Treadmill to Oblivion

The title of Fred Allen’s 1955 autobiography could just as easily describe the state of our nation today.  Over the past fifty years, Americans have lost connection with the historical and cultural narrative that had previously united us e pluribus unum.

There are any number of reasons for this, from a gospel of consumption preached daily to a media-created, self-perpetuating “Me Generation”, to a destabilizing propensity for “celebrating diversity” with its accompanying moral relativism, to a general historical ignorance born of an educational movement that emphasized globally-focused social studies at the expense of traditional American history and values.

The by-product of all this is a nation of homeless wanderers looking for a place or cause to which they can belong.  Absent that, we face the world as individuals, alone.  Our previous national narrative, that of an American Dream offered to a nation of immigrants, of hard work and deferred gratification to benefit one’s progeny, a belief in American exceptionalism, a social fabric centered on family, church, and community, of individual responsibility, is no longer operative.  In its place we have what author Joseph Roth (in his work Radetsky’s March)  described as “the bewildering meaninglessness that follows the disillusion of an ideal.” Like the Hapsburg Empire which Roth eulogized, the United States has been an amalgam of different peoples held together by an ideal. Unless we can reestablish a sense of common purpose and shared values our future is no more assured than was that of the Hapsburgs  one hundred years ago.

Currently, our national discourse is dominated largely by “Progressive” voices that declaim our former unifying narrative as a politically incorrect product of dead white male oppressors, and the Tea Party, which seems to want to drive America into the future while limiting our vision to what can be seen in the rear-view mirror.  Both roads lead nowhere fast.

We had better figure it all out soon. History is littered with examples of great nations and empires that rotted away from within. If we stay our current course, don’t be surprised to see the kind of social disruptions recently visited on the Middle East and the U.K. coming soon to a city near you. The egocentric nihilism of contemporary American culture virtually guarantees it.

Anyone care to propose ways in which we can turn this situation around?

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Walking the Walk

I once worked with an esteemed colleague, a veteran educator who used to tell his students and the world, if they would listen:

What you do shouts so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying.

In recognition of the inherent wisdom of his remark, I am hereby instituting two new awards:

The Walking the Walk Honesty Award given to those in public life who follow through and actually live what they preach to the rest of us.

The Talking the Talk Hypocrisy Award given to those who, alas, tell us what is good for us to do and then do something else for themselves.

So here we go:

A Walking the Walk Award is presented to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Now I know what some of you are saying: “Bob, have you gone over to the Dark Side?” Relax, it’s nothing like that. And I still disagree with Senator Schumer on many issues. (Chuck, did you really say on July 30,2011 that illegal immigration creates jobs?) I’ve heard all of the jokes about him too.

Q: Where is the most dangerous place to be in the United States?

A: Between Chuck Schumer and a TV  camera.

But let us give this man his due.  Schumer has been a vocal lifelong supporter of our public school system. Unlike other pols who give lip service in support of public education and then  a) send their own children to exclusive private schools while  b) voting to deny poor families any form of real choice of schools for their beleaguered kids – yes I’m talking to you, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, and hundreds of senators & congressmen – Chuck Schumer’s kids attended New York City public schools (as did my wife, BTW).  As far as I know his children are still alive and thriving. Hats off to you, Senator Schumer, for walking the walk and showing the depth of your commitment to public education!

On the other hand…

A Talking the Talk Award for hypocrisy is given to Al Gore for the dissonance between what he preaches the rest of us must do to “Save the Planet” and what he himself actually does on a daily basis. (Want to compare your carbon footprint with mine, Al? Bring it on.)  The Grand Master of Environmental Disaster flies around the world giving speeches on the urgent need for responsible environmental behavior.  Four years ago, ABCNews, using the information from Al Gore’s actually utility bills, reported that Al paid more than $30,000 for his energy use on his Tennessee home alone! He used 221,000 kilowatt hours of electricity the previous year, more than twenty times the national average. Once this story leaked out, Gore did make some energy improvements to his home, but it still features natural gas lanterns in the yard, a year-round heated outdoor pool, and electric gates.  The utility bills for the pool house still average more than $500 per month.  For the pool house. I’d warn him to watch that rising water level in the pool, but just found out that this past year Gore purchased an ocean-front property in California, so I guess rising sea levels are last year’s concern. On the other hand, Al’s new California estate features nine (count ’em) bathrooms. Nine bathrooms for “only” five bedrooms? Of course, there is an obvious explanation why Al Gore needs nine bathrooms, but I won’t elaborate other than to say he is hereby awarded a much-deserved Talking the Talk Award for hypocrisy on a truly global scale.

Of course, Al won’t really care.  He’s already left town in his private jet, spewing carbon monoxide into the atmosphere while on his way to give another speech excoriating Americans on their indifference toward the environment.

Can I Get a Waiver on That?

When I was growing up the term “waiver” was used in the following way:

The Washington Senators have placed OF Milt Paskewitz and his .211 batting average on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.

Today the term is used  most often by a different group of Washington Senators, Congressmen, and Executive Branch politicos seeking special privileges or exemptions from existing bills that they themselves have passed and signed into laws for the rest of us. Here’s some of what I mean:

  • On March 23, 2009 the Democratic Party in Congress and President Obama passed and signed into law the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (don’t you just love the way the language is used in D.C.?). The final bill (PPAHCA) contained hundreds of individual, business, and state mandates among its more than 2500 pages and 500,000+ words, and created more than 200 new federal boards or agencies to see to its enforcement and implementation.

Except… more than 1200 annual and renewable waivers have already been granted select corporations (like GE which paid no federal taxes last year), labor unions, and small businesses ( including 38 restaurants, bars, and hotels in Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district)  from various provisions of the law. While there is no evidence that Pelosi had anything to do with these exemptions, Senator Harry Reid did personally intervene and secure an exemption for all health insurers in the state of Nevada from provisions of the law they deemed disadvantageous. We don’t know who the 200+ waiver requests that were turned down came from, because the administration that promised us transparency refuses to release that information.

  • On January 8, 2002 President Bush signed  into law the “No Child Left Behind Act” setting new standards in an effort to improve K-12 education in the United States public school system.  The fact that Bush and Teddy Kennedy were together behind NCLB gives one pause, but nevertheless, it is the law.

Except… On August 10, 2011 President Obama issued waivers by executive order giving states “flexibility” in complying with the provisions and standards of the No Child Left Behind Act passed during the Bush years. Question: Where does the President or anyone in the Executive Branch get the power to unilaterally change a law or to choose when, how, and to what extent that law is to be enforced?

  • On September 21, 1996 Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) whereby the federal government defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. It passed both houses of Congress by wide margins.

Except… On February 23, 2011 President Obama ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court, declaring that it was unconstitutional. Funny, I thought we had a Supreme Court that ruled on the constitutionality of the laws and a legal process for seeking their ruling on such matters.

Understand, I am not arguing the merits or demerits of DOMA, PPAHCA or NCLB or any other laws for that matter. I’m decrying the “new normal” of laws being passed and only being applied to some of the people according to the opinions of those who make and enforce the laws for us all.

If an idea was sound enough to merit passage into law, it becomes the law. If changes are in order for whatever reason, our Constitution contains the means via legislative process by which it can be changed, amended or rescinded. We also have the process of judicial review for the courts, ultimately the Supreme Court, to determine the constitutionality of any law.

But the selective application of the law is no law at all.

There was a time when our laws were enacted and fully, not selectively enforced, Those days seem to have gone and are not likely to return until the voters of this country give a lot of these politicos their unconditional releases.

 

No, It’s Not 1937 Again.

It is amazing how the mainstream media will pick up on some phrase or idea and then run with it before stopping to see if that idea survives objective examination.

I woke up this morning only to be told that it is now 1937.  I looked around for Rod Serling, but he was not behind any of my drapes and I didn’t find any cigarette stubs lying around either, so I knew this wasn’t the Twilight Zone.

Or maybe it is.

Submitted for your approval:

You may or may not be aware of the conventional historical wisdom, but here it is anyway.

FDR and his New Deal pulled America out of the Great Depression through a myriad of governmental programs and Keynesian economic policies of deficit spending.  By 1937, FDR had become concerned about the national debt his administration had run up, so he reduced government spending and support for New Deal programs. The result?  The economy tanked into the “Roosevelt Recession” of 1938.  Only when he increased government deficit spending the following year did the economy rebound.

This is a very convenient interpretation, if your present day agenda is having the federal government apply a second stimulus to our stalled economy, even if it means borrowing more money to spend, or raising taxes in the middle of our current economic doldrums.

My personal feeling is that FDR was a terrific leader in the first year of his presidency, and in the last five years of his presidency.  In between?  Not so good.

Back to 1937 with some facts that are similar to our situation today and some that disprove any commonality between 2011 and 1937.  Then judge for yourself if history is about to repeat itself.

  • In 1937, we were not really in year 7 or 8 of a Great Depression that began with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and deepened with the passage of the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff of June, 1930.  Our economic foundation had begun to crack and crumble years before, in the mid 1920s, on America’s farms. The market crash and Smoot-Hawley were consequences of the Farm Depression and declining consumer demand, not initial causes of the Great Depression. (Smoot-Hawley, BTW, was intended as tariff protection only for America’s beleaguered farmers, but once the bill reached the floor of Congress, it was larded up with additional layers of tariff protections for special interests who hired lobbyists to help reshape and expand the legislation. Does that sound familiar?)
  • The unemployment rate in 1937 was at 15% But the unemployment rate among non-farm workers was above 20%, and would remain so, until FDR created a “war economy” in 1940-41.
  • 1937 saw FDR’s budget actually reduce government expenditures by 3.6%. The current federal budget debate is about whether or not to reduce the rate of growth of the federal budget, not whether the budget itself will decrease in the years ahead. Current projections are that the federal government’s spending will increase so much in the next decade that, even if you accept the Obama Administration’s rosy projections for 4.1% annual economic growth, we will add more than $10 trillion dollars to the national debt.
  • In 1937, the GDP finally surpassed the GDP of 1929.  It had shown healthy growth since 1933, after four years of decline.
  • In 1937, US imports declined by 22.3% over the previous year. In 2011, imports are at an all-time high.
  • In 1937, private sector business investments decreased by 34.8%, not because FDR cut back on federal spending on the New Deal, but because of uncertainty made worse for business investors by a multitude of often conflicting government programs and regulations, and because FDR moved to raise taxes.

So, is it 1937 again in 2011?  You be the judge based on knowledge of historical facts, not because media parrots cluster around a catch phrase or somebody’s political talking points.

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Sometimes, it isn’t too easy to make sense of economics, especially when the numbers are so large they can almost not be imagined.  And over the past month or so, the debt increase arguments in Washington tossed around numbers so much that you got the impression the speakers were trying to obfuscate rather than inform. So try this one on for size:

If the US government was a family, they would be making $58,000 a year, they spend $75,000 a year, and are $327,000 in credit card debt. They are proposing BIG spending cuts to reduce their spending to $72,000 a year. These are actual proportions of the federal budget and debt, reduced to a level that we can understand.

 

Baseball Is The Greatest Game: Six Reasons Why

The image is still very clear to me. Baseball entered my life on a gray April morning in 1953.  My mother called me in from playing outside in order to watch television.  How often does that happen to a kid?

On that day, WTMJ-TV was covering the biggest Milwaukee news story in years – the arrival via train of the Braves, recently of Boston, Massachusetts who would henceforth (and forever, we believed) be known to the world as the Milwaukee Braves of the National League.

I remember my mother, who had misspent much of her youth watching the old minor league Brewers play at Borchert Field, pointing excitedly at the television screen, informing me that the modest looking gentlemen climbing down the steps of the railroad car was none other than “the great Warren Spahn”. Spahnie became a part of my life that day and forever more. His son Greg was in my Little League (playing shortstop, not pitching) and the Spahns and Lou Burdette and his wife shared a duplex not far from my house.  Even the disillusionment I experienced one day while bicycling past Spahnie’s house on the way to Hawthorne Glen was only temporary.  Yes, that was the World’s Greatest Left-Hander up there in the 2nd floor picture window vacuuming the living room in his underwear. But I knew he could shut down the Cubs even in that less than regal attire if he wanted to.

My childhood contact with my Braves didn’t end there.  I saw Ray Crone at Mass on many summer Sundays when the team was in town.  Carl Sawatski lived next door to my cousins, until he got traded to the Phillies for Joe Lonnett on June 13, 1958. I remember going sledding one cold December day with my second cousins and with Gene Conley and his kids.  Hank Aaron was on my cousin Phil’s paper route.  I met Johnny Logan, spoke with Eddie Mathews and even the Immortal Sibbi Sisti.  Heady stuff for a kid.  It was all the intimacies of small town baseball, only with major leaguers.

As Babe Ruth once said in what was perhaps his only moment of eloquence “The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball… You’ve got to let it grow up with you, if you’re the boy.”

If my life is any example, the Babe was right then (1948) and he’s right today. I cannot imagine my life or what it would have been without baseball.  Here are six reasons why:

1. There is no clock in baseball. It is a human endeavor that has stood the test of time yet in a real sense exists outside of time itself. Theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever.  You don’t have time as your enemy or as a determining factor in the outcome of the struggle.  The game goes on until it is over, 27 out per team. Forget about the fat lady singing and all that, there is always hope in baseball, right up until the end.  A good example for the way to approach life itself.

2. Baseball remembers. Baseball has one foot in its present and one foot in its past.  The great feats of today are measured against those of its yesterdays, great players of today are seen in the reflected glow of the immortals who played the game in days gone by. Sure Pujols is a great player, but greater than Mays? Williams? Ruth?  Let the discussions begin.

3. Baseball is fair. This sport takes its rules seriously and changes them only as necessary and even then with appropriate caution so as to preserve the balance of the game and the commensurate values between present and past performances. (We will ignore the designated hitter for the sake of this argument.) Basketball and football in 2011 bear little resemblance to their 1930s counterparts.

4. Short people can still play this game. We will call this the Dustin Pedroia Factor. You don’t need to be a physical marvel to be a star, if your heart and your effort and your determination know no bounds.  So you’re 6″10″ and you can dunk a basketball?  At that height you SHOULD be able to do that.  But Michael Jordan, the World’s Greatest Basketball Player, hit .202 in the minor leagues in 1994.  He couldn’t hit the curve ball.

5. Baseball is connective in a deeply personal way. Most major leaguers will tell you they first played baseball with their fathers, some with their brothers. Most baseball fans attended their first games with family members, or listened to their first games on radios in their homes. Baseball memories are family memories.  My dad saw his first major league game in 1928 when my grandfather took him to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play the Pirates (dad caught an errant throw from Pie Traynor that went into the stands behind first base). My brother and I saw our first Braves’ games when my Uncle Phil took us to Sunday double-headers at County Stadium.  Baseball memories are family memories. If you don’t understand, see or read Field of Dreams and you’ll know what I mean.

6. Baseball has inspired great writing. As a writer myself, I hold dear the body of literature the sport has produced.  Here are just some of the great books about baseball and its heroes, 6 fiction, then 6 non-fiction:

The Natural – Bernard Malamud (1952)

Shoeless Joe – W.P. Kinsella (1999)

The Southpaw – Mark Harris (1953)

The Universal Baseball Association – Robert Coover (1968)

You Know Me, Al  – Ring Lardner (1916)

Sometimes You See It Coming – Kevin Baker (1993)

Eight Men Out – Eliot Asinof (1963)

The Boys of Summer – Roger Kahn (1971)

Veeck, As In Wreck – Bill Veeck (1962)

Cobb – A Biography – Al Stump (1994)

Babe – The Legend Comes to Life – Robert W. Creamer (1974)

Men At Work – George Will (1990)

Any of these books is a great way to pass a summer day or two.  As Roy Hobbs, the fictional hero of Malamud’s The Natural  says, “God, I love baseball!”

One nation, under God, indivisible? No, I don’t think so.

We are as fundamentally divided as a people now in 2011 as we were in the 1850s, just prior to the Civil War.  Back then the division centered around the issues of racially-based slavery and the proper relationship between the state and federal governments.  Today the divide is defined by an economically based  servitude and the nature of the relationship between the individual and the coercive power of government of all levels.

In the 1850s there were people on both sides of the divide who saw the inherent dangers the our situation but they had no real solution,  proving helpless to prevent the drift toward the Civil War.  And as Shelby Foote, the eminent Civil War historian points out, the Civil War was the result of our failure to do what Americans had previously done so well, i.e. compromise.  There were back then two groups of irreconcilable ideologues, abolitionists who considered slavery a moral evil, not a political issue, and ardent states’-rights proponents who saw the power of Washington in any area of their lives as a threat to their sovereignty.  These people identified themselves more closely as members of a particular group (their state) than as American citizens. For them the form of bondage that most offended was the subservience of the South to the Northern bankers, shippers, and industrialists.  Today there are many Americans who have a greater allegiance to an ethnic, cultural, religious or economic interest than to our national interest.

It might be instructive for Americans, and especially our leaders, to go back and revisit the years from 1850 to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861.  I doubt they will bother.

Yet I believe that in some sense, perhaps only lightly felt, Americans realize the perilous nature of our present situation, at least to the extent that they understand we can’t stay on our present course. (In a July 10 Rasmussen poll, 68% of Americans surveyed said the Unites States was heading in the wrong direction, only 25% in the right direction.)

I believe that ordinary Americans are looking for someone, a leader who could transcend our entrenched interest group-centered attitudes and bring us together.  That was, after all, a part of Obama’s appeal in 2008 when he said “there is not a conservative America and a liberal America, there is the United States of America.  There is not a white America, a black America, a latino America or an Asian America, there is the United States of America.”

Whatever happened to that idea?  More and more it seems these words were just empty campaign rhetoric.The man whom so many hoped would take blue states and red states and turn them into a Purple Nation has become just another political Great Divider. And our divide is wider and seems more insurmountable than ever.

So here we are now, no longer One Nation, Indivisible.  And lacking the leaders with the courage to risk offending their various political bases.  In one sense, we are reaping just what we have been sowing for more than a generation.  We no longer imbue our children with a sense of commonly held ideals, we no longer tell them our National Story. The road to political power is now paved with the efforts to get our fellow citizens to see themselves as belonging to specific interest groups (white, black, latino, male, female, gay, lesbian, transgendered, liberal/progressive, conservative, senior citizens, union members, public service employees, gun owners, etc. etc.) and if enough members of these various groups can be convinced of their own victim-hood and entitlement, so much the better.  If enough of these interest groups can then be cobbled together into temporary electoral coalitions, you win.

Shared sacrifice?  Common purpose?  Those ideas are for chumps, quaint perhaps, but not really meaningful in our world today.

The Civil War was the greatest political calamity our nation has ever faced,  It is a pity we haven’t remembered its lessons.  The Great Depression of the 1930s was the worst economic calamity we have endured.  The economic collapse of 2008-09 was proof that we turned our backs on the harsh lessons the Depression taught us about economic safeguards and restraints, and about fiscal responsibility.

Both the Civil War and Great Depression severely tested the bonds of our nation and its people.  Putting the pieces back together in each instance was a long, painful, and sacrificial process.

Getting out of our current political, social, and economic mess will also be slow and painful, and it will certainly entail sacrifices.  Are we any longer up to the task?

My guess is no, not as we are presently disposed.  What will be required is a different type of political leadership, perhaps a different shared definition of both Fulfillment and Success, and the renewal of a sense of shared identity and purpose (if in fact these things any longer exist in America). Here’s hoping it is not already too late.

Living (and Dying) Beyond Our Means – pt.2

By A.D. 180 the Pax Romana was coming to an end. Emperor Marcus Aurelius had died and the following century was to see a succession of nearly 25 rulers, most of them either unable or unwilling to deal with the problems of Empire.

What historians refer to as the “Crisis of the 3rd Century” was not the end of the Roman Empire.  But it was most assuredly the beginning of the end.  This period in Roman history was characterized by a rapid growth in the Roman government, a growing unsustainablity of its military commitments, increased levels of taxation upon its citizens, an inability to control the Empire’s borders, a debasing of the currency, and a social deterioration fueled by a growing level of political corruption, economic decline, a decline in traditional religious beliefs, and a growing detachment from the shared ethic and values that had previously given such meaning to the term “Roman Citizen”.

Spinoza said “If you want the Present to be different from the Past, study the Past.” I realize that it is less fashionable these days to teach/study actual history. Our schools, both public and private, prefer the teaching of “social studies” and cultural diversity instead. But it would be wise for us to heed Spinoza at least to the point where we recognize the possibility that history can, indeed, repeat itself.

The U.S.A. in 2011 is not the Roman Empire. Yet the historical lessons of the Empire’s decline can be instructive.  Certainly the parallels are rather alarming.

Like Rome, America has seen a dramatic increase in the size and scope of its government. Even as the private sector of our economy lost more than 7 million jobs since 2008, employment by government at all levels actually increased until the current budget year, when the flow of federal “stimulus” money ended. (BTW, is it any wonder that the Obama Democrats directed more than $300 billion dollars in stimulus monies to the preservation of public sector jobs? After all, the public sector unions contributed more than $400 million dollars to Obama and the Democratic Party in the 2008 election cycle. What was sold to the American people as an economic stimulus bill could just as accurately be characterized as a political favor to the Democratic party’s most faithful source of campaign funds.)

Diocletian divided the Roman Empire in the late 4th century, and his move is often seen as a response to the perception that the Roman Empire was essentially too big to govern.  In fact, by 384 A.D. the Empire had shrunk considerably from its greatest expanse under Emperor Trajan in 117 A.D. What was wrong was not the size of the Empire so much as the way in which it was being governed, and the inability of the massively centralized government to respond effectively and flexibly to new challenges.

Flash ahead to our current situation in 2011, if you will. Like 3rd century Rome, we have a massive, centralized government that is unable or unwilling to recognize and respond to America’s problems (and to consider that part of a necessary response is not to become part of the problem itself).

Like Rome, our currency has been debased by inflationary monetary policies, trade imbalances, and out of control borrowing. (Since the founding of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the U.S. dollar has lost 96% of its value, mostly due to inflation.)

Like Rome, we are overextended militarily.  Currently, the US has troops stationed in 135 countries worldwide. We have more than 50,000 troops in Germany, 66 years after the end of World War II and 20 years after the end of the Cold War. We still have more than 35,000 troops in Japan, 28,500 troops in Korea more than half a century after the end of that conflict.  And we have 150,000 troops in Iran and Afghanistan as a result of those wars. The troops that Bill Clinton sent to both Bosnia and Haiti on short term missions in the 1990s are still there. Meanwhile, we are unwilling to secure our own borders closer to home. (I won’t even go into the lunacy of Operation Fast & Furious where the US government sold sophisticated automatic weapons to Mexican drug cartels – that’s for another column).

Like Rome, we maintain policies that discourage long term economic planning and risk taking. Forget about corporate jet tax breaks (which Obama and the Democrats included in the stimulus bill, BTW) – that’s just chump change. But why is the U.S. corporate tax rate a whopping 35%?  This is twice as high as Canada’s and well above the rates in EU member states. And the cost of business regulations and taxation discourages the creation of new jobs at a time when they are desperately needed.

Other aspects of our corporate tax codes are just as unfathomable to me.  How did GE get away with paying ZERO federal taxes last year? And why do we encourage further exportation of U.S. jobs by the imposition of uncompetitive regulations on domestic industries?

Obama is fond of saying that he inherited an economy that had been “driven into the ditch”. Well, you don’t get out of a ditch by digging a deeper hole.

The current brouhaha in Washington, D.C. is about increasing the ceiling for the national debt. But the “federal debt” only covers what the government owes to its creditors, both the investing public and foreign countries (read:China). When you take into account what is owed to senior citizens, veterans, and retired government employees, the federal government currently has more than $61.6 trillion dollars in unfunded obligations, approximately $534,000 per household. When you look just at government employees, the situation is even more unsustainable.  The federal government has promised pension and health benefits worth more than $700,000 per retired civil servant. The key asset supporting this obligation? Not invested contributions, no, it’s federal government I.O.U.s that our children and grandchildren will have to pay.

The current sideshow in Washington, D.C. is just political theater.  Face it folks, we are already broke, most Americans just don’t realize it yet.

The decline and fall of the Roman Empire was primarily economic in nature, abetted by cynical leadership that no longer really believed in the greatness of its enterprise and unwilling to take the steps that might have averted the Empire’s demise.

Are we headed in the same direction? Draw your own conclusion, but I’m just sayin’…

Before you dismiss me as one who is willing to complain about a problem without offering anything in the way of a solution, I will give you this:

What needs to be done?

1)  Americans need to stop thinking that every problem in their lives requires the application of a government-run solution. Sometimes government itself can be part of the problem.

2)  When, over a reasonable period of time, a government program is found to be ineffective, it should be scrapped, not enlarged. Diamonds are forever, but not government bureaucracies.

3)  We need to simplify and redefine our understanding of the proper role of the federal government, as follows:

  • To defend and protect the liberty of the American people by  a) ensuring the internal and external security of American and b) by securing our borders;
  • To maintain social justice by  a) ensuring equality of opportunity, not by imposing equality of results and  b) by ensuring equality before the law;
  • To foster conditions for economic progress and growth by  a) maintaining the strength and integrity of the currency and  b) by not incurring an immoral burden of debt that future generations of Americans must pay.

Then the government should get out of the way and set the energy and ingenuity of the American people free once again.

Living (and Dying) Beyond Our Means (Part 1)

There is an old adage that goes “Those who love their children plants flowers, those who love their grandchildren plant trees.” Along the same lines, the Six Nation/Iroquois cautioned their leaders that the effects of their choices needed to be considered “to the seventh generation.” The wisdom expressed in both cases should be self-evident.

But what can be said for a society that feeds both its needs and its desires by stealing from its children, grandchildren, etc. down to the seventh generation and even beyond? What can be said for leaders whose consideration of the future goes no further than the next election cycle and whose moral vision extends no further than the principles of politics and power?

This is where we are today, and the selfishness of our political leadership is reinforced  across every strata of society and every age group by an ethic of consumption that defines each of us not as citizens, nor as created beings, but only as consumers. Notions such as duty, honor, character, faith, and personal responsibility and accountability are often dismissed as at best quaint, and at worst as anachronistic signs of gullibility or simple-mindedness.  People who speak up for such notions are often ridiculed as “culturally backward”  and demeaned by those who listen to more “nuanced” voices.

Recent tests given by the National Assessment for Educational Progress clearly show that most Americans today have little understanding of how our nation was born nor of the values and shared ethic that brought it to greatness. I would add that most of my fellow Americans and especially our current leaders have less long term concern for the direction in which this nation is headed.  We have too many concerns and desires that need accommodation in this present moment to think the about the quality of all the tomorrows that await our progeny.

Over the past three years, our national debt has increased by more than $5 trillion dollars.  Those are real dollars, folks, the kind that have to eventually be  paid back. Within ten years, the INTEREST service alone on our national debt (never mind paying down the principal) will be the largest item in the federal budget, more than any social entitlement program, more than defense spending. By its owm estimate, the Obama administration says that by the end of a second Obama term, our national debt will be more than $24 trillion dollars. That’s an increase of over  $14 trillion dollars of debt in 8 years. And that assumes a rosy economic recovery and no major new social program expenditures!  The Bush administration that preceded it was liable for a $4.3 trillion debt increase in 8 years, so they have a share in this responsibility as well.

The current national debt is bad enough.  But the numbers on governmental financial obligations are even more staggering. But already, even before the beginning of ObamaCare, the government has added an additional $9 trillion in entitlement obligations for the next decade, to a grand total of $61.6 trillion in such obligations it is currently committed to pay.

The path we are on is not sustainable. It is not sustainable even if we tax all the millionaires at a rate of 100%. Like a fat man who just can’t stop eating, we consume more and more, expect more and more as our personal entitlements, and think less and less about the future implications.  But like a fat man on an eating binge, our long term health suffers with each day of excess.

This way of living is fundamentally dishonest as well as destructive. And it can only be publicly  justified by obfuscation and dishonestly on the part of our leaders whose actions are destructive of the very foundations of a moral, democratic society.

Those who try to point out these dangers become the targets of vested interests who first try to demagogue them into silence and then try to discredit them as alarmists.  Contrarily, the very massive social programs that are going to bankrupt our offspring are extolled and justified by their proponents as necessary to ensure a better future for our children. It’s perverse.

I love my children and my grandchildren. And if that means going without so that they can graduate from college debt free, so be it.  And if it means not passing any of my bills on to them to pay off after I am gone, so be it. If you love someone, don’t impose burdens on them that restrict their liberty and opportunity. I just wish my government and more of my countrymen would do the same.

More on this next week.

The Sarah Palin E-Mails! You Read Them Here First!

Now that Rep.Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is exasperating  his liberal (excuse me, “progressive”) colleagues by refusing to step down, even in the wake of today’s revelation that Delaware police are investigating his direct online contact with a 17 year old girl, what is the mainstream media to do?  One of two things, it appears:

1. Blame his plight on others.  So the predictable Chris Matthews of MSNBC (who earlier this week had claimed that he was going to view this story, in his own words, “in an entirely unbiased way”), now says the reason that Weiner may have to resign is that culturally backward evangelical Christians don’t like what he has done. I didn’t make that up, and can give you a link to the videotape if you don’t believe me.

2. Try to turn the nation’s attention elsewhere, i.e. to a collaborative investigation of the e-mails from Sarah Palin’s time as governor of Alaska. I can never before recall a time when the media actually invited American citizens to join them in an “investigation” like this.

Personally, I think Matthews is a total buffoon, so his comments don’t surprise me at all.  But the second item is far more interesting.  First, let me say that I agree that Palin’s e-mails should be made public.  So should Andrew Cuomo’s, Anthony Weiner’s, Gov. Rick Perry’s, and those of President Obama and members of his administration (especially all of those “czars” of his, who were not approved for their powers by the representatives of the American people and who suffer no oversight by the other branches of government.)

The argument, or so they say, is that these e-mails will give us all valuable insight into how she thinks and works with others.  She is a prominent figure and while she holds no office now, she might aspire one day even to the presidency itself.

Fine.  Let’s do it.  And while the media is enlisting a cadre of Americans to help them quickly sort through it all, let’s have a look back at Obama’s e-mails while he was a senator from Illinois, and let’s have a look at his academic record from Harvard and copies of all of the term papers and theses he wrote while there. (In a break with tradition, Obama and Harvard have sealed all of these from public access.)  And let’s get it done together before the 2012 elections, OK? Why? Because he’s a very influential American who might someday aspire to even a second term as our president, and it would be a good thing to gain insight into how he thinks and works with others. We didn’t have a chance to do that during the 2008 campaign, but the opportunity exists for the press and public to work together to right that wrong this time around.

Who knew that live blogging the former communications of public officials could be so much fun?  I can’t wait to read Obama’s graduate theses or Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s e-mails to oil company executives, etc. and will be glad to assist the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Manchester Guardian in extending their current efforts to enlighten the public to a broad-based review of our public servants from across the political spectrum.

Anti-War No More… Whatever happened to the Political Left?

Remember the Anti-war Left?  Back in the 1960s they protested the Vietnam War.  In the 1970s they agitated for the War Powers Resolution in Congress, moved to limit the powers of the CIA overseas and the FBI at home. In the 1980s they opposed Ronald Reagan at every turn. More recently, George W. Bush was decried as a warmonger, compared to Hitler (see MoveOn.org), accused of complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and assailed for the “Surge” in Iraq.(Full disclosure: I am registered as an independent voter and I didn’t vote for Bush in 2000 or 2004.)

Recall the wrath of the Political  Left when Bush increased US troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Recall a similar outcry when Barack Obama sent 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan? You probably don’t, because there wasn’t one. Remember back to when Richard Nixon began bombing Cambodia without consulting Congress? Have you heard more than a peep from the Political Left today, as Obama’s ordered US intervention in the Libyan civil war enters its third month?  The War Powers Resolution that was passed into law in 1973 (largely by Democrats) requires the President to end any military action after 60 days unless Congress approves it. Not only has the Obama administration not gotten such approval, it has stone-walled Congressional efforts to obtain information about the Libyan operations from both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Department.  Can you see GW Bush getting such a pass?

In other areas, the Political Left has rolled over as well.  Suppose Bush had issued an executive order that any business seeking to bid on government contracts had to submit a list of all the political contributions it had made over the past five years? Obama is considering such an Order and there’s nary a peep.  Are we looking to play favorites or to subtly suppress the freedom of speech that political activity (including contributions) includes?

What if George Bush had created a Director of Conservative Media & Online Response position in his administration, with the task of attacking anyone in the media who reported unfavorably on Bush or his policies? Well, when Obama created just such a position two weeks ago (substitute “Progressive” for “Conservative”) it was met with acquiescence by the mainstream media, who themselves would fall under the administration’s review.  Hello?  Free press? Are you there? (And what, exactly, is “Progressive” about having such a Director within the administration?) When I think of Rapid Response Teams, I think of quick military action in defense of  US security, not administration goons trying to achieve electoral security by oppressing those who speak out in opposition. Free speech?  Where is Mario Savio when you really need him? (For those of you under fifty, Savio began and led the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley back in the early 1960s).  Savio’s memory is desecrated every time the Political Left attempts to silence speakers it doesn’t like on college campuses, or when the Obama administration attempts to intimidate people in the media or those seeking government contracts. And so much for diversity, I guess.

Barack Obama suckered many young, first-time and dissatisfied American voters in 2008. In less then two years he has revealed himself to be just another cynical politician in the worst sense of both of those words – a corrupt Chicago ward style of politics gone both national and global. Next week, I’ll present some more evidence to supports this contention. And if Jesse Lee and the Obama media goons want to get on my case for saying these things, they know where they can find me online.  I’ll even let them come aboard as subscribers.

And perhaps somebody on the Political Left can explain to us how selective moral indignation is defensible.  If Bush was held to be a fascist for his actions and policies, how is Obama any less?  Barack “Hope/Change” Obama is not the solution.  He is now part of the problem.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with the words of Mario Savio who saw a government that ran roughshod over human dignity,  liberty and freedom of expression:

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” Sproul Hall Steps, December 2, 1964