Now, one way to hear this is as an accidental admission that Obama was born in Kenya. Okay, I think a reasonable person, watching just this video, could conclude that. However, that’s now how it sounded to my ears — it sounded more like she was identifying him with an ancestral homeland. I’ve seen this before, back at college, when everybody wanted to claim to be of the ethnicity of their most exotic grandparent. It’s a lefty thing, what can I say. Anyway, the point is that people who do that, such as Michelle Obama (and it’s fair to say her husband as well), do not primarily identify themselves as American, and clearly do not have any deep personal emotional attachment to America above, say, their “home country”.
As an aside, I’m not a “birther”. I think Pres. Obama was probably born here in the United States, although I’ll admit I’m not confident of that. It seems perfectly reasonable to me, upon examination of the evidence, to question the matter. People who do are well within their rights, and it would seem that as U.S. citizens they ought to have standing to demand proof. And the fact that it is repeatedly denied to them, at great cost to those denying it, is strange. And the idea that, say, a New Yorker should take the word of another state’s official on the matter, seems a bit contrary to our system. So I’m sympathetic to the so-called “birthers”, because I think their position is justifiable, and also because most of their vocal detractors are so despicable (a variant of that latter argument also makes me sympathetic to George W. Bush and Sarah Palin).
I was afraid this would happen, that we’d get Contract with America, 2010 Edition this year. See, Republicans look back on 1994, and they think “Contract with America, that’s the ticket, that’s what got us elected!” They may not realize that a lot of others look back and think “oh, that Contract with America thing the Republicans used to trick us into voting for them?”
So it’s going to happen again this year. Everybody in the Republican Party is working on their version now and getting ready to race to unveil theirs first.
It’s looking like one that may wind up being influential is this Contract from America thing. I oppose doing this, but since I think it’s almost certain to happen, I want to at least influence it for the better. In the event that this does wind up being the Contract for the year, I’ve voted on the top 10 priorities (of the 20 they let you choose from):
- Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike.
- Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.
- Adopt a fair and simple single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words—the length of the original Constitution.
- Allow young Americans the choice of opting out of Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, creating both real financial security in retirement through the freedom to own your personal retirement savings, and reducing the long-term unfunded liabilities of the federal government
- No regulation or tax on the Internet.
- Authorize the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation, lowering prices and creating competition.
- Block state and local governments that receive federal grants from exercising eminent domain over private property for the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues.
- Begin an audit of the Federal Reserve System.
- The federal government should not bail out private companies and should immediately begin divesting itself of its stake in the private companies it owns from recent bailouts.
- Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require Congressional term limits.
Plenty of gimmicky details, but this is the best I can cobble together from their mess.
Let’s take just one paragraph from a recent speech by Pres. Obama, beginning with the line:
Banks will no longer be allowed to own, invest, or sponsor hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations for their own profit, unrelated to serving their customers.
Forget for a second about whether this is a good regulation or not, because what’s way more interesting is the way our president described it. Read that again, with some emphasis added:
Banks will no longer be allowed to own, invest, or sponsor hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations for their own profit, unrelated to serving their customers.
Hoo-boy. So the problem, in Pres. Obama’s eyes, is not that there is some grave systemic risk posed by banks running “hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations” (many reasonable arguments that this is true have been advanced), but rather that it is wrong for them to do so unless they are acting on behalf of their customers (i.e. “the people”) instead of for their own profit (i.e. “themselves”). I know a word to describe this way of thinking:
Collectivism: Personal or social orientation that emphasizes the good of the group, community, or society over and above individual gain.
Don’t buy that interpretation? Well, here’s the president’s very next line, seeming to confirm it:
If financial firms want to trade for profit, that’s something they’re free to do. Indeed, doing so — responsibly — is a good thing for the markets and the economy.
Who decides whether they’re responsible with their money? Doesn’t this ring of “well if you want to do [insert discouraged action here], you’re free to do so, but….”?
This president could not wait to force public bailouts on even those banks that didn’t want them (he voted for it), and then refuse to allow them to repay as soon as they could (in his capacity as president). Why would he do that? So he can justify direct government control of the financial sector with statements like what he said next:
But these firms should not be allowed to run these hedge funds and private equities funds while running a bank backed by the American people.
This is effective nationalization, and nothing less.
The final design for the 2010 (and beyond, it seems) Lincoln Cent reverse has been settled upon. It wasn’t my top choice, but I’m still very happy with it:
I appreciate this design for being a blend of a modern style with a classic American coin motif. Many today are not aware, but in the 1800s, the shield was a common symbol on American coinage (along with Lady Liberty, who proudly filled the role now reserved for admired presidents). Many historical examples (making for stunning eye candy) can be seen on cointypes.info/usa.
Rasmussen has defined a really fantastic concept for its poll interpretations: the Political Class. The very name evokes images of power elites and pundits, fervently applauding their own efforts while peppering their language with meaningless phrases like “the American people” and “Main Street” (vs. “Wall Street”). Oh, you didn’t get all that from it? Well, I did… Maybe I’m too bitter. Anyway, the Political Class is that small group of elites and its ardent supporters, the ones who try to brand themselves as populists but are in fact concerned primarily with the goodness of their own power and authority.
- Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgment do you trust more – the American people or America’s political leaders?
- Some people believe that the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?
- Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?
The idea is that each one has three acceptable answers (the populist answer, the elitist answer, and “I don’t know”), and your category is assigned based on your responses. So if you give the elitist answer to 2 questions and I don’t know to a third, or the elitist answer to all three, you’re in the Political Class. Similarly for the Populist Mainstream. I gave the so-called populist answer for all three questions.
This interests me because it’s a definition of populism that’s very much about public sentiment. It’s not that I’m a populist because I support protectionist trade policies (I don’t) or because I support giving a small voting majority free handouts (I certainly don’t) as our elites would have us believe populism really is, but rather that I’m a populist because I think the elites — wherever they are found — are, for the most part, working against popular interests and for their own exclusive advancement.
Don’t misunderstand — I don’t have any objections to people working in their own interests in the private sector. I do, however, have a serious objection to the government acting in its own interest — because that is practically by definition against ours.
It is in the populist answers to those three questions that the true nature of the reform this country rightly yearns for can be found.
I’ve heard that Congressman Barney Frank has defined government as “the things we choose to do together”. That’s cute. Here’s the quote as I’ve seen it:
Government is the name we give to the things we choose to do together.
What a can of worms. The first thing that strikes me about that statement is that it is not limited to institutions we normally think of as part of the civil government — it could mean big banks that more or less set monetary policy, for example. I agree with that aspect, that large monopolies have the potential to (but don’t necessarily) take on governmental roles and therefore should be considered part of government.
The next thing I think is that this might be true in a real democracy. In a democracy in which everything that was done by the government was implemented after a vote (a totally impractical prospect), this would be true. We’d have majorities voting for all of the various coercions imposed upon the public, and in that sense “we” would be choosing those things.
But that’s a scary thought. The founders wisely opted to establish a republic, not a democracy. That very fact makes clear that our government is not the things we choose to do together, but rather maybe just the things we do together. We don’t necessarily choose them all — instead, we choose leaders who we trust to make those decisions for us, even if at times we would overwhelmingly oppose them. That, by the way, is a huge moral responsibility for both the voter and the elected governor.
If government really does extend beyond the traditional institutions, and include other things not necessarily run by elected officials at all, then we no longer even have a pure republic. We have something that is part republic, part oligarchy. And that only further erodes the idea that we’re choosing what we’re doing together.
Moreover, can a majority choose to impose its will arbitrarily on a minority? The answer is of course no, at least not rightly. So the warm-and-fuzzy language of “things we choose to do together” is itself toxic.
Government is probably better understood in terms of collective coercive power. The government is composed of those institutions that can coerce you and me to do what they want us to, with or without our say (the part of our government that is a democratic republic is supposed to graciously hold out for our say most of the time).
How do we restore right and proper republican government? Throw the bums out, elect new men of principle, reform the existing constitutional government to bring it back in line with its intended form and function, and begin to seriously prosecute fraud and cronyism in the private sector, focusing particularly on those companies and individuals who have colluded with the government to gain access to its coercive powers for their own advancement. Only then can we restore freedom and liberty, and work with a sensible definition of government.
I’ve been hearing more and more references lately to the Tea Party movement as a third political party. Rasmussen even polled a generic three-way ballot for congressional races, finding D-36%, T-23%, R-18%. T is for The Tea Party, the fictional third party that could be imagined arising out of the movement bearing its name. And it’s beating the Republicans.
I’m very sympathetic to this movement, because I share with it a common cause — defending liberty and the American way against a power-hungry and increasingly-gluttonous federal government. But just to be clear, I doubt that a third party will emerge from this movement, unless it is large enough to supersede the Republican Party, in which unlikely case it would just be the second party. No, Tea Partiers will mostly vote for Republicans, because that’s the party out of power and the party that used to be somewhat sympathetic to their cause, and because they know that dividing the electorate amongst these three groups would only cement their worst case: total Democratic control for years.
There’s a lot of anger all around directed at the federal government, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Pres. Obama, and former Pres. Bush, among countless other power-wielders inside and outside the government. Many of the angry people at these rallies are not overeducated pundits carefully articulating their grievances. They are consequently easily caricatured by a media hostile to their causes, and a widespread belief has emerged amongst the elites that they are not a movement built on coherent beliefs, but rather on rage. This is a grave error that the elites could suffer for making.
Suppose for the sake of discussion that there were such a Tea Party. We already have a left-wing party and we already have a right-wing party. The Tea Party is not some new party that falls in the middle of the two, or to some farther extreme. The Tea Party is generally right-of-center, but does not have to be (in many ways it’s not… there are strong anti-war and anti-corporate factions). You’ll notice before that I did not say it was despised by the left, but by the elites — and therein lies the difference. The Democrats and Republicans may be on different sides of the left/right, progressive/conservative split, but they do align, at least in their leadership (which is what counts at the end of the day), on an altogether different axis. Some years, the Democrats run the government. Other years, the Republicans run the government. They volley back and forth for one thing: power. The other axis is about the allocation of power — collectivism/individualism, totalitarianism/anarchy, tyranny/liberty. Being close to the side of collectivism/totalitarianism/tyranny is beneficial if you’re one of the guys sharing power, one of the elites, the tyrannical totalitarians directing the collective. Some years it’s Democrats, and other years it’s Republicans. The leadership of both parties benefits from being near the totalitarian side. The rest of us suffer.
The Tea Party may be right-of-center, but that’s not the reason it exists. Its members may not all be able to articulate it clearly yet, but they do understand this. I talk to people all the time who tell me they are angry and afraid, that they feel duped by the system, that at the end of the day, no matter who’s in power, they’re getting screwed. The Tea Party isn’t about anarchy because it recognizes that government is necessary, but it is about being closer to that extreme than to the other, it’s about valuing the individual, it’s about restoring liberty. The Tea Party wants to back away from a powerful government and restore personal liberty. History has shown that the two simply cannot coexist.
The top Democrats and the top Republicans want to control our lives. The Tea Partiers don’t want to control anything except their own destinies. And that, my friends, is the real difference. And that’s why I’d vote for them any day, even if they are gun-totin’, Bible-clingin’, unrefined hillbillies. Sounds like my kind of people.
I know this isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but I don’t like paying taxes. When I tell people this, responses tend to fall into one of three categories: “you should be okay with it because taxes are what keep things running”, “yeah no kidding”, or “well taxation is basically the government stealing from you at gunpoint”.
And wow are my reactions overcomplicated as always:
- You shouldn’t complain about paying high taxes because they benefit the country that allowed you to gather that wealth in the first place. This is a half-truth. Most of my tax dollars don’t seem to be funding the sustenance of this country (as if I have a boundless debt to the rest of my countrymen, determined not by my own state and actions but by theirs), but rather waste, corruption, and inessential luxuries for others. I’m overtaxed.
- Taxes suck. This is a whole truth — of course they suck, they’re a necessary evil! And necessary (not in an ultimate sense) things that are evil always suck. What do I mean when I say that they’re a necessary evil? Well, I accept the proposition that government is itself a necessary evil, made necessary by the general sinfulness of mankind. If there’s going to be some shadow of justice on this earth, it’s going to come through a government (civil or otherwise). So to the extent that the government is necessary, since I’m just as responsible for making it necessary as anybody else, I absolutely believe it is my duty to fund it. And that sucks.
- Taxation is basically the government stealing from you at gunpoint. This is another half-truth. To the extent that government is necessary, I have a duty to fund it and so they’re justified in taking the money (or are they only justified in requesting it, but then free to boot me out if I refuse?). But beyond that? Dirty thieves, the lot of them! I’m serious about this — people who act (vote, petition, etc) to encourage the government to take more of my money are working in support of stealing from me, and, to the extent that they understand this, I cannot pretend they have not wronged me.
I’m fine with paying taxes because I owe it to my fellow men. I’m not fine with paying excessive taxes because I’m entitled to the fruits of my hard work and good fortune. When the government extends beyond its justifiable functions, beyond its necessary role, I have no obligation to it, and I surrender my money only out of fear. After all, “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
I am a Christian with many highly-overthought theological opinions. I am also something of a scientific researcher through my day job. And I believe in the likely existence of something that is recognizably life outside our planet. None of this is in contradiction.
As I’ve written before, defining life is itself difficult. I know that I’m alive, and I accept on a combination of faith and reason that my fellow men are also alive. It seems only sensible to me to say that other animals are alive, especially with my modern worldview that says there is no intrinsic physical difference between us. When I come to microorganisms, I have much less confidence in the proclamation, and with plants I’m flat-out skeptical. What are the qualities of life? Try to list them, and then watch this video of Theo Jansen’s beach creatures. Are they alive?
Of course not. Likewise, other structures exhibiting lifelike properties — whether engineered or not — are similarly dismissed. Perhaps it is a certain holiness, a divine sanction, that separates life from the lifelike. Or perhaps it is merely our delusion.
Some would put forward that certain well-characterized biological structures (DNA, etc) must be present for something to be considered life. I see no reason for this arbitrary physical distinction. In fact, I believe it is simply wrong. Life as it has evolved on earth has centered around these structures, because it was through them that life in this self-contained system was realized. There is no reason to believe this must be so in foreign systems (although there are reasonable arguments based on self-organization of their constituent atoms, but even that may not hold up in other regions of the universe).
So anyway, from a purely physical perspective, the case has been made many times by people smarter than me that life probably does exist out there. I’m not completely convinced, especially because I’m still uncertain of what life is in a physical sense, but I’m reasonably enough persuaded to go along with it.
As a Christian, I believe that life on this planet is, regardless of the physical mechanisms by which it has been realized, created and sustained by an act of divine will. I see nothing in that formula that insists life was only created at one time and in one place — in fact, it is created repeatedly, continually, in many places on earth. Christians even believe in the creation and sustenance of unphysical lives in the angels and demons, and in the life of God Himself. It’s all the same “life”. What in this contradicts God’s creating life, or allowing/causing its physical forms to assemble, elsewhere?
I’m not the only one thinking about this and failing to find an argument against it. The Vatican has also taken an interest in astrobiology. The burden of argument is on those who say extraterrestrial life is impossible, and, until they may convince me theologically, I’m not jumping ship.