Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

About That Dependency On Foreign Oil – Get Used To It

The double-talking Obama administration, who lectured us about the need to wean ourselves from our dependency on foreign oil, has, through actions taken by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, made the goal of less dependency less likely.

Salazar, yesterday, announced a new level of bureaucratic requirements sure to slow and provide disincentives to increases in domestic oil and gas exploration.  In the first year of the Obama administration’s tenure, Salazar had already slowed such exploration to a walk  As the Institute for Energy Research (IER) reports:

* Under the first year of the Obama administration’s 2009 oil and gas leasing program, fewer onshore and offshore acres have been leased than in any previous year on record.

* The Interior Department collected less than one-tenth the revenue from oil and gas lease sales in 2009 than it did in 2008

* For the year 2008, lease sale revenues produced a return for the taxpayer of $942 per acre leased. In 2009, taxpayers received about $254 in return for each acre leased under the Obama administration – indicative of the quality of leasable land made available under Sec. Salazar

* More than 97 percent of the 2.46 billion acres of taxpayer-owned lands in the public domain are presently not leased for oil and gas exploration

In a time of economic hardship where federal revenues are way down and deficit spending runs rampant, it is almost criminal to do what Salazar has done. As the Industrial Energy Consumers of America points out:

“At a time when we should be working to enhance our energy supplies here at home, we believe it would be a mistake to pursue policies that would make it more expensive or difficult to access critical natural-gas resources …”

But that is precisely what Secretary Salazar intends to do. IER president Thomas J. Pyle released the following, which pretty much calls the administration out on their absurd policies concerning domestic exploration for oil and gas.  Frankly, I think it is an understatement:

“When it comes to paving the way for the responsible development of homegrown, job-creating energy resources, no administration in history has done more to ensure producers do less.”

The Bureau of Land Management released the following:

Under the reformed oil and gas leasing policy, BLM will provide:

* Comprehensive interdisciplinary reviews that take into account site-specific considerations for individual lease sales. Resource Management Plans will continue to provide programmatic-level guidance, but individual parcels nominated for leasing will undergo increased internal and external coordination, public participation, interdisciplinary review of available information, confirmation of Resource Management Plan conformance as well as site visits to parcels when necessary;

* Greater public involvement in developing Master Leasing and Development Plans for areas where intensive new oil and gas extraction is anticipated so that other important natural resource values can be fully considered prior to making an irreversible commitment to develop an area;

* Leadership in identifying areas where new oil and gas leasing will occur. The bureau will continue to accept industry expressions of interest regarding where to offer leases, but will emphasize leasing in already-developed areas and will plan carefully for leasing and development in new areas.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said the increased opportunity for public participation and a more thorough environmental review process and documentation can help reduce the number of protests filed as well as enhance BLM’s ability to resolve protests prior to lease sales.

Of course, anyone who has been around for more than a day or two has seen this sort of wording before and know how to read between the lines. For instance, note the last sentence. “Increased … public participation” means environmental groups opposing such leases will be given much more access to the process. “A more thorough environmental review process” means leases will essentially be held hostage to a review process which could last years. Finally, the “ability to resolve protests prior to lease sales” means the priority will be to make the protesters happy, not those seeking a lease.

The effect, of course, will be less exploration, less production, fewer jobs and more dependency on foreign oil. Given the economic climate today and the country’s energy needs,  that’s inexcusable.

As Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute warns:

About 9.2 million Americans rely on the oil and gas industry for their jobs. By imposing these unnecessary additional hurdles, American jobs will be threatened along with the economic opportunities afforded by oil and gas development.

So, instead of safely and swiftly exploiting domestic resources (and creating jobs and increasing revenue) it appears the plan is to sit on an estimated 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore, as much as 35 billion barrels of oil in Alaska and the Chukchi Sea, and a massive 2.2 trillion barrels of energy in oil shale deposits in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado while Salazar plays politics with our energy future.

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Bad Tradecraft Kills

I’m troubled by the unfortunate killing of 7 members of the CIA in Khost province, Afghanistan.  How in the world did a suicide bomber manage to get to that many CIA employees in a remote FOB?

Well it appears it was mostly a matter of bad tradecraft – a breakdown in procedures designed to ensure situations like that don’t develop.

First, this was an asset that the CIA had been using to get next to al Qaeda number two Zawahiri. He’d been to the FOB before and, apparently, was promising some information that enticed a number of CIA members to the FOB. That was a major mistake:

Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, “It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn’t have 13 people there.”

“Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision,” said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. “This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown.”

Why they felt it was necessary to flaunt security and tradecraft conventions remains a mystery, but frankly, that bit of stupidity didn’t have to be fatal. This bit of stupidity, however, almost ensured it:

Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News.

So this combination of flaunting the rules of their tradecraft and security procedures cost them 7 CIA employees and 3 or 4 others associated with them.

In the line of business these people are engaged, complacency kills. Short cuts kill. There’s a reason for the existence of certain procedures, however time consuming and onerous they  may seem. The fact that their tradecraft was so blatantly and obviously disregarded is disturbing. And, as you might imagine, the consequences, while devastating, aren’t unexpected.

When you’re dealing in life and death situations where anything is possible, you cannot assume anything. Your “asset” could be just what this guy was – a double agent. The poor assumptions made to put this guy in front of 13 CIA employees are mind boggling. And they make you wonder, given the situation, how well trained these people were in the tradecraft which should have prevented this from occurring, or at least minimized its effect.

Regardless, what you now have to hope is a new emphasis will be made on the tradecraft that should have prevented this situation from developing. But these deaths and why they occurred do not at all reflect well on the CIA – an organization which is supposed to be our finest and most proficient asset for gathering foreign intelligence.

~McQ

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Why Are We Closing Guantanamo?

It remains a mystery, to me at least, why closing Gitmo is such a priority to this president.  In fact, it seems like it is the only campaign promise he actually plans on keeping, although to this point he’s been spectacularly unsuccessful.

But seriously, other than location, what does closing Gitmo and moving these “detainees” to a prison in Illinois accomplish?  Does Obama and the left actually believe that doing so will kill jihadi propaganda about the prison in Cuba which they claim is used as a recruiting tool?

“Make no mistake,” he said. “We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.”

Realistically, all the jihadis will do is change the name to the new prison and it will be recruiting propaganda as usual.  Do you think they really care where their fellow terrorists are held?  Of course not – the propaganda value isn’t in the place, its in the fact that they’re “suffering under the power of the infidel”.  Whether that “suffering” takes place in Cuba or Illinois is absolutely irrelevant to them.

And the Obama administration can run the best prison in the world, but the propaganda they seem so worried about will still characterize it as a infidel hell hole and torture chamber.  The depth of naivete necessary to believe that closing Gitmo will solve some sort of perception problem throughout the world and hurt jihadi recruiting is rather disturbing when you consider who it is that supposedly believes it.  In fact, the only thing I see this closure of Gitmo bringing is the expenditure of more money we don’t have for no apparent gain – not that government isn’t quite good at that anyway.

Today we learn that 20% of those poor goat herders who were innocently swept up in Iraq and Afghanistan have engaged in terrorist activities after their release. And we’ve supposedly kept the really bad one’s. Wasn’t the fact that they were terrorists the reason we stuck them in Gitmo to begin with?  So, if we now stick them in Thompson Correctional Center and keep them “indefinitely” without trial if it determined that is necessary (as promised by President Obama) how does TCC become any different in the eyes of jihadi’s (or, for that matter, the rest of the world) than Gitmo?

The short and simple answer is, it doesn’t.  All of that is a smoke screen. In fact what the move does accomplish is to transfer the terrorists from military control and custody to civilian control and custody and, by the way, into the US legal system – the real reason, I believe, behind the desire to close the Cuban facility.

~McQ

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And The Answer To Obesity In America? More Government Regulation, Of Course

You see, you can’t help it – becoming obese I mean.  You just don’t understand enough about it all and besides our life styles have changed quite dramatically in such a way that you just can’t help puffing up.  And to top it all off,  you won’t change your eating habits and you won’t exercise, so what’s a government to do?

Why “stringently regulate” the food industry, per the “experts”, of course.

The point to this depressing analysis, the authors say, is to clarify that modern lifestyles contribute significantly to obesity and that it will be nearly impossible to reverse obesity trends on a grand scale without major societal changes.

“[S]mall changes in lifestyle would have a minor effect on obesity prevention,” they write. But the huge energy imbalance most Americans experience is “far beyond the ability of most individuals to address on a personal level.” Instead, they say, changes in the food supply and social infrastructure and more stringent regulations of the food industry will be needed.

Katan elaborated in an e-mail: “Studies show that even the most motivated, thoughtful, strong-willed people have a hard time losing weight when huge portions of cheap, tasty, convenient food are available at every turn of the road, and when walking and other forms of exercise are superfluous or impossible.”

“Cheap, tasty, convenient food” that’s readily available?!” What is this world coming too? How dare the food industry create food we want!?

But since Martijn B. Katan of the University of Amsterdam, and Dr. David S. Ludwig of Children’s Hospital, Boston have decided there isn’t much we’re able to do about it our selves (poor little helpless proles) and since we’re about to turn our health care over to government anyway, what the hell – let them decide what’s good for us, okay?

And we’ll all get nifty buttons to wear saying “WON” for “Whip Obesity Now!”. Can daily pep talks on a huge screen from our Big Brother in the White House be far behind?

[HT: Meg]

~McQ

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Liberals, Green Energy, Environmentalists and Petards

The New York Times carries a story today that is chock full of irony and hypocrisy and frankly, pretty darn funny.

Seems the Cape Wind Project – you know the “green energy project” proposed for the waters off the liberal enclaves of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard – has run into even more resistance. This time it’s “spiritual”.

Indian tribes, who said the 130 proposed wind turbines would thwart their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise, which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and disturb ancestral burial grounds.

The tribes — the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod and the Aquinnah Wampanoag of Martha’s Vineyard — sought the listing last fall, shortly before a final federal decision on the project was expected. The project has been in the works since 2001 and is strongly supported by Gov. Deval Patrick.

Of course, for the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod, the area that the wind turbines would be is south of them. So it seems rather doubtful that it would thwart their requirement for an “unobstructed view” across the sound – and frankly that sounds pretty fishy to me to begin with. I can just see an ancient dictum handed down through the generations which ends with “… and the view must be unobstructed”, can’t you?

Of course that caveat would probably apply more readily to the Aquinnah Wampanoag of Martha’s Vineyard, where the 24 miles of wind turbines might obstruct their view – if the sun has begun rising in the northeast now. Hey with global warming, I guess anything is possible. But if the Wampanoag look due east, where most of us expect the sun to rise, no problem according the map accompanying the article.

But, of course, now that these folks have been enlisted to raise objections, it’s just not the liberal NIMBY types protesting this. We’re into real, honest to goodness desecration, by gosh. And the fact that the Aquinnah Wampanoag’s land is on the west side of Martha’s Vineyard is just not relevant to any of this. We have Native Americans complaining for heaven sake!

And, they’ve revealed, those are their ancient sacred grounds that the evil corporation wants to build their turbines on (wow, how convenient, no?). Yeah, they’re underwater and have been for hundreds and hundreds of years, but they’re pretty sure that’s where they were before the waters rose (ancient global warming brought on by burning excessive buffalo chips) and the grounds should be left undisturbed.

The result?

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar set a deadline of March 1 for the tribes and the project’s developer, Energy Management Inc., to reach a compromise.

If they do not — a distinct possibility given the acrimony surrounding the project — Mr. Salazar can decide the project’s future himself after seeking suggestions from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent group. But even if Mr. Salazar lets the project move forward, the park service finding could help the tribes and opponents build a legal case against it.

So let’s review – if you polled the liberal enclaves of Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, you’d most likely find overwhelming support for “green, renewable energy” and a desire to see that sort of energy source developed and deployed post haste. Well, except in their back yard. Because aesthetics are much more important than renewable energy and they’ve paid a lot of money for the views they enjoy. They still want that “green renewable energy”, but they’d prefer it be stuck in places like Texas and off the coast of South Carolina where people have the aesthetics of (sniff) NASCAR fans.

Yup, every time I hear about the liberal commitment to “green renewable energy” I’m drawn back to this controversy. And it recalibrates my thoughts about their real commitment, or, actually, apparent lack thereof. Obviously what is good enough to be plopped in front of your view of the sunrise is not something they’ll tolerate, whether green and renewable or not.

~McQ

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“Tom Delay” Democrats

The Wall Street Journal as tagged the present majority Democrat Congress “Tom Delay Democrats” as they have now, plainly, become everything they complained about when Delay was running the show and more. And at least some of them (Pelosi excepted for being terminally clueless and claiming the present system of passing health care reform is the “most transparent” in history) are hitting the exits knowing their day is done.

First Senator Byron Dorgan announces his retirement and now Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-CT, is expected to announce his. As Rich Lowery says, while it is good news, it probably saves Connecticut for the Democrats. But you never know. Maybe Dodd’s next stop is “Dancing With The Stars”.

But back to the Democrats in general. This monstrosity of a health care bill has shown them for the hypocrites they are:

Evading conference has become standard operating procedure in this Congress, though you might think they’d allow for the more open and thoughtful process on what Mr. Obama has called “the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930s and the most important reform of our health-care system since Medicare passed in the 1960s.”

This black-ops mission ought to be a particular embarrassment for Mr. Obama, given that he campaigned on transparent government. At a January 2008 debate he said that a health-care overhaul would not be negotiated “behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-Span so the American people can see what the choices are.”

There are no “choices” for Americans in this bill. Plans for these “negotiations” are not at all based in transparency and they certainly won’t be bringing “all parties together”. In fact, precisely the opposite will be the case. Republicans will be purposely excluded (don’t want them “gumming” up the works, by gosh) as will progressive Democrats as I pointed out yesterday. In fact, a very select group of Democrats only will “negotiate” the compromise behind closed doors and without input from anyone outside their chosen circle.

And they certainly don’t plan on doing this in the sunlight and in front of the American people via C-Span – so Brian Lamb ought to just shut up and quit asking. The darkness is where legislative cockroaches work best, and they like it for a reason:

Democrats know that a conference forces the majority party to cast votes on awkward motions and would give the Republicans who have been shut out for months a chance to participate. This sunlight, and the resulting public attention, might scare off wavering Democrats and defeat the bill. Ethics rules the Democrats passed in 2007 also make it harder to “airdrop” into conference reports the extra bribes they will no doubt add to grease the way for final passage.

Now that the inconvenient charade of getting CBO to score the previous bills and get them below the threshold necessary to pass them (even though the projections are based on data manipulated to score well in the statutory 10 year window in which the CBO must work), they are free even from that constraint. Once they cobble together their final bill “informally” in the dark, they can rush it through both the House and Senate for final passage and on to the desk of the president for signature. No telling, at that point, how much it will really cost .

Democrats howled at the strong-arm tactics Mr. DeLay used to pass Medicare drug coverage in 2003, and so did we. But they’ve managed to create an even more destructive bill, and their tactics are that much worse. We can’t even begin to imagine the uproar if the Republicans had tried to privatize Social Security with such contempt for the democratic process and public opinion.

Yes we can imagine the uproar. But as the WSJ points out – this is nothing new, just worse. Both sides play these destructive and ridiculous games when they’re in power. They make a mockery of the process, destroy the legitimacy of their institution, alienate the people and then wonder why there’s so much anger out there in flyover land.

Surely they can’t be that clueless, can they?

UPDATE: WordPress is giving me fits this morning, so please excuse all the workaround attempts I’m having to take to post

~McQ

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Why People Continue To Be Angry About The Crotch Bomber

In recent testimony before Congress, Timothy Healy, the head of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, explained the unit’s “reasonable suspicion” standard in answer to a question from a member of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee:

“Reasonable suspicion requires ‘articulable’ facts which, taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant a determination that an individual is known or suspected to be or has been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to, terrorism and terrorist activities, and is based on the totality of the circumstances. Mere guesses or inarticulate ‘hunches’ are not enough to constitute reasonable suspicion.”

Uh, ok … in that swarm of legalese, I see “engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to, terrorism and terrorist activities…”. Got it.

So you’d need come “articulable facts” which could “reasonably warrant a determination” that the guy  may be a terrorist based on his behavior. And one assumes his behavior would have to catch the attention of the authorities, correct?.

Well let’s see.

  1. His dad, a former minister in Nigeria, informed the US embassy there that his son had been radicalized (the dad obviously had a reason for concern).
  2. US intelligence had been following him for a while, dubbing him “the Nigerian” (one assumes there was a reason).
  3. He was on a watch list (one assumes there was a reason).
  4. He had been banned from Britain (yup, one assumes there was a reason).
  5. The British intelligence service had identified him to our intelligence agencies in 2008 as a potential threat (sigh, uh, yeah, reason).
  6. He’d just visited Yemen, an al Qaeda hotbed (given the first 5, one can reasonably guess at the reason).
  7. He bought a one-way ticket to the United States in Africa through Europe (red flag 1).
  8. He paid cash (red flag 2).
  9. He checked no luggage (red flag 3).
  10. Just wow.

OK, forget 10, but are those or are those not “articulable facts” which should have “reasonably warranted a determination” that this guy fit the profile of someone who is usually up too no good? No?

Well, let’s review – Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, bought a one-way ticket to the US, using cash and checked no luggage. 8 years ago. So, as Jon Stewart ask recently on the Daily Report, what other than the location of the explosives changed in those 8 years?

Nada.  Our lack of security sure hasn’t changed, has it, when the same MO used 8 years before succeeds again.  All that changed after Reid was we had to take our shoes off for screening.  Is our underwear next?

Not one, but two systems broke down in this little debacle. The intelligence system which apparently still keeps its dots separate from each other (or simply doesn’t find them compelling enough to check out) and makes watch lists it doesn’t watch (it’s called complacency and incompetence, folks). It certainly was all there wasn’t it? Or at least a bunch of “articulable facts” that should have “reasonably warranted a determination” that this guy might be a bad guy worth tracking, no?

And the second system which failed was the airline security system which should have picked up on the fact that they had a guy traveling out of Nigeria on a one-way ticket paid for in cash and with no checked luggage. This is an automated system which shares info, no?

I mean how hard is it to design software to constantly peruse passenger info and when it gets a 3 category hit like that, alert someone? Sound a siren. Pop out in little red flags. Something. But apparently must be very hard to do, because the same problem exists now as when Richard Reid tried it lo those many years ago. This most recent bomber should never have made it out of Amsterdam. No, he should never have been allowed on the plane in Nigeria, given those three indicators alone, without a full body search.

So good job FBI – you’ve got your legalese down pat but couldn’t catch a crotch bomber if he wore a sign. And good work CIA and National Terrorism Center for connecting the dots and passing the info along. And good job airline security – nary a clue the guy was a possible threat even though information should have been available that would have draped him in red flags.  Heck, the ticket agent should have picked up on this.

If you’re wondering, then, why people are angry about this, it’s because after all the money and all the assurances that security was better than before, we have “Richard Reid Jr.” using precisely the same MO used 8 years before and almost pulling it off again. You might be able to shrug this off as luck and happenstance if this guy had some entirely new way of getting on the plane (credit card, round trip ticket, checked bag – I mean how hard is it, really?), but he didn’t. That’s the problem.  And that’s also why people are angry!

Meanwhile, the comedy we call “security” continues.

~McQ

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Michale Yon: Handcuffed In Seattle For Refusing To Divulge His Income

I had the pleasure, last Sunday, of participating in an interview with Michael Yon on PunditReview radio. Michael had finished up a year out of the country, covering both Afghanistan and Iraq as a citizen journalist. He was in Hong Kong when we did the interview (you can hear it here). You could tell how excited he was to be coming home to the US. My last words to him were, “welcome home, Michael”.

And how was he welcomed home? From his Facebook page:

Got arrested at the Seattle airport for refusing to say how much money I make. (The uniformed ones say I was not “arrested”, but they definitely handcuffed me.) Their videos and audios should show that I was polite, but simply refused questions that had nothing to do with national security. Port authority police eventually came — they were professionals — and rescued me from the border bullies.

His description of those who handcuffed him is appropriate and I applaud his resistance to their questions. He also put a little context around what happened to him in his next posting on Facebook, something which I find disturbing:

When they handcuffed me, I said that no country has ever treated me so badly. Not China. Not Vietnam. Not Afghanistan. Definitely not Singapore or India or Nepal or Germany, not Brunei, not Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Kuwait or Qatar or United Arab Emirates. No county has treated me with the disrespect can that can be expected from our border bullies.

Unfortunately, in the “home of the free and the land of the brave”, that’s not at all an uncommon tale. For the life of me, I can’t figure the “national security” angle on income. And I have to admit I’d have told whoever asked me that it was none of their business.

This is an example of the individual tyrannies that can establish themselves within nameless/faceless bureaucracies. I have no idea if that question is a standard one that our border agents are supposed to ask. If it is, it is an unwarranted invasion of privacy. But my guess is it isn’t. My guess, based simply on a hunch, is that this was some border agent playing his or her little game and not used to being refused. And when refused, didn’t have the good sense to back off and instead escalated the situation.

I hope Michael gets a good lawyer and goes after the individual and the agency for attempting to invade his privacy. National security is a serious business – but it appears, given the info we have, this had absolutely nothing to do with national security or any type of security.

Anyway, “Welcome home, Mike”.

~McQ

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Things I’d Like To See: The 28th Amendment

How do you suppose Congress would react to this?

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States  Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law that  applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to  the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies  to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States”.

The founders of this country went to great lengths to ban titles of nobility from existence in the US. They wanted no entitled “elite” on these shores, understanding first-hand what such an elite would and could do to the common man. And one of the signature problems of Europe’s elite (nobility) was the fact that they made rules for their subjects to which they were never required to adhere. Instead they exempted themselves and thereby lost touch with the effect their rules had on others.  The French Revolution, among others, demonstrated the pure folly of such a system.

But that’s essentially what Congress does every time it exempts itself from laws it requires the rest of America to follow. It is also one of the reasons for the huge and growing disconnect between government and the people. When you don’t have to live by the laws you pass, it’s is hard to sympathize or empathize with those who do.

The concept of “nobility” or elite doesn’t necessarily require noble titles to exist. Congress making laws it doesn’t have to live by is enough for most to label those doing so an elite class.

Now I’m not particularly interested in parsing the language of the proposed amendment – you get the gist of the idea.  Don’t you think, in the overall scheme of things, that requiring those who make the laws live by them would help reconnect them with the mainstream (and perhaps have them making fewer laws)? Wouldn’t doing so also give them practical experience concerning the effect of the laws they pass on the daily lives of ordinary people? Why shouldn’t they be in the Social Security system instead of a different (and much better) pension system? Why are they exempt from sexual harassment laws? If this health care system they’re contemplating is good enough for us, why not them?

My guess is most state legislatures would have no problem with passing such an amendment (given the mandates Congress routinely shoves down their throats).  And my guess is it wouldn’t require much at all to get a popular groundswell behind it as well.

Last – aren’t you somewhat amazed we even have to have this conversation or propose such an amendment to begin with?

~McQ

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