Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What if Jefferson wrote 'all men are not created equal' instead?

Amid all of the public vitriol about the inherent sin of slavery in our nation’s creation, one thing has been completely forgotten and not considered at all.

What would have happened had America not been founded on the principles of freedom and equality?

Jefferson did not have to write “all men are created equal” in 1776. He could have simply written: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.”

No one would have known the difference back then or possibly even now. It still sounds almost as good as the original.

The moment the ink dried on the Declaration of Independence with those immortal words — “all men are created equal” — human history changed. Those words were the proverbial “shots heard around the world” that have had far more impact on world history and events than any musket ball fired at Lexington or Concord.

For the first time in recorded history, a government was established where every person, regardless of their background, race or station in life, was supposed to be considered “equal” to everyone else.

Such idealism had never happened before. The most important export from America to the rest of the world over the past 231 years has been the idealism of self-governance based on democratic freedom.

Had the slave-holding signers of the Declaration and the Constitution wanted to make sure America would be a country of entitled rich landowners of English descent forever, they would have written: “All men are not created equal.”

Think of where America would be today if the Declaration had been worded that way. America would not have become “the land of opportunity” where over one million legal immigrants flock each year to become Americans instead of becoming Chinese, Russians, Iranians or Somalians.

Signing a revolutionary document with “all men are created equal” in its preamble and then basing a new government on that foundational principle 11 years later, both times in Philadelphia, would have been only one mistake the “brilliant” Founders made if they wanted to create an American aristocracy or oligarchy forever.

But they made another mistake. The delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, in a bald-faced political effort by Southern delegates to gain more power in Congress, agreed — again for the first time in history — to recognize slaves for representational purposes in the House.

Recognizing slaves as people for representational purposes had never been done before either — certainly not in the Roman Empire, the Greek republics, and certainly not under any monarch before 1787.

When the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed after the Civil War, the idea that “all men are created equal” made every newly freed male slave a citizen with full voting rights, not three-fifths of a vote. Under “one man, one vote”, any former slave’s vote would be equal to that of any president as well as his former slave owner, a breakthrough of monumental proportions unthinkable even a few years previous.

Immediate institution of full citizenship and voting rights for freed slaves added 40 new congressmen from the South to Congress during reapportionment. Fourteen were African-American Republicans elected during Reconstruction. Fifteen hundred other black officials were elected throughout the South to state and municipal positions, again all Republicans, over the next decade.

Would that have happened had “all men not been created equal” even in the aftermath of such a bloody war? We will never know for sure but it is doubtful.

Very doubtful. Even that brief period of equality under Reconstruction was cut short by Southern Democrats who ruthlessly took away political power of not only southern black Republicans but also of southern white Republicans for the next 80 years.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) recently said, “The United States didn’t inherit slavery from anybody. We invented it.”

Besides being a complete and utter surprise to anyone who has read any of the Old Testament or any legitimate history about Europe, Asia and Africa since time immemorial, he is completely and utterly wrong. People from Slavic nations are called "slavs" because the Vikings conquered them and made them slaves in the ninth century, to name only one example.

To Sen. Kaine and others: America did invent “equality” in a self-governing sense. And individual freedom. We are still working on them both as hard as possible “to form a more perfect union” two centuries later.

(first published in North State Journal 7/15/20)

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Pollsters Could Learn From Uber Drivers

Pollsters famously got everything wrong about the presidential race in 2016. Almost from the time Donald Trump came down the escalator of Trump Towers in the summer of 2015, pollsters on all sides and in the media did not understand what was going on.
Partisan pollsters “guaranteed” a 5-point victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in North Carolina. The same pollsters are now saying Joe Biden has close to a double-digit lead over President Trump.
Gallup used to send pollsters to conduct face-to-face interviews with people around states which took considerable time and effort to get a decent sample size of 300 statewide to make predictions. They got in the personal sanctity of a person’s home which is impossible to do in today’s robo-call cell phone/internet world.
Pollsters might want to employ Uber drivers to conduct their polling today, at least for the presidential campaign. You can learn a lot from them if you just ask.
Think about it. 90% of the people who are called by pollsters today either don’t answer or hang up immediately. Many lie to pollsters. Pollsters have turned to online surveys augmented by gift cards and Starbucks Rewards which seems to defeat the concept of “unbiased” data-collection in the first place.
All of that goes away in the sanctity of an Uber car. It is just you and the driver. Most Uber drivers are intelligent, thoughtful, chatty people who don’t mind carrying on an intelligent conversation for the 10 to 15-minute ride home.
I like to ask every Uber driver what they think of current events. Last week, I met (interviewed) an Uber driver who was a Marine veteran and a teacher in a small town outside of Raleigh. He had three advanced degrees, was active in church and local civic groups, and drove for Uber during the summer when school was out but also during the school year at times to help with family expenses.
Here are his verbatim answers to my questions about what he thought about politics in general, the COVID shutdowns and riots around the state and nation. I was taking notes on my phone as he drove me home:
“Trump is going to crush Joe Biden in NC. No one is interested in or excited about Joe Biden. Not in rural Wake County. Not even in urban or suburban Wake County.
“I have Ubered thousands of people over the past couple of years: rich/poor, black/white, young/old, male/female. Not one single person has told me they are excited about voting for Joe Biden. If they say they are voting for Biden, it is mostly because they are voting against Trump.
“Every week I go to a crowded cigar store in town owned by a black man. Most of the black men in that store tell me they are voting for Trump:  ‘He ain’t a great guy, and he can stop tweeting all the time… but before COVID, I was making more money than I ever had before. And now that the economy is opening back up again, I am getting back up to where I was in March and I want to keep it that way’
“None of the older black gentleman endorse or condone the violence they see in Raleigh or on TV. They recognize the need for social reforms and equality under the law; they lived it growing up in the 50s and 60s. But they don’t like the rampant destruction of property and think it counterproductive to what they grew up believing and struggling for. It winds up hurting the very people, the inner-city poor, they all want to help.
“We shut down everything to what end? Social distance, wear a mask, cover up in a rubber hazmat suit if you want, but don’t shut down people’s livelihoods. Closing churches and gyms while allowing mass protests in the streets with no penalties just rubs people the wrong way.”
Every Uber driver I have had in the last 4 years has said they support President Trump. Foreign-born naturalized citizens from France, South Korea, Sierra Leone…they all say they came here to live in the freedom America offers and President Trump represents that freedom to them.

Take an Uber ride yourself, and talk to your driver. You might learn a lot.

(first published in North State Journal 7/8/20)

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

President Calvin Coolidge on the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence

John Adams said there should always be
fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July
(What follows is an abridged, modernized version of Coolidge’s July 5th, 1926 speech) 

'We meet to celebrate the birthday of America.

Amid all the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with the assurance and confidence that those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken.

We are obliged to conclude that the Declaration of Independence represented the movement of a people. It was not a movement from the top. Revolutions do not come from that direction. The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.

There is something beyond the establishment of a new nation in the Declaration of Independence which has ever since caused it to be regarded as one of the great charters that not only was to liberate America but ennobled humanity everywhere.

It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history.

Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal; that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights; and that the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

If no one is to be accounted as born into a superior station, if there is to be no ruling class, and if all possess rights which can neither be bartered away nor taken from them by any earthly power, it follows that the practical authority of the Government has to rest on the consent of the governed.

In 1638, Rev. Thomas Hooker of Connecticut said in a sermon:

“The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people.

“The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.”

Rev. John Wise of Massachusetts published treatises in the early 1700s that have been declared to have been a textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.

His words were carried on with a missionary spirit which did not fail to reach the Scotch-Irish of North Carolina as well as the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his “best ideas of democracy” had been secured at church meetings.

George Mason prepared the Virginia Declaration of Rights on May 27, 1776, which asserted popular sovereignty and inherent natural rights but confined the doctrine of equality to the assertion that “All men are created equally free and independent.”

In 1710, Wise said “Every man must be acknowledged equal to every man.” Again, “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, and so forth.” And again, “For as they have a power every man in his natural state, so upon combination they can and do bequeath this power to others and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine.” And still again, “Democracy is Christ’s government in church and state.”

Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. This was their theory of democracy.

In those days such doctrines would scarcely have been permitted to flourish and spread in any other country. These great truths were in the air that our people breathed.

Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.

In its main features, the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch.

They are ideals.

They have their roots in religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments.
If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.
No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.
Those who wish to proceed in that direction cannot lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform.

Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes.

The Declaration of Independence is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things.

These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them.

The things of the spirit come first. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep our ideals replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame.

(Coolidge is the only US president to have been born on the Fourth of July. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died within hours of each other on the Fourth of July in 1826, 100 years before Coolidge’s 1926 speech)
(first published in North State Journal 7/1/20)

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"President" Dukakis and Summer Polls

"Ok, We Got Those Dastardly Republicans Now!"
On July 26, 1988, the Gallup Poll had Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis with a 17-point lead over Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush (41) in the race for the White House.
That was before he donned a military helmet and looked absolutely ridiculous riding in a tank in September. That was also before Dukakis gave a cold, clinical, dispassionate answer when CNN moderator Bernard Shaw asked him if he would support the death penalty for any man who raped and murdered his wife, Kitty.
“No, I don’t, Bernard,” Dukakis said. “And I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life.”
He was done. “President” Dukakis, who looked like a shoo-in for the White House in the summer of 1988, lost 40 states to Bush who won 426 electoral votes and walloped Dukakis by 7 million votes nationwide despite being down in the polls by 17 points four months previous.
We may be seeing a repeat of the 1988 campaign in 2020. Democratic nominee Joe Biden is way ahead in many national polls and his supporters are already measuring for new drapes in the Oval Office.
But the campaign to define Joe Biden has yet to begin. Just as Dukakis was portrayed as a goofy, cold, liberal who was soft on crime, Joe Biden can expect to be caricatured as a goofy, senile liberal who will be soft on crime as well. His party will not allow him to be the moderate he wants to be in order to win the White House.
A senior Democratic strategist several years ago bemoaned the fact that every time the Democratic Party lurched further left to gain a far-left socialist young voter, they lose three older, traditional Democrat or Democrat-leaning unaffiliated voters.
“That is bad math for us” he groaned. Older voters of all races watch rioters protest with no masks, no social distancing and no hand-washing restrictions and then can’t go to their local gym, bar or minor league baseball game, and they start to wonder if everyone really is in this together.
There are some indications that a red tide could rise in states such as North Carolina, and Republican candidates might shock sophisticated observers on MSNBC and CNN.
I recently saw a woman in a store in Southport bedecked with a Trump hat and T-shirt and asked her if she thought he would win in November. “I think it is going to be a butt-whipping,” she answered confidently.
“Why do you say that?” I asked innocently.
“Because the Democratic Party doesn’t care about protecting anyone anymore,” she said. “They don’t believe in law and order; they always want to raise our taxes; and they don’t have any solutions. We live in a small town and when we see what is going on in Raleigh and Charlotte, we just shake our heads and say we are glad we don’t live there. We can’t wait to vote.”
Even with some national polls showing Biden with a Dukakis-like summer lead, President Trump is still leading in North Carolina. A veteran political operative has polled thousands of people in North Carolina in recent months about how likely they were going to vote this year. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 meaning they would vote today if they could, the number of 10s recorded for Trump voters outnumbered the number of 10s for Biden voters by a 10-to-1 margin.
He had never seen that much of a disparity in voter intensity before.
Do President Trump and the Republicans face a daunting challenge this fall? They sure do; they do every election cycle. But the economy is starting to open back up; people are going back to work and leaving the unemployment lines. Consumer confidence has perked back up to near 80 from a low of 71 in April.
Tuesday, November 3 is eons away in terms of the ebb and flow of politics. Joe Biden is not going to win by 17 points. Ask “President” Dukakis.
(first published in North State Journal 6/24/20)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Defund The Police...And Then What?

"Try Living In A Society Without A Police Force, and You
Really Will See That Life Is Nasty, Brutish and Short"
States have been referred to as “laboratories of democracy.”

We are seeing the dystopian experimental petri dish of “what America can become” in Seattle. Protestors have taken over city blocks with the support of local officials and established “autonomous zones” where no police are allowed and private ownership rights are ignored.

Perhaps everyone should be allowed to see what Seattle, Minneapolis and other major metropolitan cities far left progressive liberal elected leaders come up with to replace law enforcement. If anyone wants to see what Thomas Hobbes was referring to in "Leviathan" when he said life was "nasty, brutish and short", defunding the police will take us there quickly.

If their solution works, great. If not, the voters deserve proof of their failure to vote them out of office.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 51: “If Men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Mayors and city councils of Seattle and Minneapolis must believe they are living in heaven today, because they have failed Rule #1 of government: Protect Your Constituents.

No one has any idea of what such cities might establish to replace police forces. It might be a team of psychologists or social workers who would respond to emergency requests when a crime is reported.  Cities might do away with 911 call centers altogether and replace them with taped recordings of deep thoughts and meditations to calm constituent nerves when under vicious attack.

Assuming municipal police forces are disbanded, what are the likely outcomes for citizens?

Gun ownership will spike in each city and escalate as people defend their families. Since there would be no police force to call for help, inner-city Americans would be forced to resort to live like they were in the Old West where the best gunslinger prevailed.

Wealthier residents would band together to pay for private security to protect their lives and property. Poorer neighborhoods won’t be able to afford private protection, and since publicly funded police protection was abolished, they would be the first ones to suffer, again.

Mafia-style protection will proliferate where Antifa groups, or maybe the real Mafia, extorts money from businesses and people who somehow manage to remain downtown.

As cities depopulate in the wake of anarchist and illegal Antifa-led takeovers of prime metropolitan real estate, businesses will move out of cities that had been rejuvenated by regentrification and renewal efforts since the mid-1990s. Tax bases will dwindle, public services will diminish and downtowns will once again become the dangerous ghost towns many were before experiencing remarkable turnarounds in the last two decades.

There has to be a better way than abandoning inner-city America to anarchists and terrorists.

In the summer of 1975, I went on a public service internship in the Hennepin County Police Department in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over the door to the locker room, there was a big sign that said: “Remember: The Supreme Court has six months to interpret the Constitution. You have two seconds.”

I never forgot that. The men and women of all races who serve us in the police force are as brave and selfless as the men and women who serve in our military force.

One night, at age 19, I went along on a patrol with a black cop and a white cop after midnight. A shooting at a pool hall was reported, so the cops responded to the call. As we approached the door, the black cop said he would take it from there since it was in a black neighborhood of Minneapolis. He told me later that if any action had to be taken, it would be better if a black cop dealt with a black suspect and witnesses.

In a perfect world, the color of a cop or suspect’s skin would be immaterial. When a black cop kills a black suspect or an Asian or Hispanic police officer shoots an armed suspect of any race, there is not the sort of reaction as when a black suspect is subdued or killed by a white cop.

Perhaps we are moving to a police response based on race to avoid future George Floyd tragedies.

Leaving innocent citizens, mostly the poor in our cities, as we have seen in Chicago, completely unprotected by an armed police force is not the answer.
(first published in North State Journal 6/17/20)

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Americans Have A Spiritual Connection To Owning Property

"If you think a king or other people gave you
permission to own land, they can take it
away from you. But God gave that right to
you and that can't be taken away from you"
Widespread democratic ownership of personal property is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. Diverse racial and gender ownership is even more recent.
People in communist China do not really “own” their land, business or equipment; Chinese leaders “allow” select people to operate their business on a quasi-capitalistic basis. Sadly, as seven million residents of Hong Kong are finding out, all of their personal property and freedom can be wiped out at a moment’s notice because the State ultimately owns everything, not the individual.
President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are fond of telling American business owners: “You did not build your business!”
You are an American. Regardless of your race, sex, age or religious belief, you did build your own business. You do own your own land. You do own your own buildings, machinery and technology. You took the risk, invested your capital, sweated out weekly payrolls and had the creativity and perseverance to get your business to the point where hopefully it would make a profit one day.
You executed mutually agreed-upon contractual deals to buy your building and equipment. You are entitled to run your business as you see fit simply because you are an American, not because any elected government official told you what to do.
Americans have a spiritual connection to their property. There is a reason for such a radical revolutionary concept.
John Locke wrote about the rights of man in the late 17th century in England which became the foundational bricks and blocks of the American democratic republic. Locke believed every person derived their “rights” directly from God above, whether they were a believer or not, not from earthly royalty, including modern government.
Each person was entitled to the “fruits of their own labor” as written in the Old Testament. When a person farmed a piece of land, that land became part of his inherent God-given “right,” because with his own hands, he could provide food for his own family and sell the rest if he desired.
Locke wrote about the right of every person to engage in the “pursuit of property” in his Second Treatise along with the other inalienable rights of life and liberty. Thomas Jefferson later translated Locke’s phrase into the “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, but both were drawing from the intellectual philosophical well of Aristotle who wrote about “doing and living well” (eudaimonia) in his Nicomachean Ethics 2,000 years previous.
When personal property is destroyed in America, it is an affront to the American who owns it. It violates his or her conception of the “pursuit of happiness” and personal dreams of “living and doing well.” No man or government has the right to take those dreams away from anyone else unless that person has violated the law in an egregious manner.
Businesses and property are not just inanimate bricks-and-mortar and sheet-rocked objects, as some politicians said in the aftermath of the riots over the past weeks. No elected public official nationwide has stated if she or he suffered any personal property damage from the riots, so they are operating from a cocoon of safety away from the pain of having to rebuild a business once again.
The fundamental reason to have government in the first place is to provide a police force and judicial system to help protect the personal property and safety of everyone in a city, state or nation. When elected officials fail to order law enforcement officers to protect the property of innocent, law-abiding citizens, they violate the essence of American democratic republicanism at its core.
The destruction of property during the riots knew no boundaries when it came to race, gender or political affiliation. Blacks, whites, Latinos, men, women, gays, conservatives and liberals alike had windows smashed out and furniture, computers and files destroyed.
Just like that, over one violent weekend, living and working in downtown urban settings stopped being cool to millions of people, young and old. It may take decades to recover.

(first published in North State Journal 6/10/20)

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

John Maynard Keynes Must Be Rolling In His Grave Right Now

"Man. How Can Both Milton Friedman and I Have Been
So Wrong? It Says Right Here In My Book My Ideas
Should Have Worked, Even In America!"
Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes must be having some very interesting conversations in the afterlife about economic policy in America, wherever they may be.

Nothing catastrophically bad happened in America since 1982, such as hyperinflation contrary to Friedman’s monetary theories. Left-wing liberals who love Keynes have forgotten he was a highly successful investor and proponent of capitalism who recognized the limits of government spending and the virtues of fiscal sanity and balance.

Keynes was an English economist who wrote “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” in 1936 and revolutionized the way many looked at the dismal science of economics. He focused on fiscal means to increase demand in an economy, especially during downturns, and argued for government intervention to bring economies back into equilibrium instead of relying on pure free-market forces.

Keynes covered a wide range of economic theory from the multiplier effect to liquidity to efficient marginal deployment of capital, but if his entire theory for government intervention can be boiled down to what modern politicians think it is; this is it:

To get out of economic recessions/depressions, government must cut taxes and increase federal spending to increase demand, which will in turn lead to more employment, producing more supply to satisfy that increased demand.

However, since most political people who espouse Keynesian economics have never read his book in its entirety, here’s the flip side of his economic stimulus argument:

During economic expansions, taxes must be raised and spending cut to bring the federal budgets back into balance.

Raise your hand if you can recall the last time a liberal Democrat proposed a slash in federal spending in any area other than defense. No Democrat has proposed a reduction in overall federal spending without a coalition of Republicans leading the charge in my recollection ever.

Nowadays, both Republicans and Democrats are semi-Keynesians, as in “half believers.”

Republicans will cut taxes in recessions, to be sure, but they will never raise taxes in an expansion. Democrats will increase spending in a recession, to follow part of Keynesian doctrine, but they will never cut federal spending in a robust economy.

Both sides will spend trillions in a heartbeat, as we have just seen with COVID-19 relief efforts, but will not propose higher taxes, reduced spending or reform of entitlements to ever bring the U.S. budget back into balance in our lifetime.

In short, they are doing nothing when it comes to the hard work of governing under constraints.

We are soon going to see if $3 trillion of fiscal stimulus and $7 trillion of Federal Reserve monetary balance sheet expansion is going to work to save our economy. If it does, and if there are any 100% true-blue Keynesian believers left, perhaps a liberal Democrat will introduce a budget package of $4 in spending cuts relative to baseline projections for every $1 in tax hikes when we are back in solid economic times to see if America can restore any sense of rationality back towards a balanced budget.

To my conservative brethren who loathe tax increases of any sort, I agree with you 100%. However, since 1997, you have not accomplished one single dollar of spending or deficit-reduction by legislation in Washington. That was 23 years ago.

If by some small infinitesimal chance someone on the left proposes $1 trillion in spending reductions and/or entitlement spending reform for every $250 billion in tax hikes, what are you going to do? At the very minimum, you will finally achieve at least some spending discipline when you have failed miserably to do so for the past two decades. At the worst, you will have to swallow some tax increases you can work to repeal in the next Congress.

Otherwise, let’s just end the charade that one side is worse than the other on deficits and national debt accumulation. Based on empirical evidence since 1997, and especially in the last 3 months, there is no difference when it comes to controlling spending, increasing deficits and fueling skyrocketing
national debt.

Deficit insanity has won. Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes have both failed.


(first published in North State Journal 6/3/20)

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Sen. Richard Burr and The Shroud of Inside Information on Capitol Hill

Senator Richard Burr-NC
There is a persistent urban legend that elected officials are somehow privy to “inside information” that makes them all “very rich.”

If that is the case, I have never worked for one, or knew anyone, who did. I certainly never figured out how to use any inside information I was privy to as chief of staff to a US senator and a US congressman to get filthy rich quickly.

There are three problems with this urban legend. First, it is illegal for anyone in government, business or on Wall Street to use inside information not generally available to the public to enrich themselves and any trade over $1,000 is reported to congressional ethics. Second, much of what appears to be obvious inside information to the public later turns out to be incorrect. Finally, the private market seems to be more efficient at uncovering information — and reacting to it — than politicians, staffers and bureaucrats.

If you had to report publicly every stock trade you made over $1,000 (buy or sell), would you take any chances on it being illegal or unethical?

Only one member of Congress has been sent to prison for using inside information to buy or sell stocks, former Congressman Chris Collins of New York in January 2020. If any elected official, including Sen. Burr, is found to have abused any confidential information for stock trades, they deserve the same fate as Mr. Collins.

No one yet knows all the details behind Burr’s stock sales on February 13 of this year. Anyone who knows Richard or has worked with him over the years knows he keeps his own counsel and marches to the beat of his own drummer — many times to the exasperation of his staff and campaign consultants.

If he had asked for my advice when first elected in 1994, which he didn’t, I would have suggested that he place his stock portfolio in a blind trust to eliminate any appearance of impropriety since so much of politics is perception anyway.

Maybe he didn’t have a sufficiently large enough portfolio at age 38 to justify placing it in a blind trust then.

He does have a history of being very skittish about financial markets which makes me wish I had been as cautious as he was before the market crashed in 2008 and 2020.

In October 2008, Senator Burr told his wife to take money out of the ATM over the weekend in anticipation of the financial collapse that was about to unfold. He was not the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time nor was he on any relevant commerce or financial services committee that had any oversight of the stock market.

He had a bad feeling about what was going on. The pending collapse was all over cable news on a second-by-breathless-second basis during what should be called “Black October.”

This year, Burr said in a Feb. 7 Fox News op-ed that “Americans are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus” and that the situation “is alarming.” That was a week before he initiated the stock trades that have drawn scrutiny.

Any one of us could have done the same thing based on the daily news we all were watching.  Perhaps Sen. Burr should become a financial manager when he retires and help people avoid having their portfolios sliced in half when something bad is about to happen.

Some partisan media and opponents speculated that Sen. Burr sold his DC house in a sweet deal in 2017. The Senate Ethics Committee reviewed all relevant documents before the sale and determined it was done in line with all Senate rules and ethical guidelines.

One ethics committee lawyer told me after calling their office almost weekly in 1985: “Let me give you some guidelines; if you think something may be unethical, it usually is. Don’t ask us to approve something unethical or illegal, because we won’t”.

Senate Ethics would have declined his house sale if it was not done properly in an arms-length transaction.

I have known Richard Burr for 28 years. He is one of the least pretentious and preening of any U.S. senator who has ever served. He drove himself to meetings around the state in a 1998 Honda Accord without an entourage in a black Escalade following him around. He is not fabulously wealthy like many other senators either through inheritance or marriage, or due to business or real estate success.

In short, Burr is like most of the rest of us. Except he chose to run for public office and serve his state and country to the best of his ability for the past 26 years. I hope his stock trades were based on his past practices, public information and the information he shared publicly.

(first published in North State Journal 5/27/20)
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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The “Μολών λαβέ” Attitude Behind Civil Disobedience

"Come and Take Them"

King Xerxes of Persia surrounded Spartan King Leonidas and 7,000 of his remaining warriors with 300,000 men at the narrow pass of Thermopylae during the waning years of the Peloponnesian War. 

According to Plutarch, he sent a message demanding the Spartans surrender or face certain death.

“When Xerxes wrote again, ‘Hand over your arms,’ (Leonidas) wrote in reply, ‘Μολών λαβέ.’”

Μολών λαβέ” (molon labe) is Greek for “Come and take them.” It has become a rallying cry for defiance ever since.

The brave sacrifice of the Spartans bought a few extra days for the citizens of Athens to evacuate before the Persians ransacked the city, after destroying the Spartan army. Not only did it save Athens to fight another day, which it did two years later when their navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, it saved Western civilization as we know it. 

Μολών λαβέ does not always have to be associated with armed conflict. Such acts of defiance have been expressed in peaceful non-violent civil disobedience such as Gandhi preached during the fight for Indian independence from the British during the 1940s and when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s.

Small business owners are adopting the Spartan μολών λαβέ spirit by opening up their hair salons, tattoo parlors and retail shops around the country in defiance of government stay-at-home orders. 

They are not doing so because they hate government or the politicians issuing the orders, but because they are about to lose their businesses perhaps forever. They want to be safe and healthy like any other person, but they just can’t stay closed forever, especially when big box stores such as Costco and Walmart have remained open for the past two months.

Twenty-six of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not recorded a COVID19-related death out of the 679 recorded to date. 87% of the people who have succumbed to COVID19 are over the age of 65 with significant comorbid diseases; 58% of total deaths have occurred in nursing homes. People know the population most vulnerable to COVID-19 are those who live in nursing homes, not on the manufacturing floor, in a barber shop, in a church or in a restaurant.

North Carolina has the ninth largest population but is 34th in terms of deaths per 100,000 people (6 per 100k) which is comparable to remote states and territories such as Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and the Virgin Islands. In that regard, government authorities can point to such statistics and claim their policies were a major success.

One restaurant owner has told authorities, “Come on down and get my keys to the restaurant. You can run it and try to generate the profits you need me to make so I can pay the taxes you need to keep the government you are leading operating at full speed since no state employee has been laid off yet.”

They have not come to get his keys. It would be impossible for the municipal police forces and county sheriff departments to arrest every owner who opens up their business before the appointed time.

Little did Rosa Parks know in 1955 how much she would influence the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus to a white passenger. “At the time I was arrested, I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in.”

She had had enough. If we pass this upcoming Memorial Day weekend without a significant lessening of restrictions, the μολών λαβέ attitude of the ancient Greeks will rise up in masses of people, not just a brave few.

(first published in North State Journal 5/20/20)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

When The White House Has Too Many People at The FBI and CIA On Speed-Dial

"I, State Your Name, Do Solemnly Swear To
Tell The Whole Truth About What Went On
In the Obama White House!"
There have been many political scandals in American history. Teapot Dome under President Warren G. Harding was the one most people remember from childhood history books, before, of course, Watergate.
Are we witnessing a third great scandal to be known forever as “Obamagate”?
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Watergate was not the crime itself but the willful abuse of the CIA and FBI by the Nixon White House to coverup the crime. Remember: It was not the crime but the cover-up that brought down the Nixon White House.
We have to find a way to distance the FBI and the CIA from the political whims of the White House and build a protective wall to prevent future presidential abuse of our top law enforcement and intelligence-gathering systems. At the very least, America deserves independent directors to be appointed who have the integrity to resign when asked by the president to engage in any questionable activity not vital to the national security interest.
Former FBI Director Elliott Richardson and Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during Watergate. People who had any shred of dignity and personal integrity used to do such things on the behalf of the nation.
Watergate was a cover-up of a failed third-rate burglary during a political campaign. Perjury and obstruction of justice were the two most prominent charges brought against 69 government officials in the Nixon Administration. Forty-eight went to prison.
A team of former CIA operatives led by E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, specializing in campaign “dirty tricks,” tried to bug the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington, DC on June 17, 1972. President Nixon was widely expected to trounce George McGovern in the election which makes the burglary attempt even more strange and idiotic.
When the “plumbers,” as they were called, were caught, a two-year drama played out on the national stage which proved that Nixon and his team in the White House did everything possible to cover-up the burglary. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, after the “smoking gun” audio tape was released with Nixon discussing a plan with chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to get the CIA to interfere with the initial FBI investigation.
The fact that the Nixon White House was able to wield presidential power to force the directors of the FBI and CIA to help advance his personal political interests was, and still is, unconscionable.
We do not live in a Gestapo state. We do not want any elected official to have carte blanche power to use the highest levels of law enforcement to protect their political interests. Having different political opinions and strategies is not so crucial to our future that any administration should be able to appropriate the investigatory powers of the FBI and CIA to frustrate the other side during a campaign or a presidential transition.
With each new release of government documents, it is becoming crystal clear that the Obama Administration had the same level of control and power over the FBI and CIA as President Nixon did in 1972. They are on the record detailing efforts to attempt to undermine President-elect Trump and his team from the moment he was elected in November and reporting back to the White House with progress reports.
If proven to be true, as Watergate was proven to be true ultimately, the effort to subvert Trump’s incoming administration will make Watergate look like a food fight at a kindergarten picnic. Never before has an outgoing administration engaged in so many cloak and dagger strategies and tactics to frustrate the administration of the incoming president-elect, in essence, as part of “The Resistance.”
The Democrats and the liberal media have presented their side of the story that Trump is crooked like “Tricky Dick” Nixon and failed to remove him from office. It is now time to watch our judicial system and see if it can bring forth unassailable evidence and sworn testimony that the Obama White House, in conjunction with the full power of the CIA and FBI like Nixon before him, tried to subvert the peaceful transition of power to Donald Trump.
Obama Administration officials, James Comey, John Brennan and the rest of the crew could have apologized on Day One of the Trump Administration for deliberately following false leads and falsified information.
But they didn’t. Now America wants to see if there really was a cover-up that would make people forget there ever was a Teapot Dome or Watergate scandal in our history.

(first published in North State Journal 5/13/20)

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Milton Friedman Must Be Rolling In His Grave

"Man. I woulda thought the US would have imploded
under massive inflation by now!

I have a confession to make. 

For the past 40 years, for some odd reason, I have been concerned about the high level of federal spending. I was raised by great mentors on a diet of sound fiscal management, control spending first, PAYGO, discretionary caps, Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, give the president line-item veto powers, “don’t waste one precious dollar from the average taxpayer!” 

I was heavily indoctrinated in the belief that huge annual budget deficits led to (you name it): high interest rates, sky-high inflation rates, currency devaluation, crowding out of private-sector borrowing, financial destruction and, for all I knew, the heartbreak of psoriasis and eczema. 

None of the predicted economic catastrophes ever happened. Inflation was 13.5% in 1980; prime interest rates hit 21% in June 1982.  

Inflation is near zero today. So are real interest rates. We have violated every common-sense, rational, conservative balanced-budget principle and deficit-spent our way from $3.4 trillion in publicly-held debt in 2001 to $19 trillion today. 

The national debt of $980 billion in 1980 represented over 30% of GDP. At $19 trillion of debt and still counting, it represents 86% of GDP today. 

We were terrified of such rampant deficit-spending and fiscal irresponsibility when we graduated from college back then. The economy was stuck in “stagflation” — stagnant economic growth plus high inflation — the worst of both worlds.  Stagflation was not entirely the fault of President Jimmy Carter, but his policies and those of the heavily Democratic-controlled Congress and Senate, plus the Federal Reserve between 1977 and 1981, we were told, surely exacerbated the severity of both. 

To avoid more “stagflation,” unemployment and negligible prosperity going forward, Republicans acted like the conservatives they were back then and tried to hold the line on federal spending to balance the budget and stop adding exorbitant amounts of debt that we were convinced would lead to hyperinflation and sky-high interest rates. 

It wasn’t until the second term of President Bill Clinton that America experienced four straight balanced budgets from 1998-2001 when a Republican Congress forced his hand to sign a welfare reform bill first and then the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. 

Those were halcyon days for responsible common-sense folks. Dynasty sort of years comparable to four Final Fours and four national title banners. CBO predicted budget surpluses for as far as the eye could see in 2000; Social Security would be solvent for 100 years, and life would be perfect in America. 

And then, 9/11 hit. And then the Bush tax cuts. And then the Greatest Recession since the 1930. And then Obamacare.  

And now this Coronavirus-induced economic plunge off the cliff and government budget-busting without precedent outside of world war. Thirty million Americans were not just laid-off but thrown out of the work door literally overnight. 

As in every crisis in the past, supply-side theorists from the right extol tax cuts, and Keynesians from the left extol the virtues of massive spending to solve all our problems. Monetarists say “expand the Federal Reserve balance sheet” with abandon to provide liquidity to the banking system, which is all done outside of the “official” national debt totals that keep going through the roof. 

Budget deficits first exceeded $1 trillion in 2008 under Bush 43. President Obama presided over four straight trillion-dollar deficits in his first term. The federal deficit this year alone will be close to $3.7 trillion, and we are barely in the fourth inning.  

Why haven’t interest rates exploded to 21% at any time since 1982? Why hasn’t inflation exploded to 13.5% like in 1980? If nothing bad is going to happen, let’s cut everyone’s taxes to near zero, spend $100 trillion and give everyone free healthcare and education — filet mignon and caviar in every kitchen and a Rolls-Royce in every garage. 

Maybe Paul Krugman is right. Maybe we really can deficit-spend the heck out of anything in America. 

Poor Milton Friedman. If he was cremated instead of being laid to rest, then his dust molecules must be bouncing around like Mexican jumping beans, because none of his warnings have come true. 

Yet, that is. 

(first published in North State Journal 5/6/20)
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