Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I can do a Friday Funny on a Wednesday, can't I?

It's my blog and I'll cheat if I want to. The following comes from this link, I don't claim it as my own:

8 Medical Terms Your Doctor Uses to Insult You

Who do you think are the most cynical people in the world? Cops? Executioners? Or maybe prostitutes? Clowns

We're thinking it's doctors. If you want proof, check out some of the horrifying-yet-hilarious slang they use around the office. Yes, these are real.

What It Means: Patient Reassured And Told to Fuck Off.

When It's Used:
When a patient comes into the ER more hysterical than ill, the doctor reassures the patient and asks them to leave. However, this acronym has gotten at least one doctor into trouble when he scribbled it in a patient's chart and then later was asked to explain it in court.

We're not saying you should ever lie in court, but in that situation you should at least consider it.

AMYOYO Syndrome
What It Means: Alright, Motherfucker, You're On Your Own.
When It's Used:
If television is to be believed, any condition, no matter how egregious or how slim the chances of survival, can be surmounted with the intervention of a charismatic, slightly eccentric doctor or the introduction of a particularly salient plot point.
Well, television is not to be believed. If a patient split from crotch to neck, sustained a shotgun wound to the chest, or fell twenty stories onto the pavement, then a great deal's up to a God. Assuming he exists, or cares. Thus we get the AMYOYO Syndrome diagnosis, with the variations SOLOMFYOYO (So long, Motherfucker, You're On Your Own) and GPO (Good for Parts Only).

Faecal Encephalopathy
What It Means: Shit-for-Brains.
When It's Used:
If you wind up in the emergency room because, say, you were trying to launch bottle rockets out of your anus, you can expect to hear this term thrown around. Latin, or pseudo-latin, is often used to convey unflattering terms and make it sound grandiloquent to the uninformed (or faecal-encephalopathic) ear.
Variations include Cranio-Rectal Syndrome and Cranial Rectosis, presumably for when the patient doesn't have shit for brains but merely has his head up his ass.

Cut and Paste
What It Means:
Also called an "Open and Close" or a "Peek and Shriek," this is when a surgeon opens up a patient for surgery, discovers nothing can be done to avert the inevitable, and sews them back up immediately. Or, if they feel like it, practice surgical technique for a while.
When It's Used:
Generally, this is encoded as "C&P," "CNP" or something similar, so that the head of the department knows what happened but the to-be-aggrieved family doesn't. Typically this happens with very old people, those with suddenly aggravated chronic health problems, or people with inoperable cancer, soon resulting in a "healthy tumor" (a dead patient).

What It Means: Something Bad Inside.
When It's Used:
When the medical staff encounters a strange complaint that doesn't meet any known diagnostic criteria. As much as you don't want to hear SBI as your diagnosis, it's still better than the alternate SVBI (Something Very Bad Inside) which means whatever it is appears to be killing you.
Either may be followed up with a "SWAG" (Scientific Wild-Ass Guess).

What It Means:
Cletus the Fetus. Used to describe infants born at 23 weeks or earlier, where their survival rate is less than 1%. There are no confirmed cases of babies surviving at 22 weeks or earlier, which means that children born then are less likely to live than someone who just jumped off the Empire State Building.
When It's Used:
New parents have a tendency to not hear anything that doesn't fit the "Our child will survive because he is special, we are special, and we love him" paradigm. No. Little Cletus will make it no matter what those mean old overpaid white coats tell Mommy and Daddy. Because life works like Lifetime home movies.
It's at this point you should realize that when you're surrounded by the sick and dying every day, no subject is too dark for comedy.

Slow Code to China
What It Means:
Hospitals use a series of emergency codes (Code Blue, for instance, means the patient is dying and needs immediate resuscitation). Not listed among the official codes is the Slow Code, meaning the patient is dying, and not to worry too much about it.
When It's Used:
Sometimes, a very ill, very elderly, or very hopeless patient wants the doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive. And sometimes, doctors don't want to do that: it's too much work, the patient will die anyway, or the person just isn't worth preserving.

What It Means: Chronic Biscuit Toxicity. Patient is really fat.
When It's Used:
Doctors seem to be inventing more and more of these unflattering terms as obesity becomes more chronic in the western world. You may also hear Polydipose Dysfunction, BW (beached whale) and others, all of which are sure to see plenty of usage until some enlightened future when a doctor can just say the phrase "lard ass" to a patient's face.

Here are some other, rather self-explanatory terms you probably don't want to hear in the halls outside your hospital room:
Cunts and Runts
The gynecology/obstetrics department.

Big Fucking Head. As in, the patient has one.

Brothel Sprouts
Genital warts.

Chronic Old Person's Disease.

Motorcycle. As in, a frequent source of organ donors.

Circling The Drain. Just picture the world of the living as a bath tub.

If you enjoy thinking your doctors are horrible people and want to think it more, this site has an enormous list of these terms that pretty much redefine cynicism.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How to Fix our Broken Government

(Note: There is a short version of this essay and a long version. The short version is here:

The constitution.

What you see below is the long version. And boy is it long. I haven't posted over the past week because I've been working on this post: it contains at least 7 days worth of material! It rambles a bit, but overall I think it's good. For reader convenience, I've broken it into 3 parts: read one per day, and it's manageable. Enjoy!)

Any non-biased observer will tell you that our nation is in the shitter. Our government has become a massive, tangled web of bureaucracy. We are 14 trillion dollars and counting in official debt, with hundreds of trillions of dollars in unofficial liabilities expected in the future. We are engaged in several costly wars overseas that don’t seem to be making us any safer. Our government is unpopular abroad, and even more unpopular here! Both parties appear far too polarized to address these problems in any constructive, bipartisan way, and even when they do the results haven’t been good. As a result, public confidence and trust in Congress is at an all-time low, and anti-incumbent sentiment is gaining traction in both parties. These are the facts.

How to address those facts is where people disagree. For much of American history, people have blamed the countries problems on bad policies, and believed that to solve the country’s problems we had to correct those policies. This is the argument Republicans will employ in the upcoming election, and the argument that’s most common in politics in general. But while it is certainly true that we do have bad policies, I feel this is a product of our problem, not the cause of it. Rather, the root of these poor decisions is a systemic flaw in the powers that either party are legally allowed to adopt. Furthermore, I believe our problems will largely persist, regardless of which party controls the White House or Congress, until that problem is addressed.

That problem is that lawmakers are ignoring our constitution for personal political gain. Our government is broken to the extent that it has assumed more power than it is constitutionally granted. The unchallenged assumption of this power has resulted in unsustainable spending and an increased intrusion of our liberties, and will continue to do so until we return government to its just constitutional scope.

Now, obviously, I don’t want to return to the original constitution exactly as the framers wrote it. Most of the amendments to the constitution have been good; for instance, abolishing that whole slavery thing (13th amendment). Voting rights for all was pretty neat (14th amendment), especially when that included women (19th amendment). The problem is not the official changes to the constitution in the form of amendments, but the unofficial changes in the form of laws that completely ignore the words and intent of the framers.

To understand this problem in full, we need to look at three main things: how it arose, how it does damage, and how to fix it.

Part I: The Causes of the Problem
The seeds of this abuse were planted during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, in 1913, through the creation of both the Federal Reserve System and the first Federal Income Tax. The tax was low; only 6% on income earned over $250,000, but it set the precedent that Congress was allowed to disproportionately take money from the rich in order to fund whatever programs for everyone. It was constitutional, but that doesn’t mean it was good; by 1932, the top tax bracket was 58%, and the government’s ambitions were suddenly easy to fund. The creation of the Federal Reserve granted a secretive, centralized group of appointed officials unlimited power to manipulate the value of our money. The result has been tremendous long term inflation that keeps the poor poor, the fueling of several dangerous bubbles that needn’t have grown, and the extension of several recessions that needn’t have lasted that long.

But if the ideological seeds were planted under Wilson, the mindset truly germinated under the nurturing care of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even the most liberal historians admit the New Deal represented a substantial shift in our interpretation of the government’s role in society. That’s essentially code for “democrats began ignoring the constitution because it was inconvenient to their agenda.” Government power grabs tumbled out of Congress under Roosevelt’s guidance, measures that at any other time would have been unthinkable but which people tolerated because of the crisis. Much like people gave George Bush a blank check after 9/11 (resulting in the PATRIOT Act), so they did with Roosevelt during the great depression; any action taken by the government designed to help alleviate the situation was viewed as necessary, and to hell with the constitution.

To their credit, the Supreme Court tried to stand their ground at first. They had the prudence to recognize that even extreme poverty did not justify abusing the powers granted by our constitution. One justice called the President’s assumption of unconstitutional emergency powers “a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need”. If we could not abide by the rules when it was difficult to do so, they reasoned, we could not do it at all. But their noble stand rested precariously on 5/9ths of the Court, and one justice was hardly enough to stop a man as powerful as Roosevelt. The confrontation that followed is one of the most embarrassing affairs in the history of the presidency, and one that so many historians intentionally overlook when evaluating FDR’s leadership and character: the court packing scandal. FDR didn’t like that the courts were stopping his agenda, because he didn’t care about the constitution one iota. So he literally tried to simply jam through legislation that allowed him to appoint 6 more judges to the Supreme Court (one for each member over 70 years old, he said) so that he could get his way! He didn’t even try to hide his intentions, basically admitting that he wanted to ensure the court voted his way. The bill was very unpopular and failed to pass, but it achieved it’s desired effect nonetheless. Chief Justice Owen Roberts, who’d been opposed to New Deal legislation before, caved and began voting with the other side. This gave Roosevelt the majority he needed to jam through the rest of the programs on his wish list.

This “switch in time that saved nine” may be more accurately cast as the switch in time which damned the nation. The New Deal is when the political left became the political right, when the classical liberals were suddenly recast as conservatives and when it became politically acceptable to grant the government seemingly unlimited control over our lives. Social Security, the Federal Housing Administration, the Securities Exchange Commission, the Wagner Act, the Works Progress Association, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Farm Security Association, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, etc: virtually every corner of American life was regulated in some way. It would have made the framers roll over in their graves. It doesn’t matter that the only major programs that are still with us today are the first three on that list; the fact that the others lasted for 40 years or so before being repealed legitimized the governments RIGHT to control things it simply couldn’t before, and established judicial precedent saying as much.

A prime example is the case of Wickard vs. Fillburn in 1942. Congress had enacted a law which placed a ration on the amount of wheat each farmer was allowed to grow. A farmer who wanted to grow more wheat than this so he could feed his cows, without selling any of it, was ordered to burn his excess crops. He refused, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled against the man on the basis of the commerce clause, which reads that Congress has the power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” The initial intent, I believe, was to regulate commerce involving one state trading with another; under the Articles of Confederation, each state could levy huge tariffs on other states, or refuse to recognize their currency, or other things which impeded growth. The framers wanted to address this problem. They did not want to grant the federal government an unlimited right to regulate anything for any reason; if they had, they wouldn’t have enumerated the three specific types of commerce which Congress may regulate, but would’ve merely said “regulate commerce.” But the newly FDR-friendly SCOTUS disagreed. Even without selling his wheat across state lines, and even without selling it at all, they reasoned that the mere action of growing wheat which could potentially be sold increased the supply and could potentially affect the trade of wheat in other states. They equated the act of growing a plant for private use to engaging in “interstate commerce”, enabling Congress to regulate his activity. The farmer was forced to burn his “excess” wheat fields, and the government’s power to do just about anything was born.

As I described above, under any reasonable interpretation, this could not have been the framer’s intent. Why would they have listed the three types of commerce the government can regulate if they meant the government can regulate any activity that remotely involves money? Everything costs money; therefore, they can regulate everything. It’s not restricted to the commerce clause, either; dozens of constitutional passages have been abused in this way. If the power was meant to be unlimited, why include the limit? The members of the court are smart enough and knowledgeable enough to recognize and understand this notion, because it is the guiding principle of the constitution which they have sworn to defend. It is not ignorance of the purpose of the constitution which led them to rule as they did, but indifference to that purpose in the face of political pressures and in the face of their own arrogance. It is my firm belief that they were not attempting to interpret the intent of the framers when they ruled on Wickard vs. Filburn, or on the many after it which have reaffirmed this line of thought. Rather, they were attempting to appease lawmakers who viewed these powers as “necessary”, lawmakers who were urging them to practice “judicial restraint” by allowing the laws to stand not on the basis of their constitutionality, but on the basis of their popularity. These decisions were based on a reluctance to rock the boat, on a hesitance to reverse the actions of popular elected officials. Frankly, they were based on cowardice.

With the Supreme Court no longer an effective check, the only remaining obstacle to increased government power was popular opinion. Popular opinion is fickle, and if the public is caught in the right mood, they’ll happily vote their liberties away in exchange for a promised benefit. Or, more accurately, they’ll happily vote someone elses liberties away in exchange for a benefit! So politicians learned to offer benefits, pouncing on any opportunity to expand their power. Spurred by youthful liberal activism and heightened national unity in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, LBJ’s “Great Society” gave us Medicaid, Medicare, the “War on Poverty”, and a host of other government growths. Soon, the view of the constitution as a “living document” began to emerge; “if the constitution is supposed to represent We the People”, goes the argument, “why can’t the people’s representatives update it with the times to reflect changing sentiments?” They can; this process is called an amendment. But in the absence of sufficient support for an amendment, you can’t just ignore the words as they’re written, no matter how inconvenient or inefficient you feel those words are. If you could, why have a constitution at all? The constitution’s contents are subject to change, but the principle of having and abiding by a constitution is timeless. A constitution establishes the laws about what laws can be made. It’s designed as a limit on government, but it no longer limits government. Thanks to these court decisions and the principle of the living document, lawmakers have effectively killed the document by refusing to acknowledge its boundaries on their own power.

Part II: The Effects of the Problem

We’ve historically examined how politicians acquired the ability to abuse people’s rights. But we haven’t yet identified their motivations for the abuse. Even if they have the power to do so, why would politicians promote policies that harm the country, as our policies clearly have? The answer is personal benefit. That sounds cynical, but it’s true. Expanded government power sets the conditions for corruption. It’s usually not a premeditated choice, and it’s sometimes not even a conscious choice; it’s very easy to convince oneself that policies aimed towards selfish interests are actually serving the greater good. But increased government control over citizens provokes increased citizen incentive to control politicians. Let me explain.

Because of their newfound power, politicians can now give special perks and benefits to different groups of citizens in exchange for political support. They do this in the form of tax breaks, entitlement programs, private contractors, regulations that target certain companies more than others, etc. Many of these programs originate for good intentions; helping the poor, the elderly, veterans, a minority, the disabled, or some other group that is perceived as oppressed or disadvantaged for whatever reason. The problem is that the government cannot give anything to anybody without first taking it from somebody else. If it gets into the practice of giving things, it must get into the practice of taking things. There is a limited pool of resources, and everybody wants a share. The result is that the law no longer affects all citizens equally, but helps one faction at the expense of others, and citizens must now compete to make sure they’re in the former group. George Bernard Shaw once said that “The government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.” It is in this way that the government has now become the mechanism by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.

This leads to corruption and special interest pandering. If politicians have expanded power over business, businesses have an expanded stake in the outcome of political elections, and an expanded incentive to heavily support some politicians over others. Same goes for all interests, not just business interests; the more power the government has, the more people are affected by how political decisions pan out, and thus the more money becomes a factor in political elections. The more money becomes a factor, the more politicians need to pander to special interest groups to stay in office, and the cycle continues.

In fact, the cycle is exacerbated because if one competitor gets an edge, everyone else needs to get an edge to keep up, in both business and politics. In baseball, if one first baseman is using steroids, wins the batting title and earns a huge contract, every other first baseman feels added pressure to use steroids. If they don’t, they may be relegated to the minor leagues, or get a lower contract than an equally talented player who juiced. In Congress, if the guy running against you is having his campaign funded by a private interest in exchange for favors, you need to find your own allies if you want to keep up. And as a business, if your competitors have politicians in their back pocket, you need to revamp your own lobbying group to cancel out their advantage. Returning to the sports example, you have to offer the referee a bigger bribe than the other team offered him if you want the calls to go your way.

The result is that alliances form between the government and whichever factions have the most power, the most money, and the most chance of getting politicians reelected. This leaves the less powerful or minority factions at the mercy of government’s whim.

The framers anticipated this problem when they wrote the constitution.


Ideally, when voters are deciding who to vote for in a federal election, they should ask “Which option is best for the United States?” But with expanded powers and an increased role of government in our lives, more and more voters are asking themselves “Which politician will help me the most? Or my business? Or my Senior Center? Or the roads in my town? How much pork barrel spending will he bring back to us? Will he give me a bigger welfare check? More unemployment benefits? Free healthcare? Does he favor the regulations that are going to kill my business? Does he favor the regulations that are going to harm my competitors? Does he favor the tariffs that are going to drive up my operating prices?” People want what’s best for the country, sure, but even more so they want what’s best for them. Kennedy’s plea to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” was noble and all, but it was na├»ve to expect hundreds of millions of people to actually abide by his words. If a politician offers his constituents a benefit, people aren’t going to say no! In fact, they’ll probably vote for that guy over the guy who won’t offer that, whether or no it’s best for the country, whether or not it is fair to somebody else. Again, the government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul, and Politicians have to do this for their constituents in order to compete. When you string 8,000 of these earmarks together, you get something called the stimulus. And when you string enough stimulus’ together, you find yourselves 14 trillion dollars in debt. The present state of the nation is a direct result of this principle.

Part III: The Solution to the Problem

I am not the only one who recognizes this problem, and I am not the only one to propose a solution. For decades, Democrats have been proposing “campaign finance reform” bills, trying to sever the ties between political success and money. These bills set limits on how much any one person can donate to a politician’s candidacy. Of course they like this idea, because it limits the role the wealthy (read: republicans) can play in elections, shutting up their opponents and silencing dissent.

It may seem ironic to note that such campaign donation restrictions are an unconstitutional violation of the right to free speech, seeing as much of this essay is about how much politicians don’t care about this whole “constitution” thing anymore. But even if they were constitutional, they do not address the root of the problem. The problem is not that rich people, or any people, are giving too much money to candidates to pursue their private ambitions. That is a consequence of the problem. The problem is that they need to move government out of their way if they want to freely pursue those ambitions in the first place. The problem is that their liberties now stand to be taken, because they are no longer protected by the constitution, because government action is no longer limited by the constitution.

Democrats claim to want to move “special interests” out of politics, so that the “voice of the people” can be heard, but in reality those two terms are one and the same. What are “the people” but an assortment of many, many special interests? Each individual person, regardless of wealth, acts according to what he perceives to be in his best interests. Always. Infallibly. This doesn’t deny selflessness; one may view charity as “in his best interests” because it will make him happy (if he’s a good person), or get him into heaven (if he’s a Catholic or a Buddhist), or make him popular with religious voters (if he’s a politician!). Whatever his incentive, he acts because he wants to, because it serves him to do so. Dale Carnegie once said “Nobody does anything unless they want to do it.” Incentives can range far and wide, and be noble or ignoble, but all actions are driven by one incentive or another.

The groundbreaking beauty of the United States Constitution was that for the first time in human history, it established an effective, just way to balance all of these interests. It created a system of checks and balances that, as Madison put it “In the first place, enabled [the government] to control the people, and in the next, obliged it to control itself.” What Democrats call “special interest groups” Madison called “factions”; groups of people pursuing a common, shared interest. The constitution was perfect because it enabled the largest factions to get the largest say at the polls, while simultaneously protecting every faction, even the smallest minority, from having their rights to “life, liberty, and property” take away. It laid out what everyone was entitled to, what the government could do to protect those rights, and what it couldn’t. But today, the government can do whatever it likes to help whatever faction it likes as much as it likes, allowing the larger factions can trample the rights of the smaller ones.

Therefore, the solution to our problem is not to equalize the amount of airtime that people get in the debate over whose rights get trampled. The solution is to reestablish, respect, and protect those rights by returning government to its just constitutional scope. That means empowering the courts to say “no” to unconstitutional bills in the past, present, and future (I’m crossing my fingers on the Individual mandate). It means voting for politicians who respect constitutional boundaries (I’m crossing my fingers for Ron Paul!). And mostly, it means recognizing that individual rights are not something that can be toyed around with on a whim. Infringement on life, liberty, and property should not be merely an unfortunate side effect to be weighed in the pros and cons of a political proposal; it must be an immediate end of discussion for that proposals viability. Any government restrictions on anybody’s rights for any reason must be immediately off the table. That is the purpose of a constitution.

Realistically, will we ever get there? I’m not sure. We’ve never been there before. By the time all the bad parts of the original constitution had been amended and blacks finally got the right to vote in the 60’s, the abuse of the constitution’s just portions had already begun. We’ll never have a utopia. But I’m convinced that maximum freedom and minimum government is the closest we can get, and that’s what a constitution provides.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Playing the Blame Game: Identifying Where the Buck Stops

Talking in Raleigh, North Carolina today, President Barack Obama repeated the phrase "pass this bill now!" 24 times. The other day in Ohio he used it 18 times. Perhaps this is an apt strategy, because the bill itself appears mighty repetitive to me!!! But in all seriousness, the President isn't really that passionate about this particular bill. Of course, he thinks it will help improve things, and Republicans think it won't, but that's hardly relevant anymore. He isn't positive that it will have an enormous impact immediately, and he doesn't think delay in passing it will damage the economy any more than it's already damaged (after all, he took his sweet old time proposing it, waiting to deliver his speech until he got back from his vacation this August). Rather, he's hoping he can point to the inevitable delay in passing it as the cause of what's damaged the economy.

The President's strategy is to pass the blame. Right now, he's being blamed for everything. The country is in the shitter, and it's too late to keep blaming Bush. The electorate is still angry, and they need a new scapegoat. For the past two years, Republicans have successfully made that scapegoat Obama; if he wants to keep the presidency, he needs to pass the blame back to them. He is desperate for some ammunition to shoot back. Ever since the debt ceiling debates this spring, the artillery he prefers is talk of divisiveness, delay, political games, and partisan motivations. So if he wants a place to point his finger, he needs to engender some more of it! Since the Republicans have the House majority, the bill will require Republican support to pass. Obama knows that's the last thing he's likely to get, no matter how politely he asks. Why? Because if they latch on to his agenda, they can't blame him for the perceived results of his agenda. Obama knows this as well as anyone. He's not pleading with Republicans to pass the bill in emails and private correspondence filled with sound arguments and reconciliatory gestures. Rather, he's doing it publicly, in speeches full of rhetoric and warnings about what will happen if you don't. Each time he urges them to pass the bill on TV, he's actually urging viewers to "look at how they're stopping me from passing the bill!" so he can portray the status of the country as a result of their stalling instead of the result of the policies he's already enacted.

This isn't a new strategy. In fact, for the past 9 years, this has been the prevailing strategy in Washington on both sides; whichever party doesn't control the White House blames all the country's woes on the Party that does, even if that Party doesn't control Congress or even the Supreme Court. This strategy can very effective, but only when the country's in bad times. In bad times, if voters are made to choose between "the way things are now, and a change" in the presidential election, they'll always pick the change. But in good times, they'll always vote for the status quo, because it's not as risky. So in good times, politicians aren't anywhere near as divisive, because both want a piece of the credit. From 1996-2002, the parties both preached bipartisanship and moderation, because the country was doing well. The tech boom happened. The stock market was thriving. 9/11, as horrible as it was, brought the country together and invited foreign sympathy; it was a problem that neither party was to blame for, and therefore a problem they could address together. That was the lesson of the 90's, that whichever side portrayed themselves as closer to the middle would win, because radicals smelled of change, and change was dangerous. Bush Sr., Clinton, and W. Bush were not hard-party-line people, and they were successful. In contrast, Gingrich, Hillary, Gore, and the Republican ideologues of the 1994 elections soon alienated people, making them toxic assets.

But then a funny thing happened. 2002 came along, and the Republicans trounced Democrats in the elections. Bush was popular. Bush was taking a stand against the bad guys, and therefore his party was assumed to be the good guys. Even though Democrats were cooperating with the plan and working alongside Republicans, they weren't rewarded for this at the polls. So they changed strategy and changed their tone; suddenly, they pointed to everything bad Bush was doing, instead of everything good they themselves had accomplished under Clinton. They played the blame game. They threw everything they had at Bush, and by 2006 they controlled congress. Two years later, under rhetoric of "change", they took the White House. Their strategy had worked; not for the country, but for them. And Republicans learned the same thing, devoting the next 3 years to attacking anything and everything Obama in the most partisan way possible. That the parties have ideological disagreements is true, but that they can't afford to agree in bad times is an even more powerful motivator.

This is a problem. So who's to blame for this problem of giving blame? Honestly, the real blame lies more on American voters than anyone else. The practice of associating results exclusively with the presidency is widespread, and it's illogical. Policy isn't determined by the president alone. The whole purpose of a government with a system of checks and balances is that no one branch gets control over the direction of the country. Therefore, no one branch should be accountable for the direction of the country. The electorate can't seem to understand that. This logic of "times were good under Clinton, and bad under Bush, so therefore Clinton and what he advocated must be superior to Bush and what he advocated" is absurd, yet pervasive. We need a change in mindset. We need to evaluate the effects of policies themselves, rather than the effects of certain parties having various levels of power. So long as we do the latter, both parties will continue to play this silly, predictable blame game in which it matters much more who's proposing it than what's being proposed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happy Constitution Day!

On this day 224 years ago, 39 of the 42 delegates at the Constitutional Convention adjourned the convention and signed the US Constitution, setting in motion the series of events that would lead to it's official ratification two years later. That document would go on to be the longest lasting continuous form of written government in the history of the world. Many people say the constitution has it's flaws, but it certainly represents a tremendous accomplishment in the long history of human civilization, and we'd be wise to return to it's safeguards of individual liberty today. So here's to you, framers! Ya dun' good.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Waging a War to End All Wars

The word war is one of the most intentionally overused words in politics today. I don’t mean in terms of the military, either; whether or not we’re overextended abroad and fighting too many actual wars is topic for another post. Today I’m referring to policies that government officials refer to as a war, but which really are just laws. Politicians love the word war, because it squashes dissent. For example, if the President goes up to the podium and announces a policy, you can be either for or against that policy, depending on your beliefs. But if he announces that the country is now at war with something, the country is expected to rise up behind him and support the Holy struggle, to join the patriotic crusade! Anybody who says they’re against him is portrayed as “against America.” No red-blooded American roots for America to lose a war! That may sound a bit cynical, but consider how many non-military “wars” we’re fighting right now.  We’re fighting a “War on Drugs” (Nixon first coined that term in the 1970’s. Nixon also declared a “War on Cancer” in 1971, although that one hasn’t really stuck). We’re fighting a “War on Poverty” (LBJ coined that one as part of the Great Society). Many local politicians claim to be waging a “War on Crime” (that term was first coined by J. Edgar Hoover in the 1930’s). In the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, our jostling for power with Russia was called the Cold War, although it really wasn’t a military struggle. Why this pervasive terminology? Because nationalism programs people to support their government in times of war, regardless of the issue. It’s much easier to garner support for a policy by saying “We need to win the War on Drugs” than by saying “We need to ensure that nobody smokes marijuana.” Nobody’s for poverty, crime, cancer, or terror, and very few people are for drugs. But you needn’t be for something to feel laws against it aren’t necessary, good, or even constitutional. Declaring war blurs that line.

This principle can also be used in reverse, by claiming that your opponents are waging a “War on…” followed by a good thing. Both parties do this, also. Democrats claim Republicans are waging a “War on Science” by opposing evolution or climate change. Republicans claim Democrats are waging a “War on Christmas” for advocating political correctness. Well, I say, let’s wage a war to end all wars (and no, not WWI, it’s just a pun). Seriously, quit it. It’s getting old. There’s enough war weariness as it is. It also contributes to Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome; if the public becomes desensitized to the word, it may not appreciate the gravity of a real war that actually threatens their well being.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More thoughts on compromise in the modern political landscape

With Republicans training their cross-hairs on Obama in preparation for 2012, it's doubtful the president will be able to engender Republican cooperation with his agenda, no matter how nicely he asks. And even if he were to get cooperation, the sides are on such totally different sides that it's unlikely they'd be able to hammer out a deal. What Obama wants is the appearance of reaching out to Republicans, so that when they refuse he can jam his way through and tell the independent voters "hey, I tried!". He did the same thing with ObamaCare during that phony "healthcare summit" in March of 2010. A line from the TV show "King of Queens" comes to mind..."Me and my wife know all about compromise. Like that time she wanted to get a cat, and I didn't want to get a cat, so we compromised and got a cat." But really, with all the spending that's happened already, the winner of this particular battle is small potatoes in the bigger picture. The bigger picture is 2012, and Obama's rhetoric tomorrow should be a foretaste of how he portrays himself during the campaign. If it is, I think the bipartisan distrust of government is the best chance to make him a one-term president. Namely, Ron Paul. I don't think people's disgust with the policies of this administration are equaled by a love of the Republican alternatives. It's only been 3 years since Bush had even lower poll numbers than Obama does now, and peoples memories aren't that short. I really think the "change" and "break from the Washington status quo" rhetoric that Obama used so effectively last election would still reverberate with voters if only they had a candidate they actually believed represented that change. Namely, Ron Paul. Have I made my point clear?

Three things Obama will propose on Thursday, and why they won't work

In case you haven't heard, President Obama will be addressing the nation tomorrow evening (before my beloved Packers kick off the NFL season, thankfully) about dealing with the down economy. It will be highly scrutinized due to the down economy and the Nobody knows exactly what he will propose, but he's dropped hints about the general theme's in recent weeks. There are three things that you can bet your piggy bank he will propose (in addition to saying all of this stuff:

He may propose other things as well (I've heard talks of targeted tax breaks and extending the "hire unemployed" initiative was allowed to expire in 2010) , but these three will almost certainly be a part of it.You can also bet your bank that these proposals will be framed very well, worded in a patriotic way that arouses little objection in theory. That Obama's own neck may be on the line at the polls means his oratorical brilliance (and he is brilliant, folks) will be out in full force. Unfortunately, neither of twp proposals will actually help the country, and both risk doing further harm.

1. Obama will propose more government spending on infrastructure like roads, bridges, and buildings. This Keynesian, New Deal-era tactic is designed to inject money into the economy and "create jobs" by hiring citizens to do work that needs to be done. But it will fail (just like it did in the New Deal, and just like it did in Obama's Stimulus in 2009) for at least 3 reasons. Firstly, it's not really injecting money into the economy, it's merely redistributing it. The government cannot give anything to anybody without first taking it from somebody else. The project would be simply be funded by other people's money, which restricts what those people can buy, invest in, risk, or lend and doesn't actually help bolster GDP or job creation. This is a highly partisan contention, and I could (and probably will) devote a whole post to me free market, FA Hayek-inspired macroeconomic beliefs at a later time. The second reason it's bad for the country, however, is not debatable: we are out of other people's money! Flat broke. Worse than flat broke, actually: 14 trillion dollars in debt, which is rapidly growing. Adding several hundred billion dollars in expenditures is not going to help that figure, is irresponsible, and foots an even heavier bill on young people like me. Thirdly, the jobs created by infrastructure don't last and don't reflect sustainable business development, while the jobs lost by the added taxes would have been sustainable because they reflect actual market trends. What happens when we're done building the bridge? Build another? Infrastructure projects expire as budgets are met, and then the workers are just as unemployed as before. Meanwhile, the business owner who was taxed to fund that project were prevented from using that money to hire somebody who could have had a sustainable job, responsive to consumer's actual desires. He/she was also prevented from lending that money to another potential entrepreneur, or investing it in a business venture employing even more people. Or worse, he/she was forced to fire somebody to keep their bottom line in the black. This philosophy embodies everything that's wrong with our government and economy right now. Politicians take more and more of our money to fund entitlements, wars, and pet projects that will help them get reelected, hurting the country in the process. Americans should be able to see through requests like this by now. The promise "If you'll just give us a little bit more of your money, I'll fix everything" gets kind of old after the 10th or 12th time. Starve the beast.

2. The president will ask that unemployment benefits be extended. They are currently available for 99 weeks after somebody loses their job (one year and 11 months, for the less math inclined). This number has already been extended once under Obama's tenure, and he'll doubtlessly push to have it extended again to "extend a helping hand to those who most need it" and "help them get back on their feet", or some other liberal BS. Truly, governments don't help people get back on their feet. People do. This will not improve unemployment, it will just make it easier for people to stay unemployed. Any analyst will tell you that extended unemployment benefits only delay the day when people have to get a job, and encourages people to hold out on lesser offers in an attempt to get something better or equal to what they had before. They won't get it. In an economy like this, people cannot expect to get a job as good as the one they lost. There are jobs available, they're just not the sort people envision themselves taking. Truth is, Americans are spoiled. There are billions of people in the world who would kill to have the job opportunities that even the poorest, most uneducated American has. If the president wants employment to increase, he should shorten unemployment benefits, lower the minimum wage (or abolish it? but I'm dreaming...) and tell people to buck up and get to work. If they choose not to, it should be no skin off taxpayers backs, especially at a time when taxpayers have no skin left on their backs. This would also decrease outsourcing. It's part of what Rick Perry did to enable job creation in Texas, and the President should (but won't) follow suit.

3. Thirdly, the President will call for "an end to partisan games in Washington", and try to "usher in a new era of bipartisanship". We've heard that one before, haven't we? Maybe the President should have thought of that before ObamaCare was crammed down our throats without a single Republican supporter using a variety of backdoor voter tactics. Suddenly, the congressional tables are turned, and he's Mr. Centrist. Obama's spent the whole summer complaining about the "manufactured crisis" engendered by Republicans (whose crime was refusing to raise the debt to fund his projects) solely for "political gain". Compromise is often floated as an "everybody wins" bargain, but in reality, everybody loses. Democrats and Republicans each lose because neither gets what the really want. Taxpayers lose because the size of government inevitably increases. And citizens lose because the compromise is likely to help some corporate lobbyist or special interest group in exchange for campaign support. In the 90's, this rhetoric might have worked better, because the populace was highly partisan. But today, the populace isn't highly partisan, they're highly disgusted and apathetic. In the 90's, voters blamed the opposite party for the countries woes; today, they're blaming both parties. A very unpopular Democratic president/congress has followed an even more unpopular Republican president/congress, and all of a sudden people are realizing that both parties are inept. They're realizing that no matter which side gets their way, or even if both sides get their way, that way is going to be wrong. Who they blame for this problem varies; liberals blame bipartisan big business, republicans blame bipartisan big government, and both blame corruption, but most realize there is a systematic flaw in the way our government is working. And if they don't trust one party, they definitely don't trust both parties at the same time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Things You're Not Allowed to Sell

Part of economic freedom is the ability to buy or sell whatever you like at prices or terms agreeable to both parties. You should be able to sell anything you own, or any service you wish to provide, so long as that service does not take away the rights of others. Most people would probably agree with that last sentence in principle, but not in practice. Here are some examples of things you are legally prohibited from selling, but shouldn't be:

  • Sex. Sex is a service. It is the oldest profession, and it is nobody's business but the people who choose to engage in it and their customers. If it's legal to have consensual sex with any adult you choose, it must be legal to pay for consensual sex with any adult you choose. Consent can be acquired through many avenues. Love is probably most desirable, but lust is another, and unfortunately bragging rights or pride or peer pressure exist also. So does money. Religious folks should feel free to preach about what the appropriate motivations for sex are, but they shouldn't be able to use the force of government to ensure people are only doing it for the "right" reasons.
  • Organs. One's body is one's primary possession, and it's arguably what gives us our right to property in the first place. But like all possessions, a body can be sold, and that should be the end of the discussion; if somebody wants to sell something that's theirs, it shouldn't matter what other people think of that decision, from a legal perspective. But even from a moral perspective, I can't see why people object to this. If somebody is trying to sell their own organ, they must be desperate! So desperate, in fact, that not selling the organ would be a greater danger to their health and well being than selling it would be. Truly, what people object to is not the sale, but the conditions which make the sale the wisest course of action. They defend the laws against the sale of organs with arguments like "Well, you'd have people sell their own bodies to shady, unqualified third world surgeons using ancient, unsanitary equipment just to put food on the table? How awful!" Clearly, nobody LIKES this practice, but outlawing it doesn't put food on their table, does it? It just makes that food more difficult to acquire and creates even more objectionable circumstances. And the laws are also the largest contributor to making that surgeon unqualified and that equipment out of date. Just like with drugs, in the absence of a legal market, a black market emerges. And just like with drugs, that black market is far more dangerous than the legal one would ever be because the people using it have to be even more desperate and willing to break the law. Truly, Americans and people in the "civilized" world have banned the sale of organs not because it's what's best for the would be organ sellers to prevent them from harming themselves (a bad enough reason as it is), but because the practice of organ selling reminds us that there are billions of desperately poor people in the world, and that makes us uncomfortable. Seeing the sale of organs in sub-par facilities in third world countries SHOULD be objectionable. But our objection should be to the fact that they need to do that, not that they are doing it. Our inclination should be to help those people so that they don't need to do it anymore, rather than preventing them from doing it and leaving them even worse off. Which is worse, a poor homeless woman who's forced to sell her kidney to survive, or a dead homeless woman who wasn't allowed to sell her kidney? Besides, this says absolutely NOTHING of the people those organs go to save! Like all sales on the free market, the sale of an organ is mutually beneficial! It also may save the life of the person receiving the organ! If a rich man on a waiting list in California needs a kidney this month to survive, and a poor mother in Ghana needs some money this month for her and her kids to survive, they can save multiple lives with absolutely no downside through a voluntary, safe legal exchange. Presently, that exchange is prohibited, and it's infuriating.
  • Sex organs. No, I'm just kidding, it was just a punny fusion of the above two things. Although technically...
  • Tickets you've already purchased en masse from somebody else. Some people refer to this as "ticket scalping", and say it like a dirty word. I find it to be a brilliant evaluation of when demand exceeds the price. Some people view the person who buys it from the ticket scalper as getting ripped off, because they were originally being offered for less money by the sports team, concert people, or whatever. But how can the person be ripped off if they're consenting to the purchase? Just like in the organs example, people should stop telling others they're a "victim" of actions they consensually agreed to!
  • Drugs. But that's a topic worthy of it's own post. I've been planning a post on the asinine War on Drugs for awhile now, and the sale of drugs is too similar to the consumption of drugs to not lump in with that topic.
  • The promise of silence. Promising to withhold information from the public - at a price - is a perfectly reasonable, mutually beneficial transaction. If you can hire someone as a spokesman to say things which best represent you or best frame your public image, why can't you hire someone to not say things which might tarnish that image? When worded like this, people probably don't object to it. But when it's worded in another way - blackmail - people almost universally decry it as a crime. But blackmail (as opposed to extortion, which is very different) is not a threat, but an offer. You are not threatening to do something illegal if you don't get money, you're threatening to do something legal that the other person simply wouldn't like. The most common example is speech, or selling your right to speech on a certain subject. But the principle needn't be limited to that activity either. Basically, if you are allowed to do it, you should be allowed to be paid not to do it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Approval Ratings Reversed

We all know that Obama's approval ratings among the American people are very low, among the lowest they've ever been. But if the White House's policies and rhetoric are any inclination, they're nowhere near as low as the American people's approval ratings among Obama's administration. The below link is technically fake, of course, but it's oh so funny and oh so true.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Preemptively Debunking Obama's Thursday Address

Nick Gillespie, Editor in Chief of my beloved Reason Magazine, tells us what to expect from Obama this week, why his proposals will be the wrong course of action, and what the correct course of action really is.

Quotes of the Week, Vince Lombardi Edition

"The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It's your mind you have to convince."

"Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit."

"If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?"

"Dancing is a contact sport, football is a hitting sport."

"If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you'll be fired with enthusiasm."

"Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can attain excellence."

"It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."

"Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

"There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don't ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.”

"Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization — an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win — to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don't think it is.”

"It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there — to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules — but to win.”

"And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.”

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender."
"I don't say these things because I believe in the "brute" nature of man or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle — victorious."