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Archive for December, 2011

Ron Paul’s Truthfulness

Well we’re coming into the home stretch now with the Iowa caucuses only a week and a half away. The journalists have Ron Paul in their sights, as he’s looking strong in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Can they blow him out the way they’ve blown out every not-Romney before him? And why don’t they blow out Romney? Do they roll over for him? We know how much the media love smart candidates!

Have you noticed some of the adjectives the reporters have used about Paul lately? The best one I’ve seen is batty. That’s better than nuts. You also see fringe, extreme, and consistent. The last one is not generally meant as a compliment, as the reporters usually suggest that Paul is consistent in his foolishness.

Let’s see how foolish this man is. Here are some of the predictions, observations, prescriptions, and warnings for which Ron Paul is called batty:

  • Paul warned that if the Federal Reserve enjoys unchecked power, what Andrew Jackson called the money power would capture our government in Washington. With the 2008 financial collapse and its aftermath, we see that it has already happened.
  • Paul has said that if we continue to act the way we do overseas, we will make more and more enemies. People who were not our enemies now hate us because we have killed their family members, imprisoned them, tortured them, humiliated them, frightened them, and made war on them until everything that sustains them is destroyed. This observation about the effects of our foreign behavior is so obviously true that the criticism directed at Paul for saying it tells you something. It tells you some people are blind when it comes to discussions about their own country.
  • Paul has criticized the so-called drug war on many counts: it doesn’t work, it’s immoral, it grants government more power than it should have, it doesn’t work, it’s costly, it suppresses both personal freedom and personal responsibility, and in addition to everything else, it doesn’t work. People used to be aghast at this kind of critique. If we don’t fight drugs, then what do we fight? If drugs are permitted, everything is permitted! Interestingly, Paul’s position on drugs has not become a big issue for reporters. Perhaps he is not ahead of his time on this issue any more.
  • Paul predicted that if we let the national government grow in power and authority – with no effective checks on its ability to control money, time, lives, commerce, institutions, tools of surveillance and communication, weapons, and all manner of personal choices – it would destroy our democracy. It has already happened. Long established traditions die slowly – that is true of democratic traditions as well as democracy’s institutions. By now, though, we can say that Paul has been right. He has been so emphatically right on this point that one wonders if even he thinks he could revive our democracy were he to win the presidency.

Let’s end with these four points. Read Andrew Sullivan’s endorsement of Ron Paul. The next time you read a reporter who mocks Paul’s ideas, who says he is dangerous and a harbinger of chaos, ask yourself why a person who has been right so often should be charged with battiness. Remember this paraphrase of Jesus’ famous saying in the New Testament: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

If Paul’s ideas seem odd to you, forget about it. Forget about what other people think. Concentrate on Ron Paul’s truthfulness. If you can’t focus on that, no one will be free: not now, not ever.

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We Can’t Afford the Payroll Tax Cut Extension

Americans should be used to the high political drama coming out of Washington.  Oh, there are the stories of marital infidelities, disappearing Congressional aids, toe-tapping senators and the like.  Then there are the great debates where both sides of an issue scrap and claw their way to political pay dirt.  Healthcare reform and the recent battles on raising the debt ceiling come to mind.  Funny how things always come together at the 11th hour?

Currently on the docket is the payroll tax cut extension. Passed in 2011, the payroll tax cut reduced a taxpayer’s contribution toward Social Security from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.  The goal of the legislation was to put more money in taxpayers’ hands in order to stimulate the economy.  The measure expires on December 31, 2011.

Now, the drama comes in because the Democratic controlled Senate approved a two month extension to the measure while the Republican controlled House rejected the Senate plan in favor of a one year extension.  Democrats are bent on their bill and Republicans on theirs with time quickly running out.  If an extension is not approved by December 31, 148 million Americans will see their taxes go up – at least that is the story coming out of the White House.

In the first place the name of the measure is a bit of a misnomer intended I am sure to confuse many taxpayers.  The payroll tax cut is not a cut to a worker’s income tax amount.  It is a reduction in the amount that workers pay into the so-called Social Security Trust Fund.  In other words, it is akin to paying less on a retirement annuity each month but still maintain eligibility for full retirement benefits under the original policy.  An annuity holder would never expect this allowance.  For the life of me, I can’t understand how the average taxpayer would – unless they have been confused.

Secondly, the propaganda pundits on the MSM are claiming that if the tax cut is not extended it will potentially push the U.S. economy into a recession.  Of course, that is the knee-jerk reaction of all Keynesians when it comes to government intervention in the economy.  They believe in the more the better with no regard for tomorrow since “in the long run we are all dead”.

And essentially this tax cut extension is a Keynesian spending program because the tax pays for an entitlement that has to be paid to retirees.  With a drop in tax revenues the government will have to print money in order to meet Social Security obligations.  Those obligations simply aren’t going away and have to be met.

The problem with more spending is that it doesn’t work to stimulate the economy out of recession.  Since January 2009 the federal government has spent $4.5 trillion. Unemployment is higher, food stamp rolls are at an all-time high, and many Americans are still losing their homes.  When is enough enough?

Lastly, how smart is it to cut funding for a program that is already bankrupt?  The Social Security Trust Fund already pays out more than it receives in tax revenues.  Future unfunded obligations for both Social Security and Medicare are over $50 trillion.  Given the program is not going to end anytime soon, putting it in even worse fiscal condition borders on the criminal.

The payroll tax cut is nothing more than another something for nothing proposition.  It has not helped the economy so far and an extension would further devastate the fragile balance sheet of Social Security and Medicare.  Once again Washington is offering the world – more free money, Social Security intact, no spending cuts, and a blind eye to trouble down the road.  It is amazing that Congress and the President can’t find a measly $100 billion to cut from the enormously bloated federal budget to pay for the plan.  With leadership like that in Washington it will be a miracle if the economy doesn’t eventually fall over a cliff.  But have no fear, I am sure Congress and the President will get together at the 11th hour to produce the tax cut extension.

Article first published as We Can’t Afford the Payroll Tax Cut Extension on Blogcritics.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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Gingrich Plan Has Been Tried Before

In the debates for the Republican nomination for president, it is no accident that Newt Gingrich constantly invokes the name of conservative icon Ronald Reagan.  Gingrich continually reminds us that he was in Congress fighting for Reagan’s tax cuts and his military budgets in the early 1980s.  Naturally this is a calculated political strategy   on the part of Gingrich since the most faithful Republican primary voters are Reaganites.  But, the strategy is more than political; it is an indication of how he would govern if elected president.

According to Gingrich’s official campaign website, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives is essentially proposing the same program that Reagan foisted on America in the 1980s.  The key elements of which are huge tax cuts and military spending.

In terms of taxes, Gingrich’s plan would lower individual tax rates, lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 12.5 percent and eliminate the capital gains tax.  Any lover of small government should love these proposals, however Gingrich never addresses how he would pay for the tax cuts.  On his site, he proposes no specific spending cuts and claims he will balance the budget by “growing the economy” through tax cuts.

For his part, Ronald Reagan based his entire economic platform to get the economy moving again on tax cuts.  He also claimed that lowering taxes would grow the economy and balance the federal budget.  After eight years in office he managed to triple the federal debt.  The problem with Reagan wasn’t that he cut taxes (he also was the biggest tax raiser in history to that point) it was that he didn’t cut spending.  He proposed cuts when he ran for president, but didn’t follow through on his rhetoric.

At least Gingrich is not being dishonest about his intentions not to cut federal spending, but his overall policy will have the same effects as Reagan’s – an enormous increase in the national debt.  Given that our debt has already reached a critical point, we can ill afford a return to 80s style economics; thus we can ill afford a President Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich is also proposing Reaganesque militarism if he is elected president.  Of course that is the path we have been on since the 1980s anyway.  He has no intention of making any military cuts a part of debt reduction.  In fact, according to his campaign website, under President Gingrich the U.S. would continue to be the world’s military policeman:

“America’s foreign policy must begin by understanding who we are as a country.  We are, as Ronald Reagan said, the world’s “abiding alternative to tyranny.” Therefore, America’s foreign policy must be to ensure our own survival and protect those who share our values.”

So while he proposes to cut taxes drastically and offers no spending cuts, he also would seek to at the very least keep spending enormous amounts of money on military adventures that don’t contribute to our safety and security.  In fact, by defending Israel unconditionally his policy would make us much less safe.

There is no doubt that Ronald Reagan’s legacy is still very much with us today.  Indeed, Newt Gingrich has co-opted the Reagan governing plan as his own.  It is a simplistic plan that set us on the road to an astronomical national debt.  We are currently at a breaking point with that debt and all Newt Gingrich can do is propose more of the same?

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Obama is Correct but for the Wrong Reason

 

In a recent interview with 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft, President Obama was asked if he felt he overpromised during the last presidential campaign when it came to fixing the economy.  The President responded:

“I didn’t overpromise. And I didn’t underestimate how tough this was gonna be…Reversing structural problems in our economy that have been building up for two decades — that was gonna take time. It was gonna take more than a year. It was gonna take more than two years. It was gonna take more than one term. Probably takes more than one president.”

It is uncommon, but I must admit that I totally agree with Obama.  However, my agreement with him is for a reason that he did not intend with his remark.  He was espousing the view that it would take many more years of Keynesian economic policies to dig ourselves out of the economic ditch.  I am saying his position is precisely why it will take many years to recover from the Great Recession.  Essentially history proves that Keynesian economic theory does not work.  In fact, it has been proven to make things worse.

An often forgotten (either intentional or not) economic depression took place in 1920.  It was in 1920 that the spending of Congress and the inflation of the dollar by the Federal Reserve in order to fight World War I finally caught up with the U.S. economy.  After the artificial boom brought on by government policy busted, unemployment increased from 4 percent to 12 percent.  At the same time, GNP contracted by 17 percent.  Relatively speaking, the depression of 1920 was as severe as any in U.S. history.

In those days America still believed in free market capitalism.  President Harding’s response was to slash the federal budget almost in half between 1920 and 1922.  He also reduced tax rates for all income groups and decreased the national debt by one-third.  Additionally, the Federal Reserve did not use its powers to increase the money supply to fight the contraction.

No, the federal government and the central bank’s response were to let the economy liquidate the mal-investments that had built up during the spending and inflating of the war years.  It wasn’t to try to “stimulate” the economy back to growth and the Federal Reserve did not attempt to re-inflate the economic bubble.

By 1922, unemployment was back down to 6.7 percent and it was only 2.4 percent by 1923.  Recovery occurred within two years of the onset of depression and opened the gate for a decade of enormous economic growth.

 

Now fast forward to the Great Depression of 1929-1946.  The common myth is that Franklin Roosevelt brought us out of the Great Depression with his New Deal policies.  The New Deal represented the first time in our country’s history that the federal government attempted, in a robust way, to remedy an economic downturn with “stimulus” spending and other bureaucratic interventions.  Roosevelt’s program included make work schemes, industrial codes of fair competition, guaranteed trade union rights, the regulation of working standards, minimum price fixes on agriculture, petroleum and other products, and other assorted welfare programs.  Essentially Roosevelt had taken over the U.S. economy and then over time he found it necessary to raise excise taxes on business to pay for his schemes.

The result was a prolonged depression.  The New Deal did not allow the mal-investments of the previous boom to liquidate.  It discouraged entrepreneurs from investing and the artificially high prices it imposed squelched consumer demand.  It was such a failure that in 1939 Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s confidant and Secretary of the Treasury, proclaimed:

“We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work…We have never made good on our promises. … I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started.…and an enormous debt to boot.”

And this is why Barack Obama was correct in his statement that it will take many more years to turn the economy around.  History proves that government intervention in an economic downtown only worsens the situation.  Since taking office in 2009, Obama has spent trillions through make work projects, Cash for Clunkers, First Time Homebuyers’ credits, extensions to unemployment benefits, and other schemes.  He reappointed Ben Bernanke to Chairman of the Federal Reserve precisely because he favors the Fed’s long term quantitative easing program which has pumped trillions more new cash into the economy.

 

What do we have to show for it? – an economy still in shambles 4 years after the downturn with real unemployment north of 16 percent, a lackluster GDP, 46 million Americans on Food Stamps, and $4.3 trillion more in debt.  Obama is right, it will take years to undo the damage caused by his policies.  The question is, why doesn’t Timothy Geithner have the same honesty that Henry Morgenthau Jr. did?

Article first published as Obama is Correct But for the Wrong Reason on Blogcritics.

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From about March 2007 until September 2008 – eighteen months – the storm clouds gathered over the nation’s real estate bubble and the organizations that created it. Some people saw the collapse coming in 2004 or 2005. By March 2008, everyone could see the financial system was going to serve up a truly historic panic. When Lehman Brothers collapsed and the panic actually occurred six months later, so many people said, “Who could have predicted that? No one could have seen that coming!”

How could the panic not happen? When something cataclysmic occurs, we can’t predict when it will arrive, and we don’t know just how it will unfold, but no one who looks up can doubt that something is on the way.

The same holds true now for the social turmoil that is on the way. We don’t know exactly when it will arrive, and we don’t know just how it will unfold. Actually, the Tea Party and the Occupy movements have yielded some interesting evidence about where we are headed. So has the government’s response to any number of questions about civil liberties. We are headed for a period of turmoil that could make the 1960s look quiet by comparison. We just don’t know how it will unfold.

Just as we prepare our houses when we know a hurricane coming, we can do a few things to prepare our country for the coming storm. Our republic almost didn’t make it through the Civil War. At that time, 150 years ago, democracy survived while the country fell apart. Today the nominal country stays intact while democracy dies. We have to prepare for the worst. Three items come to mind. The first two I have discussed elsewhere: I’ll mention them briefly here. The third one sounds over-dramatic, but it’s worth thinking about.

Item one: Look for new leaders in unusual places. We will not find leaders we can trust in the usual way. The usual way relies on two political parties to recruit candidates for high office. Citizens vote for candidates based on their expectations about the quality of leadership they can expect from the candidates. We have reached a point where the citizenry is fed up with its leaders. The current, institutionalized system for selecting leaders has not served the country well. It has given us leaders who do not preserve and protect our Constitution. Therefore we have to ignore them. They claim legitimacy, all the authority of law and tradition, but we have to turn our backs on them. We have to do so with faith that we’ll find new, effective leadership in unlikely places.

Item two: We have to seek constitutional change that occurs without undue violence. We want to avoid violence not only because non-violence is more defensible morally, or because it is less painful physically and emotionally. These statements may be true, but as citizens we choose non-violence primarily because it yields better outcomes. It is clearly the most demanding path: non-violent constitutional change requires discipline, commitment, a high degree of skill and planning, restraint, faith, joint action, courage, sacrifice, and judgment. We as heirs of the Founders have not shown a clear willingness to go down this path – yet. I would say the willingness will come when we have found leaders we want to follow.

Item three: The last thought arises in connection with the violence we can expect from the government during the upcoming storm. The Syrians have lost 5,000 of their number in a non-violent effort to rid themselves of the tyrant who rules them. That is no small amount of violence. What if something similar happens here? What if government responds with force to arrest large numbers of citizens who want their voices heard? It has already done so.

We want to prepare for the time when people who have to use force against their fellow citizens begin to defect. We have seen the phenomenon already in Syria. Many members of the armed forces no longer want to shoot at their unarmed brothers. If they depart their station to defect, though, they have no place to go. They’ll be shot in the back if they walk over to the other side. Fear restrains them: the same tyrant who orders them to shoot at crowds will shoot them as well without thinking twice.

Our government is not so wicked as Syria’s right now, and we cannot tell how it will react to extreme pressure. It’s behavior during the last ten years is not encouraging. It places security ahead of liberty – especially its own security. It places force and intimidation ahead of its own legitimacy. It places lies, propaganda, chronic dishonesty and hypocrisy ahead of anything that even resembles candor. When political speech becomes this corrupt, government itelf becomes illegitimate. When government trashes the Constitution, it commits a unique form a betrayal. It practices gradual treason from inside the republic’s own institutions of power.

To prepare, then, we have to think about how to help those who wield instruments of force against unarmed citizens. We have to help people who reveal the truth about how government operates. We must offer people who refuse to follow orders some protection, some place of refuge. People who say “Enough,” who turn and set an example of courage, should not be left alone and vulnerable. They need to know they have support. They need some place to go for help during the storm. They need to have an option to go underground long enough to protect themselves and their families.

I’m thinking of course of Bradley Manning’s example. He said “Enough,” even though he was completely vulnerable and without any kind of protection. We have seen how government treats people who act on behalf of the truth. We have seen how government deals with anyone it regards as a threat. It has held Manning in solitary confinement since May 2010, without bringing charges and without granting a hearing of any kind. We have seen how government deals with people who are vulnerable and who act to reveal government’s crimes.

In the coming struggle, we want to offer assistance to people who have courage to resist. We want to help them before government can imprison them. We want people who take the lead in this struggle to know that their fellow citizens stand behind them. Then non-violent action with good leaders can happen. Then civil resistance that leads to change can occur. Then citizens can restore constitutional governance.

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The Hypocritical Path

Secretary Clinton addressed a Conference on Internet Freedom at the Hague yesterday. Why would she accept an invitation like that? Her department suffered the most embarrassment from the diplomatic cables leaked to Wikileaks. Consequently she led the Obama administration’s successful public effort to destroy that Internet news outlet. She took a strong stand that Internet freedom does not extend to people who publish information that makes government agencies look bad. You might want to ask her: if Internet freedom does not extend to Wikileaks, what is it good for?

So why would Secretary Clinton deliver a speech like that? A number of possibilities come to mind:

  • The invitation to speak at the conference came from a friend, and she didn’t want to say no.
  • The invitation came from some other source where circumstances made it difficult to say no.
  • Secretary Clinton does not know the meaning of hypocrisy.
  • The Obama administration needed a prominent person to say all the right things about Internet freedom. As our chief ambassador overseas, Secretary Clinton was a good pick.
  • Secretary Clinton, together with other Washington mucky-mucks, lives in a bubble. Therefore she doesn’t realize, or doesn’t care, what people think of her.
  • People have short memories. Politicians have even shorter ones. Secretary Clinton just forgot about the Wikileaks business.
  • It suits a diplomatic, public relations, or other short term purpose of the Obama administration to speak out on a non-controversial topic like Internet freedom. See the point about ambassadorial pronouncements above.
  • Secretary Clinton knows she’s hypocritical, and doesn’t care if other people know it, too. From this point of view, you don’t care because we all play the same game.
  • Secretary Clinton tries her best to do the job in front of her each day. If that job involves saying contradictory things from one day to the next, so be it.

Unless Secretary Clinton tells us why she gave the speech, we can only guess the reasons. In fact, we would have to guess the reasons even if she did tell us why she gave the speech. So let’s set guessing aside and linger a bit over the third point. We know hypocrisy when we see it. It’s pretty common. Adolescents become aware of it fairly soon. They talk about it because it’s not something they were aware of when they were children. When they do become aware of it, they wonder how they could have lived so long without seeing it.

What exactly is hypocrisy? The definition I remember from early on is to say one thing and do another. The meaning is actually a little more complicated than that. It means to pretend, to act, to play a part. Now of course playing a part is integral to almost everything we do, where we take on roles in our families, our workplaces, and so on. Hypocrisy is different because the pretense takes on a moral component. You actually tell people to behave one way, when it’s obvious to everyone who listens that the example you set is just the opposite. Even if people don’t follow your example, they will dismiss your words.

That’s why we want to ask the question, why would Secretary Clinton deliver a speech about Internet freedom on the world stage in the Hague? Why would she waste her time? The destruction of Wikileaks transpired recently. Secretary Clinton did not wield the hammer, but in her position as head of the State Department she publicly approved the actions of all who did. The federal government would not have destroyed Wikileaks had she disapproved.

When she delivered her address, Secretary Clinton spoke for her government and her country, not for herself. Why she thinks blatant hypocrisy serves her country’s interests is the riddle. More narrowly, why would she think hypocrisy serves her government’s interests? Hillary Clinton is not dumb, clueless, or parochial in her outlook. She can recognize moral contradiction just as well as we can. She can see that the destruction of Wikileaks is clearly inconsistent with her remarks at the Conference on Internet Freedom.

Let’s take up the obvious response on Secretary Clinton’s behalf. She and the rest of the government would say that the Wikileaks disclosures were not just embarrassing. They bore on key issues of national security. The nation’s chief diplomat would say that the nation’s security is in jeopardy when diplomats cannot conduct their business confidentially. She and the government she represents would argue that national security trumps Internet freedom. Freedom of information has to give way when the survival of the state is at stake. Wikileaks had to be destroyed that the state might thrive.

People who see blatant hypocrisy in Secretary Clinton’s words believe the opposite. They believe that when a government conducts its business in secret, as our government does, the state is already destroyed. At least, the democratic state we cherish is gone. The only important goal is to open the government’s conduct to public scrutiny in order to retrieve the democracy we cherish. Blatant hypocrisy on the world stage does not advance that goal. Moral misconduct like that means we continue to play our designated part, where our government lectures other countries about how to behave. In secret, we do what we like.

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Here is a brief history of the word hypocrisy:

ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French ypocrisie, via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend,’ from hupo ‘under’ + krinein ‘decide, judge.’

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Gun Sales are a Sign of Things to Come

While the so-called “mainstream” media is reporting with great glee that 2011 Black Friday retail sales was up 6.6 percent over last year to a record $11.4 billion one other tidbit of data was ignored that probably says more about our social condition than anything: the FBI reported that background check requests for prospective gun buyers on the same day shattered the single-day, all time high by 32 percent.  According to Deputy Assistant FBI Director Jerry Pender on November 25th, 129,166 checks were submitted far exceeding the previous high of 97,848 on Black Friday 2008.

Now it could be argued that the record gun sales are a result of more Americans all of sudden taking an interest in hunting or gun collecting.  But this explanation seems far-fetched as these two things are not normally associated with fad behavior.  Furthermore, the recent surge in gun sales is part of a larger trend in gun ownership.   According to the Gallup Organization, 47 percent of Americans report they keep a gun on their properties.  This is up 15 percent from a year ago and the highest Gallup has reported since 1993.

Make no mistake about it, the massive increase in firearm purchases has everything to do with the miserable shape America is in socially.  For one thing, as the economy continues to deteriorate with rising price inflation and chronic high levels of unemployment, Americans know that it is only a matter of time before they could become the victims of crime.

Americans also understand that social unrest like has been seen in Europe is possible in the U.S.  Even though it has been relatively peaceful, the Occupy Wall Street Movement is seen by many as a harbinger of things to come.  Given that there are many Americans who feel betrayed, disenfranchised, and totally frustrated by a system that has taken their sustenance in order to bailout those that produced the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the resulting prolonged depression, it is possible that as a society we could be one financial shock away from social upheaval.  This may sound paranoid, but given the recent surge in gun sales I may not be alone in my thinking.

So while robust retail sales on Black Friday is being construed as a hopeful sign for the economy, the surge in gun sales on the same day is an indication that many Americans don’t feel the optimism.  Things are bad everywhere and they are going to get a lot worse before they get better.  Black Friday gun sales are proof that this commentator is not alone in his prognostication.

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