Free Markets, Free People


When Nanny becomes Bully

We’ve talked at length here at QandO about the dangers of the Nanny State to individual autonomy – liberty/freedom.  If there is a zero sum game out there, it is the trade off between the power of the Nanny state and the degree of individual autonomy you are able to exercise.

I think why this health care bill bothers, no, outright scares libertarians is the degree of encroachment it represents in terms of individual autonomy.  The premise I’m talking about is well stated here:

[I]individual autonomy is the core value of a democratic society; there is an inherent trade-off between individual autonomy and public health under health paternalism; and the abandonment of individual autonomy in health policy poses a threat to our other freedoms.

I’d change one word – individual autonomy is the core value of a free society. I’m not sure how it can be considered any other way. There is a trade-off between the state assumption of responsibilities and the amount of individual autonomy you retain. Call it a liberty index if you wish, but every time the state takes over more responsibility for the lives of the citizens, by whatever means, the liberty and freedom of that citizenry is commensurately reduced.

And, as the state takes more responsibility and attempts to enforce it, there is a less than subtle transition from a Nanny state to a Bully state.

The Institute for Public Affairs lays out that case quite well and uses health care to do it. the IPA focuses on a shift in thinking among our ruling elite who support the welfare state that is driving this transition from Nanny to Bully. The transition is based on the failure of their first assumptions. Their assumption was that if the state (Nanny) provided relevant and important health information to the public, the public would heed it and change its behavior to take advantage of that information to live healthier lives.

The provision of that information hasn’t yielded those results. Instead, people still smoke, drink and are fat. Obviously, at least in the opinion of some, that model isn’t working and something better is necessary – for their own good, of course. Nanny can’t get the results she wants simply by providing the information she thinks should motivate others into living the lifestyle she finds most healthy, so she must look elsewhere and at different methods.

To get the results desired, given the “failure” of the previous assumptions, different assumptions are necessary. See if you recognize any of these or can see them coming:

Most of the health care burden is driven by disease that results from lifestyle decisions.

Most of the health care burden is therefore, in theory, preventable.

The cost of most lifestyle-related disease is not recovered from the individuals with such diseases or from the industries whose products contribute to these diseases.

Individual autonomy cannot be the paramount value in health care.

Individual choice as a basis for health is ‘too simplistic’.

Individual freedoms may have to give way to the coercive power of the State.

Interventions, including coercive actions, to change behaviour may proceed in the absence of evidence of their effectiveness.

Individuals have a clear responsibility to refrain from lifestyle decisions that lead to disease and, consequently, treatment can be denied to those who refuse to change their behaviour.

For those of you who can manage to look at the health care bill objectively and have listened to descriptions of what it requires should have absolutely no problem understanding that the list of new assumptions are clearly evident in that bill. One only has to think “individual mandate” to know that the assumption “individual autonomy cannot be the paramount value in health care” is being acted upon. The hiring of 16,000 new IRS agents to enforce that mandate speaks to the assumption “individual freedoms may have to give way to the coercive power of the State”.

So it certainly isn’t at all a leap to also understand that at some point, to keep this from being another in a long line of centrally planned failures, the attempt to intervene and change behavior and to coercively enforce the “responsibility” to refrain from lifestyle decision which lead to disease and the consequent health care costs, will be acted upon. The Nanny state becomes the Bully state.

And for those of you who would wave this away with a “this can’t happen here”, I’ll simply remind you of what was signed into law yesterday and the fact that some of the assumptioins listed above, as I’ve pointed out, have already been acted upon.


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Challenging licensing laws

What do doctors and florists have in common in the state of Louisiana?  Both have to be licensed by the state.  That’s right – the person who preforms heart surgery on you and the person who arranges the flowers you get afterward both have to meet licensing requirements set by the state.

A 7-decades-old state law requires florists to pass a test and get a license to arrange and sell flowers, making Louisiana the only state in the USA with such a requirement. Supporters of the law say it ensures florists know what they’re doing and deliver quality products.

“Know what they’re doing and deliver quality products?” I thought the market, i.e. customers, usually rewarded or punished those in that profession who didn’t “know what they’re doing and [don’t] deliver quality products”.

So is this licensing requirement a) rational b) necessary and even c) constitutional? What it certainly is, though, is a bar to entry into the market imposed by government.

The arguments about licensing in general fall on two sides. Some see no reason to license anything – the market will sort out the good from the bad. Those that approve of licensing argue than in many cases lives and health are at stake and, in such cases, it is the role of government to step in and ensure those who pursue those professions are competent enough to do so.

Arranging flowers certainly doesn’t seem to fit the category of a risk to either the life or health of their clients.

What it certainly does is limit those who can enter the market. First, it imposes a $2,000 licensing fee. That will obviously keep a certain percentage who might otherwise become florists from attempting it because they don’t have the money. Certainly that might be a small percentage and you can make the argument that anyone who can’t afford the fee probably can’t afford to be a florist, but is that your or the state’s call? Instead it is an artificial barrier to entry in the market arbitrarily imposed by the state.

And, usually, when such a bar to entry is evident, you’ll find businesses who’ve met the bar to be the most ardent of supporters. Why? Because it is an artificial means to limit competition. For instance, this case:

The test to obtain a Louisiana florist license consists of an 80-question written exam and a four-part hands-on section, where aspiring florists are scored on how well they put together funeral wreaths, table bouquets and other arrangements, said Mike Rome, vice president of the Louisiana State Florists’ Association, which supports the law.

On the written exam, candidates are asked questions about floral arranging and flowers in general, including how to prolong the life of flowers, wiring methods and plant identification.

In the design section, the aspiring florists have four hours to arrange four designs: a wedding arrangement, corsage, funeral wreath and table bouquet.

Judges then score the designs using guidelines such as “Has the design the proper focal point?,” “Is the correct gauge wire used on flowers?” and “Is a corsage pin attached to the corsage in a way that will not injure anyone?”

Candidates are judged by a panel of three licensed florists. The average score of the written and floral arrangement sections needs to be 70% or higher to pass. The arrangements are judged more on technical competence than creativity, Rome said.

“The florist license gives the consumer a little more assurance that you get a quality product,” Rome said. “Florists are artists; they’re very opinionated. But sometimes you have to follow industry standards.”

“Industry standards?” What “industry standards”. Louisiana is the only state in the union that licenses florists. So whatever standards are imposed by a rather biased group, who apparently brook very little deviation from whatever arbitrary standards they’ve dreamed up, have control over who or who doesn’t join them in that state’s florist market.

As John Stossel reminds us:

Established businesses have always used government to handcuff competition. Years ago, small grocers tried to ban supermarkets. A&P was going to “destroy Main Street,” the grocers cried. Minnesota legislators responded to their lobbying by passing a law that forbade supermarkets to hold sales. Consumers were hurt.

And that is the result of this legal travesty.

As it turns out, 4 would-be florists have taken the requirement to court:

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court here last week is challenging the law’s constitutionality, claiming it infringes on a resident’s right to earn a living. The suit, filed by the Institute of Justice, a libertarian non-profit law firm based in Washington, D.C., lists as plaintiffs four local florists who have either failed the test or refuse to take it.

“Who is the state to tell me I’m not an artist?” said Monique Chauvin, 42, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Chauvin, owner of Mitch’s Flowers in New Orleans, failed the test in 2000 and has not retaken it. “It’s time for this archaic law to be off the books,” she said.

Chauvin, who has apparently owned a successful florist business in New Orleans for 10 years is defacto proof that the requirement is unnecessary. She’s obviously been successful enough in the marketplace (i.e. her customers find her floral arrangements satisfactory enough to keep her in business – even in a recession) without licensing to stay open for 10 years.

So, why is Chauvin bringing a lawsuit now? Enforcement:

Chauvin said her legal fight is about keeping her shop open through the economic recession. She now has two options: hire a licensed florist or take the test again. If not, she’ll be forced to close her shop.

The market, not a state panel, should be the final judge of her bouquets, she said.

“If a customer is not happy with what we do, he’s not going to come back to me,” Chauvin said. “That should be the quality control.”

Exactly. So in answer to the three questions above – a) it’s not rational.  It imposes arbitrary requirements as well as artificial bars to entry on a profession which threatens neither life or health. b) it’s not necessary. Consumers don’t need government “protection” from florists. and c) it’s most likely not constitutional since most would agree it interferes with a person’s fundamental right to earn an honest living in profession which doesn’t threaten life or health.

Of course, my use of the words “life or health” imply I find the licensing of those who work in professions that can have a detrimental effect on life or health, such as the medical field, to be ok.  Well, yes and no.  I think, for instance, a market solution is possible for those professions as well.  Think, for instance, if the American Medical Association, instead of being a shill for government health care reform, was a body that set minimal professional standards for the medical profession and anyone seeking membership had to demonstrate competence enough to meet those standards.   If you were seeking out a doctor, most likely your first question would be “is he (or she) a member of the AMA?”  And, in this day and time, you’d most likely be able to access an AMA data base to check doctor’s out before going to them.  And your insurance carrier would certainly require you use such a doctor, wouldn’t it? In fact,  you’d likely be leery of any doctor that wasn’t a member.  Same solution as now exists done on a voluntary basis without government intervention. And certainly there might be other associations that would form which would also lend credibility to a doctor’s abilities than just the one.

Would the AMA have a reason to assure its members met their standards and continued to meet them?  Of course it would.  It’s very existence would depend on it, as would the credibility of every one of it’s members.

Of course that’s all been rendered moot by government deciding it should be the final arbiter in that regard.  But it is food for thought, isn’t it?


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When Girl Scouts Attack

Some of you would no doubt love to be accosted by a bunch of girl scouts plying their wares (you know who you are), but you won’t be subject to such a harrowing experience in Seattle:

Tim Burgess’s move to outlaw “aggressive panhandling” may be an unconstitutional, attention-seeking bully tactic, but at least the Councilmember appears willing to apply the law equally to anyone asking for money on the streets. Even if they just want to sell you a box of thin mints.

The issue, such as it is, arose from a (possibly facetious) email exchange between a Seattle Councilmember and an alleged citizen complaining about what can only described as a channeling of a Mike Myers mock-horror scene:

Councilmember Burgess:

I was strongly opposed to your panhandling proposal until my experience on the streets of downtown West Seattle yesterday. Now I totally understand where you’re coming from.

Here’s what happened: on the way to the West Seattle Farmer’s Market, I encountered a band of Girl Scouts aggressively promoting cookie sales within spitting distance of a KeyBank ATM where I was withdrawing money. The situation was so extreme that I could actually hear their aggressive, repeated, high-pitched solicitations at the very moment I was entering my PIN. Then as my cash was dispensed and I nervously removed my receipt — trying to stay calm despite this invasion of my constitutional right to not be confronted by my relative class status — I saw two adult women. They were the ringleaders, I assume. They didn’t seem to be doing anything but watching over the whole scene and talking discreetly to each other about god knows what. All in all, a nerve-racking experience.

So there they were, asking for money, repeatedly, despite my lack of interest in what was on offer, all happening well within 15 feet of an ATM. Would this be banned by the your ordinance? I certainly hope so, because there’s a long history of applying laws like this inequitably, almost as an excuse to push poor people out of desirable areas instead of addressing the actual problem.

Thanks for any information you can offer.

My best guess is that this email comes from a rather disgruntled, yet somewhat clever, panhandler. The Councilmember’s response is both appropriate and obviously skeptical, but it does raise an interesting question: if the state is going to exercise it’s police powers judiciously, doesn’t that ensure that we miss out on opportunities that are neither a threat nor an offer of something we don’t really want? After all, what sort of hair-shirted aesthete do you have to be to not want girl scout cookies?

When it comes to local rules and regulations, I’m not one to quibble too much unless such restrictions impinge on fundamental rights. Setting up shop in a public way certainly deserves some treatment of police power since the sidewalks belong to the public. At the same time, if you are just standing around hawking your legal goods, I really don’t understand what it is we need to be protected from. Can it be annoying to walk through a gauntlet of capitalism? Sure. Maybe worse for some than others. But we don’t have any right to be free from annoyance, do we?

I mean, if that were the case, then why should I be bothered by ACORN morons marching up and down the street where I work? Nothing has ever been done about that. Once, I nearly came to blows with some idiot preaching about how we needed a new New Deal while I was trying to enjoy a leisurely stroll in downtown Alexandria, VA. Do I have the right to be free from that annoyance? Not bloody likely.

And the fact of the matter is that I shouldn’t be “free” from those annoyances, anymore than I should expect to be “free” from girl scouts selling cookies on a street corner, or a hippie selling dew rags in a city square. If one of them genuinely threatens my peace, then the appropriate authorities should be able to step in, but how often is that truly the case? That some panhandler was able to point out this hypocrisy in the enforcement of Seattle’s anti-public-space-economy laws (to coin a terrible phrase) only underscores how ridiculous the application of police power (local or otherwise) has become.

The bottom line is that, whether one is selling girl scout cookies or dew rags, why do I need the state’s protection? Keep the public ways clear for the public sure, but let’s not forget that commerce is what truly makes the world go ’round. Without it, that police protection doesn’t get paid for.

[HT: Tom Scott]

The “Constitutional Conservative” Manifesto

Also known as the “Mt. Vernon Statement” is a statement designed to reorient “conservatism”.  I’m not sure it does that at all.

Anyway, the 5 “first principles” which should guide “Constitutional Conservatives” (ConCons?) and which are supposed to “inform” this agenda are:

* It applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.

* It honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life.

* It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.

* It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.

* It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.

Through point 3, it’s indeed mostly a Constitutional approach I could support as a matter of policy.

However, point 4 is the NeoCon point and point 5 justifies the SocialCon agenda.

Since it isn’t politicians saying it, and despite my former criticism, I assume the writers are committed to them, meaning they’d obviously like to see politicians use point 1 through 3 as their basis for judging the merit of any legislation they may consider. What needs to be more closely defined is what “limited government” means. If that’s not done – and I think a Constitutional case can be made for what government should and shouldn’t do – then the term is relatively meaningless.

Point 4 also needs some further defining. I’m not sure I’m in agreement that as a matter of policy it is our job to “advance freedom” and “oppose tyranny” except here at home. That’s not an isolationist stance, it’s a non-interventionist stance. I recognize “prudently considers what can and should be done” is tacked on to the end of the sentence to provide options. And I’m sure by that they mean soft power as well as hard power, i.e. aid and diplomacy among a myriad of “soft power” options as well as the military option if necessary.

I’m one of those who believe that our job as a country is to defend itself against threats to its security. If, in the pursuit of that, we advance freedom or oppose tyranny via military power, then that’s a good thing. However as a policy objective in and of itself (i.e. our foreign policy is designed to “advance freedom and oppose tyranny”), I’d have to say, “no thanks”. Our foreign policy should be designed to protect this country and advance its peaceful interests (like trade, etc) and generally stay out of the business of other states in areas that don’t involve our national security or trade.

Point 5 is obviously designed to make the SocialCons happy – it’s wide ranging, nebulous and pretty much cancels point 1. In my world, individual liberty has a very specific meaning. Primarily it means I don’t impose my beliefs on others. Practicing your beliefs is the best defense in the world. It demonstrates their power. And, as long as they don’t violate another’s rights, you should be able to do that. Imposing them, however, is a form of “tyranny”, something point 4 says Conservatives are against. The desire – on both sides – to use the law to impose beliefs is not what the Constitution was designed to do. And since this is a manifesto about the “Constitutional Conservative”, I can only suppose that the intent of this rather broad statement is to announce an intent to use the document as a basis for such impositions of belief, via law (because that’s what the Constitution is) of their defense of “family, neighborhood, community, and faith.”

Points 4 and 5 mostly serve to underline “why I’m not a Conservative”. Had they stopped at point 3, I’d have happily endorsed their attempt to refocus “conservatives” (and Republicans). With the inclusion of 4 and 5, they again demonstrate they’ve learned nothing from the NeoCon debacle and on the SocialCon side are just as committed as the left to using the Constitution and the law as a means of imposing their beliefs on others.

Those last two points are simply not consistent with the first three – especially when citing the Constitution. And they certainly don’t reflect what the founders of this Republic intended when they wrote the Constitution. Politicians on the right who adopt all 5 points are asking for trouble. If indeed the intent is to have “Constitutional conservatisim” guide policy, 4 and 5 should be dropped.

Of course, doing so would make them mostly libertarian, wouldn’t it?


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Reid’s Secret Plan

You gotta love the way Dingy Harry builds faith in his mission:

We have a broad agreement. Now I know that people are going to ask to be given every detail of this.


We have had a rule here for 40 years or however long we have been in existence, if you start talking about the plan and start shipping it around, it will be made public. And we want not that to be the case because we want to know the score before we start giving all the details even to our own members.

So you are not going to get answers to those questions.


As I have indicated, we can’t disclose the details of what we have done, but believe me we have got something that is good and that I think is very, for us, it moves this bill way down the road.

That’s right, just “believe” him and his Democrat buddies. You’re gonna love it!

Fortunately, enough of the super-secret, whats-good-fer’ya plan has leaked out that some cogent analysis is possible. Cato’s Michael Tanner, for example, observed that the proposed legislation would basically replicate the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), through which many government workers and Members of Congress get coverage, as well expand MediCare (and possibly MediCaid) to people as young as 55. He also notes several problems with this proposal:

A few reasons to believe this is yet another truly bad idea:

1. In choosing the FEHBP for a model, Democrats have actually chosen an insurance plan whose costs are rising faster than average. FEHBP premiums are expected to rise 7.9 percent this year and 8.8 percent in 2010. By comparison, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that on average, premiums will increase by 5.5 to 6.2 percent annually over the next few years. In fact, FEHBP premiums are rising so fast that nearly 100,000 federal employees have opted out of the program.
2. FEHBP members are also finding their choices cut back. Next year, 32 insurance plans will either drop out of the program or reduce their participation. Some 61,000 workers will lose their current coverage.
3. But former OPM director Linda Springer doubts that the agency has the “capacity, the staff, or the mission,” to be able to manage the new program. Taking on management of the new program could overburden OPM. “Ultimate, it would break the system.”
4. Medicare is currently $50-100 trillion in debt, depending on which accounting measure you use. Allowing younger workers to join the program is the equivalent of crowding a few more passengers onto the Titanic.
5. At the same time, Medicare under reimburses physicians, especially in rural areas. Expanding Medicare enrollment will both threaten the continued viability of rural hospitals and other providers, and also result in increased cost-shifting, driving up premiums for private insurance.
6. Medicaid is equally a budget-buster. The program now costs more than $330 billion per year, a cost that grew at a rate of roughly 10.7 percent annually. The program spends money by the bushel, yet under-reimburses providers even worse than Medicare.
7. Ultimately this so-called compromise would expand government health care programs and further squeeze private insurance, resulting in increased costs, result in higher insurance premiums, and provide a lower-quality of care.

Let’s be clear. The point of the health-care takeover was never to control costs, but to control the market. Obama and the Democrats are certain that they can transfer the money involved in every health care transaction from the provider/insurer side of the equation to the recipient side. In other words, they simply want to rearrange the entire transaction in a way that seems “fair” to the favored constituency. As long is doesn’t cost those people any more (for awhile at least) then actual costs don’t really matter.

That’s why they draft loss ratio provisions mandating insurers to pay out 85% of the premiums received in benefit claims (i.e. the companies can only “make” 15% over top of premium revenues, which percentage Congress assumes is mostly profit, and not going to overhead costs; most states set the loss ratio somewhere between 65% and 75%). And that’s also why Reid and his band of merry cohorts see fit to hitch the health care wagon to programs that are already money-losing. Accordingly, when the primary goal is simply control, actual costs become irrelevant except when making the sales pitch to a public weary of profligate government spending. Mix in some budget gimmicks (like starting the tax 3 or 4 years before actually beginning the program), and voila! You have a health care bill.

No matter what comes out of the Congress for Obama to sign, you can rest assured that it will (a) cost American taxpayers way more than is promised, and (b) further cede control over the market place to the government.

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Libertarian and Liberal Thanksgivings

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Usually I try to keep this day as a non-partisan, non-political day in which I wish everyone of every ideological persuasion the blessings of the day (and I still do!). But as it happens, the day provided me with one of the best examples of the differences between libertarians and liberals I’ve seen in a while. Two separate postings concerning Thanksgiving. One from a liberal blogger, Ezra Klein, and one from a blogger who is a visitor at the American Enterprise Institute (Mark Perry).

Klein reprints a food section column (one assumes he does so approvingly) all about controlling behavior:

I asked Ariely how he would set up his Thanksgiving feast to limit overeating without having to exercise self-control. His answer was to construct the “architecture” of the meal beforehand. Create conditions that guide people toward good choices, or even use their irrationality to your benefit.

“Move to chopsticks!” he exclaimed, making bites smaller and harder to take. If the chopsticks are a bit extreme, smaller plates and utensils might work the same way. Study after study shows that people eat more when they have more in front of them. It’s one of our predictable irrationalities: We judge portions by how much is left rather than how full we feel. Smaller portions lead us to eat less, even if we can refill the plate.

There it is in a nutshell – the liberal propensity toward trying to control the behavior of others. The writer decides it is his or her job to make it more difficult for you to “overeat”. Instead of just deciding to put on a great feast in keeping with the day and butt out of the affairs of others, the writer approvingly decides it is incumbent upon the server to construct an “architecture” to control the eating of others. Really – “move to chopsticks”! Or put the mashed potatoes in the kitchen!

Speaking of which, Ariely suggests placing the food “far away.” In this case, serve from the kitchen rather than the table. If people have to get up to add another scoop of mashed potatoes, they’re less likely to take their fifth serving than if they simply have to reach in front of them.

Some people can just suck the joy out of an occasion, I swear. But this seems perfectly in keeping with my observations of the more liberal among us.

On the other hand, Mark Perry decided on focusing on a completely different thing for the day – a celebration of a miracle that occurs daily all over the world that is rarely acknowledged. Thanksgiving provides the perfect day to note it:

Like in previous years, you probably didn’t call your local supermarket ahead of time and order your Thanksgiving turkey this year. Why not? Because you automatically assumed that a turkey would be there when you showed up, and it probably was there when you showed up “unannounced” at the grocery store to select your bird.

The reason your Thanksgiving turkey was waiting for you without an advance order? Because of “spontaneous order,” “self-interest,” and the “invisible hand” of the free market – “the mysterious power that leads innumerable people, each working for his own gain, to promote ends that benefit many.” And even if your turkey appeared in your local grocery stores only because of the “selfishness” or “corporate greed” of thousands of turkey farmers, truckers, and supermarket owners who are complete strangers to you and your family, it’s still part of the miracle of the marketplace where “individually selfish decisions lead to collectively efficient outcomes.”

Thanksgiving is epitomized by the process Perry describes. Our holiday is indeed as much a miracle of the market as anything. It enables everyone who wants too to have what they need or desire for that day – and every day. It is truly something to celebrate.

Free markets. Free people.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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Will Balloon Boy Be The New Schiavo?

Call it a hunch .., because, well, it is … but I have this sneaky suspicion that the balloon boy and his family will turn into the new Schiavo case for the GOP. None of us know what actually happened, and anybody with an ounce of human dignity can only be happy that the child was not actually an errant passenger in that derelict dirigible. All the skepticism seems to hinge upon an offhand comment from a six-year-old, whom I know from experience are less than reliable sources of information (“What did you do in school today, son?” “Nothing.” “Did you play with any of your friends?” “I don’t remember.”). Yet, the way this story is being pressed, I fully expect that some Republican upstart is going to seize the opportunity to turn the attention on him or herself, turning what should be a passing tale of tragedy averted into a crusade for (yet more) state control over the task of parenting.

I truly hope that I’m wrong. That cooler heads will prevail. That, if indeed the parents set this whole thing up as a publicity stunt, the local authorities will handle it sternly, yet quietly. “We” don’t need to be involved, and even more importantly, there is no reason at all that Congress should be sticking it’s nose into the situation.

But I can’t help but think, given how the GOP so successfully delegitimized itself in the now-infamous Terry Schiavo case, somehow or another they will find a way to do so here. The perceived moral high ground will be too tempting, once again, and the party that used to believe in limited government (at least, during the Reagan years) will find a way to insert itself into a place that no limited-government advocate would ever want to be. When all we should be thinking is, “thank God that kid is safe.”

With the current challenges to the entrenched Republican power, I can understand why taking up the banner for poor Falcon’s safety will seem so irresistible. After all, establishment candidates are having a difficult time with the conservative base, and anyone whose been paying attention knows that the boiling Tea Partiers are not particularly keen to just toss out Democrats in the next election. Republicans who continue to support the profligate ways of Washington are just as vulnerable.

All the more reason then to show how the Grand Old Party cares more about life and death than those dirty Democrats, just a they did with Schiavo, by meddling in the affairs of a local issue that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for the rest of the country. Hey, those votes aren’t going to buy themselves!

This is one of those times that I really hope I’m wrong, and that reasonable minds prevail. But politics being what it is, I think there is a very real chance that some idiot Republican is going to start a movement in Congress to save the Falcons of the world. Because Lord knows that when there’s a problem to be solved, only the federal government can provide the necessary answers.

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It’s Always The “Conservatives” … (Update)

It couldn’t possibly be independents and libertarians objecting as well could it?

School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address Tuesday – forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation’s classrooms.

The White House says Obama’s address is a sort of pep talk for the nation’s schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to “indoctrinate” students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.

“The gist is, ‘I want to see what the president has to say before you expose it to my child.’ Another said, ‘This is Marxist propaganda.’ They are very hostile,” said Patricia O’Neill, a Democrat who is vice president of the Montgomery County School Board, in a district that borders Washington, D.C. “I think it’s disturbing that people don’t want to hear the president, but we live in a diverse society.”

The White House moved Thursday to quell the controversy. First it revised an Education Department lesson plan that drew the ire of conservatives because it called for students to write letters about how they can help the president.

One more time for the slow and stupid, i.e. the media – this is about a president presuming to speak directly to our children without our permission. It’s not so much about the message, it’s the presumption. To me that’s a presumption which he has no right to make. If he wants to speak to the nation on national TV I, as an adult, have the ability to choose whether or not to watch him or instead a Braves’ game. If he wants to talk about education and address children, I’ll put mine in front of the TV if I think what he’ll have to say is useful and necessary. That’s a parent’s job and a politician – any politician – presuming he is above such parental control or choice is just flat wrong.

As this was originally planned, although it appears some school districts are now going to provide an alternate activity for those who object, this was to be a captive audience forced to watch the message. Many parents, not just conservative parents, understand the ability for something like this to be abused. Again, it’s not so much about the message as it is about the precedent.

Lastly, many of the objections haven’t been focused on the speech but the fact that this is an organized event with a lesson plan that, until the outcry, had some portions where were obviously political. And that’s the opinion of more than just conservatives (the White House dropped some of those more obvious portions from the lesson plan).

So to boil it down so even the media can figure it out – it isn’t just conservatives objecting to this. More importantly, it’s about the 3 “p’s” – presumption, precedent and politics.

Oh, and concerning the tu quoque?

Obama isn’t the first president to be criticized this way. O’Neill recalled President George H. W. Bush made televised address to students in October 1991 as campaign season was heating up. A handful of Democrats denounced Bush’s address as pure politics. Bush asked students to “take control” of their education and to write him a letter about ways students could help him achieve his goals, strikingly similar to Obama’s messages.

Yeah, that was wrong as well. Okay? This president as with any president has more than enough to do without presuming he’s welcome to become the national daddy. Why don’t we refrain from centralizing that too and concentrate on taking over another car company or something instead?

UPDATE: Speaking of outrage (and disengenuousness) – I have to ask, given this bit of outrage from the left (and speaking of tu quoque), would this line of reasoning have survived an attempt by George W. Bush to do the same thing?

More broadly, Obama is the leader of this entire nation. It doesn’t matter if you voted for him–or even if your head threatens to explode every time you think about him. He is the president, and, as such, it’s a big deal that he’s speaking directly to students about the importance of education.

Just sayin’…


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Hey Children, What’s That Sound …

Nope, not another post about the kiddie speech. Instead the title is from an old protest song from the ’60s (by Buffalo Springfield I believe). The sound is the sound of real, honest to goodness change being driven by government excess – not the veneer of change pushed by a certain candidate in the last election.

Daniel Henninger writes about it today in the WSJ. He sees it happening everywhere (he uses Japan as an example) and he believes it all pretty much boils down to this:

No matter the ideological cast of these governments, they all hold in common one policy: the inexorable upward march of national indebtedness. It has arrived at the edge of the cliff.

It is the point the liberal left in this country still doesn’t understand. The looters have finally been noticed by looted and the looted aren’t at all happy.

That’s it. That’s the problem. And that’s why there’s so much unrest.

As measured by the OECD, the growth in gross debt as a percentage of GDP since the dawn of the new century is stunning. The data isn’t exactly comparable across individual countries, but the trend line is unmistakable.

In the U.S., debt as a percentage of GDP rose to 87% in 2009 from 55% in 2000. In the U.K., to 75% from 45%; Germany, to 78% from 60%; France, 86% from 66%. There are exceptions to this trend, such as Canada, New Zealand and notably Australia, whose debt has fallen to 16% of GDP from 25%. But for all the countries in the OECD’s basket the claim of indebtedness on GDP grew to 92% from 69% the past nine years.

In short, the lumpen electorate works, and the lumpen bureaucratariat spends. They get away with it because they have perfected the illusion that no human hand causes these commitments. The payroll tax just happens. Entitlements are “off-budget,” presumably in the hands of God. This is government without the responsibility of governance.

Unable to identify who or what has put them in hock to the horizon, national electorates are attempting accountability by voting whole parties out of power.

That, among other reasons, is why the Republicans are out of power. And, if the Democrats continue down the path they’ve charted, is why the Republicans may find themselves back it power. And it wouldn’t at all surprise me, given the gawd-awful track record of the Republicans, that they too will misinterpret their reinstatement and be gone again in 2 years.

It is about the size, cost and intrusiveness of government, stupid!

The “lumpen electorate” has finally had enough. They want to keep what they earn. They want less government. But that’s an anathema to politicians who have built whole lives and careers on providing more government. It’s like an addiction – they can’t stop what they’re doing or how they’re doing it.

And, unfortunately, even though the masses seem unhappy with the size and cost of government, they too are addicted to a certain level of government. They too have an addiction to break.

The question, of course, as far as libertarians are concerned, is how these two addictions can be addressed and overcome so that government’s size and cost can be scaled back to a proper and legitimate size? And where are the leaders to do this?

Until they emerge – and there is nothing to say they will – this cycle of unrest which sees the swapping out of political parties will continue. But you have to believe that at some point, the disenchantment with the current political regime (and both parties make up that regime) will come to a flash point. What that flash point will entail – the range of possibilities is vast – is anyone’s guess.

When it is reached, politics and government as we know it now, will change forever. I cautiously believe we’re moving in that direction. When and where are anyone’s to guess, but I’m beginning to believe we’ve moved beyond “if” and have a “when” in our future. Or at least I hope so – because it seems obvious that we need some very drastic changes in direction.

What we’ve got to work toward is a change that emphasizes freedom and enhances liberty. And that isn’t by any means the only possibility such change would bring.

The old Chinese curse seems to be in full bloom right now – “May you live in interesting times”. I can’t think of times, during my life, that have been any more interesting.


Krugman, Obama and “Progressive Revolt”

Michael Barone recently wrote an article in which he pointed out, “there are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals”.

Let that soak in for a minute and then consider today’s Paul Krugman article in which he seems a bit surprised by the Obama administration’s surprise that liberals are furious with him about the goings on in the health care debate.

Says Krugman:

A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.

This is where “progressives” always go off the track. It is a large dose of hubris which allows them to convince themselves they’re a bigger group than they are, they’re a more influential group than they are and they have played a bigger role than they have.

While Krugman’s point about primary victories has some substance (activists turn out in primaries), in the general election, compared to George Bush and the economy’s one-two combo, they were a non-factor.

Rasmussen took a look at how Americans view themselves in terms of liberal, conservative and moderate. He found that those who consider themselves liberal range from 12% to 30% depending on the issue. On social issues 30% had a more liberal view, which could be the inclusion of libertarians – who normally share the progressive principles on social issues – boosting that number.

But when it came to the the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business, only 12% claim to be liberals – libertarians would and do not share liberal principles in that regard. And it is within that realm that the health care reform (and the cap-and-trade) debate is taking place.

The 12% are the hard-core “progressives” who, as I stated, think they’re a much larger group than they really are. And it is the political desires of this 12% – reflected in a Congressional leadership which is proportionately completely out of synch with the rest of the country – that is being resisted by the rest country that does not share its principles or ideals.

So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.

And they’re shocked and surprised by this? Two points. One, Obama knows progressives have nowhere else to go. So in a hunt for support for this legislation, where should he make his appeal? Well not with those who have nowhere else to go. He’s going to fashion his appeal to attract those who do have an option. Politics 101 for heaven sake.

Two – they elected an entirely political creature who “punked” them from the very beginning of his candidacy. The right has neither been shocked or surprised by anything Barack Obama has done since his inauguration, although they have certainly enjoyed pointing out how Mr. Hope and Change is the consummate old-style Chicago pol. It is fun to watch the so-called “reality based” community begin to figure out they’ve bought into a fantasy. In actuality, they “punked” themselves.

Krugman concludes:

So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.

Really? Does he? See points one and two above. Winning their trust back, given the reality of the situation would most likely guarantee him a one-term presidency and Congressional Democrats an electoral shellacking in 2010. That is if he did what was necessary to actually win back their trust.

Face it, progressives – you’ve played your part, you’ve served your purpose and, in the big scheme of things, you’re a 12% constituency with no other place to go. This is big-boy politics and Obama knows he has to move away from much of what you demand to get this passed. And at this point, he’ll take just about anything that can be called health care or health insurance or whatever it’s called today. Or said more simply – the reality is politicians focus on gaining and maintaining power and they will throw anyone under the bus to do that if the situation requires it.

So lay down and take your medicine – Greyhound is ready when you are.


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