Obama’s Audacity: Using the Shutdown to Punish Some, Reward Others

immigration_rally_national_mall_APBarack Obama is nothing if not audacious. The title of his now-famous book seems to confirm it–The Audacity of Hope. His style of political campaigning confirms it, and although he did his best to hide the most extreme portions of his agenda, hints of it emerged during his original presidential campaign. He and Michelle want to leave a vastly different America in their wake when they leave the White House. “We’re going to have to move into a new place as a nation,” Michelle Obama promised. “We’re going to have to change our history, our traditions.”

When your agenda is that audacious, you have to destroy anyone who gets in the way. What better way is there for an community organizer to do that than to agitate all those who agree with him so that his political opponents are demonized? Let’s look at how community organizers do their work. Three methods are particularly effective: they inform their constituents of the government assistance to which they are entitled, they get them fired up and energetic about securing those entitlements while clamoring for more, and then they scapegoat any politician or political group that stands in their way.

This is exactly what Barack Obama and the Democrat party are doing at this moment with the government shutdown. Of course, “shutdown” is too strong a word. About 17% of the government has been turned off, and in some cases even furloughed workers are having to put in extra time to put up signs and ticket those brave citizens who dare trespass upon federal lands during a shutdown. It’s a selective shutdown.

The Obama administration is engaged in a calculated effort to punish some while rewarding others. As long as the political payoff is estimated to help the Democrat cause, it doesn’t matter who is harmed or what victims are made to suffer. Exemptions are gladly given, however, to those groups that support the cause.

Families of our military who have died in war since the shutdown began have been denied the death and burial benefits promised them. Chaplains have been threated with punitive action if they offer religious services to their congregations. Cancer trials for children have been halted. Parks, turnarounds, and scenic vistas–some of them nothing more than a patch of grass or concrete–have unnecessarily been blocked in order to make a point. In one case, a jogger was ticketed for being on federal land while it was declared to be closed. Private businesses that receive no federal funds are forced to close needlessly, simply because they are on federally-controlled land.

Is the average citizen so dangerous that he or she cannot even be present on federal property without supervision? Supposedly, the federal government maintains these lands on our behalf. Then why do we cower in fear when we imagine taking a stroll on “our” property?

Disgusted by the charade, a park ranger in DC explained the end game: “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can.”

Yet it is not so for all. Just two days ago a massive immigration rally was held on the National Mall in Washington, DC. That mall is officially closed due to the shutdown. The reason is simple enough. The rally was sponsored by the AFL-CIO and SEIU, two important unions serving as intimate allies to the Obama agenda.

To put it bluntly, while blaming the Republicans for the shutdown, the Democrats are refusing to budge on the issue of funding Obamacare. As long as they believe they have the upper hand they will not blink. They will cause inconvenience and even suffering–perhaps to the point of death from cancer–just to stand their ideological ground.

Harry Reid has exposed this nasty agenda on at least two occasions. He recently refused to consider a continuing resolution to fund NIH cancer trials for kids, as covered in my blog post from earlier this week. In addition, when publicly harassed by the mayor of Washington, DC for refusing to vote for funds needed by that city, Reid was inadvertently caught by cameras as telling him to quiet down. “I’m on your side,” he warned Mayor Vincent Gray, “don’t screw it up.”

As a political gamble this strategy may work. But there are hints that it may backfire. Obama’s approval rating is down to 37%, the lowest yet of his presidency. His pals in the media won’t talk much about it–and when they do, they’ll hide it someplace innocuous. A recent article from the Associated Press was headed by the announcement that the GOP is getting the blame for the shutdown, while hiding Obama’s low approval rating in the body of the article. There’s not much objectivity to be found there, as you can see. For an interesting Canadian analysis, click HERE.

This is the same government that kills American citizens overseas without benefit of arrest and trial. It is the same government that illegally passes personal data from IRS to White House. It’s the same government that places a harmful tax on medical equipment, refuses to enforce immigration law, and told us that Obamacare penalties aren’t a tax–until it argued before the Supreme Court and said that they are a tax. This audacious government will say almost anything, blame almost anyone, and give breaks and benefits to its friends and cronies. While blaming capitalism for our nation’s economic woes it engages in the worst form of crony capitalism and favoritism. We who recognize it are labeled as angry extremists.

It’s time to be angry. It’s past time. Audacity is a two-way street.

Single Payer: Harry Reid Admits the Truth

congressmenWhy not start by scanning the attached photograph of prominent Democrat leadership? It includes from left to right, Pres. Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi as they proclaim their commitment to “honest leadership and open government.” Now perhaps you’ll allow me to engage in some light-hearted, linguistic detective work.

According to the good folks at one popular online dictionary, the definition of “honest” includes not only the intention of being honorable, but also the practice of being genuine, sincere, and frank.  “Open” is defined, in part, as having interior intentions immediately accessible, free from obstruction.  I don’t intend to put words into the mouths of the online editors, but I believe it’s reasonable to suggest that “honest leadership and open government,” as a slogan, must clearly suggest that the leaders in question deal with the public in a way that is forthright: in other words, honest leaders speak truthfully. Listening to the electorate, they work in a way that is clear, without guile, and following a path that is not clouded by falsehoods and partial truths.  One might assume that “open government” means that voters can clearly see and understand the goals toward which governmental leaders are working.

To go one step further in our detective work, let’s take a look at the White House webpage concerning the so-called “Open Government Initiative.” That webpage is still accessible despite the government “shutdown.” Political regimes rarely shut down the organs of their propaganda, so while all sorts of other government websites have been curtailed at this time, mediums that pound the public with acceptable program messages continue to run. No use wasting a crisis, especially when it’s a crisis that has been manufactured for maximum political capital.

Note the emphasis on the said webpage dedicated to open government. According to the direct quotation from President Obama, we are in for quite a treat: nothing less than an “unprecedented level of openness in Government” (the capital “G” isn’t my idea–that’s how it’s done on the website, just like the capital “G” in “God”). The page is marked with another lovely idea about government: transparency.

I like the idea of honesty, openness, and transparency–especially in government. But I wonder what happened back in 2009 and 2010 when so many constitutionalists like me were engaged in debate with supporters of the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA), Obamacare. From nearly the beginning, I argued that the intention of this law was to move us firmly and energetically toward a single-payer health system where the federal government is responsible for the healthcare of all citizens. To review my posts on the subject, click “Healthcare” on the categories list to the right. Those of us who pointed out this fact were called by the vilest of names. They said we were out of touch, we were misrepresenting the facts, we had no clue. When I and others insisted that the long-term intention of Obamacare was to so debilitate the free market so that the only remaining option would be single-payer, we were called conspiracy nuts and fringe lunatics.

Remember those days? I hope so, because Harry Reid has confirmed that we were correct. You haven’t heard about that in the “mainstream” press, have you? It happened in early August. Reid was back in his home state of Nevada during the congressional recess. As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, the shifty senator finally revealed the truth that inspired him and the Democrat majority during the debate over healthcare. Not surprisingly, he made his comments on a PBS program known as Nevada Week in Review. It must surely have delighted his viewers.

In the interview Reid made it clear that the new healthcare exchanges are only temporary. Like public opposition to the healthcare bill itself, the exchanges are something that he said “we must work our way past.”  As it presently exists, Obamacare is simply “a step in the right direction.” It won’t work forever, he said, so we’ll need something more. When questioned by a panelist on the PBS show about whether that meant the country must abandon the free-market health insurance model, Reid was emphatic: “Yes, yes. Absolutely, yes.” He then went on to make it clear that he knew the single-payer system was too unpopular in 2009 and 2010. An intermediate step was necessary.

In others words, dear reader, the Democrat leadership, while falsely claiming to be “honest” and “open,” played loose with the truth. While calling everyone else liars they themselves engaged in a full-court press of misrepresentation and falsehood. In short, we’ve been had. And I’m sure they justified it to themselves by saying that they were giving us what’s best–even against our wills. Some of us saw it for what it was at the time. Now we are vindicated by none other than the two-tongued senior senator from Nevada.

What other misrepresentations were made knowingly? What other falsehoods were foisted upon us? How many other times were truth-tellers labeled as extremists and out-of-touch partisans? How much further will US politics deteriorate before we realize that the liars are the ones pointing out everyone else and accusing them of lying?

We were told in the healthcare debate that abortions would not be covered by taxpayer funding. To guarantee this, the Stupak-Pitts Amendment was introduced but did not become part of the ACA when Pres. Obama promised an executive order to prevent such funding. Yet an accounting gimmick now makes it inevitable that abortions will be covered. You may remember that Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) was roundly condemned for yelling “You lie!” when Obama insisted that ACA funds would not be used for illegal immigrants. Now we learn that ACA funds are being targeted toward centers that routinely deal with migrant workers but those centers do not check immigration status. The list goes on and on. We were told that we will be able to keep our current coverage (Obamacare is quickly demonstrating the falsehood of that statement in more and more situations). We were told that the law would be universal in scope. Not so.  Obama is granting exemptions to businesses and the political class–but not to individuals.

In short, the Obamacare we have today is not the Obamacare that was passed in 2010. It’s a moving target with exemptions and changing provisions accomplished by way of excessive power entrusted to the US presidency. It’s a frightening reality that is about to hit the American people in their wallets and pocketbooks harder than any previous legislation in history. As fast as lies are exposed new ones are manufactured. It’s enough to dizzy a circus clown, or to make him cry.

If you want to know what healthcare is going to look like in America in the near future, chat with your friends who are doctors, insurance agents, and investors. Ask what they are doing to protect themselves, their careers, and their families. To pay for Obamacare (which will necessarily become even more expensive than expected because of its creeping scope), government will be reaching even further into our wallets. The talk among the liberal political class in DC already suggests that they are planning to go after retirement funds and even the cash value of life-insurance policies. And why not? We’ve turned our fears about health into a massive federal system that monitors our personal data, combines our bank accounts and health accounts with real-time government access and uses the Internal Revenue Service to enforce its requirements.

Government is a beast forever hungry. Like an addict who will say anything to get another fix, the elected elite continue to smile and to deny what we so often know to be their true intentions. With ruthless efficiency and the determined cooperation of the mainstream press, the Democrat party has raised this practice nearly to the level of art. Machiavelli or Rasputin would be proud. They are both laughing in their graves. I can hear their side-splitting cackles. Honest leadership? Open government? Sure thing … sure thing ….

The Startling Hypocrisy of Sen. Harry Reid

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Oh! what a tangled web we weave 
When first we practice to deceive! 

Those immortal words were penned by Sir Walter Scott, the 19th-century Scottish poet and playwright.  As I watched Harry Reid stammer and stutter last night on the evening news, they came to my mind.  It seems that the tangled web of Harry’s political deceit enveloped him tightly as he struggled to deny the truth that slapped him aside his senatorial head.

Let’s set the scene.  As all the nation must know by now, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is locked in a bitter debate with the Democrat-controlled Senate. Constitutionally speaking, the funding of federal spending is a prerogative of the House. Republicans are keen to defund the supposedly “Affordable” Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.  (Low-information voters may not realize it, but the ACA and Obamacare are the same thing.)  Democrats in the Senate are refusing to consider any bill sent to them from the House that doesn’t fund the new healthcare law.  Eager to avoid the appearance of being ogres and haters of the needy, Republicans are sending over bite-sized pieces of legislation to fund particular portions of the federal government–while still holding the line on their refusal to pay for Obamacare.

Got it?  Both sides are playing the political game known as “Washington Song and Dance.” The nation is split right down the middle on this issue.  Don’t let either side fool you otherwise.  What should be done when a nation is divided and when its federal representatives are also divided?  The Constitution actually provides for that.  We are seeing in in the halls of Congress at this very moment.

The stalemate in DC is a good thing.  It’s a product of constitutional checks and balances.  A poorly-designed law was rushed through Congress and is now being implemented.  It wasn’t studied adequately or even read by many of those who voted for it with enthusiasm.  Citizens are torn over its provisions and their disgust is rising as the administration of Pres. Barack Obama gives exemptions to big labor as well as the staffers of big government.

The Democrats and their supporters in the “mainstream” media are painting the Republicans and the Tea Party as extremists and anarchists.  They complain about the refusal to compromise.  Yet all the while, there is no offer of compromise from the Democrats.  It became painfully obvious yesterday how foul a game is being played by Harry Reid and Senate Democrats under his command.

Folks, I have no pretensions here.  I’m not a Republican or a Democrat.  And I’m not happy with either of the major parties in DC.  That’s why I’ve returned to the Libertarian party.  But I’m entirely disgruntled by the fact that Harry Reid is acting so contemptuous and morally outraged and that he’s pointing a finger at the Republicans as if he himself is not to blame.  I’m tired of being told that Democrats care more about the poor and the elderly and that they are “the party of the people.”  I’m also tired of hearing so many of my fellow Christians wrongly think that the Democrat party is more charitable than the Republican party.  Certainly that is the national political mythology.  Many have bought into it with abandon–especially among the media.

Here’s the bottom line:  it’s not true.  Harry Reid proved it yesterday.  Record the date:  Wednesday, October 2, 2013.  He was being questioned by a reporter from CNN (not Fox–CNN).  Her name is Dana Bash and she had an urgent question for Sen. Reid concerning funding for the National Institutes of Health.  She reported to the sidestepping senator that children with cancer were being turned away from NIH clinical trials due to the federal shutdown.  Of course, Reid is eager to blame the nasty Republicans in the House of Representatives for this unfortunate reality.

Not so fast, Harry.  Dana Bash decided not to let him off the hook.  She made him squirm. Oh, goodness, how she made him squirm.  She informed the senator that the House was sending to the Senate a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the NIH cancer trials, and that this CR was coming with absolutely no strings attached.  After all, Democrats love children and the elderly.  They are not as cruel and as politically-minded as Republicans. Democrats are reasonable.  They are the party of the people.  They always put children first.  So goes the mythology.

So what did the fine senator say?  Simple enough.  He showed us his true political colors. He doesn’t care about children with cancer.  He cares about power.  He cares about winning.  The reporter pressed him and challenged him.  “If you can help one child with cancer,” she asked, “why wouldn’t you do it?”

Harry’s answer speaks for itself:  “Why would we want to do that?”

Over at the Atlantic Wire they are taking up for Sen. Reid with a bold headline:  “Come on, No.  Harry Reid Doesn’t Hate Kids with Cancer.”  If you want both sides of this debate, I encourage you to read the article.  Reid’s comments are placed in their fuller context.  I’m nothing if not fair.  Nonetheless, let’s try to keep our focus.  The question at hand has nothing to do with whether or not Harry Reid hates children with cancer.  The question is whether he will allow those children to die in order to gain political capital.  Perhaps he and the rest of the Senate leadership qualify as Obamacare’s first death panel.

Both sides are playing political games.  Neither side has clean hands, but one side is playing particularly dirty.  For my money, it’s the Democrats.  Why is their game so much worse?  Because it’s not just politics as usual.  It’s nasty politics pretending to be objective morality.  It’s akin to the divine right of kings claimed by tyrants throughout all of history. It disgusts me.  It should disgust you, too.

The Truth About Truth

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737)

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737); in retrospect, perhaps it’s a bit of political irony that the day after completing this piece, the artist tragically committed suicide

Last night, while channel surfing, I happened upon a documentary about the flooding of Venice, Italy. According to one city official interviewed on the program, about 100 times a year the tide rises higher than normal and floods the city. The waters of Venice are beautiful when they stay in their canals, but troublesome when they visit themselves upon homes, businesses, and historic cathedrals. Never mind that the Venetians have had problems with their lagoon for centuries or that their city rests atop wood pilings. The producers of this video claimed to know the cause and they proclaimed it passionately. Venice is undoubtedly flooding, they said, because of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. It’s worse than that, however. In their own words, “the world is sinking.”

I sympathize with the good people of Venice. But they’ll find an answer to their water problems as they always have. Their history is loaded with past examples of flooding (and taxation to pay for its remedy). In great part this is because its underwater foundation slips a bit lower every year. Even those who believe in human-caused global warming have to admit that “the greatest threat to the city” for most of its history has been “earth subsidence.” In other words, its wooden foundation is slipping deeper and deeper into the mud below.

As a popular science-fiction program once reminded us with the start of every episode, “the truth is out there.” Yes, it certainly is. But to get to it there are a few things you need to understand about the truth. In other words, there is some truth about truth that you need to know–truly!

First, let’s realize that we humans are “wired” to find explanations for things. That, along with our advanced brains, has given us a biological advantage over the other species on the planet. They may be bigger and stronger, but we’re smarter. We’re driven to find answers.

Before you become too proud of your genetic superiority, remember a second important point. We humans are also, in a sense, sociological herd animals. We move in psychological “packs.” Rather than doing the hard work of thinking for ourselves, we often accept what others believe. This can happen for any number of reasons (affection, political preference, religious belief, admiration, physical attraction, etc.). I confess to having a strong distaste for this tendency. As a child, when I did stupid things, my father wisely challenged me. His challenges stuck with me. When I see a parade of others following a “Pied Piper” of any sort, I shy away to watch … and to learn.

A third truth about truth that we must recognize is that money changes everything. Even truth–or what is presented as truth. There are plenty of people who would sell their souls for money. There are even more who would manipulate data for money or accept funding with “strings” attached. When billions and billions in government funding is involved, there simply is no way to know how deeply the influence and corruption have drilled themselves into a search for truth. Big money can come from big government or big corporations. Sometimes both.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves that there is no such thing as pure objectivity. Perhaps Leonard Nemoy’s Mister Spock came close, but even he was half human. We humans are motivated by all sorts of things, and not all of them are bad. Please don’t interpret my words to suggest that I’m a pessimist or misanthrope (a people hater). I’m not. But I am a realist. Call it sin, or imperfection, or simply human reality–but let’s face it. We humans aren’t perfect. Sometimes we respond to our base instinct for self-preservation. Sometimes we’re selfish or greedy. Other times we act with real generosity. Quite often we are a mix of “good” and “bad” at the same time. (As an aside, it strikes me as odd that when government starts doling out money to those “in need,” our human failings are no longer suitable for discussion.)

Lack of objectivity isn’t a bad thing. It’s a very human thing. The problem isn’t that objectivity is lacking. The problem is that we’re not honest about its absence. Wouldn’t it be nice if people claimed their biases so that when they speak of their greatest beliefs and philosophical commitments we can understand where they’re coming from?

Imagine a Fox News broadcast beginning like this:  “Good evening. We here at Fox believe that Barack Obama is the devil. Now on with the news.” Or imagine that CNN begins its nightly programs in this way: “In the interest of honesty, the broadcasters of CNN wish to remind you that we believe that conservatives, Republicans, and Tea-Party people are selfish bastards who want to screw Mexican immigrants and the poor. Here are this evening’s highlights.”

I always find such honesty to be quite refreshing, actually. It’s one of the reasons I named this blog “The Liberty Professor.” If you’re looking for absolute objectivity, you won’t find it here. The truth is that you won’t find it anywhere. But I’m honest about that. Get it?

With all of these caveats in mind, here are a few of the so-called “truths” that I have rejected. I speak only for myself, but I do so after reasoned reflection and research. Each of the issues described is what Patricia King and Karen Kitchener refer to as an “ill-defined problem.” If you’re a teacher or have a philosophical bent, you might enjoy their book entitled Developing Reflective Judgment. In it they argue that an ill-defined problem has more than one possible outcome (as opposed to a well-defined problem with an easy solution).

Let there be fanfare and the blast of trumpet … here are some “truths” that I robustly reject!

1. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was intended by its creators to lower healthcare costs and “fix” what’s wrong with America’s healthcare system. Nope. Not even close. It was designed to move us toward a single-payer healthcare system in which the federal government is financier and supervisor. Promises were made about how much it would cost and how much freedom would be granted to those who already have health insurance. Guesses, estimates, and even lies were offered to us for our mental consumption. The most recent estimate I heard is that it will cost three times as much as promised in the first ten years. In addition, its thousands and thousands of pages of regulations are going to cause premiums to go up for nearly everybody, especially young men. Remember the promise of Barack Obama about your own health insurance? “If you like it, you can keep it,” he insisted. Maybe. If you can afford it. Most of us won’t be able to. We–along with our employers–will be forced to drop private coverage to move into the single-payer (federal) system. The entire law was designed with this in mind. As they say, “out with the old and in with the new.” Don’t forget the words of Barack Obama to the Illinois AFL-CIO in June of 2003: “I happen to be a proponent of the single-payer, universal healthcare program.”

2. Federal gun-control initiatives are being designed to reduce crime and protect our children from violent criminals. Even I have to say that this sounds nice. It’s a feel-good proposal if ever there was one. But that’s not the primary factor for the unconstitutional gun grab taking place before our very eyes. (It has hit some temporary road blocks, but as with Obamacare, its proponents won’t stop until they get what they want.) The real goal is to have a nation in which guns are in the hands only of government officials and to outlaw them for everyone else. When that happens the government will have little to fear from dissenters, and only outlaws will be armed. Everyone with a weapon, whether it’s used in a crime or not, will be subject to arrest and punishment. In addition to maneuvers in Washington, international pressure is being put upon Mr. Obama to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty. That treaty, like all treaties, will require Senate approval. We can look for one heck of a mud slide when that battle comes. Obama is widely expected to sign the treaty since it moves us one more step toward his goal, and since it provides cover for the confiscation of many types of civilian-owned weapons as well as a UN-supervised, international gun registry. That’s right. According to the president of Iowa Gun Owners, if allowed to keep my .38-caliber pistol I’ll have my name on a UN list as well as a US list.

3. IRS officials did nothing wrong when they targeted conservative groups,Tea-Party organizations, and groups favoring Israel for special scrutiny. Oh, really? That must be why IRS division director Lois Lerner invoked her Fifth-Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to answer questions before Congress. That’s a constitutional perversion of the highest order. Here’s why: She is a government employee called before the people to answer for her actions. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was enacted to protect the people from the government, not the other way around. She and her minions at the IRS have the power to pry, to search, to seize, to confiscate, and to order the arrest and imprisonment of citizens. They carry guns. When we, the people, call her to an accounting she suddenly wants to invoke her constitutional rights. She needs to be held in contempt of Congress and the investigation into the matter must continue. Without a doubt, the trail will end in the Oval Office. White House visitors’ logs already demonstrate this.

4. Global warming is a rising disaster caused by human industrial and economic activity. Look, I reject this proposition. But I don’t reject the idea that we should be responsible stewards of our environment. Another of Dad’s witty and wise sayings recognizable to many fellow Southerners is that one should never put fecal material on the handle of the water pump! But the global-warming hype isn’t being controlled by reasonable people who care for the environment. It’s being directed from the upper echelon of government for the sake of raking in more tax money, penalties, and fees to fund bigger government. The “science” behind human-generated global warming is tainted with government money. As some very bright but mistaken academics have argued, the scientific consensus is that human-caused global warming threatens the planet (not just Venice). They insist we need severe limits on economic activity, travel, and energy production; we need more taxes and government-controlled carbon credits. My own research brings me to the conviction that global warming is entirely natural and that the recent warming trend is tapering off. We are probably entering a new period of global cooling. It wouldn’t be the first time, as historians recognize from recent history. Perhaps our children and grandchildren will be subjected to overblown predictions of a new Ice Age!

5. The solution to our economic problems and social injustices is to be found in more government activism. So said Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and a veritable host of central planners. But when central planning fails it fails big. Guns are needed to keep people in line. Perhaps you’re seeing a pattern? American constitutionalists do not reject all centralized government activity. The Constitution makes provision for the activities of the federal government. But once it’s engaged, the power at the top tends to be centripetal. In other words, it exerts a pull toward itself. Power exercised at the top tends to increase and multiply toward the top, or toward the center of power. The founders of the United States recognized this fact. They had overwhelming historical precedent for it. That’s precisely why power was invested primarily in citizens organized by states, not in the federal government. It’s also why they chose a federated system and not a national government (there is a difference). Only a small number of powers were granted to the federal government. Was it a perfect system? No. It didn’t recognize the rights of slaves, for instance. But its inspiration (that everyone is “created equal” in rights, not abilities) would eventually blossom to repair this immorality as well as other defects.

6. Fatty foods are making us fat and high blood cholesterol is putting us at risk for heart attack. So says an official US government blog and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC). There is even a new government push to monitor the cholesterol of children and to put them on statin drugs if necessary. Research is moving us rapidly away from this thesis. Fat isn’t making us fat. Carbohydrates and sugar are making us fat. They increase inflammation and cause heart disease. Among the scientists and medical doctors now arguing for a new approach to the matter can be counted Dr. Jonny Bowden and Dr. Stephen Sinatra. Check out their excellent and well-researched book, The Great Cholesterol Myth. According to them, the “four horsemen” of the cardiac apocalypse are inflammation, oxidation, sugar, and stress. Dangerous statin drugs, they insist, should be used only by those who already have heart disease. They show strong evidence that statins are useful only because of their anti-inflammatory properties and that lowering cholesterol isn’t the proper approach for stopping heart disease. In their opinion statins should never be given to children. To get the updated research full disseminated, the tie between big pharmaceutical companies and big government must be broken. And doctors who treat patients should never be paid advocates for particular companies or brands. The ties between these entities amount to a contemporary medical mercantilism or corporatocracy–similar to the military-industrial complex that guides so much of our foreign policy.

7. If you love someone you’ll never hurt their feelings. Well, you might not hurt their feelings intentionally–but that’s a whole different matter. Love isn’t a feeling. As Jesuit theologian William O’Malley has pointed out, love is a conscious and active commitment to the well-being of someone. I bring up this point because too many people these days, when arguing politics, seem to be guided less by intellectual consideration and more by emotion. They decide what’s right based upon how their proposals make them feel. The Christian virtue of love is shared by many religions. One doesn’t have to foist one’s Christianity on others to love them, but love nonetheless is a terrific guide for making political decisions. Too often our political debate is framed as if it’s a choice between the people who care for others (the “liberals”) and those who don’t (the “conservatives”). That’s just downright stupid. There are people on both sides of that divide who genuinely care to increase the well-being of others. My complaint is that we can’t decide what’s best based upon how it makes us feel. We need to think and think hard.

So there they are. Seven “truths” that I reject because I don’t think they are true at all. There are others, such as immigration reform (the real reason for which is to secure votes). Each of these is an ill-defined problem with adherents who passionately argue that I’m wrong. So be it. As Martin Luther is reputed to have said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” But my stance isn’t based upon any attempt to be hard-headed or belligerent. It’s based upon my appropriation of the best information I can find. Don’t take my word on any of it. Do your own research. If I found the information, you can find it as well. I make my own choices and live with the consequences. You must do likewise. Gosh, we don’t hear that too often, do we?

In the final analysis, remember one thing, please. Only in a free society can divergence exist when it comes to values, beliefs, and ideologies. Wherever you stand on the issues, I beg you to be consistent and to be honest with yourself. Don’t give a pass to politicians or government bureaucrats just because they share your preferred political agenda–especially not if they have the privilege of carrying government-issued sidearms.

Avoid schadenfreude. That German word describes the human tendency to take pleasure in the suffering of someone else. If it pleased you to see certain groups targeted by the IRS, remember that it may one day be a group you admire. It could even be you. Political winds blow where they will.

Tyranny hurts us all. Even when it’s applied to our political adversaries.

Exchanging Freedom for Security

untitledReal life makes the best classroom. Let me share a recent Facebook exchange. I posted an article by constitutional attorney Michael Connolly explaining some of the vague language and dangerous provisions regarding gun control that were recently signed into law as presidential executive order. It’s entitled “What Just Happened? Tyranny By Executive Order” and I highly recommend it. In response someone replied that “the Patriot Act and NDAA took care of that a long time ago. At least Obamacare will give us something back.”

Honestly, I cringed when I read that comment. The author didn’t disagree with me. She didn’t suggest that my take on tyranny was wrong. In fact, her mention of Obamacare could even be read to suggest that it is also an example of governmental overreach. But at least, as she said, it “will give us something back.” I wonder if she has any clue about the costs that will be associated with that “giving back,” both economically and personally. I wonder if she has taken note of recent studies indicating that it will cost much more than predicted.

If my Facebook friend pays for her own health insurance, she’ll soon be paying more–perhaps even drastically more.  If her employer pays for her coverage she might not know that it’s costing more. That blissful ignorance may be rudely shattered if her employer decides that it cannot no longer pay for her coverage. How ironic it is that some employers are finding the costs of the “Affordable Care Act” too high. They are dropping healthcare coverage from their list of employment benefits or cutting employee work hours so that they no longer are required to provide insurance. Even in the so-called “enlightened” environs of academia the cry goes up: “We didn’t know this would happen.”  They should have known. They were warned.

It’s not my intention to pick on my Facebook friend, but hers is an attitude that we hear all too often these days. As long as we’re getting something in return, then it’s somehow inevitable, perhaps acceptable, that we’re losing our freedoms along the way. Way too many Americans are satisfied with this while the list of governmental offenses grows.

The NDAA allows indefinite detention of US citizens without trial. But at least we’re supposedly safer because of it. Citizens are strip-searched in public in order to board an airplane. Our travel, we are told, is now more secure. A host of new and unreasonable taxes is going into effect (on medical devices, insurance policies, tanning salons, wages, home sales, drugs, and even illness)–but it’s okay because we’re all supposedly getting the health security we need to live our lives to the fullest.

The federal government, in effect, has seized control “over healthcare benefits and financing,” establishing “a one-size-fits-all health system,” and removing healthcare planning from our own hands by putting it in the hands of a vast new bureaucracy with invasive powers.  All of this is in exchange for our security. We are now supposedly secure from terrorism and from sickness. The same manner of thinking is being applied to gun control. If the government just seizes more guns we’ll all be safer.

History suggests otherwise. The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said that “most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.” Seems he was right.

The people of the United States have become slaves to their insecurities. We are much like the serfs of medieval Europe, manipulated by the greedy lords in Washington for their own enrichment. Gradually, one liberty at a time, we’re giving our freedom away for chains that will supposedly make us safer. It’s a colossal tragedy.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “the one who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”

Political Theatrics is Destroying Us

There are some common-sense lessons we learn as children that we really should hold dearly.  Here’s one that I recall.  It was acted out time and time again as I progressed through school.  Class would be going as usual, and in the corner of my eye there would be some unexpected movement from another part of the room.  Inevitably, the teacher’s back would be toward the class.  Out of two dozen or so students, two or three people would be acting up.  They would eventually come to the attention of the teacher and would be scolded.  But their antics would only end temporarily.

Once the teacher returned to writing on the chalkboard, the antics would begin anew.  Again the teacher would address the students and perhaps she would even mete out some punishment.  Sometimes the problematic students were removed from the room to face consequences from the school’s administration.  More often than not, the problem continued and the eventual outcome was that the entire class was punished with the loss of some privilege.

This same model is very popular in government.  You see, rather than confronting a problem directly and with bold action, it’s easier to make a general rule or prohibition that affects everyone.

In the classroom, the best action would be to deal with the offenders in no-nonsense terms, engage the support of administrators, and demand action from the parents of the offending children.  That, however, is a difficult path requiring self-confidence, determination, clear vision, and bravery.  Well do I know this from my 21 years of teaching!  Parents don’t like to be called when their children are out of control.  But the truth of the matter is that when they are forced to be involved, the problem is much more likely to be resolved.  I know this from experience.

Now let’s turn to examples regarding government.  I’ll apply this lesson to reality.  In each case there is a small minority of trouble makers, or there is a small group of citizens with genuine needs that must be addressed.  In the examples I provide the government response (or proposed response) is often not to fix the problem or curtail the offenders directly but to limit the rights and opportunities of everyone.

GUNS

 The US Census Bureau provides a real-time “clock” that monitors the population of the USA and the world.  As of this posting, the US population is just a bit over 314 million.  In 2009 and 2010, according to statistics gathered by The Guardian (a UK newspaper), there were approximately 9,000 homicides in the US by firearms.  I realize that I’m not being very exact, but these statistics are close enough to give us a very interesting picture.  If we adjust the US population back to levels of 2009 and 2010 and average it at 305 million, we can do an interesting math equation.  The results?  Gun deaths in the US in 2009 and 2010 represent approximately 0.0000286% of the population (way less than 1%).  That means that for every 100,000 Americans there were 2.8 murders for those years.

Is that a tragedy?  Yes, assuredly so.  Even a single innocent death is a tragedy.  But let’s learn from some perspective.

In the fall of 1995, the Northwestern School of Law published an insightful article in their peer-reviewed journal entitled “Armed Resistance to Crime: the Prevalance and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun.”  The article documents a study completed in the previous year in which a convincing argument was made.  It was so convincing that even one of their opponents was amazed.  The survey found that about 2.5 million times in that year an American used a weapon for self-defense.  Of those, it was reported by self-defenders that in 392,500 cases someone would “almost certainly” have died if a gun had not been used for defense.  In 2,087,500 instances (83.5%), the perpetrator either used violence or threatened to do so.  In addition, 73.4% of the time the attacker was a stranger and 79.7% of the time the attacker used a concealed handgun.  The most amazing statistic is still to come:  in 91.7% of these cases of self-defense, the attacker was neither killed nor wounded.

Shortly after these findings were published, two gun-control advocates (Cook and Ludwig) attempted to disprove the statistics with their own survery.  They could not do so.  Their findings indicated that the number of successful gun self-defense incidents was probably higher than originally reported.

Honestly, I wish we could do away with every weapon on earth.  But we can’t do so until evil no longer exists.  That issue, I’m afraid, is above my pay grade, even as a theologian.  But until there are no violent people in the world, every person should have the right to adequate self-defense.  That includes the ownership of a weapon if they choose that option.  The old adage about guns is trite, but true:  when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have the guns.

DRUGS

In the US, we’ve spent billions on the so-called “war on drugs.”  For all the success we’ve had, perhaps we should just as soon be fighting a war on human nature.  Our species has been finding and cultivating mind-altering substances almost from its inception.  The first humans to become intoxicated probably thought themselves under control of a deity or other spiritual force.  We’ve been imbibing ever since then, and not always harmlessly.  The “bath salts” craze is just the latest.  Government authorities can’t wait to ban another substance that is being abused, but at soon as one is banned, another synthetic drug is invented and circulated.

In my home state of Mississippi, as in others, we have a problem with illegal use of methamphetamine.  Law-enforcement officials report that it’s being dangerously manufacturered in home “meth labs” all around the state.  Because these “labs” can explode and kill unsuspecting neighbors, I support the vigorous search to find and dismantle them.  But in 2010 the Mississippi legislature went one step further:  it banned the use of a simple over-the-counter antihistamine (pseudophedrine) without a prescription.

Used by thousands daily, the drug is safe, inexpensive, and extremely effective.  I know because I used it for years, since I suffer from sinus headaches.  It’s found in many name brands, including my favorites like Advil Cold & Sinus.  Now its use requires a visit to my doctor and a prescription that must regularly be renewed.  Why?  Because pseudophedrine is used by those who illegally produce meth in their home laboratories.  Once again, the law-abiding citizen pays a price–in liberty and in health–for the criminal.  According to the DEA, the problem continues, as always:  through falsification of prescription forms, by lying to doctors, and through illegal shipments from out of the country.  Go figure.

HEALTHCARE

We’ve heard it so many times that it’s obnoxious:  thirty million people in the US have no healthcare, we were told, so the responsible thing to do was to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “Obamacare.”

The problem with that statistic is that there are lots of facts that aren’t being mentioned.  First, it includes illegal aliens–millions of them.  No nation is obliged to give permanent, long-term healthcare to those who are within its borders illegally.  We are obliged to give emergency medical care, of course, and this we are already doing.  Law-enforcement officials are obligated to do so when sick or wounded persons are apprehended, and US hospitals are required by law to stablize everyone who comes to an emergency room no matter what their financial situation.

Second, that figure includes millions of young Americans who simply don’t want or don’t believe they need healthcare coverage.  Never mind that they can purchase catastrophic health insurance for a low premium because of their youth–that’s a discussion for another day.

When we finally get down to the barest of healthcare facts, there are only 5-7 million Americans who want healthcare coverage but who are unable to get it.  If the US Census Bureau is correct and there really are 314 million Americans, that means that the real healthcare problem in America only affects about 2.2% of us.  Back in 2009 The Washington Times reported that 89% of us were happy with our healthcare.

Huh.  Imagine that.  We have a small problem that we can fix.  Most of us are happy.  So the federal government rushes through a Utopia-inspired healthcare law that butts into the private affairs of citizens, increasingly limits their options, is going to cost tremendously more than it was ever intended, and still doesn’t cover millions of Americans?

Does that sound responsible to you?

THE MEN AND WOMEN “BEHIND THE GOVERNMENT CURTAIN”

We Americans are sending elected representatives to Congress, supposedly, to fix real problems.  Ideally, any fix they offer should fall within the scope granted to their powers by the Constitution.  That gives them plenty to do without overreaching and making things up.

For their service we pay them exceedingly well.  We pay 100 senators (two from each state) and 435 representatives (distributed by national census numbers) a base salary of $174,000 per year.  Let’s put that into perspective.  That’s $14,500 per month.  That’s $3,346.15 per week–nearly $500 a day!  Leaders in the House and Senate get even more:  Harry Reid (D-NV) makes $193,400 while John Boehner (R-OH) gets $223,500.  Let’s not even start talking about all the perks enjoyed by the political elite.

In addition, we have fifty states with legislatures, legislators, salaries, and perks.  Far too often, like Congress, they react like teachers who don’t know how to confront a problem directly.  So they limit the rights and opportunities of us all.  Is that the best they can do?

For the money we’re spending on the federal and state levels, one might imagine that government could find those direct answers to the few problems that truly belong in the arena of governmental responsibility.  Instead, we get grand-standing and theatrics.  That’s much easier than finding genuine solutions.  It’s popular and it makes our elected officials look as if they are actually accomplishing something useful.  It looks decisive.  It provides terrific soundbites to the journalists who refuse to do the hard work of digging and asking questions.

Remember the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz?  The old man behind the curtain wasn’t a bad guy after all.  Neither are the men and women in our state capitals and in Washington, DC.  But, like the old fellow in Oz, he couldn’t help Dorothy and her pals until he came out from behind that curtain, and put aside the pretended pomp and allusions of grandeur.

In the end, the old guy behind the curtain is us.  He helped others to find the answers they truly needed only when he met them directly, confronted their issues honestly and bravely, and became one of them.  As an elitist he was useless to them.  Face to face, respecting the limits upon them all, he began to move them toward resolution of their problems.

The elite in Washington and in our state capitals could learn a great lesson from the man behind the curtain.  I hope they learn it while we citizens still have a few liberties left to us.

 

The Ghoulish World of Government-Controlled Healthcare

A dear friend wondered aloud on his Facebook page recently why so many of us are upset by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on the constitutionality of most of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), including the individual mandate.  I don’t have the heart to respond.  I suppose our political worlds are just too far apart. 

Political disagreement doesn’t bother me in any philosophic or personal sense.  It is in the nature of our existence as humans that we’re going to disagree about what makes life good, and about morality in general, and about the forms of government to which we ascent.  I truly do understand that. 

On the other hand, we citizens of the United States have a form of federal government that is already in place.  We can argue and debate many things, but one thing seems clear to me and it seems so clear as to be beyond debate:  the only way the Founders were able to get sovereign states to sign on to the compact known as the US Constitution was by guaranteeing that their sovereignty and the rights of their particular people would be respected.  So, while I’m not upset that people disagree about government and its purposes, I’m terribly distraught and at this point quite frightened and somewhat disillusioned that so many fail to understand the context, purpose, and intent of the Constitution.  But even worse:  I’m startled and disturbed by the manner in which the Constitution is ignored or misrepresented by most of those in the federal halls of power–now including the Supreme Court.  They appear to think that the mere passage of time has invalidated the limits placed upon the federal government.

As is well known at this point, it was the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts that brought victory for the individual mandate since the court was otherwise split on the matter.  It now appears that in the Court’s deliberations, Roberts originally found the mandate to be unconstitutional.  He agreed on this matter with Alito, Kennedy, Thomas, and Scalia.  But when they insisted that the unconstitutional mandate required the striking of the entire law, Roberts switched sides and upheld it in order to preserve the law itself.  According to the online Insurance Journal, he did this because of “a traditional Supreme Court principle that if the justices can find any constitutional grounds on which to uphold a law, they should do so.”

On that slim argument the Chief Justice of the United States gave the upper hand to an overreaching Congress and President against the liberties of the nation’s citizens.

Finding a reason to preserve a challenged law that has come before it is, constitutionally speaking and without a shade of doubt, NOT the job of the Supreme Court.  The job of that court is to judge the constitutionality of the law before it.  Or, as the Supreme Court said in its decision, “whether the Constitution grants Congress the powers it now asserts.”  One wonders how it can genuinely fulfill this self-stated responsibility while simultaneously attempting to uphold the matter being judged.  Would this qualify as schizophrenic jurisprudence?

If you find my argument less than convincing, imagine how such a lack of objectivity would function in any other court in the land.  Imagine if a judge or jury, supposedly disinterested and unbiased in order to guarantee a fair trial, were to decide that their job is to find a way to put you in jail no matter what the facts are.  See my point?

Whatever happens next with regard to Obamacare, so-called progressives will not rest until the United States has a centralized single-payer system administered by the federal government.  That was the goal of the Affordable Care Act and it remains the purpose toward which its implementation is moving us.  Federal regulations on insurers, limitations on insurance contracts and provisions, and even changes to the military insurance program (TRICARE) are designed with this end in sight.

Here are a few things we can look forward to if Obamacare if not overturned and if we continue moving toward a single-payer system as we are doing now.  My predictions aren’t the product of gazing into a crystal ball, but come simply from studying the record of government involvement in other issues of our lives, and from looking at similar programs in other welfare nations.

First, the goal is that private insurance and private medical arrangments–even if paid for by one’s own personal funds–will be illegal, and will result in severe penalties.  Waiting times will increase dramatically and the wealthy among us will simply go to other countries for the medical procedures they need.  The United States will no longer be the country where the wealthy of other countries come for surgery unless they are able to take advantage of my second prediction.

What is my second prediction?  That’s easy:  our elected officials will have access to better and quicker healthcare than the constituents they supposedly represent.  You can count on that.  No matter what happens, they’ll see that they get the best for themselves and their loved ones.  That’s one of the perks to being among the political elite.

Third, the entire plan will cost far more than anyone has even begun to suggest.  The process to realizing this has already begun. 

Fourth, in an attempt to control costs, the federal government is going to insist on massive new intrusions into our personal lives.  By federal law, our health records are already being maintained electronically.  And progressives in some states and cities are already putting intrusive food-related measures into place.  We can expect all sorts of new regulations and limitations on any substances considered unhealthy:  alcohol, edible fats, salt, types of carbohydrates, sizes of food containers, and an eventual absolute ban on tobacco.

I can easily imagine that, under a nationalized healthcare system, we’ll be forced to undergo certain medical tests to ensure that we are complying with the law.  Simple blood tests will be the espionage system that gives the truth of our activities to the government (in other words, our bodies will be tattling on us to government representatives who will then take the necessary measures to punish us through taxation or worse).  I can already imagine the conversations between doctors and patients. 

Doctor:  “Mr. Smith, I thought you told me you quit smoking six months ago.  Your blood test says otherwise.”

Patient:  “Well, doc, I tried.  I stopped for a week or two but the habit was too strong.  I went back to smoking … but hey, I was able to cut back to only half a pack a day.”

Doctor:  “Nonetheless, you realize that the law requires me to report this fact to the national health agency.  Otherwise I’ll lose my medical license.”

Patient:  “No, wait … please, doc, I can’t afford another increase in my taxes … they’re getting outrageous.  Ever since my cholesterol went up and you told the feds about it my health-related government fees are eating me alive.  My family and I are looking to sell our house and get a smaller one just so we have more money to send the government for cover our lifestyle fees.”

(By the way, if the part about downsizing a home in order to have more money to give to government sounds ridiculous, then you need to take note of the rising number of retired elderly people who are selling their homes because they can’t afford the property taxes.)

For now the part about government “lifestyle fees” is just a horror story.  But before now who would have thought that the highest court in the land would say that it’s ok for the feds to force us to buy something under penalty of law?  Justice Roberts says it’s just a tax.  I feel better already.  After all, we have massive taxation on cigarettes.  Let’s tax the heck out of butter, whole milk, and cooking oils.  While we’re at it we can impose a targeted federal tax on all fried foods and all caffeinated beverages the same as we’re targeting a federal tax already on tanning salons.  All of this stuff is just not good for you. 

I guess there is no need to worry about this anytime soon.  When the economy collapses we’ll all be getting skinny one way or the other.  I note that the latest reports from Europe state that unemployment in EU nations is higher than it’s ever been before and the entire continent is racing toward recession.  There’s nothing to worry about, I’m sure–except that our federal government seems to be emulating EU economic, financial, and regulatory policies.  I’m sure economic collapse will never happen here.  After all, our Constitution and our Supreme Court will protect the liberties that would prevent such a thing in this country.

How many of us still believe that fairy tale?