Saturday, July 2, 2011

In Praise of Social Security and Welfare

Story Number One:
An eight year old girl spends every day of her life subject to seizures. Sometimes, she would experience a dozen a day, making any kind of normal childhood impossible. She cannot go to school, or play dates, or sleep overs. The doctors have no answers, though they try every drug they know to relieve the symptoms. The approved treatments are useless. The parents are getting desperate.

They stumble on a report that says stem cell treatments may provide a permanent solution to the seizures. However, the treatments are not available in the U.S., and the insurance company will not pay for a trip to Germany. The total bill for the first round of treatments is expected to be around $40,000, but it may as well be $40 million as the parents are strapped and already deeply in debt. What to do?

There are no government agencies to turn to. No programs. No institutions. No charities. The family is all alone with their plight, it seems.

Not entirely. The parents put out a call for assistance. They organize events for family and friends, and friends of friends, to attend and help pitch in toward the little girl's treatments. Through extended connections with hundreds of people, some of whom only have a passing connection with the family, donations start coming in. Event upon event the bank account grows until the total amount needed is assembled.

The little girl goes to Germany, receives treatment for two weeks, and comes back to the U.S. No more seizures. She begins to make developmental progress. She has a chance at a real life.

Story Number Two:
An elderly woman is living alone a dozen miles from the nearest town. She has been blessed with a lifetime of good health, but she is beginning to feel the frailty of her years. One evening, during a particularly bad snowstorm, she has the overwhelming feeling of being trapped and experiences her first panic attack. Since all of her grown sons are out of town, she calls the one who is driving a truck somewhere in Midwest and asks for help. The son calls a neighbor who then runs a snowplow through the old woman's driveway to help ease her mind. When a fuse blows that night, another neighbor stops by to change it. A third neighbor stops in with some cooked food. The woman's mind is eased, her house is lit, and her food needs are met.

The Web of Connections:
In both stories, it was the rich web of social connections that identified the need, assembled the resources, and solved the problem. One was a sustained event that took months to complete, the other was an instant problem that needed prompt attention. Human beings, one at a time, some with only a minor relationship with the victims, stepped up to fill the gaps until the needs were met. No institutions or government programs were contacted, applied to, or enlisted to assist. This was man helping man.

I tell these stories partly because we forget that real social security comes from our social network. We can, and often we do, watch out for one another. That natural compassion that we all (except perhaps sociopaths) feel for each other is our surest, most effective, and most dependable form of security. Government programs can be cut, modified, re-defined, understaffed, defunded and otherwise made unreliable, but the human social network is always there. Indeed, the social network doesn't take a day off. Nor does it have application fees or waiting periods. There are no queues, nor are there waiting lists. The network does not rely on one politician, or one bureaucrat. The network is a sticky web of intersecting concern and compassion by an unknown and unknowable number of people.

The network of social security and welfare has one vulnerability, however. It is susceptible to apathy, the feeling that it's not my problem...that's what we have (name your favorite institution) for. The more powerful the institution (the Church, United Way, the Federal Government) the more apathetic the network. An apathetic network of friends and family is like having no friends or family.

The irony of a compassionate people setting up institutions, especially government institutions, is that it tends to remove the need for the individual to act on behalf of a person in need. Let the government do it, we think. That's what we pay taxes for. But then little girls aren't sent to Germany for needed treatment, and old women don't get their driveways plowed out, their fuse changed, and a hot meal delivered to them late at night.

Privately funded organizations, like the United Way, at least have private commitment to their missions to help people. While an individual contributor may feel that 'they gave at the office' when their assistance is most needed, it takes a conscious effort to agree to support them and their mission. In a pinch, contributors may be tapped to give some more, or to volunteer, or assist in some other way. Government run institutions do not have public participation. They are funded by forced extractions that are often resented by the taxpayers, and they exercise their power rigidly and bureaucratically. They form a wide grid that, while very sturdy, has major gaps between the girders. What's more is that the typical taxpayer comes to believe the government institution has plenty of resources at its' disposal, no matter how meager that funding really is or how dire the needs really are. The people, though concerned about their fellow man, become apathetic about becoming personally involved. The web is no longer sticky. It becomes slick with apathy and needy people start falling through.

Ironically, if there were fewer institutions, and in particular government programs, to deal with human problems, we would naturally have to watch out for each other more. Each and every one of us would become another sticky strand of the network that would catch people as they fell. True caring. True compassion, and determination to use it.

That is what I call real social security.

I wonder how my neighbor is doing...I haven't seen him for a while.

(p.s.--both stories are 100% true)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Faith Based Economics

A person makes an product he doesn't need but that he is willing to trade for things he does need. There is a faith, a deep assumption, that there will be other people making products for which he can swap. He offers his products and other people offer theirs. Trades are made, and everyone is richer. Repeat, and the economy rolls on.

I have just turned Keynesian Economics on its' head.

How so? Because I have not relied on the manipulation of the money supply to make trades possible. I have simply concentrated on a simple truth: there must be production before there can be trade. Keynesian theory holds that there cannot be production without demand, and thus the need for a surplus money supply to always be hunting for more goods to buy, which then 'stimulates' production. Get it? Keynesianism says production comes second, and the clammoring for goods comes first.

But that is not how it really works. People may say they need or want a good, but, until they actually lay their money down to buy it, producers can only guess. Consumers rarely contract for their purchases in advance of production. The farmer does not take orders and prepayment first, then plant the crops to be delivered in the future. No, the farmer takes a chance...he has faith...that he will be able to exchange his crops for money or goods someone else produced that he wants more. The demand is in the production; the demand is the supply.

But the Federal Reserve, and the Keynesian academics, have said that they must manipulate the money via low interest rates to spark consuming in order to encourage production. One can make the observation that goods not sold or exchanged will clog the market place and cause the producers of those goods to stop producing, thereby causing the entire chain of production to slow down or cease altogether. People will lose their jobs. Companies will go bankrupt. So the Federal Reserve must provide 'liquidity' via inflating of the money supply to keep the goods flowing through the marketplace.

But think about their theory traders are coming to the market with nothing to trade. They have no goods or services to offer, just pieces of paper with which they garner some of the marketplace's goodies. They have a sweet deal. No need to sweat to produce, say, a chair to trade for a wheelbarrow. Instead, they can cheaply print up (or borrow) some paper with numbers, and exchange that paper for the wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow makers is impressed with the quick sales. The market seems to be booming, but in fact it is short one chair. The traders who accepted the new money have less to choose from, as there is no chair in sight. As the wheelbarrow maker tries to spend his new money on the limited numbers of goods available, he will bid up prices and end up with less than he expected from his original trade.

The faith that underlies the entire market is an expectation of the availability of tradable goods. To produce a wheelbarrow with no hope of trading for a chair means there is no reason to produce the wheelbarrow in the first place. Production is an act of faith in other's production. If that faith is disrupted, then the amount of produced goods dwindles and the economy declines.

Ahem...I just Googled "supply side economics" on a hunch that I was not the first to think of the market economy as a place where people brought their goods to trade. Sure enough, the description for 'supply side economics' in Wikipedia is almost exactly what I have written above. I was pleased to see that the article referenced the Austrians and Classical economics as the ultimate 'supply siders,' but I was less happy with the general impression that the theory had been disproved. In fact, a tertiary belief, that tax revenues would go up as tax rates went down, was pretty convincingly disproven except in certain circumstances. The rest of the theory, stands.

So much for my 'original' thoughts.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Adam Kokesh Is Dancing

Adam Kokesh is dancing.

We are surrounded, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 360 degrees by a multitude of tiny incremental stupid rules and taxes. Not a single one of them is cause for going to the barracades, but taken together they are more oppressive than the worst dictates of the worst dictators. And our police forces enforce these tiny stupid rules with a violent relish that any tin-pot dictator would approve.

If we think that a fascist state will arrive at our doorstep wearing full riot gear and demanding our obedience, we will be wrong. It will arrive, instead, by stealth and by almost imperceptible increments. It will, almost unnoticed, filch an extra penny from our pockets or require one more line of information on our applications. We think we will see it coming and that we will confront it like free men...with force if necessary. But it is already here, and despite our determination to resist, we cannot identify a single entity to resist against. The mailman who delivers the tax bill? The TV anchor who reports on the new ID rules? The Congressman who doesn't answer mail or phone calls, and whose vote only accounted for 1/3 of 1% of the votes that established the bureaucracy that hired the employees who contracted for the consultant who wrote the regulations that were published without a name?

There is no one to resist against.

The police, better known as Law Enforcement, are 'just doing their jobs' when they see that the rules are followed. They may even sympathize with your plight, but they have mouths to feed just like you. To keep their jobs, they will do whatever they have to, including the ocasional body slam or choke hold against a person who refuses to follow the tiniest of rules. It's not their fault, they say. They are just enforcing the rules. All the rules, no matter how stupid. That's their job. If you don't like the rules, change them. In the meantime, put your hands behind your back, and give them your name, address,....

Those of us who are advocates of liberty are more sensative than most to these restrictions on human freedom. Every little new rule grates on us, but we generally act like most people and learn to adapt. We may complain, but we pay the new taxes, show our ID's when requested, and stand in line for our new permission slips. We do this because it does not seem worth the effort, indeed it seems silly, to confront The Man over another dollar, or a five second flashing of ID card, or one more line asking for gender, date of birth, or race.

But there comes a point when the last indignity is the last one you can bear. To 'normal' people, your defiance is inexplicable. Why not go through the full body scanner? It just takes a few seconds; you're worrying about nothing and inconveniencing everyone.... You are making a mountain out of a molehill, they say. But you see it differently: you see the molehill is on top of the mountain.

So you break. And you do something silly, or at least seemingly silly to others. But it is important to you because, despite all the repressions you have put up with throughout your entire life, you will not take this last one. This last stupid, stupid, stupid rule. You protest, stupidly, doing something silly and over-the-top and out of proportion and crazy.

Adam Kokesh is dancing.

I can see from my life that the line in the sand is behind me, not in front. I should have Just Said No long ago. What will the trigger be that will make me the laughing stock of the neighborhood and an embarrassment to my family? I know it's coming, but I don't know what it is.

What's yours?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Letter to Russ Carnahan

I usually write letters to Russ Carnahan to bash him for his bafflingly stupid votes. Today, however, I found something to congratulate him for:

I would like to commend Rep. Carnahan for voting against the renewal of the Patriot Act. The invasive provisions in that act provide a rich opportunity for various law enforcement agencies, as well as politicians, to collect information on, intimidate, manipulate, and persecute otherwise peaceful citizens. The Fourth Amendment is being violated daily with hardly a peep of concern by our representatives.

I supported Rand Paul's principled stand against government encroachment on our right to be secure in our persons and our papers, unless there is credible probable cause for the commission of a crime, and unless there is a warrant signed by a neutral third party judge who certifies there is legitimate probable cause. In our current fear-based environment, even the most innocent of citizens is subject to suspicion, harrassment, and surveillance, all in the name of making us 'secure' against a real, but vastly overblown, threat of possible 'terrorism.'

There is always a risk that someone may do something violent to others, but the compensating factor in a free society is that at least we have our freedom. However, when a society focuses on absolute security, it never succeeds in acheiving that goal, and in the process it takes away our freedom, too. Terrorism may be bad, but terrorism coupled with a police state is much much worse.

I hope Rep. Carnahan will continue to vote against the destruction of our civil liberties and help support measures that will remove the heavy hand of government from our daily lives.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mr. Paul Goes To Washington

Just a short note: Freshman Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has taken a principled stand against the renewal of the infamous Patriot Act. Despite the general inclination of the Senate to 'go along to get along,' Rand Paul has begun a fillibuster to prevent the Senate from rubber stamping the Patriot Act without a debate. He apparently held the Senate floor for seven hours yesterday in order to frustrate Harry Reid's (D-Nevada) attempt to rush the bill through for a vote.

Good for Rand.

The Patriot Act is an unreadable mishmash of legalese that handed to the FBI, CIA, and NSA extensive powers read and listen to our personal communications, as well as to pry into our personal lives via the issuance of secret National Security Letters and draconian penalties for disclosing to anyone the fact that one has been issued to you.

The Fourth Amendment prevents the Federal government from intruding into our personal lives without probable cause and without a search warrent signed by a neutral judge. The Patriot Act does away with any such niceties. Instead, it has given the National Security State license to run amok with no effective recourse for citizens to stop them.

Rand is proving to be the greatest champion of traditional American liberties, possibly even eclipsing his father.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bin Laden Is Dead, Remember The Maine!

I waited patiently for the President's big announcement. The talking heads on TV had assured me that Mr. Obama would momentarily appear at the podium and deliver some startling news. Some great news. OK, some news about Bin Laden. Earth shattering news about Bin Laden having been...captured or killed! Captured or a Pakistan...

And so the news dribbled out over the next hour while we waited for the procrastinator-in-chief to appear and tell us what we already knew. Thousands of young people gathered outside the White House, many waving little American flags, chanting 'USA, USA, USA,' having been informed by tweets and a spontaneous desire to show support for our President and our Global War On Terror.

The actual speech was mercifully short. It had few details. It was, after an hour of prepping by every talking head that ever drew a paycheck from a network, anticlimactic. Bin Laden had been killed in a firefight in Pakistan. We were in possession of his body.

From the moment I heard the words, I had two conflicting thoughts: I was wrong to believe Bin Laden had been dead since 2001, and this latest announcement was one great big fat lie. The only way to resolve this was to wait for the evidence.

A photo of the dead Bin Laden quickly appeared on Pakistani TV, and was published in the UK Guardian. It was not, as far as I know, issued by the U.S. government, and the photo was quickly exposed by bloggers as a photo shopped fake. Another photo appeared yesterday, again quickly exposed as fake.

By the morning after the announcement, the body had been dumped into the sea. Hmmm. Then it was said the body had been positively identified as Bin Laden through DNA tests, yet skeptics noted that DNA tests generally take a couple of days. The comeback was that the tests are new, faster, and done aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier. Hmmmm. Not verifiable at this time. Then the White House said the photos might be too gruesome to publish, with brains hanging out and all. I don't doubt that, and I personally don't really want to see it...but how else am I to assess the truthfulness of Mr. Obama's claims?

Today, May 4th, the government is backtracking and saying the events did not unfold exactly as originally announced. Bin Laden was not armed. Nor did he use a wife as a shield. Both were shot dead. Hmmmm. What else will we learn in time?

So here I am, once again thinking...this is all a big fat lie to be lined up with all the other big fat lies that have caused the world so much harm in the last 100 years.

A short history of lies:

1. Sinking of the USS Maine: Caused by a coal fire, not the Spanish navy. Tens of thousands of innocent Filipinos are put in concentration camps or die in our dirty war sparked by a lie.

2. Sinking of the Lusitania: Was carrying munitions, which made it a military target, but the U.S. government didn't tell the civilian passengers they were at risk. The Germans were within the rules of war to torpedo it. Nevertheless, the U.S. uses the sinking as the reason to get us into WWI, which extended the war, killed millions more, resulted in the punitive Treaty of Versailles, and gave Hitler something to rally the German people around.

3. Pearl Harbor: Hardly a sneak attack, it was the calculated result of U.S. foreign policy to push the Japanese into making the first "overt act." Our soldiers and sailors were left, undefended and blind, as bait for a trap set to ensnare the Japanese and allow the U.S. to enter WWII. Millions died.

4. Gulf of Tonkin: The attack never happened. The President knew it, but he used it as an excuse to send ground troops into Vietnam. 58,000 Americans died, and about 2 million Vietnamese.

5. Gulf War I: We green lighted Iraq's attack on Kuwait, then we were shocked, SHOCKED, that Iraq invaded Kuwait. The rest is history. Hundreds of thousands died.

6. Gulf War II: No weapons of mass destruction. But that was the official reason for our attack on Iraq, with a little Bin Laden fear mongering thrown in to sweeten the story. All lies. About a million Iraqis died.

I could go on about the Jessica Lynch story, the Pat Tillman fable, and the most recent proven complete fabrication by Susan Rice that the Libyan army was issuing Viagra to it's soldiers as they went on a killing and raping spree. All completely made up stories intended to manipulate the American public. Sadly, Ms Rice still has her White House job.

Our government has lied repeatedly. Pathologically. That is not to say they don't sometimes tell the truth, but for god's sake, we can't be expected to know the truth from the fabrications unless we see evidence. "Because we said so" just doesn't cut it anymore.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hate Mail?

I received my first piece of...hate mail? I'm not sure how to interpret it. Maybe not hate for me...certainly hate for Ayn Rand...but by association, me too? I'm just not sure.

I had read an anti-Rand article in the Post Dispatch in which the writer mistated Rand's philosophy. I subsequently sent a Letter to the Editor to clarify the 'selfish' versus 'unselfish' issue, noting that Rand's philosophy did not prohibit donating to causes and helping people who you felt you wanted to help.

The response in the on-line discussion was swift and brutal from one particular detractor. I learned I was trying to keep the poor man down and enrich the rich. I wrote a couple of follow-up notes to my critic (I kept it clean, no name calling, no insinuation that his dog had more brains), and left it at that.

A couple of days later I received, in the mail, an small envelope with my name and address hand-scrawled in messy block letters on an angle across the front. No return address. When I opened it, I found a single sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper, folded mutiple times to fit the small envelope, with the following message written in the same hastily drawn block letters:


That was all. No name. No 'Sincerely.' I'm not sure why the writer took the time and effort, and the 44 cent stamp, to express that particular message. Not exactly an argument. Hell, I don't know what to make of it, other than that it was supposed to make me think otherwise about Rand.

Maybe I would have, if the writer could have told me why Rand is a 'phony and a fraud.' I'm open to new evidence. But none was offered, so I am left to wonder what information the writer had that I do not.

Rand, and anyone who speaks well of her, elicits these kinds of responses. To some extent, Rand deserved it, as I noted in an earlier post. She was abrasive and she enjoyed labeling people in uncomplimentary ways. So she got back what she gave. Still, the over-the-top emotionalism of her detractors is puzzling.

Oh well, this letter goes into my 'keepers' as a kind of trophy. The menacing quality of it is discard.