John Roberts’ Silver Lining Play

I did not like the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare’s constitutionality when it was made. To me, it was a strain to call funding for the program a tax and I would rather have seen the whole hare-brained idea die right then and there. In retrospect, I still hate the decision, but am reminded of a quote from the Judeo-Christian tradition: God works in mysterious ways.

The Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare, for short) is an abomination to anyone who still believes government can err. And err it has, in ways that even liberals are starting to admit are dangerous.

Big ideas, even if they are good ones, require wide majorities with solid convictions to work. Desegregation, emancipation, and WWII are good examples. Reasonable people may quarrel with aspects of each, but few would argue that any of the three were hammered through on a whim. Or that they were bad ideas to begin with.

Which brings us back to Obamacare, which was hammered like sausage through a pinhole. The fact that the “bill” was 2400 pages long gave some of us pause. The Democrats swinging the hammer were unfazed, thinking that…well, we’re not sure what they were thinking. Now they may be forced to think, since not even a Democrat can pretend that health care is not going down in flames. The good news is that everyone can see who started the fire.

Silver lining

First was the news that the plan will cause premiums to rise. Shocking, that. Then there was the news that the exchanges would not be ready–also incredible. Last, the IRS installed the honor system for eligibility. No worries there, huh? These are just three of the more notable “issues” with implementation. You can bet Kathleen Sebelius is keeping the lid on dozens more.

And John Roberts? Well, him we have to thank for letting a horrible idea blossom into a full flower while the nation watches. Had he ruled against its Constitutionality, we would now be wrangling over what “would” have happened and Democrats would be busy conjuring up another magic potion.

Ironically, the health care industry is responding in ways that will eventually grind the last wretched spark of life out of Obamacare. Some doctors are, for example, going off-grid. They publicize their prices and they don’t accept insurance. Radical idea, letting the market work. Like shoots of grass after a forest fire, individuals figure out ways to provide value to other people no matter what the odds. Go figure.

In some ways, this debacle is just one act in a three-ring circus. Not only do we know that Obamacare can’t work, we know that the President is willing to ignore the law by implementing what and when he pleases irrespective of what Congress intended. We know that the IRS, the outfit entrusted with enforcement, can’t see its way clear to administer tax justice. And last, we know that the government is willing to gather information on you and me for dubious and probably unconstitutional reasons.

Recently, the President called for smarter government, but more and more that seems to really mean a government that can do the wrong things more often and in a bigger way. Barack Obama simply cannot fathom the idea that government is the problem in the first place. Government has become too big for him, for anyone, to manage. And thus we have lost what is most precious about our Founders’ vision for the United States: that the power of government derives from the People. Not bureaucrats, not Presidents, not Congress, not the courts, but the People.

It is said that an addict never recovers until he/she hits bottom. So it may be with our nation and our misguided tolerance of government gone bad. An addict must be forced to confront the reality of drug abuse. He must see clearly what drugs have done to him and the ones he loves. He must look in the mirror and see himself as he really is, not what the drugs tell him he is. Then, lying in the cesspool of his own choices, he must choose to get better or die.

Unfortunately, we are like the drug addict in another way. Because of our choices, we must pay a heavy price to get clean and sober. The system has been so mutilated that it would take years for it to heal itself even if Obamacare and all other government interference in health care were to end today. We will suffer. Greatly.

There is no way to “fix” government-run health care because it cannot be fixed. It can be tinkered with, lied about, and mismanaged, but it cannot be made to do something that government simply cannot do–allot resources efficiently to a valued economic end. The heroes who step out on their own and trade directly with their patients will lay the groundwork for a revolution–if we allow it to occur.

Had John Roberts not forced the issue, the revolution might never have gotten started. Bad judicial rulings are not to be lauded or encouraged, but sometimes they have a silver lining. Let’s hope the sun is shining behind this one.

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Snowden Makes a Fool of the United States

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, let me say that I am fiercely ambivalent about the Snowden case. I recognize that national security requires that at least some secrets be kept from the general public. I also believe that government is motivated to keep more secrets than necessary using tactics that are indefensible. In the present case, I suspect the latter.

Whatever damage Snowden has done, if any, must be weighed against the good that results from his exposure of the US government’s unprecedented collection of data on its citizens. The real damage, though, has little to do with the anti-terror campaign that spawned this type of snooping, but rather with the exposure of the United States’ growing weakness and ineptitude.

Snowden appears to be making fools of all who are crying for his capture. Hong Kong declined to hold him, Ecuador may agree to asylum, and the Soviet Union may play a role in helping him. To say the US has egg on its face is an understatement. More like a whole hen-house.

Edward Snowden

When a genuine traitor is exposed, there is generally a small cadre of nut cases who support him/her. Revealing battle plans or nuclear weapon secrets to known enemies stirs little sympathy. Wackos in isolated mountain sites with rifles and an incoherent agenda fare little better. This case is different. Snowden is getting support from a wide swath of the American public, and the authorities do not know what to make of it or do with it.

Maybe liberals and libertarians can now finally have a BBQ together. Even regular folk are monumentally perturbed that the US government has seen fit to gather data on all its citizens, by force and in secret, with only the promise that they won’t actually listen in. Snowdens’ revealing this disturbing fact to the public has made friends of even the most antagonistic groups.

And all for the good, I say. One may argue that Snowden did wrong, but no one can legitimately argue that we don’t need this debate. We may one day be thankful that someone had the guts to break a bad law.

I personally doubt that this breach will do much damage to US security, though I could be proven wrong. The damage that has been done has little to do with data and a lot to do with trust. America has become pathetic and its leaders paranoid, and the world knows it. Bad enough that other countries stick their fingers in our eye. Much worse is the fact that government has squandered its legitimacy in the eyes of its own citizens. We no longer trust government to do even those things that almost everyone agrees it should be doing.

In order for people to trust a government, it is critical for them to know that their rights are being protected. In those cases where secrecy is required, it is paramount that they do not find out they were had. Were gathering mega-data revealed in the context of a government having consistently told us the truth, we probably would have cut it some slack. In the wake of Benghazi, the IRS, and the AP wiretapping scandals, no borderline case of governmental judgment can be anything but explosive.

The US is now learning something it has not had to think about since it was a fledgling country. The world is not afraid of it and worse, does not think it speaks for goodness, truth, and light. Where once we were a beacon of freedom and individualism, we are now a smoldering pile of interest groups competing for government goodies. People with their heads in the trough don’t see the wolf at their backs.

The economic and political realms cannot be separated. One cannot simultaneously expect the government to provide more and more while interfering in citizens’ lives less and less. The essence of the welfare state is to take from the productive and give to the unproductive. At some point, the very notion that this is morally wrong becomes dangerous. Supporters of big government have no choice but to silence critics using whatever means necessary.

We have entered a dangerous phase in the United States. We have a few years at best to stave off economic calamity. The voices of those of us who see the dark and bitter end of the welfare state coming will become more of a threat to its defenders. Lacking arguments, they will lie, cheat, steal, and threaten. When possible, they will do so in dark corners. When not, they will become more bold. And more foolish. And more dangerous.

A few years ago, Snowden could not have broken wind without the government finding him and bringing him back. Now he thumbs his nose at the authorities and gets away with it in broad daylight. They hate him not so much for what he has done as for how much he has embarrassed them. And this is what we have come to, really–we are now a nation that no one takes seriously.

The harm done is hard to repair. How can one respect puppets and pretenders who inhabit the halls of power? How can one bend to the rule of law when the law is written by self-interested power junkies? Why should anyone feel obligated to be a good citizen when being a good citizen just gets you taxed and spied upon?

Snowden has ripped the bandage off our festering wound–a culture wherein the ideals of liberty, self-responsibility, and courage are infected with servitude, finger-pointing, and cowardice. We may survive terrorists knowing about our data collection, but we won’t survive vices like those. Thank you, Edward Snowden, for showing us what we are.

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It Takes Two To Lie

Homer Simpson once explained to Marge, “It takes two to lie–one to lie and one to listen.” Apparently, this Administration is as dense and conniving as Homer.

Governments have every incentive to lie because their primary business is the extraction of power and wealth from those who create it. Some bludgeon their citizens into submission, such as Stalin. Some kill all the smart ones, such as the Khmer Rouge. And some tell their citizens that freedom’s price is spying on them ’round the clock.

Every reassurance from Obama that all is well sounds more and more like the falsely soothing voice of the movie psychotic who wants to grab the kitchen knife and do you in as soon as he gets a chance. The best he could do after a trio of scandals is say that if we can’t trust them (the government, presumably) “we have a problem.”

Chimp not listening

No, Mr. President, you have a problem. Let me see if I can explain it. We who love liberty wish nothing but peace and prosperity for ourselves and our neighbors. We harbor no ill-will toward those fellow humans who respect our freedom. We neither seek trouble nor turn away when it seeks us. We claim as our birthright the freedom to live, to create, and to trade as we see fit. We do not ask for liberty; we assert it. If you want it, you must take it from us.

We have waited patiently for the rest of the country to wake up. Now they are rubbing the sleep from their eyes. They see your lies and know your heart. The “progressives” who saw in you a savior now know you for your duplicity and your lack of honor. The poor and middle-class are coming to know that the promise of soaking the rich is really a decoy, a feint, a ruse. They know who the real target is–anyone who earns his keep–and they have figured out who pays the bills in the end–them.

Some citizens have taken to baaing like sheep when they should be roaring like lions. Some have elected the easy life over the honest life. Some have ignored politicians like you, hoping cynically that you would just go away. They are of little note. Your biggest worry should be the rest of us.

We will not need to take up arms to defeat you and your ilk. Our awakening will be your undoing. A person who asserts his/her liberty has already won. You may imprison the flesh, but the spirit has already flown. Lighting upon others, the same spirit that spawned a country of rebels will give birth to a new age of freedom.

Individualism is not just the character of this country, it is the foundation of the good life wherever human beings exist. No man or woman need answer to another for life–freedom is our birthright. No lie can take that away–unless we listen. If it takes two to lie, you are missing one, Mr. President. We are not listening.

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Verizon, Security, and Privacy

Watch this one, folks. Our government, if this report by The Guardian is accurate, is indiscriminately confiscating the phone records of all (yes, all) Verizon’s customers. Something tells me that Verizon is not the only carrier required to turn over their records. Call me paranoid.

The National Security Agency (NSA) was originally formed to conduct foreign intelligence. Under the Bush Administration, it began collecting domestic phone data, a fact not publicly known until 2006, when the practice erupted in controversy. Three things make this latest revelation more than just your regular bad news:

1) No one can pretend now that Barack Obama is even remotely a defender of civil liberties. If the Left wants to stay in bed with this pathetic excuse for a President, it’s going to catch something awful.

2) Verizon was not only required to comply by a secret court, but also prohibited from saying so per a gag order issued by the court. Even a Democratic Senator was reduced to hinting (after this news broke) that something was afoul. This is not your usual controversy–something particularly nasty is going on and we deserve to know what.

3) There is no longer any pretense that an individual must be under suspicion of a crime to justify this kind of intrusion. The data collection includes every single one of Verizon’s American customers, me included. And I ain’t happy that they now know about all the 900 numbers I call to hear underemployed females breathe heavily. I may be a pervert, but I am no national security threat.

Nixon enemies list

At one time, there was a small part of me that trusted our government to carry out secret projects that were in the nation’s security interests. I did not like it, but I could live with it. Now I find myself asking whether any national secret justifies the broad kinds of surveillance we are seeing today. What kind of danger to us all could justify this?

I am all for stopping terrorist plots, repelling foreign invaders, and catching criminals. Somehow, though, I think that we have imagined that any price is worth feeling safer. Amputation is a cure for poison ivy, but is it worth it? Searching every home would increase the number of criminals caught, but is it right? Amassing monstrous databases of citizens’ phone calls will probably turn up some nut cases ready to blow up a bridge, but does it rate this?

No, it does not. The power to spy must be limited, extremely limited, else it becomes justified as a tool to forward every agenda that can artfully be described as in the public interest. For this administration, that appears to include pretty much anything that does not fit smoothly into the liberal project of making government bigger and more intrusive. Those who resist are the “enemy” (Obama’s words) and we do a hell of a lot of things to enemies that we don’t do to people who merely disagree with us.

I have scores of liberal friends. I disagree with them, often energetically, but they are doing exactly what I do–advocating their points of view. Not a single one of them would qualify as an enemy unless they were to make me watch a Michael Moore film at gunpoint. I may get disgusted, I may get angry, I may even think there is a measure of evil in what they advocate, but their freedom to express their repugnant points of view is the same freedom that allows me to air opinions they find repugnant.

Of course I am right and of course the world would be better off if I were in charge. So says the arrogant, tyrannical part of me when I am in a foul, impatient mood. I tire of having to endure people whose heads are buried in the sand or inserted firmly elsewhere. Fortunately the rational part of me rules and I know that neither I nor anyone else is qualified to run the lives of others. So, while it would please me to no end to bypass the long, frustrating process of convincing others of my views, I know that there is no shortcut.

And this, really, is the heart of the matter. Barack Obama may not be responsible for every violation of civil liberties or every illegal use of government agencies to intimidate opponents, but his attitude and tone implicitly support a culture of arrogance and condescension toward political “enemies.” The fact that Barack Obama has even been mentioned in the same sentence as Richard Nixon is troubling. That a number of Democrats are quietly acknowledging that the comparison is apt should scare liberals witless.

Lord knows I hate to help the liberal cause in any way, shape, or form, but here’s some helpful advice: Get rid of this guy. Stop supporting him in any way on anything until he shows clear evidence of having learned what liberty is all about. If you choose to win with the methods Barack Obama implicitly endorses, the world is going to look very unfriendly when you are the “enemy.”

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Mars Rats and Tin-Foil Hats

I admit it. I am fascinated by idiots.

My twisted interest leads me to spend at least a little time each week watching shows like World’s Dumbest and Ghost Hunters. I don’t know…maybe it’s that I spend so much of my time trying to think clearly and teaching others to do the same. Enjoying stupidity vicariously gives me a temporary break from the discipline of logic.

Idiots come in classes, I have found. The first category, Plain-Vanilla Idiots, is the least interesting. These are the ones for whom the spark of inquiry landed on a wet wick. We all know one. Their most salient characteristic is low energy and mental lethargy. Like the guy who can go for months without reading a single word. Or who can watch a fishing cork for eight hours straight.

Then there’s the Inebriated Idiot. To me, that is kind of like cheating. Authentic idiots don’t need alcohol. These are the folks who do things drunk that they would never consider sober. For example, without even a minimum of gymnastics training, they try to do handstands on a keg. Back when I drank, my sober self was pretty level-headed. The drunk me on the other hand has: 1) stuck his head in a metal-bladed ceiling fan, intentionally, 2) enticed a blue crab to pinch his finger, 3) fallen face-forward onto the corner of a desk for no reason at all. All resulted in significant injuries but insufficient embarrassment to stop drinking at the time.

Idiot feeds crocodile

Stoned Idiots are a close relative of inebriated idiots, except their monologues are just interesting enough to keep listeners’ attention for a few seconds. Whereas the drunk shouts, “Whublfwumbubuh…,” the stoner collects his/her thoughts and says things like, “The universe is holographic, like because everything is included in everything…(pause)…whoa…and your mind is the only reality.” “Holographic” got you to listen; the rest reminded you that neither pot nor alcohol enhances intelligence.

Next is the Angry Idiot. Needing neither alcohol nor anything else to fuel his rage, the angry idiot is just plain mad at everything and everybody. Traffic brings out the best in angry idiots. It may take as little as an overly cautious driver ahead to set him off. “&%*&$# did you get your license at Sears? Jesus! Yellow means go, not wait for retirement!” Fortunately, most angry idiots die early in car accidents or get shot by people who have had enough.

The Conspiracy Idiot wants to tell you something only he knows, but that everyone else would know if they only listened to him. He/she uses the phrase “wake up” a lot, usually followed with “sheeple.” This breed of simpleton can explain everything with a single reference to a small band of Overlords, usually the Illuminati, who control everything from nuclear weapons to Presidential bowel movements. Lack of evidence is for them the strongest evidence–it shows just how clever our real rulers are.

The Star-Spangled Idiot muffles the sound of reason by wrapping thick layers of the American flag around his ears. His/her idea of America is strange by thinking peoples’ standards, mostly because it confuses freedom with doing what your “country” asks you to do. Do not try to explain to these folks that it is the values that are important, not the piece of ground on which they are practiced, unless you want to hear “Love it or leave it” used as a last retort.

Now my favorite–Mars Rat Idiots. These are the same folks who see the Virgin Mary in delivery pizza. Since finding signs of extraterrestrials and divine intervention in food items is passe, these imaginative idiots have taken to finding them in pictures from outer space. If you don’t know what a Mars Rat is, do a quick key word search. If you don’t think that rat is real (after all, it’s a photo!), you probably have a hole in your tinfoil hat.

Now, before we all get too self-satisfied, let’s each think about times when we could have been placed in one or more of these categories. Yeah, I know, me too. We all fall prey to shoddy thinking and irrational biases at times. The difference is whether that is your basic orientation to the world or an anomaly. One mistake doth not an idiot make, but a thousand just might.

The reason that we have such a wonderful country is that our Founders, while far from perfect, were dedicated to reason. The reason that we have so many terrific medical advances, communication devices, and luxuries is that most scientists and some businesspeople are dedicated to reason. The reason we have idiots is because some people won’t listen to reason.

Thinking clearly has never been more of a virtue than it is now. The antidote to every single problem we face is sharpening our intelligence for the battle ahead, not indulging in half-baked conspiracy theories and looking for extra-planetary rodents. Not every idiot is salvageable, but many can be nudged toward thinking more clearly. The best weapon? A well-placed question.

Without sounding like a pompous jerk, respond to idiocy with sincere, intelligent questions. Our first instinct is to kill the bad idea with a good one:

“This photo shows life on Mars. A rat! They lied to us! Or maybe they TOOK a rat to Mars…”

“It’s not a rat, stupid. There are no rats on Mars” rarely works to expand the other’s rational awareness. This one is best answered by “Hmmmm…do you think there are other explanations that might work better, like the play of shadows in a grainy photograph?” Or, “Could this be like playing Stairway to Heaven backwards, where you think you hear “Satan” even though it’s just noise?

I have found that when I respond to questionable assertions with intelligent and diplomatic questions, I get a gush of agreement (in itself, no indication that I am right) as if much of the world is as baffled by idiocy as I am. Often, people state outright that they are relieved that someone at least tries to have a balanced, well-thought-out viewpoint. In many cases, even the original poster shows signs of reconsidering. There is hope.

Since idiots are as resilient as cockroaches and will be here long after the last spark of civilization has died out, I don’t expect to change the world. But maybe, just maybe, I can clean up my little corner, one idiot at a time.

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Taking a Bite Out of Apple

Peeved that a company had the audacity to minimize its tax burden, some politicians want to take a bite out of Apple. After investigating the company for months, Carl Levin’s (D, MI) Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found nothing wrong. Zip. Zero, Nunca. Nada. As explained to the subcommittee by Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, Apple paid every penny of taxes it legally owed.

A bipartisan Congressional panel yesterday released its findings regarding Apple’s international tax regime and, specifically, how it was able to pay a relatively low tax rate when the U.S. corporate statutory tax rate is 35% (the highest in the developed world). The investigation turned up no wrongdoing, and that Apple follows the letter of the law and pays every dime of its legally-required taxes. –From townhall.com

That did not keep Carl Levin from hauling Cook in front of the committee in order to…well, we’re not sure. Embarrass him, perhaps? If so, it backfired. Cook explained the obvious and informed the Senator that he had no intention of repatriating billions of dollars kept overseas. Doing so would subject Apple to a boatload of taxes that it currently does not owe. How rude, legally retaining what one has earned.

Hedgehog bites apple

In a fit of Congressional sanity, Senator Rand Paul (R, KY) went nuclear on Levin’s tactics, suggesting that every member of Congress minimizes his/her taxes and that the committee was simply bullying one of the most successful companies in history. Thank you, Senator Paul.

As the world devolves into a seething rage against the successful, let us pause to ask where Congress would be without companies like Apple. First, they would be without their iPhones. Sad enough, but they would also be without the billions that Apple does pay in taxes ($6 billion in 2012). To say that Levin is biting the hand that feeds him is an embarrassing understatement.

A government that grows continually has to eat continually. When Congress noses around for something to devour, it faces a problem of perception. Citizens are not happy when you start gnawing on their legs, but they can live with your gnawing on someone else’s leg as long as you throw them a scrap or two. Thus, Congress’s dilemma–how to eat from the hand of businesses like Apple while making it look like they are bravely beating them up for being greedy. Fortunately for them, Joe and Jane Citizen make that easy.

First Joe and Jane hate the rich. They don’t know why, they just hate them. Most citizens have never met the Jobs, Gates, and Bransons of this world, but they are deeply suspicious that anyone with that much money had to do something wrong. I suspect that each of us who has fallen short of billionaire status has at least once or twice lamented his lot in life, thinking that somehow the game must be rigged, else we too would own a yacht. Those of us who take the time to understand these things soon shrug those feelings of inadequacy off and go on about our business. We know that only a few people make billions just as only a few people get to play in the Majors. We also celebrate the victories of the successful, knowing that we too might join them one day by contributing our own unique value to the world.

Second, Joe and Jane never take the time to figure out just how little difference taxing the rich makes to the fiscal outlook of an entire country, especially one as big as the United States. Were they to take a look downward, they would see that while pack leaders like Levin distract them, the other cur are munching their way up from ankle height to heaven-knows-where. They are already being eaten, but their envy of the rich keeps them from noticing.

Good thing, too, if you happen to be a progressive. No amount of clawing at the rich will ever fund the kind of government that progressives are absolutely sure is desirable. Even if we were to focus exclusively on peeling the Apples of this world, we would soon find ourselves being cored. So, government has to mute, buffer, distort, and outright lie about how and how much taxation is directed at the middle class. Joe and Jane will feel like Dumb and Dumber when the dogs turn on them in the not-too-distant future.

As Levin’s brand of spectacle makes headlines, you who call yourselves progressives should give pause. When one encourages the government to go after the rich, he is in reality encouraging the government to go after everyone. Everyone includes you and those you think will benefit from the benevolence of a large and all-encompassing government. When that happens, will you still have a taste for Apples?

________________

*The research of Kahneman and Tversky is a bit more complex than that, but the lesson is basically the same.

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Thank You, IRS

Poor IRS, the institution no one loves. Well, I am about to change that. IRS, thank you. Yes, thank you for being so colossally stupid that you let yourselves be caught red-handed doing what you have done surreptitiously for decades.

Not that we have not known about the IRS’s shenanigans for all these many years. It’s just that it seemed the stuff of intrigue–dark and sinister goings-on at some mysterious level of governance unvisited by we denizens of the non-political world. Had it not been for Nixon, we probably would not have noticed at all.

The IRS has never been apolitical. Since Roosevelt, powerful people have used the IRS to intimidate and harass their political opponents. Neither conservatives nor liberals are strangers to using the IRS inappropriately–or illegally. A President who openly sicced the IRS on his/her enemies would be ousted in a heartbeat. Therein lies the problem.

Barack Obama may not have directly ordered the IRS to pick on conservatives and libertarians, but the tenor of his administration offers no buffer to this kind of abuse. His core mentality is that no one knows better than him and no one had better slow him down. His willingness to use government to accomplish his ends borders on the sociopathic.

IRS

Those ends grow clearer by the day: more government, bigger government, more intrusive government–no matter what. Obama’s agenda is progressivism* taken to its logical conclusion, and that does not bode well for anyone, least of all the growing list of people who are supposed to benefit from this “noble” experiment. It’s hard to help the poor after one has destroyed everyone else’s incentive to produce anything.

The danger with Obama is that he really believes in the efficacy of government to right every perceived wrong and is seemingly incapable of grasping its limits. In his mind, this justifies most any tactic to git ‘er done. Where some would say that the end justifies the means, Obama simply does not appear to believe that there is such a thing as questionable means.

At least the President has retained enough of a grip on reality to know that some people do think there are limits to the methods by which one achieves his/her political goals. Thus he feigns outrage at actions that he indirectly endorses in speeches constantly. Conservatives and libertarians are the “enemy” in the President’s mind, an attitude not particularly new in American politics. The difference with the current President is that this is not just a political tactic. He seems to honestly believe that opponents to his agenda should not exist, that he should not have to offer any defense whatsoever to anyone at all for anything.

Obama is more than a bad President. The blood of a tyrant courses through his veins. He is appalled that anyone would have the audacity to object to anything he sees fit to do to mold his country (yes, I chose that word deliberately) into a socialist heaven. Socialism always dies, but not before lashing out at its victims viciously–usually the poor. They are the ones standing closest.

The United States “works” to the degree that it adheres to its founding principle–government serves to protect the rights of the individual. “Works” to a progressive means making it easy for government to do more and more. The difference is profound. The former ensures that individuals are not subject to the whims of their leaders by making it difficult for the government to do anything. The latter assumes disagreement to be an impediment to making things better through the power of government.

It is easy to pick on the President. After all, he embodies everything progressives love and libertarians hate. However, it would be a mistake to think that absent Barack Obama everything would be just hunky-dory. He is merely a lighthouse on a rocky island of bad ideas.

The jagged shoal of this mentality is that somehow society, this tangled collection of countless people interacting in countless ways, has a will comparable to an individual’s will. The idea, often associated with Rousseau, but having in reality a much longer intellectual lineage, is that governance is primarily an issue of finding out what that “general will” is and how it should be administered. In other words, what really matters is not what I want, think, or believe, but how my life supports society in general. The most audacious proponents of this idea suggest that in fact I cannot be happy or free otherwise. “Freedom” in this context means subjecting myself to the needs of society rather than asserting my individual will.

Even if the idea itself were not repugnant, its implementation would be. Thoughts are the province of the individual. Groups of people may share similar thoughts, but no collection of people actually has a thought. It is forgivable for convenience’ sake to speak as if groups do think, as when we say, “The family thinks not resuscitating Grandmother is the right thing to do.”

It is good to remember that we are speaking figuratively in such cases. The “family’s” thoughts on the matter may mean that everyone agrees precisely or that a strong-willed niece has bullied everyone into saying so. There is no family mind residing in a family brain and expressed through a family voice. There is only some commonly accepted definition of what individuals within that family want.

Translated to the context of government, this means that there is no such thing as what is “good for society.” There is only what is good for individuals within that society. We may speak of well or poorly functioning societies out of convenience, but in the final analysis, it is the individuals within who prosper or suffer.

The fact that there is no “general will” around which to build a government does not keep people like Barack Obama from claiming that there is, that they understand it, and that they should therefore should be assigned the task of implementing it. The result is never the betterment of individuals as a whole, but the realization of his individual vision. And for it to work, people who object to being subjugated to this vision must be silenced. Individualists openly claiming their lives for themselves may get other people started claiming the same thing.

Fortunately, we have not yet reached the point where objectors are routinely spirited away in the middle of the night. We have, though, reached the point where it is obvious that disagreement from willful individuals is not to be tolerated. “Reject the voices…” has become more than a suggestion that the opposing side is mistaken; it has become a thinly-disguised call to shut them up.

And what better way to shut people up than the IRS. An audit, whether it uncovers anything untoward or not, consumes enormous amounts of time and is always nerve-wracking because it is nearly impossible to discern what the real rules are. A tax code as complicated as ours practically begs bureaucrats with a grudge to abuse it. They need not have a direct order from the President; only a general understanding of who the “enemy” is.

Thankfully, at least a few Democrats are outraged over the real issue–that the IRS was used to bully opponents of the Administration. As for the rest, they are content to wallow in the worst excuse of all–that Republicans do it too. As it comes to light just how many of them were complicit in siccing the IRS on their opponents, we may see some sheepish legislators soon.

The same IRS that harasses conservatives can harass liberals too. As in romance, the person who cheats with you will likely cheat on you. The solution is not to cheat at all.

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*We used to call this “liberalism,” but people started to figure out what it really meant, so “progressivism” serves in its stead now.

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Obama’s War On the Individual: http://o

Obama’s War On the Individual: http://ow.ly/kSRW4

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Obama’s War On the Individual

Should you ever wonder what fuels the President’s incessant drive to grow government, look no further than his recent commencement speech at The Ohio State University. One could be forgiven for concluding that he hates the Founders’ vision of America as a country of free individuals.

As intellectual descendants of the Renaissance, the Founders inherited a healthy skepticism of political and religious authority. They also inherited a healthy respect for the individual. These two ideas are complementary–rejecting the authority of monarchs and priests is an empty gesture without recognizing one’s own authority on what to believe and how to act. Individual liberty in body and soul was recognized as the end for which government was the means.

The Founders recognized that while government is necessary to secure individual liberty, it is also a threat to that liberty. Their solution, never explicitly applied before in human history, was to formally recognize freedom as the point of government.

Were freedom possible without government, the solution would have been easy–eliminate it altogether. Unfortunately, we resemble dieters more than alcoholics–an alcoholic can live without drinking, but a dieter still has to eat. Government is both necessary and dangerous–a dilemma for which no better solution exists than the US Constitution.

Dictator

The fact that individual liberty is the central point of our political system does not mean people must act always and only alone. No one, libertarians included, believes that collective action is bad per se. Working together is uniquely human and marvelously effective in getting individuals what they want. Other than making sure no one initiates violence against another, though, no central authority is needed to dictate how, when, and for how long groups of people work together. Projects and the groups of people who execute them form, function, and then disband as dictated by the needs of the individuals who comprise them.

All of this is completely lost on the President, whose only notion of collective action is the government-enforced variety. To his way of thinking, there is nothing a group of people can do that can’t be done better when directed by government. No good is ever created that cannot be amplified by authority–especially authority over business.

The very businesses Obama seems to loathe are wonderful examples of what human beings can achieve working together voluntarily. Yet individual ambition is denigrated by the President as if it were 1) a bad thing, 2) not in fact part and parcel of any collective achievement. Individual ambition drives both individual action and cooperation with others who value similar things. A baseball player works to improve his individual stats, but also tempers his individual ambition for the good of the team. These two drives are complementary, not antithetical. The player who thinks only of himself will soon find himself a pariah among his teammates. The one who lacks individual ambition will never even make the team.

These trade-offs are worked out quite well without the all-knowing eye of Obama’s preferred kind of government watching o’er. My beef is simple–no one should be forced to engage in collective action absent a deeply compelling reason, say, fending off a Canadian invasion. First, it violates individual rights, which means any alleged improvement to the collective is immaterial. Second, evidence of the government’s efficacy in improving upon the voluntary cooperation of individually ambitious citizens is scant.

The President’s contempt for the individual extends well beyond economic rights. His apoplectic accusations of Congress “gumming up the works” on issues like gun control reveal a deep-seated conviction that he knows better than each of us how the world should look and who should get to do what when. He at times appears to lament the fact that he has to bother checking with anyone at all. Someone should have told him in which country he was seeking office.

Last, Barack Obama detests that anyone is even allowed to object to his vision of a collectivist nation. His admonition to graduates not to look for “tyranny lurking around the corner,” as apparently some of us do*, speaks volumes about what he really wants deep down–to impose without restraint what he thinks is best–for you, for me, and for whoever is to be. I don’t think we need to look around the corner anymore.

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*Guilty as charged.

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You Can’t Fix Fascist: http://ow.ly/kIL

You Can’t Fix Fascist: http://ow.ly/kILXj

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