I've been watching the health care debate over the last few weeks very closely. It's one of the most important policy challenges facing this country--second only to the national debt and the economy. So far, it seems that the GOP's strategy can best be summarized in the following manner.
PLAN A: Quickly, quietly, and in the most partisan manner possible, secretively draft a very bad piece of health care legislation and then rush it out for a vote before the rest of Congress or the public can read it and see how bad it is.
Result: Failed (in a matter of days).
PLAN B: Quickly, quietly, and in the most partisan manner possible, secretively draft a very bad piece of health care legislation that makes only the bare minimum of improvements on Plan A's bill and then rush it out for a vote before the rest of Congress or the public can read it and see how bad it is.
Result: Failed (in a matter of days).
PLAN C: Simply give up on any sort of reform at all and instead just repeal Obamacare.
Result: Failed (the very next day).
PLAN D: Simply give up even on efforts to repeal Obamacare, hope it fails (no matter how many Americans that hurts), and then see if we can quickly, quietly, and in the most partisan manner possible, secretively draft a very bad piece of health care legislation and then rush it out for a vote before the rest of Congress or the public can read it and see how bad it is.
Result: Does it really matter? (If the plan succeeds, then the country fails. If the plan fails, then the country fails.)
CAVEAT 1 TO PLANS A THROUGH D: If possible, vote on bills before the CBO has had a chance to evaluate them because when you've written bad bills, objective assessments are not your friend.
CAVEAT 2 TO PLANS A THROUGH D: If possible, convince junior members of Congress to ignore the fact that insurance companies, doctor groups, patient groups, government researchers, university researchers, and non-profits all oppose the bill--a rare instance of complete unity across the health care stakeholder spectrum. (In other words, convince more junior members of Congress to ignore the fact that the only people who support these bills are the more senior members of Congress who paid staffers to write the bills for no other reason than to be able to say that they fulfilled a campaign promise. They might as well just pass a blank sheet of paper that says "Obamacare Repeal" and then pat themselves on the proverbial back.)
The political calculation of Mitch McConnell, who is quite possibly one of the worst Republican leaders currently living--and very near the worst even if we also include those who are no longer living as well as those who have never lived--also is absolutely impossible for more rational minds to grasp. First he decides to put up for vote a bill that stands no chance of passing. No surprise here: It fails. Then he calculates that drafting another bill that stands no chance of passing is just what the doctor (no pun intended) ordered. Lo and behold, it fails too! Finally, he decides simply to repeal Obamacare outright, and what do you know: This effort failed before he'd even written the bill.
He has now nearly single-handedly assured the GOP, which is running the least productive government in history, of a significant black eye in next year's elections. Let's be honest: Even though I'm a Republican, I'm well aware that since the GOP took control of the government, absolutely nothing has happened that would give the American people any confidence that we are actually able to govern. The GOP can't pass bills through Congress even though we control BOTH houses of Congress, and we certainly aren't bothering to lift a finger to bring on board any Democratic support. (They did this to us, so we should do it to them, right? The American people are paying us large salaries simply to do unto the others as they did unto us, right?)
What ever happened to reaching across the aisle, sitting down in good faith, and speaking in terms of what is good and bad for the American people? What ever happened to setting aside partisanship and simply committing to drafting the best piece of health care legislation possible? What ever happened to the idea that it's better to do something right or to not do it at all? What ever happened to the idea that it's better to do something right than to do it fast? What ever happened to wanting to craft into legislation ideas that would garner overwhelming support, not ones that are considered an utter blowout if they can pass one house of Congress by just one vote?
What ever happened to the fact that the point of being in office isn't to defeat the other side but is to win for the American people?
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Both big-ticket news items out of the Trump administration today remain largely speculative in many ways, so it's too early to draw firm conclusions about them. That said, based on what I heard today, I want to offer a few points for consideration.
It is no secret that our corporate tax code is grossly uncompetitive. It is among the most expensive on the entire planet and is structured such that it discourages investing, hiring, and other key facets of a healthy economy. It discourages entrepreneurialism, encourages companies to move their headquarters to other countries, and creates an incentive for American corporations to leave large amounts of their cash overseas--cash that could be brought home and put to work in our own economy.
This is what happens when you have a very archaic and outdated corporate tax system. When I say "outdated," I mean it literally: the U.S. is one of the last remaining developed countries with a world-wide tax system (meaning that money corporations earn around the world, not just the income they derive from the U.S., can be taxed here). Most of our peers got rid of world-wide tax systems decades ago.
I agree with Trump: 15% is a reasonable corporate income tax rate. (There are strong arguments to be made for its elimination entirely, but that's for a post another day.) This is the hallmark of his plan, and I like it. I need to point out two grave concerns I have though.
(1) It isn't clear that his plan will dramatically simplify the corporate tax code. Rates do need to come down, but that's far from the only problem. The code's complexity creates an additional tax in and of itself because complying with it is such an expensive legal and accounting endeavor. Any major reform must include simplifying and streamlining the tax code.
(2) Trump said that he doesn't care about revenue, and this plan seems to bear that out. This is a plan that, when combined with Trump's high levels of proposed spending, would add mightily to our national debt. Any tax and spending plans Republicans pass through Congress MUST seek to reign in our exploding national debt. You cannot increase spending while cutting tax rates and narrowing the tax base. The base should be broadened, the rates lowered, and the spending brought to heel.
There is a myth floating around the White House that cutting the corporate tax rate to 15% will lead to enough economic growth to offset tax revenue losses at current rates. That is not true. Cutting the corporate tax rate will lead to higher growth, but it will not lead to enough growth to stem the rising tide of national debt. (Corporate tax rates are but one of many headwinds our economy faces.) Any tax plan must be, at a minimum, revenue neutral and passed in conjunction with LOWER spending plans. Otherwise, you're essentially mortgaging your future for a little short-term relief. Additional government debt can quickly crowd out additional private investment, after all.
Rumors are circulating that Trump may be planning to sign an executive order expressing our intent to leave NAFTA. This would be an error of historic proportions.
It is a good idea to occasionally revisit old agreements. Our economy and the world in general are very different places than they were when NAFTA was negotiated. We should never consider economic frameworks to be entirely permanent.
Thus, re-opening negotiations could be a very good idea. Re-negotiating and leaving are very, very different outcomes though. If we left NAFTA, three realities are absolutely certain to set in: (1) a small number of jobs would come back to the U.S.--far too few for most people even to know someone who held one of those new jobs; (2) far, far more jobs would simply be automated--no one would hold them; and (3) the prices that ALL Americans pay for many goods and some services would increase sharply.
It wouldn't end there though. This would be catastrophic for Mexico and Canada and near-catastrophic for the U.S. Stock markets would be hammered. GDP growth would slow--possibly even reverse (which means lower standards of living for many people). Anyone who has a 401(k), an IRA, or simply invests a little in the stock market to plan for retirement would find his retirement calculus suddenly looking less rosy.
The world is a different place today. Taking another look at NAFTA's terms is a good idea. As I said though, the world is a different place today, and whereas whether to join NAFTA was a good question in the 90's, two decades later, whether to leave it shouldn't even be up for discussion.
It may be the most comprehensive and broad collection of data about our governments that exists. It's non-partisan and, in something akin to a breath of fresh air, doesn't offer opinions or analysis--just data.
There is data on the local, state, and federal levels of government. Do you want to know how much revenue the governments take in? How much they spend? It's there. Do you want to know the sources of government revenue and where it's all spent? He has that too. You can even look up numbers of police officers your government employs, crime rates, spending on various subsidies, and just about anything else you could ever want.
It's all presented in a very user-friendly, clear interface as well. It should be fairly approachable be nearly everyone.
Anyway, I'm providing this in case anyone wants to get a clean look at relevant data without layers of "interpretation and analysis" (i.e., bias) that so many Left- and Right-leaning websites display these days (under the guise of objectivity, of course).
Caution though: If you're offended by facts, then you may want to stay away from this one.
My position on building barriers on our borders ("wall," "fence," or any other term you like) seems to be controversial. Thus, I want to explain it here.
First and foremost, it is absolutely true that our border security system is broken. It is absolutely true that a barrier built in isolation would not necessarily solve problems and could also create a few new ones. It is absolutely true that a barrier that serves the functions I mention below may end up being too expensive to build. (This post is written based on the assumption that such an obstruction could be built without "breaking the bank." In reality, that remains to be seen.)
Also, I'm not much concerned with the "intangible" reasons people give themselves about why they do not support building a barrier on our borders. I'm concerned with practicalities: pragmatism and realism. The practical implication of not building a barrier along our border is that one piece of our immigration policy--the piece about actually crossing into this country--could be described by three words: "whoever," "wherever," and "whenever." Tired comparisons to one's house and locked doors aside, it should be easy to see that this is neither good economic policy, good security policy, nor good immigration policy. No, it isn't true that we can accomplish the same thing with a "technology fence" and increased numbers of border agents. That has been tried, and it didn't succeed; our borders are simply too long and, in places, too inhospitable.
Before getting into explaining the reasons that I do support the "border wall," I want to first make sure that it's clear that those reasons do NOT include racism, cultural concerns, or anything of the sort. Again, it's pragmatism. So here we go...
It is true that smugglers usually smuggle people, drugs, etc. across our border at established checkpoints, via water, and using other means that would be unaffected by a land barrier. It is also true, however, that smugglers do indeed use routes they've established that cross the border far away from any border checkpoints. Just ask the many farmers in southern Texas who own land at the border and who frequently find people--and evidence of people--on their property making their way north.
It is also a practical truth that policing only checkpoints is far easier than policing thousands of miles of open terrain. Barriers are pragmatic manifestations of this very basic fact.
Finally, choke points are frequently used in military strategy, and they are applicable here. Finding drugs or people being smuggled across our southern border anywhere along its 2,000-mile length is daunting. Forcing any traffickers that use the open desert into checkpoints (the "wall's" version of choke points) would make the cost policing much lower and probability of interdiction much higher. It would also increase confidence in general (less wondering about what you're missing along the hundreds of miles of border that see an ICE agent only once or twice a year--if at all).
Yes, drugs and people could still be flown across the border. Yes, they could come around either side of the barrier on the water. Yes, they could come through check points. "The wall" would not solve those problems, but it would simplify them by removing a source of much uncertainty along the land route.
I've focused here on two kinds of trafficking, but all of this applies to economics and security as well. Without effective control of who comes here and in what numbers, immigration can never be completely tailored to the needs of our economy. Without knowing who is coming here, when, and why, we can never be sure that those coming here do not intend to do us harm. (Indeed, many have crossed our borders with that exact purpose in mind.)
I'm advocating making a barrier along our borders part of a larger immigration overall. A barrier alone would create many problems and would be an excuse for having no real policy. This is what should happen, costs notwithstanding.
(1) Build a barrier along the length of the border that cannot be dismantled easily, cannot be dug under easily, and cannot be climbed over easily. Maintenance costs must also be low.
(2) Increase the use of technology and agents at the checkpoints that penetrate the barrier. This means not only more thorough and effective screening and border crossings but also more efficient ones that move people through more quickly.
(3) Rely primarily on technology to monitor the parts of the barrier that are not near crossings and that rarely, if ever, have a border patrol presence. This is where technology can really add value.
(4) Change immigration quotas annually to match the needs of our economy. Asylum requests not pegged to the needs of the economy should also be considered on a case-by-case basis. This is America, after all.
(5) Streamline the system for granting visas and all other forms of entry so that the path to legal immigration is quick and easy. It should take months or even weeks--not years. The increase in barriers along the border should come with an increase in efficiency in admitting those whom we need and who are coming here legally.
This system would benefit both Americans and immigrants. It would ensure that only those immigrants whom we need can come, which is a benefit to Americans. (I'm sorry, fellow conservatives, but that number would probably still be in six figures every year. The point of the "wall" would NOT be to end immigration. The point would be to change how it happens.) On the other hand, it would ensure that those immigrants who do come are documented and are legal, are paid a fair wage, and are not taken advantage of by their employers. It would also ensure that taxation is paid.
If the "wall" were cost-effective--a big "if," so we must assume that it would be for the sake of this discussion--why oppose it? One's argument then is literally "I do not want barriers to entry on our border." Why? Many will say "because it's racist." Well, I just laid out an argument that has nothing to do with race.
Many will say that "it serves no purpose." (One can only credibly say this if one can show that no one ever crosses our borders except at monitored checkpoints, which simply is not true.) I just showed here that it would serve a practical purpose, but even if you don't think I'm right, there's still a chance that I am. The benefits of being right--especially if the barrier is a reasonable price in the first place--are surely worth the price of building it and being wrong about its benefits. What harm would have been caused because of it?
Several people have asked me why I support it. This is why. Borders were a formality for much of history. In the modern world, they simply aren't. (Just ask Europe.) On this issue, I must agree with Donald Trump: a country should know who is crossing its borders and should have the means for controlling that flow with high confidence. Period.
Trump Puts His Own Economic Agenda in Danger
Much has happened over the last week. It's worth considering where we are now.
The week started off very badly for Donald Trump when Congressional testimony by the NSA, the FBI, and Trump's own DOJ finally laid bare what we already knew: his wiretapping claims were fabricated. He followed this testimony with a string of dishonest and/or misleading tweets, which served only to compound the problem for his administration. Then the apparent source of his "information" on wiretaps, Andrew Napolitano, was suspended indefinitely from Fox News--because of his false wiretapping claims. To make matters even worse, the FBI director not only indicated that Trump's tweets were fabricated, but he also publicly confirmed (for the first time) that Trump's campaign is under a criminal investigation.
The situation had become so one-sided that Representative Nunes tried to throw Trump a little cover by claiming that Trump's team's communications had, in fact, been picked up by intelligence surveillance, an assertion that ran into trouble almost immediately. Nunes himself acknowledged that these collections were both "legal" and "incidental." The next day he found himself apologizing for handling the situation as he did, and the day after that, he walked back his comments overall. Now he just looks partisan and ridiculous.
Aside from the fact that Trump ought to apologize to all of us for wasting so much time with this, the bottom line is that the allegations were false, and the Trump administration needed a success--badly. That's not what happened though.
The most notable event--and probably the most consequential one as well--was the failure of Trump and establishment Republicans to replace Obamacare. The messaging that followed the bill's demise hasn't boded well for the future either.
I was furious that this situation was handled as it was because I deeply believe that Obamacare MUST be replaced. Obamacare did nothing to address the rampant fraud in, especially, Medicare. By the Obama DHHS's own admission, it has raised health care costs above where they would otherwise have been. It levies additional taxes, and it locks millions of Americans into appallingly high premiums that are rising at an even more appalling rate. Replacing the Affordable Care Act (which, ironically, makes healthcare even more unaffordable for many) was and is a high priority of mine.
The replacement bill needed to be one that took care of those who purchased health insurance on the ACA exchanges. It also needed to lessen the impact of our government's health care spending on our national debt. It had to protect those with pre-conditions, address fraud, and eliminate single-state monopolies. To accomplish lofty goals like this, two things were needed above all else: compromise and skilled negotiation.
Unfortunately, neither of those occurred. An element of the modern Republican Party views any compromise with Democrats as weakness and borderline un-American, which ensures that any substantial reform we undertake faces a very up-hill climb to passage. They've forgotten the wisdom of the greatest modern Republican President (and one of the greatest overall), Ronald Reagan: he famously said that he'd be happy to get 70 or 80 percent of what he wanted and just come back for the rest later.
In a further blow to Trump, who is a self-proclaimed "brilliant" negotiator, negotiation over the bill's contents went absolutely nowhere. It appears that Trump's idea of negotiation was to make only token changes to the bill and then to have Steve Bannon threaten, twist arms, and otherwise try to force Tea Party-style Republicans to vote for his flawed, establishment bill. (This is quite an empty threat coming from a President with fewer legislative achievements--none--than any other President at this point in a Presidency [even though his party controls both houses of Congress] and the lowest approval rating ever recorded for a President so early in a Presidency--37%.) The result was predictable: Trump and the establishment were defeated by the very strain of the Republican Party that worked to elect Trump in the first place, a result made all the more likely by Trump's demand that voting on the bill tax place on Friday before all potential avenues to reconciliation had been pursued.
Trump's response in the aftermath has been, honestly, appalling. First, he blamed the Democrats, which is odd since the Democrats don't have enough votes to stop bills in the first place. Then he blamed Republicans, even though he himself is a Republican who was involved in crafting this bill. (Interpretation: "Everyone who isn't named Donald J. Trump is at fault. Everyone who is named Donald J. Trump is not at fault.")
His position right now is to simply give up and stick with Obamacare. Really? Stick with Obamacare? Yes, his "great" plan now is to simply keep Obamacare "until it implodes" so that he can blame it on Democrats. Aside from the fact that it's difficult to imagine a more partisan position, it's even harder to imagine an outcome that would hurt more Americans or add more to our national debt than an Obamacare implosion. Our President is not paid to watch policies crash and burn. He is paid to proactively get ahead of problems and to fix them before they "implode." He and Republican Congressional leadership should role up their sleeves and get to work on a serious replacement bill right now.
Instead, they say that they are going to tackle tax reform. I am on board with this as well. The national debt is my top issue, but tax reform is a close second (besides, the two are closely linked). The first step down this path was Trump's budget submission, yet much to Democrats' delight, his budget included no entitlement reform--none! What kind of conservative declines to try to reform entitlements? This amounts to trying to cut tax rates at the same time you're trying to increase spending. No thank you. We should be cutting both tax rates AND spending.
I agree with the writer of the Bloomberg article I just shared here: when Trump was first elected, I felt that perhaps the best thing that would come of it is serious tax reform. I was confident about that. After observing what I have observed over the last two months--and especially over the last week--I must admit that my confidence in our enacting more-than-nominal tax and spending reform is no higher than 50%. Trump is not coming into that challenge from a position of strength. Nor, for that matter, is the GOP overall. This is crucial though, and I will remain hopeful.
I'm sure that many Democrats stand ready to excoriate me for this last bit, but there are two positive developments that are worth mentioning. Voter ID laws, which I firmly support, appear to be making a comeback, most recently in Arkansas. Trump's DOJ is helping to facilitate this. Additionally, more than 500 companies are expected to bid on Trump's border wall--another policy of his that I support. (I may write more on these two policy items later, but before anyone rushes to tell me how hateful and discriminatory I am, perhaps you could ask first why I feel as I do--if I've not yet written a post about them, that is.)
So maybe all isn't lost. Time will tell. Still, if we cannot reform our tax system or our spending, then I'm not sure how much the rest is worth anyway... One can hope.
Have you seen/read the President's interview with Time magazine?
Honestly, I just don't know what to say anymore. He clearly has some sort of psychological issues that simply are not normal. The symptoms of it are everywhere:
-Extreme obsession with publicity
-Infatuation with himself
-No apparent qualms with indiscriminate lying
-Sensitivity on a level generally seen in children
-Robust sense of entitlement
-Elevation of loyalty to himself personally over capability (even at risk of ethics violations)
I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that he displays a number of character flaws that, frankly, would cause me tell my kids, "Don't be like him; don't be like the President."
In many ways, he doesn't seem to have developed mentally beyond childhood. His vocabulary appears to be quite small, and the way he thinks about himself and expresses his thoughts is very simple and basic. (He simply doesn't know how to speak publicly without using the same adjectives--"great," "huge," "stupid," etc.--over and over again. When describing North Korea's leader, he said that Kim is "behaving very, very badly," which is how children generally think. Kim's issues are far more complex than just "behaving badly," but this is the very simple-minded way Trump views complex problems that he doesn't understand.) To top it all off, he brags about not reading--again, something one generally sees in junior high and high school students.
He takes everything personally and simply cannot help but to respond to insults. Again, that's what children do. His own responses to insults frequently involve criticizing one's weight, appearance, intellect, etc. I feel as though I'm repeating myself here, but that's how children criticize each other. When he doesn't get what he wants, he whines and lashes out on Twitter, and I honestly do see that more frequently in people under the age of 18 than over it. Even this article itself contains a lot of evidence of this: saying, "I'm the President, and you're not" reminds me of "you're not my mom, so I don't have to listen to you!" This is the very simple way he sees things. He sees things so simply that he actually can't see that he sees things simply--even that escapes him.
I think he hasn't ever matured because he simply hasn't had to: he's always been rich. He doesn't understand the lower or middle classes because he's never been in either. He's been rich since he was born. He was occasionally dropped off at school in a limousine, which is very, very odd even for people far wealthier than he.
I feel as though he was always taught that he was special because he was a Trump and has always been taught to take what he wants--so he does. It's not clear to me that he's really ever earned anything himself. Someone else makes decisions at his company for him. Someone else wrote his books. Someone else wrote The Apprentice. Someone else negotiates on his behalf. Recently he's decided to take credit for using the tax code to his advantage, but, lo and behold, someone else (his CPA) does that for him too. I could go on and on, but it appears that someone else is responsible for most of what's behind his brand, while he sits by profiting from their efforts and from the name "Trump" and lives a lavish lifestyle. The few times when he appears to have taken real, major initiative, his efforts have led to fraud (Trump University) or bankruptcy (SIX times). Several people who've worked with him have said that he simply doesn't have an attention span at all. He just cannot stay focused. Others have said that he's just a "sign on the bottom line" kind of guy. When you consider all of this, it makes sense: he signs papers put in front of him. He's not a "thinker." Maybe it's an extreme form of ADD. Maybe not. It's certainly odd though, and it would be hard to argue that it's been an effective style so far. After all, his executive orders have either had no impact or have tossed out by the courts, and he's had exactly zero bills pushed through Congress.
Pointing to his wealthy, entitled background is only part of the cause though. After all, there are plenty of people who have always been fabulously wealth (e.g., Bill Gates--many, many times wealthier than Trump) who are wonderful people. In fact, MOST rich people are not like Trump. So there's something more--something chemically simply different about Trump's brain. What is it? Who knows. It's obvious though.
So I really just don't know. I could speculate all day long right here and never know the answer. It's clear that it's more than just fighting to put America first though. Something's being put first, but I'm not sure that it's America.
I hope no one interprets this as maliciousness. It is not. It's just an objective assessment of what I'm observing each day.
Editor's Note: Yes, it'd still be horrible with Hillary at the wheel as well!
DMR: A large number of people were fired from their jobs after missing work to take part in the "day without immigrants" protests. They're surprised, which surprises me.
Their firings are not the result of politics; rather, they're the result of the normal operation of businesses. Companies have to make examples by holding people accountable, lest all employees start thinking that they can just fail to show up on any given day without consequence.
If you're not incapacitated and simply decide that you don't want to go to work--especially for shift work and/or for time-sensitive positions--then you're running the risk of being fired. There's no exception for those who want to go protest. If you're going to miss work for any reason and do not use vacation time, sick leave, holidays, etc., then you're running the risk of being fired.
Companies pay people to do jobs, not to protest. You protest on your own time. If you want to protest, do it on a day off. Do it on a holiday. Do it using vacation time. Don't do it on your company's dime, and DEFINITELY don't do it on the taxpayer dime.
This idea that people are entitled to their jobs and paychecks when they miss work as long as they missed work for their own ideas about social justice must end. Take a look at your company's leave policy, to which you agreed when you accepted the job offer. I am confident that it doesn't say "vacation time must be used when you plan to miss work unless you plan to miss work to take part in any protest of your choosing."
Companies are not welfare dispensaries. They're not entitlement institutions, and they're not "safe spaces." They're the real world: they're bottom-line organizations. You should be aware of this before you accept a job offer. If you want to protest, do it the right way. If you have no vacation time to use and it isn't a holiday, then don't protest unless you have the clear permission of your supervisor.
This is also unfair to your co-workers who honored their obligations to be at work. They have to take up your slack when you're suddenly out of the office without permission or warning. That should be kept to a minimum and should never happen due to a reason like "I just preferred to do something else with my time today" (unless you're using your vacation time, which should have been de-conflicted).
If your absence led to the closing of a business that day, then you probably harmed ALL of your co-workers, many of your customers, and the business itself. This is why companies can't tell all of their employees to feel free to miss work without warning whenever they want as long as they're out protesting. What are supervisors to do now, start taking roll call at all the local protests? That's ridiculous. If companies let employees get away with this, then you'd suddenly have many, many employees who could always find a good protest or two to attend somewhere. There would be those who'd never let a good protest go to waste. Jobs are not hobbies to which you show up only when you feel like doing so.
This is not an anti-protest post. It's an anti-entitlement post. A person who can't imagine being fired for missing shift work without permission is a person who feels entitled to his job. There is a right and a wrong way to do everything worth doing. Go protest, but do it the right way.
Just because the President is from the 'other team' doesn't mean you should act hysterical in response to his every action. Doing so just makes you a hack.
Before one starts typing a post on Facebook, the field says "What's on your mind?" How very fitting: that's exactly the question I want to answer right now.
President Barack Obama's historic Presidency came to its conclusion this past month. He boarded Marine One (temporarily "Executive One") for the last time and flew directly over My wife and I. I must admit that, as I watched his helicopter fade into the distance, mixed feelings washed over me.
On the one hand, I felt cautiously hopeful. I did not vote for Obama in 2008, nor did I vote for him in 2012. Politically, I am conservative; thus, Obama and I harbored deeply divergent policy positions. I opposed Obamacare, opposed his enormous fiscal deficits, opposed many of his immigration measures, and so forth. I felt that, from a policy perspective, it was time for change in Washington, D.C. I was--and remain--ready for a conservative approach to governance. Uncertainties about his successor notwithstanding, this is why I felt cautiously optimistic.
On the other hand, feelings of what I can only describe as remorse also welled up in me. As I said, Obama's Presidency was historic, and he came into office on a wave of, for many, hopeful optimism. To this day, the 69 million votes he received is a record. His Electoral College victory margin was substantial, and the 10 million votes that separated him and John McCain easily represent one of the top-ten largest popular margins ever. He received more opposing-party votes than anyone since Ronald Reagan. His second inauguration was the second largest in history--second only to his own first inauguration, which drew more people to D.C. than Donald Trump's, both of George W. Bush's, and one of Bill Clinton's added together. His "movement" remains the largest in recent memory.
I think that when he came into office he was a bit naïve and idealistic, believing that he could change more than a President actually can. He did eventually grow into the Office's constraints, however, and adopted a more pragmatic approach to governing during his final years in office--especially in matters of foreign policy. (This has nothing to do with his policy positions; rather, it's a statement about his approach.)
This is a long preamble leading into why I felt a bit of remorse. Barack Obama was subjected to some of the most withering criticism I've ever heard. I've heard much criticism of Obama's policies, and I largely agree with it. Unfortunately, I've also heard unbelievable personal insults hurled his way. I've heard people criticize him and even his family because of the color of their skin. I've heard fellow conservatives say that they "hate" him. (This sentiment appears to still be running strong: during Trump's inaugural parade, I heard several of his supporters telling each other that they "literally hate Hillary Clinton.") I've heard him called the anti-Christ. I've heard Obama's opponents accuse him of selling out his country. I've even observed conservatives openly rooting for him to fail--more times than I could ever count. (In my view, this last issue is both immoral and unpatriotic.)
This underscores a reprehensible inability on the part of many to separate "Obama the policy setter" from "Obama the man." In my view, "Obama the policy setter" was not a total success. I simply do not believe that liberal policies are in the best interest of this country, but that is where my disapproval of him ends: my differences with him are purely matters of policy--nothing more.
"Obama the man" is above reproach; I genuinely believe that he is a very good person and that he set a wonderful personal example for all Americans. He harbored and displayed a deep devotion to his family, appearing at all times to have been a committed and proud husband and father. Obama conducted himself professionally and always had a calm, even hand on the tiller. He did not deserve the vicious venom hurled at him, but he handled it with grace and dignity. Admirably, he did not respond by leveling the same type of insults at his detractors. He is simply a good, nice person. The way in which he comported himself is an example of which all Americans should be proud. Indeed, we should thank him for it.
So I'll admit that I actually feel a bit badly about it--sad even. He and his family devoted eight years of their lives to the service of our country. They received unbelievably raw, personal insults for the duration, yet all of them appear to have taken the high road every time. I don't delight in hating people, so I see the Obamas for who they were: good, well-intended people who, misguided though their policies frequently were, arrived on the White House front steps on January 20, 2009 sincerely hoping to make a positive difference for our country.
For that, I thank them. For the ugly insults, I apologize to them. I wish President Obama nothing but the best in his well-deserved retirement.
It's no secret that even though I am a proud Republican and a genuine conservative, Donald Trump was far from my first choice. That said, I choose to give him a chance. What other option is there really? I remain hopeful that we will now have effective, pragmatic, conservative governance--effective, pragmatic, conservative governance that benefits all Americans, that leaves no one out.
Going forward, I hope that everyone will consider what I've said here and will consider separating the President's character from the President's official actions. If both deserve condemnation, then condemn them. If they don't though, then do not conflate the two simply because it feels good to your baser side.
Give our leaders and their families--no matter their political positions--the same respect you would ask for yourself and for your families. If you're still attacking the Obamas, then you're wrong. If you're burning trash cans and cars in the street, then you're wrong. We must change the tone in this country, and we conservatives must admit that our own conduct and words have not lived up to the ideal. It is incumbent, starting right now and regardless of the past, on both sides of the political divide and on our entire electorate to commit ourselves to a more respectful approach to dialog--even if it appears that our efforts are not reciprocated.
I think that all too often we feel so disconnected from our President and so passionate about our political positions that we forget that the President isn't just the President. Just like us, he is also a father, a husband, a friend, and a human being with feelings, hopes, dreams, and so forth. From now on, let's try to reacquaint ourselves with the Golden Rule.
DEAR MR. REPUBLICAN: We are spending far, far too much time talking about executive orders, whether temporary travel bans are legal, who the Secretary of the Army should be, and so forth. I'm ready to hear policy discussion about some of the truly major issues facing our country. If Republicans are going to make dramatic changes in areas of truly fundamental consequences, then time is not on our side.
Among these issues are...
(1) THE NATIONAL DEBT
Our debt load now exceeds the size of our entire economy and is, for all intents and purposes, not possible to pay off. It is still possible to manage, though, again, time is definitely not on our side on this one. In my opinion, this is the most important and urgent issue facing the United States: our national debt is weeks away from topping $20 trillion BEFORE interest--an amount that no human being can truly wrap his mind around. This still is not being addressed, but the tangible impacts of it are already being felt, especially in Federal Reserve rate planning.
Obamacare should be repealed and replaced--not just repealed. You cannot repeal legislation like Obamacare without a plan for replacing it, and you MUST ensure that those who've spent their own hard-earned dollars purchasing insurance through the exchanges are taken care of. This is now the most expensive sector of our economy, and its costs have accelerated in the wake of the Affordable Care Act's passage in 2010. We keep hearing that action will be taken. The only problem is that we still have no evidence of this action or even a rough idea as to the strategy.
(3) JOBS AND WAGES.
Work force participation remains at near-record lows. Millions of people simply are not looking for jobs. Part of this problem is wages: They started to rise somewhat two or three years ago, but the rate of increase was always too slow. Now wage growth appears to have slowed once again. There are solutions to this problem, and Republicans have good ideas here. What is the hold-up?
(4) TAXES AND REGULATION.
Our corporate tax code is the most noncompetitive on the entire planet. Our individual tax code, though not quite as noncompetitive, is insanely complex, extremely expensive to comply with, and impossible for any one person to understand in its entirety. The number of regulations is absolutely ballooning and is now having a negative material impact on entrepreneurialism--the very bedrock of our economy and the number 1 pillar underlying "the American Dream." Campaign promises by both Trump and GOP members of Congress to enact reform in these two areas were frequent and loud. What's happened? Trump signed an executive order requiring two regulations to be eliminated for every new one enacted--an order so vague and ham-handed that it probably will have no effect at all. Arbitrary executive orders won't solve this problem. It's time for Congress to wake up from its continuing decade-long slumber and send true reform legislation to the Oval Office for a signature.
(5) GENERAL GOVERNMENT INEFFICIENCY.
It remains far too difficult to fire federal employees who underperform. (To my federal employee friends, in no way do I intend to imply that most federal employees under-perform, though when it happens, we all know that not much can be done about it.) There remains far too much redundancy; a Congressional study found that hundreds of agencies were doing the same jobs as other agencies. Changing policies can take many years. Government technology and software is always out of date--sometimes decades so. In short: we are not efficient, and we are not nimble. That wasn't a major problem in the pre-high-tech world. In the dynamic, fast-paced, high-tech world of the 21st Century, however, that is absolutely debilitating. Where's the reform?
Perhaps rather than the national debt, I should have said that this issue is the most urgent one. Why? Well, it prevents our being able to solve these other issues--including the national debt. Trump and Congressional members of the GOP said that they would govern "for everyone" and that they wanted "unity." I've seen no evidence of this in practice. By the same token, Democrats have been almost impossible to work with during confirmation hearings (the only area in which they've had much impact so far). It's not clear that if the GOP extended an olive branch to them now, they'd take it. Bipartisanship is a two-way street, though it was to start somewhere. I'm happy to have it start with Republicans. Unfortunately, I can't even say that this is a stillborn hope because it doesn't appear to even have been conceived.
This post is not an attack on Donald Trump. In reality, most of these are issues on which Congress must take action. In order to truly solve any of them, Congress is indispensable. Where are they? At this point, it seems as though Congress is like government, only with frequent nap times, copious recess, and interminable bloviating. It is, however, incumbent on Trump to help set a policy direction, and it is important that Democrats engage themselves constructively as well. In short, blame can be cast all around--on both sides of the aisle and on all three branches of the federal government.
I'm tired of partisan bickering over minor, short-term issues though. I'm ready to tackle major issues. I'm ready to tackle long-term issues. I'm ready to work together. After all, a government that works well works for all. A government that doesn't work well, works only for a precious few entrenched interests. Let's make it work well.
Dear Mr Republican's Prediction: The women's rights protests will not succeed, at least not in the way that many of the protesters conceive of success.
This isn't a malicious statement; rather, it's an objective one that I believe is grounded in cold, hard reality. In my view, protests need to have several qualities in order to be successful:
(1) They need to be large.
(2) They need to be sustained over a long period of time.
(3) They need broad buy-in across geographic AND demographic groups.
(4) They need to coalesce around a clear leader--or small group of leaders--who can speak for their masses, especially with policymakers.
(5) They need to revolve around a problem whose nature is clear.
(6) They need to advocate for very clear policy solutions. This means literally laying out precisely which legal steps should be taken in order to remedy the problem(s), not just holding signs saying that this, that, or the other thing "is bad."
(7) They need to ensure that their method of protest doesn't push away some of the very groups that they need to win over. The leader mentioned in number 4 needs to be able to set the tone and style of protest for nearly everyone.
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Unfortunately for these protesters, their nascent movement meets the first criterion but none of the rest of the criteria. (This has been the case for, as best as I can recall, ALL modern protest "movements.") Let's take them one at a time.
 This is the one criterion that the protests met: they were very large by almost any measure.
 So far, these protests just are not a long-term going concern. Perhaps that will change; some of the organizers are pushing to keep this movement from losing momentum. We shall see. Time will tell.
 Though the protests seemed to have broad geographic appeal (though more nearly-exclusively urban than some successful past movements), they didn't appear to have broad demographic appeal. From what I can tell, the composition of the protests was overwhelmingly female, disproportionately white, and almost exclusively more than just a little liberal. The support they have among those who didn't actually protest also seems to be largely female, white, and liberal. (Compare this to the civil rights movement, which, though frequently largely black on the actual streets, nevertheless drew substantial support across large swaths of the white community--as an example.) Furthermore, despite the largely female nature of the protests, I've actually been surprised at how divided females actually are: I cannot count the number I've seen, heard, and read criticizing the marches.
 There simply are no leaders of this movement. There are a lot of "speakers" and mouthpieces, but, much to the surprise of some of our "leaders," leadership involves more than a love for microphones. When I think of leaders who can corral a protest movement, I think of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
 The murkiness of the issues at the heart of this protest is probably among the gravest of the obstacles. Honestly, I'm having a very hard time ascertaining any truly "women's" issues that unite all of the protesters. It appears that if you ask 12 of them why they're protesting, you'll get 13 different answers, many of which don't appear to be unique to women. As far as I can tell, there are only two themes that unite the vast majority of the protesters: anti-Trump and pro-abortion. This is dangerous for a protest movement because one can logically ask whether this is a women's rights protest or an anti-Trump protest, a women's rights protest or a pro-abortion protest. Donald Trump isn't going anywhere for the time being and, in any event, has offended far more people than just women. He also doesn't seem to care about protests. Abortion is certainly partially a women's health issue, yes, but the later the pregnancy becomes, the more people--including many women--see it as not ONLY a women's health issue. For most Americans, it grows into an issue that is more than simply women's health. Many people, especially in later stages of pregnancy, see opposition to abortion not as taking away a woman's right but as providing a right to a baby. Scientifically, this position cannot be refuted. So on both themes, the practical relevance seems to me to be dubious.
 As far as I can tell, the protesters have offered no policy solutions at all. They've let us know what they like and what they don't like. They've let us know their perceptions. What should be done about it though? This is what protesters must clearly answer, and it hasn't happened.
 Protests leaders must be able to set the tone more effectively than they have to date. Peaceful, civil protests are one thing. Blocking interstates during rush hour, however, probably pushes more people away from your cause (especially those then stuck in even worse traffic) than it draws. Damaging a person's property wins the sympathy of but a few. Protesting against men per se is a sure way to cause most men to lose interest. Exposing the parts of her body that the protester claims to be trying to protect seems more suited to late night talk show fodder. Overtly offensive and/or vulgar signs have precisely the opposite of the "unity" impact that is so badly needed. Vilifying as sexist those who simply do not share one's perspective--even if the disagreement is grounded in objective facts--leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. I could go on and on, but I've made my point. To be sure, I am NOT accusing all, or even most, of the protesters of doing these things. Only a small number did. Even so, those are the small number that dominate headlines, which is precisely why the protests' leadership must be able to set the tone of the movement.
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**NOW BACON SCENTED**
Yes, I am aware that enormous movements that don't meet all of these criteria have brought about change, but it's usually not the change that many of the protesters wanted. The "Arab Spring" is an excellent example of this. Those protests were huge, but that's all that they were. As a result, they ended up with change, though not the change many had envisioned. Saudis simply were given a bit more welfare. Bahrainis came under far more repression by security services. Egypt is now ruled by a de facto military dictatorship, while Libya now has no government at all. Syria descended into a civil war that rages still today and whose fighting has killed or displaced millions of people. This, if anything, is what happens when a movement involves only large numbers and nothing more.
For now, we need to focus on unity. What it all boils down to is that we need to worry about one demographic above all others: Americans. The constant focus on one demographic group or another--especially during times of heightened tension, discontent, and uncertainty--serves only to drive more wedges. Right now, we need to focus on our country. That's the number one priority, and that's one category that includes us all. Speak in terms of what you feel is good or bad for the United States.
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