A Libertarian Frank Underwood by Elijah O’Kelly

If you’re involved or even interested in politics and haven’t heard about House of Cards, then it’s likely that neither you nor your friends own a TV, a tablet, or a smart phone.

The series, one of Netflix’s new in-house production, portrays the ruthless, power hungry politician Frank Underwood. In addition to its critical acclaim, it has become a staple in the conversations of political activists everywhere. Watching as a libertarian, his nearly every action is reprehensible. Underwood acts solely to increase his own power, never shying away from doing immoral things, and he consistently pushes legislation that increases the scope of government. He is a libertarian nightmare. And yet we can’t help but be entranced by him.

But what if Frank Underwood was a libertarian? At first thought, the idea is a complete paradox. His blatant acts of aggression and his vision of power as an end rather than a means are contradictory to the underlying principles of libertarianism. Yet if Underwood viewed power as a means to accomplish libertarian policies rather than an end to satisfy personal desires, it wouldn’t be so easy to despise him. A plethora of valid critiques can be launched at him, but it is indisputable that he has a talent for getting things done.

Imagine if instead of education and entitlement reform, Underwood had pulled strings, twisted arms, and manipulated politicians in order to pass something like a repeal of the Federal Reserve Act or a decriminalization of drugs. It might be hard for libertarians to be smug. The bottom line is that Underwood’s talent for increasing his own power could be very effective if modified and applied by a real life counterpart trying to create libertarian change.

A mental exercise like this doesn’t typically mean much in reality, but the truth is that it offers insight into the current direction of the liberty movement. There are two main methodologies that people subscribe to for creating libertarian change. One seeks to rely mainly on educational efforts, sometimes even abstaining from voting or any political activity, to create gradual change towards a freer society. The other emphasizes political activism to sway elections and build alliances with different groups in order to pass libertarian legislation. Both are vital for a movement and some libertarians effectively use a combination of both approaches. But if we picture the effect a libertarian Frank Underwood could have on the direction of the country, the superior approach becomes obvious.

As unfortunate as it is, government bureaucrats and their cronies won’t change their behavior because they get handed copies of Human Action. Politicians won’t begin following the Constitution because they got mailed a pocket-sized version of it. The government will continue to pass legislation violating everything libertarians stand for until someone has enough power to stop it. Gaining and keeping this power may very likely entail manipulative schemes to thwart more statist peers. It may be contrary to what every libertarian, myself included, wishes the situation could be, but a failure to “play the game” means a failure to make change.

Envisioning a figure like a libertarian Frank Underwood makes it clear what the impact of a master politician who pursues libertarian legislation could be. This isn’t to suggest that all libertarians must attempt to emulate Underwood or that those in politics should try to mold themselves into replicas of him. But questions about purity—doctrinal or otherwise—rarely touch on how the sausage gets made. At some point, some libertarians are going to have to get their hands dirty.

There are, of course, limits to this. Underwood the character commits acts of inhumanity that no amount of legislative achievement could justify and that no honest libertarian would participate in. There are also worries about the corruptive nature of power and if a libertarian could actually avoid succumbing to its temptations. After all, how much of one’s soul must be sold off to achieve such heights of power? In a reality that television writers don’t have to face, a libertarian Underwood might be impossible. Yet, for those who dare to fight the beasts in their own lair, taking a cue from Underwood and outfoxing politicians could lead to enormous gains for libertarian causes. And so the question becomes: What ends justify what means? Or, where on the continuum has the libertarian politician gone too far?

The extent to which a libertarian Frank Underwood deserves our support has no simple answer, but it’s a question we have to ask ourselves as we begin to aspire to political offices. In any case, we cannot dispute that a willingness to “play the game” is absolutely vital if the Liberty Movement has any hope of moving out of the Internet’s basement and into the statute books.

ABOUT ELIJAH O’KELLEY

Elijah O’Kelley is currently interning with Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) where he works to spread the ideas of liberty on college campuses.

Democrat Climate Caucus Reveals Its Stupidity

The nation seems to be passing through a period in which too many U.S. Senators have been elected without so much as a high school level understanding of what drives the Earth’s climate and it isn’t the 0.038% of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

On Monday, March 10, some twenty of them will stay up overnight on the Senate floor, according to The Hill, “to bring attention to the impacts of climate change.”  You don’t get more idiotic than that. Climate, measured in decades and centuries, is always in a state of change. Meanwhile, the weather anywhere in the nation, determined by the changing seasons and responsive only to short-range forecasts, has turned colder thanks to a cooling cycle that is now into its 17th year.

Giving speeches all night in the Senate will not change that, but Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has partnered with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to announce a new “climate change caucus” when you can ask any of the million unemployed Americans what the Senate’s real priority should be.

Sen. Whitehouse seems to think that a winter storm that causes “little summer cottages (be) washed into the sea” makes the non-existent issue of climate change “a bit personal.”  Does this moron take rain or snow storms personally? When the sun rises in the morning, does he think it does so just for him?

Democrats are so afraid of the political fallout from the devastation of Obamacare and the lies told to support it that they are desperate to divert voter’s attention to anything else and climate change rates higher than having to discuss why we are still in a major recession after one full term by President Obama and the first year of his second. So, between now and the midterm elections in November, they will engage in all manner of theatrics to stay in office.

Thank goodness we have men like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) in office. For a long time now he has been on record calling climate change—formerly called global warming—“a hoax.”  When he takes a head count, he finds “fewer and fewer members of the United States Senate that are sympathetic to this whole cause.”

Behind the climate change “cause” falsehoods is the intention to impose fees on all aspects of American business and industry that emit carbon dioxide. Sen. Whitehouse wants to force up the cost of energy by making the larger emitters pay for doing what volcanoes do—emit CO2. In addition, all of the Earth’s living creatures do that as well. Congress has defeated 692 similar bills.

Sen. Whitehouse and his climate caucus are depending heavily on the 30% or so voters who still think that global warming is real. To some extent you can’t blame them. They were taught that in school and college. They read and hear that it is real in the news media every day. As of today, however, not one high school graduate has lived in a period of global warming.

And what is the rest of the world supposed to think when both British Royal Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have just released a report, “Climate Change: Evidence & Causes” that is a rejection and abandonment of the most fundamental values of science.  The report asserts that “Continued emissions of these gases (CO2) and other greenhouse gases will cause further climate change, including substantial increases in global average surface temperatures and important changes in regional climate.”

Tom Harris, the executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, responded saying the report “does a serious disservice to science and society.” And that is an understatement. “This is not the language of science…it is appalling that two of the world’s foremost science bodies should engage in such unconditional rhetoric.” Not to mention that it is an outright lie.

So, while the twenty or so desperate Democrats gather all night, keep in mind that (1) there has been no global warming since 1997, (2) more than 31,000 scientists have signed a petition saying humans are not causing global warming, (3) Arctic ice is up 50% since 2012, and (4) every one of the climate computer models predicting warmth has been wrong over and over again.

Find out if one of those Senators is from your State and is up for reelection in November. Then vote him or her out of office and replace them with a candidate who wants smaller government, less spending, and demonstrates a devotion to both the truth and the U.S. Constitution.

© Alan Caruba, 2014

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image by MichałRadecki is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

List of Florida’s anti-gun mayors released

The grassroots Florida TEA Party (FTP) has released a list of Florida mayors who are anti-Second Amendment.

In an email FTP states, “It’s getting pretty crazy out there. With so many states attempting to pass legislation to limit and/or eradicate the gun rights granted by the United States Constitution to its citizens, the Second Amendment Coalition of Florida thinks you should know who some of the offenders in Florida are.”

Here are your Florida Mayors Against Gun Rights:

Susan Gottlieb
Aventura
Jean Rosenfield
Bal Harbour
David Coviello
Biscayne Park
Barbara Sharief
Broward County
Greg Ross
Cooper City
James Cason
Coral Gables
Judy Paul
Davie
Cary Glickstein
Delray Beach
Walter B. Duke
Dania Beach
Bruce Mount
Eatonville
Daisy Black
El Portal
John P. “Jack” Seiler
Ft. Lauderdale
Glenn Singer
Golden Beach
Charles Sanders
Greenwood
Samuel Henderson
Gulfport
Joy Cooper
Hallandale Beach
Peter Bober
Hollywood
Ken Schultz
Hypoluxo
Patricia Gerard
Largo
Barrington Russell
Lauderdale Lakes
Richard J. Kaplan
Lauderhill
Howard Schieferdecker
Maitland
Tomás Regalado
Miami
Carlos Gimenez
Miami Dade County
Oliver G. Gilbert
Miami Gardens
Lori C. Moseley
Miramar
Connie Leon-Kreps
North Bay Village
Jack Brady
North Lauderdale
Lucie M. Tondreau
North Miami
Douglas A. Gibson
Oak Hill
John Adornato
Oakland Park
Myra Taylor
Opa-Locka
Buddy Dyer
Orlando
 
Shelley Stanczyk
Palmetto Bay
Frank C. Ortis
Pembroke Pines
Cindy Lerner
Pinecrest
Diane Veltri Bendekovic
Plantation
Thomas A. Masters
Riviera Beach
Philip K. Stoddard
South Miami
Rick Kriseman
St. Petersberg
Norman Edelcup
Sunny Isles Beach
Michael J. Ryan
Sunrise
Daniel Dietch
Surfside
John Marks
Tallahassee
Jeri Muoio
West Palm Beach
Eric H. Jones
West Park
Daniel J. Stermer
Weston
Gary Resnick
Wilton Manors
To learn more visit FLORIDA TEA PARTY – The Grassroots Florida Tea Party at: http://floridateaparty.ning.com/?xg_source=msg_mes_network

Some Very Good News About Americans

We are all besieged daily by bad news. It is easy to become depressed about the present state of the nation, but there is some very good news as well.

This is not to say there aren’t legitimate problems and concerns. The last two elections put a President in office that lies all the time. The nation’s economy has been so awful that 100 million Americans are either out of work or have ceased looking for work. Democrat political leaders are actually telling Americans that being unemployed is a good thing because it leaves them free to pursue their hobbies.

The President has been pursuing a campaign to make Americans believe that there is massive income inequality when, in fact, there is relatively little. There has always been a very wealthy class and a very poor one. What there is, however, is a loss of wealth primarily in the Middle Class. As for poverty, America has long provided income mobility to those who wish to study and work hard to improve their status.

What is rarely addressed is the seething power of American entrepreneurship which, at present, is trapped by a largely socialist federal government imposing a mountain of regulations that thwart growth and take money from the private sector that would otherwise be invested in the creation or expansion of business and industry nationwide.

Americans have repeatedly suffered, survived, and overcome financial crises to come back to build the greatest economy in the world. Part of the reason for this are the long established values that Americans of every description embrace.

That is why Wayne Baker’s new book, “United America: The Surprising truth about American values, American identity and the 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear” is a welcome review that the author’s extensive research confirms.

The beliefs are:

  • Respect for others
  • Symbolic patriotism
  • Freedom
  • Security
  • Self-Reliance & Individualism
  • Equal Opportunity
  • Getting ahead
  • Pursuit of happiness
  • Justice & Fairness
  • Critical patriotism

Cover - United AmericaA journalist, David Crumm provides an introduction to Baker’s book. “Dr. Baker defines a Core American Value (as one) that is strongly held by a large majority of Americans, stable over time, and shared across diverse demographic, religious and political lines…Here a core value represents an area of deep and broad consensus among American people, not disagreement and division. A core value is not a prescription of what Americans ought to believe, but what Americans actually do believe.”

The research supporting Dr. Baker’s book was conducted over two years by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Institute. The data was analyzed with a battery of statistical techniques to ensure the validity and reliability of the results.

Touching on a few of the values addressed in the book, Dr. Baker starts with respect for others which he describes as “so important that it actually characterizes what it means to be an American…More than 90 percent of Americans in the national surveys I conducted said that respect for people of different racial and ethnic groups is important to them.”

“Respect is given to people who do what they say, who live according to what they believe, who are persons of integrity. A position or title doesn’t necessarily garner respect, but integrity does” says Dr. Baker and that is bad news for those identified as “leaders” or “experts” who do not display integrity. Telling lies undermines everything they say and do.

“We have what appears to be a contradictory situation,” says Dr. Baker. “Politicians, political elites, and party activists are increasingly polarized, moving further apart from one another. Yet public opinion polls clearly show that Americans loathe the divisiveness. And the values of Americans are not polarized.”

“There is widespread agreement among Americans when it comes to core values. Which means our polarizing politicians are becoming less and less representative or our actual views.”

A review of those core values show that Americans love their symbolic patriotism such as our flag and our national anthem. “Love of country is especially strong in America” says Dr. Baker.

“Americans hold tenaciously to the principles of liberty and freedom,” says Dr. Baker. “A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 53 percent of Americans see the federal government as a threat to personal rights and freedoms. This is the first time since Pew started asking about this issue in 1995 that a majority felt this way.”

Little wonder when one recalls the assault on the Second Amendment that was launched by the Obama administration and one that failed significantly. Recent news of the Federal Communications Commission’s plans to “monitor” radio and television news judgments evoked a comparable response.

Freedom to participate in politics and elections evoked a response in which 98 percent of Americans agree with this definition of freedom and it stands in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s corruption of the Internal Revenue Service to deny Tea Party and patriot groups non-profit status routinely granted to other groups.

As one reads Dr. Baker’s book, one comes away with a renewed confidence in the judgment of Americans, confirming that their core values are those that have made America a beacon of freedom in the world.

And that’s the very good news!

© Alan Caruba, 2014

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of an American Bald Eagle taken at the Hoogle Zoo in UT taken by Therightclicks.

Saudi-led Gulf Squabble Spells Trouble for Obama?

The Obama White House and the world media are pre-occupied with Russian President Putin’s grab of the Ukrainian autonomous province of Crimea. There are undertones of “Back to the Future”- meaning a possible return to Cold War era geopolitics with Russia.

Despite that overriding ruckus there was a less well publicized series of events in the Persian Gulf region among members of the Gulf Cooperating Council (GCC). Does this spell trouble ahead for President Obama’s Middle East policies?

At the GCC meeting on March 5th in Riyadh, Qatar was effectively isolated by “sisterly” Sunni Arab states. The Emir of Qatar, a member of the GCC, has been prominent in supporting financial aid and assistance to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) affiliates in Egypt under Morsi, Hamas in Gaza and the Syrian Opposition Council, one of whose leaders is a dual American Syrian citizenLouay Safi.

Virtually on the heels of the squabble at the GCC gathering, Saudi King Abdullah announced decrees on Friday, March 7th. They listed the MB as a terrorist organization along with several AQ affiliates in Syria and Iraq, as well as Shia terrorist groups in North Yemen and in the oil rich Eastern Province. The latter are backed by both Iran’s Qod Force and Hezbollah. This should present problems and potential conflicts of interest for President Obama’s senior National Security advisor Robert Malley and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Both of these men espouse outreach to the MB, Iran and proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.

This train wreck about to happen has been in development since the July 3, 2013 ouster by Egyptian Gen. al-Sisi of President Morsi in Egypt. Morsi was a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood endeavoring to create a Sharia compliant constitution with him as Emir. Egypt’s interim government in December 2013 outlawed the MB. This week an Egyptian court went after Hamas, the Gaza affiliate of the MB banning activities in Egypt. Following, the ouster of Morsi, Saudi Arabia and several of members of the GCC provided upwards of $12 billion in financial assistance to the interim Egyptian interim government. The stage now appears set for Gen. Abdel Fateh al-Sisi to run as the country’s President, a harkening back to the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the possible return of military autocracy in Egypt.

The flashpoint for the GCC isolation of Qatar was the notorious aged Egyptian MB preacher Yousuf al Qaradawi who had been in exile in Qatar before temporarily returning to Egypt in February 2011. He issued Fatwas for the reconquest of Al Quds (Jerusalem) and preached anti-Semitic hatred to crowds in Tahrir Square. In a January 2009 broadcast from Qatar, al Qaradawisaid about Jews: “kill them, down to the very last one.” While in Doha, Qatar he steadfastly refused to participate in annual International Interfaith Conferences.

A news report by Radaw noted the isolation of Qatar by “sisterly” Sunni Arab states because of the mischief of al Qaradawi and sanctuary provided by the Emir:

The Arab states of the lower Gulf are engaged in the latest and potentially most serious of their periodic family squabbles, which this week provoked three of them to withdraw their ambassadors from tiny Qatar.

The Qatar government expressed regret and surprise at Wednesday’s decision by the “sisterly countries” of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, but said it did not plan to retaliate by pulling out its own envoys.

All four states, together with Kuwait and Oman, are members of the GCC.

The official reason for the diplomatic spat is Qatar’s alleged failure to live up to a recent commitment not to interfere in the internal affairs of fellow GCC states.

The three conservative states are particularly distressed that Qatar continued to provide a platform for Yousuf Al Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Egyptian cleric, to use his fiery sermons to attack Saudi Arabia and the UAE despite Riyadh’s threat to freeze relations unless he was silenced.

The scope of King Abdullah’s terrorist designations was reported by Al-Jazeera:

Saudi Arabia has listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization along with two al-Qaeda-linked groups fighting in Syria.

The decree against the Brotherhood, whose Egyptian branch supported the deposed Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, was reported on Saudi state television on Friday.

Egypt in December listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, prompting the arrest of members and associates and forcing the Islamist group further underground.

Saudi Arabia also listed Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Sham) (ISIS), which has been disowned al-Qaeda, as “terrorist organizations”.

It also listed Shia Huthi rebels fighting in northern Yemen and the little-known internal Shia group, Hezbollah in the Hijaz.

Early in February, 2014, Ayman al Zawahiri at Al Qaeda Central announced that the global Islamic terrorist group had no association with ISIS, instead providing support for the Al Nusrah front fighting against the Assad regime in Syria.  ISIS however has rampaged across the Anbar province in neighboring Iraq overtaking the Sunni town of Fallujah.

About the same time as the AQ ISIS declaration, King Abdullah had announced new counterterrorism policies that were directed against so-called reform movements in the Saudi Kingdom. The Washington Post  reported the new law “states that any act that ‘undermines’  the state or society, including calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia, can be tried as an act of terrorism.” This Saudi law appears  to be in violation of human rights taken for granted in the West, but clearly viewed as seditious in the autocratic and Sharia compliant Wahhabist Kingdom.

These latest Saudi initiatives could have significant implications for the Obama Administration and Secretary Kerry. Kerry is endeavoring to fashion an Israel- Palestinian final status agreement and resolution of the 37 month civil war in Syria.  We noted earlier the presence of Louay Safi as spokesperson for the Syrian Opposition Council at the recent Geneva II plenum talks. Safi was Research Director at the northern Virginia- based MB supported International Islamic Institute of Thought. Moreover, he was also Leadership Development Director at the MB front, the Islamic Society of North America, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2008  Federal Dallas  trial and convictions of leaders of the Holy Land Foundation. The Muslim charity group had been accused of funneling upwards of $35 million to MB affiliate Hamas. Safi was also invited by the US Army Chief of Staff to lecture troops on Islam at Fort Hood in early December 2009 following the massacre perpetrated by Maj. Nidal Hassan a month earlier. Clearly, Safi’s rise to prominence in the Syrian Opposition Council is indicative of the MB controlling presence.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and senior National Security Aides were present at the May 2012 meetings of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. They were engaged in outreach to MB officials from Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab states and facilitated assistance to ousted President Morsi. Obama Appointments of MB members, especially Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Policy, Arif Alikhan and Senior Advisory board member Mohamed Elibiary have been problematic. National Security Advisor Malley was a former Middle East foreign policy aide to President Clinton during the failed 2000 Camp David Israel-Palestinian negotiations between former Israeli PM Ehud Barak and the late Yassir Arafat. Malley had accused Israel of nixing the agreement, when it was evident that Arafat had purposely sabotaged it. Malley went on to become head of the Middle East and North African program of the International Crisis group and later advised then Senator Obama and was part of the President’s transition team. He holds views that may further complicate Administration Middle East policies.  Malley propounded speaking with terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the MB. Malley, was recently appointed to the National Security Council. He has the portfolio for Israel -Palestinian peace talks and the Iran nuclear P5+1 diplomatic initiative.

Now that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have designated the MB as a terrorist group, would the Obama Administration dare follow their lead? How Messrs. McDonough, Malley and Secretary of State Kerry will contend with a plethora of problems arising from efforts by the Egyptian government and now the Saudi led GCC targeting the MB is a ‘puzzlement’.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

FP&L – No “Choice” of Meters for 36,000 Floridians

By now many of you that refused the installation of FP&L’s smart meters have received a “Dear Customer” letter telling you that you have a choice of meters. The letter goes on to say that if you don’t take their smart meter that you will be charged $95 upfront and $13/month to retain your old meter. If you haven’t received such letter, you will shortly.

On January 7, 2014 the Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) approved this deal. Although, it is being contested by two separate citizen petitions (one of which I am leading), the rules state that FP&L can continue as planned with the stipulation that fees collected are “subject to refund”. That is, if the FPSC Order is overturned, they must return the fees charged to the customers.

Why the fees? Well you resistors are “cost causers”. It is a long-standing principle that is invoked at will when they want to get you to comply with the game plan. In 1987/1988 they invoked the same principle when they transferred the ownership of meter enclosures and associated cost burdens (maintenance/replacement) to you the customer. The order (PSC Order # 18893) stated that:

“Since self-contained meter enclosures are not a part of the utility function, but simply house the meter itself, their costs should be borne by the customer when the structure is initially wired for electric service or when it must be replaced due to obsolescence or wear. The burden of maintaining and repairing the enclosures’ must likewise rest with the customer.”

As we all know by now, a smart meter is not “simply a meter” but contains lots of additional components that are part of the utility function. It establishes a wireless Neighborhood Network and sends messages back and forth amongst neighbor meters, remotely disconnects services and monitors your usage. In the future they will turn on the second transmitter to establish your Home Area Network to connect with your Home Energy Controller or Smart Thermostat and will give your smart refrigerator the ability to text you. It collects more data than is needed to bill you for your current plan. But why fuss over details!

If you don’t enroll in their plan, they will slap a smart meter on your home. If you think you got that covered (i.e. you already caged/locked your meter or have restricted access to your meter) think again. You will be automatically enrolled and charged the fee.

The process to fight this will be long and painful. If you don’t want a smart meter you need to:

Retain your analog meter. Once they take it, you will never see it again. (Remember you will get an undefined “non-communicating” meter in the future.) You may want to send a certified letter to FP&L stating that you do not consent and that you are enrolling under duress.

File a formal compliant with the FPSC.  Here is the complaint page http://www.floridapsc.com/consumers/complaints/index2.aspx

Write/call your Florida State Senators/Representatives. They are in session right now. Make your voices heard. Senate – http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find, House: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/representatives.aspx

Contact the Energy committees that oversee the FPSC. House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee – http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Committees/committeesdetail.aspx?TermId=85&CommitteeId=2724 and Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities  http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/CU/

Contact Gov. Scott – http://www.flgov.com/contact-gov-scott/

For those who still believe smart meters save money, ask FP&L how much net operation and maintenance savings are in the current rates you pay.

What they said in the 2009 rate case:

2009 rate case schedule

What they reported in the 2012 rate case:

2012 rate case schedule

The lack of cost savings was confirmed by the Office of Public Counsel who said on October 12, 2012 “However, to OPC’s knowledge, no studies, analyses, or quantification of the benefits or cost savings from the implementation of smart meters exist at this time. OPC is still waiting on the promised cost savings benefits of smart meters to be realized and shared with the customers.” http://www.floridapsc.com/utilities/electricgas/smartmeter/09_20_2012/WorkshopComments/OPC.pdf

Think smart meters prevent outages? Check out Northeast Utilities initial comments in a recent Massachusetts Department of Utilities investigation – “Meters do not reduce the number of outages” (page 4) http://haltmasmartmeters.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/NSTAR_R12-76-Comments-7986-POSTED01172014_HIGHLIGHTED.pdf

And finally, how many of you run home from work or golf and check your FP&L energy dashboard each night? Apparently not many. The last annual report from FP&L showed that as of the end of 2012 with over 4 million meter installed, only about 15% accessed the dashboard about 2 times.

A Word of Encouragement Can Go A Long Way by Lawrence W. Reed

The Empire State as a whole (with wide swaths outside the Big Apple being notable exceptions) is a bastion of big, activist and ambitious government. The state is ranked dead last among the 50 for economic freedom as measured by the Mercatus Center. New York City is now run by a mayor who thinks that competition and choice between government schools is a bad thing, so he’s declaring war on the city’s better-performing charter schools. No question about it, New York needs a lot of work.

New York is a tough nut to crack, but some really good nutcrackers are hard at work there. And they have FEE connections too!

In mid-February at the request of Professor Clair Smith, I delivered two lectures on the campus of St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. Clair secured his B.A. in Economics at Grove City College in Pennsylvania (as did I). He later earned his Ph.D. in Economics, as well as a Master’s and a juris doctor degree, from George Mason University in Virginia. Prior to his move to Rochester, he taught at Pennsylvania State University and Bowling Green State University. As an undergraduate student, Clair attended his first FEE seminar in 1997 and was inspired to accept a summer internship with us shortly thereafter. Now at St. John Fisher, he is inspiring young minds with his own lectures on liberty and free markets and through lectures from a stream of visitors he brings to campus.

“I think I always had an intuitive appreciation for markets,” says Clair, “but the powerful speakers at the FEE seminars provided a systematic way of thinking about the market process. They offered forceful examples of the maladies that can result from misguided efforts to ‘fix’ market outcomes.”

We encouraged Clair at an early, formative moment in his life and it’s now paying handsome dividends.

A few days after Rochester, I spoke in Albany to more than 150 students at the New York State convention of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). They all knew what a challenge New York is but that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for taking it on. No matter whom I talked to at the convention that day, the attitude I witnessed was the same: “We’re not giving up, not by a long shot. In the battle for liberty, we’ve just begun to fight!” Those bright, articulate young people went back to their campuses around the state armed with material from FEE and with a passion to change the world—and that includes New York. I expect to find more of the same excitement when I speak at the Texas State Convention of YAL in April.

Of course, there are numberless good people and organizations all over New York just like Clair Smith and Young Americans for Liberty. Someday, New York will turn the corner. Minds will change and policy with it. The state will move in the only direction it possibly can—up the scale of economic freedom from its current rank in the cellar. When that happens, it will be because of the contributions of all who worked for the right ideas in a tough place.

At FEE, we specialize in encouragement. When our speakers visit schools and campuses, they do more than just impart wisdom and pass out literature. We cheer, hearten and embolden all friends of liberty. We let them know we support them and want to help them succeed. We praise them for their dedication. We assure them they are not alone and in return, we’re encouraged too! Not a day goes by that we’re not engaged—in multiple ways and places—in the simple but profoundly important act of encouragement.

How can anyone not like such job as this!

Thanks for all that you do for liberty and for FEE.

Sincerely,

Lawrence W. Reed
President, FEE

Third World Objectivism: A Young Indian Reflects on the Meaning of Rand on the anniversary of her death by Shanu Athiparambath

Ayn Rand died on this day [March 6th], 32 years ago. Today, young Indians are snapping up her books at a surprising rate.

It’s an apparent contradiction. Howard Roark, The Fountainhead’s main character, is a man with strong principles. But he’s also arrogant. Here in India, humility is considered the fundamental moral virtue. He might have been put away for a very long time had he lived here. In any event, he could not have reached many people through rational arguments, due to what Rand described as “the mystic muck of India.”

But, for many young Indian men and women, Howard Roark epitomizes individualism and strength of character. And much to the chagrin of their boyfriends, many women want their men to be more like Howard Roark. A college mate once told me, “Women do not know that it is not possible for a man to be Howard Roark. He can only pretend to be Howard Roark. Hell, he can’t even pretend to be Howard Roark.”

It’s strange. For nearly four decades after Indian independence, every aspect of the Indian economy was “planned” and “regulated” by the socialistic state. The economy has liberalized somewhat in the past two decades, but still remains one of the most controlled in the world.

Virtually every literate Indian has heard of Karl Marx. And so, the typical Indian’s beliefs are much closer to that of Karl Marx’s.

Outside the market niche she has found, Ayn Rand is virtually unheard of. But that appears to be changing. Ayn Rand outsells Karl Marx sixteenfold in India today, which suggests rapid growth. This is in all likelihood an underestimation: I first noticed her works in a rickety street stall in a small town. The copies were pirated.

No one seems to know why Ayn Rand is becoming so popular in India. India has a huge population, but even today, English-language fiction is read by a minority elite. It is true that Ayn Rand wrote popular fiction. Karl Marx’s prose is dense. But that still does not explain why Rand outsells even many well-known Indian writers and best-selling western writers in Indian markets. Even in the United States, where various strands of thought have found their own niche, Rand’s views are considered way outside the mainstream. It is a minor miracle that she could build a whole movement in a western capitalistic democracy. But why is she becoming increasingly popular in societies that bear no resemblance whatsoever to whatever ideal society she had in her mind?

I can only hypothesize. But part of the reason must be that the intelligent young men and women in traditional, conservative societies know that the dystopian world her fiction depicts is not too unlike the world in which they live. Indians have experienced the extremities of government tyranny firsthand. Libertarians often cite the government as the source of evil, but not all evils flow from the State to the masses. The inept, corrupt governments of the third world can be a reflection of the popular soul. In India, at least, the State can institutionalize the little people’s vices.

In The Fountainhead, Peter Keating’s mother dictates his life with the sweetest of smiles on her face, “Petey, I never think anything. It’s up to you. It’s always been up to you.” The villain in The Fountainhead is Ellsworth Toohey, a manipulative intellectual, and not a government bureaucrat or a politician. One character says Gail Wynand represents everything that’s wrong with the world, but Wynand is a newspaper publisher. People subscribed to The New York Banner because they preferred vulgarity over truth and beauty, and not because the politicians or bureaucrats forced them to.

Ayn Rand was one of those writers who saw politics for what it is—inside and out, macro to micro, down to the level of the individual.

It is probably futile to curse mediocrity, but in the third world, ineptitude and politicking reach epic proportions—and is present in nearly every aspect of our lives. As in Ayn Rand’s fiction, this is not always official, congressional politics. It is true that many rebellious Indian teens find Ayn Rand’s individualistic worldview appealing. But, I believe they also feel that the world around them reminds them of the poolroom that Gail Wynand once worked in. That is, the young men and women in India see nothing but dishonesty and corruption around them.

Even in the best hospitals in the largest Indian cities, the doctors diagnose patients without really speaking to them. When you lie on a hospital bed, you know you have written a blank check to doctors who have life-and-death power over you. On November 9, 1965, the lights of the New York City and the entire eastern seaboard went out, an admirer wrote to Ayn Rand, “There is a John Galt.” But in India today, even in the largest cities, the lights can go out at any moment.

So, appearances aside, it is hardly surprising then that Ayn Rand appeals to young men and women in collectivist societies. She told them the truth about the world in which they live.

ABOUT SHANU ATHIPARAMBATH

Shanu Athiparambath is a writer and editor living in New Delhi.

Um, Scarcity? by Sandy Ikeda

The new mayor of New York wants to make city streets safer. According to The New York Times:

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping set of proposals aimed at improving street safety in New York City, pledging considerable police resources and even precious political capital in Albany to a most ambitious goal: eliminating traffic deaths.

Not just lowering traffic deaths, mind you. Eliminating them.

I posed the following question to my students: If His Honor did manage to eliminate all traffic deaths in the city, how might that policy actually raise the total number of deaths? The answer lies in understanding a very basic lesson in economics: Scarcity matters.

What Is Scarcity?

Scarcity is what gives something economic value. Scarcity results when our wants exceed available, want-satisfying resources. The air we breathe outside is ordinarily not scarce, while the air we need to breathe underwater usually is. Consequently, to those who want air to breathe, the value of outside air is low while the value of underwater air is high.

Although we are often tempted to ignore scarcity, it’s impossible to escape its consequences. For example, there are not enough hours in a day to consume as much leisure as I want and also to earn as much income as I want. But the more I work the less time is left for leisure, and vice versa. Scarcity entails trading off some ends for other ends.

Now, if I’m spending my own private resources to pursue ends of my choosing—to buy a shirt for myself or a gift for someone else—scarcity is hard to ignore. But it’s much easier to overlook if I’m spending someone else’s valuable resources—when someone else is footing the bill. And because modern governments sustain themselves precisely by spending other people’s resources (acquired through taxation or inflation), public officials are far more likely to ignore scarcity and its consequences than a private person is. They may not be aware of the costs of a choice, but those costs always fall on someone, somewhere.

I argued recently that you can almost define economics as “the science that explains why passing a law won’t get it done” because the unintended consequences of a government intervention tend to frustrate what its advocates want to achieve. In that essay I emphasized how an intervention generates unintended consequences because society is so complex. But often the problem is simply that public officials ignore the existence of scarcity. If they spend more of the government budget on traffic control, that means spending less on preventing violent crime, and they may not like the results.

Political Rhetoric or Social Science Fiction?

So when I read about de Blasio’s plan, it caught my eye. The article goes on to say:

The 42-page plan is rooted in a Swedish street safety approach known as Vision Zero, which treats all traffic deaths as inherently preventable. Perhaps the most significant changes involve the New York Police Department, whose officers will increase precinct-level enforcement of speeding.

I’ve developed a soft spot for Sweden lately because it has taken major steps at the macroeconomic level toward a freer economy.

We here in the United States should learn from these steps. So I visited the website of Vision Zero and found much to like in their approach, which tries to take into account the imperfection of human behavior. They claim that safety in Sweden has improved, presumably as a result of Vision Zero.

The trouble begins when you look closely at the underlying philosophy.

The first is the idea that “no loss of life is acceptable” if it’s caused by traffic. But why stop there? Why should traffic deaths be less acceptable than deaths by poisoning or by drowning or from the flu or from a myriad of other causes? The same arguments they make for eliminating traffic deaths could be made for those. But Vision Zero doesn’t make them, perhaps because if they did it might direct scarce resources away from their pet project, or because at some level they realize that it’s too costly to eliminate all accidental deaths.

Second, Vision Zero places the bulk of the responsibility for safety not on the imperfect driver or pedestrian but on the less imperfect “professionals” in charge. Aside from the uncomfortable paternalistic overtones of that attitude, as I explained in the column I reference earlier, making driver “safer” can cause more accidents. In order to minimize accidents, the driver and pedestrian must bear the costs of their actions, otherwise they have an incentive to act recklessly.

At any rate, in each of these cases the VZ folks can’t possibly mean what they are saying because it utterly ignores scarcity. The spokesperson says that people should be able to demand (and presumably get) freedom, mobility, and safety all at once. Since what Vision Zero is purportedly aiming for is perfect safety—which is what is supposed to make the approach novel—then he must also mean perfect freedom and perfect mobility as well. In world of scarcity, that’s fantasy, or to be more precise, it’s social science fiction.

Surely, it’s only political rhetoric. At least I hope so. But there’s another problem with Vision Zero.

Ought Implies Can

If drivers and pedestrians who put their lives at risk still make mistakes, why should we assume that traffic professionals who don’t have as much to lose won’t also make mistakes? They can’t possibly anticipate every contingency, nor would we want them to if the cost is going to be sky high. Everyone makes choices that might contribute to an accident.  But why can’t an accident, even a terrible one, simply be an accident? Why does it have to be somebody’s fault, every time? I think this is wrong-headed.

I’m not saying that lowering traffic deaths isn’t a good thing. But making it a moral problem, by placing the main responsibility for saving lives on experts, is confused. Morality is related to economy, of course, but probably not in the way its proponents think.

As my colleague Steve Horwitz put it, “Ought implies can.” Economic concepts such as scarcity help us get a handle on what’s possible, the set of feasible choices, from among which we can choose. The “eliminate deaths” approach ignores the feasible and goes right to what we would like to see. Sure, bringing the number of traffic deaths to zero would be great, if it could be done at a reasonable cost. But I can say with assurance that the cost would not be reasonable.

That’s because “pledging considerable police resources” to eliminate traffic deaths necessarily means drawing police and other resources (for narrowing streets or installing devices that will penalize taxis for speeding) away from other areas, such as monitoring thefts or preventing violent crime and so on. In that way, Vision Zero could wind up taking away more life than it saves. The total effect would be an empirical question.

The mayor points out that last year there were 176 pedestrian deaths in the city. That works out to about 2.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is significantly higher than the national average of 1.58 deaths. Now, New York City has an above-average number of pedestrians per 100,000 persons, which might explain much of the difference, but it might be a good thing anyway to try to lower that number to somewhere closer to the national average. And that’s where people get uncomfortable with economists because we’ll often talk about the “optimal” number of deaths in such a case.

But when we say something is optimal, we’re not trying to morally justify those deaths. We’re only trying to make it clearer what the realm of the possible is—what we can do. Can we do better with existing resources? Almost certainly; our knowledge is never perfect and there’s always room for improvement. Can we increase government resources by increasing taxation and through inflation? Yes, we can!

That won’t solve the fundamental problem though. Even with a bigger budget, scarcity and the hard choices it entails won’t go away. The sooner real-world governments and their supporters realize it the better.

ABOUT SANDY IKEDA

Sandy Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism. He will be speaking at the FEE summer seminars “People Aren’t Pawns” and “Are Markets Just?

Putin’s Folly

Photos of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, often show him shirtless, riding a horse, shooting, catching large fish, and close to wild animals. It is the kind of public relations intended to emphasize his manliness and strength.

Putin has made it clear over the years that he wants to restore the size and influence of the former Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, in part from the four decades of isolation of the Cold War and in part because Communism doesn’t work no matter how large or small a nation may be.

Just ask the Venezuelans who want to overthrow their government or the Ukrainians who forced out their president, Viktor Yanukovych, after he tried to thwart a greater engagement with the European Union.

Putting Russian troops into the Republic of Crimea while claiming that they are there to protect the human rights of Ukrainians in the eastern sector will prove to be a major blunder. Call it Putin’s folly.

History is often shaped by the errors made by various leaders. The former head of the Soviet Union’s NKVD is long accustomed to using coercion and Communism depends on it to maintain its power. The move into Ukraine reflects the preference to threaten this and other former satellite nations, but we are now in different times. Putin is about to learn that.

President Obama’s lack of a coherent foreign policy and his desire to have better relations with Russia has been widely criticized, but so far as the Ukraine is concerned, he has acted wisely.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, the U.S. ambassador, Samantha Power, spelled out Putin’s errors of judgment for everyone to hear, accusing Russia of an act of aggression.

“Russia has every right to wish events had turned out differently,” she said of the events in Ukraine, but “It doesn’t have the right to express that using military force.” President Obama backed that up, warning of potential diplomatic and economic “isolation.”

In blunt terms, Powers said “So many of the assertions made this afternoon by the Russian Federation are without basis in reality.”

Powers enumerated the events, noting that Russian military forces had taken over Ukrainian border posts, taken over the ferry terminal in Kerch, and that its ships were moving in and around Sevastapol. In addition, Russia was blocking telephone services in some areas. “It is a fact that Russia has surrounded or taken over practically all Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea” in addition to having had its jets enter Ukrainian airspace.”

Powers, speaking for the U.S., said that “There is a way out. And that is through direct and immediate dialogue by Russia with the government of Ukraine, the immediate pull-back of Russia’s military forces, the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the urgent deployment of observers and human rights monitors, not through more threats and more distortions.”

Putin’s show of strength will backfire because neither the U.S., nor the European Union, or any other nation wants to see a revived Soviet Union in the form of an over-aggressive Russian Federation.

President Obama announced an aid package to bolster the Ukrainian government, including $1 billion in loan guarantees to offset any loss of energy subsidies from Russia. The U.S. is also planning to provide technical support for Ukraine’s financial institutions, training for election observers and assistance in anti-corruption efforts. One of the reasons Ukrainians drove out Yanukovych was the corruption he represented and his preference for Russian influence in the Ukraine.

Coming off the global attention generated by the Winter Olympics, Putin may have calculated that he had to back Yanukovych and, after he fled Kiev and the Ukraine, concluded that only a show of military power would restore respect for the Russian Federation. He was wrong. Nations get respect for not invading their neighbors and for participating in the global economy.

In many ways, in today’s world there are options to pressure Russia with regard to its need to sell its natural gas and oil assets, and conduct trade with other nations. Putin has underestimated these options.

At some point he will withdraw his military—whose uniforms do not show any identification of origin—and will declare that Russia will respect the outcome of the Ukrainian elections in May. He has no choice. The Cold War is over, but it never really ended as far as Putin is concerned.

While President Obama has received a torrent of criticism for his foreign affairs policies, much of it well earned, his restraint is the best way to address the Russian invasion and the U.S.  mobilization of resistance to it is the wisest course of action.

Nobody wants World War III and that includes Vladimir Putin.

© Alan Caruba, 2014

What Freedom of the Press?

In a February 10 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who occupies one of the Republican seats on the commission, broke the news that the Obama administration was planning to place inquisitors in the newsrooms of television and radio stations across the nation.

Titled the “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the FCC program proposed to send researchers into TV and radio newsrooms to interview reporters, editors, and station managers about how they decide which stories to cover… or not cover. As Pai described it, the stated purpose of the CIN was to “ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about ‘the process by which stories are selected,’ and how often stations cover ‘critical information needs,’ along with ‘perceived station bias’ and ‘perceived responsiveness to undeserved populations.’ ”

As a guideline for their research, the FCC planners selected eight major categories for their investigators to delve into:

  • Emergencies and risks – immediate and long term,
  • Health and welfare – local health information and group specific health information,
  • Education – the quality of local schools and choices available to parents,
  • Transportation – available alternatives, costs, and schedules,
  • Economic opportunities – job information, job training, and small business assistance,
  • The environment – air and water quality and access to recreation,
  • Civic information – the availability of civic institutions and opportunities to associate with others,
  • Political – information about candidates at all relevant levels of local governance, and relevant public policy initiatives affecting communities and neighborhoods.

In addition, the FCC identified two broad areas of critical information needs associated with each of these categories: 1) Those fundamental to individuals in everyday life, and 2) Those that affect larger groups and communities.

But this is all pretty boring stuff. If the FCC was interested in conducting a study on which topics and which stories were most likely to put TV viewers and radio listeners to sleep, it’s pretty clear they were really onto something. There have always been much more interesting stories to report.

Although everyone but the fascist thugs of the Obama administration and the brain-dead rank-and-file of the Democratic Party were immediately horrified at what the FCC proposed, for the first time in history conservatives and the lawyers of the American Civil Liberties Union threw their arms around each other. The thought of someone marching into the newsrooms of television and radio stations and demanding to know how they conducted their business was roundly denounced by conservatives and honest liberals alike.

Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public interest law firm, cautioned: “The federal government has no place attempting to control the media, using the unconstitutional actions of repressive regimes to squelch free speech.”

Without doubt, Sekulow had the Obama administration in mind when he cautioned us against “repressive regimes?”

Commentary magazine equated the proposed FCC study to the dangers of, say, a federal shield law. The principal danger of a shield law is that, in order to legislate protections for a specific group… i.e. the “press”… it is first necessary to define that group. Therefore, the government would be placed in the position of deciding who is a journalist and who is not. As Commentary suggests, “The government could easily play favorites and have yet another accreditation – not unlike an FCC license – to hold over the heads of the press.” Given the Obama administration’s unprecedented use of the IRS to thwart its political opponents, is there any doubt that a shield law in their hands would be a very dangerous thing?

Commentary concluded that it is such rules that the FCC’s CIN calls to mind. It opens the door to increased government scrutiny of the press, with an implicit threat to a broadcaster’s license. It does so under the guise of “public service,” “quality control,” “fairness,” and other terms that usually hint the government is up to no good. Left unchallenged, the CIN would support the premise that “news judgment is the FCC’s business.”

The FCC quickly issued a statement saying that Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler was in agreement that “survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required.” An FCC spokesman added that “any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America’s newsrooms is false.” 

However, what is most noticeable about all of the moral indignation directed at the FCC’s CIN program, whether from the left or from the right, is that it is all premised on the notion that we actually have a free press in the United States when, in fact, we do not. Few conservatives, the most “under-served population” of all, would deny that because of many decades of leftish propagandizing by the mainstream media, any opportunity to get inside the newsrooms at the major networks to expose them for the charlatans they are would be far too tempting to ignore.

For example, in 2004, CBS newsman Dan Rather created a national stir when he charged that George W. Bush had been AWOL during a part of his service in the Texas Air National Guard. Unfortunately for Rather, the documents used to support his charge turned out to be forgeries. The documents, which Rather claimed were memos from one of Bush’s senior officers, contained superscript characters which

were not available on typewriters at the time. In truth, the documents that Rather hoped would ruin Bush’s reelection chances were created on a modern computer using Microsoft Word software, and artificially aged to make them appear authentic.

Nevertheless, the networks and major print media devoted hundreds of hours of airtime and countless lines of newsprint to the bogus story. It would have been interesting to learn how the networks decided to spend that much time and effort on the phony Bush AWOL story.

Conversely, just three years later, when it became evident that Sen. Barack Obama would be a viable Democratic candidate for the presidency, legal scholars complained that, because Obama failed to meet the basic requirements to be a “natural born Citizen,” as required by Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, he would be ineligible to serve. And although there was ample evidence to support the charge, the mainstream media all but ignored the story.

And when the Maricopa County, Arizona, Cold Case Posse, under the direction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, provided irrefutable proof that the long form birth certificate uploaded to the White House website on April 27, 2011, was a poorly crafted forgery, that his draft registration card was a forged document, and that his Social Security number was stolen and would not pass a simple Social Security Administration E-verify test, the left-leaning newsmen of ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and NBC looked the other way. They simply ignored the story.

It would be interesting to have editors, producers, and reporters at our major networks explain why a few days absence by George W. Bush from his Air National Guard duty station should be a major national news story, while the constitutional ineligibility and the forged documentation of the country’s first black president deserved nothing more than to be swept under the rug.

These are not isolated incidents; they happen every day of the week, on every conceivable kind of issue, foreign and domestic. The only constant is the fact that the reporting is almost always slanted in favor of liberal/socialist orthodoxy and against traditional conservative views.

Given that so much of the Obama administration invites favorable comparison to Hitler’s Third Reich, it was only to be expected that the FCC’s CIN study would quickly attract comparisons. Marilyn Assenheim, writing for the Patriot Update, suggests that, “What (Obama) is establishing is a redo of historical absolutism. The German National Socialist government could not have aspired to better.”

Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, reminds us that “Arbitrary power is ugly and vicious, regardless of what pious rhetoric goes with it. Freedom is not free. You have to fight for it or lose it.” “But,” he asks, “is our generation up to fighting for it?”

Humorist Frank J. Fleming has said: “I think Obama is learning. By the end of his presidency he’ll have gone from less than useless to achieving parity with uselessness… In America, we love rooting for the underdogs, so maybe a gigantic decline in our nation is just what we need to believe in ourselves again.”

Perhaps a close brush with fascist dictatorship will be enough to wake us all up to the realities of the terrible dangers that Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi represent.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured photo is of Press Freedom Monument, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines by Mark Gio Amoguis. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The use of this image does not imply in anyway endorsement of the author or contents of this column.

RELATED COLUMN: Liberal Blogger & Journalist Shows How Most News Is Controlled For Political Purposes

The Age of the American Withdrawal from Europe

There has been much speculation over recent years about what ‘American withdrawal’ from the world would mean.  From North Africa to the Far East there have been warning signs.  But perhaps only now is it becoming clear what a withdrawal of US power in the world will really result in.  And how unsurprising it is that this would be noticed in Europe first.

Because in the last couple of days, as the US has begun to send extra aircraft in to NATO allied states to reassure them of continued American help, the question of US withdrawal from Europe is once again in people’s sight.

In March last year the last US tanks left Europe.  In the period since the start of Obama’s Presidency 10,000 personnel, comprising two entire tank divisions, came out of Europe.  This year was the first for 69 years in which there were no American tanks in Europe.

‘Good’ say some of those who are opposed to the projection of American power in the world.  But there are consequences to such actions and a hubris that comes with believing a protector is an enemy or confusing a force of liberation with one of domination.  Yet Europe’s reaction to American troops had always been mixed.  And now that that force has been scaled down significantly we are being reminded that there are few actions that do not have a reaction.

Vladimir Putin did not violate Ukrainian sovereignty because of the removal of American tanks but he did do so because he could – rightly – foresee few if any challengers to his ambition.  Perhaps there will remain no challenge to it.  But if there is to be a challenge, indeed if there is to be any restraint on Putin’s ambition the only country able to issue such restraint would be the US.

We have heard many watchwords over the Obama Presidency.  We have had the ‘reset’ with Russia.  And of course we have had the ‘pivot’ to Asia.  All noble policies, no doubt, but also policies which have been revealed to be misguided even where well meant.  A pivot to Eastern Europe is what is now needed.  And if anybody there is left wondering what the effects would be of greater American presence, they should be persuaded to think again first of what wholesale US withdrawal from their corner of the world would most likely precipitate.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is courtesy of 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command from Grafenwoehr, Germany. his file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Use of this image done not in any way infer endorsement of this column.

IRS: Two Fifths Doesn’t Solve Anything

Two very important things happened at yesterday’s short-lived House Oversight hearing investigating the IRS targeting of nonprofits.

First, IRS former senior manager Lois Lerner again invoked the 5th Amendment. In January, her attorney said she would testify if given immunity. That same attorney now states, Lerner cannot testify because she fears for her life.

Second, graphics were apparently displayed that showed previously disclosed communications of Ms. Lerner. However, when viewed in the context of testifying under oath, well, as Fox News Greta Van Susteren said in her Facebook Post, “THESE EMAILS ARE HORRIBLE! Lois Lerner is in a heap of trouble — and these emails (below) are really bad.”

Lois graphic

Just who is “everyone” and “they” and is this why Ms. Lerner is so afraid to tell the American people the truth?

More importantly, why isn’t the news media falling all over themselves to get answers to these and other important questions regarding this scandal – just as they did with the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals?

And why isn’t every member of Congress demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor just like they have done in the past?

And the most important question of all – who is standing up for and defending the taxpayers of America – the ultimate and perennial victims of the IRS?

The answer is simple – nobody.

Taxpayers, the very people who paid for Ms. Lerner’s salary, pension and most likely, her attorney; who pay the salaries, benefit plans and perks of the IRS employees who carried out this political weaponization; who underwrite the lavish lifestyles of Members of Congress appear to not be even an afterthought in this escalating political cat and mouse.

This can change. If Congress enacts the FairTax® Plan, the American people will have a tax code that is fair, simple and truly represents them – not a plan that is used by a Congress bent on partisan manipulation and retribution.

More importantly, with the FairTax, the IRS is gone – no more scapegoated federal employees to do partisan political bidding and no more cowering by taxpayers from enforcers who act like brown shirt thugs instead of public servants once sworn to uphold the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

No citizen – most certainly no American citizen – should ever feel the need to cower before their government or any of its representatives.  As John Adams said in 1776, “Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.”

Perhaps that is why a majority of Americans want the FairTax passed, the IRS defunded and disbanded and the 16thAmendment repealed.

The Case for ALAC in Florida: Heidi McClain – American Child Lost to Shariah

Heidi Machael al-Omary 1997

Heidi McClain al-Olmary at 5-years old.

One of horrors that have confronted American women who naively marry Saudi men is the possible risk of having children of those marriages kidnapped following divorce in accordance with Sharia and removed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There are estimated to be in excess of 1,000 such cases. A few have been featured in investigative reports on CBS 60 Minutes and Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. Frequently American wives of Saudis and other fundamentalist Muslims are physically abused and maltreated under Sharia.  We saw that in our interview with American feminist Phyllis Chesler about her experience following a marriage to an Afghan Muslim husband educated in the West upon her arrival at the family compound in Kabul. See The New English Review Flight from an Afghan Seraglio and An American Feminist Fighting Sharia: an Interview with Dr. Phyllis Chesler (January 2014).

In the current debates in state legislatures over consideration of American Laws for American Courts, legislators often ask, “is this legislation really needed to address foreign laws and doctrines” that intrude on the fundamental Constitution Rights of American citizens? Often cited are cases that have recognized Sharia doctrine in state appellate and lower courts. Illustrative of the compelling need for such protections are the numerous incidents involving spousal abuse of American wives and kidnapping of children in divorce cases, where under Shariah, the Muslim ex-husbands can exercise rights to remove their children even though doing so may violate US criminal laws.

Heidi McClain age progression Pictures 1997 to 2010

Heidi age progression picture at 18 years old

Last September during a presentation I gave before an ACT! For America chapter in Jonesboro, Arkansas, I encountered Professor Margaret McClain, then on the faculty of Arkansas State University (ASU). She has since retired after 30 years at ASU. In the late 1980’s Professor McClain was a faculty member teaching English as a Second Language in a special program for Saudi Students entering ASU. She had been recently widowed and met a Saudi graduate student, a Computer Science major at a university event. Thus began what eventuated in an exploitative marriage that produced a child, Heidi. McClain suffered frequent physical and psychological abuse during the marriage at the hands of her Saudi husband for her refusal to  be compliant. That led to a divorce and custody of Heidi granted to Professor McClain under Arkansas law. Upon Professor McClain’s subsequent marriage to an American following the divorce, her Saudi ex-husband conspired with a more compliant American convert to Islam to kidnap and remove Heidi, then five years old, to Saudi Arabia.

Professor McClain was one of several American wives with Saudi ex-husbands who abducted and removed children to Saudi Arabia in violation of state, federal and international parental kidnapping laws. These women testified about these cases before Congress during the 107th Session. The US State Department  had set up the Office of Child Issues  to deal with complaints and conduct investigations of such abuses. Media stories sparked by 9/11 led  the US. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee, then chaired by former Indiana Republican Dan Burton, to hold five days of hearings from June to December 2002. The Committee published a final report, Investigation into Abductions of American Children to Saudi Arabia. In one instance, the Committee heard from a 16 year old daughter of a Florida woman, Dria Hernandez-Davis, about her experience of living under difficult circumstances and her remarkable escape and rescue. A rescue privately financed with $200,000 in bribes provided by her grandmother who refinanced her home to obtain the necessary funds. The US State Department Office of Child Issues and the US Embassy legation in Riyadh appeared to have offered little assistance to rescue these children.

Professor McClain consented to tell her story about the kidnapping of her American daughter, Heidi, by her Saudi ex-husband to alert other Americans as to the dangers of Shariah law sanctioning spousal abuse and criminal violations of US laws against kidnapping. Heidi is now 21 years old. Professor McClain last visited her six years ago under intense restrictions in Saudi Arabia. Only her older daughter Roxanne by a prior marriage has had periodic contact with Heidi in Saudi Arabia.

Professor McClain will be a featured speaker at the Leadership Prayer Breakfast of the Christian Family Coalition of Florida (CFC) in Tallahassee on March 13, 2014.

Watch this Vimeo video of  our interview with Professor McClain.

Heidi McClain -American Child Lost to Shariah from Jerry Gordon on Vimeo.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

FL Common Core: A Schneider Debriefing on Weingarten

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, I participated in a much-publicized Common Core (CCSS) panel with four other individuals as part of the Network for Public Education (NPE) first annual conference in Austin, Texas. (A 40-minute video of the CCSS panel can be found here; a five-minute video excerpt of my seven-minute opener can be found here.)

[youtube]http://youtu.be/4abuqu3tmeQ[/youtube]

One of the panel members was American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. Weingarten was the only panel member in favor of CCSS. The rest of us, including moderator Anthony Cody, were against CCSS.

In this post, I would like to reflect upon my involvement on the CCSS panel, especially in connection with Weingarten. Much of what I have written is not available on video because the events and/or reflections occurred outside of the CCSS panel itself. Some of what I have written involves responding to Weingarten’s words here since there was neither time nor opportunity to do so during the panel session.

My Position on Weingarten

First, a clear word on where I stand in regard to Weingarten. I think she chooses to be involved with the likes of Bill Gates and Eli Broad because she likes them. I believe that the money they bring is a reason, but a lesser reason, for her sustained relationship with them. These two men bring with them power, and connections, and influence. Weingarten likes to be “at the table,”– their table. And their table is one that promotes the privatization of public education.

I believe that Weingarten’s continued involvement with Gates and Broad and their extensive network of moneyed, powerful cronies is destroying the union. The destruction shows itself in every pro-privatizing decision that Weingarten makes– and such decisions appear to be countless. It seems that every time I dig deeper in researching a Weingarten decision, privatization is the winner.

I believe that Weingarten is at least partly motivated to continue her Gates/Broad relationships because she always has an eye to the “where next” of her own career. She became a teacher temporarily in order to become a teachers union president; she was willing to jump into Hillary Clinton’s open senate seat in 2008 after having just been elected AFT president, and she continues to seek the next avenue in her career rise. The result is that Weingarten is willing to sacrifice the health and security of the union for her own career aspirations.

It is always my hope that Weingarten will forsake her allegiance to her corporate reform connections and focus on the well being of the union. However, with each new decision she makes, what I must face is the reality that Weingarten must be pushed into a political corner in order to eke out a couple of drops of concession that are for teachers (and, by extension, for the union) and against her beloved corporate reform connections. This reluctance showed itself in the CCSS panel regarding discontinuing Gates money for the AFT Innovation Fund (more to come on this) and it show itself in Weingarten’s dealings with New Jersey in the week prior to the NPE conference. (See this link for Weingarten’s letter to NJ Governor Chris Christie accompanied by my “deeper dig.”)

I have heard the excuse that being AFT president is a “difficult” job, insinuating that Weingarten should be excused for her reckless and repeated union-damaging decisions. I do not excuse her. She sought the job of teachers union president; based upon AFT’s 2012 990, she makes almost eight times my salary (W-2 and/or 1099 MISC have her compensation at $454,416), and she was elected to serve public school teachers.

If elected to serve us, then let her be accountable to us.

Schneider Has a Weingarten Vendetta (??)

I have actually had the term vendetta used to describe my interactions with Weingarten. First of all, a vendetta involves seeking revenge for a single wrong, perceived or actual. I am not seeking revenge. What I am doing is exposing Weingarten’s continued pro-privatizing dealings as I learn of them in the course of my research.

Yes, I am angry at Weingarten’s wrecking of my union and my profession. However, I am not cruel in my dealings with her.

Pointed, yes; cruel, no.

It’s called accountability. Perhaps she will begin to think about how her corporate-reform-friendly bent will come back to haunt her in my posts and elsewhere. (The education blogger network has become a force in its own right, and the press should provide a healthy pressure on those whose decisions impact the masses.)

Allow me to present some behind-the-scenes dealings to underscore my balanced motivations in interacting with Randi Weingarten.

When  I agreed to participate on NPE’s CCSS panel, there was no mention of Weingarten as a panelist. So, I did not agree in an effort to have a “showdown” with Randi Weingarten. Anthony Cody invited me to participate because of my extensive writing on CCSS.

On December 30, 2013, I received an email from Cody telling me that Weingarten had accepted an invitation to appear as part of the NPE CCSS panel and that she did not yet know I also invited.

I phoned Cody to be sure that my appearance would be no surprise to Weingarten. I wanted her to experience no daytime-television-sensationalized shock at my being there. Cody assured me he had no such intention and that Weingarten would know that I was a panelist long before the event.

People with vendettas do not guard their opponents against shock.

On February 4, 2014, Cody asked my thoughts on the format for the CCSS panel. I asked him if Weingarten would be the only pro-CCSS panelist. He said yes; so, I proposed that she begin a structured seven-minute presentation time and be allowed three additional minutes at the end.

People with vendettas do not offer generous concessions.

One of my fellow bloggers told me that she assumed Weingarten demanded the extra time. Weingarten did not. I suggested we incorporate it since she was alone in her position; the remaining panel members agreed.

But there is another piece to this story. There was some email discussion over a conversational format for the panel. I did not believe this would work well with five people, and I noted as much. “Conversational hijacking” was too much of a possibility, and some panelists might be completely omitted from the discussion. However, my principal concern was for my own self control. I phoned Cody and told him as much: In an open format, I was much more likely to rip into Weingarten, and I did not want this panel to degenerate into the dregs of an ugly encounter. I asked Cody to “save me from myself” (my exact words). He assured me that he felt more comfortable with the structure originally proposed and to which Weingarten had initially agreed. (She later wanted the more open format.)

People with vendettas do not ask others to help them maintain control against potentially unruly, “vendetta-related” upset.

Prior to the NPE conference, I had not met Weingarten. I wanted to do so in a low-key manner. So, after serving a chauffeur on Saturday night (the first conference night and the night before the CCSS panel), I introduced myself to Weingarten, who was at the Mariott at a reception for NM Governor Howie Morales. The reception was ending– it was 10 p.m.– and I walked up to her, said my name, explained that I wanted to introduce myself before tomorrow, then excused myself and left. No fanfare. No showing off in front of a group of friends. Just a moment of ice breaking in an effort to make tomorrow’s introduction a smoother moment.

People with vendettas do not “break the ice” via low-key introductions.

So, yes, my intention was to confront Weingarten’ pro-CCSS position but to do so in a professional and controlled manner.

(An aside: Before I published my open exchange with Weingarten in November 2013, I not only informed her that I was writing an open letter to her; I sent the letter to her and gave her a full week to respond if she chose to prior to my posting the letter. Then I sent the finished post to her prior to publishing, including her response, and told her the exact time and locations of the posting. And let us not forget my December 2013 defense of AFT against the Center for Union Facts. No vendetta.)

Schneider Was Too Controlled (??)

Allow me to address the pendulum as it swings to the other side, namely, that I was too controlled. Some audience members expected me to rip into Weingarten. First of all, my intention was to destroy her logic for supporting CCSS– not her. I believe that this was accomplished not only by me but also by the other three anti-CCSS panel members.

There were some addiitonal Weingarten statements on which I would have liked to comment in real time. Nevertheless, time did not allow for all panelists to say all that they wanted during the panel. We had a schedule to keep.

That Sunday afternoon, I was able to elaborate on my position regarding the influence of philanthropy dependence  (the money as well as the power and connections) as such concerns Weingarten and others receiving philanthropic “assistance” to a packed room as part of the philanthropy panel discussion. Plus, I am writing my candid “debriefing” as part of this post.

Should Randi Weingarten and I ever engage in a one-to-one discussion of AFT involvements with those known to actively promote the corporate reform agenda, my discussion will be much more direct– never cruel– and likely without much raising of my voice– but like the skilled and precise slicing of a surgeon’s scalpel.

The Weingarten-BAT Incident

In this post, I wish to respond to Weingarten’s words during the CCSS panel. First, allow me to sidestep to her auditorium entrance.

Her privatizer-friendly positions make Weingarten a polarizing figure. And she is very much the politician, seeking to be regarded as a member of whatever group whose opinions she is trying to sway.

(In planning for the NPE conference, fellow blogger Jon Pelto created a group for conference panelists. A number of bloggers were on this list and were trying to arrange a bloggers meeting. At one point Weingarten entered the conversation and asked, “So am I a blogger? Or just a participant?” I wanted a clear boundary. I responded, “Randi, you are a participant.”)

On the morning of the NPE CCSS panel, Weingarten wore a BAT (Bad Ass Teachers) t-shirt.

Apparently Weingarten passed the BAT table and asked for a t-shirt. A BAT took her photo and created a meme. The entire event disturbed blogger Kris Nielsen, who responded on March 3 with this post. The next day, March 4, blogger Denisha Jones answered Nielsen. I particularly like what Jones notes here:

…Taking a picture of Randi Weingarten in a BAT t-shirt did not make BAT’s suddenly reverse their stance on CCSS. And let’s be clear, Randi Weingarten put on the BATs t-shirt. BAT’s did not put on a Randi Weingarten t-shirt and allow themselves to be photographed. [Emphasis added.]

The BATs did not endorse Weingarten. One simply gave her a t-shirt.

I am careful about my associations. My education reform writings have made me popular with a variety of groups, some of which I would not otherwise choose to ally. Anyone may choose to reblog my work. However, I am careful where I choose to become actively involved, be it webpage, or magazine, or blog, or speaking engagement.

And I never don a logo in order to mimic belonging.

Weingarten’s Opener (And My Written Commentary)

In her opening remarks, Weingarten equates “national standards” with CCSS.  She admits that she “believes in national standards.” However, the push for CCSS is that they are not “national”– they are “state-led.”

If the public were fine with “national” CCSS, there would be no push to “rebrand” in an effort to trick the public into believing the standards are unique to individual states.

In my opener, I state that “national standards” does not equal CCSS, and that “national standards” must be voluntary.

In her opener, Weingarten also acknowledges that AFT “was approached” to “review” CCSS.

Not “write.” Not “develop.” Only “review.”

Not to mention the passive voice, “was approached.” Top-down.

She adds, “There was a bunch of give and take, and they changed the standards in a lot of different ways.”

Note the top-down “they.” “They” have the power. “They” have the final word. And in the end, “they” decided to make CCSS rigid.

Weingarten admits that she believes CCSS is “inappropriate for K thru 2″ and that she knows this “because people have used them how inappropriate they are.”

No mention of the need to pilot before implementing. No mention of the damage to student, teachers and schools for forcing implementation of untested CCSS.

How about grades 3 thru 12?

Weingarten jumps to the “real problem is the testing, which comes from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).”

The real problem is that all of Race to the Top (RTTT) attempts to be a “standardized NCLB”– rigid standards so that curriculum and test makers can pattern their wares after the CCSS template. Testing is the offshoot of the CCSS hub.

Weingarten states that the “problem” is that “testing has conflated with everything else that happens in school.” She does not admit her contribution to the destruction brought about by testing dependence, not the least of which is her taking money from Gates for VAM and not declaring VAM problematic until the month following the expiration of the Gates grant. Neither does Weingarten acknowledge her contribution in tying Newark teachers into VAM (see Newark link above).

Weingarten maintains that it is the testing emphasis that makes “people feel like they have no voice whatsoever.”

It is not the testing alone. It is the entire spectrum of reforms intentionally and strategically pushed down the collective school and community throats by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the National Governors Association (NGA).

Weingarten focused her argument on “finding a way to break through on the fixation on testing and the fixation on test scores.”

The way to destroy the CCSS tests is to destroy CCSS. In my opener, I offered the advice for teachers to form committees and to start shuffling CCSS around. Doing so sabotages CCSS as a template for testing.

The through answer is to obliterate CCSS. No CCSS, no CCSS tests.

AFT and Gates Money

During Weingarten’s second time speaking (recorded at end of video), Weingarten attempted to defend AFT’s accepting Gates money by noting that it was one percent of the total AFT budget. (According to the AFT 2012 990, AFT spent $190 million from July 2011 to June 2012. About.com has AFT’s annual budget at “over $170 million.”) She offered the audience the concession that at the July convention,she would ask members to vote on a five-cent dues increase in order to continue the AFT Innovation Fund. She asked the audience if that would be okay. The audience applauded.

Weingarten implied that “so little” Gates money does not matter. However, it apparently does since not accepting “the next round” for the AFT Innovation Fund means a dues increase. The current Gates grant for the Innovation Fund and CCSS ($4.4 million) expires in May 2015.

Note: There was no mention of returning any Gates money. There was also no agreement to not accept Gates money in the future– just not for the Innovation Fund.

The Gates money matters to those who take it. However, the connection to Gates and the power that such connection brings matters to those benefiting from his circle of power more than does his money.

A five-cent annual annual dues increase for all 1.5 million AFT members yields $75,000 in additional revenue.

A two-dollar annual dues increase for all 1.5 million AFT members would yield an additional $3 million in AFT revenue.

I would like to challenge Weingarten to offer AFT members the total amount that AFT dues must rise in order for her to say no to all corporate-reform-associated philanthropic money given to AFT.

I would also like to challenge her to stop making contributions out of AFT money to those who openly advocate the corporate reform, corporation-benefiting, test-driven, teaching-profession-undermining agenda.

In Closing

At the close of the NPE CCSS panel, Weingarten spoke last. She reiterated that she likes CCSS and added that her reason was “personal” and connected to her time “as a teacher.”

Two points:

First, as the president of a national teachers union, the “bottom line” for continued support of CCSS cannot be “personal.” Weingarten is the leader of 1.5 million union members. Support for any program must put union membership ahead of personal preference.

Second, Weingarten concluded her time “as a teacher” in 1997. Thus, she has been away from the classroom for seventeen years. In a conversation over dinner, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis observed to me, “I have been away from the classroom for only three years, and I am out of touch with what is happening there now.”

I returned to the public school classroom in 2007 after teaching at the university level. My 2007 return is worlds away from what I know as a classroom teacher in 2014.

For me, CCSS is indeed “personal,” for it is very much associated with my daily classroom experience. But may I always offer a more detailed, factual, research-based reasoning for railing against corporate reform and its ardent supporters than to simply note, “It’s personal.”

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