Sunday, July 29, 2012

Four Little Words

"You Didn't Build That"

It's amazing how much trouble can be stirred up by four little words.  President Barack Obama, in a speech in Roanoke, VA made comments widely seen as disparaging of American entrepreneurship and small business.  His general theme, that business owners owe some part of their success to the availability of infrastructure provided by local, state, and federal government (roads & bridges, electricity, phones & Internet, etc.) is quite correct; in the narrowest sense, no business can succeed without such.

However, he really put his foot in it when he went "off prompter" to continue, "I'm always amazed by these people who say that 'well, if I'm a success, it must be because I'm smarter than someone else'.  Let me tell you, there are a lot of smart people out there. Or, 'it must be because I worked so much harder than everyone else.'  There are a lot of hard working people out there.  If you've got a successful business, you didn't build that!  Someone else made that happen."

Really, Mr. President?  They "didn't build that"?  Just who, exactly, did?  Were those roads and bridges paid for by the 47% who pay no Federal income taxes, or by the business owners who pay as much as a 40-50% rate and the ten percent of earners who pay more than 70% of total Federal Income Taxes?

Contrary to the President's claim that the Internet was created by the government to provide a way for business to make money, the Internet was built as a Defense Dept. project to enable computers to connect with each other over a network.  The idea of the modern day Internet was the brainchild of a group of techies who used the network to converse and trade & collaborate on ideas via chat rooms.  The initial coding of the program that gave rise to the Internet was written by a single private researcher, while the market potential of this new creation wasn't seen by the government (they actually sat on the technology for decades ofter it's initial creation at the Dept. of  Defense), but was, instead, a product of the vision of various entrepreneurs working together to create the most remarkable invention of the 20th century, a product that has resulted in the greatest expansion of personal success and wealth in world history.

This project wasn't government funded.  It wasn't the result of some government committee, using taxpayer dollars to debate and "come to a consensus" of what form this new technological wonder would take, setting up a system of user fees and taxes.  It arose organically from the efforts of the individuals involved, keeping and expanding what worked while eliminating what didn't.  The expansion and build up of the physical infrastructure that brought the 'net to the public was piggy-backed at first on the existing public communication system, but it was augmented by private investment and expense, incidentally providing the government with additional tax revenue in the process.

Mr. Obama's comments, taken along with past comments of "I just think that when we spread the wealth around, it's better for everyone" (to Joe the Plumber) and telling companies that "There will be a time for profits and bonuses, but that time is not now." illustrate the beliefs of an individual at odds with the American system of free enterprise, one more in line with the belief in government controlled and directed economies.

Everybody has access to the same government provided infrastructure.  Everyone uses the same roads and bridges. Everyone has access to phone and Internet, sewer and water and lights.  Then why is it that everyone is not a business success?  Why is it that everyone isn't a millionaire?  If it's true that "You didn't build that", how is it that some succeed where others don't?  It has to have something to do with the individual.  Maybe they aren't necessarily "smarter"; maybe they are simply better at spotting opportunity.  Maybe they don't necessarily "work harder than the other guy", maybe they find or develop ways to work smarter and leverage their efforts.  In any event, Mr. Obama's unscripted remarks reveal an individual that doesn't believe in or appreciate the system of private business and free enterprise as practiced in the United States; an individual that believes in greater government control and provision.

Many people, from television pundits to radio personalities to politicians to bloggers of all stripes have opined that the President is not-so-secretly advocating for a quasi-Marxist/Socialist system, where the government has an active role in regulating economic activity and taxation in the name of "equality" and "fairness".  His off the cuff remarks now, then & in the future, will only give further credence to such beliefs.

He may be sincere.  He may honestly believe that government needs to step in to "make things fair" for those who can't/won't succeed on their own merits.  The problem is that he's wrong.  His approach has never worked as advertised.  The capitalist system, free from overbearing government interference, has proven to be the single best avenue to the creation of independent wealth and financial security in human history.  The top-down approach has only ever resulted in tyranny and despotism, with great wealth and power for a few, broad-based poverty and lack of opportunity for the majority.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tradegy in Colorado

All our prayers go out the victims of the recent theater shooting in Colorado, and their families.  It's impossible to get our heads around what motivates people to commit such senseless acts of violence against the innocent.

Many will no doubt try to use this tragedy for the advancement of their own political agendas or to further promote their personal beliefs, either pro- or anti-gun.  Now is not the time.  We've already seen at least one incidence of political grandstanding by the ABCNews' anchor, Brian Williams, when he/they put out the name of an area resident who happened to share the name of the alleged shooter, reporting that the individual had ties to the Tea Party Patriots.  They retracted their statement and apologized for their "error" when it was pointed out that the man they named was many years older than the 20-something alleged assailant and had no connection to the event.

We should all let the investigation run it's course before reporting any unverified "facts" in a rush to be the first to "break the new developments" in the chase for ratings.  It's unknown at this point what this person's political affiliations were (if any) and whether they factored into his decision to commit his alleged crime. Until he makes a statement, either to the police or at his court hearing, it's impossible to know what his motivations were and gross negligence on the part of the news media to pontificate on their projections of what they believe was going through his head at the time of the crime.

Just as in the Zimmerman/Trayvon situation in Florida, excess speculation by those with a national platform, powered by emotions and political agendas, could easily lead to further "errors of judgement" & possible additional tragic consequences.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Not By the Color of Their Skin"

When GOP candidate Mitt Romney spoke recently at the NAACP convention, the crowd was skeptical (at best), trending to outright hostility.  Some say that Mr. Romney should at least be given credit for going to speak in front of what he had to know going in was a hostile crowd, some wonder why he even bothered to go.  After all, it's not like anyone at this conference was going to be won over by his arguments for lower spending, less government intrusion in people's lives and increased emphasis on personal responsibility.

In fact, the line that brought the most boos was when he said that he was going to eliminate wasteful government programs that were ineffective and/or infringing on people's rights, starting with ObamaCare.  The boos were loud and sustained for several minutes.  It seems that the entitlement culture exists even within the ranks of those who are, by definition and by inclusion in this conference, the elite of African-American activists.  None of these people are struggling just to get by; they've all" made their nut", as it were.  However, it must also be noted that in many cases maintaining "their nut" depends on those less fortunate continuing to rely on them to petition government for "free" goodies and "their fair share" of the economic pie.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most quoted passage from his "I Have a Dream" speech was his vision of an America where his children were judged fairly, on their individual merits; not pre-judged, based on the color of their skin.  What was on display at the NAACP convention in their response to Gov. Romney was just the opposite.  While there may have been some in attendance who were willing to hold an open mind and listen to the substance of what this man had to say, the majority went in with the pre-judgement that this was just a mandatory political stop by a rich, whitebread, Republican who is only out for himself and his other rich buddies at the expense of the poor.

It's a shame, really.

If they did take the time to actually listen to and consider the impact of the differing claims of the candidates on their lives, they might find Gov. Romney's prescription to be better (although perhaps bitter) medicine for what ails them.

Let's go back to Gov. Romney's statement that he'd eliminate certain inefficient and wasteful government spending programs;  how is that any different from then-candidate Obama's message that he would go through the budget with a "fine toothed comb" and scour it "line by line", eliminating ineffective or wasteful programs, on  his way to "cutting the deficit in half" by the end of his first term?  I know, he never did any of that.  In fact, he's made no effort to rein in federal spending on any level or eliminate any programs (unless it was perceived to be of possible benefit to political rivals).  Nevertheless, we're contrasting the two crowd  reactions.  Mr. Obama was cheered wildly upon his pronouncement, while Gov. Romney was booed.

Gov. Romney wants to expand programs that do work, such as federal support for charter schools and providing vouchers to parents in order to enable them to make the decision of where their children go to school, based on their assessment of which school environment is best suited to the needs of their individual child.  President Obama ended a very successful pilot program that provided some inner-city children in Washington D.C. a chance to escape the notoriously bad public school system and attend the same prestigious private school his own girls go to.  This, in spite of the fact that the parents literally begged that the program be continued and the relatively minuscule amount of money involved.  Since education is widely acknowledged as the key to success in  life, who really has the best long term interests of the public in mind?

Gov. Romney is laying out a relatively precise outline of his governmental spending priorities, based on his evaluation as a businessman of which programs are working, which one's aren't, and which merely provide an avenue for government waste by duplicating the efforts of others.  The President continues to speak in round, pleasant sounding platitudes about "fairness" and "investment in the future", without providing any real specifics such as exactly how much money will be spent, for how long, for what purpose and how the program will be ended, should it prove to be either ineffective or eventually unnecessary.  In fact, the President has made no effort to enforce the Constitutional requirement that Congress  pass an annual budget outlining the government's spending priorities for the coming fiscal year (the House has passed several budget proposals, while the Senate has refused to even debate any proposals, much less hold a vote, for nearly 3 full years), instead relying on an endless series of "continuing resolutions" which serve to keep in place the massive spending increases that were part of his initial stimulus plan, effectively making a "temporary increase in spending" permanent.  All of this spending is either borrowed or coming out of the private sector economy, leaving fewer resources available for expansion and hiring (job creation), aggravating a situation already made worse by uncertainty over the future regulatory environment.  Since private economic activity is the sole source of the tax base that all government spending relies on, who really has the best long term interests of the country in mind?

There are many who will make the claim that any criticism of Pres. Obama is based on nothing more than racism, or a belief that he's a Muslim (I don't think he really has any religion, unless it's the so-called "Black Liberation Theology", which I rank right up there with Scientology and the creation of Kwanzaa), ignoring the substance of the complaint altogether.  These are the same people who will automatically assign various ulterior motives to any legislation authored by a conservative or Republican, and to any proposal to limit the rate of growth in government spending, much less any proposal to actually eliminate programs.  Again, what happened to the creed of MLK, Jr?  Are these people really willing to judge on the "content of their character"?  Or are they too wedded to their preconceptions, unwilling to let go of their victimhood status and the "security" of a government check?

One additional thing for you to consider, when the first of the government assistance programs were really getting in gear, providing assistance for single parents, (food stamps, rent "stabilization", etc). the numbers for the different racial demographics (unemployment percentage, poverty rates, crime, etc) were comparable.  Since then, there's been a remarkable divergence.  Black and Hispanic poverty and unemployment rates have greatly exceeded those of Whites.  The same has happened for the crime and high school dropout rates.  The rate of out of wedlock births for Blacks was comparable to that of Whites, in the teens and low 20's percent.  The most recent rates for out of wedlock births for Whites are higher, in the upper 20's & 30's percent, but the rate for Blacks is in the 70's approaching 80 percent!  Just think about that.  More than 3/4ths of black children are born to single mothers.  These girls are overwhelmingly uneducated and universally poor and the boys fathering these children are in no position to assume the responsibilities of fatherhood, dooming these children to a life of poverty and struggle, often leading to a life of crime and imprisonment as a consequence.  Where now is the evidence of the "benefit" provided by a governmental support program that imposes no requirements for personal responsibility on it's recipients?  It's a vicious, downward spiral that can only be broken by a renewal of personal and civic responsibility and a shedding of the current entitlement mentalities.

Candidate Romney went to speak at the NAACP convention fully cognizant of the reception he was likely to receive, believing that he had an obligation to present his views and Presidential priorities to all the people he is hoping to represent.  President Obama, "the first black President", curiously couldn't find time in his schedule (he sent a recorded video message), sending VP Biden in his stead.  One white guy got booed, the other white guy got a warm reception; one white guy promoted fiscal restraint, the other white guy promised continued unsustainable spending.

On one hand, you have someone proposing a return to what were once considered common sense values; on the other, you have someone proposing a continuance of the status quo.  Which one really has the best long term interests of the country, and it's people, in mind?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Are We Losing It?

It's beautiful day today.  As I write this, sitting in the diner of a truckstop in southern New Jersey, it's a bright sunny day with only a few white puffies in the sky.  Gonna be another hot one.  Already pushing 90.

As I drove down here, I heard the radio ad by the Obama administration's Dept. of Agriculture touting how wonderful it is to receive food stamps and I thought, "Whatever happened to the celebration of rugged individualism?  The honest self-respect of providing for yourself and your family?  The almost inborn resistance to going to someone else "hat in hand" hoping for a few pennies?  Are we really that close to losing the once-undeniable characteristics of an American (pride, self-reliance, independence & the "I can do it" mindset) citizen?"

Not only are we losing it, we're being encouraged to do so.  Through a series of government-sponsored efforts, we are being told that the idea of providing for ourselves is an unreasonable expectation in this day and age; that no one can succeed without government assistance.

I read a new article the other day about a Department of Agriculture project spending millions of our tax dollars in an effort to convince people in Appalachia to get beyond the culture of "Mountain Pride" and sign up for food stamps and government assistance.  Apparently the idea of being fiercely independent and taking pride in providing for yourself and your family has been deemed detrimental.  They're even handing out prizes to the local departments that succeed in persuading the most people to give up their mountain pride in favor of accepting government handouts. 

......local assistance offices have been rewarded for “counteracting” pride and pushing more people to sign up for benefits.

Apparently, the desire to be self reliant and to provide for one's self and family is a barrier to be overcome by government lobbying.

The vision of the proud American Rugged Individualist is being replaced by a vision of pathetic government dependents, unable to do for themselves and unwilling to even entertain the thought of trying.

Not to sound like some old fart from "back in my day" but this is most certainly NOT the America I was blessed to grow up in.  We used to celebrate success and to point to the successful man or woman as a role model to pattern ourselves after; someone to emulate, not chastise for daring to attain too much and thus making others feel bad.  We didn't disdain the company of those who had fallen on hard times and needed temporary assistance.  Far from it.  We were (and still are) more than willing to help those trying to help themselves get back on their feet.  We DID, however, have disdain for those who were unwilling to do the minimum necessary to provide even minimally for themselves (when the social assistance programs first began, public service was a prerequisite for benefits.  You were expected to contribute what you could, similar to the way that Habitat for Humanity requires that it's recipients spend a minimum amount of hours helping to construct the home they are to live in).

Even the bum in the alley and the drunk in the gutter performed a public service.  They served as a cautionary tale, an illustration to children that their parents could point to of what could happen to them if they didn't steer clear of drugs and alcohol or if they were inattentive in school and failed to take advantage of the chance to learn a skill or trade.

What are our children being taught now?  That it's ok to "do their thing" and to "express themselves" however they feel.  Sexual experimentation isn't discouraged, it's enabled!  Often against the express wishes of the parents with "they're gonna do it anyway" given as an excuse to provide minor children with free condoms and birth control in school (they can't bring an aspirin in with them for a headache, but they can get pharmaceuticals, without parental notification, with no problem).  When they have a hard time with the material, it's either dumbed down or they are given the answers and allowed to "retest" until they pass.  When they don't have the athletic skills to make the team, the coaches are told they are required to allow them an equal amount of playing time in order to protect their self esteem.  They are given "participation trophies" just for showing up, and schools are doing away with the Valedictorian and Salutatorian of the graduating class because showcasing the best students may ruin the experience for the others who didn't excel.

None of this does any good.  Even when they don't keep score, the kids know who won/lost.  The handing out of meaningless awards only serves to diminish the value of real accomplishment.  The young have been educated to believe that "success" can be had without effort and that if you can't (or won't) do what is necessary to succeed on your own, don't worry, someone else will be there to make it all better.

And now, after working on the kids for years, the focus is widening to encompass the adults still daring to hold to the values they grew up with.  As part of the drive to reduce the adults' reluctance to participate in the assistance programs, they are also being touted as being "stimulative" and a boost to the economy.

From the Daily Caller:

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, described USDA’s assertion that food stamps are beneficial to the economy as “ludicrous.”
Sessions, who has had his eye on food stamp reform for years, added that USDA’s focus on reducing cultural impediments to food stamp participation is particularly concerning.

The USDA also suggests "Food Stamp Parties" as a means of increasing participation.  (ie, dependence)

Well, now.  Isn't that just special?  Just what the founders had in mind, I'm sure.

Damn, I need a beer!  Happy Independence Day.