Avoiding The Fiscal Cliff

Congress has been thrown into a turmoil with the prospect of having to cut 1.2 trillion over 10 years. With budget deficits of about a trillion a year for the last four years, cutting spending by 109 billion dollars per year until 2021 is woefully inadequate. Moreover, these cuts are relative to the CBO 2010 baseline which includes automatic increases to the budget every year. So, the fiscal cliff, in terms of cuts, is not that the cuts are too deep but not deep enough! However, the Republicans are right to be concerned about the expiring tax cuts and the new Obamacare taxes in 2013. Raising taxes on anyone, even the symbolic raises on the rich, will reduce spending in the private sector and so cause a recession unless you think the rich keep their money in their mattress and not in stocks and other investments!

Maybe Congress should take another look at Ron Paul’s Plan to Restore America which gives a line-item budget plan from 2013 through 2016. His budget cuts $1 trillion dollars in spending from the 2013 budget and achieves a surplus, yes a surplus, in year 3 and 4. He does all this without cutting Medicare or Medicaid but block granting them to the states to administer more effectively. Nor does he cut Social Security, but allows younger workers to opt out. He honors our veterans by continuing their benefits at the current level. The Plan to Restore America accomplishes all this without raising taxes. In fact, his plan cuts taxes, lowering the business tax to 15%, eliminating taxes on personal savings, capital gains, dividends, the death tax, and the gift tax. All these tax cuts are designed to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people by allowing businesses to keep more of their profits and by incentivizing savings and investments.

Now, to realize these achievements Congress has to accept certain principles upon which our Republic was founded. First, Congress may not exercise any powers that are not specifically enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. This is the basis of limited government. Much of what Congress and the Executive branch does transcends these powers and so are unconstitutional. That is why the Plan To Restore America cuts 5 executive departments: Education, Energy, HUD, Commerce, and Interior. When the Federal government attempts to do more than it should, it necessarily costs more money. This is the source of the fiscal crisis that we face. What is more, excessive regulation of industry hog-ties the economy by forcing businesses to expend time and resources in being compliant rather than being profitable. That is why the Plan eliminates onerous regulations on business such as Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley.

Secondly, the Constitution empowers the Federal government to provide for our national defense. However, it does not authorize it to engage in nation-building and policing of the world. These activities in fact make us less safe because they engender resentment and hatred by meddling in the internal matters of sovereign countries. Also, the power to declare war is entrusted to the Congress alone as the branch closest to the people and the last war that Congress declared was World War II! To this end, the Plan ends all foreign aid and all foreign, unconstitutional wars saving billions.

The Plan to Restore America provides a sure path to recovery by calling for a return to our founding principles which made this country great. Our most pressing task is convincing Congress and the American people to reclaim these founding principles of limited government, a sound currency, and a humble, non-interventionist foreign policy. Only then can we return to fiscal sanity.

Where is the conservative movement?

I must admit that the outcome of the election has left me quite deflated. Our nation re-elected a President who has failed miserably to restore the economy, has added 6 trillion dollars to the debt, and has given us the job-killing, government-expanding monstrosity that is Obamacare. Moreover, Republicans failed to gain a majority in the Senate, but at least hung onto control of the House. The country seems to have given itself over to big government and government handouts. Thirteen million fewer Americans voted in the election as compared to 2008. Romney got three million fewer votes than McCain in 2008 signaling that voter apathy has crept into the GOP in the wake of the Tea Party revolution of 2010.

What happened to the Tea Party revolution that formed the backlash against Obama’s big government policies in the 2010 mid-terms? The so-called Tea Party Caucus was made up of 60 Republicans in the House. 32 of these voted in favor of raising the debt ceiling right along with their Washington counterparts. Add to that Romney’s less-than conservative track record (RomneyCare, support of TARP), his eagerness to involve America deeper into Middle Eastern conflicts, and his lack of any significant spending cuts and you give frustrated conservatives plenty of reasons to stay home on November 6th.

Rush Limbaugh made a curious remark on November 7th. He said that the GOP should try conservatism. While I don’t think Rush’s conservatism includes all the items in the liberty agenda, I agree whole-heartedly with the statement. There will always be a tendency for people to prefer government handouts to true liberty and individual responsibility, but the Tea Party movement and the Ron Paul Revolution proved that many would rally to the conservative call if the call truly involved reducing the size and scope of the federal government. While I came to support a Romney presidency over an Obama presidency because he was pro-life and pro-free-market, I think many conservatives were too disillusioned to choose yet another establishment republican. That being said, we missed the opportunity to exempt the States from Obamacare as Romney promised to do. We also lost the promised cuts to the business and income tax and the repeal of the death tax as well as a robust energy policy. Those actions would have greatly helped our economy to recover. Obama now believes his re-election is a mandate to raise taxes on the rich which will discourage investment and business expansion. However, the question remains of what havoc would have resulted from the hawkish stance of Romney on Afghanistan and Iran and his support for the unconstitutional Patriot Act and NDAA. We were caught between so many Scylla’s and Charybdis’s.

However, all is not lost. History can help us to put this tragic situation in perspective and formulate a plan to save this country. The Republican Party of today is largely a “Rockefeller” Republican Party. The term “Rockefeller Republican” is not used much today but it was used a lot in the 1960’s. It derives from Nelson Rockefeller, the famous grandson of oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller. Nelson had all the gifts of a political leader: looks, charm, intelligence, wealth. However, with all these gifts, he was a progressive and not a constitutional conservative. As Governor of New York from 1959 to 1973, Rockefeller greatly increased the size and scope of state government, raising taxes 8 times, increasing the budget from 2.04 billion to 8.8 billion by 1973, and increasing the state debt. His brand of Republicanism was sharply opposed by a growing conservative movement of which Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were the standard bearers. With the defeat of Rockefeller by Goldwater for the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination and the subsequent election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the conservative wing of the Republican Party triumphed.

But, as is evident, the Rockefeller Republicans were only temporarily defeated. In our day they are referred to as “Moderate Republicans” or RINO’s (Republicans In Name Only) and they now form the majority of the Republican Party. Reagan explained that part of what motivates Moderates is that the progressive policies (i.e. entitlements and handouts) of the Democrats appeal to voters. The Democrat Party is the home of Progressivism which is the repudiation of our founding principles of limited government and the rule of law. Progressives believe that government can solve all the ills of society. They see the limits and checks and balances placed in the Constitution as obstacles to all the good that government can achieve. They reject the Founders’ view, expressed by James Madison, that “there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust. (Federalist #55)” No, Progressives believe that man can be perfected by education so that internal and external constraints on government are no longer necessary. The current state of our economy and a 16 trillion dollar debt as well as a sprawling American military presence around the world should provide ample proof of who is right.

The last viable conservative movement is the Ron Paul Revolution. Ron Paul has always played the long game rather than focusing on the chimerical nature of political posturing. In 2008, he founded Campaign For Liberty, which is dedicated to spreading the liberty message of limited government, free markets, individual rights, a sound currency, and a non-interventionist foreign policy. But how did the voters receive this liberty message on November 6th? Of the 11 candidates to Congress who were endorsed by Campaign for Liberty, 8 won their races. Liberty candidates also won several races on the State level. Voters are attracted to the liberty message. You may wince at the miniscule liberty presence in the Congress but this simply demonstrates how much Progressivism has infected our government. From here we have an unparalleled opportunity to expand the liberty movement because the results of this election show that candidates supporting the liberty platform can beat the progressives in both parties.

Iowa Property Rollback Sets The Stage For A Tax Hike

On October 26th, the Iowa Department of Revenue issued an Assessment Limitations Order, or “rollback,” on property values in Iowa. The Order adjusts the property values used by local governments to compute property taxes for agricultural, residential, commercial, and industrial property. The taxable value for residential property will be 52.8166% of the assessed value. This is an increase from the 2011 level of 50.7518%.

This will result in an increase to your residential property tax next September 1st if your assessment stays the same or increases unless the levy rates for the various taxing authorities (city, county, schools, community college, SECC, etc.) are lowered.

This increase to your taxable value will net the cities and the county millions of additional tax dollars. What they do with this money is being determined at this moment while the budgets for FY13-14 are being drawn up and the levy rates set. Let your voices be heard by your elected officials. Ask them if they will be lowering the levy rates based on the fact that residential taxable values will be going up due to the Rollback.

Don’t make your calls or send your letters next year when you tax bill arrives–it’s too late. The assessor merely determines the value of all of the property in the city/county. The budgets determine the levy rate you will be taxed at, and that process is going on right now. Contact your elected officials. They are the only people that have the power to raise or lower your taxes based on the budgets they approve.

Obama Or Romney – Who Is Better For America?

As a Ron Paul supporter and a constitutional conservative, I must admit that I have not been enthusiastic about Romney’s nomination. However, I recognize that one of two men will be elected President of the United States in two days, Obama or Romney, and so I have decided to back Romney in this election. The decisive reason is that Romney is pro-life (albeit conditionally). It is my view that if a politician cannot see that a human embryo is a human person then I question his ability to see anything else. However, I have found other reasons to support Romney over Barack Obama: he supports religious liberty and traditional marriage. However, I am less certain about his economic policies – strange since this is the real strength of Romney according to conservatives. I am happy that he desires to cut taxes but I am not so sure about his commitment to cut spending. As Ron Paul said in an interview (paraphrasing), “We don’t have a taxing problem as much as a spending problem.” But, at least Romney seems to be aware of the urgency of achieving a balanced budget. So, I give him points over Obama there.

On the foreign policy front, I am find myself more in agreement with President Obama. Obama wants to end the foreign wars in order to do “nation-building at home.” Romney on the other hand seems to want to continue the same interventionist policies of the Bush Administration which are bankrupting us and earning us more enemies, especially in the Middle East. So, in this area, I am earnestly entreating Congress to prevent a Romney Administration from entangling us deeper in the Middle East with it’s commensurate costs in American blood and treasure.

So, my purpose in writing this blog is first to square my constitutional conservatism with a Romney Presidency. Secondly, I desire to persuade other liberty-loving American’s whether Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, or other third party adherents, to see Romney as a step forward in our fight for liberty though with significant caveats. Romney, if elected, will need to be persuaded or opposed by Congress on some of his policies. Most notably, is the War on Terror, which is stripping Americans’ of our constitutionally-protected rights. The Patriot Act and the 2012 NDAA violate the 4th and 6th amendments, respectively. So, without further ado, here is my comparison of certain choice positions of the two candidates.

I. Life must be protected from conception to natural death.

Romney – against abortions with exceptions for rape, incest, or threat to life of the mother; supports eliminating all federal funding of abortions both domestically and overseas.

Obama – supports the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion for any reason; supports partial-birth abortions; opposes parental notification.

II. Religious liberty

Romney – vows to rescind contraception mandate of Obamacare that violates the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Obama – continues to insist that women’s health needs override the religious conscience of Catholic institutions.

III. Same-sex marriage

Romney – opposes gay marriage; supports a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman; opposes discrimination of homosexuals.

Obama – supports gay marriage but doesn’t want to push for federal legislation protecting it.

IV. Balancing the Federal Budget

Romney – has not offered a target date for producing a balanced budget; Paul Ryan’s plan achieves a balanced budget by 2040; However, campaign aides for Romney are optimistic that it can be achieved by 2020 if the economy does well; Romney’s website underscores the importance of reaching one.

Obama – has offered a plan that would not produce a balanced budget anywhere in sight, even after 10 years; in the words of Obama’s campaign advisor, David Axelrod, “You can’t balance the budget in the short term, because to do that would be to ratchet down the economy.” Given the track record of this administration, the long term doesn’t look promising either.

Winner – Romney; While neither candidate has set a target date for a balanced budget, at least Romney recognizes the need to reach one. Obama doesn’t seem to mind if we ever reach one.

My Take: Ron Paul produced a line-item budget that balanced the Federal budget in three years. He did this by recognizing that our Federal government is involved in areas in which it has no constitutional authority – education, energy, housing, environment, Medicare and Medicaid, foreign aid, undeclared wars, etc. So, among other things, his plan cuts 5 federal departments, ends all foreign aid, ends unconstitutional wars, and block grants Medicare and Medicaid to the states. We need to elect members to Congress who will support these common-sense reforms if we ever hope to arrive at a balanced budget and fiscal sanity.

V. Taxes

Romney – proposes 20% across the board income tax cut and a 25% business tax (from 35%); promises to eliminate loopholes so that the wealthy will still pay as much tax as they do now; promises to eliminate the death tax; promises to repeal Obamacare which will eliminate 95 billion from the budget each year and prevent the penalty for those individuals and families who are required to purchase health insurance but fail to do so.

Obama – wants to raise taxes on the rich (allow Bush tax cuts to expire); Obamacare penalizes individuals and families who are required to purchase health insurance but fail to do so; also raises taxes on small business (self-employment tax, investor tax, etc); raises the death tax from 35% to 45%. It is important to realize that the death tax affects small businesses because the beneficiaries of a small-business owner who dies must pay the tax on the value of the business. Many small businesses will not be able to survive the tax leading to layoffs and the business assets being sold.

VI. Corporate Welfare

Romney – supported TARP bailout; however, doesn’t support bailout of individual entities, like GM, unless entire financial system at stake.

Obama – supported TARP as Senator and then continued to support it as President; also used TARP funds to purchase GM stock to rescue auto industry.

Winner: Romney – but not by much.

VII. Foreign Policy

Romney – has criticized Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq and for the planned 2014 withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; wants to make U.S. foreign policy more dependent on the foreign policy desires of Israel.

Obama – Fulfilled promise to end the war in Iraq (sort of – he left 16,000+ defense contractors there in the newly built U.S. Embassy in Bagdad at a cost of $750 million dollars that costs 1 billion dollars annually to operate); plans military withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014; wants to “put daylight between the U.S. and Israel.”

My Take: Our founding fathers advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy free from “foreign entanglements.” We know how government can threaten our liberty and prosperity when it interferes domestically. Why do we think Government can do no wrong when it interferes in the internal affairs of other countries, i.e. Nation-building?

VIII. War on Terror

Romney – supports Patriot Act, NDAA, the TSA (he used them to screen audience at campaign stop at the Koch Family Farm in Iowa), Gitmo and enhanced interrogation techniques (i.e. torture).

Obama – supports Patriot Act, NDAA, the TSA, Gitmo, but not enhanced interrogation techniques.

A little background is probably necessary. The Patriot Act violates our right to be protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures” since when government authorities prosecute the “War on Terror” they can basically conduct searches and seizures without probable cause and without obtaining a warrant from an independent judge naming the person to be seized or the place to be searched. The NDAA codifies provisions that authorizes the President to indefinitely detain any one (including American citizens) by Military personnel (perhaps Gitmo) without being charged with a crime, without access to legal counsel, and without going to trial if the President suspects that person of being a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism. Nice huh? So much for the 5th (due process) and 6th amendments. The TSA you know. As you can see, the only difference here between Romney and Obama is that Obama doesn’t support torturing prisoners for intelligence information.

In conclusion, I believe Romney is the better choice to advance the cause of liberty and prosperity in our great country. However, I endorse him with the serious reservations I have detailed above. As Americans, we must be involved in politics, not just during presidential election campaigns but always, to ensure our elected representatives are protecting our God-given liberties. I encourage everyone to vote and to vote with careful consideration. But after you vote, please realize that our work is just beginning.

Netanyahu’s “Red-line” Speech Examined

On Friday, September 28, 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the U.N. Security Council in New York about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses for Israel and the world. He called on the Western Allies to draw a “red-line” on Iran’s progress toward having enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon and dare them to cross it. Netanyahu believes Iran will back down in the face of this ultimatum. However, it is important to note that there is no evidence at this time that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons with their nuclear program. Iran claims it’s nuclear program is for energy and medical treatments. Iran is also a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which the U.S. and Israel are not). The last I.A.E.A report made some unsupported claims but gave no credible evidence that Iran is pursing a nuclear weapon. In this speech, Netanyahu presents evidence that Iran is a terrorist nation and that a nuclear Iran is analogous to a nuclear al Qaeda. Is this a fair comparison? Before we commit our soldiers to war with Iran, let us be sure. To this end, I will examine what I feel are the most relevant points that Netanyahu gives to support his argument. I have italicized these excerpts from Netanyahu’s speech.

First, it is important to have an accurate assessment about the state of affairs within the state of Israel itself with regard to Jewish and Arab Israelis. Netanyahu paints a slightly ingenuous picture in his speech:

“Israel stands proudly with the forces of modernity. We protect the rights of all our citizens: men and women, Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians – all are equal before the law.”

A 2003 study by the Israel’s own government, the Or Commission, found a “stain of discrimination” against Arab citizens of Israel in virtually all areas of society including land usage, government services, education, and employment.

Netanyahu explains that nuclear deterrence may not work with Iran:

“Militant Jihadists behave very differently from secular Marxists. There were no Soviet suicide bombers. Yet Iran produces hordes of them.”

After scouring the Internet and the authoritative book on Suicide Terrorism by Robert Pape, I have yet to find one Iranian suicide bomber. According to Robert Pape, there have been 315 suicide attacks committed by 462 suicide bombers from 1980 to 2003. Of the 315 attacks, the most attacks (76) were not even committed by Islamic fundamentalists but by a Leninist/Marxist group in Sri Lanka called the Tamil Tigers. Moreover, according to Pape, “No follower of Iranian or Iraqi Shi’ism has ever become an al Qaeda suicide terrorist (Pape, Robert. The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Kindle Edition. Location 1679).”

Netanyahu then accuses a prominent Iranian leader as advocating a nuclear first-strike on Israel.

“Just listen to Ayatollah Rafsanjani who said, I quote: ‘The use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything, however it would only harm the Islamic world.’ Rafsanjani said: ‘It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.’”

Netanyahu is referring to a sermon given by Rafsanjani, the 4th president of Iran, on December 14, 2001. Let’s look at the full context of this quote:

“If one day … Of course, that is very important. If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality. Of course, you can see that the Americans have kept their eyes peeled and they are carefully looking for even the slightest hint that technological advances are being made by an independent Islamic country. If an independent Islamic country is thinking about acquiring other kinds of weaponry, then they will do their utmost to prevent it from acquiring them. Well, that is something that almost the entire world is discussing right now.”

When examined in full context, it becomes clear the Rafsanjani is talking about the nuclear deterrence strategy of Israel and it’s allies, not advocating a nuclear first-strike on Israel. Now, I believe this was a completely imprudent and inappropriate point to make publicly because it does beg the question of whether Iran would take advantage of this “standstill.” Nevertheless it was misinterpreted. Rafsanjani confirmed this when he discovered the misinterpretation and he even stated that no country in the region should have nuclear weapons including Iran.

“We really do not seek to build nuclear weapons and a nuclear military system. In a Friday prayer sermon in Tehran, I even once said that an atomic bomb would not benefit the occupation regime of Israel. Eventually, if one day a nuclear conflict takes place, Israel as a small country, will not be able to bear an atomic bomb. It is a small country and all its facilities would be destroyed. However, they interpreted this advice as a threat. We really believe that there should not be any nuclear weapon in the region and this is a part of the principles of our politics.”

Netanyahu also appealed to a Middle Eastern scholar to back his position that Iran could not be trusted with nuclear technology:

“There’s a great scholar of the Middle East, Prof. Bernard Lewis, who put it best. He said that for the Ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement. Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth.”

Dr. Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, commenting on this remark in his blog, “Informed Comment, ” calls this a “shockingly ignorant and Orientalist thing to say.” Dr Cole points out that the sayings of Shiism:

“typically predict that the Twelfth Imam will arise ‘when the world is full of injustice.’ It isn’t an atomic explosion that would usher him in, but oppression and brutality.”

To be continued…

“Afghanistan-creep”, How the quest for Bin Laden turned into Nation-Building

    On September 24, 2012, the Taliban released a video that purportedly documents the training of the forces that attacked Camp Bastion, a NATO airbase in Helmand Province on September 14th. In this attack, 15 men disguised in U.S. Army uniforms breached the perimeter fence and proceeded to attack aircraft and soldiers on the airfield. Utilizing automatic weapons and grenade launchers, the attackers managed to kill 2 marines and destroy 6 fighter jets costing about 200 million dollars all together. All the attackers were killed save one.
    A NY Daily Times article suggests that the release of this video by the Taliban is meant to counter NATO claims that the Afghan insurgency is weakening due to a decrease in attacks in July and August of this year as compared with the same months in 2011. Lost in this publicity battle, is the question I often ask: “What in the world are we still doing in Afghanistan after nearly 11 years??” On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban, a militant Islamic group ruling large parts of Afghanistan and the capital of Kabul, deliver Osama Bin Laden to U.S. authorities and close or destroy all al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The Taliban refused to meet either of these demands. On October 7, 2001, the U.S. Forces, with U.K, Australian, and the Afghan United Front forces, attacked Afghanistan, launching air strikes against Kabul. With the benefit of hindsight, we can examine with greater objectivity the success of U.S. And NATO involvement in Afghanistan up to this point.
    First, let’s define the problem of Afghanistan: Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist group, al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attack that killed over 3,000 Americans. We have a moral right and, in fact, a moral imperative, to bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime against innocent U.S. civilians. However, Bin Laden and his terrorist group is based mainly in Afghanistan and is harbored by the Taliban, which currently rule most of Afghanistan. Now, the Taliban are not enemies of the United States, no matter how many atrocities they have committed against the Afghan people. So, we have the unenviable conundrum of trying to get at an enemy that is being harbored by a non-enemy.
Now, there are two approaches to my mind. The one approach, attack Afghanistan, is the one chosen by the Bush Administration. The other is to use convert operatives and technology to locate Bin Laden and extract him and locate the al Qaeda bases and destroy them. Whether the second would have worked better than the first, we’ll never know. However, in all fairness, the U.S. and NATO war on Afghanistan did advance the objectives of the original mission. Several if not all of al Qaeda’s bases were destroyed and Bin Laden fled Afghanistan presumably into Pakistan. However, why didn’t we stop the war in Afghanistan after destroying much of al Qaeda’s bases and after Bin Laden had fled (or at least when we thought he might have fled)? Wouldn’t that have been the time to withdraw and devote our energies toward tracking down Bin Laden? Strangely, this did not happen. No, the Bush Administration found a new cause in Afghanistan.
    Even though the Taliban have never been our stated enemy, the decision was made to drive the Taliban out of power and replace them with a democratically-elected government. Those in the business world are familiar with the term “scope-creep.” Well, as can be seen, our military leadership is not immune to this malady. In Afghanistan, scope-creep manifested itself as nation-building. And it is nation-building that keeps us in Afghanistan almost 11 years after the beginning of the war and after Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2012. It is nation-building that will keep us there indefinitely until we finally realize that nation-building is a cure worse than the disease.