Friday, November 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Governor Christie Concerning Brian Aitken

Governor Christie,

Several days ago, I read about the case of Brian Aitken in Reason Magazine. He was arrested and convicted of violating one of New Jersey’s draconian gun laws. I am writing this to request Brian Aitken be granted an executive pardon.

The details surrounding Mr. Aiken’s tour through our justice system would horrify anyone with a sense of justice. The law of which he accidentally ran afoul is a leftover from the irrationally anti-gun Corzine administration, and the way information was withheld from the jury by Judge Morely is simply unacceptable.

What’s worse is the sentence. A seven-year prison sentence is grossly disproportionate to the nature of his infraction; it is seven years of living in a nightmare. It is the destruction of seven years of an honest man’s life- and then comes the epilogue: living the rest of his life as a convicted felon, making earning a living in any professional capacity impossible. And all this is because of what amounts to overaggressive law enforcement preying on someone’s innocent mistake.

I do not know Brian Aitken personally, but I was nonetheless deeply moved by the story of his conviction. His case is a clear indication that we do not live in a nation with liberty and justice for all. It chokes me up with anger to know that something like this could take place in the land of the free.

I am certain that this case is not unusual, and that similar instances occur every day in the United States- so often, in fact, that they go unnoticed. It doesn’t make the news every time some anonymous nobody with no political pull gets railroaded by our justice system. Thankfully, your executive power to grant clemency is a last chance to correct this situation. It falls on your shoulders to use your legal authority to remedy the failures of the system and to take back the unjust hand dealt to Mr. Aitken.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and the list of people who have been victimized by the system which is supposed to protect them is very long. Brian Aitken’s name is on that list, but thanks to Radley Balko at Reason, his name has been highlighted. Mr. Governor, don’t squander the opportunity to change this man’s life by doing what it just. Save Brian Aitken from a seven year prison sentence and reunite him with his family.

In Liberty,

William Kern

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On Jon Runyan

I saw a TV spot for for Jon Runyan today. It was cute in a generic sort of way, so went to his website to look at his issues. Surely a rookie candidate with over 3300 Facebook fans has a platform that's really going to turn Washington around...

Or will it? A cursory glance looks pretty good, but if you're paying attention, Jon Runyan's platform is actually pretty cookie-cutter. Here is the review of his Issues (not in order).

1. Cutting Taxes and Creating Jobs

Mr. Runyan has eight tax-cutting recommendations. They all sound pretty good in a better-than-nothing sort of way (like increasing the child tax credit from $1000 to $1250). I'm especially a fan of permanently repealing the grave injustice that is the Death Tax. But while I'm always in favor of cutting taxes for whatever reason, lowering taxes is a plank in every politician's platform. They're just words- especially without corresponding cuts in spending. Which brings us to...

2. Balancing the Federal Budget

Runyan talks about the debt, and wants a balanced budget. Everyone wants a balanced budget. The problem is that there are many things currently that are not counted in the official federal budget, such as advance appropriation (which "spends" in the future), delayed payments (putting off costs until the following fiscal year), and emergency and supplemental spending. There's no cap on these things, and none appear on official budgets. Oh, and neither does funding for Social Security, Medicare, the Post Office, or mortgage lending by Freddie and Fannie.

So talk of a balanced budget is largely meaningless so long as there are loopholes. The problem is the power to spend, not the spending itself. But in any case, to balance the budget (even to fake-balance a budget), some things need to be cut. In Runyan's Issues section, I can't find any specific cuts he wants to make. He does mention things he wants to spend on, though. Things like...

3. Beach Replenishment & Shore Tourism


Federal legislators, as a rule, should stay out of state business. But this is why they don't: it's a classic ploy to buy votes. "Vote for me and I'll give you federal money." This is where corruption comes from. It's why people get elected and stay in office. I'm not saying Mr. Runyan is corrupt, but he should use his power to work towards ending this this practice.

4. Military & Veterans Affairs

A sentence in this section reads: "I will ensure that our active military fighting to defend freedom around the world have all the tools necessary to defeat our enemies and return home safely to their family and friends."

This one is straight out of the Republican handbook. The United States has little legitimate business "defending freedom around the world." I want my own freedoms defended and the troops brought home. There are many people who believe war is necessary, and that the same government which has failed to secure the freedoms of its own citizens can effectively police the world. I just happen to disagree, and would rather the troops be brought home immediately. The government's job is to keep us out of war.

5. Seniors, Social Security & Medicare

Here, Runyan talks about keeping Social Security and Medicare solvent (impossible), as well as steering money towards (buying votes from) Burlington and Ocean counties (not federal business), and funding medical research he wants to fund. With our money. Whether we like it or not. We do need to honor the commitments made to the seniors who are helpless without their promised government handouts, but work needs to be done to free future generations as quickly as possible from these corrupt and wasteful programs. We need them gone, not done differently.

6. Energy

Runyan is rightfully critical of the Cap-and-Trade scam, and is in favor of letting states deal with their offshore energy production. These are both positives, but then he goes on about promoting both nuclear energy and the green agenda. And then there's the classic bit about the energy independence fairytale at the end.

I don't believe Congress can write respectable laws, much less determine energy policy. The federal government already subsidizes everything under the sun, which only politicizes the economy. The mere 535 people in congress need to back off of doing what they think is right, and let the other some 300 million people determine our energy policy.

7. Affordable, High Quality Healthcare

While rightly opposing Obamacare, Runyan wants to "start over with a more incremental approach." Wrong answer. There are at least half a dozen things that could be done to legitimately lower the cost of insurance and improve the quality of care, none of which involve the federal government calling the shots. Keep the incremental approach and stay out of it, please. Even among conservatives, this one should be a letdown.

8. Israel

The webpage says it best: As a member of Congress, I will strongly support continued foreign aid to Israel to ensure they have the tools necessary to stand strong in the face of hostilities by their enemies.

Just because it's called Foreign Aid doesn't mean it's not destructive and wasteful. If you want to help Israel or any other foreign country, send your own money and your own children. Our taking sides in foreign conflicts is a cause of our problems, not a solution.

9. Immigration

Taxes, war, education, and our welfare state are much bigger issues than immigration, so Runyan's conservative stance on immigration doesn't bother me as much as it probably should. Rather than go on the offensive, I'd like to see an easing of the path to citizenship (whatever that means exactly), but I'm willing to pick my battles on this one.

10. Congressional Term Limits

The real problem is political power, not the person who wields it. So I have serious doubts as to whether term limits are a real solution to anything. But until Congress gets under control, I do support Jon Runyan's call for term limits.

11. 2nd Amendment

His 2nd Amendment stance is out of the Republican playbook. I'd like to know what he means by "cracking down in illegal guns," but aside from that, this one's a keeper.

12. Marriage

When asked about marriage, all federal legislators should say, "No comment." Marriage should be totally done by contract- it shouldn't be a government issue at all, let alone a federal one.

* * * *

This is pretty typical political fluff that you're likely to hear from any Republican. It's great if you agree with all of it, but this isn't someone who strikes me as a candidate that people who want limited government would rally around. I see Jon Runyan as a guy who wants to go to Washington on his name recognition in order to do what he wants to do. Isn't that why most people run for office? To do what they want to do?

I like that his tax cut ideas are specific, but where are the others? What about the drug war? The spending? Education? The current overseas occupations? Trade? The welfare state? Whether he has Tea Party support or not, I can't get behind a guy who is so generic with his platform. When the best slogan you have is "The other guy is worse," what's that really say about you?

It says to get ready for the continuation of politics as usual. While Jon Runyan's election probably won't kill us, it doesn't look like it will significantly change the course we're on, either.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Last Night's Education Payoff

When the recession hit, the administration where I work (private school) confronted the whole staff and warned that we may be getting pay cuts- either those, or layoffs. It wasn't because someone messed up and ran the school into the ground financially, and it wasn't a result of mismanagement on our part. It was the result of forces beyond our control, and it was very simple: We're in trouble and if the money's not there, this is what will happen. No running to the government for favors. It's called living in reality.

Last night, a bankrupt Senate that can't balance a checkbook gave $26 billion to state governments that also can't balance a checkbook, $10 billion of which went for "teacher retention." Where did the money come from? They did what they always do; they kicked the can down the road. The money is supposedly coming from closing some corporate tax loophole and will, it is said, be paid back over ten years. This is called living in a fantasy, and it should bother a whole lot of people.

It is true that the money will prevent teacher layoffs, but that's only because public school wages do not operate in a market. They're mandated by contract between unions and government. This is where the corruption starts. The politicians join the unions in maintaining the Three Great Fictions: that American education is the best in the world, that student performance is a function of how much money is thrown at it, and that we would all be doomed without a government monopoly over the school system.

The Politicians

The primary skill of a politician is to get elected, and the primary skill of an incumbent is to get reelected. They like to have blocs of people they can count on for votes, so they steer money towards schools. It's a nice exchange; votes for money. Last night's bill was nothing more than a political bribe.

The Unions

The primary goal of the unions is their own survival. They get politicians votes in exchange for tax money, which they use to lavish teachers with good pay and unbelievable benefits. If the money stops coming, however, the house of cards collapses. To make sure that doesn't happen, they can get always get more funding in one of two ways: 1) Threatening politicians to withdraw their support for upcoming elections, and 2) selling the public their fake sob story about how, without wage hikes, the kids will suffer. Union bosses also get to look like the heroes when they distribute the cash to the teachers.

The Teachers

The teachers are the pawns in the unions' political game, and many of them know it. The ones who don't, however, seem to be under the impression that the union looks out for their best interests, and are happy to sell their vote for pay hikes. Those same teachers are the ones who believe their compensation is unfair. But the politics of union negotiations keeps teacher compensation above market (whether they recognize it or not), and many teachers will raise hell at the slightest hint of their earnings possibly getting pared back to something more in touch with fiscal reality.

The Public

In spite of how increased spending has produced little more than higher taxes and test scores that have been flatlining for the last forty years, somehow the public still believes The Three Fictions. There's probably nothing for which the average taxpayer is willing to open his wallet than education. There's almost no recognition of the fact that teaching is a highly political job and the fact that the public school system is little more than a perpetual motion machine of politics. The students graduate knowing exactly what the government wants them to know.

So what happens when the federal government, which has no idea whatsoever about how to deal with its own problems, showers the states with billions of dollars? If history is any indication, test scores will remain unaffected, the political grip on the system will be once more tightened, and taxes will go up (that bit about getting the money by closing a corporate tax loophole is an illusion- when taxes on businesses go up, the businesses simply raise their prices accordingly and we pay for it anyway). But the money will come from somewhere- if not from the municipalities, then from the state. If not from the state, then from the feds. If not from from the feds, then people start losing reelection. And nobody wants that.

Much of this sickens me. I'm angry at the democrats for passing the bill, I'm angry at the republicans for faking their outrage over something they would have favored if Bush were in the White House, and I'm angry that the people being taken advantage of have no idea what's going on and probably wouldn't believe it no matter how clearly it were spelled out to them. It bothers me when the bad guys win.

The solution is to dispel The Three Fictions and shake our faith in the government's ability to serve our interests through education. Hopefully, at least some of us will remember the true cost of last night's bill/payoff come November.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fire Rob Andrews

I wonder if the people who send Congressman Andrews back to Washington every two years can name any decent legislation that attests to his ability as a lawmaker. In the past two years alone, he's voted for such things as raising the debt limit, the Cap and Trade energy scam, the Cash for Clunkers scam, the stimulus-package-turned-government-slush-fund scam, and a healthcare scam that will all but destroy the surviving pieces of our medical industry that Congress has been butchering for decades. Over the last ten years, he has also voted to send over $100 billion in taxpayer money outside the country in aid to foreign governments.

In the same period, you will also find that Mr. Andrews was one of those who abdicated his duty to uphold the Constitution both by giving George Bush the power to initiate military action against Iraq without a declaration of war, and by voting for (and continually extending) the USA PATRIOT act, which sends the Bill of Rights up in flames. For these reasons alone he should have been ejected from office in disgrace.

But he wasn't. No, this is the kind of career to which Mr. Andrews has committed himself- so much so that he hedged his bet against losing the 2008 Senate primary by running his wife as a placeholder for his House seat. Instead of taking his lumps and retiring after his failed power grab (as he repeatedly insisted he would), he pulled the old switcheroo with his wife and retook the seat anyway because, he said, his "public service was more meaningful" than whatever job awaited him in the private sector. I'll bet.

After a disrespectful stunt like that, one would think the voters would have had the sense to kick him to the curb. Instead, they curbed their integrity by giving him another landslide victory. It is time his constituents recognize that they've been patsies for Rob Andrews for almost two decades. See how his elections are financed at to find whose interests his career has really been serving. The truth is that no matter what little political favors he may have done for people during his cushy tenure, it hasn't been worth giving the man a free pass to Washington. Because of career politicians like Mr. Andrews, future generations have been guaranteed an America that will be less free and more dependent on government. What's more, that America will come with a high pricetag, and they'll be expected to pay it.

I don't know what the solution is, but I know that sending Mr. Andrews back through Washington's revolving door isn't it. It pains me to wonder how much different everything would have turned out if, instead of blindly putting the same charlatan back into office every two years, we elected someone who didn't think government was the answer to everyone's problems; who wanted Americans to keep their whole paychecks; who didn't unapologetically use public money for federal programs that never deliver what they promise; and who didn't see a House seat as a prize to be won, but rather as an opportunity to maintain the liberties of her neighbors.

Will we get the opportunity to vote for such a candidate this year? Not from what I gather. Almost no one from the mainstream political parties stands out as worth having in office, and I can't find any information on the independents in this district. So broken is this system that I honestly wish there were a None of the Above option. But since there isn't and we're all going to have to hold our nose again to vote this year, let's assert our belief in term limits and send Rob Andrews packing. Nothing is worse than a smug career politician who is way past his prime and doesn't know when to hang it up. Besides, we really can't do much worse, and at least then we might have someone in office with a shred of humility who's not a Washington insider.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Christie and the Schools

Ask a hundred people how they think a school should be run, and you’re likely to get a hundred different answers. Some parents want more counselors, some want a greater nursing staff, some want particular sports, some want co-curricular activities, some want salary cuts. Everyone assigns a different priority to all these things. Whatever gets cut, no matter how much, people are going to complain.

Parents pay taxes; they want what’s best for their kids; and (so far as I know) they’re more or less forced to send their kids to their local school. They want to milk it, and I don’t blame them. As long as they’re only paying a fraction of the cost involved in putting their kids through school, it’s understandable. I’m sure every parent would like to see her child’s school stuffed with well-educated and well-paid staff, and activities of every kind. Don’t we all?

Well, maybe not all of us. A taxpaying non-parent’s priorities are probably more like “getting my taxes lowered” than “paying for other people’s kids’ government schooling.” I know I’d rather keep the 40% of my property tax than fork it over to the government to be disposed of politically in the school system. Maybe it’s harsh, but it’s true. Public-educated kids are caught in a political crossfire between government, taxpayers, and unions. Everyone has a stake in getting what they want (everyone wants lower taxes; politicians want reelection; unions want power) and we all have to use political means to get it. It’s an unending political tug of war, and the primary casualties are the very people the system is supposed to work for: parents, students, and teachers.

The other week, I attended a board of education meeting. The board announced budget cuts and cutbacks on nursing staff and counseling staff. Many parents were angry over these things, and called for administrative cuts. There was a lot of yelling, finger-pointing, a few speeches, and little good news. It was like a highlight reel of everything that’s wrong with public education.

Since parents believe their children are entitled to an education the government believes it is its job to provide it (two very flawed premises, by the way), any mention of privatizing/deregulating education isn’t even on the table. But the governor wants to address a budget deficit. Wonderful. Since market solutions are unimaginable to most people, the popular alternatives are to [continue to] tax the rich or to cut funding to schools. For anyone who wants less government, the answer is obvious.

I don’t have any faith in the education bureaucracy being able to redistribute their remaining funding in a way that pleases everybody (as I said, everyone involved has her own idea of how it should be), so there will definitely be many losers after it’s all said and done, and the schools will suffer for it. All the more reason to remove the government from education completely. As a parent, do you really want your kid’s education to be so vulnerable to political waves like this? Should every public teacher in the state have to quake in her boots every time some politician sneezes?

No, but that’s the way it is. The problem here is not that Chris Christie is cutting school funding, it’s that some politician has the power to cut the funds to begin with. Put any special interest group in place of parents and the NJEA, and that group would vilify the governor and decry the cuts just as much (or to whatever extent its political power permitted). Wouldn’t you?

Even though I’m tacitly in Christie’s corner on this one, I recognize that that’s only because his position (so far) leans in the direction of less government, and that’s all I’m interested in. That's an important point. See, though I don’t think I should even have to be bothered with any of it, I still feel I have a stake in the outcome. Politics has a way of doing just that- taking people who ordinarily wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) give a damn and roping them in, forcing them to fight for the least offensive political exploitation of their money, time, and labor; things that shouldn’t be anyone else's to begin with. In fact, the more I hear about this battle, the more I think that neither Chris Christie nor the NJEA are any worse than the other. Maybe the budget cuts are neither good nor bad. Maybe they’re just political maneuvers like anything else, no matter how they’re portrayed to the public by the two warring sides.

The point is that this whole seemingly unsolvable mess is a natural and predictable consequence of the government’s presence in the field. Private school teachers (and parents, and students), on the other hand, are totally insulated from all this political warring. They look upon this and shake their heads, wondering why anyone would want to put up with that kind of garbage.

Then, they turn around and quietly return to work. The rest of the education establishment should be so lucky.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Quick Look at the Latest News

Today, the President signed an executive order to abolish the DEA and end the federal Drug War. Asset forfeiture laws have been repealed, and all persons imprisoned on account of nonviolent drug offenses have received a presidential pardon. The states are up to their eyeballs in paperwork because of this, but that’s okay.

Hillary Clinton rolled out a new foreign policy, ceasing all military and economic aid to governments around the world. United States troops are now in the process of packing it all up and heading home. Dubbed No Soldier Left Behind, its purpose is to see to it that never again will an American soldier die on foreign soil fighting wars for the UN or toppling governments around the world. They will have to work their own problems out without the assistance of Washington or the American taxpayer. Resources previously spent on national offense will now be spent on national defense. We’ll finally have that missile defense shield.

Now that the American government has stopped taking sides in foreign conflicts, the Terrorist Threat color has reduced been downgraded to green, and there is talk about disregarding it altogether. The world took notice that if liberty somehow caused terrorism, there would have been many other more easily accessible countries available to attack. It has been admitted that terror and intervention, not freedom, is what caused the War on Terror. Finally, we struck at the root of the problem, and we won.

Congress has proposed a budget of less than a trillion dollars, with massive cuts in all federal agencies. Work has started on a plan to free everyone from Social Security and Medicare- with the War on Terror coming to a halt, an enormous reduction in the size of the federal government, and the wholesale liquidation of government assets across the country, the national debt is now somewhat under control and people will be free to save for their own retirements and pay their own medical bills. There’s now hope on the horizon that the babies of today will not owe as much of their lifetime’s labor to the government as previously thought. Federal taxes of all sorts no longer impose a crushing burden on everybody, and the repeal of the 16th amendment is also in sight.

The FDA has been abolished and the Healthcare bill has been repealed. Health insurance is no longer tied to the tax code, and federal regulations no longer apply to its price or availability. Insurance will finally be insurance again, rather than a program to pay every nickel and dime of everyone’s medical needs. The states have agreed to do away with mandated coverage, community rating laws and licensing laws. Almost all drugs are available OTC. Prices have fallen through the floor, as Americans now enjoy medical access unheard of in generations.

With the department of Education now defunct, state governments have voted for a plan to release the cost of education from the taxpayer and put it in the hands of the customer. Teachers will no longer need to unionize since being an educator will no longer be a government job. Your kids will get the education you want them to get, rather than what the state legislature says they should get. The demand for this newly tailored education from business will be enormous, as it will be flexible enough to adapt to what they want. As such, the cost will be controlled (not only by a decrease in regulation, but because federal taxes will soon fall), and the market will make sure only the best teachers will remain in the field in a way that no union or government ever could.

Best of all, Congress has assembled a commission to end the Federal Reserve’s monopoly control over the money supply. Tomorrow, the United States will begin the transition away from fiat paper currency backed by nothing to a commodity system to be determined by the market. No longer will people have to live with the reality that the government can simply confiscate their savings through inflation any time it wishes, for whatever purpose, and then laying the burden of debt on the nation’s young.

Soon the dollar, taxpayers, and businesses will be liberated from big government; trade barriers with the United States will be torn down; American-imposed embargoes and economic sanctions will be lifted, and the economy is about to bounce back with a vengeance.

These are just a few of the more important changes scheduled to take place either today or in the near future. In short, the United States is about to be a free country again.

April fools!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kyleigh's Law

Beginning in May, drivers in New Jersey who are younger than 21 and have a provisional license must attach a red sticker on their license plates to identify them as such. The intent of the law (dubbed Kyleigh’s Law) is to help the police identify drivers with the provisional license who may be driving with too many passengers (more than one, unless a parent is present) or who may be driving past the curfew (11pm to 5am). A peripheral intent is to make such drivers think twice about their behavior on the road, knowing they’ll stand out more.

Now, I could talk about the stickers possibly drawing unnecessary attention to young drivers (or any drivers) from police. I go on about how it’s stressful enough being followed by a cop without having a special decal attached to one’s license plate. I could go on about how families owning multiple vehicles might occasionally frustrate the law’s intent when people with full licenses get behind the wheel of cars with the stickers. Or, I could point out the many instances where provisional drivers driving late at night or with more than one passenger might actually be completely reasonable and not warrant a ticket. But I won’t, because these are the obvious objections, and there's more to this story.

Will the law be effective in preventing incidents like the story of Kyleigh D’Alessio? Sure, in theory. But the cost won’t only be measured in more ticketing, fines, and decal sales (which won’t break your bank at $4 a pop, but I’ll bet the markup is hefty), but in your freedom. Whatever the intent of the law, it’s really not much more than a way to control people and make money doing it, all under the false pretense of protecting people. What legislator can resist posturing to some law-demanding voting bloc while pretending to save lives? If the state can manage to make a buck while doing it, so much the better. It’s for your own good (particularly the $100 fine for removing the decal). It drives me crazy to think of someone saying, "What's the big deal with a little sticker?" The big deal is that it's a needless regulation whose approval paves the way for more needless regulations. Even if this law doesn't affect you personally, it still legitimizes the role of the state in having this type of power, and so this power can be exercised over you- unless there's some clear objective limitation on the government's authority to regulate driving of which I’m not aware.

However, there is more still.

Before long, the adolescent outrage over Kyleigh’s law will pass and it will simply be accepted as something that always was- as routine as anything else that comes with getting one’s license. In a few decades, the idea of provisional drivers (or whatever it’s called then, at whatever age range it’s changed to) driving without an identifying sticker will horrify people, and many would battle any attempts to repeal it. Why? Because, they would say, chaos would ensue; teenagers just aren’t responsible enough to drive on their own; they always had to drive with a decal; the police need a way to keep an eye on them.

But the real reason people would say that is because they couldn’t remember a time without it. They will have no memory of the fact that there was a time when provisional drivers didn’t need to have a decal. They won’t remember that just a few decades ago, provisional licenses didn’t even exist. They won’t remember that the driving age was once just...17. And they won’t understand that in spite of all this, it was no big deal. The sky wasn’t falling, there was no state of emergency, and getting a license wasn’t a Byzantine ordeal. Life went on despite that much less of the government’s authoritative presence. Imagine that.

It’s important to note that this condition is in no way exclusive to the Motor Vehicles Commission. While Kyleigh’s Law isn’t the end of the world (I can think of other recent legislation that’s sure to have a heavier impact), it’s a good example of the relatively quiet way government can grow and come to be accepted (if not demanded) as the norm. Since recklessness is the exception and not the rule, we should always favor liberty and responsibility over being forced to accept government "protection" in all matters big and small. Keep this in mind even though a particular law may seem benign because once freedom is lost, it is very difficult to get back.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Politics Inaction

If you tuned in to today's healthcare summit in the hopes of watching anything constructive, I'm betting you were disappointed.

After work, even I gave it a shot just for laughs. Within two minutes, I heard partisan bickering over the semantics about trusting the judgment of the CBO for cost projections. It was like watching a political commercial.

The one thing I know I can count on when watching big government operate is the remarkable display of hubris. What I saw today was a bunch of politicians sitting around in a room and arguing over the best way to manage the medical industry- something they're clearly unqualified to do. If I wasn't already so used to the absurdity of it all, I'd be blown away by it.

Nothing happened today that hasn't been planned in advance, and so the whole thing was a waste of time- like all political games. The President may have started it, but both parties, I'm sure, welcomed the opportunity to try to posture a little harder about their feelings on healthcare reform.

When I say it was a waste of time, it's not because nothing got accomplished. On the contrary, considering how nobody at that summit had any intention of seriously reducing the presence of the federal government in the medical and insurance industries, I'd say ending in a stalemate was the best possible outcome. It was a waste because we already knew what was going to happen.

The only thing I do like about this "debate" is that it showcases the inefficiencies built into the lawmaking process. I'm thankful for a Congress so divided because it limits the damage it can do to the nation. When a single party dominates both the executive and the legislative branches, it's like open season on our freedom.

The White House and Capitol Hill should take a hint from the fact that big government healthcare reform has been difficult to pass. Perhaps it's a sign. Maybe the reason it's been so tough to get what they want is because it was never meant to happen. Maybe the Founders made it that way because they knew that government could barely be trusted with protecting people's rights, much less with managing a major portion of their economy.

But I doubt our legislators will see it that way. More likely, they see themselves as leaders and decision makers. They know what the people want, and it's their duty to provide it. I guess it will take more than a six-hour televised stalemate to convince them they're not the answer the country is seeking.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pay Them What They're Worth

Background Information: I am a teacher at a relatively affluent private high school. I am not tenured (tenure isn’t offered to us), and I don’t belong to a union. I have a private retirement account. I do not hold an education degree, nor do I hold any state certification. This is my seventh year as a teacher, and my seventh at my current school. My pay is immaterial, because every dollar I get has been paid to me along a chain of people who gave it up willingly (as opposed to through taxation).

I take the position that the government should not be in the business of education. Everyone who works in the federal Department of Education should lose his job, and any real estate currently held by the federal DOE should be sold off to the public. I don’t think many people would even notice the change. Then, the people can begin to reclaim their power over education from the state government, just as the states reclaimed it from the federal government. I can see this taking a long time to accomplish, but it’s a goal worth pursuing.

Teacher Pay
Many people claim teachers are grossly overpaid, and many teachers believe that they’re grossly underpaid. Teaching has many more variables than the average job: teacher ability, years of experience, education level, number of classes, number of courses, types of courses, number of students, types of students, etc.. A teacher’s salary should depend on all of these things, some of which are pretty subjective. It is impossible for any political institution to give it this kind of tailored approach. Teachers are paid closest to what they’re worth in the private sector- where salaries are determined by a market, rather than politics.

Every single thing about our public schools is politicized, A to Z. Be it teacher salaries, when to get tenure, how many hours to work, issues with merit-based pay, pensions, shutting down “failing schools”, the curriculum, what courses to include, who gets the best parking spot, you name it. This is because public education is a government job (I once had a public school teacher brag about this to me). Because everybody’s taxes are on the line, everybody wants things their way. Frustrated by trying to cater to everyone, it should be no surprise that only a few people involved really have their needs met.

With regards to how much a teacher should make, I have a better question: who should decide how much they make? Should it be the relatively small group of people who own and operate the school on their own terms (whose customers are willing to pay for)? Or should it be the government? Teachers throwing a coup over a pay freeze is a natural consequence of government-run education. The politics of education necessitates having a teacher’s union as a way to mitigate political maltreatment and favoritism. They’re combating the force of government with their own force. Now, the government is again trying to respond with force. This is the way politics and power games work. Who knows what the next move will be?

Of course, that’s not how it works in the real world. In the real world, when the boss tells you your pay is getting frozen, you either accept it or you quit and find a better position. You can’t get together with your buddies to force everybody to play the game the way you want it played. It’s sad to see educators reduced to just another special interest group fighting for its piece of the government’s power. They’re likely to say (and truly believe) they’re fighting for what’s fair, but the truth is that without some sort of reference point, nobody in this situation can say what is and isn’t fair. If all that stood in the way of a pay hike for me was threatening a strike or a little lobbying, I could probably fool myself into thinking I was fighting for fairness, too. But being outside the system, I know better.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any of this leading to a discussion of the real problem: how to release American education from an endless political tug-of-war. This soap opera will continue and all we’ll have to show for it in the end will be higher taxes. The argument for less government in education should be championed by every teacher who knows she's worth her compensation (and more). It is the only way to ensure that good teachers get paid what they're worth. Is is also the only way to destroy the black hole for taxpayer money that is a bad teacher's tenure and pension.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Ambiguous Unemployment Statistic

The job market is a shambles. Companies are laying off, people are out of work, and it’s just a bad situation.

Or is it?

Even though it makes good press, unemployment by itself isn’t a good measure of how the economic health of the nation. The focus shouldn’t be on keeping people employed. Here’s an example.

When self-checkout machines were first introduced in the supermarket, I heard a woman remark to someone else that she refused to use it because it caused someone to lose his job. While she was correct in that the introduction of such a machine will indeed lower the demand for cashiers (and thus lead to the hiring of fewer cashiers) and some cashiers may lose their hours because of it, she was grossly incorrect in thinking this was a bad thing.

What the machine does is make it easier for people do get work done. It’s a device that saves time and labor. Imagine what life would be like if we thumbed our noses at every device that saved labor and caused job loss. Farmland would still be plowed by hand. People would still deliver ice to your door. All our clothes would still be sewn by hand. We would be living in a very different world. On the whole, the self-checkout machines are a good thing. Temporarily bad for the individual cashier, but a boon to everybody who goes to the supermarket- not to mention the new productive jobs created at the factory where the checkout machines are assembled and the ones created by when the machines need repairing.

The key is production, not employment. It’s much better to have low employment and high production than the other way around. That way, people’s efforts go further. What if 10% of the world’s population could do all the work to satisfy the needs of everybody? We would have 90% unemployment, but it would be an economic miracle.

Government can create jobs, but it generally cannot create productivity- especially on a national scale. What it gives to B it must first take from A. So the result is usually theft, waste, political favoritism, and a greater dependence on the state.

For these reasons, we should not look to the government to "fix unemployment." The best we can expect from government is to either create more government jobs (almost never a good), or to create another bubble in some industry it decides to favor ("green jobs" comes to mind). This is little more than a complicated form of welfare.

That the government bears the responsibility of being the job-maker is a myth that needs to be dispelled. If the government should focus on anything, it should be production, rather than employment. With an unlimited power to tax and spend, creating employment should be easy. But productivity is harder to come by. The only thing government produces well is more government. If government wants to do something positive, the best thing it can do is remove barriers that inhibit private sector activity.

If we want to set ourselves on a solid economic footing for the long term, we need a reduction in government. Less government means lower taxes, which puts capital back in the hands of the private sector- the only place we will ever see any innovation and productivity.

Just don’t get too optimistic when they say the job market is on the rebound and unemployment is dropping. It may just be a disingenuous way of telling us that growth of government is continuing unabated.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two Lines in the Sand

I confess it is with some amount of personal shame that I filled out my 1040 this year. Every year during tax season, I have to sit and wonder what exactly would happen if I didn’t pay. When do the letters start? When is action taken through my employer? When do they knock on my door?

Even though I’m sure many people think paying federal tax is patriotic, without a doubt millions more file their taxes out of fear. I certainly fall into the latter category. Wasn’t that Jefferson’s definition of tyranny?

Moreover, it begs the question of where people will draw the line. What would it take for people to openly defy their government and adopt the ‘Come and take it’ attitude? What would it take for you to refuse to comply? With anything. This is an interesting question. I offer you the personal challenge of answering it.

As for me, there are two clear answers. One is the draft. I remember in 2003 when the war started. “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” it was delightfully termed. Remember that? Ah, those were the good old days, back when Saddam not only was minutes away from pressing the button to wipe out the United States’ eastern seaboard, but was somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Remember Bush and the 107th Congress? That madcap bunch of rascals!

I had heard the word “draft” thrown around on TV from time to time. I was 23 and within the drafting age. A lot of people opposed the war, so I was curious as to whether the draft was even politically feasible. But I told myself at the time that if the bugle called, I would resist. You’d see me on YouTube burning my draft card- hopefully, joined by my senior students. I would never let myself be drafted off to war on the government’s word. I opposed it so much that I was hoping they would try it, just so I could see what would happen. I’d rather rot in an American prison than come back in a casket with a flag draped over it. The people are not a tool for the government’s use. As I understand it, the government is a tool for the use of the people.

I find it absolutely horrifying that any parent would willingly submit to having her son sent off to fight a war in which they didn’t believe. It’s almost inconceivable that so many people would just lay down for something like that and let it happen. I guess it was different in the early 70s. But I just can’t imagine people buying into it now. Then again, most people I meet are pretty content to accept things the way they are. Most are happier complaining than taking action.

The other line I decided to draw was with Obamacare. There was a part of me that wanted Coakley to win in Massachusetts. It’s been a blue state and many people expected it to go that way anyway. But if Coakley won and Obamacare passed, I would drop my insurance and refuse to pay whatever fee they arbitrarily decided on. I resolved to join the ranks of the uninsured. And I’d hope that all those picketing tea party people would step up and do the same- along with anybody else who opposed the bill. Come to think of it, it kinds of saddens me to know that everybody really thought so much was actually riding on that election. They can only take from you what you’re willing to give. Was I the only one in the country who was determined to not go along with the healthcare scheme regardless of the election’s outcome? Guess we’ll never know.

Yet, I pay the federal tax. Though it pains me to think of it as an excuse, I suppose it’s not as much of a violation to me because I was born into it. It’s the way things always just…were. Maybe the key to passing legislation like that is to scare everyone into compliance just long enough so that it survives the current generation without revolt. Then they flick the sweat from their brow secure in the fact that the seed has been planted. Your grandkids will be born into it and won’t even think to ask questions until the big bill of their time tumbles down from Capitol Hill. How will they handle it when it’s their turn? Hopefully, better than our ancestry handled the 16th amendment.

But, the question remains. How far could the government push the envelope before you drew a line in the sand and took a personal stand against such tyranny? In light of the American revolution, this is something everybody should think about. What’s your tipping point? When would you put your foot down?

What would you risk to be free?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Citizens United v. FEC

A brief summary:

How it used to be: Corporations and unions were barred from broadcasting ads designed to affect an election outcomes. It was illegal for such an entity to run an ad that saying, "Defeat Candidate X." These regulations were in place under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (or the McCain-Feingold Act).

How it is: Now, it’s legal. Companies, unions, and independent organizations can legally advertise for or against a federal candidate during election season, including the final days before an election.

Notes: There are still limits on what such institutions are permitted to contribute to a candidate directly. Also, all contributions (and presumably expenditures) must be documented and donors identified. There is still a universe of rules and mandates that regulate every aspect political activity (Take it from someone who has run for office; if you want to spend or accept any appreciable amount of money for campaigning, there are enough rules to follow, backed up by the threat of fines and imprisonment, to make your head spin. Ultimately, such laws do restrict the little guy more than they restrict the people whose behavior they're intended to regulate, but that's an argument for a different post).

Now there’s this outcry about how corporate interests are going to decide elections and unions are going to appoint who gets into office because of all their newly granted influence, etc. I won’t deny that this does give more power to groups of organized individuals, so there’s truth to that allegation. But I’m not blown away by it. Maybe I’m not alarmed as much because I honestly never knew electioneering regulations were really that restricted to begin with. I had just assumed that politicians were elected in large part by the special interests they serve, regardless of how they’re legally allowed to advertise. Is there anyone out there who seriously believes the whole election process isn’t pretty much a complete sham anyway? Is it really substantially any more corrupt now than it was before Citizens United v. FEC?

Love it or hate it, the "speech" of a corporation or a union (which are groups of individuals) is just as guaranteed under the first amendment as is the speech of any individual. Whether it’s going to flood the airwaves with more ads or tip an election in favor of someone is irrelevant. That very behavior, in fact, is a completely predictable consequence of freedom of expression. People with money will use it how they want. For whatever reason, you may not like the fact that an organized group can pool its resources and campaign against someone. But you should at least be happy that the same protection afforded them is afforded to you. Technically.

The worst part of this decision is that it distracts from the real problem, which is the immense power politicians have to abuse in the first place. This is the heart of the issue that nobody ever mentions and seemingly nobody puts their finger on. There is nothing inherently wrong with organized groups of people getting together, pooling their resources, and using them to campaign for or against a candidate as hard as they can. Nothing. Whether it’s you, me, your local teamsters, NJEA, SEIU, Exxon, or Walmart. Go ahead, this is America. What’s wrong is the fact that the politicians, once elected, are able to wield the power of the law to politically help their donors/friends and punish their enemies.

That is the real problem, and the only solution is to bar the government of the power to make or break people or industries in such a manner. So long as we have a government that is in a position to hand out favors to begin with, we will always have people down here in the trenches like you and me getting together and fighting for their piece of the pie with all the resources at their disposal. Really, it’s no different from anything else. No set of mere campaign finance laws, no matter how restrictive, will ever effectively stop organizations from getting what they want out of the people in government who call the shots. The best that strict campaign finance laws really offer us is the illusion of honesty and fairness in politics. Don’t fall for it.

Free speech is constitutional, and federal abuse of power is unconstitutional. Disregarding the former does not put us on the path to fixing the latter. Whenever we ignore our founding documents, we do so at our own peril.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conservative or Liberal?

There are many issues that face voters and politicians. If we consider the whole gamut deeply enough, relatively few issues are 100% black and white. For example, even something seemingly as simple as abortion can have degrees. You’re either pro-life or you’re pro-choice. Or maybe you’re pro-life, except in certain cases. Then the issue branches out in other directions- maybe healthcare plans should pay for abortions. Then again, maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s okay sometimes.

There are different degrees of attitudes towards many things, in spite of the fact that people like to attach labels to things to portray them as good or evil. But two terms I hear thrown around the most are conservative and liberal. Which one are you? Maybe there are varying degrees of conservative and liberal, but basically you fall into one of two camps, right? The good guys, and the bad. Us, and Them.

I have a confession: I have little more than a vague notion of what either of these words really mean. They seem to mean different things to different people. When words begin to lack their descriptive power, is it really wise to use them? The thing that bothers me is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what people consider conservative or liberal. To me, "conservative" is a synonym for Republican, and liberal is a synonym for Democrat. That’s the meaning I generally come away with.

According to the dictionary, neither word adequately describes any political philosophy that I’ve ever heard of. It sounds more to me that someone’s personal opinions were just collected and simply branded "conservative," with the implication that its opposite would be "liberal." Silly as they might be, they’re catchy. Just another tool designed to divide people politically and distract them from what really matters- people thinking for themselves.

Another funny thing is that people who identify with one camp usually claim I’m from the other. I hate war and I’m very socially tolerant, so I must be a pinheaded liberal. Then again, I don’t believe in the state redistributing wealth, and I’m in favor of the people arming themselves for self-defense, so I must get all my news from Fox. Right? Well, which is it?

I’ll tell you which it is. It’s neither. When I look at an issue, I’m not thinking, "What would a conservative think about this?" I’m not asking myself where a conservative would stand on issue X, or what a liberal would probably think about issue Y. I don’t file my perspectives under conservative and liberal, but rather government involvement or not. To me, that is a much better metric to use to decide where to stand on something. Moreover, it’s actually descriptive. Is this a job for the government, or not? Is this something best left in the hands of politicians, or not? Do you want government, or do you want freedom?

That is the real issue, but no political party will cop to that. Either someone thinks it proper to use government in a certain situation, or he does not. That’s the litmus test. In a political context, the words conservative and liberal have turned into catchy titles used to deceive people into identifying with a political party’s platform. Unless so many people just so happen to have all the exact same viewpoints in common with no coaching.

I mean no disrespect to the millions who label themselves as conservatives or liberals. Everyone’s entitled to her opinion. But if I have to be labeled as anything, I prefer not to be branded as conservative or liberal, but pro-freedom.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brown Wins!

So, last night a Republican took the Senate seat from the Democrats in Massachusetts. A Republican hasn't held that seat in thirty years. Facebook is abuzz with celebrations, and I'm constantly reading messages about the victory and how the "tide is turning." There are two positives I'm hearing about. One is that Brown's vote is enough to derail Obamacare, and the other is that the Republicans are making a comeback. I know this will rub a lot of people the wrong way, but I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about. To me, the Obamacare issue notwithstanding, Scott Brown is just another big government person who has been elected to office. His victory is a signal that change is possible, not that it has arrived. Forgive my skepticism, but referring to this as some sort of new sunrise for the nation is a stretch.

First, I'm not that hyped about the Republican comeback or the fact that this is a sign the Democrats are probably going to lose the majority in November. Really. I've lived through a time when the Republican party controlled the legislative and the executive, and it wasn't exactly the rebirth of the Jeffersonian era. Government still grew. Unless our new lawmakers are going to be faithful to their commitment to smaller government and their sworn oath as federal legislators, it makes little difference to me who's running the show. I don't want a Republican comeback; I want a Constitutional comeback. That is when I will start celebrating.

Second, while it is true that Brown may well be the final nail in the coffin for Obamacare (for which I am grateful), that is where the victory parade stops. Blocking an unconstitutional federal mandate is the least I expect of any senator elected to office. Yes, it's a major issue. But the Fed and the income tax (and some might argue the War on Terror) are both at least as serious. Healthcare wouldn't even be on the table if the government weren't in a position to loot us through the power to tax and inflate.

Third, the tea party movement backing Brown was a disappointment. I don't know the situation completely, but I was always under the impression that the tea party people wanted real limited government- not merely "better than the worst" government. Hearing the tea parties were behind Brown opened my eyes to the fact that maybe it's all just the same old political BS dressed up as a revolutionary grassroots movement. I hope I'm wrong and that they supported Brown because of the un-electability of Joe Kennedy. Don't get me wrong, I had no illusions about Kennedy winning. But there's a difference between truly endorsing someone and endorsing someone because there's no viable alternative. I wasn't there, so I don't know, but I'm hoping this time it was the latter (sick of the latter as I've become).

Come November, I hope freedom-loving Americans recognize yesterday's election's outcome for what it was, and don't take their eyes off the ball because of it. I hope they realize that less government, not different government is the answer, and that they're not somehow hijacked and led astray because of some political organization's self-serving agenda. I hope they maintain a healthy distrust of politicians and power, and that they don't mistake mere bumps in the road to liberty for the leaders they're seeking. Most of all, I hope they have the wisdom to recognize and outright reject their own party's plan for big government when it comes down the pike.

Still, having said that, it was nice to see another pillar of the Democrat structure crumble.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On the foiled terror plot and airport security

After the news of the latest foiled airline terror plot, everybody has been up in arms over how lax security is and how much more we need. Now, I hear about full body scanners across the board, patdowns of all passengers, mandatory racial profiling, air marshals on every flight, and wait times on the order of hours. This sounds less like a free country every time I turn on the news.

People have been quick to criticize the government about its failure to detect the threat- and rightly so. Warning signs were ignored, and the existing regulations didn't catch the bomber before he boarded the plane. This much is true. The irony is that the solutions everybody is looking for all involve calls for more government security. People don't realize they're demanding better results from the very entities whose failure is still fresh in their minds. They don't realize they're demanding the impossible.

I understand how fears are renewed when something like this happens. But even in light of all the uproar about how much more needs to be done to step up security, I disagree. I argue that less needs to be done- not more.

The people on board the flight were the ones who foiled the terror plot. This happened not because of safety regulations, but in spite of them. If similar plots are going to be foiled, it will be the people acting to defend themselves from terrorism who will get the job done, not any government stepping up airport screening. To those on flight 253, the fear of being blown up turned out to be more useful than the TSA.

There is a lesson in this. Everybody (not just Americans) needs to understand the best we can do to counter terrorism (among other things) is to recognize that our safety is ultimately our own responsibility. It's not an exaggeration to say that when we rely on the TSA to keep us safe, we put our lives in the hands of the same people who run the motor vehicle inspection stations.

Whoever said eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom knew what he was talking about. The greatest deterrent to a possible terrorist will be knowing that, upon boarding a plane, there will be a hundred wide-eyed people all too ready to get up and put a stop to any suspicious activity that might jeopardize their lives. After all, as a terrorist, which cabin would you rather attempt to blow up? The one where everyone takes his safety for granted after getting through airport screening, or the one filled with people alert enough to be on the lookout for guys like you?

The demands for tighter airline security from the government is a symptom of a much deeper issue. That issue is the attitude towards the role of government and, moreover, its duty and capacity to protect us. The best the government can do to curb terrorism is to strike at the root of the problem, namely to dramatically reduce its role in foreign affairs. Such is not only a legitimate function of government, but also something we as citizens haven't the power to do for ourselves. Notice once again that the solution is less government, not more.

I would even go so far as to say that if there were an airline that actually boasted it "lacked security" beyond the basics like metal detectors and sober pilots (which I expect from any airline), it would be more safe to fly than the airlines with the tightest of TSA security regulations (not to mention cheaper and more convenient). What kind of people would ever fly such an airline? Not the foolhardy and the suicidal so much as the watchful and the free. Knowing what kinds of people are really out there and being mindful of the risks involved when getting on an airplane are much more effective than having to remove our shoes.

I want safety as much as anyone else. The difference is that I know what it means to truly be safe. An ongoing tragedy that still goes largely unnoticed is our failure to understand that like so much else, safety without responsibility is an illusion. It's a reckless mistake to give the government carte blanche to "do whatever it takes" with any issue at all (our safety included). Because it doesn't have what it takes. The truth is that only a free society has what it takes- something our founding generation knew, but which we have perilously forgotten. All the government has is a growing list of responsibilities we are learning to surrender to it. And with each one it gets, we march one more step in the direction of not only a less free, but a less safe, America.