“Do as I command, not as I say or do.”

As usual, Kip has the correct take on a news item. In this case, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is interrogating three CEOs without any clear reason why a committee created to investigate the government is investigating private market individuals. But politicians are involved, so there you go. I recommend Kip’s entry in its entirety.

I’m frustrated by something within the hearings:

Lawmakers confronted corporate executives Friday about how they managed to take home hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation while their companies were taking a financial nosedive from the subprime mortgage crisis.

“It seems that CEOs hit the lottery when their companies collapse,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said at the opening of the hearing. “Any reasonable relation between their compensation and the interests of their shareholders appears to have broken down.”

Waxman noted that [Countrywide Financial Corp. CEO Angelo] Mozilo received more than $120 million in compensation and sales of Countrywide stock last year while that company recorded losses of $1.6 billion. Merrill Lynch lost $10 billion in 2007, but [CEO Stanley] O’Neal got a $161 million retirement package.

I’m sure there’s an explanation for this. Not being a shareholder of any of the companies involved, I do not care what they are. And neither should Congress. Perhaps this matters?

CBO estimates that the government recorded a deficit of $262 billion during the first five months of fiscal year 2008, compared with a shortfall of $162 billion recorded in the same period last year.

Why isn’t our CEO, President Bush, hauled before Congress to explain his failure to veto excess (and illegitimate) spending? It couldn’t have anything to do with Congress being the body that sends those spending bills to his desk, could it? I’m sure it’s also defensible to send free money to Americans, as long as Congress prints borrows sends a large chunk but divides it among many Americans rather than concentrating it in a few hands. It’s also defensible to pay it to people who didn’t “earn” a refund by actually paying any taxes. At least the CEOs performed a task, however (incorrectly) one wishes to judge the results.

This is another reason why I am not a political partisan. None of them are competent at anything other than struggling for power. I don’t admire that, and I’ll never follow it blindly.

Poorly¹ chosen words assist big government.

Congress is always looking out for us:

The Senate yesterday approved the most far-reaching changes to the nation’s product safety system in a generation, responding to recalls of millions of lead-laced toys that rattled consumers last year.

Lawmakers still have to resolve key differences between the Senate bill and a similar measure that passed the House in December. While the Senate version is considered by consumer advocates to be tougher, both contain provisions that would require retailers and manufacturers to be more vigilant about product safety.

The biggest change is likely to be a better-staffed Consumer Product Safety Commission, with more enforcement power. Both bills would boost funding for the agency, which had a budget of $63 million in fiscal 2007 and just less than 400 employees, fewer than half the number it had in 1980. The Senate bill, which passed by a vote of 79 to 13, would increase the budget to $106 million by 2011. The House’s version would increase it to $100 million.

This strikes me as more of the same in Washington. Government sets the rules. The rules fail. The government blames the failure on the market and insufficient government size. It’s self-fulfilling and people fall for it. Beyond that, I don’t have much to say on the specifics.

Rather, I want to focus on how we get to these situations. Consider the Washington Post’s headline of the article discussing this legislation:

Senate Votes For Safer Products

I know headlines need a hook in a small space. That doesn’t matter. This is pathetic. This is how government programs begin and perpetuate and grow. Who could possibly argue against this bill to those who will make up their mind on this superficial information? I might as well argue for the routine kicking of puppies.

When discussing policy solutions, we need to identify the narrow problem(s) we wish to address because the law of unintended consequences loves broad solutions. Instead of the title offered, the Post should’ve used something like this:

Senate Votes for Further Product Safety Regulation

That’s still unacceptably imperfect. I’m not a professional. But at least it’s closer to the truth than the simpleton’s solution the Post offered.

¹ I’m assuming the words are chosen poorly. That’s an assumption. I leave wide-open the possibility that such words are chosen deliberately for their propensity to encourage bigger government. Hence the propaganda tag on this entry.

The Great Diversion. Wait, look over there!

I suspected going in to today’s essay by Charles Krauthammer that it was little more than propaganda for John McCain. I was right, but I’m going to ignore that, at least initially. First, Krauthammer has to knock down Barack Obama. Referring to Hillary Clinton’s 3 a.m. ad:

After months of fruitlessly shadowboxing an ethereal opponent made up of equal parts hope, rhetoric and enthusiasm, Clinton had finally made contact with the enemy. The doubts she raised created just enough buyer’s remorse to persuade Democrats on Tuesday to not yet close the sale on the mysterious stranger.

The only way either Clinton or John McCain can defeat an opponent as dazzlingly new and fresh as Obama is to ask: Do you really know this guy?

I think the ad was ridiculous because I’m willing to question the attacked and the attacker. Krauthammer thinks it was “brilliant”. But I understand that not all voters care enough to question beyond the superficial. Analyzing it further would be a digression.

The problem here is familiarity, as suggested. However, I’m familiar with Clinton and McCain. They’re both despicable, career power-seekers. If forced to vote among the three remaining candidates, I’ll take my chances with the unknown and count on the checks-and-balances built into the system. We’ve survived bad presidents before. We’re surviving one now. I just wouldn’t willingly vote for one.

Note: If the Constitutional checks-and-balances fail and President Obama is dangerous, individuals like Mr. Krauthammer who blindly supported their erasure over the previous seven years must answer for their culpability in the matter. It will happen at some point, whether it’s President Obama, President (Hillary) Clinton, President McCain, President (Jeb) Bush, or President (Chelsea) Clinton. Dumping the eventual failure solely on the bad president’s character may be politically useful, but it’s factually repugnant.

After a space-filling bit about Sen. Obama transcending race, Krauthammer goes in for the kill:

The Obama campaign has sent journalists eight pages of examples of his reaching across the aisle in the Senate. I am not the only one to note, however, that these are small-bore items of almost no controversy — more help for war veterans, reducing loose nukes in the former Soviet Union, fighting avian flu and the like. Bipartisan support for apple pie is hardly a profile in courage.

On the difficult compromises that required the political courage to challenge one’s own political constituency, Obama flinched: the “Gang of 14” compromise on judicial appointments, the immigration compromise to which Obama tried to append union-backed killer amendments and, just last month, the compromise on warrantless eavesdropping that garnered 68 votes in the Senate. But not Obama’s.

There is truth there, but it’s what makes Sen. Obama the least offensive bad option we have. Remember, I’m not voting for any of the three remaining candidates. But I hope we’re inaugurating President Obama in January, precisely because his record of achieving legislative action is so weak. Limited government is the goal. If we can’t get that naturally, I’ll take the unnatural result of conflict and political weakness. Gridlock is good.

Krauthammer disagrees and makes the pathetic push for McCain:

Who, in fact, supported all of these bipartisan deals, was a central player in two of them and brokered the even more notorious McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform? John McCain, of course.

Yes, John McCain — intemperate and rough-edged, of sharp elbows and even sharper tongue. Turns out that uniting is not a matter of rhetoric or manner, but of character and courage.

I’ll momentarily pretend that a politician – especially one who sponsors legislation to limit a Constitutionally-protected right to free speech in direct conflict to “Congress shall make no law” – possesses character (and courage). How is being on the wrong side of an issue a qualification for the presidency? Clinton made the same mistake yesterday with this:

“Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, I will bring a lifetime of experience, and Senator Obama will bring a speech he gave in 2002,” a derisive Clinton said yesterday to the retired military officers at the Westin in Dupont Circle.

Five years into the Iraq mess, Clinton can’t admit her mistake and McCain wants to double-down. When forced to choose among three unacceptable people, I’ll take the guy who theorized sooner why the proposed action was a mistake. In government, a pre-mistake “No” is much more powerful than a post-mistake “oops”. It’s more important when we can’t even get the “oops”.

The investigation is just underway, but let’s speculate politically.

This is obviously news worth investigating to the clearest conclusion possible:

An explosive device caused minor damage to an empty military recruiting station in Times Square early Thursday, shaking guests in hotel rooms high above “the crossroads of the world.”

Police blocked off the area to investigate the explosion, which occurred at about 3:45 a.m., shattering the station’s glass entryway. No one was injured.

“If it is something that’s directed toward American troops than [sic] it’s something that’s taken very seriously and is pretty unfortunate,” said Army Capt. Charlie Jaquillard, who is the commander of Army recruiting in Manhattan.

If it’s not something that’s directed toward American troops, then it’s something that’s not taken very seriously and is not pretty unfortunate?

We can all read the obvious intent into this bombing. Most of us are smart enough to reserve judgment until we know more from the investigation. The truth might turn out to be random or not obvious. (What if the device was set by a spurned lover who mistimed the explosion? Unlikely, but can we rule it out immediately?) But it’s idiotic to jump straight to questions of patriotism. At least leave that idiocy to the post-conclusion press conference.

“I decided I don’t need it.”

There is a lesson here on individual responsibility.

[Outfielder So] Taguchi, signed by the Phillies this winter, is the only Japanese player on a major-league contract this spring who does not use an interpreter around the ballpark, according to Gaku Tashiro, the big-dog ball writer from Japan’s Sankei News.

Taguchi used an interpreter when he first signed with St. Louis in 2002. However, he was sent to the minors that season and with the demotion came this message: You want an interpreter, you pay for it.

“I decided I don’t need it,” Taguchi said with a laugh the other day.

Though his wife, Emiko, spoke English, Taguchi spoke virtually none when he headed off to minor-league outposts in New Haven, Conn., and Memphis. Over time, he picked up enough to get by. When he made it to St. Louis in 2004, the Cardinals offered to get him an interpreter.

Taguchi said no thanks.

In perfect English.

“It was tough,” he said, recalling life around the ballpark without an interpreter. “But it was a good thing. I had to do everything by myself. It helped me learn.”

The Cardinals are a private organization¹, but this story informs the debate on public policy. People can and do help themselves when required to be responsible for the burden involved in helping themselves.

¹ Congress doesn’t seem to agree.

Root for individual liberty and America will succeed.

I fully expect to vote for myself in November, if I bother to vote at all. But just for fun, I’m researching some of the Libertarian Party candidates. On my first look – in this case, Wayne Allen Root – I’m not so thrilled. Consider some of his positions:

I support the Line Item Veto. I will push relentlessly and tirelessly to make this a crucial part of the President’s arsenal to fight the deficit, cut waste, and balance the budget.

Saying how he intends to achieve this is important, since it explains his understanding of the government process. However, he does not say how he intends to do this, so I will not assume his preferred path for achieving this. But I will suggest Article 1, Section 7 of the United States Constitution as a starting point:

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it.

This requires the President to address each bill in its entirety. He may not isolate the pieces he likes from the pieces he detests. The only valid approach to the line item veto is a Constitutional amendment.

My preference on this is simple. The Congress should narrow the focus of bills it presents to the President for approval. A defense bill shouldn’t have education issues attached, for example. The President should reject every bill that doesn’t meet this test until Congress begins legislating in this manner. This isn’t perfect because Congress gets leeway in how narrow it defines a topic, but it is an immediate solution.

Next, Mr. Root offers this:

I support gay rights and civil unions. Gay marriage however is not a federal issue. It is a States’ Rights issue only.

This raises two problems. First, the 16th Amendment forbids the states from denying “to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Marriage, as a civil contract, is an individual right to enter into a voluntary agreement. It is not a group right belonging to two people. Such an idea is absurd, given our understanding of individual liberty, but it also assumes that two people share a right before they meet. Whoever you will marry shares this right with you. That’s ridiculous. Defining the individual right to contract down from the right to enter into a contract with another competent, willing individual to a right to enter into a contract with another competent, willing, opposite-sex individual is anti-individual liberty. That incorrectly achieves equal at the expense of liberty.

Second, states rights appears multiple times in Mr. Root’s positions. No government has rights. Governments have powers. These powers are granted from the people, not because the government has a legitimate claim to them, but because the people trade some amount of liberty in exchange for specific outcomes. I trade my “right” to harm to protect my right to remain free from harm. Government does not grant rights. It protects inherent rights.

In other words, it is little consolation to be oppressed by my neighbors through my state/local government instead of my countrymen in another state through our federal government. This sort of nonsense appears multiple times in Mr. Root’s positions. It’s the same fallacy made by Ron Paul in too many of his positions. (Remember, Ron Paul is not a libertarian.)

Here’s one last position from Mr. Root:

I support the separation of church and state. However I also believe in tolerance for rights of religious Americans too. I believe in school prayer, God in our pledge of allegiance and on our currency. To remove these religious symbols would be to deny the rights and freedoms of religious Americans. I would also protect the rights of those who do not believe in God or religion to not participate in any public prayer or religious activities.

This is troubling. Removing these religious symbols from the private sphere would be to deny the rights and freedoms of religious Americans. To remove them from the public sphere denies nothing.

School prayer is fine, in a private school. That is not what is up for debate. Arguing otherwise suggests dubious integrity. Mention of God in our pledge of allegiance, as legislated by Congress, is problematic. We do not have a private currency, and the government actively seeks to stamp out such efforts, so “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency is a violation of the First Amendment. While the latter two are minor in scope, if not principle, none of the three are valid in government as public requirements. They have nothing to do with tolerance for individual rights.

I do not wish to suggest that there is a libertarian purity test based on policy recommendations. I don’t; I think that fallacy is counter-productive. However, I think there is a valid libertarian purity test on thought process. If Mr. Root argues for legislation to grant the line item veto, he ignores the Constitution’s text. Where Mr. Root argues for states’ rights, he misses the point of individual liberty and government of, for, and by the people. Where Mr. Root argues to overlook Congressional indifference to the First Amendment in favor of “tolerance”, he abandons the reasoning for a Constitution. None of these positions rely on libertarian principles, which is a valid criteria for judging a candidates credentials.

To clarify, the big libertarian test right now seems to be Iraq. Most libertarians agree that our experiment in Iraq is a mistake. It is a preemptive war without justification based in national security. Unlike Afghanistan, a legitimate war of self-defense, Iraq carried no such immediate threats to U.S. security.

I agree with that analysis. I also think there are libertarians who disagree. I don’t mean “people who (mistakenly) call themselves libertarians” disagree. For example, Timothy Sandefur supports the war in Iraq on national security grounds. I disagree with his conclusion from the facts, but he is basing his support on his intellectually-considered conclusion within the framework of libertarian principles of self-defense. It’s okay to disagree with him. Such debate pushes us to a better conclusion, in general. But it would be idiotic to suggest that he is not a libertarian because of this policy recommendation.

As another example, I’m clearly against any circumcision of a child that isn’t based in an immediate medical need. That is a libertarian position focused on the individual’s right to keep his foreskin (i.e. his property) and his right to remain free from harm. Freedom of/from religion is also an individual right, with the child having a claim equal to his parents. It is an invalid excuse. There can be no libertarian disagreement on this.

When there is a medical issue, there can be a disagreement on whether that medical issue requires circumcision rather than some less invasive treatment. The answer requires judgment. I would seek out those less invasive treatments for a child before resorting to circumcision. I think ethics demand all parents and medical personnel do the same. But proxy consent in the face of legitimate medical issues for a legally incompetent individual is valid in libertarian principle, even when it leads to child circumcision.

The likelihood of having the perfect candidate without running for office myself is almost non-existent. Ultimately, the best we can hope for is a candidate who process information
through the correct filters. It’s too much to expect the same conclusion on every issue. It’s reasonable to expect the same respect for individual rights.

Who buys the BMW on a Kia budget?

Thankfully there are no calls for government action, but Michelle Singletary still offers a troubling assessment on money and personal responsibility.

Just consider the advertising campaign, “Life Takes Visa.” The credit card giant has been running commercials in which people are hustling through checkout lines at fast food and retail stores. They buy what they want by merely waving or swiping their plastic Visa cards.

But when a customer pulls out cash, everything comes to a screeching halt. The cash-paying customer gets harsh looks from fellow shoppers and the cashier. Then we hear an announcer say: “Don’t let cash slow you down.”

The commercials are funny. But the subliminal message isn’t. It’s diabolical.

The subliminal message is not diabolical (i.e. of or pertaining to the devil). Visa wants customers to use their cards for everything because Visa gets a cut of that, unlike a customer’s cash transactions. Banks issue cards under the Visa brand. These banks want customers to carry a balance on their cards because it generates interest. The message of the commercial is only the first, given that Visa and the banks that issue Visa cards are separate entities.

Immediately following the diabolical conclusion, this from Stuart Vyse, author of Going Broke: Why Americans Can’t Hold On to Their Money, the subject of the article:

“Much of the difficulty stems from new retail technologies that make it easy to act without thinking,” Vyse says.

That is an entirely reasonable conclusion because it places the responsibility for thinking or not thinking on the individual using the card. It does not involve any satanic machinations on the part of large corporations to force Americans into a vicious cycle of debt.

This is similar to the common refrain on guns, that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That’s correct but too semantically succinct. Of course guns kill people because it’s a method to do so. But Smith & Wesson doesn’t pull the trigger for the murderer.

And Visa doesn’t provide the card number to retailers when there’s no money in the bank to pay for the expenditure.