Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Oligarchicide—The Far Left Attack On Wealth

Morehead-Cain Foundation
Duke Medical Center

(first published in North State Journal 2/13/19)

After the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans dismantled the Athenian democracy and replaced it with a group of wealthy oligarchs called the Thirty Tyrants.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues in the current Socialist Democratic Party of America must think our Founders replaced a monarchy with Oligarchs 230 years ago.

In the view of many in the rapidly-drifting-to-the-extreme-far-left-socialist Democratic Party, our country is run by wealthy people who are “immoral” simply because they have wealth and others do not.

They think we would be better off without any wealthy people. “Oligarchicide” it would be called if we got rid of them all.

How “immoral” can wealthy people be?

  • James Buchanan Duke built an international tobacco empire in Durham. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians were employed over the past century either in the tobacco-growing industry or in manufacturing centers around the state. The Dukes started Duke Power, now Duke Energy, which is the largest energy company in America today.

    With his wealth, he and the Duke family endowed Duke University which spawned the internationally-acclaimed Duke Medical Center and something called “Krzyzewskiville”. They established the Duke Endowment which funds Davidson College, Furman and Johnson C. Smith University and a myriad of charitable organizations across the Carolinas.

  • John Motley Morehead III studied chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill. He started the Union Carbide Company after figuring out a way to manufacture acetylene gas for industrial use. Not only have tens of thousands of people worked at Union Carbide over the past century, he gave much of his wealth to start the Morehead Foundation at Chapel Hill, endowed the Morehead (now Morehead-Cain) Scholarship program and built the Morehead Planetarium and various other buildings on campus for everyone to use.

Had both Mr. Duke and Mr. Morehead been George Bailey and been granted a wish to see what life would have been like in North Carolina had they never been born, they would have seen a rural state that would have been far poorer, less educated and unhealthier longer than it was.

Both men had a “gift” for business just as a doctor has a gift to help people get well, a respected judge has a gift of distributing justice fairly or Zion Williamson has the gift of slam-dunking for the Duke Blue Devils.

All gifted people who do well make us all better off in the long-run by doing what they do well.
John Antonio Pascarella, Hayek Visiting Scholar at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism calls such a gift for business the “Money-Making Art”:
“The Greek word usually translated as "business" is chrēmatistikē (money-making art). The art of chrēmata could be translated as "money," or "property," but literally means "useful things". That would mean the money-making art should more properly be understood as “the art of useful things”.  
This fits the Greek root of the word — chrē — which means "use or need."  That would be the clearest way to understand the natural root of money-making, which for Aristotle is a limited part of what we broadly call "economics."

James B. Duke and John Motley Morehead did not know they would one day be fabulously wealthy as a result of their vision, hard work and determination. No one does. No one would go through all the trials and frustrations of starting and running a business if they thought they would be subject to the heavy-handed coercive force of government under control of socialists such as AOC who would confiscate the fruits of their ingenuity and invention to the tune of 70% or more.

The extremism of today’s left-wing socialist Democrats should be roundly derided by sound-thinking Democrats, Independents and Republicans everywhere. What they want is not American at all in terms of philosophy, practicality or ethos.

The confiscatory nature of their proposals would be truly tyrannical in practice.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Lizard Brain of a Conservative

The Lizard Brain Part of A Conservative
(first published in North State Journal 2/6/19)

Springtime brings new sessions of Congress and the NC state legislature. Budgets have to be cobbled together. Spending priorities get set for the year. Appropriations are made later to conform with budget instructions.

Liberals must go crazy trying to understand the brains of conservatives during these times. “How can they possibly not support expanding Medicaid, spending more on public education, affordable housing and environmental protection every single year?” they must fret about while wringing their hands.

Liberals think fiscal conservatives have lizard brains. Lizards don’t have the capacity for deep rational or emotional thought. They eat, sleep, try to avoid being eaten themselves, reproduce and slither in and out of rocks all day long.

Liberals think conservatives are cold-hearted, mean-spirited and simply callous to the needs of others.

When it comes to government budgets, true fiscal conservatives do think in simple terms, however it is not cruel.

It is balanced.
“Whatever is being spent in total today is enough to ask taxpayers to fund out of their pockets. If someone wants to expand a program or spend money on a new initiative, they are obligated to say what taxes they will raise or what other existing program they will cut to pay for it first.”
That is how PAYGO (Pay-As-You-Go) started in the Budget Enforcement Act passed by Congress in 1990. PAYGO was the most successful budgeting tool ever in the history of this country until President Bush 43 and the Republicans essentially neutered it in 2003.

We had the only 4 balanced budgets in our lifetime from 1998-2001 as a result of BEA. Had PAYGO remained fully in force, we would not be in the fiscal maelstrom we are in today.

At the state level, lizard-brained conservatives don’t mind spending the entire annual state budget on one program be it Medicaid, public education, public safety or transportation, the Four Horsemen of every state budget, as long as all other programs are cut and eliminated and no new higher taxes are imposed on state taxpayers.

Whatever the total amount of government spending is today, lizard brains want to hold the line on more government spending. They prefer to eliminate programs that don’t work and spend that money on another priority.

Better yet, return those savings to the taxpayer in the form of tax cuts or refunds. Lizard brains believe people spend their own money more wisely than government bureaucrats and elected officials can anyway.

In the view of lizard-brain conservatives, all liberals want to do is to keep every existing government program fully funded and then add on more new government spending for whatever they want to spend your money on next.

At the federal level, the only program liberals ever want to cut is in defense spending. Defense and construction of roads are two federal programs explicitly mentioned in the Constitution so lizard brains at least have the constitutional mandate argument to rely on in both cases.

If you are an elected official, here’s how to engineer universal goodwill among all voters but especially the Unaffiliated voters whom now represent 34% of all voters in North Carolina:

  • Set aside one entire year for legislative oversight and conduct a truly bipartisan effort to clear out every government program that has out-lived its usefulness or is not achieving its stated goals.

To my knowledge, over the past 40 years, there has been only 1 federal program that was voted out of existence. The Federal Helium Reserve. It began in 1925 to provide helium for a new-fangled thing called a dirigible. It was privatized in 1996 and presumed dead only to have Congress re-authorize it in 2013.

Even dead federal programs come back to life like Lazarus.

Liberals: If you want to expand Medicaid and continue to increase spending on public education, help lizard brain conservatives find the way to pay for them first. Not after the fact.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Propositional Republic Of America

"One day, there really will be a place where everyone,
every man and woman of every race, creed and religion, will
be free and equal to everyone else."
(first published in the North State Journal 1/30/19)
At the end of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Mrs. Powel asked Ben Franklin: “Well, Doctor Franklin, what do we have, a monarchy or a republic?”

To which he replied: “A republic, if you can keep it”.

But what kind of republic did they create? Republics have meant many different things over history ranging from national legislatures dominated by wealthy Senators to republics in name only where an autocrat ruled with an iron fist behind the scenes.

Ramon Lopez, a post-doctoral fellow in the Tocqueville Program at Furman University spoke to The Institute for the Public Trust which I run last weekend in Charlotte. He pointed out that America was first a “propositional republic” prior to being a democratic republic as established in the Constitution in 1787.

Our country was based on an idea first before the machinery of our current government was established by the Constitution. An idea of freedom and equality, not another government ruled by monarchs.

President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address said our new nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal” in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 long before the Constitution was written and adopted.  All that followed rested upon that propositional phrase.

Professor Lopez pointed out that Rome was a “propositional idea” as well. To be truly “Roman” meant any conquered people could enjoy the freedoms of a Roman citizens regardless of race, creed or religion, as long as they adopted the rules of Roman citizenship while being protected from outside invaders by the Roman army, the most powerful fighting force on earth at the time.

The founding myth of Rome, he said, was that “they were descended from immigrants, exiles, and, criminals. The Romans claimed that a prince had escaped Troy when it was sacked by the Greeks, and that he found his way to central Italy. His descendants eventually founded the city of Rome, inviting anyone to settle it—anyone who was poor, or desperate, or in need of a new home….(T)o be a Roman became a civic designation, not an ethnic one.”

We have a direct intellectual and philosophical umbilical cord connecting modern-day America to the democracies of ancient Greece and the Roman Republic dating up to 2500 years ago. Unless we teach it to the next generations, we will forget it and the underlying principles of equality and fairness to all.

The birth of the United States of America was not tied to the Muslim tradition as President Obama tried to assert several years ago. The men who founded America were deeply ensconced in the history and tradition of both Greek and Roman civilizations. They learned to read by reading the Bible and Plutarch’s Lives; they relaxed by reading Thucydides and Euripides.

Without our collective understanding and embrace of that fundamental philosophical proposition underpinning of our nation, our democratic republic would have failed long ago. Without understanding Jefferson’s proposition as the most essential foundational principle to our government, America will fail as the ancient Greek democracies and Roman Republics failed when they forgot what proposition their nation was founded on in the beginning.

At North Carolina A&T several years ago, an African-American woman asked a simple question: “Mr. Hill, when are we going to stop calling ourselves African-Americans or Irish-Americans and just call ourselves “Americans”?

That is a good question. What is the propositional phrase we can all recognize and accept today and move ahead as if we are playing on the same team?

Perhaps it is a recommitment to the revolutionary idea that “all people are indeed created equal”. No one is better or worse than anyone else. We all have the same aspirations and hopes for a better life as free people.

Maybe then we can move ahead to solve the issues we face together. As equals.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Kabuki Dance of Government Shutdowns

'You Know We Will Re-Open Government; We Know We Will Re-Open Government'
(first published in North State Journal 1/15/19)
After World War II, Japanese diplomats wanted to change the image of Japan from one of being murderous war mongers to being one of creative world leaders.

To cultivate goodwill among the American public during years of tedious treaty negotiations, troupes of Japanese kabuki dancers were sent to the US for entertainment purposes. The hope was that Americans would learn to appreciate the ancient Japanese culture through the intricate, slow motions of kabuki with its stories of deception and intrigue which always ended in a resolution that the protagonists clearly knew would happen from the outset.

The effort failed miserably. Returning GIs were too busy buying tract homes and fathering and raising Baby Boomers in a bustling post-war economy to want to learn about the culture of a nation that attacked Pearl Harbor, caused 426,000 American casualties and ended in atomic warfare.

In 1961, Henry Taylor of the Los Angeles Times called a political maneuver by President Kennedy to fire undersecretary of State Chester Bowles a ‘left-wing kabuki’ dance and political machinations on both sides have been labeled ‘kabuki theatre’ ever since.

The Current Government Shutdown Is A Kabuki Dance Masterpiece.

Government shutdowns are bad policy. They hardly ever achieve their stated goal, which, in this case, would be the construction of The Wall between the US and Mexico.

Everyone knows we are going to re-open the federal government 100% sometime. The actors on stage, President Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are going through the same long drawn-out and very slow motions of deception and intrigue seen in every other government shutdown that failed as well.

What is the ‘pressure point’ that makes a shutdown seem like a good political tactic to employ in the first place?

No money is ever saved during any federal shutdown.

85% of the federal government is operational today under the ‘partial shutdown’ scenario established after past shutdowns.

2/3rds of the $4 trillion federal budget is spent on mandatory spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. ALL of those checks flow because they are ‘mandated’ by government to be paid at all times which would include during nuclear warfare.
850,000 furloughed federal workers will be paid in full once they return to work after the shutdown ends. Some single-earners may find it difficult to pay the bills unless a federal credit union will float them a short-term loan but essentially, shutdowns become ‘paid vacations’ for federal workers.

Net interest costs continue to accrue on $21 trillion of national debt already on the books. With interest rates rising from the near-zero levels under 8 years of President Obama to more ‘normal’ rates of 3-4%, the total net cost of interest paid will roughly double in 2019 over 2016 levels.

Most of the 300,000 currently furloughed federal workers live in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, Maryland metro area. Those areas never vote for a Republican President anyway so President Trump won’t be punished at the polls in 2020 in those areas for his role in the shutdown.

What is a better way to get The Wall done?

Cut a deal.

$5 billion is ‘decimal dust’ in federal budget terms. $5 billion is 0.125% of annual spending.

We incur additional debt of $5 billion per day.

Find 10 states with heavy Democratic representation that need 1 bridge built for $500 million each.

Get those Democrats to support The Wall in exchange for a bridge in their states, $5 billion for $5 billion.

A second option would be to grant permanent work status for 700,000 DACA recipients in return for the entire $25 billion to complete The Wall, be it physical, electronic or an Invisible Fence along the Rio Grande border.

There’s a deal to be made. Make it and end this senseless kabuki dance once and for all and forever.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Democracy is God's Government

(first published in North State Journal 1/23/19)

“You see, the Founding Fathers were really influenced by the Bible.

“The whole concept of the ‘imago dei,’ as it is expressed in Latin, the ‘image of God,’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected.

“Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity.

“And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God.

“Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.

“One day we will learn that. 

“We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “American Dream” sermon, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, July 4, 1965.

In 1710, the Rev. John Wise, a Congregationalist minister in Massachusetts, preached from the pulpit: “Every man must be acknowledged to be equal to every man. … The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor…”

The Rev. Wise would preach to the American colonists that democracy is God’s chosen form of government for both the church and the state because it relies on the natural state of man being made free by God in the first place over civil government having dominion over them.

It was certainly preferable over rule by a single fallible, fallen creature monarch, the King of England at that time.

He was not advocating the establishment of America as a theocracy to be ruled by church leaders. He was talking about every citizen having been given the equal natural right by God to pursue their happiness and not live under a dictator or tyrant who demanded they pay taxes to support their rule first over pursuing their own personal dreams and ambitions.

The same ideals John Wise preached were the same ideals MLK preached 250 years later for everyone, including African-Americans and women who were excluded before at the time of the Rev. Wise’s preaching. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty and individual rights were the same ideals people hoped for in the 18th century as they were in the 20th and now in the 21st century.

In a speech commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge expounded on the sermons of the Rev. Wise and said: “Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make government.”

Any law or regulation that restricts entry or competition in a marketplace of ideas, products or services is less than “ideal.” It contradicts the natural law freedom of that person to pursue their happiness and provide for themselves and their family.

We cannot unwind the mistakes of the past. We can set a course for the future to “live together as brothers” and “respect the dignity and worth of every man” as the Rev. King wished for in his “American Dream” sermon by encouraging more freedom, not less, in every aspect of American life.

America was not perfect at the beginning. We certainly are not perfect now. The only way we can make this a “more perfect Union,” and we have to keep trying, is through our currently existing democratic republic form of representative democracy.

Not through an experiment with “free-for-all” (except the taxpayers) democratic socialism.

You will never hear anyone talk about “republican socialism.” It would antithetical to the principles of natural law individual freedom expressed by both the Revs. John Wise and Martin Luther King Jr. 250 years apart.

Forced involuntary socialism is not God’s government. Democratic republicanism is. Let’s keep it that way.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

"Remember Rick McIntyre!'

'Congressman-Elect McIntyre: You're the winner!'
'Nope, Congressman McCloskey:
You are the winner!'

The empty congressional office of the 9th District of North Carolina brings to mind other close congressional elections in the past.

In 1984, former Harris Teeter executive Republican Alex “Landslide” McMillan defeated Democrat D.G. Martin by 321 votes. In 1986, former Republican Congressman Howard “Landslide” Coble won his first re-election by 79 votes in a rematch with the incumbent Democrat he defeated in 1984, Robin Britt.

Both elections were scrutinized for “discrepancies” and “voting irregularities” post-election. Ballot boxes were impounded and recounts were ordered. Weeks went by before final election results were certified by state authorities and the winners were allowed to serve in the 99th Congress.

Nothing took the cake, however, like the 8th District Congressional race in 1984 in Indiana.

Congressman Frank McCloskey appeared to be the winner election night by 72 votes only to be reversed several days later when an “accounting error” (sic?) was found that gave state Rep. Rick McIntyre a 34-vote margin of victory.

There were two very important issues at play then as now. One is the somewhat confusing and overlapping responsibilities governing elections given to the states and Congress in Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution.

The second is the apparent lack of progress in electoral verification despite all of the computer and technological advances since 1984. “Voting irregularities” still haunt our elections.

Indiana’s Republican secretary of state certified McIntyre as the winner and a subsequent recount extended his lead over McCloskey. However, the Democrats — under Speaker Tip O’Neill, who controlled the 99th Congress by 71 votes — set up a “bipartisan” (again sic?) task force of two Democrats and one Republican that conducted a review and somehow deemed McCloskey the winner by four votes and seated him in Congress instead of McIntyre.

Eight Democratic operatives were indicted the next year in 1986 under charges they conspired to pay voters between $15 and $35 apiece to vote a straight Democratic ticket in 1982 and 1984, including the contested McIntyre race.

All of this was too late to help McIntyre, who went on to lose his 1986 rematch with McCloskey. To all of the detractors who deny voter or election fraud ever happens anywhere in America because everyone in politics is too virtuous to commit fraud, this is just one more data point refuting such naivete.

To our knowledge, no incoming Democrat has been refused a seat in Congress under Republican control in recent history. Republicans tend to believe states should make their own rules for election even if some of the winners are less than virtuous, to put it politely.

One former member was overheard saying when a thrice-convicted congressman was elected from Louisiana: “Well, even scoundrels and crooks need representation too!”

Should the majority party controlling Congress be able to overturn any election anywhere in the country? Or should states be the final arbiter of any election outcome in their state be it a federal office or state or local?

In the 1984 election, 234,092 registered Indiana voters voted for either McIntyre or McCloskey. Were they denied their “one-man/one-vote” constitutional right to decide who their congressman would be when Democrat leaders in Congress made their unilateral decision to seat McCloskey instead of McIntyre?

Last year, 282,717 registered North Carolinian voters voted for either Mark Harris, Dan McCready or Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott, who got 5,130 votes. Should they have the right to decide who should represent them on the big issues in Washington, or should Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer have that responsibility?

Voters in the state of North Carolina should have the final say in who represents them in Congress. Either certify Harris as the congressman or hold a special re-election as soon as possible so the people of the 9th District have a representative vote in the 116th Congress.

(first published in North State Journal 1/9/2019)

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How To Remain Sane Through 2019

Michael Cromartie: Meet St. Augustine
Augustine: Meet Michael Cromartie

(first published in North State Journal 1/2/19)

Here are the headlines optimists and conservatives want to see in 2019:
  • Economic Growth Hits 4%!
  • Unemployment Falls to 2%!
  • Stock Market Hits 30,000!
Here are the headlines pessimists and liberals want to see in 2019:
  • Trump Impeached! Second President Forced to Resign from the White House!
  • Economy Tanks! It Is All Trump’s Fault!
  • America Gives Up On Capitalism and Turns to Socialism!
Will any of these come true next year?

No one knows what will happen 1 year, 1 month or even 1 day in the future with 100% certainty.

Think of the poor weathermen; they have science and satellites on their side and they often predict a snowmageddon that turns into nothing.

Each person can control how they respond to life, however. They can turn off the 24-hour news and cable show talking heads if they are driving them crazy; shut down their social media accounts; start reading great literature; go on daily hikes; volunteer more in their after-work hours to help others in need and generally take better care of their own personal health, physical, mental and spiritual.

One truth of the matter in 2018 is that many of us spend far too much time worrying about politics and what other people are doing when we could spend that same amount of time doing whatever we can do to make things better in any number of ways.

A dear departed friend, Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC, (yes, there is such a place) used to talk about returning to an ‘Augustinian sensibility’ about the role of politics in our daily lives. As he described it:
‘We need to adopt a form of Christian realism that recognizes that, because of the Fall, we live in a world that will remain sinful and broken until the end of time. While living in a broken world, our task, if it’s political, is to help the state curb that brokenness and that sinfulness in a way that aims toward justice.
I use the phrase “Augustinian sensibility” to lean against a Utopian temptation for people on the Right or the Left who give the political realm more significance than it should be given.
So it’s a chastened view of politics, but it’s not anti-political. People should have firm, clear political convictions on what justice means, without becoming so ideologically wired that they have over-expectations for what can happen in the public policy realm.
It’s a Christian cast of mind. Having that cast of mind can help nurture a form of Christian civility that is really important in these times, when we have a culture that is more shrill than ever.’
The same should be said by the atheist, the agnostic, the Jew or the Muslim. We can all lean against the temptation to think that mere mortal men can establish a Utopia here on earth through politics and coercive government and seek to do justice and spread mercy through our daily interactions with as many people as we can.

Will universal adoption of this ‘Augustinian sensibility’ mean 2019 will see a historical budget deal to balance our budget signed by President Trump after 100% buy-in from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and all the Republicans in the US Senate and Congress? Will it mean The Wall will be built? Will it mean any of the big public policy problems we face will be solved by some clever creative bipartisan compromised legislation?

Probably not all by itself.

However, if we adopt Michael Cromartie’s ‘chastened view of politics’, we will be spared the hypertension of watching the evening news or listening to talk radio 24/7 and be pleasantly surprised by anything positive happening in 2019 instead of disappointed by the new year.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Social Security Lump of Coal for Millennials

(first published in North State Journal 12/19/18)

Everyone knows Social Security is the ‘third rail’ of American politics. Touch it or even talk about it as a politician, and ‘you will die’ as they say.

Does everyone also know that while Social Security worked to help alleviate suffering during the Great Depression, massive demographic changes since then have made it one of the worst financial investments Millennials will make without any freedom to invest their money otherwise?

‘Currently, for every $1 a middle-earning couple (born in 1985) pays into Social Security, they can expect $1.01 back in benefits when they retire. That’s not a great return on investment, and it may fall in the future because Social Security isn’t on track to keep paying this level of benefits. If the government cuts benefits enough to make the program solvent they’d only get $0.80 for every $1 they pay in’*

Welcome to your Social Security Lump of Coal this Christmas, Millennials!

Social Security provides 50% of retirement income for close to 50% of the 62 million seniors (31 million) on Social Security.  20% of all seniors (12 million) rely almost totally on Social Security benefits with no other retirement income streams.

The biggest problem with Social Security in the minds of freedom-loving, market-based conservatives is not that it is too expensive or too big of a government program. The problem is that it does not provide a much higher retirement benefit to the very people it was designed to help in the first place: lower and moderate-income senior citizens.

The sad part about Social Security is that it forces people to rely on a relatively measly average payment of $1422/month or $17,532 per year post-retirement at age 66. (In 2027, seniors have to be 67 to receive full benefits)

Fervent opponents of Social Security reform have kept tens of millions of retirees from living a far more comfortable life in retirement than they are today. With the same amount of money paid into OASDI, a middle-income retiree could retire with a nest egg of hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million, dollars had they been able to invest those same dollars in a traditional retirement account for 40 years.

Absent any changes today, Millennials will be looking at more dismal rates of return on their OASDI payroll tax ‘contributions’ (sic) 35 years in the future.

What happens when a recession hits and stock portfolios take a beating?

The government could act as a backstop just as it did during the banking crisis of 2008-09 and guarantee a payment each month to get retirees back to at least their projected average monthly Social Security check based on what they would have received from the old system and calculation. 

Not full payment; just a partial payment to make them whole.

Once the economy and stock and bond markets recover, those emergency payments can stop.

There really is a basic fundamental question to be asked here.  Is it fair to force American citizens to accept a substandard system of funding their retirement when there is a much more lucrative system available to them?

Based on aging demographics and declining birth rates, the majority of OECD countries have come to the conclusion that they must expand and encourage mandatory private retirement accounts in addition to public funds. (see chart above)

The United States does not allow any private investment of OASDI tax payments into personal accounts under Social Security. None. Whatsoever.

This Christmas when Millennials go home to talk with their enlightened Boomer parents, they should tell them they love them and want them to keep their substandard Social Security benefits for as long as they live. No one wants to, or will, ever change that.

However, Millennials and future generations should want to do better. Far better. For each person individually and, then by happy extension, for every other American who will grow old with them.


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Thursday, December 13, 2018

So NOW There Is Election Voter Fraud In North Carolina!

(first published in North State Journal 12/13/18)

For decades, people in the media and outside of the electoral process have been saying: ‘There is no election or voting fraud in North Carolina! None. Nada. Never’

Last week, when allegations of ‘election irregularities’ came to light in the 9th Congressional District race that led the NC State Board of Elections to deny certification of the election of Republican candidate Mark Harris to Congress, those same people erupted in a chorus of ‘See! There IS election fraud…and the Republicans always do it!’


Can we all agree on the following basic principles?

1. There is no room for any illegal voting by anyone ever.
2. There is no room for any person who is not a legally born or naturalized citizen to vote ever.

If we can all agree on those 2 basic bedrock principles, we can take steps to reinstate full 100% faith in our electoral system.

Otherwise, confidence in our electoral system will continue to erode and further weaken our democratic republic. Which is precisely what we do not need right now.

As long as there have been elections, people of all political persuasions have done everything under the sun to win the election for their candidate or their side.

George Washington lost his first campaign for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1756.

In 1758, he did what any candidate would have done back then to win the next election: he outspent the other candidate by buying enough booze on election day to win by a landslide.

Today he would go to jail for ‘bribing’ voters.

There were 397 votes cast. George Washington got 309 of them. 78% of the vote.

Here's the bill his supporters sent to him before the election: 

  • 34 gallons of wine
  • 3 pints of brandy
  • 13 gallons of beer
  • 8 quarts of hard cider
  • 40 gallons of rum punch
  • Total bill: 34 pounds, Virginia currency.
That is 1.16 quarts of alcohol for every vote cast for the 'George Washington for House of Burgesses!' campaign, July 24, 1758. 'My only fear is that you spent with too sparing of a hand' he wrote to his supporters beforehand thinking maybe even a quart per vote would not be enough.

Talk about a shady unreported and unlimited ‘independent expenditure campaign’. With alcohol. On Election Day. George Washington!

Google ‘Zeno Ponder’ of Madison County in western North Carolina. In the 1960s, he would routinely stuff one ballot box with ‘correct’ ballots marked for Democrats just in case he needed them. The real ballot box would be switched out for the stuffed one if his side was losing very late on election night.

Leslie McCrae Dowless is at the epicenter of allegations of election fraud in Bladen County which affects the outcome of the Mark Harris-Dan McCready congressional race for the 9th District. It is alleged that he paid handlers to pick up absentee ballots, in violation of state law although other states such as California allow such ‘harvesting’ of absentee ballots, and perhaps didn’t return close to 1000 ballots that may have been marked for McCready instead of Harris.

Dowless has been working for Republicans for the last 8 years. Care to guess for whom he may have worked prior to the Republican takeover of the NCGA in 2010?

Democrats. Democrats he may have helped might be feeling a tad bit woozy if investigative reporters start going back beyond this year. He sure didn’t learn his craft starting in the summer of 2018.

America put men on the moon 50 years ago. Isn’t it about time we use 21st-century technology such as digital certificates that are secured by identity management and blockchain software using multi-factor authentication, including biometrics, to confirm the veracity of voter registration?

Now that everyone agrees that election voter fraud ‘actually exists’, both sides have the impetus to guarantee that it never happens again.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Compromise and Public Service: President George H.W. Bush

(first published in the North State Journal 12/5/18)

One of the coolest things about running for Congress even if you don't know what you are doing is you get to take pictures with the President of the United States and his Vice-President if they are of your same party.

In 1984, I was running for Congress from NC-2 so every Republican candidate from across the country went to Washington for some training and briefing on the issues.

Whether you had a chance of winning or not.

Which I didn’t. NC-2 was a 91% D/9% R gerrymandered district.

They line you up and then announce you as 'So-and-So from The Second Congressional District of North Carolina!' as if you are entering the king's court which you sorta are since it is the White House.

I first sat next to President Ronald Reagan who nodded his head as our picture was taken and said in exactly the same velvety voice you have heard a million times: 'Weeeelllll, Good Luck to You, Young Man!'.

I went around the corner where, about 30 seconds later, I found myself seated next to Vice President George H.W. Bush.

I told him I worked for a company called 'Zapata Ind....' before he cut me off with a laugh and said: 'That is a great company! Glad I started it!' thinking I was working for Zapata Offshore, an oil firm he started, not the bottling industry concern I was working for, Zapata Industries.

That is why he is seen in this picture slapping me on my knee.

Little did I know that I was getting photos of myself with 2 American Presidents in the span of 2 minutes since George H.W. Bush was the first sitting vice-president to directly succeed a president in the next election rather than by death or resignation since Martin van Buren succeeded President Andrew Jackson in 1836.

George H.W. Bush exemplified selfless ‘servant’-leadership at his very essence. He could have avoided service in World War II. He grew up in a family of privilege and pedigree in a patrician New England family.

He enrolled at age 18 to be the youngest aviator in the Navy.

For the same reasons, he ‘didn’t have to run’ for public office. But he did; he ran for the US Senate; served in Congress, was the Ambassador to China, was Ronald Reagan’s vice-president and then was elected President in 1988.

People say they want ‘compromise’ and ‘leadership’. They got both in President Bush 41.

At the 1988 GOP Convention in New Orleans, then-Vice President Bush said these unforgettable words: ‘Read My Lips. No New Taxes’.

In 1989, OMB director Richard Darman gave him the facts about the ‘alarming’ and ‘looming’ dangers of the then-unbelievable $152 billion deficits ‘for as far as the eye can see’. Our annual federal budgets were roughly $1.2 trillion and our national debt held by the public was the ‘unmanageable’ sum of $2.1 trillion.

We have $1 trillion annual budget deficits building on top of a $16 trillion national debt held by the public 30 years later. Both of which are glaring testaments to the collective failures by everyone who
has occupied the White House, Congress and the US Senate since 2001.

President Bush 41 signed the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act (BEA) when he knew it would hurt his chances for re-election in 1992 because it violated his 1988 campaign pledge. The BEA established spending control for the 1990s and laid the foundation for the 1997 Budget Act.

We had budget surpluses in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 and paid down $600 billion of national debt while the internet-fueled economy continued to grow.

Voters voted President Bush out of the White House in 1992. But he did the right thing and he knew it.

I miss the statesmanship and guts of leaders like President George H.W. Bush.

Sad to see such leaders go.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Coercive Power of Government

(first published in the North State Journal 11/28/18)

I had the chance to speak with a brash hot-shot young political operative from another Southern state who had helped a Democrat win a big campaign recently.

As Southern political types are wont to do, there was a lot of bragging and embellishment. Even young ones.

I asked 2 simple questions: 1) ‘Why are you a Democrat instead of a Republican?’ and 2) 'Do you believe in the coercive power of government?'

The bragging stopped. The answer was tepid and trailed off into platitudes and vapors.

The. Questions. Could. Not. Be. Answered.

Most people want to use the coercive power of government to tell people what to do ‘under penalty of the law’ if they think it has some beneficial ameliorative effect on American society.

However, the same people bristle at any effort by others from the opposite political belief who want to use the same coercive power of government to make them do something that impinges on what they perceive to be their God-given freedom to do.

No one really likes to have other people tell them what to do. Let’s all admit that much at least.

Here’s an easy question to start with to see how much ‘coercive power’ of the federal government you prefer: ‘Do you think rich people should be forced to pay more in taxes?’

Most people will reflexively say yes. They want the government to extract as much tax revenue from rich people and ‘big bad corporations’ as possible.

Mainly because that means they won’t be forced by the same government to pay more in their personal income taxes each year.

Should you be forced to pay more in taxes for the things you say you want the government to do for the poor, for the children, for our collective national defense?

Most people will say no to that question. ‘I am barely making ends meet as it is today!’ people will say especially if they have children who want to go to college and a wife who wants to take those same children on a vacation or two during the year.

How about using the coercive power of government to take away the 300 million+ guns that are in the hands of 50-80 million legal gun owners? Do you support that?

What if the other political side wins an election promising they will overturn every marijuana law on the books in the states that have approved its use and then authorizes the police force of the federal government to come into every home to take previously legal marijuana away from its owners?

How does that coercive use of government look to you now?

Generally, the laws that work for us as a free society are those that enable things to be done that benefit us all whether we acknowledge it or not. National defense and domestic security are two areas where the coercive power of government through taxation benefits us all.

A sound national and state transportation system is another. Building ‘post roads’ actually has the additional benefit of being in the Constitution so it is ‘constitutional’ as well.

Is ‘public education’ something that your children should be ‘coercively forced’ into attending without any choice at all? Or should you have the freedom to decide on your own to send your child to a charter, religious or private school with tax money you have already paid?

Our political differences are binary stars rotating around this question of the extent of how much coercive force of government each of us thinks Washington, our state capitals and local governments should have to govern our daily lives.

Maybe if we could find some common agreement on the limits of such power on which everyone could agree, that would be the start of finding compromises and solutions all of us could support on everything else.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Top Ten People Who Wanted To Kill Alexander Hamilton But Aaron Burr Got To Him First

(first published in North State Journal 11/21/18)

Everyone knows Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton for a litany of reasons.

Aaron Burr was not the only person who wanted to kill Alexander Hamilton.

He just got to him first.

In the revival of interest in perhaps our most consequential Founder, it might be helpful to give thanks that despite the vitriol we see every day, we are far better off than the early days when political opponents shot each other over their differences, no matter how trivial or profound they may be.

There were plenty of people who deep down probably wanted to kill the pretentious, arrogant and preening Alexander Hamilton.

Thomas Jefferson placed a bust of himself across from one of Hamilton at his front entrance to Monticello. They would stare at each other for all eternity “opposed in death as in life.” Hamilton, to his defense, wrote: “If there be a man in the world I ought to hate, it is Jefferson’.

Then-VP John Adams called the pretentious Hamilton ‘the bastard son of a Scotch peddler’ for taking too much credit for George Washington’s military success in the Great War for Independence. Adams also resented Hamilton’s subversion of his own aspirations for the White House in 1796 and 1800.

General Charles Lee tried to replace George Washington as commander of the Continental Army in 1777. Washington’s loyal aide, John Laurens, challenged Lee to a duel and wounded Lee to the extent that Laurens’ second, none other than Alexander Hamilton, interceded to end the duel and save Lee’s life.

Lee resented Hamilton for his part in Lee being drummed out of the Continental Army for insubordination. Had Lee had 2 pistols, he surely would have shot at Hamilton after firing at Laurens.

Lee’s will stipulated that he not be buried in a church graveyard since “I have kept so much bad company when living that I do not choose to continue it when dead.” Including Hamilton.

James Reynolds should have wanted to shoot Alexander Hamilton after he discovered that his wife Maria was having an affair with the former Treasury Secretary. What Reynolds really wanted was money from Hamilton so he resorted to blackmail to keep it secret instead of shooting him dead.

Future President James Monroe, the fourth Virginian out of the first 5 US Presidents, challenged Hamilton to a duel in 1797 when Hamilton learned that Monroe knew of his affair with Maria Reynolds.

“Do you say I represented falsely; you are a Scoundrel,” Monroe wrote to Hamilton.

“I will meet you like a Gentleman” Hamilton replied.

“I am ready; get your pistols” Monroe responded.

James Callender was the champion muckraker of the early Republic. He threatened to reveal possible financial malfeasance by the Secretary while in office which would have ruined Hamilton financially after all he had done to escape the poverty of his youth. He hated Hamilton and the feeling was likewise.

Thomas Paine, author of ‘Common Sense’, called the party of Hamilton, the Federalists, "disguised traitors" who were "rushing as fast as they could venture, without awakening the jealousy of America, into all the vices and corruptions of the British Government“.  He hated Hamilton too and vice versa.

There were at least 12 other documented cases where Alexander Hamilton was challenged to a duel by other men offended by him in some fashion or who were challenged by perhaps the most consequential of all our Founders, Alexander Hamilton.

Perhaps the person who had every reason to shoot Alexander Hamilton was his wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. She must have been the First Saint of The New American Democratic Republic.

Despite what you may feel about our politics today, give thanks tomorrow that it is as ‘clean’ as it is.

At least we are not witnessing daily duels between President Trump and Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and everyone else.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What's Next?

(first published in North State Journal 11/14/18)

Democrats take back Congress. Republicans add a couple of seats to their majority in the US Senate.

Donald Trump stays in the White House.

What happens next for 2019 and 2020?

We have seen divided government before. 15 of the past 37 Congresses since 1945 have been unified government with one party control of the White House, Congress and Senate.
22 have not. The American people intuitively understand precisely what the Framers of the Constitution, specifically James Madison, were worried about most which was the concentration of power in a few select hands.

Plus no matter who is in the White House, many voters just don’t like what they have seen for the first 2 years of any Presidency so they vote heavily against his party in control for Congress.

Will 2019-2020 be a period of total acrimony and 100% gridlock where nothing gets done? Or will we see adults in both parties in the Senate and Congress to come together and pass bipartisan legislation for the good of this country?

Aristotle said that legislation should not be passed unless it helps make each citizen ‘more virtuous’. He didn’t say ‘pass only legislation that is easy to do and won’t hurt you and your party in the next election’.

‘Gridlock’ is not all that bad. Speaker Joe Cannon, a crusty old guy from Illinois at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, said the best Congress was one that didn’t pass any legislation.

What if, by some meteoric rise in maturity, statesmanship and leadership, adults in both chambers decide: ‘Why don’t we do something great for the country since we are elected to do that anyway?’

A lot of folks in both parties will have to buck their leadership and wingnut extremes and vote in the best interests of the nation first, not their party or even their re-election chances in the next election.

At the 1988 GOP Convention, then Vice-President George H.W. Bush 41 promised the delegates: ‘Read My Lips. No New Taxes!’

In 1990, because the annual budget deficits of $340 billion and $3 trillion national debt were considered ‘dangerous’, ‘intolerable’ and ‘unsustainable’, President Bush 41 signed the Budget Enforcement Act (BEA) passed by Congress and the Senate with heavy Democratic majorities. It included cigarette tax hikes of 4 cents/pack, excise taxes on yachts and elimination of the salary cap on Medicare payroll taxes.

No Republican likes higher taxes. However, budget spending hawks in 1990 got discretionary spending caps and the PAYGO budget enforcement mechanism in return for voting for BEA.

That single bill set the predicate for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 which led to the only 4 balanced budgets we have seen in our lifetimes.

If enough brave members in each party in each house rise up and band together to get to 50%+1 and pass a comprehensive spending control bill that has at its core fundamental reforms to entitlement programs, we might one day look back at the 2018 elections and say: ‘Thank you to our great American leaders of 2019!’ as if they were George Washington, Henry Clay and Sam Rayburn of the past.

Even if the Democrats, as expected, unleash 2 years of hell for President Trump in terms of investigations and impeachment proceedings against him, his Cabinet, Brett Kavanaugh and his family, they all fall apart when they cross over to the Republican-controlled Senate chamber.

The only thing that could get done in Washington would be judicial confirmations and treaties. If Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate, President Trump can nominate the next Supreme Court Justice and easily pass them on to the Court almost overnight. The House has nothing to do with that.

You can start holding your breath waiting for ‘The Grand Compromise of 2019’ bill right now. We will tell you when a deal is cut and you can exhale.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Time To Be A Rational Optimist

(first published in North State Journal 11/7/18)

Isn’t everyone tired of all the negativity around the country?

It comes from all sides. Don’t kid yourself that it doesn’t.

Wouldn’t it be nice on this day after the 2018 elections if someone, anyone, everyone started talking about what is right with America and the world instead of blaming the ‘other side’ for everything wrong with both?

David Gardner, who founded the stock market advisory firm, The Motley Fool, with his brother not long after graduating from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1988, gave a talk last week at the Wilberforce Conference sponsored by the North Carolina Study Center.

He spent a lot of time talking about a book, ‘The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves’ by Matt Ridley and how it influences his stock picking methods.

Ridley argues not from a philosophical or a political standpoint but from a science perspective that over the past 10,000 years, human beings have built not only wealth but trust across socio-economic and racial barriers by learning how to trade with each other.

As a result of trade and free enterprise, human development has accelerated at warp speed over the last 200 years. Mass epidemics have been wiped out or averted; 99% of the people on the planet today live in far better conditions than our Stone Age ancestors; global life expectancies have doubled since 1900 and billions of people worldwide have been lifted out of abject poverty once they have joined the international community of commerce and free enterprise.

These are all ‘great things’ everyone can and should celebrate together.

At a micro-level, two other things happened this past weekend which give at least older Boomers hope for the future from their Millennial offspring.

Our oldest son said he was working on a new board game because ‘people are tired of playing video games and being disengaged with each other. They want to interact more with their friends and neighbors and this new board game will help them do it’.

Our oldest nephew came to a birthday party for his 90-year old grandpa with short-cropped hair and announced he had gotten another raise at work and was now looking to buy an older used pickup truck simply because ‘it made more sense’ for him and his wife at this stage of his life.

He is now 35. Middle age in the strictest terms of life expectancy.

Despite all of our collective problems and doomsday predictions heard daily on cable tv and talk radio news marinated by vitriol and negativity by different political philosophies and worldviews, there is immense hope for the future regardless of what you hear daily.

Julian Robertson, founder of Tiger Management and benefactor of the prestigious Robertson Scholarship program at Duke and Carolina, closed a finals interview weekend with a very brief but on-target comment based on practical optimism: ‘There are people in this room tonight who are going to balance the federal budget; find a cure for cancer; and develop a solution to global warming. We hope you will come to Duke and Carolina to learn how to do it. Thank you and good night’

The driving force behind this rational optimism has to be a continued reliance on the freedom of people to think, innovate and act without outside constraints by governments often run by people who really do not know anything about technology, free enterprise or business in the first place. If we allow government to continue to expand their hegemony over millions of free people making mutually-agreed upon transactions daily, the rapid progression of conquering the world’s problems may slow to a crawl.

Buy ‘The Rational Optimist’ and read it this week. No matter what the outcome of any campaign was for you specifically, we all deserve a respite to dream big and hope massively for the future.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Is 2018 The Most Important Election Ever?

(first published in North State Journal 10/31/18)

Every election is important. That is why our founders instituted two-year election cycles for the offices closest to the needs of the people: the U.S. Congress and state legislatures.

Delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut explained why regular elections were necessary during the Constitutional Convention in 1787: “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of Govt. they would acquire the habits of the place which might differ from those of their Constituents.”

AKA “Potomac Fever.”

Delegate Rufus King of Massachusetts pointed out the balance biennial elections would bring to the new democratic republic: “It seems proper that the representative should be in office time enough to acquire that information which is necessary to form a right judgment; but that the time should not be so long as to remove from his mind the powerful check upon his conduct, that arises from the frequency of elections, whereby the people are enabled to remove an unfaithful representative, or to continue a faithful one”.

We are about to elect our 116th Congress next Tuesday. Just how important can any single election be, really?

According to sociological historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, the 2018 elections are very important. As a postscript to 2016 and a prelude to 2020.

In 1991, they co-authored the book “Generations” in which they meticulously chronicled the group dynamics, characteristics and identity of every generation of Americans from Colonial days to 30 years in the future and beyond in 20-year age cohorts.

Everyone knows that succeeding generations are different from their older siblings and parents and grandparents. Boomers see life a lot differently from their “The World’s Greatest GI Generation” parents mainly because of far different life circumstances that shaped their formative years.

Howe and Strauss identified four generational identities that have been repeated in 80-year cycles dating back to before America’s founding. After a crisis — such as World War II in 1941; the Civil War in 1861 and The Revolution, ending in 1781 — America has experienced roughly the same cycle of generational attitudes toward government, institutions and individualism three times now.

By their reckoning, we are entering “The Fourth Turning” of American history, which is also the title of another book they published in 1997.

After a “Crisis Era” subsides, a high period of renewed faith in public institutions is followed by an “Awakening Era” where social discipline starts to falter and spirituality and personal awareness become more important to people. An “Unraveling Era” ensues where institutions become more distrusted, as government has been for the last 20 years, and special emphasis on individualism, freedoms and rights become paramount. The next Crisis Era creates “heroes” who emerge to lead our country back to its foundational roots to start the cycle all over again in a generational “turning.”

If this sounds like hocus-pocus this Halloween, consider the fact that each war above was almost exactly 80 years apart from the previous one.

2020 is 80 years from 1940.

Hopefully, we will avoid such bloodshed and mayhem. However, Howe and Strauss predicted in 1991 and then in 1997 that before the year 2020, we could witness a major terrorist attack on American soil (2001); a major financial meltdown (2008-09) and the rise of angry rebellious voters (Tea Party 2010; Antifa 2018), so maybe they are onto something.

Maybe they are crackpots like soothsayer Jeane Dixon.

They foresaw the elections of 2016, 2018 and especially 2020 as being pivotal to what America would look like for the rest of the 21st century.

Will the 2018 election bring back more socialism as we saw under President Obama? Or will the 2018 and 2020 elections end the modern Progressive Era for good as it was defeated in the 1920s during its last heyday?

It sure feels that way.

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