Monday, January 31, 2000

Week of 01/31/2000

The Lullaby of Government
- by David Matthews 2

I wonder how many people even bother to watch the State of the Union speeches.

For my international readers, this is what happens: Every year around the end of January, we’re all entertained by having the highest elected official in America stand before the assembled members of both Congress and the US Supreme Court, and tell the rest of the country where America stands. I say "entertained" because the big three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and the cable news channels have that time period booked solid just for this speech.

Of course, this all started back when such things mattered, when we had officials we could look up to and trust. Back in the days when a president’s word was bond, and even when we thought that a politician had questionable motives, never did we expect their corruption to be so great that they would blatantly lie to us.

In other words, back before the days of President Bill Clinton.

Now, for those who missed out on Clinton’s final State Of The Union speech, here it is in a nutshell: The country is going along just fine, but in wouldn’t be this way without government in your lives, and to fix those rough spots in society, we’ll have to get government more involved in your lives.

There! Two hours just to say that one sentence! Of course, if Bill Clinton was ever honest enough to simplify things that well, he wouldn’t need two hours to convince us that somehow life after the "era of big government" would require even more government than ever before.

Then again, if Bill Clinton simply told us we needed more government involvement in our lives, we wouldn’t buy it, would we?

Did you ever wonder just HOW we let government into our lives in the first place?

A good portion of us spend the first eighteen years trying to break free of our first authority figures --- our parents. We strive to be ourselves, to make our own decisions, and to choose our own path in life. And yet, somehow, we end up with another authority figure --- government. And this one not only doesn’t want us to break free from it, but rather it is determined to weave itself into every aspect of our lives. Everything from the money we spend, the cars we drive, the houses we buy, and the shows we watch are all monitored and scrutinized and regulated by some government agency. And it shows in the higher and higher taxes we have to pay for it all.

So how did we get this way?

Well, the first way is the direct approach. Much like the narrator in the "Outer Limits" series, those in government simply assumed control.

The direct approach is government at its purest form, as an instrument of force. There is little debate, if any. A decision is made, those in power make it, and then use force to execute it.

Unfortunately, this kind of naked aggression also invites opposition. A government that acts that way in all matters would quickly be deemed a tyrannical one. That’s why the direct approach is usually reserved only for those cases where they know opposition will be light. Censoring out unpopular material like books, movies, or certain T-shirts, for instance.

So how else does government gets ingrained into our lives?

Well, let’s get brutally honest here… we let them. Sure, sometimes they sneak themselves in with stealth laws and regulations, but more often that naught, we are convinced to let government take over.

And that’s where smooth-talking politicians like Clinton come in. These masters of the spin would tell a tale so convincing it would make Baron Munchausen look like Edward R Murrow. They’re the only ones that make spam mailers look good in comparison.

Perhaps the most subtle approach is the Busy Citizen argument because it plays upon our own hectic lives, and is the hallmark to the Big Babysitter style of government. The notion is simple: you’re too busy doing everything else in your life that you can’t handle some of the little things that need to be done. School lunches are one example. We’re told that as parents, we just don’t have the time to take care of these things for our kids, so government asks if it can step in and do that little chore for the parents. What would a busy parent say? No? Of course not! They’d accept it, not knowing what the price tag would be for it.

A more perfect example of this Busy Citizen argument comes in paying our federal and state taxes. Once upon a time, we used to pay our taxes when we filed our tax reports to the IRS. Then in the middle of World War II, that changed because the government needed to get their hands on our tax money faster to fund the war effort. So Uncle Sam came up with this idea to start taking money out of our pay before we even get our paychecks. Their rationality was that it would be a whole lot easier for the taxpayers to have their employers deduct the taxes than having to worry about paying it all in bulk on April 15th. And we as taxpayers bought it, because it was damned too convenient.

Now, because of that little bit of convenience, most of us don’t realize how much we’re really paying in taxes. If you want to figure it out, you have to get your pay stub and so some math. Try it. You’d be surprised to know how much of your money is disappearing every payday.

Another argument that people in government use is the Inept Citizen approach. Under the Inept Citizen argument, government assumes that only THEY can handle a certain task.. that the individual citizen is too incompetent to do it themselves.

Take home schooling, for instance. Before public schools, parents used to bear the responsibilities to teach their children how to read and write. Now with thousands of families dissatisfied with this bastion of the Industrial Society, home schooling is seeing a resurgence in interest. But educators are ever eager to nix this idea, simply because they believe that parents lack the tools and the skills to educate their own children. To in effect tell parents "We are trained professionals, don’t try this at home."

The best example of the Inept Citizen argument came in January of 1999, the day after President Clinton gave his State of the Union speech. After announcing that the federal government would be operating under a budget surplus for the first time in decades, there was some talk by Republicans to give some of that money back in the form of a tax cut. Clinton, however, told a crowd of people in Cincinnati that he felt that the American public, quote, "would not invest that money wisely."

In other words, Bill Clinton thought the American public was too inept to handle their own money!

Of course, since then, Bill Clinton and his acolytes have changed their tactics, and now refer to a tax cut as what Vice President Al Gore loves to call a "risky tax scheme." But this belief that the people could not handle an additional surplus of their own money is the hallmark of the Inept Citizen argument.

If the direct approach is government at it’s most tyrannical, then the Inept Citizen argument is government at its most arrogant.

Then there’s the house special, the Scared Citizen approach. The Baltimore sage H. L. Mencken best summed up this approach almost a hundred years ago when he speculated that government seems to thrive off of creating all sorts of things for people to fear, and thus require their protection.

Certainly when it came to the Cold War, Mencken was right on the money. Between the nuclear tests in Russia and Senator Joe McCarthy running his "Red Scare" antics, people were scared of Soviet aggression in the 1950’s. Thus, the US government was given the green light to do anything in the name of national security.

Even more recently, the American public has been scared into giving up their rights to be protected from other bogeymen.

In the name of protecting people from terrorism, those in government have convinced us we need to bring identification with us at airports, and to be there up to an hour before our flight even leaves.

In the name of protecting us from drug kingpins, those in government have convinced us to surrender our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

And now in the name of protecting us from violent kids, those in government are trying to convince us to surrender our First Amendment protections.

Of course, the Scared Citizen approach is the preferred method for those in government because it fulfills their obligation to protect the public, and because it doesn’t take too much effort on their part to convince the public to surrender their freedoms… the people would surrender them willingly! The only downside to this tactic is that you either have to wait for the right crisis, or manufacture the crisis yourself - i.e. Time Magazine’s "Cyberporn" issue - and risk having the public see through your deceptions.

No matter which tactic they use, those in government have a vested interest in trying to get involved in as much of our lives as possible.

The more government gets involved in our lives, the more government overhead that is needed. More laws are needed, a new layer of bureaucracy is needed to oversee those laws, more tax money is needed to fund our so-called watchmen, and, somewhere in the midst of it all, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia gets yet another brand new federal building in his district.

The key thing to remember, though, is that in each of these instances, government has gotten this way because WE allow it. Sure, smooth-talking con men like Clinton may be convincing, but they wouldn’t be able to sell us a single thing if we treated them like we do telemarketers. And that is really the only way we can stop the surge of government into our lives.. to start treating our politicians like we would telemarketers. We need to tell them "no thanks" and hang up on them once they start their sales pitch.

We can’t blame the soothsayer for the sweet lullaby of government, because that is their nature. We can only blame ourselves for choosing to be swayed by it.

Monday, January 24, 2000

Week of 01/24/2000

Poor Man’s Solomon
- by David Matthews 2

In the Old Testament, King Solomon was presented with a problem. Two women had come before the King laying claim to a baby boy. The first woman claimed the second woman’s child died during the night so she switched children and claimed the live son as her own. The second woman claimed the first woman was lying, that the living son was actually hers. Solomon then ordered his aide to get a sword and cut the living child in half so that both women would have one half of that child. The true mother of the child then begged the king to spare the child’s life and give him to the other woman. The other woman, meanwhile, simply said "Divide it!"

King Solomon knew that the child belonged to the woman who begged the child’s life be spared, even if it meant possibly losing any claims to that child, so in the end, he gave the child back to her.

If only today’s problem would be easily resolved.

Let’s suppose a parent took his or her young boy and fled to another country. In the process, that parent is killed. The boy is welcomed into that new country by relatives and a community that claims to care for him. Now the surviving parent, the one who did not flee to that country, is demanding that the child be brought home to live with him.

Now let’s say for instance that the parent who was killed was a Saudi man, who fled with his son so he could be brought up in an Islamic society. The surviving mother was an American citizen who is begging and pleading for her son to be brought home to live with her.

No-brainer, you would say. The father is dead, the son should be returned to America to live with his mother. Case closed.

Now suppose it was the other way around.. the child was brought to America by the parent who died, and the surviving parent lives in an oppressive country. What then?

That, in a nutshell, is the case of Elian Gonzales, a six-year old boy whose mother died on their way from Cuba to the United States. His relatives and the Cuban-emigrants in Florida all say he should stay in the United States. His father says he should come back to Cuba.

Now, gut reaction would be simple. The mother is dead, the father should have custody of Elian. Case closed. However, this is a case that even King Solomon would find difficult to easily resolve, simply because there are too many people getting involved in this matter.

First of all, you have all of the Cuban emigrants who are living in the Florida area who vow to create all sorts of havoc in Miami if young Elian was returned to Cuba. They’ve already created traffic jams and started protests to show how serious they are. To them, Elian represents the ultimate symbol of their exile from an oppressed country, and to give him up would be akin to giving up their own hearts.

Next, you have Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba who are staging their own demonstrations and protests to get Elian brought back. And I’m talking huge media affairs that are usually reserved for when the US bombs the crap out of yet another third world country. To Castro, Elian represents a great way to slam the United States for being imperialistic and anti-family.

Next, you have all of the politicians who inevitably feel they have to stick their heads into this matter just so they can feel important. Perhaps the most absurd of this political posturing was made when the US Congress subpoenaed young Elian to testify for the House Foreign Relations Committee. Remember, he’s six years old. The only thing he could really testify about would be watching his mom and everyone around him drown in the Atlantic. We all know the real reason to "subpoena" him would be first to keep him in America that much longer and then to pretend to care about the welfare of the Cuban exiles.

Then there’s the Clinton Regime… and, for once, they made up their minds based on rational thought instead easily manipulated polls. Ironically, it’s Attorney General Janet Reno, who originally came from Florida, that has made the decision to send Elian back to Cuba.

Did I forget anyone? Oh yes… and then there’s the media. The snap-happy, sound-byte-gathering, we-report-what-we-deem-to-be-the-truth people who are playing all sides on this issue. To them, Elian is a story about sorrow and a community that claims to care.

Let’s get brutally honest here. Despite all of the claims to the contrary, Elian Gonzales has become nothing more than a means to other peoples’ ends. A political football. A glorified public relations tool being used on all sides for reasons that have little to do with Elian’s well-being.

Fortunately, in the midst of it all, some semblance of real progress is being made. A trial will be scheduled to determine whether Elian should stay with relatives or go to Cuba with his father. Hopefully some very key questions will finally be asked. Questions that nobody has yet to ask about this case.

First of all, I would hope the court would ask Elian if he would want to live with his father. If not, why not? Was he a bad father? Was he abusive or negligent? Too many people who are saying Elian should stay are equating living in Cuba to being a bad parent, and that really doesn’t say much about themselves.

Did Elian even want to come to the United States, knowing that he may not be allowed to see his father for years, if at all? As much as we may not want to think one parent would make such a move to spite the other parent, such things DO happen!

Next Elian’s father, if he’s even allowed to come to America to testify, should be allowed to tell his side of the story. Did he know his ex-wife would take Elian and try to escape to the United States? What was the reason for their marital breakup in the first place? And most importantly, would he be willing to live in the United States in order to raise his son? How much of a sacrifice would he be willing to make?

Then Elian’s relatives who already live here should be answering a few questions. Questions like do they really want Elian to stay here out of his interests, or are they simply doing this to spite his father, or perhaps even just to spite the Cuban government? And perhaps an even more important question.. would they be willing to live in Cuba again in order to make sure Elian is being raised appropriately?

You know, a lot of the talk concerning Elian’s situation has had very little to do with Elian himself as it is in screwing Fidel Castro. To be blunt, I really don’t think a good percentage of the people who want Elian to stay here would care either way about him as long as he doesn’t go back to a Castro-run Cuba. And this spans a good segment of the political spectrum: liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and authoritarians alike seem to be waiving faux patriotic banners and claiming that Elian would be far better with relatives than his own flesh and blood.

"But, but, but, IT’S CASTRO!" these people claim. Well, maybe so. So why aren’t you doing something about Castro yourself?

In 1988, I saw something that people thought was unbelievable. I saw ordinary German citizens tear down a powerful symbol of communist oppression - the Berlin Wall. They didn’t wait for the leaders to order the wall be removed. They took hammers and pipes and even with their own bare hands they tore down that wall! In 1990, I saw a man who would later serve as Russia’s first president stand on top of a military tank and dare communist supporters to shoot him. He did not go to another country and complain about how his country is going to pot. And even America’s own history is replete with those who were willing to fight for what they believed was right instead of running off to another country to complain about the conditions.

Our policy with the Cuban exiles is sadly lacking the dedication of even our own forefathers. Somewhere along the course of the past thirty years, we went from helping the Cubans try to overthrow Castro to simply bringing in the Cuban exiles and waiting for Castro to die, hoping that his death would magically bring about a freer country. Unfortunately, that kind of rationality is not realistic. True freedom is made through struggle. It is never handed to you on a silver platter.

Whether we like it or we don’t, Elian Gonzales became a political football the moment his mother put him on that boat. That is an unfortunate reality, and perhaps even an unforgivable one as well, because it certainly does not speak well for those who claim to speak for his own best interests. If Elian came from any other country, he’d be back with his father in a heartbeat!

Elian Gonzales should be growing up and getting on with his life, not being paraded about by politicians and activists eager to gain public relations brownie points.

Monday, January 17, 2000

Week of 01/17/2000

The Myth of the Benevolent Tyrant
- by David Matthews 2

Once upon a time there was a wonderful land ruled by a great and powerful king. It was a land of untold plenty and goodness, where dreams would come true and where the evils of the world would not plague them.

In this wonderful land, the people were without want or need, because they knew that the king would make sure whatever it is the people wanted or needed was met. The king was ever quick to use the kingdom’s coffers to fulfill the wishes of the people.

It was a land without fear, because the king’s knights made sure any threats to the safety of the people were removed. It didn’t matter if the threat was invading hoards of barbarians, fire-breathing dragons, disgruntled knaves, or even apprentice-shop bullies, the king’s soldiers would quickly come in and eliminate the problem before one innocent life was traumatized. And the people didn’t mind if the king’s men stormed their houses or searched their goods, because they knew it was for their own protection, and they welcomed the intrusion.

It was a land without worry either, for this king was a caring ruler, and he did not want to see his people suffer. He made sure that the children were well cared for when they played in the streets while their parents worked. He also made sure that the elderly spent their last days in serenity and comfort, cared for by the best professional healers in the kingdom.

And most importantly, it was a land without hate, for the king loved the people just as much as the people loved him. They knew that he wouldn’t do anything that would harm them, and he knew that he could count on their support anytime he asked for it.

What a wonderful land, isn’t it? A place where the king could do no wrong and the people loved him. A land of untold plenty, where people lived the good life without complaints, and were safe and secure both in their homes and on the streets. Truly a utopia, if there ever was one.

There’s just one little problem… it doesn’t exist in the real world!

This magical, mythical kingdom of an all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-caring monarch is truly the stuff of fairy tales and children’s stories, invoking legendary tales of King Arthur and Camelot. It is also the idea invoked by many politicians and special interest groups who believe that government is the universal cure-all for whatever ails us.

Concerned about your streets? Never fear - government will save us! You won’t have to worry about defending yourself, because government will do that for you! Just let the king’s men come into your home and search your belongings and probe into your life. After all, you don’t have anything to worry about, right? Good and decent people have nothing to fear from the king’s men.

Worried about poverty? Never fear – government will help us! You won’t have to worry about saving some money in case of a rainy day. You’ll just have to give up a little bit more of your hard-earned money for our special programs to help the poor. It’s not like you’ll notice the increase. After all, you’re already losing almost half of your paycheck to pay the various taxes out there, so what’s another five or ten percent added to that? Besides, if you’re having financial problems, you know you can call on government to help you out… that is what you’re paying for, right?

Concerned about all those "offensive" things that are out there? Never fear – government will protect our kids! You won’t have to worry about doing your jobs as parents and prepare your kids for the harsh reality of the world around us. Just let government stifle a little bit of your freedom of speech and all of those offensive things will just disappear like magic! And you can trust us to know which things are offensive. We know that only the truly depraved would be worried about what words would be edited from our society.

Sound familiar? Those are the same arguments that have been invoked by politicians for years. That’s the message they invoke in their campaign speeches, in their commercials, and in the debates to separate themselves from their competition. Government will help us, or so we’re told.

The end result, however, hardly resembles anything King Arthur would call Camelot.

Rather than making streets safe, government removes the means for the citizens to defend themselves, forcing the people to be even that much more dependant on the king’s knights. Then government conveniently washes their hands clean when that protection inevitably fails. Worse yet, the king then uses that failure as a justification for even more "protections."

The government’s social programs do not help the poor. Rather, they create government bureaucracies which soak up the bulk of those allocated funds. To give more money, government must take it from "the rich". Of course, "the rich" usually means the hard-working people who struggle trying to make ends meet, because unlike businesses, individual citizens can’t pass the cost of higher taxes to anyone else. Nor do these people have the connections or the political leverage to get worthy tax exemptions, unlike those who would truly be considered "the rich". The end result being the hard-working people having to pay more and more money, and eventually being dependant on government to help them financially for things they would otherwise be able to afford. And again, the king uses this as justification for even more "help" from the government.

Then there is government trying to "protect" society from all things that offend. Quite often, that "protection" comes in the form of regulations and laws created by an elite few who presume - rather piously - to know what is "best" for the rest of the community. Once enacted, they are usually enforced selectively, reserved only for cases that would garner the most publicity, or sometimes even for the sake of a personal vendetta. The end result is a series of schizophrenic rules which have very little resemblance to the reality it affects. Worse yet, when people find ways to get around those rather bizarre rules, the king uses that as yet another reason for even more such complicated laws and regulations.

I hope you’ve noticed a pattern here. Government’s actions do very little to resolve the problems at hand. Rather, each of them are designed to - at best - maintain the status quo, while calling on even more government involvement.

Let’s get brutally honest here. Government may pretend to operate like Camelot, but in realty, it operates like that of another legendary community… Nottingham, a land full of overbearing taxes and stifling laws. And while liberals would portray themselves like Robin Hood, quite often they fail miserably in comparison.

The myth of an all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-caring benevolent tyrant is a very easy sell for people who yearn for some kind of utopian existence in the near future. They believe that such a state of perfection can be achieved by making a few sacrifices now. Of course, it’s always helpful when other people have to make those sacrifices.

The sad reality is that such a collective utopian vision is often a pipe dream, one that can never be made real, no matter how many sacrifices are made. The best dreams of a happily ever after come not from a collective vision, but rather the dreams you make yourself.

Monday, January 10, 2000

Week of 01/10/2000

Thug’s Diplomacy
- by David Matthews 2

I sometimes believe that there are a few dozen sayings that should be dropped from human conversation faster than a lame sitcom on the WB. "Good to go" is one of them. Good to go... sounds like you’re working with a NASCAR pit crew, or at the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Two cheeseburgers, two fries, and two Cokes… here’s your change. You’re good to go Mister Earnhart.

Of course, when it comes to mangling the English language, no one group does it better than the government. For instance, naming someone a "czar". General Barry McCaffrey quickly comes to mind since he is the latest so-called "drug czar" by the Clinton Regime, a post initially created by William Bennett, who I suppose would consider himself now to be the "family values czar". Anyone remember when naming someone a czar was a bad thing? When naming someone a "crime czar" meant only seeing their faces on wanted posters? Nowadays, a so-called "crime czar" would be seen shaking hands with the President in the middle of the Rose Garden.

But that’s government for you… a world where duplicitous doublespeak is the common language. Who else would call a war a "police action"? Or call a tax hike a tax cut?

However, if there is one thing that I wish we could purge the government of doing, getting them to stop wanting to engage in a "dialogue" is probably close to the top of the list.

US Labor Secretary Alexis Herman was the latest to engage this kind of governmental soft language. One of Secretary Herman’s departments – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – recently sent a letter to a Texas company that said that employees that work out of their homes should be held to the same safety regulations as in the workplace. That set off a firestorm of outrage from thousands of people who work from their homes, calling for OSHA to be shut down before they started sending in "safety police" to classify diaper pails as hazardous waste and mandating what kind of florescent lighting would be required in the den.

Red-faced at being caught engaging in stealth regulation, Secretary Herman announced that she would rescind that letter, and then asked that the country engage in a "dialogue" over what kind of safety standards would be acceptable in the home office.

Now let’s get brutally honest here… the Clinton Regime’s idea of engaging in a "dialogue" is much like that of a drill sergeant on the first day of basic training. They dictate, you simply bark out "yes sergeant" or "no sergeant" to their orders. That concludes the "dialogue".

Anyone remember President Clinton’s so-called "dialogue" on race relations in America? The minute one audience member disagreed with the President, Clinton engaged in a kind of verbal berating that made many of his fellow lawyers cringe. He didn’t want to hear anyone disagree with him. He wanted people to nod their heads like good little zombies while his well-placed shrills gave out testimonials in a tactic used by revival ministers and infomercial hosts.

How about those "Know Your Customer" regulations that were proposed by the Regime for the banks? Remember those? The federal government wanted to sneak in regulations that required bank officials to inquire how their customers got their income and report to the government any deposits or withdrawals that they thought were "unusual." There was enough of an outrage by the public to force the Clinton Regime to give in… but only in public. In truth, many of those regulations were already enacted privately by banks for years!

But of course, Clinton and his acolytes are not the only ones who engage in this verbal version of "shoot first, ask questions later". Politicians and moralists all are willing to engage in a "dialogue"… but only after their law or regulation has been enacted, or if they know they will already have the support to get it enacted. By then, the damage is already done, and it is too late to change anything.

Here’s a common tactic used by local officials: some politician wishes to crack down on what he deems to be offensive. So he announces that he is proposing an ordinance at the next public meeting. Now before this announcement has even made it to the newspapers, he has already met privately with many of his fellow politicians, as well as their attorney and often with the police chief or sheriff to make sure he has enough support for this to pass and be enforced. So even if the entire assembly room were filled with people in opposition to this proposed ordinance, it wouldn’t matter, because in most instances, the ordinance will be passed.

So why bother with the talk, you ask? Simple… government engages in a "dialogue" just so the people can have their voices heard. Politicians know that as long as the public is allowed to simply vent their rage and anger, they won’t take that rage and anger to the ballot box. They thrive off the public’s short memory and overall apathy and use it as a means to their own advantages.

There is no doubt, for instance, that the "reversal" of OSHA policy by Secretary Herman was, at best, nothing more than a postponement of official policy that would give OSHA the power to regulate what goes on in a person’s home office. Her department will simply convince business leaders to quietly relent, just like the banks quietly enacted many of the "Know Your Customer" policies long before the public even heard of them.

George Washington said that "government is not reason, it is not eloquence… it is force." And I would add that government is not a "dialogue" either. Trying to engage in a "dialogue" with government is like trying to engage in a "dialogue" with a thermonuclear warhead. You can talk your head off all you want, all it will do is continue its quiet countdown to complete obliteration of everything in its path.

Government is about two things – action and reaction. The only good time to have a constructive "dialogue" with government is BEFORE those in power make a decision. By the time government acts or reacts, the only talking left to do is the kind of empty spin talk that we all hate.