Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Politician Approaching The Truth?

Paul Ryan wrote an opinion piece ("A Better Way Up From Poverty") published by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, August 16th.  The piece contains a remarkable public acknowledgement: He was wrong.

Mr Ryan, a Republican congressman from the 1st district in Wisconsin and Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick in the 2012 elections, is well known for his efforts to inspire and bring about positive, constructive economic reform in the federal government.  He continues that effort in this recent piece.  He proposes a path forward in a continued attempt to reduce citizen dependency on the government and ultimately to eliminate poverty in America.

Here is where is piece is noteworthy: He begins by describing how a single question posed to him by a supporter of his political opposition led to a realization that he was viewing entitlements incorrectly.

He had been using the phrase "makers and takers" in order to highlight the idea that some citizens were generating more tax revenue than they were using, and some were doing the opposite.  A moral judgment is inherent with the use of this phrase.  The Makers are the good guys who should be honored and given respect for their self-sacrifice and hard work.  The Takers are the bad guys, lazy, good-for-nuthin's that live off the hard work of others while sitting on the couch clicking the remote.  The moral component is little considered by the small-government, conservative side... because it would require the 'good guys', those who think they are the makers, like Paul Ryan and his supporters, to realize that they are not so pure as they originally thought.

The challenge question, as Mr. Ryan wrote about the encounter with the unnamed Democrat:
"The makers and the takers," he said. "I know who the makers are, but who are the takers? Is it the person who lost a job and is on unemployment benefits? Is it the veteran who served in Iraq and gets medical care through the VA? When you talk about the takers, who exactly do you mean?" 
And Mr. Ryan's considered response:
Who is a taker?  My mom, who is on medicare?  Me at 18 years old, using the Social Security survivor's benefits we got after my father's death to go to college.  My buddy who had been unemployed and used job-training benefits to get back on his feet?
In many political arguments, this is the moment when the progressive left catches us in a trap we conservatives set for ourselves.  We have a moment of discovery... "Omigosh, we are the Takers, too...,"  We don't want to think we are the bad guys... and so we believe we have lost the moral high ground and must necessarily stand down, sit down, shut up, and let the left win the policy debate.

Mr. Ryan is able to see his own failing though, and realize that the Makers and the Takers are all the same.  This is a remarkable characteristic, especially for a politician.  Acknowledge his fault, accept his share of personal responsibility for the problem, do so publicly, ... and then continue to attempt to find a constructive solution for the problem, anyway (because it still needs to be solved!)
Like many of the challenges we're facing, the tipping point we're approaching is the result of a liberal progressive mindset that seeks a larger, more active government and lets bureaucrats decide what's best for everyone instead of allowing citizens to govern themselves.  
For as much progress as Mr. Ryan has made with his argument, this paragraph demonstrates there is more road for him to travel.  He states that the liberal progressive is seeking a larger government that decides for the citizen.  His proposed antidote is that the citizens should be allowed to decide for themselves...

...which presumes that the liberal progressive big government types have the authority to allow or disallow the free decision-making of the citizens.  The citizens do not need anyone's permission to govern themselves.  We own that as a God given right.  We citizens need only accept our responsibility, step forward, and seize that Natural authority for ourselves.

Another issue is present that deserves attention: Why does the liberal progressive seek a larger government where bureaucrats decide what's best?  The best answer I can come up with (and one that I was knocking around in a previous post) is: Because they seek power.  It is an irrational goal, but it appears to be the goal.

These two thoughts work together.  The citizens own their own right to govern themselves.  To ensure they always maintain that right, I propose requires the citizens to do two things:

  1. Always make their own decisions; and
  2. Ensure no law, if passed, could be used to undermine rule #1.

Mr. Ryan does do something remarkable.  He listens to an opponent's argument, applies the moral case of the argument to himself, finds himself wanting, acknowledges his failing, and thoughtfully revises his policy.  He does all of this publicly.  We are all better off for his efforts of self-improvement, and his willingness to continue to fight for what he knows is right.

I hope that he can make these next further steps and recognize that the citizens already have a natural authority to govern their own affairs and the efforts of the modern liberal progressive types are irrational attempts to control their fellow citizens.  I think this will allow him to advance his argument to the natural endpoint: Federal entitlement programs must be reduced and in most cases (if not all) eliminated.

I am impressed with Mr. Ryan's efforts so far, and may have to read the book he promotes with his piece.  This is the type of leadership we need to help all of us stand and resist our political opponents and their efforts to sap our freedoms and exert control over our daily lives.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Warming Up to Corruption

Back in April, Washington State's Governor, Jay Inslee, initiated an effort to develop a cap-and-trade style 'solution' to global warming.  These efforts recently came to my attention and caused me to wonder what we can do politically to push back, slow, delay, resist, or even squash similar efforts related to saving the planet from Global Warming.

The answer?  I don't know... yet.  The draw of Global Warming (or Climate Change, or whatever it's called today...) seems irresistible to a certain segment of the population, a very large segment of the population here in the Pacific Northwest.  That provides a lot of political space for folks like Inslee to operate.

A quick summary of the project:

Gov. Inslee's office laid out the initiative on April 29th by issuing Executive Order 14-04.  The order create's "The Governor's Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce."  The goal of the Taskforce is to "provide recommendations on the design and implementation of a carbon emission limits and market mechanisms program for Washington [State]."  The solution resulting from the Taskforce:

  • "...must establish a cap on carbon pollution emissions,"
  • must include "...binding requirements to meet our statutory emission limits,"
  • "...must include the market mechanisms needed to meet the limits in the most effective and efficient manner possible,"
  • "...must be designed to maximize the benefits and minimize the implementation costs, considering our emissions and energy sources, and our business and jobs."

In reviewing those objectives one senses the raw political power that Inslee is wielding here.  The goals are notably expansive, would likely impact quite a large portion of the population and businesses in our state, and may even be a bit contradictory.  A politician needs to be pretty confident that their position cannot be challenged before issuing a document with such boldly stated goals.

The executive order began with several statements of "fact" intended to validate the need for the document to follow. "Whearas" items counted up to nine, with more listed as sub-bullets.  The first was particularly stunning:

WHEREAS, the University of Washington, as required by statute, recently released its summary of existing knowledge regarding the causes, impacts, and effects of climate change on Washington State, concluding:
  • Human activities have increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases to levels unprecedented in at least the past 800,000 years; (...)
Wow.  A few words about the nonsense of Global Warming seem in order:

(A) The Error: Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW), the idea that humanity's daily activities are negatively impacting the environment, is professed to be scientifically proven fact.  In reality, though, it is merely a scientific consensus.  To be a scientific fact we would have to subject the theories of AGW to the scientific method.  The hypotheses would need to be testable through controlled experiments that generate consistent, predictable results.  In this case, we cannot re-create the environment of the Earth and all the myriad of inputs inside a laboratory.  We are left with mere hypotheses, unproven.  The hyptothesis does not magically convert to fact after crossing some imaginary level of consensus amongst scientists.

That does beg the question as to why scientists could be so caught up in the idea.  My take?  It's a bit of confusion resulting from the rejection of traditional western theology that is common in modern academic circles:

(B) The Theology: AGW is an expression of something very familiar to Christians: Original sin.  Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and we are all stained by the corruption of sin from birth.  AGW theory requires us to believe that simply by living a normal human existence we are damaging, perhaps destroying, the planet.  When we drive our car we emit carbon waste.  When we flip on a light switch we use electricity generated by a polluting coal plant.  Taken to an extreme, merely by breathing we exhale carbon.  AGW theory does not allow for any peace from this scourge of environmental sin, although True Believers would convince us all that we can earn our salvation by our good works: recycling programs, re-usable shopping bags, electric cars, state-wide carbon reduction regimes.

Then who are these people that are promoting such a flawed vision of reality?

(C) The Players: There are three types of people engaged in all of this AGW effort:

  1. True Believers: the people who feel redeemed by recycling that soda bottle instead of throwing it away, or by creating new regulations that force others to join them.  These are your rank and file soldiers (voters) for all of the pro-environment measures the Manipulators might propose; and
  2. The Followers: going along to get along, to be cool, to keep the pesky True Believers off their backs; and
  3. The Manipulators: the leaders that swoop in to take advantage of the guilty consciences of the True Believers and the weaknesses of the Followers.  By encouraging a concept of works-righteousness they strive to obtain wealth and power for themselves.
Odds are that Jay Inslee falls into this third bucket.  It is highly unlikely he is personally committed to Cap & Trade outside of his own political aggrandizement.

Returning to that sense of the Political Power being exerted by Gov. Inslee, as I read on through the executive order it became simply overwhelming.  With the swoosh of his pen on a document, our governor is seemingly moving heaven and earth and commanding all his citizens to march in step to his wishes.

And in that thought comes another clear indication of the foundational error of initiatives such as the governor's Taskforce to reduce carbon emissions:

(D) The Corruption: When most of us consider the idea of political corruption, we likely think of individual politicians lining their pockets or those of their friends.  That kind of run-of-the-mill graft is surely going to happen through the work of this task force.  A different sort of corruption leaps out of this document: corruption of purpose. 

Following is a list of each of the state and regional governing bodies tasked with additional responsibilities by Executive Order 14-04:
  1. Office of Financial Management
  2. Department of Commerce
  3. Department of Ecology
  4. Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission
  5. Northwest Power and Conservation Council
  6. Department of Transportation
  7. Regional Transportation Planning Organizations
  8. Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board
  9. Transportation Improvement Board
  10. County Road Administration Board
  11. Washington State University
  12. WSU Energy Program
  13. State Building Code Council
  14. Department of Agriculture
  15. Northwest Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership for Washington
  16. Bonneville Power Administration
  17. Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance
  18. US. Department of Energy
  19. Department of Enterprise Services
  20. Results Washington
  21. Sovereign Tribal Governments
  22. Pacific Coast Collaborative
  23. Department of Health
  24. Department of Fish and Wildlife
  25. Department of Natural Resources
  26. Office of the Attorney General
  27. Office of the Insurance Commissioner
A few of those departments exist to address issues related to energy and environment, such as the the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.  Organizations such as the Office of Financial Management would surely have a natural role in any new policy being proposed.  But most of the organization listed above...

...The Department of Transportation gained numerous mentions in the document.  It seems to be repeatedly assigned a leadership role and made responsible for marshalling the cooperation of other departments towards supporting key objectives.  This is a corruption of purpose.

WSDOT is on this planet for a specific purpose...
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is the steward of a large and robust transportation system, and is responsible for ensuring that people and goods move safely and efficiently. In addition to building, maintaining, and operating the state highway system, WSDOT is responsible for the state ferry system, and works in partnership with others to maintain and improve local roads, railroads, airports, and multi-modal alternatives to driving.
...and that purpose is something very unrelated to saving the planet from destruction via carbon pollution resulting from man's existence.

Organizations like WSDOT are created to facilitate efficient solutions to complex problems that are best solved through specialization.  This department allows the state to designate resources and round up talented personnel to provide for a specific need of the people of the state.  This executive order diverts transportation systems experts from their normal duties of ensuring traffic will flow smoothly on our highways (etc.) to making sure the planet doesn't sweat too much some fifty years in the future.  Money that would otherwise be budgeted to expand a bridge, open a new waterway, or ensure the smooth functioning of the airports is going to be redirected towards initiatives of questionable return.

An argument could be made that WSDOT isn't being taken off course.  The department already incorporates many factors into its projects that go beyond getting a road laid straight.  An example might be the overpasses recently constructed above WA-520 on the east side of Lake Washington that are virtual forests atop concrete.  An impressive amount of beautification.  Although planting those trees might be a sidebar to the function of moving traffic efficiently, that beautification generates immediate benefits.  Each of us that travels over or under that highway bridge enjoys the fruits of these WSDOT efforts to make something more than merely a bare pathway for vehicles.

There is an honesty and simplicity to creating the Dept. Of Transportation.  Here is a mechanism for the people to address an important common objective with clarity.  There is no mystery.  The head of the WSDOT and all the staff under him has one clear mission: ensure the efficient movement of people and things around the state.  The Governor can relax a bit knowing that the details of this challenging undertaking have been delegated to knowledgable experts, allowing him to turn to other pressing problems requiring his leadership.  The citizens of the sstate can rest easy in the knowledge that this work has been properly assigned and will be addressed by people properly accountable to the political process.

If the Dept of Transportation is going to be tasked to accomplish something other than meeting the transportation needs of the citizens of Washington State, then perhaps the department should be re-named something else entirely, allowing us to vote in the creation of a Dept of Only Transportation (seriously, and this time we mean it!) to replace the old corrupted entity and to manage our roads and byways.

Or perhaps we could recognize the corruption of purpose that is inherent in an effort like The Governor's Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce and direct our government to use limited state tax funds more effectively.

Which brings us back to the pressing question: How do we shift the political reality away from the nonsense of Global Warming and towards the common sense of managing to the daily needs of our state?  Hopefully this dialogue can help us develop meaningful solutions to that problem.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Non-Solution of the Government

The disappointing thing about the Bush presidency: so many of the solutions developed were from the perspective of Big Government.  I.e.: the government is the solution to the problem.

Examples are pretty easy to find: No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, the Patriot Act...

One such example is the Department of Homeland Security.  Under the right presidential leadership, it is possible for an organization like this to remain supportive of the people's liberty more than the opposite... But we are sinners... so perhaps we are best off not creating leviathan government departments that can gradually acquire more and more power over the people.

John Whitehead presents a nervous-making view of the Department of Homeland Security in his recent opinion piece which describes the agency as a standing army on American soil.  It's a worthy read.

As with education and healthcare, the most effective solutions to ensure liberty for our generation and the next is to eliminate, not create or expand, federal departments.  If the DHS was eliminated, solutions would quickly be developed at a local, state, and national level by the various private and public entities that are interested in securing our homes from any terrorist threats.  The void would be filled with a solution that the individual voter would have an opportunity to interact with and impact.

The question: How do we create a national movement specifically geared towards the elimination of federal departments?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The End of Historical Progress

The past two Saturdays, the WSJ included pieces by well-known political thinkers discussing the course of history as revealed by recent events that seem to be erasing borders around the world.

In the June 7th paper, Francis Fukuyama took a second look at an essay he wrote 25 years prior that focused on the idea that "History... appeared to culminate in liberty."  Fukuyama proposes that democracies fail because they are formed with too great a focus on protecting the nation from tyranny and too little focus on ensuring effective government.

This weekend's Journal includes an essay by Walter Russell Mead that considers how "history doesn't follow America's optimistic script."  Mead presents the idea that "Americans tend to think that history doesn't matter much, that win-win solutions are easily found and that world history is moving inexorably toward a better and more peaceful place."  He supports this by describing our nation's path to greatness as relatively pain-free in comparison to other nations.

Both pieces are excellent reads, but both also seem to miss the key of America's success: A well-educated, God-fearing populace that believes their government only exists as an extension of the people and that understands the success of the nation will be built on the successes of the individuals living within it who are able to reach out and seize the opportunity available to them through liberty.

To Fukuyama's discussion: The inability to govern effectively is a feature, not a bug.  The bumbling government is likely the best way to allow individuals to govern their own affairs.

To Mead's discussion: America's rosy view of history is based on the not naive belief but the intense knowledge that the concepts of freedom and independence foundational to our nation are equally true and available to any other population on the planet... and thus we hope that is what we are seeing develop as news reports flash across our screens.

These thoughts merge in considering the recent turmoil in Iraq, with cities falling to the ISIS terrorist army.  Americans in large numbers supported President Bush's effort to democratize Iraq because of our rosy outlook.  We hoped our military would give space for the Iraqi people to discover the truth of liberty and how to step up and seize it for themselves.  In the end they were left with an ineffective government because the culture does not have the theological, social, and academic traditions that developed in the West and allowed for the rise of individual liberty as the paramount virtue.

It leaves me thinking that my own support of the Iraqi invasion back in 2003 was mistaken... that we would have been much better served educating and evangelizing Iraqis (and many others) on what liberty looks like and how to take it for yourselves, rather than sending our military in to impose it.

I also am left pondering another idea that Mead includes, "the path of historical progress."  What does this mean?  Does history progress?  Are we getting nearer each year to some sort of utopia, some new Eden?  What would that look like if so, and how would we know when we get there?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Workaround Suggestion for Google in Europe

Google will now have to filter their search results in much of Europe to exclude personal information that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant."

This seems patently ridiculous.

In order to request the removal, the individual would have to file some paperwork somewhere with someone.  By definition they are then publicizing the information themselves.

I hope Google comes up with a creative solution... like entering all such requests into a publicly accessible database that is included in Google's own search index.

It is difficult to say the information is "irrelevant or no longer relevant" (are these two different states?) if someone believes the information is important enough to file a request to have it removed from the records.  That makes the information newsworthy in itself.

Government Provisioning for the Citizen Militia...?

Are cows now so aggressive and numerous that our government requires submachine guns to slaughter them?

The reasons why the USDA might desire to purchase submachine guns with 30-round capacity boggles the mind just a bit:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, located in Washington, DC, pursuant to the authority of FAR Part 13, has a requirement for the commerical acquisition of submachine guns, .40 Cal. S&W, ambidextrous safety, semi-automatic or 2 shot burts trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsilbe or folding, magazine - 30 rd. capacity, sling, light weight, and oversized trigger guard for gloved operation.

The USDA oversees the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially known as Food Stamps.  According to recent figures, there are a lot of people on Food Stamps.  Since these people are struggling to fund their own needs for basic sustenance, it is quite unlikely that they would be unable to locate the funds necessary to exercise their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms by purchasing weapons for their households... perhaps the USDA intends to distribute the guns for free along with the Food Stamps?  It wouldn't be the first time the feds stepped into the weapons distribution business.

Thankfully, these recipients of the government's largesse are very spirited and independently-minded folk as a general rule, so most certainly they would only use those weapons to protect their home and family and/or defend themselves from the tyranny of an overreaching state...

A ready-made militia who would be naturally inclined to support the government.

Look, I'm not saying this is what is happening, and I'm not a conspiracy-minded fellow.  It is perfectly reasonable to try and discern the possible motives driving such a request.  And since it is such a nonsensical proposition that the federal department overseeing farming should be inquiring about submachine guns, it is reasonable to consider nonsensical answers to the question.

And the mere fact that nonsense is in play is reason enough to recognize how this request by the USDA is separated from reality and should be opposed.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fake Photos of Nigerian Women in WSJ?

On Friday, May 9th, the WSJ published a photo on the front-page of their print edition (above the fold) and on the homepage of their iPad edition (image below) that appears to be a fake.  The photo is ostensibly of Nigerian women protesting the kidnapping of girls by the Boko Haram terror group and promoting the Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

The protest signs appear very... wrong.  The fonts... The colors... the wood-like framing around so many of them... the odd margins of the "RESCUE OUR YOBE GIRLS" sign...

The WSJ removed this photo from the same article on their website during the 10 hour (EDT) on Friday morning.  The photo has not turned up in any of the slide shows or other visual media related to the Nigerian kidnapping story since.

Are these signs faked?  Is this image a fake?

If this photo is a fake?  If so... Why?  What is the story that is not being investigated here?  Did the WSJ get duped?  Is the outrage over the kidnapping of the girls being ginned up under false pretenses?  Why are these women gathered?  Who organized them?  Who took the photo?  Who distributed this photo?

I think these are questions worth asking, and worth finding the answers to.  I hope some of the Wall Street Journal's competitors decide to look into it.