The Monkey On Our Back

Whoa, you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff, oh, yeah

It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough

You know you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love

            —Robert Palmer, Addicted To Love

 

Hi.  My name is John Q. Public, and I have a borrowing/spending problem.

As we approach the silly spending season, it struck me as eerily timely to see my Tuesday Houston Chronicle running multiple stories and columns dealing with debt and dependency on others.

A front page piece discussed local lawmakers’ initiative to take on the paycheck lending industry.  To be sure, these folks are basically loan sharks, but in Texas at least, their business is perfectly legal; they make “advances” against future paychecks on a two-week turnaround, charging exorbitant fees and interest in the process.  But no one is making people sign up for these things.  The article tells story after story about people taking out one loan, then a second to pay the first, and so-on—and they even admit that “I knew what was going on.”  Yet somehow it’s always the lender’s fault when irresponsible adults sign up for agreements to borrow money they can’t pay back.

The article also suggests that it is somehow unfair that payday lenders charge higher fees in Texas where they are unregulated than they do in, say, Oklahoma, where the fees are capped.  How so?  Do borrowers have some right to be loaned that money (and to be loaned that money at the same rate charged somewhere else)?  What if the lenders just decided not to lend in Texas at all?  The fact that the market—when left to its natural state and not artificially limited by legislative price controls, which is what fee caps are—will bear a certain price is neither fair nor unfair.  The market is what it is, and the transaction is voluntary; if you don’t like the fee, don’t take out the loan.

A second front page article discussed welfare, and made the point that fewer people in Texas are receiving welfare payments today than 10 years ago.  Of course, the Chronicle spins it differently, saying that “cash aid for poor Texans fell while poverty rose,” as though having fewer people on welfare is a bad thing.  The main gist of the article is that it is unfair that the qualifying income threshold in Texas is lower than in other states, because it is depriving people of access to welfare payments.

And finally there was the usual column from Paul Krugman, who finally came out of the closet and said out loud what he’s said implicitly for years: deficit spending is OK because the government can just print more money.  Never mind the economics, for Krugman there isn’t even a moral issue with either borrowing money you simply never intend to pay back, or with incurring a debt that will have to be repaid with devalued dollars (that’s what happens when you just print “money”) by future generations who had no say in the borrowing.

What’s really troubling here is the common thought thread running through all three pieces.  Whether you’re talking about personal loans, welfare, or government debt, there is a growing worldview that you are simply entitled to live off of other people’s assets.  As a society we’re infected with this kind of thinking that rather than live within our means, we can simply take from others (whether at a personal micro level or at a national macro level) in order to fund a lifestyle we cannot afford.

Life’s pretty good here in the U.S. relative to the rest of the world, even if you’re “poor.”  As I’ve pointed out before, even the majority of the “poor” in the U.S. have computers, Internet access, color TVs, cable or satellite service, and cell phones.    Over 99% of all U.S. households have a refrigerator and TV.  75% have air conditioning.  The median household—not to mention the wealthy—has more than one flat-screen TV, and more than one car.

But at what cost?

This idea that we can live lavishly beyond our means is dangerous and unsustainable.  Yet it’s almost ubiquitous.  Consider that today total personal debt in U.S. is around $15.9 trillion.  $13 trillion of that is mortgage debt, fueled by federally-mandated unsafe lending practices designed specifically to facilitate home ownership by people who by definition couldn’t afford it (hence the mortgage crisis of 2007-08).  Another $847 billion is credit card debt.  Per citizen, the cumulative total is about $50,000–$3,000 more than our GDP per head, meaning we spend more than we produce, and in fact our average personal debt alone is right at our median income.

It wasn’t always like this.

In 2000, just 12 years ago, total personal debt was about $8.4 trillion, roughly half of what it is today.  $6.7 trillion of that was mortgage debt, again roughly half today’s figure.  Credit card debt was just $676 billion.  Per citizen, we each owed on average $29,000, 40% less than we do today.

If we look back further, today’s picture looks even worse.  In 1968, total US credit card debt was about $8 billion in current dollars; just 1% of what it is today.  In 1950 (I couldn’t readily find 1968 numbers, but you’ll get the idea) total US mortgage debt was a little less than 15% of GDP, but by 2004 it had risen above 60% of GDP.  Today it’s about 87%.

Our combined private and public debt is an unimaginable $32 trillion, by orders of magnitude the largest debt any group of human beings has ever owed in the history of mankind.  And yet we continue to borrow and spend, totally oblivious to the hole we are digging for ourselves and generations to come.

We have become, both individually and collectively, addicted to debt.  And unfortunately, our economy is now based almost entirely on this kind of debt spending, making it a house of cards; we’re creating the illusion of an economy by spending—both micro and macro—money We.  Do.  Not.  Have.  And what’s lost on the debtor-victim mongers and the Krugmans of the world is that incurring debt means you’ve taken money from someone else; sooner or later they’re going to want it back (and, I think most of us would agree, if you borrowed it from them you have a moral obligation to pay it back), typically with interest.

Where’s that money going to come from?

You’re not going to get it from the people taking out paycheck advance loans—if they had the money they wouldn’t be doing that in the first place.  You can’t get it by taxing the rich—as I’ve pointed out before, you could tax everyone making over $200,000 at 100%, take every dime, you’d net less than $2 trillion, which would barely cover the interest.  You could  walk away—that’s basically what Greece is trying to do.  You could only service the interest—again with borrowed money—until some undefined future date that never comes.  Or you could take the Krugmanian approach of simply printing money to pay it back.  But each of these “solutions” is just another form of the same inherent evil of taking from others.

If you default you’ve breached your agreement and taken directly from the lender.  If you delay, you shift the burden of repayment to future generations, literally mortgaging your children and grandchildren to finance your lack of self-control.  If you just print money, the increased supply necessarily devalues the currency, and the inevitable inflation that results is essentially a tax; although you don’t see it in the form of a bill from the IRS, you nevertheless surely pay it as it becomes more expensive to buy bread and gas.  And although this “tax” hits everybody, the really sick part is it’s regressive in that it has a greater impact the poorer you are:  I can afford a $10 loaf of bread, but a single mother working cleaning office buildings can’t.

We as individuals and as a country need to do some serious looking in the mirror.  The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

************************

BENGHAZI UPDATE: It’s been 81 days since the attack on sovereign U.S. soil that killed four Americans, apparently while the White House watched in real time, and the President still hasn’t addressed the American people on it.

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The Artificial Ethanol Market

“Gee, the lack of humility before nature that’s being displayed here, uh . . . staggers me . . . Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here?  Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun . . . I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it!”

            —Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park

 

In the course of filling your car up over the last few years, at some point you’ve no doubt  noticed a sticker on the pump advising you that the fuel contains some percentage of ethanol.

Did you ever wonder how that came to be?  I mean, I didn’t ask for ethanol in my gasoline. I’ll bet you didn’t ask for it.  And it’s doubtful you know anyone who did.  So why is it there, when no purchaser of gasoline was asking to buy it?

The answer, in short, is the federal government, at the behest of special interest lobbies, decided to require it.

Environmental legislation and regulation in the 1990s required refiners to add “oxygenates” to gasoline in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in car exhaust.  Ethanol is one such oxygenate, but it was not economically competitive with other alternatives.  To make up its economic disadvantage, Congress enacted a $0.45 per gallon tax credit—a dollar-for-dollar subsidy—for blenders to use ethanol.  But even then, refiners often chose other additives because of issues with ethanol’s regional availability (ethanol has to be shipped by truck or rail, and thus was only practically available to refineries located relatively close to ethanol plants, which not surprisingly are concentrated in the corn-producing states of the Midwest) and effectiveness.  The Congressional response was to enact renewable fuel mandates starting in 2005 to require refiners to use minimum quantities of ethanol.

So here’s what we have with ethanol.  We have a product consumers did not want to buy; there was no popular clamor to put ethanol in gasoline, and had there been the demand would have supported prices that did not require a federal subsidy.  We have a product that as late as the late 1990s auto makers were warning consumers not to use at all (ethanol was corrosive to engine seals and other components at the time), and even today they are warning against the use of high concentration 85% ethanol blends (“E85”) for the same reason.  And we have a product that manufacturers did not want to sell.  There was literally no market for fuel ethanol until the government created one by force, requiring sellers to sell it and requiring buyers to buy it.

This is what the market of the future is increasingly going to look like.  It will matter less and less whether you can create a good that people want, or whether you can innovate a way to produce an existing good more efficiently so that it is cheaper to make and thus cheaper for the consumer to buy.  That is how the free market works, but it’s going to be ever less important to make a better mousetrap and more important to buy, goad, or guilt enough people in government to force people to buy your product whether they want to or not.

Of course, it always helps if you can ally yourself with the environmental zealots, which is what the ethanol lobby has done so successfully.  No one wants your product?  No problem.  Just talk to the Sierra Club and convince them that there’s an impending environmental catastrophe that only your product can avert.  The comic irony with ethanol is that in the final analysis—a place the environmental extremists never manage to visit—ethanol may prove to have been counter-productive from an environmental standpoint.  It’s easy to sell it to the uninformed—read:  both Bushes—as magic corn juice; a panacea you just have to squeeze from the cob.  In truth, the distillation of fuel ethanol requires an expensive chemical process that consumes enormous amounts of water, and results in a fuel substitute that arguably provides less energy than it took to produce it.  And growing the corn feedstock on that kind of industrial scale results in a vast increase in artificial fertilizer runoff, yet more water consumption, and over time depletes farmland.  Then, of course, there’s the sticky ethical issue of diverting corn and the resources used to grow it from producing food.

But rather than accomplishing its environmental objectives by stating an emissions standard and then letting the market and manufacturers find the most efficient allocation of resources to achieve that standard, government elected to dictate a recipe and thus create a market where one did not exist.  All at the behest of the ethanol lobby, in cahoots with its new enviro-Nazi buddies.

Here’s where it gets funny.

Having succeeded in enlisting the government to create a market for their product by force, it seems the ethanol industry is now shocked to discover that there are other interested concerns seeking to avail themselves of that market.  The major producer of ethanol other than the U.S. is Brazil.  Well, the Renewable Fuels Association—the U.S.’s largest ethanol lobby—is now whining that the Brazilians are trying to hone in on their business.  In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the RFA complains that:

“The impacts of Brazil’s trade-distorting policies are becoming ever more harmful as U.S. ethanol producers endure devastatingly bad economics exacerbated by a lack of markets.”

Wow.  “Trade-distorting.”  “Lack of markets.”  Sounds bad.  So what was Brazil’s crime?

Reducing its required percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 25% to 18%.

Yup, the heinous economic action coming out of Sao Paolo is that the Brazilian government is force-feeding less ethanol to its citizens, thus freeing additional supply to be exported to the U.S.  Apparently it wasn’t enough for the U.S. ethanol industry for the U.S. government to make U.S. citizens buy their product, they believe they’re entitled to have foreign governments do likewise.  Worse, they not only want the government to create an artificial market for their product, they then want to be protected against competition in that market.

This kind of perverted economic thinking is dangerous.  If allowed to function, the free market will allow voluntary transactions to determine the most efficient allocation of capital; good ideas survive, bad ideas don’t, and everyone benefits in the long run.  Yes, survival requires work and actually competing in the marketplace.  But the real “trade-distorting” policies are those that create markets out of thin air by force.  Manipulation always has consequences, and they’re not always what the manipulator intends.  Artificial markets do not reward those who create “good,” but those who wield influence.  And when the balance tips such that it is more profitable to cultivate political pull than it is to win in the marketplace by making a better mousetrap, we all lose.

Big Tent Politics

Now I’m the king of the swingers, oh, the jungle V.I.P.

But I’ve reached the top and had to stop, and that’s what botherin’ me

I wanna be a man, mancub, and stroll right into town

And be just like the other men, I’m tired of monkeyin’ around!

            —Louis Prima as the voice of King Louie of the Apes in The Jungle Book

 

Following Mitt Romney’s loss, there have been cries from every corner about how the Republican Party has to expand its outreach; broaden the tent to embrace this, that, or the other group.  And the idea, as I gather it, is that the Party, in order for it to gain and hold power, must change its positions in order to appeal to a wider range of people.

A major focus of these calls has been on Hispanics, who this year voted 71% to 27% for Obama.  And with them now comprising about 10% of the electorate, the presumption is they are gaining in political weight.  So to combat that, apparently the wisdom is that the GOP must move to adopt some form of amnesty for illegal aliens in order to increase their appeal to the Latino voting bloc.

Why?

First, I’ve never understood the thinking that the deciding issue for Hispanic voters is amnesty for illegal aliens.  Hispanic voters, at least theoretically by definition, are already here and already have legal citizenship; they don’t need amnesty, “immigration reform,” or some kind of guest worker program.  So I don’t get underlying premise.

More to the point, you can focus group or telephone survey this thing all you want, the history in actual elections suggests that Republicans adopting amnesty programs and other pro-immigration policies simply doesn’t move the needle for them on the Hispanic vote.  Consider:

In 1984, Ronald Reagan—in the course of a historic 49-state blowout of Walter Mondale—took just 34% of the Hispanic vote.  Despite CNN’s hyperventilating that the 27% Romney received in this year’s loss reflects a major drop in Hispanic support for the GOP, in point of fact it’s not all that different from what the wildly popular Reagan won in a landslide nearly thirty years ago.

Hispanics that year made up just 3% of the electorate.

In 1986 Reagan and Congressional Republicans did exactly what so-called experts from every corner are saying is now essential to the survival of the GOP: they passed a massive amnesty bill as part of a deal with Speaker Tip O’Neill to get a future border security bill that never came.  Having done that, if we follow the current conventional thinking we’d expect the Republicans to have been rewarded with increased Hispanic support.  Wrong.  In 1988 George H.W. Bush lost the Hispanic vote 70% to 30% to Michael Dukakis, again in what was otherwise a blowout election.  That is, the Republicans passed amnesty, and their percentage of the Hispanic vote actually went down.

Bush 41 then doubled-down and signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which led to a significant increase in legal immigration.  How’d that go for him?  In 1992 Bush took just 25% of the Hispanic vote—less than Romney received this year—in losing to Bill Clinton.    So what we see is Reagan and Bush 41 did exactly what is now being urged by pandering—that’s what you call it when you change course or adopt policy for the sole purpose of appealing to a special interest group—on immigration, and the GOP share of the Latino vote went from 34% to 30% to 25%.

Bush 43 fared a little better with Hispanics in 2000 and 2004, receiving 35% and 44% of the Latino vote in those years, respectively.  In the interim, Bush proposed an amnesty program in 2001 and again in January 2004.  One might look at that and accept that his position on amnesty was a factor in his increased popularity among Hispanics.  But neither program passed, so I don’t see how much political mileage we can attribute to them.  And it’s worth noting that Bush 43 went to the White House after being an extremely popular governor here in Texas, where we have a substantial portion of the national Latino population.  In any event, despite his position on amnesty, and despite spending much of his presidency licking the shoes of Mexican President Vicente Fox, Bush 43 still didn’t even approach getting half of the Hispanic vote.

In other words, George W. Bush fell all over himself to court Latinos, and the majority of them still voted Democrat.

In 2008 John McCain supported a guest worker program and increased paths to citizenship (read: amnesty, just a little slower).  Yet Hispanics voted 67% to 31% for Obama.   Those are essentially the same numbers Reagan had in 1984, and not very different from the numbers Romney faced this year.

The historical fact is, despite Republicans repeatedly supporting and even adopting pro-immigration policies up to and including amnesty, Hispanic voters consistently vote about 2/3 Democrat.  As Bruce Hornsby taught us, that’s just the way it is.  This suggests to me that supporting amnesty doesn’t help the GOP; what it does is over time increase an electoral bloc—it has gone from 3% in 1984 to 10% in 2012—that they’re overwhelmingly going to lose no matter what they do.  And with 28% of Hispanics living below the poverty line, I submit that they’re voting more based on welfare and food stamps than on amnesty.

Further, say what you will about national totals, the game is still electoral votes, and that’s decided at the state level.  I don’t see the Hispanic vote making or breaking the GOP in the states that matter.  The Hispanic vote didn’t make the difference this year in Ohio.  Or Pennsylvania.  Or Wisconsin.  Or Michigan.  Or Iowa.

But there’s a bigger issue here.  The Republicans lose, and the response is that they need to change their position on issues in order to win.  In other words, they need to adopt the positions of the Democrats, because the Democrats are winning, and they’re not.  Well, that becomes the Party advocating not core principles, but its own self-existence; it doesn’t care what policies the government pursues as long as they get to be in charge.  Win for winning’s sake, regardless of where that takes the country.

And that’s a problem.

I don’t vote against Democrats because they’re Democrats.  And I don’t have the slightest interest in the Republican Party controlling Congress or winning the White House for its own sake.  If Republican policies are going to be the same as those of the Democrats once they’re in power, I don’t see the point.  And I don’t see it working, because the Republicans won’t be able to sell the Democrats’ message as well as the hipper, slicker Democrats can.

Ask yourself what the following people have in common besides being older wealthy white men:  George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney.  These are the last five GOP presidential nominees, and every one of them lost by decisive margins except Bush 43 (Bush 41 in 1988 was really Reagan’s win, so it doesn’t count), and his combined margin of victory in 2000 and 2004 would barely fill Cowboys Stadium.  And each of them wore the Republican label either while talking about reaching across the aisle and trying to look like a Democrat, or—in the case of Bush 43—while talking about being a conservative while acting like a Democrat.

The last truly successful (electorally speaking) GOP candidate was Reagan, who came from outside the GOP establishment, and who advocated being a party of bold colors, not pale pastels.  He talked and walked a true distinction in policy from the Democrats, rather than a policy of compromising conservative principles for the sake of winning.

I submit that what the GOP needs is not to change policy and become Democrats-by-a-different-name.  What it needs is clear adherence to conservative principles, and the ability to articulate them.  Rather than muttering vague generalities about smaller government (or worse, inane and meaningless catch-phrases like “compassionate conservatism”), lay out a specific plan and explain why it’s best and why it’s going to work.  That’s what Reagan did.  I kept waiting for Mitt Romney to take out a 30 minute network slot (much like Obama did in 2008 to put the Jeremiah Wright issue to bed) and lay out his plan; it never came.

The GOP’s problem isn’t that it’s not pandering to enough special interests.

The problem is messaging, and a lack of consistent core principles.

Texas v. White Revisited (Reprise)

Elizabeth:    Wait! You have to take me to shore.  According to the Code of the Order of the Brethren . . .

Barbossa:    First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so I must do nothing.  And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirates’ code to apply, and you’re not.  And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.  Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner!

            —Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

 

Many of you are aware that the White House has been flooded with petitions seeking White House comment on secession.  The most successful has been one from Texas, which the last time I looked it had received over 112,000 signatures, more than four times the number the White House’s own rules set as the threshold for requiring a response.

I have previously posted about the reasons for maintaining the union having perhaps outlived their utility.  Back in July I posted a discussion on the 1869 case of Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), which is most often cited as the definitive word on a State’s ability to leave the Union.  Curiously, I discovered over the weekend that out of nearly 170 posts that one is now missing from the blog archives.  Make of that what you will, but I thought in light of the petition it was worth re-posting (and more than a little interesting to see what happens to it when I do).

The Reconstruction provisional government of Texas sought to enjoin the Treasury from paying the holders of U.S. Treasury Bonds purchased from the secessionist government of Texas in early 1865.  Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase ruled in favor of Texas, effectively allowing the Reconstruction government to repossess the bonds to sell again, or receive their cash equivalent.  To reach this conclusion, Chase had to find that the Court had “original jurisdiction,” meaning the case could be filed directly in the Supreme Court.  Under Article III, this would only be the case if a State were a party to the suit.  This required Chase to hold that Texas had, in fact, never left the Union, the position long advanced by Lincoln.  Chase ruled that the Union was legally permanent and irrevocable, and therefore any attempt at secession was to no legal effect.  Once a State, always a State.

Let’s examine whether that’s really so.

First, Chase’s decision must be understood in its historical context.  In 1869 Texas and the other Southern States were under military rule as part of Reconstruction—query how you could even have reconstruction if the Union was inherently permanent—following the Civil War.  While there was heated disagreement among various factions in the federal government as to how to go about Reconstruction, there seems little doubt that the highest federal court could not issue a ruling at that time that would have in any way legitimized secession.  In that historical context, Chase all but had to rule that secession was void, and Chase himself tells you up front that this result was a foregone conclusion:

“It is needless to discuss, at length, the question whether the right of any State to withdraw from the Union for any cause, regarded by herself to be sufficient, is consistent with the Constitution[.]”

In explaining the ruling, Chase first made the cursory and unsupported historical observation that the Union was never a “purely artificial and arbitrary relation,” effectively arguing that of course the Union was permanent because the Colonies had always been united by common origin, sympathies, principles, and interests.  Well, this is just not the case.  The thirteen colonies were founded at different times, by people from different places who came here for different reasons.  New York was settled by Dutch traders.  Massachusetts was established by English pilgrims seeking religious freedom.  Virginia was founded by English entrepreneurs.  Much of the South was originally settled by Spanish and French treasure-seekers.  And the Founders’ debates were replete with violent disagreements driven largely by the chasm between the interests of the agrarian Southern States and those of their more urban, industrial, and mercantile Northern allies.  While the Colonies had significant common ground, there were also substantial historical, cultural, and economic differences between them; differences that persist to this day.  Far from being a natural, organic, and same-as-it-ever-was single body politic, the Union in fact had always been a tenuous association of fiercely independent sovereigns.

Chase then looked at the Articles of Confederation’s reference to a “perpetual union,” and argued that because the Constitution was ordained to make the Union “more perfect,” the only way to make that which was already “perpetual” “more perfect” would be to make it more perpetual.  For Chase, “[i]t is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words.”

Um, how about “. . . in order to form a more permanent Union”?

Chase’s reasoning once again lacked both correct historical context and proper textual analysis.  Had the Constitution simply amended the Articles, as Chase appears to have assumed, he would have had a point in that the “more perfect” modifier in the Preamble could be understood as supplementing the existing document.  But that’s not what the Constitution is, and that’s not what the Framers did.  Although the original purpose of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was to amend the Articles, it is well understood that with the adoption of James Madison’s “Virginia Plan” the Framers instead scrapped the Articles altogether and created a new plan of government from scratch.  Indeed, the Constitution nowhere even mentions the Articles.

Furthermore, Article VII of the Constitution provided that ratification by nine States would be sufficient to establish the Constitution “between the States so ratifying Same.”  In other words, the Constitution was only going bind the States that ratified it, the necessary corollary being it would not bind those that didn’t.  And of course the central theme throughout the Federalist Papers was the dangers of States not ratifying the Constitution and instead going it alone.  All of that is nonsense if the Union made “more perfect” by the Constitution was already inherently permanent, as enshrined in the Articles.  Chase’s underlying historical presupposition was simply wrong.

That is not to say that the Articles are irrelevant.  To the contrary, the differences in the language used in the Articles vs. that in the Constitution speaks volumes.  In law we have a basic interpretation principle that when the author of a statute or contract has used a given term to describe a concept in one place, he has demonstrated he knew how to do it when that’s what he meant; thus, when that term is absent in another part of the document, we can presume the author intended not to inject that same concept there.  Chief Justice Chase correctly noted that the Articles referred to a “perpetual union,” so we know the Framers understood how to create permanence when that’s what they meant to do.  But Chase ignores the fact that nowhere in the Constitution do we see the words “perpetual” or “permanent” or any of their variants.  The absence in the later document of this “perpetual” or “permanent” language from the earlier one alone should be dispositive of the question.

But we can go a step further, as the Framers did.  Chief Justice Chase acknowledged that under the Tenth Amendment “[all] powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  This is very specific, and very clear:  unless the Constitution—not the Articles—specifically vests a power with the federal government or specifically removes a power from the States, that power remains with the States or the people.  Period.

Although Article IV grants the Congress the power to admit new States into the Union, nothing in the Constitution delegates to the federal government the power to prevent States from leaving it.  Nor does anything in the Constitution deny to the States the power to withdraw from the Union.  Absent an express grant of federal power or express denial of State power, the power remains with the States or the people.  Indeed, even today we would think it strange that the federal government could prevent someone from renouncing their citizenship if they so chose; if an individual can do that, why not a collective group of them?

The idea that a governed people could not sever their ties with the government that has grown out of control would have been anathema to the Founders.  This nation’s founding premise was that the right to self-determination is inherent and God-given in all people.  It does not derive from, and cannot be regulated or taken away by, any man or any creation of man.  Even the Constitution itself neither created nor can it ever diminish this “self-evident” right.  Because of this, the authority of a government only comes from the consent of the governed, and as such it can only continue as long as that consent continues.  Indeed, this was the fundamental assumption underlying the Declaration:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government[.]”

The reason the Federalist Papers were written is that ratification was going to be a very close call, because many feared the power that the new federal government might assume.  Virginia ratified by a vote of 89 – 79.  New York 30 – 27.  New Hampshire 57 – 47.  Rhode Island originally rejected the Constitution, then ratified it 34 – 32.  These States would never have ratified the Constitution had they understood it to mean a permanent arrangement from which they could never withdraw if their fears of an out-of-control central government came to pass.

Of Moochers And Looters

They found the old man out in the back with a shovel in his hand

Thirteen rusty mason jars was just dug up out of the sand

And they all went crazy and they beat the old man, and they picked him up off the ground

Threw him in the swamp and stood there and laughed as the black water sucked him down

Then they turned around and went back to the shack and picked up the money and ran

They hadn’t gone nowhere when they realized they were runnin’ in quicksand

They struggled and they screamed but they couldn’t get away, and just before they went under

They could hear that old man laughing in a voice as loud as thunder.

            —The Charlie Daniels Band, The Legend Of Wooley Swamp

 

The other day I wrote about the U.S. becoming a nation of moochers and looters, and I want to get a little more into what I meant by that.  Consider those two terms:

mooch  (mōōch)  v.  to get (food, money, etc.) by imposing a burden on another

loot (lōōt)  v.  to take goods by force; to plunder

Now let’s put them in a little context.

There are currently about 313 million people in the U.S.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of October we had a total civilian noninstitutional population (basically everyone 16 or older not in the armed forces) of 243,983,000; that’s the theoretical labor pool.  Of that, BLS tells us we have a total labor force of 155,641,000, a labor participation rate of 63.8%.  That figure is down from a high of over 67% in the late 1990s, the culmination of steady gains since World War II.

What this means is we now have over 36% of our population that is theoretically of working age—over 88 million people—but simply isn’t working.  These aren’t the “unemployed,” because to count as unemployed in the BLS statistics you have to have been seeking work.  Those people are included in the 155 million+ workforce.  No, this 88 million represents people in addition to the “unemployed”; 88 million people who are neither working, nor making any effort to work.   True, some of those 88 million are retired or disabled, but that doesn’t account for all of them—in fact, the labor participation rate of those 55 and older is actually increasing.  The continuing decline in labor participation is attributable, in large part, to people just dropping out of the workforce altogether.

In other words, they produce nothing.  They contribute no good in economic terms, and they add essentially nothing to government revenue.

But they do consume.

Which brings me to the flip-side of the equation.  As of June, we had over 46 million people—roughly 15% of the total population—on food stamps.  In 2011 70 million were enrolled in Medicaid, the federally-compelled, state-administered, government-subsidized medical insurance program for indigents.  5.6 million people currently collect unemployment insurance benefits.  4.5 million receive direct federal welfare under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, the successor to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).  I’m not going to begin to dig up how many millions are receiving some form of state-administered welfare.

But there’s more.

Although the Lifeline program is decades old (as are Medicaid, etc.), under that program there are currently 12.5 million people with free cell phones and minutes, courtesy of the federal government.  As many as 2.5 million have two or more such phones.

81% of those with student loans advocate government-subsidized forgiveness of those debts.  In other words, they took the money and don’t want to have to pay it back; they want the government to pay it back for them.

We have had federal farm subsidies since the Great Depression; subsidies that were intended not only to supplement farm incomes, but to artificially boost prices by reducing supply.  In other words, the federal government bribes farmers not to produce.  Currently we spend $20 billion annually on this.

The Department of Energy has made some $34.5 billion in “loans” to “green energy” companies that in many cases have no market for their products; but a number of them are owned by huge Obama financial backers.  DOE claims that program has “created or saved” 60,000 jobs—even taking that dubious boast at face value, that’s $575,000 per job.  What is undeniable is that that program has seen to date eight bankruptcies, at least two insolvencies, three rounds of layoffs, and at least four companies outsourcing some or all of their business.

All of this costs money.  Food stamps alone cost over $75 billion in 2011.  Medicaid cost $404 billion in 2010.  Total student debt is $1 trillion, so at a default rate of around 10% that’s another $100 billion.  TANF was down, but still nearly $10 billion in 2011.  Cell phones were another $1.6 billion.  As noted above, there’s another $20 billion in farm subsidies, and $34.5 billion in green energy seed money.

That’s nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year in just these programs I’ve named above.  Where do you suppose that money comes from?

I deliberately left out Medicare and Social Security—what I’ve set out above does not include any programs into which the recipients at least theoretically have “paid in.”  They are programs whereby the recipients are inherently taking money extracted from others.  So to those takers I ask: By what right do you take from those who produce in order to fund your consumption?  What is your claim on the product of the labor of others?  Does the fact of your need impose upon them a debt that they owe?  What have you provided in return?

For those of you who are not recipients but nevertheless support these programs out of some sense of social conscience I ask:  By what right do you seize others’ property in order to fund by force the charity you deem a social imperative?  Does your need for self-righteousness entitle you raid my bank account so you may rest comfortable in the illusion that you have helped your brother (what is really you forcing me to help your brother at gunpoint)?  Is it right that you should feed your sense of moral superiority, or assuage your guilt over having more than others, by taking from me to give to someone else?

I agree that we as people should help our neighbors.  But that help ceases to be alms when its giving is not voluntary.  Suppose the productive simply said I quit and stopped working.  Suppose business owners decided to close their doors rather than employ people who would earn wages for you to confiscate in the form of taxes in order to give it to people who had not earned it.  What then?  Would the takers’ need to consume and your need to feel charitable permit you to force us all back to work in order to fund your programs?

Living at the expense of others, with no value given in return for what you take, is mooching.  Money extracted at the point of a gun is loot, and its extraction is theft, regardless of the alleged altruism behind it.

**********************

BENGHAZI COUNT:  Forget General Petraeus’ affair–it’s a lurid smoke screen intended to distract you from what matters.  It is now 64 days and counting since our consulate and CIA compound in Benghazi were attacked and four Americans killed while intelligence and possibly the White House itself watched live via spy drone, and the President has still not addressed the nation and told us what happened.

Painting By Numbers

“Mathematicians won the war.  Mathematicians broke the Japanese codes, and built the A-bomb. Mathematicians . . . like you.  The stated goal of the Soviets is global Communism.  In medicine or economics, in technology or space, battle lines are being drawn.  To triumph, we need results: publishable, applicable results.  Now who among you will be the next Morse?  The next Einstein?  Who among you will be the vanguard of democracy, freedom, and discovery?  Today, we bequeath America’s future into your able hands.”

            —Judd Hirsch as Helinger in A Beautiful Mind

 

I said last Wednesday I didn’t want to get into the deep weeds trying to break down the numbers on what happened Tuesday night.  There are plenty of theories out there, from a strong Hispanic vote, to a weak Republican base turnout, to Hurricane Sandy, etc. etc.  I don’t have the strength for it, and I’m too many decades removed from college for that sort of detailed political science statistical analysis.  And in any event, it won’t change the result.

That said, I did see something I thought was interesting.  I don’t know what I make of it, but follow me on a little mathematical exercise here.

The AP had Obama taking 61,212,519 votes out of a total of 119,413,147.  The black vote made up 13% of the total electorate, meaning black voters cast 15,523,709 ballots, using the AP’s numbers.  Obama took 93% of those votes, or a total of 14,437,049 votes.

Now, my original thought in looking at this was I assumed we’d see Obama capturing what seems like an impossibly skewed percentage of the black vote, which would indicate raw racism (i.e., blacks voting for the black candidate because he’s black).  The truth is, 93% isn’t far removed from the 95% of the black vote Obama garnered in 2008, and isn’t all that different from the 88% John Kerry (who is definitely not black) got in 2004, or the 90% Al Gore (who isn’t black but may have invented it) got in 2000.  I don’t see anything to be made there.

But here’s what I thought was interesting.

We saw above that the math indicates about 15.5 million black votes were cast.  But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 there were 38.6 million blacks in the U.S.  Of them, only 27.2 million were of voting age.  Now, I understand that that data is a couple of years old, but I can’t imagine the numbers changed all that much in two years.  So we’re talking about squeezing 15.5 million votes out of what is about a 27 million population.

Rusty, what’s the big deal?

Well, here’s the rub.  We were bombarded over the last two years with studies, reports, and complaints about how the rules were rigged in such a way to suppress black voting.

  • We’re told that, because of a racist criminal justice system, 7.7% of blacks are felons and thus ineligible to vote.  That’s about 2.1 million, using the 2010 census figures.
  • We’re told that as many as 25% of blacks lacked sufficient I.D. to comply with racist voter I.D. laws—the Brennan Center says that’s 5.5 million people, but using the Census figures it’s more like 6.8 million who, according to the victim panderers and race-baiters, were at risk of not being able to vote this year.
  • As September of this year—too late in most circles to correct the problem—reports had the NAACP saying that another 6 million blacks were eligible to vote, but simply hadn’t registered.

As an initial point, let me say that all this complaining about racist voter suppression is interesting, when we see that blacks, who make up 12% of the population, actually made up 13% of the electorate.  If The Man is conspiring to reinstate Jim Crow-style suppression of the black vote, I submit it isn’t working.

But back to our exercise.  Taking these various complaints I listed above more or less at face value, what does that do to our 2012 electoral math?

Well, we started with a total possible black voting population of about 27.2 million.  Subtract from that the roughly 2.1 million felons and you have 25.1 million.  The Left’s complaint that between 5.5 million and 6.8 million blacks were adversely affected by voter I.D. laws is patently bogus, but let’s give them credit for 1 million kept home because they didn’t have the same I.D. needed to collect welfare; that drops your voting population from 25.1 million to 24.1 million.  Then you back out the 6 million the NAACP says weren’t registered, and suddenly you’re down to a total voting population of only 18.1 million.

15.5 million votes out of a voting population of 18.1 million.  That’s an astonishing 85% turnout.

And there’s the problem.

Voter turnout nationally in the U.S. in modern times is normally between 50 and 55%, and has trended steadily downward since 1960.  Black turnout is normally a couple of points below the national average, although in 2008 it was a couple of points above the national figure at right at 60%.  Even if voting enthusiasm in the black community was up from 2008—and every indication heading into Tuesday was that it wasn’t, and total turnout was considerably lower than 2008—that doesn’t explain an 85% figure.  And even if we assume that, say, half of the 6 million who were unregistered according to the NAACP not only managed to correct that, but also to show up and vote, you’re still talking about a total voting population of only 21.1 million, which would mean a 74% turnout.

20 to 25 points (about 50%) more than normal, and 14 points above even 2008.  That is, assuming much of what the race-baiters and fearmongers would have you believe is true.

Make of it what you will.  I just thought you should know.

******************

Yesterday (November 11) was Veteran’s Day, although the federal government will celebrate it today.  To those of you who have served in our armed forces, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Forward

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

            —President John F. Kennedy, January 26, 1961

 

It’s a dark day, friends.  I confess I didn’t pick up my paper this morning, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at or listen to any media of any sort.  I don’t know the final counts, and I’m not interested in any kind of post-mortem.  I’m a little numb.  And I’m so very tired.

Let me say congratulations to the Left; you won the m***erf***er.  So let’s all go Forward.  Throw open the border, and start handing out the free condoms, food stamps, and gay marriage licenses.  Start the orgy of unlimited borrowing and deficit spending—after all, you don’t have to pay any of that back, so why should you care?  I say let’s put a government-built golf cart in every garage, and a government-subsidized abortion clinic on every block (maybe you can set up a drive-thru).  While we’re at it, let’s have free college so that everyone, regardless of their academic ability, can go study whatever useless tripe their heart desires, all on the federal dime.

Commence au festival.

I’m not in the habit of quoting John Kennedy, but this seminal statement from this icon of the Left brings into sharp relief where we are now.  We are no longer a nation of self-reliance and freedom.  We have become a nation of dependents.  51% of this country is now either dependent upon what the government gives them, or agrees (either because they’re so wealthy it won’t affect them or are below the income level that will be taxed to pay for it) it is the appropriate role of government to take from others in order to give it to them.  We are a nation of moochers; looters, holding hostage the productive minority in order to take by force the value of their effort.

It’s a form of slavery.

Oh, there’s the silver lining in that the Republicans kept control of the House.  Theoretically that would ensure gridlock in Congress, and that would be a good thing.  But the GOP establishment long ago became little more than socialism-Lite, and I have no illusions that John Boehner is going to stand up to this President.  Even if he does, that’s not going to stop the endless river of regulations that will continue to pour forth from EPA, HHS, and others, choking what life is left out of small business.  Nor will it stop Obama from an increasingly bold use of unconstitutional fiat power to legislate by executive order.  He’ll claim it’s the Republicans being unwilling to compromise—read: give in—and that he has to act for the good of the American people.  And the 51% will gleefully cheer him on.

And nothing is going to stop the damage Obama will do through the judiciary.  He’s likely to get at least two, maybe as many as four Supreme Court appointments in the next four years.  He’ll get literally hundreds of lower appellate and district court appointments.  And he’ll fill them all with activist Leftists from Harvard and Yale who will then be on the bench for decades, possibly completing the dismantling of the Constitution.

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments are already all but gone, as the States have become little more than subordinate branches of the federal government.  The Commerce Clause and Taxation power—thank you, Mr. Chief Justice Roberts—now give the District almost unlimited power to coerce or control private activity.  The separation of powers is becoming increasingly illusory.  In the next four years we’ll continue to see erosion of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion in the name of “separation of church and state,” and of speech as the “fairness doctrine” is reinstituted to shut down talk radio.  The Second Amendment is in jeopardy in its entirety.  Your Fourth Amendment right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures will be trimmed back to further the government’s interest in maintaining information necessary to manage its increasing control over healthcare.  And on and on.

And there won’t be any going back.

But don’t worry.  Your federal government will continue to take billions of dollars from you to “invest” in businesses that produce goods for which there is no market.  It will take more still from you to subsidize the hiring of thousands of teachers who will be forced to teach the answers to standardized tests rather than the concepts underlying their various subjects, and who won’t be held accountable for actual education.  An aggressive and ambitious Vladimir Putin surely will be no problem once Obama bends over, er, shows him just how much “flexibility” he now has.  And I’m certain those radical Islamo-fascists will be happy to leave us all alone once Obama can finally go over there and kiss their feet.

In the book Atlas Shrugged, oilman Ellis Wyatt got rich by discovering a way to squeeze oil out of depleted shale deposits.  He applied his effort and talent and did what no one else could, and he created thousands of jobs and supplied millions with affordable energy in the process.  He created a good.  But when government redistribution of resources in the name of “fairness” (read: taking from those who produce to give to those who don’t) left him without sufficient transportation to get his product to market and a special tax levied on him to pay for administering that redistribution, he had enough.  He walked away, leaving his oilfield permanently on fire, and a sign that read “I am leaving it as I found it.  Take over.  It’s yours.”

I took the flags off my martial arts uniforms.  I don’t think that country exists any more.  And unfortunately, Reagan was right: there’s nowhere left to run.

The Endgame

“A man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him.  At that moment, a man finds his character.  And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”

            —Hal Holbrook as Lou Mannheim in Wall Street

 

We’re down to crunch time, and I remain cautiously optimistic that tomorrow we will manage to step back from the abyss.  We attended 7:30 a.m. Mass yesterday, and a service that normally sees the sanctuary at about 40% capacity was closer to 80% full.

I took that as a good sign.

If you haven’t voted, make sure you vote.  Make sure your spouse votes.  Make sure your friends vote.  Drive them yourself if you have to.  This is especially important for my friends in Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin; every single vote matters.

Perhaps just as important, talk with your friends who somehow may still be undecided.  Forget the true believers—can’t do anything about them now.  But if you know a fence-sitter, calmly ask them to consider a few things.

First, even after four years in the White House, this President remains woefully inexperienced and ill-equipped for the job.  He’s never built anything.  He’s never employed anybody.  He’s never managed an enterprise in which he was responsible for delivering any kind of results.

Second, Obama himself told us in 2009 that if he didn’t have the economy turned around in three years, we should fire him.  Today U-3 unemployment is at 7.9% (I bet you a million dollars that figure gets revised upwards after the election), a tick higher than when he took office.  Real income is down.  Gasoline costs an average of $3.57; it was $1.79 when he took office.  Obama brags—disingenuously—about “saving” the U.S. auto industry, but bailed out GM and Chrysler are both shipping their manufacturing jobs overseas.

Third, do you really want your federal government to be doing what it does in secret, or by unconstitutional executive order?  Forget the substance for a second and just consider process.  Obamacare was written behind closed doors, and passed on virtually zero notice with no one for or against it having any opportunity even to read the thing.  Obama has repeatedly altered or eliminated federal statutes by executive order, thus taking it upon himself to change acts of Congress by unilateral fiat.  This is not how government in a free republic is supposed to function.

Finally, wouldn’t you expect an incumbent President asking for a second term to focus his sales pitch on all the great things he’s done with his first term?  That’s what Reagan did in 1984.  Obama, for his part, has gone to some lengths to say as little as possible about what he’s done over the last four years.  He’s been all about demonizing Governor Romney, reminding us that Bush sucked, and pushing mindless, meaningless slogans and catch-phrases.  He’s offered nothing substantive.  And the best his surrogates have been able to do in these last days of the campaign is to threaten that black people are going to find you and harm you if you vote for Romney.

We must continue to pray and believe that there are enough rational informed people left to stop this thing.  So here’s to starting to take this country back, and I’ll see you on the other side.

And as for Bill Maher and his army of rioters, black or otherwise, I’m not afraid.  I’ll have my Lone Star and Gadsden flags flying at my house on Tuesday, so they’ll know where to find me.  But be warned: I have 100 pounds of very territorial German Shepherd Dog, and everyone in my house is armed.

FEMA Looting

“If you believe you may seize my property simply because you *need* it, well then so does any burglar.  The only difference is a burglar doesn’t ask my permission.  If you feel you have the right to use force against me, then show it for what it is:  bring guns.”

            —Jason Beghe as Henry Rearden in Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike

 

Let me say up front that my prayers go out to everyone in the Northeast affected by Hurricane Sandy.  As a Gulf Coast resident and veteran of both riding out and running from hurricanes, I understand that these storms, even if not of the “major” variety, are a big deal.  For my friends in that area, I pray you are all safe, and that you are able to return to some degree of normalcy as soon as possible.  For the rest of us, I urge everyone to find a way to contribute, whether it’s a monetary donation to the Red Cross dedicated to relief in that area, or sending supplies, or if you are close enough, contributing time and effort to the rebuilding process.

What I have to say today is going to be unpopular.  Some of you will call me callous or inhuman, which is why once the political train on this issue started sliding backwards a hundred or more years ago there was little anyone could do to stop it.  But I’m not running for office, and I’m not here to say what’s popular, but to say what’s right.  And my touchstone in that respect is always the United States Constitution.  So here it is:

Neither FEMA, nor any other agency of the federal government, should provide one dime of funding for relief or recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

But Rusty, you just told us your prayers go out to these people, and you urged us all to help them?!?!  Aren’t you being a hypocrite?

Indeed, I did.  And no, I’m not.

We should be reaching out to help those in need.  But that is a voluntary duty that arises from our humanity, not a compulsory obligation to be forced upon us by virtue of citizenship.  The fact of the matter is charity—which the government can only dole out from what it takes from others by force—is simply not a proper function of the federal government.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, was created by Jimmy Carter in 1979, although its antecedents stretch back the better part of a century or more.  It is charged with providing emergency response and funding to states for cleanup and recovery from natural disasters.  And because its function is tied directly to events that involve large-scale destruction and casualties, it is inherently subject to being treated as something of a political candy jar; what politician wants to risk being painted as uncaring after denying a request for federal disaster relief from people who are without a home, food, water, and fuel?

So those relief requests come to be seen as an entitlement.  Why, of course the federal government is going to provide financial assistance, because it always does.  We see that today in the rhetoric associated with New York’s request that the federal government cover 100% of the estimated $6 billion in rebuilding costs following Hurricane Sandy (as an aside, FEMA’s budget for all of 2008 (the most recent year I could find) was only $5.8 billion, so Governor Cuomo is effectively asking that FEMA’s entire annual allotment be spent on his state alone).  New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg wrote in their request to Obama,  “[w]e understand the federal share is typically 75 percent of these total costs . . .”  Former DHS official Matt Mayer said that “Seventy-five percent is a floor, not a ceiling.

Share.  Floor.

Federal funding of most, if not all, of the costs is viewed as a given.  So four days before an election, President Obama really doesn’t have any choice but to grant the request, and Governor Romney has no choice but to keep his mouth shut about it.

The problem is, there’s no constitutional authority for FEMA’s existence, much less its funding of state disaster relief.

Professor Walter Williams, in multiple essays collected in Liberty Versus The Tyranny Of Socialism, outlined repeated instances in our history where the unconstitutionality of federal charitable relief has come up.  James Madison—who, as its primary author, might be regarded as having a certain insight into what the Constitution does and does not provide—objected to an appropriation to aid French refugees in 1794, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”  Jefferson likewise was at a loss to find authority for federal charity in the Constitution.  Put in the more directly applicable context of domestic disaster relief, in 1796 Representative William Giles of Virginia objected that an appropriation for the relief of fire victims was unconstitutional.  Ninety years later, Grover Cleveland vetoed drought aid for Texas farmers on the same basis.

There just isn’t a Constitutional basis for federal disaster relief.  The General Welfare clause can’t get you there.  As I’ve said too many times to re-link to, if the General Welfare clause allows the federal government to do anything it thinks is good or right, then the rest of the detailed enumerated powers become meaningless; the Constitution could simply have said Congress shall have the power to enact any such legislation it finds is in the general welfare, and been done with it.  Both Madison and Jefferson cautioned that “general welfare” had to be understood in connection with, and limited by, the enumerated powers.  Furthermore, in its common sense understanding, “general welfare” refers to those acts that benefit everyone, not some isolated segment of the citizenry.

And don’t even try the Commerce Clause.  As I’ve explained repeatedly, and as appears many times in the Federalist Papers, the Commerce Clause was simply intended to prevent economic Balkanization that would result if one state could impose protectionist tariffs on goods from another state.  If was never intended to use federal money to rebuild housing.

President Cleveland correctly predicted the entitlement mentality that would result once the federal government got into the business of providing disaster relief:  “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”  Charity rightly resides locally, with neighbor voluntarily helping neighbor.  It is not, and should not be, the function of the federal government to elicit that charity by force, taking money from people in Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio, and giving it to people in New York.

But that’s where we are now.  And although you’ll accuse me of being cynical and callous, here’s the real rub.   These disasters such as hurricanes on the East and Gulf Coasts, earthquakes on the West Coast, tornadoes in the central plains, are all predictable, known hazards (indeed, sports teams in these areas often celebrate their association with these disasters in their nicknames: Hurricanes, Cyclones, Crimson Tide, Green Wave)For those who choose to live in places like Florida, for example, we can’t predict the exact time, but we can say with 100% certainty that someday a hurricane will come; that’s part of the risk you accept when you choose to live there.  Even in the Northeast, this is not the first time New York and New Jersey have been hit by a hurricane, nor will it be the last.  You can’t prevent it, but you can take measures to mitigate its impact.  You can build shelters and stockpile supplies.  And as my contracts professor used to tell us in discussing how contracts allocate risk, “Wars happen.  Insurance is available.”

But what unlimited federal disaster relief funding does is allow people to use the force of the federal government to shift their risk and cost burden to others.   With FEMA, people can populate areas with known, certain natural disaster risks, ignore those risks and take no measures ahead of time to mitigate or insure against them, then take money from everyone else–under the disguise of altruism and humanitarianism–to pay for the damage when it happens.

Stripped of its camouflage, in any other context, that’s called “looting.”

What Are You Doing, Dave?

“All these documents are yours.  The people’s property; you paid for them.  But because the government considers you children who might be too disturbed or distressed to face this reality, or because you might possibly lynch those involved, you cannot see these documents for another seventy-five years.  I’m in my early forties, so I’ll have shuffled off this mortal coil by then.  But I’m already telling my eight-year-old son to keep himself physically fit, so that one glorious September morning in the year 2038 he can walk into the National Archives and find out what the CIA and the FBI knew.  They might even push it back then.  Hell, it may become a generational affair, with questions passed down from father to son, mother to daughter.  But someday, somewhere, somebody will find out the damn truth.”

            —Kevin Costner as District Attorney Jim Garrison in JFK

 

Unpleasant as it is, I want to return to the subject of Benghazigate.

It’s already bad enough that the same President who shamelessly co-opted himself into the Navy SEALS for political gain in the killing of Osama Bin Laden turned his back on them when they needed his help in a life-or-death situation.  But there’s a potentially telling question gnawing at me that I don’t think is being asked.

We know now that one or more surveillance drones were over Benghazi viewing and recording the attack on the consulate compound and CIA safe house in real time.  It appears there were also security cameras recording from inside the compound.  Senators John McCain (R(sort of)-AZ) and Rob Portman (R-OH) of the Senate Armed Services Committee have been trying to obtain those tapes, but have been stonewalled by the FBI, which is claiming all that material is classified top secret.

Leaving aside the issue of why CIA or military surveillance data is with the FBI, and where the FBI gets the authority to determine what is/isn’t top secret classified material, here’s my question:

Why was there a drone over Benghazi at all?

I know Obama has a drone fetish, but unless it’s just standard operating procedure to have drones in the air everywhere at all times—which begs a whole other set of disturbing questions—what was going on at the consulate compound that merited an unmanned surveillance drone that happened to be over just the right place at just the right time?

Carried a step further, what was going on at the consulate compound that makes what the drone captured on tape so sensitive to national security that it has to be classified top secret and kept from the Senate Armed Services Committee (and in that event, why is it with the FBI, and not CIA or the Joint Chiefs of Staff)?

Rusty, you know perfectly well that national security requires a certain amount of classified intelligence, and that there are things the federal government has to be able to do without public scrutiny.

Quite so.  Sun Tsu preached the importance of gathering intelligence and that some of that has to be done covertly.  And I am the last one to suggest that every breath the government takes from a security standpoint should be open for all to see.  But that leads to a whole other set of questions.

For a minute let’s give the President the benefit of the doubt that there were sensitive top secret national security activities going on and the situation on the ground was such that it merited the use of unmanned surveillance.  As an initial question, then, if that’s the case why send in a drone to film it and run the risk of it—and its footage—crashing or being shot down and captured?  But more to the point, if it was so secret and so dangerous, then why wasn’t there adequate military security already in place?  If the activities there were so sensitive that the surveillance footage is so top secret it can’t even be shown to the Senate Armed Services Committee, why weren’t the assets and personnel already there to protect them from prying eyes in such a dangerous locale?  Moreover, if what was going on there was so important and so classified, why was there no rescue effort made, and why no immediate attempt to move in afterwards and secure the premises and whatever sensitive material might still be left there?

These are important questions that I don’t really hear anyone asking.  And when you start trying to connect the dots of the information we do have, it gives every appearance that there’s something really sinister going on here.

Bear in mind that for all its bluster about transparency, this is already an administration that stonewalled a House investigation into Operation Fast & Furious for the better part of a year, and when it was finally backed into a corner it threw up a bogus claim of “executive privilege” to hide its internal documents discussing the program (or, to be more precise, its after-the-fact documents discussing how to spin the fiasco to the media).  In Benghazi we have a situation where the administration knew enough about what was going on to have an unmanned surveillance drone watching the attack as it happened.  Yet although it had no security assets at the compound ahead of time, made no attempt to intervene in the attack at the compound while it was happening—despite watching it live, and what appear to have been multiple calls for help on the ground—and made no attempt to secure the compound afterwards, the administration now claims what the aerial and surface surveillance apparatus recorded in that compound is “top secret.”

You can’t have it both ways.  If there were top secret activities in Benghazi that now justify keeping surveillance material from the Senate, those people and assets should have been protected.  If you were worried about what was going on there becoming public from a legitimate national security standpoint, there should have been some kind of intervention.  You certainly shouldn’t have left the place, and whatever top secrets it might still have contained, open for three weeks before being secured, searched, and cleared of all sensitive material.  If there weren’t top secret activities in Benghazi, then there’s no reason to keep data and information from the Senate.  As it stands now, however, your average resident of Benghazi knows more about what was going on there than the Armed Services Committee.

I have no illusions about it happening before next Tuesday.  But there’s a lot of smoke here, and I suspect when we finally get to the bottom of this we’re going to find quite the fire.