Monday, January 31, 2011

Obamacare Ruled Unconstitutional! Administration Baffled by Principled Ruling

One of the most absurd policies within Obamacare is the provision that forces insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions.  As I posted previously, the notion of forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions obliterates the concept of insurance.  That is because no one would ever buy insurance if he knew he could simply buy it once something went wrong!  Denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions is the essence of insurance.  If insurance companies wrote policies to those ready to file claims under the policy, the insurance company should be shut down and the owners thrown in jail for negligence. Of course, Obamacare advocates understand that, and the logic of this provision necessarily leads to the linchpin of this entire statist welfare scheme: legally requiring that individuals purchase insurance under threats of fines or imprisonment.      

About a year ago, I posted about a state lawsuit seeking to strike down Obamacare on constitutional grounds.  The primary argument is that the federal government may be able to regulate commerce but it cannot force one to engage in commerce, namely, by forcing the purchase of a particular product such as insurance. Consequently, I'm thrilled by the news that a federal judge in Florida has struck down Obamacare as unconstitutional.  Of course, the fed's are appealing the ruling, but I was particularly impressed by the principled ruling issued by Judge Roger Vinson. I found it humorous that the judge cited a prominent politician to support his ruling: Obama!      
“I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that, ‘If a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house,’” Judge Vinson wrote in a footnote toward the end of his 78-page ruling Monday.
It's not surprising that Obama opposes his own bill, as evidenced by his adminstration's issuance of more than 700 waivers to political supporters, i.e., those that paid bribes! More importantly, Vinson actually discussed the principle and logically extrapolated the consequences of allowing such a precedent:
Much of Judge Vinson‘s ruling was a discussion of how the Founding Fathers, including James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, saw the limits on congressional power. Judge Vinson hypothesized that, under the Obama administration‘s legal theory, the government could mandate that all citizens eat broccoli.
In other words, if the federal government can force you to buy insurance, they could force you to do anything they deem vital by their standards, such as eating broccoli.  How would you expect the administration's pathologically unprincipled pragmatists to react to this simple logic?
“There’s something thoroughly odd and unconventional about the analysis,” said a White House official who briefed reporters late Monday afternoon, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Indeed, thinking in principle is thorougly "unconventional" in today's intellectual environment.  Kudos to Judge Vinson for giving us a glimpse of objective law.

Internet "Kill Switch" Legislation: It's Back

This article reports:
The legislation, which would grant US President Barack Obama powers to seize control of and even shut down the internet, would soon be reintroduced to a senate committee, Wired.com reported.
I previously posted about this issue here, and I have posted about the broader war on free speech here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Note to Obama: It's Not Your Money

You can grasp a crucial premise underlying Obama's ideology by considering this little nugget from the state of the union:
And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.

It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success.
Let's put aside the fact that this statement is highly misleading since the department of education represents only 1.3 cents of every dollar of federal spending and the top 5% of taxpayers pay 57% of all taxes (and the bottom 50% pay 3.3%), and consider the more important philosophical premises implied by this statement. 

Note that he says we can't "afford" a tax cut.  Let's say you have been borrowing money from a friend to pay rent or better yet, say a friend has simply been generously giving you money, and this has been going on for a long time.  Finally, your friend says, "dude, I can't give you any more money."  Would your response ever be: "I can't afford to allow you to stop giving me money"?  In fact, isn't it the case that you can't afford to pay your own rent?  Would you be mad at your friend for not giving you more money?  And, if you were mad, rather than grateful for the past and eager to pay your own way, shouldn't you be considered a scoundrel at best?

How is it different ethically when we apply this principle to the government?

Whether its for schools or public television or turtle tunnels, all the government does, through taxation, is act as a middleman to expropriate the earnings of some for the unearned benefit of others.  Because an individual recipient doesn't ask or see the people whose earnings he has taken, it doesn't change the fact that the money he is spending is not his own.   

But, Obama has completely inverted this logic.

In his view, one does not own his wealth or income.  He is a mere steward awaiting orders from Washington on how much the central planners deem is acceptable for him to keep.  To those who argue that taxing wealth and income at higher rates the more you make punishes success, Obama's answer is that it is not punishment.  By seizing the money you have earned and redistributing it to others whom he and his colleagues have deemed worthy, he is promoting "America's success."  Evidently, individuals do not know how to properly invest, spend, or donate their own wealth and income.  If left to their own devices, they will dispose of this wealth in a way that is not appropriate.  Only central planners in Washington can see to it that the money is spent "wisely", i.e., in such a way that America's success can be guaranteed. 

You should be thanking him!     

At root, Obama rejects the idea that an individual owns his property and therefore his life.  Under this view, the government's function is not to secure rights, i.e., protect an individual's right to pursue his life and happiness free from coercion, but instead, the government's function is to redistribute the earnings of some for the unearned benefit of others.  Under Obama's view, man is not an individual, he is an appendage of a greater collective whose duty is to altruistically serve the interests of whatever he and the Washington central planners define as the "common good."  Essentially, this collectivist view represents a complete repudiation of individualism and the principles upon which America was founded. 

Advocates of freedom and capitalism must understand that the difference between them and Obama and his ilk is not the minutia of the latest budget but the principle of individualism versus collectivsm.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union: Horrible

Obama's state of the union address was a bloated mess of logical contradictions and inane platitudes.  He paid lip service to free enterprise while advocating massive government intervention in the economy.  He spoke of coping with the nation's catastrophic budget deficit while the members cheered his promise to save and preserve Leviathan's most egregious offender: social security and medicare/medicaid.  He proposed spending cuts of $400 billion over 5 years which is less than 1/3 of the federal budget deficit THIS YEAR.  At one point, he promised to veto any bill containing so-called earmarks to the smug guffaws of the gluttonous House members.  He showed no grasp of the government's role in causing and sustaining the economic crisis nor does he have any sense of the magnitude of the catastrophe being wrought by the Federal Reserve's system's inflation of the money supply.  His foreign policy rhetoric remains, as Niall Ferguson once described it: "a Facebook entry."   

In short, nothing has changed. 

I went to Wikipeida and looked up a pie chart of the federal government budget.  By  my 30 seconds of reckoning, you could cut the budget by about 75% in one day by limiting the government to its proper function, the protection of individual rights.  The Department of Defense is 19% of the budget, the Department of Justice is 1.5%, and the interest on the national debt is 5%.  Ok, 74.5%. 

Problem solved.     

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Epstein: The 6 Myths about Oil

Here is an excellent op-ed by Alex Epstein titled "The 6 Myths about Oil."  Also, Epstein discusses this op-ed on Front Page with Allen Barton at PJTV.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Incitement vs. Determinism

I recently wrote a post (and linked to another) debunking the left's claim that the ideology and rhetoric of the Tea Party, talk radio et al. are to blame for fomenting a "culture of hate" which necessarily leads to violence, i.e., I argued against the idea that the right's vehement opposition to the explosion of government power and debt constitutes incitement to violence. This idea, propounded by liberal pundits and politicians, underlies the various Democratic proposals in support of regulating the Internet, censoring talk radio (excuse me, imposing a "fairness doctrine" on broadcasters), banning so-called "hate speech", and regulating or prohibiting gun ownership.  In fact, I argued, it is the left's political goals, viz. confiscatory taxation, regulation, and the nationalization of major industries, which necessitates the initiation of force against innocent people. 

Another crucial legal and philosophical issue involves the relationship of the legal concept of incitement to the philosophical concepts of determinism and free will.

Determinism is a philosophy which holds that "man is a product of factors outside of his control." In previous posts [1] [2], I analyzed in detail how determinism underlies liberal politics. According to the left, people are conditioned by their circumstances, their "environment", or their race, socio-economic class, or gender. Given this philosophy, it's not hard to grasp the origin of the wild accusations, made in the wake of the Tuscon massacre, that held various politicians, intellectuals, and talk radio hosts to be accessories to murder. The left simply makes a logical connection. If one is conditioned by outside factors (particularly the satanic Fox News Channel), and there is a popular opposition to the government's policies, one will be conditioned to oppose the government. If a democratic politician gets shot, then it is not the fault of the one who pulled the trigger - it is the fault of the ideas which conditioned him and, ultimately, the purveyors of those ideas. Liberal solution: use government force to prevent those propounding such ideas from speaking. Simple, eh?

In contrast, free will is the idea that human beings "have the freedom to think or not think" and that it is "this choice which controls all other choices." Quoting Ayn Rand:

A process of thought is not automatic nor “instinctive” nor involuntary—nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results. He has to discover how to tell what is true or false and how to correct his own errors; he has to discover how to validate his concepts, his conclusions, his knowledge; he has to discover the rules of thought, the laws of logic, to direct his thinking. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of the efficacy of his mental effort.
That doesn't mean that people can not be influenced, encouraged, or impeded by their surroundings. Of course, they can, but these factors can not fundamentally force someone to think or not. Free will means that individuals are accountable for their own actions, legally and morally.

Even if you reject the liberal claim, based on determinism, that their opponents' ideology and rhetoric is incitement to violence, can a proponent of free will ever accept the legal concept of "incitement to violence" as being a criminal act? After all, one could ask, if an individual is responsible to think or not to think, how could it ever be crime to incite violence, since the one committing violence could have chosen not to act?  Isn't it always solely the fault of the individual committing the violence and never the individual who incites?

Consider the U.S. Supreme Court's standard for what constitutes incitement under the First Amendment.  Quoting an article from a previous post:
"The imminence requirement [set by the US Supreme Court] sets a high hurdle. Mere advocacy of violence, terrorism or the overthrow of the government is not enough; the words must be meant to, and be likely to, produce violence or lawlessness right away. A fiery speech urging an angry racist mob immediately to assault a black man in its midst probably qualifies as incitement under the First Amendment. A magazine article - or any publication -aimed at stirring up racial hatred surely does not."
This is a valid standard since it recognizes the nature of cognition. Even if it is true that an individual has the ability to think and control his choices, the nature of cognition is such that properly compiling and weighing evidence takes time - time that is not available in the context of incitement. If someone in a crowd arbitrarily yells "that man has a bomb, kill him" he is attempting to convey an immediate threat to others. This claim is part of the action and is meant to produce violence right away against a specific person for no reason. Given the immediacy of the threat, others would be justified in taking action, and if the innocent man was injured, the person who yelled (incited violence) would be culpable. Note that there is a great chasm of difference between one who is directly and imminently plotting murder or inciting a mob to violence and one whose speech is merely critical or even hateful.

If the imminence requirement is not set and the left had their way, logically, no political speech would be allowed since criticism of anything could indirectly lead to violence. If one criticizes the government, it may lead another to not like the government, or may even lead ultimately to one acting violently against the government. So, what exactly could we talk about?

Of course, the First Amendment was not designed to protect people's right to discuss the weather. It was specifically meant to protect the right to express controversial and extreme ideas. The dividing line politically as always should be based on the principle that the government's function is to protect individuals from the initiation of physical force and/or fraud. In this way, the US Supreme Court's standard is eminently reasonable while the unconstitutional and dangerous standard implied by leftist intellectuals is not.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who are the Real Advocates of Non-Violence?

A running theme on this blog for several years [1] [2], particularly during the recent elections and rise of the Tea Party movement, has been the nature of the left's attempts to smear their opposition as "hate mongers", "extremists", or racists.  Another related theme has been attempts by the left to restrict freedom of speech, for instance, by equating their opponents' rhetoric to hate speech, using the FCC to regulate popular talk radio stations, or restricting certain unfavored constituencies from speaking out.  Consequently, it was only natural, when I heard that a psychopath had opened fire in a crowd, tragically killing six people and wounding a democratic congresswoman, that I instantly predicted the left would seize the opportunity to trot out these arguments and use them to justify the usual litany of liberal usurpation's of individual rights, including restrictions on speech and gun ownership.    

The right has justifiably reacted with outrage as the liberal MSM jumped on this narrative without bothering to check the facts or recognize that the shooter was simply a psychopath who worshipped skulls, attributed his actions to the devil, and, in fact, was described by friends as a "left wing pothead." He appears to be the type of person that in the past, as George Will points out, we would have "executed, not explained."  Keep in mind, this is the same liberal MSM who hypocritically admonished us not to jump to conclusions after a Muslim, who collaborated with a radical mosque leader, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" before gunning down 13 people at Ft. Hood in 2009!

What the conservative pundits don't realize is that in pushing this unwarranted narrative, the left is not "playing politics" or lashing out in a "momentary fit of anger" over the recent elections, as I heard one commentator declare. To the left, standing on principle, particularly on moral principle, is an act of "extremism" tantamount to insanity. This philosophical orientation is what underlies their hatred of the Tea Party movement, a movement which seeks to ground its platform in the founding principles of the United States, the principles of individual freedom and limited government. This orientation is what underlies the liberals' persistent call for compromise and their denigration of so-called "partisan ideologues," i.e., anyone who opposes their socialist programs or stands firm on principle.  Under this view, to affiliate with a movement that proudly asserts the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is to be a "right wing nut job."  Consequently, the left does literally regard the right to be nothing more than a psychopathic mob of deranged fanatics and would be killers.

Let's put aside this unspeakable tragedy and ask a more fundamental question.  Which side in this debate actually advocates the initiation of force or violence against innocent people?

The nascent Tea Party movement was spawned in reaction to a massive upsurge in federal government power as the previous Republican administration and the subsequent Democratic congress and president, in the wake of a depression created by their own policies, spent hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to bail out banks and large corporations, spent hundreds of billion more on stimulus and clunkers, rammed through a monstrous government takeover of medicine despite popular opposition, and threatened a massive energy tax in the name of climate change, just to name a few. The Tea Party movement rests on a platform which calls for limiting government power by restricting the power of the president and the congress to the powers enumerated by the Constitution.  The Tea Party seeks a reaffirmation of the principle that the proper function of government is to secure the rights of the individual to person and property.

On the other hand, the left calls for a massive increase in federal power.  It yearns for a full government takeover of the medical profession, a global government bureaucracy to police and enforce environmentalist regulations, increased taxation and regulation of individuals and business, and government imposed limits on dissenting speech.  And how does the left propose to enforce these taxes, regulations and outright confiscations?  The only way a government can - by the threat of force against it's own citizenry. 

Ironically, it is the left which seeks to use government force against innocent individuals, and it is the Tea Party movement which seeks to check, restrict, and roll back that power. 

The political pundits, on both sides, seem bewildered at the intensity of the political debate currently going on in America, and to some extent, around the world.  They are taken aback by the ferocity of the debates which they characterize as "divisive", "over the top" or "extreme".  The rancorous town hall meetings, the tea party protests, the "vitriol" on the network talk shows, are all symptoms of this strange phenomenon which concerns and confuses them.

Well, guess what?  If someone threatens to take everything you value, your income, your savings, your property, and your ability to independently and freely choose with whom you associate, who you trade, or what you say, there are going to be repercussions.  This is not some petty debate over inconsequential political minutia.        

Of course, to the pragmatist socialist, every debate is over minutia.  To them, there are no general principles, no such thing as rights.  These naive claims by the Tea Party, they would say, are overheated rhetoric, the racist rantings of deranged fly over state fanatics conditioned by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News into fomenting a "culture of hate." They, the ruling elite, know what is best for these unruly cretins. They can define the common good. They know how much of your earnings belong to you and how the balance should be redistributed, how much you should save, how much you should charge for your service, what the temperature of earth should be, which industries should receive preferential treatment and subsidies, how much money to create, how much to charge for loans, where you should smoke, what you can put into your body, where you can build a home, how much you can spend to support a candidate, and even when and where you can build a lemonade stand  They have it covered.

The Tea Party rightly sees that America's founding principles are under attack.  The government is taxing, spending, and regulating us into oblivion. Socialism, or its close cousin fascism, necessitates tyranny as it requires the government to initiate force against individuals to enforce price controls and/or seize property.  As America moves further down this statist road, the amount of violence perpetrated by the state against individuals is only a question of degree.  The knowledge of what is truly at stake is what energizes the Tea Party movement.  It is this knowledge which makes the Tea Party adherents, and any advocate of individual liberty, the true defenders of non-violence.   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Zero Energy

In physics, the concept of "absolute zero" is the theoretical minimum temperature – a temperature at which all molecular motion ceases. Defined as 0 degrees Kelvin, it is impossible to actually reach this temperature, although you can get close. The world record achieved by scientists is 100 picokelvins. Even virtual nothingness has some energy: the temperature of the universe is 2.73 Kelvins due to the so-called cosmic background radiation. In other words, achieving absolute zero is really hard – actually impossible. Unless you are a social scientist. According to this: (HT: Ari Armsrong)

Starting Wednesday and continuing for the next year, a large swath of downtown Fort Collins will offset its peak power consumption by generating some of its own energy—an $11 million component of an ambitious and much-heralded effort to create a “zero energy district” in the heart of the city. FortZED, as the district is dubbed, will attempt to offset the energy it currently uses from a publicly-owned coal-fired power plant “through conservation, efficiency, renewable sources and smart technologies,” according to the project’s website.
Zero energy, eh? Well, it turns out they are going to actually use diesel generators and natural gas.

“The whole thing is backwards,” says Eric Sutherland, a Fort Collins resident well known as a citizen watchdog on energy issues. “They’re taking the emergency diesel generators at City Hall and a few places around (Colorado State University) campus and slaving those to power the grid. Gosh, let’s take the most dirty, expensive, scarce fossil fuel—diesel—and use it to generate electricity, and this is our renewable energy source?”
But not to worry. You see, uh, well let’s let the project manager, Dennis Sumner, explain:

“Obviously we’re not going to consider it progress to move toward having lots of diesel engines operate all over town to replace a highly efficient coal plant. That’s not a step in the right direction,” Sumner says. “We’re testing how can we integrate these distributed resources. (Think) of the emergency generation equipment we’re using as proxies for what could be different resources in the future.”
So this town spent $11 million to pretend that alternative sources of energy, like diesel and natural gas, are actually “proxies for what could be different resources in the future” presumably wind farms, solar, or magic pixie dust energy. But, if wind farms and solar and the like are actually viable forms of energy, couldn’t they have just used the $11 million to, uh, show that they work?

“In the broader FortZED concept, I think there was a lot of enthusiasm for the opportunity for something like a wind project,” he says. “When there was discussion about the development of the Maxwell Ranch, I think a lot of people got pretty excited. ‘Gee, that could be a big boost.’ … But at this point, it doesn’t seem to be coming together.”
To me, this article underscores a deeper aspect of the environmentalist ideology. Environmentalism is not a fight against pollution or “dirty energy”, it is a fight against the nature of reality, particularly man’s nature. Man has to use the earth in order to survive - that is our nature! There is no getting around that, unless you choose to die. However, environmentalists regard the earth as a kind of sacred deity to be worshipped and preserved for that eminent, yet insatiable ghost known as “future generations.” Therefore, man is regarded as a kind of Original Sinner, whose piddling sustenance is all but a sacrilege. Evidently, the Sacred Organism yearns to be untouched and held in a kind of cryogenic stasis as determined by panels of Philosopher Kings: assorted central planners, U.N. scientists, and town officals, who divine and translate Her decrees to the unwashed masses.

To the environmentalist, man’s life is to be spent in penance for his Original Sin, absolving himself of guilt by ascetically seeking out ways to minimize his “footprint”, picking through his garbage, substituting privation for convenience, and crusading asymptotically towards that penultimate offering: zero energy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Niall Ferguson: "The Nasty Fiscal Arithmetic of Imperial Decline"

Here is an excellent lecture by the renowned economic historian, Niall Ferguson, titled "Empires on the Edge of Chaos."  Ferguson eloquently argues that the United States is on a path towards financial ruin as its extraordinary fiscal deficits reach crisis levels - levels that historically have resulted in the sudden (not gradual) collapse of the world's great empires.  While I do not agree with all of his lecture, I found it compelling and insightful.