December 17, 2010

there is a Santa Claus, aka the U.S. Congress, which last night enacted a law extending the Bush tax cuts, and adding over $200 billion in Christmas presents to Americans. Of course, eventually, Americans will have to pay for those presents.


December 14, 2010

Has the Republican Party in this lame-duck session of Congress cocked the gun that it will use to shoot off its foot in the new session?

Do I, like Dalrymple, misunderstand what just happened? Did the Republicans cut a deal with Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts in a bill that includes $246 billion in new spending? Are these the same Republicans who campaign on cutting spending and limiting the size and power of government? The same Republicans who say they are willing to work with the opposition, but not to the extent of compromising their “core” principles?

Okay, extending the Bush tax cuts I can see—Republicans have been saying all along that they would do that. And raising the exemption for estate tax while setting the rate at 35% is something somewhat in line with what they’ve said all along, never mind that it’s not quite eliminating the estate tax, something many Republicans have advocated.

But extension of the unemployment benefits for 13 months, a Social Security tax break, extension of individual tax credits and a plethora of business tax breaks, all add up to new spending because there is no provision for spending cuts to offset any of that.

Is Obama smarter than we think? By agreeing to the “compromise” bill, could he be setting the Republicans up for the 2012 campaign when he will argue that the Republicans agreed to their own stimulus bill, so why are they criticizing his?

As I wrote in a previous post, Republican control of Congress is unlikely to do anything to stop the rampant expansion of federal power and the loss of Americans’ liberties? That is why a drastic, fundamental change in government through constitutional amendments is needed.

Meanwhile, will the Republican Party fire that cocked pistol at its foot in January, and suffer in 2012 the same fate as the Democratic Party in 2010? There’s a better-than-even chance, I think.


December 8, 2010

“Uh, sir, do you have a minute?”

“Sure, Dalrymple, what can I help you with?”

“Sir, I don’t fully understand some things we are working on. Like why we want to raise taxes on folks making $250,000 and over.”

“Dalrymple, you don’t understand economics, but I’ll explain. First of all, those people are despicable. They clearly don’t deserve to make that much, and they make it by stepping on the backs of the middle class. Don’t you just burn when someone you know buys a big yacht, a big SUV, or vacations in the Caribbean or the Greek Isles? You know they don’t deserve it! They’re so bad, they probably should be killed, but we can’t condone that, of course. We can severely punish them by making them pay high income tax.”

“But, sir, don’t many of those people own small businesses that employ people and circulate money in the economy? If they have to pay higher taxes, won’t that hurt those businesses and result in layoffs or reduced hiring?”

“Dalrymple, of course that’s what they’ll tell you, but really, they just don’t want to pay their fair share. And we need the money, Dalrymple.”

“I can understand that, sir. We want to pay down the nearly $14 trillion debt, right?”

“Dalrymple, Dalrymple. You don’t understand the first thing about economics, do you? Look, what good will it do for the middle class if we pay the debt down? What’s more important is that we have all that additional tax money from the fat cats so we can enact more social programs that benefit the middle class.”

“But, sir, don’t programs like that really benefit the lower class rather than the middle class?”

“Yes, Dalrymple, but we call the beneficiaries ‘middle class.’ And don’t say, ‘lower class.’ That’s offensive.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“The middle class is the biggest social and economic class, so we have to make them think that we’re working to help them, because they have the most votes, you see. It will not do to have the middle class think that we’re just trying to help the working class.”

“Okay, back to the tax on the rich, sir. You said they don’t want to pay their fair share—but is it fair to raise taxes on one income group and not all?”

“Oh, Dalrymple, you still don’t get it. They make much more, so they should pay much more—it’s that simple.”

“But because they make much more, wouldn’t they pay much more even if they were taxed at the same rate as everyone else?”

“Yes, Dalrymple, but not enough for us to do our good work! Just to pay the interest on the social programs takes a great deal of money. When you add Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, TARP, other mandatory expenses and interest, why that’s 65% of the federal budget![1] We may even have to raise taxes for the middle class to pay for all that.”

“I thought you said we were trying to help the middle class?”

“No, Dalrymple, I said that we want the middle class to think that we’re trying to help them. You see the difference, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“One word, Dalrymple: votes. They have the votes. That’s what it’s all about.”

“Uh, I see. But wouldn’t taxing the rich at the same rate as everyone be fair? Wouldn’t those small businesses then be able to expand and create more economic wealth that would raise government revenue? If the rich are able to spend their money to help stimulate the economy wouldn’t that achieve what we want?”

“Dalrymple, you’re so naïve. If we don’t take their money from them, they certainly won’t spend it on social programs for the poor. That’s why we have to take their money away from them, so we can spend it where it’s needed, you see.”

“If they spend it and stimulate the economy, and spend it to expand business and hire more people, then wouldn’t there be fewer poor people?”

“Of course, Dalrymple. But we don’t want that, do we. Getting votes means pitting the poor and middle class against the rich. If more poor people get jobs and move into the middle class, and more middle-class people make more money and become rich, then where is our political base? Your thinking is just wrong-headed, Dalrymple.”

“Sir, you and your colleagues here make much more than $250,000; so you want to pay more tax?”

“No, we’ll be exempt, Dalrymple. After all, we are the ones who deserve to be rich, because we do so much good for everyone. Without us to impose order on this regrettable capitalist economic system we have, who knows what might happen?”

“Oh, sorry, sir. This is all very complicated, and I didn’t see your side of it before.”

“I’m happy to set you straight, Dalrymple. What are the other things you’re concerned about?”

“Maybe I’d better just leave them for another time, sir, and absorb what you explained to me. By the way, what do you want me to buy for you to give to your wife for Christmas?”

“Dalrymple, don’t use that word—it could offend some people. Just say ‘holidays.’”

[1] White House Office of Management and Budget, 2009 national budget.


December 8, 2010

Dalrymple should read Jedediah Bila’s piece, “The Left’s Unjust ‘Justice'” in Human Events, an excerpt of which follows:

When it comes to economic injustice, why is it that the Left is blind to the injustice of about 47% of Americans not paying federal income taxes for 2009, as was projectedin April by the Tax Policy Center? Why do leftists not consider it unjust that in 2007, the top 1% of taxpayers paid over 40% of federal income taxes, a greater share than that paid by the bottom 95% of taxpayers combined?

Perhaps because it’s not really about justice at all. It’s about condoning theft in the name of socialist-style “equality;” an equality that would disincentivize workers, undermine prosperity, and—to borrow a phrase from Barack Obama—lead to “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

Really, Dalrymple, read the piece!


December 7, 2010

For the past couple of days I have listened to the news about the WikiLeaks release of more classified U.S. government documents, and heard several people calling for Julian Assange to be arrested–one person even said he should be executed–and most said that his intention was to harm the United States.

If Assange (who is Australian by the way) hacked into government computers, or if he stole the documents some other way, or paid someone to do it, then he should be prosecuted. But not because he published the documents on the web. Is this still America, or did I wake up in another country? Where was I when the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed? When did folks begin believing in censorship?

If someone lets the pigs out and they tear up the garden, do we punish the pigs? The leak of the documents may have embarrassed, even harmed, the U.S. government. But what should really embarrass the government is that someone within its ranks supplied WikiLeaks with classified documents. Whoever did that broke the law. If all Assange did was to receive the documents and publish them, well, that’s the government’s fault for not having adequate security for its secrets.

Don’t punish the pigs.


December 6, 2010

The problem is that the national government of the United States, including its constituent entities, the Congress, the executive branch, the judicial branch and all of its bureaucracies, is daily trampling on the rights and liberties of Americans, and is out of our control.

Randy Barnett and William J. Howell, in an article entitled The Case for a “Repeal Amendment” that appeared September 16, 2010, in The Wall Street Journal and was reprinted on the Cato Institute website, make their case for a proposed amendment that the Virginia legislature will consider. They write:

In its next session beginning in January, the legislature of Virginia will consider proposing a constitutional “Repeal Amendment.” The Repeal Amendment would give two-thirds of the states the power to repeal any federal law or regulation. Its text is simple:

“Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.”

At present, the only way for states to contest a federal law or regulation is to bring a constitutional challenge in federal court or seek an amendment to the Constitution. A state repeal power provides a targeted way to reverse particular congressional acts and administrative regulations without relying on federal judges or permanently amending the text of the Constitution to correct a specific abuse.

They go on to explain that

Congress could re-enact a repealed measure if it really feels that two-thirds of state legislatures are out of touch with popular sentiment. And congressional re-enactment would require merely a simple majority. In effect, with repeal power the states could force Congress to take a second look at a controversial law.

They summarize their case as follows:

The Repeal Amendment would help restore the ability of states to protect the powers “reserved to the states” noted in the 10th Amendment. And it would provide citizens another political avenue to protect the “rights … retained by the people” to which the Ninth Amendment refers. In short, the amendment provides a new political check on the threat to American liberties posed by a runaway federal government. And checking abuses of power is what the written Constitution is all about.

I have no quarrel with the intent of such a proposed amendment; indeed, I proposed a similar amendment in my blog post of October 18, Prescription for (Real) Hope and Change, that would provide for, upon the concurrence of three-fourths of the state legislatures, a veto by the states of Congressional spending in excess of a set percentage of GDP (it would be part of a set of proposed amendments). But the proposed “Repeal Amendment” would not go far enough to address the problems with our federal system. It is clear that a provision allowing Congress to re-enact a repealed measure is just a sop to Congress to make it look upon the amendment more favorably. Only a far-reaching set of amendments to the Constitution like the ones I propose ultimately will curtail the ever-expanding power of the national government and its use of that power to take away our liberty.

Barnett and Howell acknowledge that in writing the following:

The Repeal Amendment alone will not cure all the current problems with federal power. Getting two-thirds of state legislatures to agree on overturning a federal law will not be easy and will only happen if a law is highly unpopular.

My hope is that influential politicians at the state and national levels will begin to think outside the box and consider proposing an effective set of amendments to put things right. After all, considering how difficult it is to get one amendment adopted, why not go for broke and try for a whole set?


December 6, 2010

Now that the Republicans have control of many of the state legislatures, they will be able to reapportion to their advantage based on the 2010 census. Is that a good thing? Obviously, for the Republican Party it is. But the power of incumbency is a real problem for all of us.

Dick Morris, an astute political strategist, in his blog post Reapportioner’s Dilemma: Go for the Extra Seats, analyzes the potential for Republicans:

The freshmen elected in 2010 will very likely benefit from the same Republican wind at their backs in 2012 as animated their candidacies this year. While we cannot tell the future, we know that Obama is in rough shape and his party is in worse repute. If the Republicans don’t blow it in Congress — a tall order — the 2012 elections should be good for the Republicans. Remember: It took the Democrats two elections (2006 and 2008) to fashion their dominant majorities in Congress. It will take Republicans two cycles to complete the work. There is no need to bend and strain to give these freshmen great districts. A little tinkering can give them a decisive edge and they may not need any at all in 2012.

After that, the new Republican Congressmen have a lot less to worry about. After two successful elections, it is very hard to dislodge an incumbent Congressman. Unless they face a 2010-style tsunami, they are likely to stay in office for a long time. And, if another tsunami comes — this time with the wind favoring the Democrats — district lines won’t make much difference (see the results of 2010!)

He advises the Republican Party to take advantage of the opportunity to solidify control through reapportionment:

It is always easy to listen to the voices of those who are in office — the newly elected incumbents — but state legislative leaders must strain to hear the voices of those who did not win, but could win next time, given good lines. We must not miss this incredible opportunity to finish the task of 2010 and convert a vast number of House seats to the Republican Party, hopefully for a decade.

The problem is that they may stay in office for a long time! Once a Congressman or a Senator wins election, from that point on the overriding consideration in all that he or she does is reelection. As soon as the candidate is elected, the campaign for reelection must begin. Getting reelected means raising more and more money: campaigns are expensive and becoming more so. So the money-raising effort requires a great deal of the incumbent’s time and attention, at the expense of attending to the business of the nation. Moreover, we suspect that a number of the incumbents are tempted to line their pockets while seeking reelection funds.

Both the desire to get reelection money and/or to line their own pockets leads incumbents to cozy-up to lobbyists, who, in providing what an incumbent needs, gain an inordinate amount of influence over the incumbents. The result is that legislation is strongly influenced by lobbyists–actually written by lobbyists in some cases. Incumbents don’t even need to read a bill if the lobbyists to whom they are beholding want them to vote for it.

Incumbency has other drawbacks. We generally look to private business leaders to exercise efficiency, effectiveness and good judgement in running their businesses. But political incumbents spend a great deal of time raising campaign money and not as much time attending to the business of the body to which they are elected. As a result, incumbents often do not exercise good judgement in voting for bills.

And what passes for effectiveness is how much earmark or other money the incumbent can direct to his or her district or state. Yes, Congressmen are elected to represent their districts, and Senators their states, but to do so with the goal of doing what is best for the United States as a whole. Creating million-or-billion-dollar earmarks paid for by all taxpayers to benefit a certain district or state–and more specifically, certain individuals or business entities within those districts or states–while the nation is trillions of dollars in debt is ill-advised at best, probably immoral.

Incumbency, therefore, is a problem in our system of government. If Congressmen and Senators only served one term, they would not be concerned with raising money for reelection–lessening the influence of lobbyists–and would have more time to devote to what they were elected for in the first place. In the event, those elected would not be able to make careers of the office.

As things are, controlling reapportionment is the holy grail for political parties. As things should be, reapportionment would be much less important.