followed up with an email linking to the “Captive Wildlife Regulations and Licenses” page of the Wisconsin DNR. I tell you, I was shocked, shocked, I say, to find not one mention of 13-member SWAT teams being needed to kill a deer. (NY Governor Andrew Cuomo will also be pleased to know that there was nothing about needing 10 bullets to kill a deer either.)

My response:

Hmm, yeah, don’t see anything about a 13-member SWAT team. Please pass on to Jennifer that she’s a liar as well as a heartless bureaucrat and she’s now on my list. I am going to make it my mission in life to get her and anyone else who thinks the DNR acted appropriately to the situation involving Giggles fired. (I hope that doesn’t include you, Jessica. I hope you have true empathy to discern what is morally right and what is legally right.)

To this I got a final response from “Rachel Baker” that was amazingly similar to the very first one I received from Jennifer.

People like these as well as, of course, the 13-member SWAT team that carried out the initial raid, are either complete morons in the strictest sense of the word or have a heart much smaller than even the Grinch Who Stole Christmas (stealing presents from the Whos down in Whoville is one thing, taking them out with assault rifles is quite another). Either way, they should not be allowed to make decision that affect the lives and well-being of millions of citizens.

And this is pure conjecture here, perhaps Rachel Baker, Jessica and Jennifer all are avid hunters, but who would be surprised if the same people hiding behind bureaucratic red tape in this case are the same ones electing folks who would like to outlaw hunting altogether.

And for those interested, there’s a Justice for Giggles the Fawn Facebook Page which was set up yesterday and already has 224 “likes”.

Data Mining: Liberty vs. Security

There’s been much talk on the interwebs today about the NSA data-mining Verizon’s and other companies’ phone records. While I’m not one to call double-standard on “my own team” nor defend Obama very often, I have to jump in here. And realize, I am in good conservative company here. This morning conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager covered the topic in a positive manner and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), who has an 88 rating from the American Conservative Union and sits on the House Intelligence Committee, both agree with me.

Many people are throwing around the Franklin quote, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I bolded the words I did because many folks are also conveniently (although I suspect unintentionally in many cases) leaving those words out and they really make all the difference. Without them, the quote could be interpreted to mean any form of government is bad since any form of government necessarily puts certain restraints on complete liberty. As Madison said, “if men were angels no government would be necessary.” Of course, he added the converse that, “if angels were to govern men then no controls on government would be necessary.” But both parts of that quote are equally necessary. Like so many things in life and government, security policy requires a balance. If men were angels then we’d have no need to fingerprint. If men were angels we’d have no need for passports or any other form of ID. If men were angels we wouldn’t need surveillance at the ATM, guards at the airport, a military or even our cherished Second Amendment rights. If men were angels we’d live in Utopia, the definition of which is a place which doesn’t exist, at least not on earth.

But men aren’t angels so we do need government and the laws that it passes and enforces. We have the liberty to practice the religion we want but not to engage in child sacrifice. We have the liberty to speak freely but not to cry “fire” in a crowded theater or to threaten the life of the president. We have the liberty to keep and bear arms but try to acquire a Patriot missile and see what happens. And I’m guessing, regardless of how we interpret the Second Amendment (I, myself, believe, technically, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution restricting us from having a Patriot missile), we wouldn’t have a problem with our friendly neighborhood FBI task force looking into a neighbor that was keeping one in his back yard.

So what about data-mining? I’m not too concerned (which doesn’t mean I’m not concerned at all). First, as Rep. Rogers states, this program has already stopped at least one significant terrorist attack in the U.S. Second, the program is authorized by Congress and supervised by a court.

“But we see how well government oversight is working!” you say. Yes, there are certainly more than enough examples within just the past few months to prove that the Obama Administration is as corrupt as few we’ve seen, so I understand the hesitancy of some to support data-mining. But if we take this approach then nothing the government does (at least as long as Obama is in power) can be trusted. And if that’s the case then what’s the point? It’s not a far leap from there to a whole list of quite possible conspiracy theories (shape-shifting aliens not being one of them in this case).

Our government is powerful enough (and always has been in relation to the power of the people) that it could, theoretically, frame a private citizen for some heinous act as a way to silence its opposition.

So we should be vigilant. We shouldn’t just skip along as if data-mining is as happy as a Saturday morning cartoon specials but we also shouldn’t just dismiss it off-hand as some sinister plot to take away our freedoms. Mostly because the so-called freedoms taken away by data-mining pale in comparison to the ones we gave up long ago and haven’t complained about in decades (if we ever did).

First, data-mining isn’t the government listening in on every phone call you make and copying down the contents of the shopping list you’re reading off to your wife. In fact, data-mining has nothing to do with the content of your call. It is simply a computer algorithm searching through millions of gigabytes of meta-data seeing if there are any patterns that might point to terrorist plots or some other criminal act. Maybe you made a call a few seconds before a bomb went off and that call bounced off a tower near the site of the explosion. Seems to me that data might be pretty useful. Of course, maybe you have absolutely nothing to do with the explosion, but if it meant finding the terrorist who did so or preventing another explosion from taking place, would you really have a problem with answering a few questions? Completely innocent people are rounded up all the time when something bad happens.

When Bobby Kennedy was shot, hundreds of people were held for questioning for hours at the Ambassador Hotel; the vast majority or which, I’m sure, authorities knew, without a doubt, weren’t responsible. But better to restrict the liberty of a few hundred for a few hours in an effort to catch an assassin than let everyone go, including Sirhan Sirhan.

Stupid people threaten the life of the president all the time. Most of the time they have no intention of causing any real harm. They’re just stupid. But aren’t we all glad that the Secret Service is vigilant about investigating all those folks?

We’ve given up a lot more information than the metadata of our phone calls. The government knows how much we make and who pays us. It knows about our real estate and vehicle ownership. It knows when and where we travel when we leave the country. Any time we make a transaction of more than $10,000 or transport that sum across international boundaries the government knows that too. To me, all that seems way more invasive than the fact I made a few calls yesterday.

And that’s assuming the government actually cares. Excuse me, but most of us just aren’t that special. And if our specific phone behavior is being that closely monitored then we probably either have ties to a terrorist group or are a major contributor to the Romney Campaign (the latter of which, of course, is completely unconstitutional, an abuse of power and is, thankfully, in a similar instance, being investigated by Congress). The government does care, however, how much money we make and if we withdrew $15,000 from our bank account last week. If you want to get in a tizzy over government overreach, get in a tizzy over that.

Yes, the government is wildly inefficient, at times abusive and vindictive, but if we’ve really reached the point where, to quote Obama in a speech earlier today, “people can’t trust government, we’re going to have some problems here.”

Does that mean we should give government all of our trust? Never! I don’t care who’s in the White House. I wouldn’t trust myself. That’s why I’m a fan of limited government. But it also doesn’t mean that we should look at everything the government does (even the honesty-challenged current administration) through the lens of some sinister plot to take away all of our rights and throw those of us who “cling to our God and guns” in prison camps. As bad as things are here right now, we’re not anywhere close to being North Korea.

Personally, I’m thankful that Obama has broken his promise to close Gitmo. I’m glad he took out Anwar al-Awlaki with a drone. To not trust government to at least some extent means to not trust the military or the police, for, in the wrong hands, they can inflict a lot more harm on the average citizen than any amount of data-mining ever can. And to not trust government to some extent means the only option left is armed revolt because, really, if you can’t trust a computer algorithm running a search on phone records at the NSA, can you even trust that we have free and fair elections?

So just ask yourself, is it the data-mining you have a problem with or is it the current data-miner-in-chief? If it’s the latter then don’t throw the baby (tools used to successfully prevent terror attacks in the U.S.) out with the bath water (President Obama; and no, Martin Bashir, that comparison has nothing to do with the color of his skin). The TSA’s policy of not allowing knives and guns on airplanes fails all the time. One friend mentioned that her husband unknowingly brought a pocket knife onboard a plane four times before a TSA agent found it. Does that mean we should just throw that whole policy out? And if so, why not just allow guns or even underwear bombs?

And if it is the former, just why are you so concerned about some federal government algorithm combing over millions of phone records (which, unless you’re one of the special cases named above, won’t even be connected to you) yet you don’t seem to have a problem with Verizon, AT&T, Facebook, or Google doing the same?

In conclusion, stay always vigilant. It is good and right that this story about data-mining is in the media and being discussed at such length. But just be wary of where you go with your arguments. Focus on the facts and the specific policy. Those of us on the right didn’t appreciate it when some on the left exhibited Bush Derangement Syndrome and flipped out no matter what he did (things that Obama is currently doing today, including data-mining). Don’t develop Obama Derangement Syndrome and flip out over data-mining just because Obama is currently in charge. Nor should you flip out over it because there’s the possibility it could be used for malevolent purposes. While the IRS is actually using data it is collecting for malevolent purposes, as much as I’d love to see it go, no one is seriously entertaining its end over this.


The Simple Senator Tax Plan

2012-tax-law-keeps-piling-up-cchRight now millions of people are sitting on hold with the IRS and millions more are griping about taxes more than they usual do. Seeing a big chunk of change disappear out of your bank account is never fun, especially when you know it’s going to fund snail porn. But besides that, doing taxes makes one’s head hurt. Even with the invention of software and the proliferation of H&R Blocks, it still takes a ridiculous amount of time. I just did my mother’s taxes. She made no money last year yet it still took me over and hour. My own taxes took a full day and my tax situation, while probably more complicated than the average American’s, is far from what some folks face. In fact, the tax code is so complicated and ever-changing that even the Secretary of the Treasury doesn’t understand it. And while I blame Tim Geithner for a lot of things, his ignorance of the tax code is not one of them. If there’s anything that could stump God, the U.S. tax code is probably it. After all, He gave us His complete outline for humanity in a scant 2000 pages or so and last year’s tax code weighs in at over 73,000!

So what is the solution? I’ll start with the ultimate “simple senator plan”: no taxes. Yes, none. Zero. Zilch. Everything is voluntary. “You’re a crazy anarchist that probably has a bunker full of grenades in his back yard!” you say? No, not even close (and if I did have a bunker full of grenades I wouldn’t be stupid enough to put it in my back yard). The government does have a role to play in society, a fairly sizable one in fact (although just a tiny fraction of what it currently is), but most things that government does today, especially the federal government, should be done, at least in large part, by the private sector: transportation, education, parks, marriage. In fact, the complete list of what the government, at any level, should do is so short here it is:

1. Provide for the national defense. (And help prevent war through diplomacy.)
2. Provide for a common means of exchange, e.g. the almighty dollar.
3. Protect and uphold the rights of the citizens, e.g. the police. (This is best done by state and local government. It’s corollary is administration of justice. Things like forcing BP to clean up Gulf Coast beaches would also be included under this category since, if you dump a big mess on my property, you’re taking away my right to enjoyment of it.)

There are a few other things that are probably best done in consort with local government, i.e. large transportation projects, but even these can be mostly carried out by private industry and can be funded through user fees (i.e, toll roads).

Some other examples. The postal system? Privatize it. Theoretically it’s supposed to be self-sufficient. If it wants to give gold-plated pensions then raise the price of a stamp to $2 and try competing with UPS and FedEx. (Good luck with that.)

Parks? Nice things, parks. So nice I’d bet the budget of the National Parks Service that there are enough good-hearted souls out there who could raise the money to take care of Yosemite and the National Mall that “we, the people”, should just turn those things over to a private charity. In fact, from a preservation standpoint, it’s better. Who’s going to care more about a particular piece of land? People who are voluntarily giving their time and treasure for its protection and upkeep, or a bunch of bureaucrats and congressmen who may decide to sell off drilling rights to the “evil oil companies” in exchange for a sizable campaign donation? And if I’m wrong (which I’m not), then obviously “the people” value a strip mall more than Old Faithful and that’s the way it ought to be. (More probable is that “the people” value cheap oil more than they value a tiny fraction of a large expanse of barren land in North Dakota that’s been set aside for a reasons only members of VHEMT and Al Gore can explain.)

Education? Privatize it. I suppose I’d be okay with some sort of government grant system, at least in the short-term, to help fund any gap between charitable donations and need, although, what are government grants but nothing more than “forced charity”? (How’s that for an oxymoron?)

So what we’re really left with; the only things that shouldn’t be put in private hands because of the propensity of abuse; are the military, the police and the courts. But even these can be run on a charitable basis. In fact, many police departments in the country take part of their budget from charitable donations. This will work. It’s logical because everything funded by the government either is or should be supported by at least 50%+1 of the population (or, at least, the voting population and if you didn’t vote you don’t have a right to complain about the outcome.)

Let’s take the Iraq War. Support in the days leading up to U.S. involvement and during the early days of the war was well above 60%. Now, I’m sure a big chunk of that 60% supported the war only in theory and probably wouldn’t have coughed up a bunch of money to send troops over there, but if anti-war types are always complaining about how it’s all a vast conspiracy by Halliburton then they should really be the first to support a donation-based military. We have an all volunteer force so it’s really their choice whether they want to go over there (and considering the number of personnel that extended their deployments, it’s safe to say the Iraq War was popular with them), so why not have all volunteer funding? If 60% really did support the Iraq War there should be no problem raising the money from them to fund it. And if it really is some “blood-for-oil” scheme then let Halliburton pay for their own war.  And no need for endless debates in the Senate over extending funding. As soon as the war becomes too unpopular the funding will dry up and the war will end.

The other necessary functions of government can be funded the same way. The president’s salary and his cushy Air Force One budget? Well, if he’s not doing a good job then he’s not going to be able to afford that golf game this week. This would also eliminate the conundrum of incumbents using the power of the office to campaign. Is the president using Air Force One for official business or is his trip out to California really just a campaign stop? Doesn’t matter as all the money being spent is being donated by his supporters. (And, for the record, as much as I don’t like the current inhabitant of the White House, if all taxes were voluntary I’d gladly give a buck so that he can have a roof over his head. (I’m guessing this is probably considerably more than the percentage of my taxes that actually go to White House upkeep, Secret Service protection and green fees for POTUS.)

This plan would work especially well at the federal level as there is so little the federal government should be doing anyway, but it would work at state and local levels as well.

But, okay, okay. I’ll admit, voluntary funding of government programs is a little out there so maybe we need something a bit less extreme for now. So here’s the slightly less simple “simple senator tax plan.”

Taxes aren’t voluntary but are only collected at the state level. The federal government’s budget comes from taxing the states 10% of their tax revenue. Simple. Instead of having 300 million taxpayers there are only 55.

As for individual states, the best system would be a flat sales tax, no deductions. I’ll repeat that: no deductions. Not for charities. It would make things less complicated for them come tax time and eliminates the conundrum of whether a pastor is teaching the Word of God or proclaiming his “hate-filled, right-wing political agenda” from the pulpit and therefore unworthy of tax-exempt status). Not for mortgages. They artificially increase the cost of housing anyway. And not for businesses. This last one is a bit controversial but if the tax rate is low enough then I’d bet most businesses owners wouldn’t mind paying the sales tax as just another business expense (at least not any more than they currently mind paying taxes). This would also reduce the possibilities for abuse of the tax system through questionable deductions.

So there you have it. Government would have to slim down quite a bit for this to happen. They’d certainly have to do away with forced charitable donations for snail porn and Big Bird (who shouldn’t need a dime of public support if his popularity at Toys R Us is any indication) but if it actually was doing what it was supposed to be doing and only that (see above list) then collecting enough to fund these things should be a piece of cake.