July 2009 Archives

Stepping Into It Again

President Obama recently held a press conference with the stated topic of discussion being his health care reform agenda.  He fielded a number of questions and gave some very long-winded, rehearsed answers.  He (for some odd reason) blamed Republicans on more than one occasion for stalling his bill, even though he could pass it without a single GOP vote.

It was a very dull, scripted performance until the end, when a reporter asked him about the recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates.  Obama started out well enough by admitting that he didn't know enough about the situation to comment.  But then he commented anyway.  In so doing, he ventured off-script and he revealed his biases, and I must say that I came away troubled by the whole thing.

In case you are unaware of the back story, here it is in a nutshell.  Professor Gates came home from a trip and discovered that he has locked himself out of his house.  He forced his way into his own house, which I am sure many of us have had to do at some point in our own lives.  But in Prof. Gates's case, his neighbor - who could not see the face of Gates or his friend who with him on the porch - thought there was a burglary in progress and called the police.  Gates's neighbor was particularly concerned because the area had seen a string of break-ins recently.  The police came and questioned Gates.  According to the police report, he became belligerent, so the police officer arrested him for disorderly conduct.

When Obama was asked to comment, he jumped in with both feet and said that the police clearly acted "stupidly" and that this country has a long history of harassing black and Latino men.  For emphasis, he added "And that's a FACT."  When someone states "And that's a FACT" with emphasis, he is attempting to claim the moral high ground, declare victory and end the discussion.  There were lots of other FACTS that he could have cited, but instead chose the one that would (without forcing him to come right out and say it) turn this into another example of a racist cop acting out of line.
But it's what President Obama didn't say that is most telling.  He did not say that this particular police department or this particular officer has a history of hassling minorities.  In fact, based upon how quickly Joe the Plumber's dirty laundry was aired after he asked Candidate Obama why he should be forced to "spread the wealth around," I am pretty confident that if there were skeletons of this sort in either closet, we'd have already learned of them.

Instead of calling this what it really was - a misunderstanding that got out of hand - the President elevated it to a commentary on American history.  He tried to hang the entire weight of every racist deed committed by every police officer (white as well as black) against every minority in this country's history around the neck of this white police officer.  That is really unfair.  About as unfair as hanging every crime committed by every black man around the neck of Professor Gates.  And what did it accomplish?  What was the President hoping to gain by wading into a situation that he admitted he was unqualified to comment on?

Being a police officer is a very tough way to exist.  Strangers calling you into situations in which you are unfamiliar with the parties, and being forced to make immediate assessments and potentially take people into custody or even use force against them.  It doesn't help anybody when race is thrown mindlessly into the situation, inflaming passions over a simple misunderstanding.

Pet Peeves

The Fat Kid has been dieting as of late, and consequently I am a tad grouchy.  I thought I would allay my bad mood a little by venting.  Here are some of the things about our world and its occupants that annoy me just a little:

- The phrase "high rate of speed."  Every time I hear somebody on TV say that inanity, I am compelled to correct him.  It's "at a high speed"  Speed = rate of motion.  So, "high rate of speed" = "high rate of rate of motion."  The phrase should be placed in the File of Redundancies File and locked away for good.

- That guy who is always inserting "That's what she said!" into every conversation.  Very immature.  The discussion usually goes like this:
Fat Kid: Man, I worked out hard last night
Annoying Guy: That's what she said!
FK: I am so sore
AG: That's what she said!
FK: You're an idiot
AG: That's what she said!

- Noisy movie theatre people.  When I shell out $10 for a movie (plus $50 for my snackage, popcorn, drinks, etc) I expect to enjoy the movie.  Instead, I usually have to sit in front of I've Seen This Movie Before and Will Tell You What's Coming Guy or I've Had Twenty Minutes of Previews to Do This But Waited Until the Movie Started to Noisily Unwrap My Contraband Burrito and Annoyingly Loud Cheetos Bag Guy.  If you ask me, I think that people pirate movies off the internet not because they want free movies but because they want to enjoy their movies without some knucklehead ruining the experience.

- People who cuss in public.  It does not make you sound mature.  Stop doing it.

- The trend to end sentences with the word "with."  For instance, someone said to me "I'm going to the movies.  Do you want to come with?"  Come with?  With what?  With you?  With no money so that you can pay for me?  How hard it is to add the word "me"?  I mean, it's two freaking letters, and is among the first sounds a baby makes.  It's not that hard to finish  the question properly, is it?

- My dog, who invariably sticks his wet nose into my hand while I am asleep.  The fact that the previous ten thousand times he has done this I shooed him away does not faze him.  He still thinks that rousing me from a deep sleep will get him some affection.  But he's my little loyal dog buddy, so he gets a pass.

- Clowns.  Does anybody enjoy clowns?  They're frightening, looking like some Hair Club For Men zombie patrol.  Mimes are even worse, although if I had my choice of who I'd most like to share a theatre with when I go to the movies, mimes would win in a landslide.  I would really enjoy the quiet.

- Diets.

Nothing a Shot Can't Cure

I am upset.  Befuddled.  Rattled.  Distraught.  I am so upset that I almost couldn't finish that third Ho-Ho.  (I remember when I was a kid, Ho-Hos came two in a pack, and each one was individually wrapped in foil so we could eat one now and save one for later.  Now they come three in a pack and you have to eat all three at one sitting or else the uneaten Ho-Hos (or is the singular "Ho"?) will get stale.  I don't know who made the decision to pack that third Ho-Ho (Ho?) in there and force us to eat it, but whoever it is should win a Nobel Prize.)

What has me so unsettled?  This plan by the President to "reform" the health care system.  Err, I mean Health Care System.  The President wants to rush through his bill right away because 47 million people supposedly don't have health insurance.  Even if that number is not something pulled out from under Joe Biden's hair plugs, is the number meaningful?  I mean, the 47 million includes countless illegal aliens - who won't be eligible for any new federal insurance program - as well as millions of people who choose not to insure themselves even though they have insurance available to them.  If half the people who are uninsured are in that condition because they are here illegally or by choice, why should we destroy everybody else's coverage to fix a problem that fewer than 10% of the population has?

It makes no sense.

Having the federal government insert itself into the solution makes no sense, either.  Why?  Because it is part of the problem.  A big part.

Because my friends and readers are smarter than the average human, they all know that for years the two segments of our economy with costs growing significantly faster than inflation have been health care and higher education.  Health care costs have steadily increased at just under 10% per year, while higher education has more than doubled in the past 10 years.  Both these numbers represent increases at about three times the rate of inflation.

The two characteristics that both health care and higher education share lie at the heart of the problem.  The first is that there is a great disconnect between the consumer of the product and the entity paying for the product.  People do not shop for health care and higher education the way they do other things.  When buying bread, a car, new shoes, or a pet chinchilla, people will usually compare costs, quality, need, etc. and then pay for those products or make short-term payment arrangements with a credit company.  They know what it will cost them and commit to pay.  If something is not of sufficient quality or costs too much, the sale is not made and the consumer looks elsewhere to find another product that suits the need and satifies the consumer.  This is perfect capitalism and is the most efficient way to exchange money for goods - the person making the purchase foots the bill and therefore has a very strong incentive to get the most for his dollar.  The sellers, on the other hand, have a very strong incentive to provide quality goods at a competitive price.  They must convince enough people to make the sale or else they go out of business.

With both health care and higher education, the distance has grown between the purchaser and the payer, leading to ever-escalating costs.  Very few people shop around for the best deal when choosing either of these two items, and even fewer still immediately pay out of their own pocket.  Instead, third parties have been introduced - insurance companies, government-backed student loans, etc - that are supposed to subsidize the cost and make the product more affordable to the average American, but in reality they drive costs upward.  Why?  Because people are less careful with other people's money than they are with their own.  Consequently, hospital bills are not scrutinized and questioned as thoroughly as other bills, and price seldom is discussed in-depth prior to services being rendered.  College tuition is rarely paid in a lump sum check, but rather has become some nebulous, theoretical figure that you will pay back some day.  But not today.  So what's the difference if it's 10% higher than it was last year, which was also 10% higher than it was the year before?  Because some third party has been introduced to shield you from the bill, that bill is allowed to spiral upward.

The second shared characteristic driving prices upward is that the federal government has intervened in a big way to make "access" more universal.  The feds' ham-handed, one-size-fits-all approach has caused massive cost-shifting, from people who cannot afford it to people who can.  For instance, Medicaid and Medicare were supposed to cure insurance problems for the poor and elderly, but have simply led to driving up everybody else's costs.  The rate of reimbursement to doctors for these two programs is far below what they normally receive from other patients and has led doctors and hospitals to pass these losses onto the rest of us.  This, in turn, gets passed onto the insurance companies, who raise rates, making insurance more expensive, which leads to fewer people being covered, and causes the federal government to step in and fix the problem.  The problem they had a huge hand in causing.  The problem they have no clue on how to fix.
Here's the Fat Kid's radical and revolutionary proposal for making health care and education affordable to everybody:
Outlaw insurance for everything other than things that are catastrophic and require hospitalization - things that can quickly add up to a lot of money.  For everything else - everything outpatient, pharmaceutical, etc. - having a third party payer would be illegal.  Force people to shop for their doctors the way  they shop for everything else in life.  This would also force doctors' offices and hospitals to squeeze out waste and inefficiencies.
Perhaps some will chafe at the thought of health insurance being illegal.  Fine.  Cap benefits at $1,000 per year.  That's what most dental insurance plans cap out at, and they've had that same cap for 30 years.  And guess what?  Dental costs go up only 3-4% a year, which is the same rate as inflation.
But, you may say, dental problems are not life threatening.  Neither are the vast majority of other things we see  the doctor for.  If the condition is not life-threatening, why shouldn't patients try to find the best value for their money?  If you force people to foot their own medical bills, they will shop for the best value for their money, and medical offices will respond by becoming more competitive.  It has happened in every other segment of the economy that does not have third party payers: restaurants, clothing, automobiles, computers, etc.  It works because both sides have a strong incentive based upon their own self-interests.  It works because capitalism works.  And capitalism works because people care about themselves and their money and will try to protect both, if they are allowed.
I know that some of the squishy types among us feel uncomfortable handing over their health care to the free market - the same free market that has given us cheap, quality TVs, food, automobiles, houses, cell phones, computers, etc.  And it has given us a variety of choices.  They would rather hand it over to  the federal government - the same federal government that has given us the postal service, the Department of Motor Vehicles, a trillion dollar deficit, etc.  And the federal government is the very antithesis of free choice.
I would rather trust myself and my money to the market than to any federal health care plan.

Opportunities Squandered

"The Price is Right" was in reruns this week, so my TV was on the Senate hearings on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.  I must say that I found it a sad spectacle indeed.

Given that her confirmation is all but a foregone conclusion, I was left wondering how each of the 300 Senators on the committee would occupy their allotted 30 minutes asking her questions.  I thought that maybe the first couple would get all the good ones out of the way early, and the second half would speed right along with the later questioners just saying "Uh, I was going to ask a question, but someone already did, so, uh, I yield."  Boy, was I wrong.

It was only after the first couple of Senators posed their questions that I realized that they did not ask any questions.  Like I said, Sotomayor's confirmation is a done deal, so why would you, as a Senator, waste an opportunity to talk for a whole half hour uninterrupted?  You wouldn't because you a narcisistic attention whore.

If I were a US Senator, my line of questioning would go something like this:

Chairman of the Committee: We now yield to Senator Fat Kid, from the great state of Arizona.

Sen Fat Kid: Thank you Mr. Chairman.  Thank you Judge Sotomayor.  Judge, I would like to ask you a few questions....

Judge Sotomayor: OK, Senator

Sen Fat Kid: First of all, how does my hair look?  I mean, I hear that the TV can add, like, 10 or 15 pounds.  I already have kind of a squash-shaped head, and I just want to know how it looks from your angle.  Do I look like a freak?

Judge Sotomayor: Ummmm, what?

Sen. Fat Kid: Judge, I would like to get into some of your opinions, if I could.  Specifically on the justice system.  First of all, who is lamer: Aquaman or the Wonder Twins?

Judge Sotomayor: Excuse me?

Sen. Fat Kid: I mean, the Wonder Twins had really lame costumes, but most superheroes do, so you can't hold that against them.  But when they activated their powers, one would always be something completely weird and helpless, like a roll of duct tape or a glass of water or a lava lamp.  And the other would be forced to take the shape of an eagle or of a bulldozer, and have to lug the other (useless) one around.  But they did have a monkey, so they have that going for them.  But Aquaman, he lived under the ocean.  What sorts of crimes ever occur at 10,000 feet below the sea?  I'll tell you: none! (*pounds fist on desk*)  And Aquaman didn't actually do anything!  He just summoned creatures from the deep and had them do all his crime fighting.  What kind of "superhero" is that?

Judge Sotomayor: Umm.....

Sen. Fat Kid: I'll tell you what kind: A lame one! (*pounds fist on desk, smiles and poses for cameras*)  Now, moving on to your views on freedom of speech.....Does the Congress have the authority under the First Amendment to declare the mullet to be the official hair style of weird dudes who drive Camaros?

Judge Sotomayor: Huh?

Sen. fat Kid: Now, don't play coy with me, Judge.  It's a simple question: Can the US Congress codify into law something that we all know to be true - that weird, creepy guys with 'staches and tank tops all drive Camaros and wear mullets?  Yes or no?

Judge Sotomayor: What's a mullet?

Sen. Fat Kid: Well played.  Finally, one last question.  Should the federal government officially recognize David Lee Roth to be the legitimate and true lead singer of Van Halen?  Can we simply refuse to establish relations with the Sammy Hagar era and (heaven help us) the Gary Charon fiasco?  The American People have a right to know who is going into the studio and out on tour when Van Halen hits the road this summer, do they not Judge Sotomayor?

Judge Sotomayor: Are you mental?

Sen. Fat Kid: Yes. I am.  I am mental.....like a fox.

Judge Sotomayor: I think you're mixing your.....

Sen. Fat Kid: I have another one last question, since it seems that I haven't used up all 30 minutes in front of the cameras.  Now, you have taken a lot of heat over your comment that a wise Latina judge would come to better decisions than a white male judge.  Now, this may surprise you, but I see where you were going with this.  I see this very thing all the time.

Judge Sotomayor: You do?

Sen. Fat Kid: Yes!  Paula Abdul always makes much more sense than Simon does.  He is completely clueless, but she is almost always more empathetic with the contestants.  But I still prefer Randy to the others, especially that new fourth judge.  She's just a tart I mean she thinks she's such a great singer and all......

Judge Sotomayor: That's not what I meant......

Sen. Fat Kid: But here is where you fail, judge: Paula Abdul is not - contrary to what you have written - a wise Latina because she is not.....wait for it......Latina!  Her father was Syrian and her mother Brazilian.  So, your theory is completely wrong, and, therefore, I find you unfit to sit on the Supreme Court.  Court is adjourned.  Bailiff, take her to the holding cell to await processing.

Chairman of the Committee: Senator Fat Kid, you are out of order.

Sen. Fat Kid: I'm out of order?!  You're out of order!!  The whole system's out of order!!!

Chairmain of the Committee: Somebody please cut the Senator's microphone.

Sen. Fat Kid: You want the truth?!  You can't handle the truth!!


Free to be Stupid

The federal government wants kids to know one thing: Smoking is bad.  Evil.  The worst thing you could possibly do to yourself and others.  Second hand smoke kills.  It's probably contributing to Global Warming and putting a huge hole in the ozone layer right over your head.  Smoking is so evil and so yucky and so dirty that some anti-smoking advocates have called for an automatic R-rating for any movie that features characters smoking.  "Tobacco" is the new Hollywood T-word.

Bottom line: smoking kills.  The federal government is doing everything in its power to eliminate it and to keep kids from trying it.

Unless, that is, we are talking about smoking marijuana.  Then, the opposite is true.  The federal government is starting to take a hands-off approach with states who are seeking to decriminalize the Wacky Weed.  Many states have reclassified possession of small amounts of marijuana from criminal offenses to civil offenses, which garner only a ticket and fine rather than jail time.  Some have even gone so far as to seek full blown legalization, touting its "medicinal benefits."  Oregon has a Medical Marijuana Law which allows patients and caregivers to possess up to 24 ounces of the stuff.

Clearly, marijuana is becoming more mainstream while tobacco is becoming marginalized.

It is not too hard to imagine this conversation between a mother and father occurring in the not too distant future:

Mother: Billy's school called today.  He was caught smoking in the bathroom

Father: Oh no!

Mother: It's OK.  It was only marijuana.

Father: Thank God!

Just for the record, I have never smoked either tobacco or marijuana.  Very few of my friends did it when I was growing up, and those who did were usually burnouts and losers, so the appeal just wasn't there.   So, when I say that I think marijuana should be legalized it's not because I am just dying to light up without worrying about the Five-0 knocking down my door.  But it doesn't make sense to me to put casual users into the criminal justice system, which should be dealing with hardened criminals.  Pot smokers aren't hurting anybody but themselves with their habits, and they want to be stupid and fry their brains, who are we to stop them?

But, at the same time, the same thing should be said of tobacco smokers.  Smokers have been hit with repeated hikes in cigarette taxes, meant to punish them for lighting up.  So-called "sin taxes" aimed at tobacco are the easiest taxes to enact because of the way that smoking has been demonized.  The common rationale that is always trotted out is that the effects of smoking have huge affects on the health care industry and cost the state lots of money, so smokers should pay extra.  The cost estimates associated with smoking vary widely and are little better than made up numbers.  But whatever the costs, it is ridiculous to single out smoking as the sole cause of this added cost.  Obesity is more widespread than smoking.  So is a sedentary lifestyle.  These also put added stress on our health care system, yet fat, lazy people are not being forced to cough up more money to pay.  Unless, of course, they also smoke.  And only if they smoke tobacco.  If they are fat, lazy, and smoke pot, they're good.

The government needs to get out of the business of telling people how to live.  Let people be free to be stupid if they so choose.


A Solution In Search Of A Problem

You don't have to spend very much time with me to figure out that I am a ginormous football fan.  NFL, college, high school, flag, two hand touch, X-Box football....it doesn't matter.  If there's a pigskin and an end zone, I am into it.  The game of football has everything you could want in a sport - intense competition, controlled violence, a cast of colorful characters, and the possibility of a game-changing play every single down.

Football players come in all shapes and sizes - from the scrawny (sometimes chubby) place kickers to the behemoth offensive and defensive linemen.  It is these linemen who control the game by controlling the line of scrimmage.   Weighing in at over 300 pounds each, these guys work harder than anyone else on the field - and they can't take a single play off.  While a quarterback drops back to pass only half the time he takes the snap, and a workhorse running back can expect to get the ball only 25 times a game, the linemen scrap and claw roughly 70 plays a game, with equal intensity on each play. 

You can imagine that with all these large men pushing, pulling, rolling, and gouging in a large mass, people can get hurt.  The most common injury to linemen is the knee injury.  From sprains to tears, the knees are used and abused and damaged.  To help prevent catastrophe, many guys on the line will wear knee braces.  The knee brace is a barely flexible, mostly rigid appliance that fits over the knee and prevents side to side movement.  The brace helps to stabilize the joint, keeping it from being forced into the unnatural positions that lead to injury.  After injury, the knee brace can also allow a player to return to the field earlier, as it provides support to the ligaments and tendons.  But a large proportion of linemen do not wear them, as many have played for years without them and see them as limiting to their movements, hindering their play. The rigidness of the appliance has also led many to complain that it slows them down, especially when making cuts from side to side. However, given the number of players, the violence of the game, the number of plays each game, and the number of games played each year, there are remarkably few season- or career-ending knee injuries each season.

This, however, has not prevented the National Football League from imposing sweeping new rules, with the goal of there being no knee injuries to linemen whatsoever.  Under the new guidelines, all players of every position must wear knee braces at all times.  Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, quarterbacks, wide receivers, kickers, line backer, running backs, etc.  It doesn't matter what position you play, what protective gear you already have invested in, or what you injury history or risk are.  The NFL is mandating braces for all.  But it is not stopping there.  The League is providing all the players with braces and prohibiting players from wearing any other type.  And it goes even further.  The NFL leveraged their buying power to get a great deal on the knee braces, but the catch is that they could only buy one size.  So, everybody - from the 150 pound place kicker whose name you can't pronounce to the 325 pound center - will be forced to wear the same sized gear.  Players can be fined for either not wearing their league-issued knee braces or for wearing one of their own choosing.

You can imagine that this has caused something of an uproar.  Many players are perfectly happy with their current set of protective gear, and believe that being forced to wear the league-provided stuff will actually put them at greater risk for injury.  For them, this "one size fits all" (even if it really doesn't fit anybody) approach is harmful rather than helpful.  Besides the increased risk of injury, they argue, it slows them down and prevents them from playing at their highest level, which, in turn costs them money.  These players ask these simple questions: If the goal is to prevent knee injuries to linemen, why does the whole system for everybody need to be changed?  Why force players to give up their chosen protective gear and wear something that does not fit them, does not help them, and may actually harm them?

If you are wondering why you have not heard of this rule change before, it's because I just made it up.  The NFL is not considering forcing everybody to wear knee braces in order to prevent knee injuries to linemen.  But people in this country are advocating something just as sweeping, just as revolutionary and destructive, and just as foolish: universal health care.  It makes just as much sense to force everybody into the same sub-standard health care scheme as it does to make every player in the NFL wear the same sized pads. The truth is that the vast majority of people have health coverage, and most of them are content with the coverage they have.  I can't for the life of me understand why people would like for the federal government to take away those people's insurance coverage and replace it with a single payer system in order to provide health insurance for those who currently don't have it.


When Did We Fail Her As Parents? I Blame Television

On a recent road trip family vacation to southern Arizona, my lovely sixteen year old daughter Rachel and I got to talking.  As things inevitably do when you are dealing with a sixteen year old on the one hand and a father with the maturity of a twelve year old on the other, the conversation turned to the coming Zombie Apocalypse. She asked me where I would hide, how I would travel, and how I would arm myself when zombies took over the world.  I know, I know.  Foolish questions.  Everybody knows that you need to find a fortified base on high ground, drive an armored car, and have more firepower than Rambo as you make your way around town looking for other survivors (preferably fat, unathletic survivors because we all know that they are the first to fall behind and get eaten while the rest of the survivors make their escape).

My reasoning was so obvious and so air-tight that I thought it needed no explanation and that our conversation would move on to who would win in a fight between a ninja and a robot.  I was wrong.

Rachel told me that I was stupid for planning my future this way, and that if I were in a zombie movie, I wouldn't make it to intermission, let alone a sequel.  She explained that (as everybody knows, *rolls eyes*) zombies are attracted to noise, and armored vehicles and Rambo-sized weapons make noise, which would just lead to more zombies coming after you rid yourself of  the first wave and then just when you think you are free and have run them all over (*stops to catch her breath*) and drive away they follow you to your secret armored lair on the mountain and pound on your door until the door falls down and they would chase you down and you would run but they would corner you and eat you.

Dumbfounded, I asked her what I could do to save myself?  What does she have planned to stave off the walking dead?  "I," she declared with an air of intelligence and certitude "would travel on foot and only carry a baseball bat.  I would walk quietly and bonk the zombies on their heads if I came across any."  What if they see you first and hide and wait for you in ambush?  "Zombies can't see you if you stand perfectly still, so I would stop moving if I saw one."  Aren't you thinking of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park?  "No." (*Rolls eyes again*)  I would stand perfectly still and wait for them to chase something loud, like your big armored truck."

And where would you live?  "Well, since the virus that causes zombies to be zombies...."  Wait.  It's a virus?  "Yes."  Are you sure?  "Positive.  Since the virus that causes zombification can't live in the cold, I would go somewhere cold.  Like Alaska."

Reminding her that she complains about having to walk from her bedroom to the bathroom, I inquire how she is planning on getting to Alaska on foot.  Carrying only a baseball bat.  And with no vehicle to carry food or water.  "I can do it.  And," she said, batting her eyes and flashing he beaming smile at me "I know my daddy will stay with me and protect me.  And when he (being the fat and unathletic one) falls behind and gets eaten, I'll make my escape."

No Representation Without Taxation

As we celebrate the Declaration of Independence on this 4th of July, let's ponder over the document that launched our republic and (pardon the pun) revolutionized Western civilization.  After all, it is a remarkable work which changed the course of history.

Prior to Thomas Jefferson putting pen (did they have pens back then?) to paper in July 1776, the model for governmental authority since the dawn of time was this: God endowed kings with authority and rights, who in turn passed certain rights and authority on to their subjects.  Jefferson stood this model on its head and declared that God endowed each individual human with certain "inalienable" rights.  The primary function of the government was to protect these rights.  Authority was vested with the people, who in turn entrusted it to their leaders.  This authority, as Jefferson understood it, was not all-encompassing and limitless.  Rather, it was limited and temporary - revokable should the leaders fail in their duties.  When the men put in authority failed to protect the rights of the individual (or even worse, committed acts which were harmful to the individual) then those men needed to be removed from authority.  It was not only the right, Jefferson argued, but the sacred duty of the populace to remove these men from power - by force if necessary - and install new leadership.

This argument is simple, straightforward, and (unfortunately) poorly-understood by most Americans.  When I was a junior in high school, my US history teacher Mr. Kemper sent a few of us out to the mall for a class project.  He wanted us to see how well people knew the Declaration and how people would react to it today.  The petition form of the Declaration was very short and direct.  It started out with the phrase that (I thought) everyone would immediately recognize: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their creator with certain, inalienable rights...."  He left in the part about the primary function of government being to protect the rights of the individual, and the part about the need for the people to take up arms against abusive government if the government refuses to correct itself.  We took this to the Metrocenter mall and asked random people to read it and sign it.  There were a few who looked it over and, seeing the opening phrase, smiled and signed it.  But they were far outnumber by the people who refused to sign it and quietly walked away, and by those who called us Communists and Nazis before storming off.  This was more than twenty years ago, but the lesson was so powerful that I will never forget it.

Consider the grievances that the colonies had with King George, and compare them to what other countries have endured under their leaders.  Mad as George was, he was no Pol Pot or Augusto Pinochet.  He didn't rule with the iron fist of Saddam Hussein and they weren't being conscripted en masse to fight in an unpopular, far off war like the pre-Bolshevik Russians.  There were no Stalin-like purges of colonists critical of the King and no mass graves being filled with political prisoners.  No, all told, the colonists weren't living under the boot of a mad dictator and weren't really being mistreated as badly as future societies would be.   Their rebellion was fueled by one thing more than any other: taxes.

John Marshall wrote that "The power to tax is the power to destroy."  The Founding Fathers understood this, and knew that their only protection against this power was to have a voice in the government.  But, as colonists, they did not have any say over acts of Parliament.  In fact, Parliament was doing everything in its power to ensure that the Americans didn't even have a voice in their own local government.  By passing the Intolerable Acts, the British government was trying to exert more control over the colonies who, in the wake of the Tea, Stamp and Sugar Acts (which raised taxes - it's always about taxes), became more and more vocal about their dissatisfaction with their "taxation without representation."  The Intolerable Acts backfired, of course, and pushed the colonies closer to rebellion.

So, if it is fair and good that we celebrate men who started a long and costly rebellion over being taxed when they had no say in the government, what can we conclude about the converse?  What are we to think about the tendency in the past decades to remove more and more people from the federal income tax rolls, while still allowing them to have a say over other people's taxes?  It has become commonplace for politicians (especially Presidential candidates) to promise "If you vote for me, I'll raise taxes on these other people and not on you!"  President Obama promised that taxes would not be raised on "95% of Americans" and that only "the rich" would be forced to pay more.  He went on to promise that millions of Americans would have to pay no taxes whatsoever, but would instead receive tax credits.  Forget what you may think about the rich and the poor and just stay focused on the sheer boldness of the promise he made: "Vote for me and I'll raise taxes on other people so that you won't have to pay any more taxes.  In fact, the government might give you money instead of the other way around."

When the Founding Fathers got done overthrowing the British and (after a false start with the Articles of Confederation) got together to draw up a constitution, they understood that people who were going to be taxed should have some say over those taxes.  That's why all tax bills must be raised in the House of Representatives first and not in the Senate, as when the Constitution was ratified, Senators were appointed and not elected.  Alexis de Tocqueville famously wrote "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money" and that "A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it."  Those two principles are becoming more and more obvious.  But how do we reverse it?  How does one lead a revolution against representation without taxation?

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2009 is the previous archive.

August 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.