Monday, September 24, 2001

Week of 09/24/2001

At What Price Freedom?
- by David Matthews 2

"O, it is excellent
To have a giant's strength! But it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant." -
William Shakespeare

There is an old Monty Python skit where a man enters a store that claims to have the largest assortment of cheeses in the land. He then asks the proprietor for a sample of his favorite brand of cheese, to which he was told that they didn’t have that particular cheese in stock. The skit then goes into a rather lengthy list of different cheeses, but each time the proprietor of the store says they don’t have it.

At one point, the man asks the proprietor "Not much of a cheese shop, is it?"

Then came the reply, "It’s the finest in the country!"

I sort of have that bizarre reply in my mind when we talk about the subject of freedom, especially given the insanity following the September 11th attacks by terrorists.

Oh yes, America IS the land of freedom. Ask any American, they’ll tell you! In fact, we have SO much freedom that a certain President once said we actually have TOO much of it! (Here’s a hint: he came from Hope, Arkansas.)

And that sentiment is shared by plenty of people who think that being the freest land in the world may not be such a good thing. Just ask the 19 or so terrorists that turned four of our commercial airplanes into guided missiles.

Or better yet, just ask the people who are putting out polls that suggest that we should ignore the warnings of Benjamin Franklin and give up our essential liberties for some added degree of temporary safety and security.

Of course, there will always be people who will say that we NEED to suspend some liberties. After all, they claim, we are in a state of WAR. Lives are at stake! Our way of life is at stake! Everything our parents and our grandparents fought and DIED for is at stake! Sacrifices must be made so that future generations can enjoy the freedoms we have!

Well let’s get brutally honest here… our freedoms have been under attack ever since this country was formed. President George W. Bush even admitted so in his address to Congress and the nation on September 20th. "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war," he said.

The biggest threat to the freedoms we take for granted, though, does not come from outside our country. It is not some foreign enemy who is hell-bent on destroying everything we have for the sake of advancing their own extremist views. Those kinds of threats we can point at and rally against with relative ease.

No, the biggest threat to the freedoms we take for granted comes from INSIDE this great country of ours.

I’m not talking about spies or sympathizers or any kind of Joe McCarthy-like conspiracy groups. I’m talking about plain, ordinary people. The common man. Hard-working Americans, housewives, ministers, social workers, veterans, pacifists, people from all walks of life who really do take our freedoms for granted, and do not blink when they feel that those freedoms should be limited, or even removed, at a drop of a hat.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US Government ordered the arrest and confinement of all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. Now, this was nothing different than what the Nazis did to the Jewish people five years earlier. In fact, it was done under same excuses as the Nazis used… for safety and security. And although the real extent of the Nazi horror wasn’t known until after the war, the detainment and relocation of those so-called "undesirables" was public knowledge.

But Americans, for the most part, didn’t raise a finger in protest to what our own government was doing to our own people. They simply nodded in agreement with the government and went right on with their delusion that America was still the freest country in the world.

You would’ve expected the judicial system to at least step in and object to the internment of our own citizens. However, the courts instead ruled in 1944 that it was perfectly okay for our government to arrest and detain indefinitely all people of Japanese descent in the name of national security. They were lock-step in sync with the rest of the government.

Oh, yes, the US Government apologized, and even handed out some money to those who were still alive when the checks were eventually issued… forty years after the fact. But that action alone symbolizes how quickly we are willing to give up that which we take for granted in the name of "security."

And it doesn’t take a day of tragedy and an act of pure evil to convince people to give up those freedoms. Sometimes all it takes is a newspaper article, or a spot on the local TV news, or the cover story of Time Magazine. Sometimes it takes just one person who sees or hears something they don’t like and uses it as their rallying cry. "We have too many freedoms," they cry out, "and we must trim them for the good of our society! We must trim them for the good of our children, and our families, and our way of life!"

Look at all the damage that was done in the name of our so-called "War on Drugs". Our Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections were gutted in the name of that so-called "war". Asset forfeiture laws were so broadly written that it turned police and prosecutors into modern-day pirates, searching the land for "bounty" to loot. Police, prosecutors, and legislators, all "high" on the drug called power, were eager to chip away at our protections in the name of added security.

And remember how the government claimed that these broad asset forfeiture laws were supposed to be the exception and not the rule? Well, they quickly and quietly found ways to get around that bit too. Now, in some cities, the police can take your car if they think you’re associating with certain groups of people. They can take your home if they suspect you’re using it to serve alcohol to minors. And until the US Supreme Court stepped in and stopped this practice, the police in Chicago had the right to arrest you in front of your own home under the charge of "loitering"! All of that sprang forth from a supposed one-time "exception" to combat the "scourge" of drugs.

It doesn’t matter if it is done under the phony banner of "family values" or in the name of "political correctness", we willingly surrender our freedoms. We let politicians and special interest groups whittle away our freedoms to decide for ourselves how we want to express ourselves, who we want to see, what kind of music we want to listen to, what programs to watch on television, what kind of job we want to have, and whether or not we will be free from government intrusion.

One of the biggest ideas being pushed after the September 11th horror is some kind of high-tech national ID card. Government officials say we NEED this so we can spot who is "supposed" to be in this country and who is not.

Every time I hear that idea being mentioned, though, I keep on remembering the old World War II movies about some Nazi soldier with a machine gun barking out "PAPERS!" Maybe some of the supporters of this program can explain me the difference without handing out the usual retort of "We’re not like the Nazis!"

Besides, don’t we already have a "national ID" program in the form of Social Security cards? Aren’t visitors from other countries required to have visas and so-called "green cards"? How effective have THESE things been in controlling who gets into America? Not much, if you think about it. Some of the terrorists from the September 11th horror were here on expired or questionable visas.

So how would putting in some extra form of national ID change things? It wouldn’t… unless you were willing to allow checkpoints where such ID would HAVE to be displayed. And not just at airports and federal buildings, but also office buildings, stores, malls, any kind of public gathering that future terrorists MIGHT make a target. And to make sure everyone complied (because there would be a few who would protest), you would have to have officers (read "troopers") who would have arrest powers. And because some of those people who might protest might resist arrest, those officers would have to be armed, right?

Suddenly that old vision of an armed soldier barking out "PAPERS!" is not too crazy, is it? All that would be missing is the German accent.

Adding some extra kind of identification does not and would never stop those who are hell-bent on causing death and destruction. Just like Social Security cards, birth certificates, and baseball tickets, these too can be duplicated for those with the determination and the tools.

Nor is the idea of censoring speech in the name of "security" any better. As much as I would rally against the venomous tongues of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, I would also not support their forced silence. Quite the contrary. Even though I will rally against their theocratic and moralist ideas, I would urge them to go right on speaking their mind and showing to the whole world not only their true nature, but to also demonstrate what the freedom of speech IS all about. It is perhaps one of the greatest ironies in the history of America for people like this commentator to support the free speech of those who would argue to take that right away.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for going after the SOB’s who committed, orchestrated, knowingly aided, and otherwise assisted the terrorist attacks of September 11th. And some sacrifices will have to be made in the coming conflict as we do go ahead and hunt those bastards down. In fact, some of those sacrifices are already being made. But it is a question of what other kind of sacrifices would have to be made that is giving people like myself pause.

In our quest for revenge and our zeal to see the bad guys be served justice, would we be willing to give up the very freedoms that make America so great? Would we be willing to freely do what a band of terrorists could NEVER do, namely destroy everything that makes America so great in the first place? History has shown us that it would be very easy for us to do just that.

What good is it to claim that America is the freest nation on Earth if that freedom can be whittled away in fear and terror? That’s the question civil libertarians and pro-freedom supports such as myself have to ask… because if we don’t, then all of what our founding fathers went through, and all of what our predecessors fought and died for would be for nothing.

It’s good to be determined to see justice served, but we need to do it with a perspective of what America is all about, and realize that there is a line that must not be crossed. Once that line is crossed, then we become just like the very terrorists we abhor. And if we do that, then the terrorists have won.

Monday, September 17, 2001

Week of 09/17/2001

Letting Slip The Dogs Of War
- by David Matthews 2

There is a quote from Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" that I think best describes the emotions of many people since the events of September 11th:

A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

A graphic image, to be certain, but one that does express the sentiments of many here in America who feel the rage and anger over the devastating attack by terrorists in both New York and Washington DC.

To put it bluntly, we’re pissed! And we’ve never been this pissed in well over a century!

The tragic events that took place in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania have been compared to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but even that comparison rings hollow. The Japanese planes attacked military targets only, not the entire island. And they used their own airplanes. The terrorist attacks involved hijacking commercial airplanes, with innocent civilians on board, and then attacking both military AND commercial buildings!

World War II would certainly not be a good comparison. This was not an attack on an island hundreds of miles from home. This was IN America. A better comparison would be more along the lines of the War of 1812, when the British invaded Washington DC and burned it to the ground. Or perhaps General Sherman’s torching of Atlanta in the Civil War. Attacks that happened on our own soil, affecting not only military targets, but civilian targets as well.

But even those historical accounts are not fair comparisons to what happened on September 11th. Those involved invading armies. We knew who the enemies were in those days. We could see them coming and mount some kind of defense against them. Today’s enemies were already here, and got much of their training in America that they turned around and used against us. They blended in with innocent families and the average working Americans, hiding their true intentions until it was too late for anyone to stop them.

Yes, everyone is talking about payback and revenge, but they’re also talking about war. After the attacks, many members of Congress, along with their supportive pundits, were seriously talking about passing a declaration of war. President Bush has said repeatedly that this is "an act of war"

But war against whom? Certainly the terrorists themselves, and those who orchestrated the foul deed. And those who knowingly give them save harbor, of course.

But therein lies the rub. How do you spot them? How can you tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy? Did anyone even suspect that an orchestrated attack of that magnitude would be carried out just prior to September 11th? Sure there were some words that were picked up in hindsight, but nobody would ever suspect that the generalized words spoken in a strip club by two drunken men would translate into the carnage that followed just hours later.

Much like everything else about the new millennium, how we deal with war needs to be reconsidered.

Terrorism is nothing new. The Boston Tea Party was considered to be a terrorist act. Adolph Hitler used the terrorist torching of the Reichstad to secure his absolute control over Germany in the early 1930’s. Terrorism was used in the Vietnam conflict as a way to disrupt American forces there. It’s hard to feel safe when you’re getting bombed and shot at well inside an area that you would consider to be "safe".

But terrorism has gone from being the disruptive side effect of war to being the prime instrument of war. Fear and terror have become the weapons of choice, not just by countries, but by small groups of people bent on disrupting everyday life.

And that’s where the problem of waging war comes in. You can’t fight it using traditional methods of war. You can’t just raise an army and point them to a country or even to a leader and say "There’s your target, KILL IT!"

Yes, by all accounts, it appears that Osama bin Laden is the prime orchestrator of the September 11th assault. And with all of the saber-rattling going on in the world, it right now appears that Afghanistan will be the chief country we will be waging war against. Between their fanatic devotion to the Koran – to the point where the spreading the word of any other religious faith is punishable by death – and their continual support of bin Laden, the ruling Taliban party appears to be taking part in their own suicide run against a whole world clamoring for revenge.

But even if we manage to eradicate that entire country, make it glow in the dark with radioactive fallout, and then dump all of the world’s salt on the land so that nothing would grow for centuries, it would not stop terrorism. Some other rich-man’s bastard with dreams of power and delusions of grandeur would step in and use that incident as their rallying cry to once again let slip the dogs of war. There is always Libya, Iran, Iraq, and a whole score of other countries that are full of people who actually cheered when the rest of us wept.

Let’s get brutally honest here… this "War on Terrorism" is not a war of territory. It is not a war of countries or leaders, or even of politics or religion, but rather of ideas. Specifically, of fanatic, extremist ideas.

And if President Bush is serious about this being a "War on Terrorism", then he has to admit that this is not just a war about extremists in other countries plotting and planning acts of terror. The very same mentalities that created people like Osama bin Laden and his band of evil also gave birth to the late Timothy McVeigh, who destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City because of his extremist beliefs. It gave birth to Eric Robert Rudolph, the suspected terrorist who bombed Centennial Olympic Park in the 1996 Games, as well as two abortion clinics and a lesbian nightclub. It gave birth to Paul Hill, who is sitting on Florida’s death row for the deliberate, premeditated, and cold-blooded murder of an abortion clinic doctor, as well as all other so-called "pro-life" supporters who took it upon themselves to commit acts of terror in the name of their extremist beliefs.

How can we be so determined to make the world safer from terrorism if we tacitly support terrorist actions in our own land?

Further complicating this conflict – this horror – are those who are using this tragedy as vehicles for their personal hatred against those who are not like them. The ones who are thinking like the terrorists and want this to be a holy war. The ones who want this to be a war between Christians and Muslims, or even simply believers versus non-believers.

Following the terrorist acts of September 11th, Muslim mosques have been vandalized and burned. Islamic children here in America have been insulted, cajoled, and threatened by adults who wrongly blame them for the terrorist actions of extremists. One Muslim woman was chased down the street by a drunk driver, who was hell-bent on killing her for what happened in New York. One immigrant gas station owner was killed, and another was targeted by some self-appointed "patriot". God Squad leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, as well as several other self-righteous theocratic groups, are using this tragedy to blame gays, lesbians, pro-freedom groups, and anyone who does not agree with THEIR beliefs. They feel that somehow GOD has lifted "his protection" from America.

Well, I know this message will never reach the right ears, but I hope my readers and listeners will forgive me as I briefly address those above-mentioned "people":

You vain, petty, self-righteous, self-centered, egotistical PRICKS! What the hell, do you think you arrogant bastards are doing, huh? You’re not helping matters, you vile wastes of human material, you’re contributing to them! It’s people like you who have helped create terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Robert Rudolph, and Paul Hill. You jackals and Pharisees constantly talk about waging a "cultural war" and a "spiritual war", well some other arrogant prick just took you up on your talk of war, and now we’re all paying the price for it! If there is anyone who should be blamed for this horror outside of the terrorists themselves, the burden is YOURS to bear. So on behalf of myself and all other rational human beings out there, I suggest to people like "Osama bin" Falwell and "Osama bin" Robertson that you kindly slither back under whatever rock you came from, or else not-so kindly GO TO HELL WHERE YOU BELONG!

Okay, that’s more than enough attention those pieces of flotsam should ever get. As a libertarian, I may have to defend their right to speak their mind, but that doesn’t mean I have to do so silently.

Just as bad are the arguments by government and anti-freedom groups to use the tragic events of September 11th as an excuse to start taking away the very freedoms that we cherish. Here we have everyone talking about how America is this great land of freedom, and yet in times like these, freedom is usually the first casualty. If our politicians start chopping down our rights in the name of safety, then what exactly will our country stand for? It sure as hell wouldn’t be for freedom anymore.

If we start listening to the authoritarians and start living our lives in fear of the next attack, then the terrorists will have won. We’ll be in a situation where we win all the battles, but yet lose the war.

This conflict is not about US against THEM, or even a case of U.S. against THEM, but rather it is a case of US against those who hate US. The Earl of Chesterfield once said, "People hate those who make them feel their own inferiority." That, I think, best describes those extremist groups, and why they are hell-bent on making the rest of us so fearful of them. They are, after all, afraid themselves. That’s why they cling so tightly to what they believe. Those who are truly confident of who they are and what they believe in are not afraid of those whose ideas differ from their own.

Look, its sheer naïveté to believe that we’re going to eliminate terrorism. As long as there are people who fear those who have a difference of opinion or a difference of beliefs, then there will always be conflict. But certainly we can get the message out that terrorism will not be tolerated, not only inside America, but elsewhere as well. And just like terrorism is not limited to any territorial boundary, those who organize, orchestrate, finance, and otherwise knowingly support terrorist activities should know that they can no longer hide in the shadows, or under the safety of some country. They too will have to be held accountable.

They say war is hell. Well, the supporters of terrorism will soon find out why it is so.

Monday, September 10, 2001

Week of 09/10/2001

On Obsessions and Addictions
- by David Matthews 2

"The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be curbed, sacrificed or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever. It demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary." - Ayn Rand

We all like to think that what drives the human spirit – indeed, what defines the human spirit – is a lofty spiritual quest for information, knowledge, insight, and understanding. We want to think that what we do is all part of some grand scheme to make humanity that much better. We convince ourselves that our intentions are noble and pure, for the most selfless of purposes.

However, quite often the chief motivations of man are more selfish than selfless.

For instance, do you think that Captain Ahab in James Melville’s classic tale "Moby Dick" was motivated to hunt down the great white whale simply for humanitarian purposes? Do you think his disastrous quest for the behemoth was made in the interest of maritime safety? Or do you really think that his suicide quest was for vengeance for the earlier loss of his leg? Do you think his obsession for revenge was the reason why he lost his ship, almost all of his crew, and certainly his life?

How about the zealotry of the neo-apostle Paul? What would motivate a former persecutor of Christianity to abandon the messages of Jesus of tolerance and forgiveness for messages of self-righteousness and conversion at all cost? And what would motivate him to demonize anything sexual in nature? Would it be the "Holy Spirit" he was channeling? Or was it the pains from venereal disease that some believe he had contracted prior to his supposed conversion? It certainly would explain much of his letters in the New Testament, including his temporary blindness which sparked his conversion in the first place.

How about the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Carol Lightner? Would she have been concerned about the issue of drunk driving if her child wasn’t killed by a habitual drunk driver? Or if the justice system had meted out the appropriate punishment? Would that have prevented the resurrection of the Temperance movement and efforts to essentially resurrect the failed program called Prohibition?

Sure we all wish that our intentions were as pure as those of the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta, but we need to be honest with ourselves and accept the fact that some of our prime motivators come of our darkest emotions… our obsessions and our addictions.

It’s easy to see obsessions and addictions when they are at their most absurd, or when they become obviously destructive. But not all obsessions and addictions are that obvious.

We all think it’s sick to have a shrine up for some movie actress or model. The character "Stan" in Emenem’s music video, for instance, had a whole shrine dedicated to the rap star. But what about parents who have shrines of their kids in their homes? What about parents who are obsessed with the progress of their kids? Would that be considered destructive as well? Yes, in some instances, it is. That obsession for the "perfect" child has led some parents to abuse their kids in order to get them to succeed. They would lie, cheat, steal, even kill in order for their kids to be the success stories they want them to be.

And yet we easily excuse such obsessive behavior as simply good parenting.

It is human nature to be obsessed over that which we cannot have. It doesn’t matter if that object of desire is a person, a material object, or a status. But whether or not we deem it to be dangerous depends on what that obsession is, and how it can be tempered. Being obsessed is not dangerous. Being obsessed to the point of doing harm to others is.

As for addictions, there are people who are addicted to plenty of things, not all of them considered to be illegal. Tobacco is addictive. So is alcohol. So is aspirin. For that matter, so is television, the Internet, publicity, soap operas, reality-based programming, potato chips, Twinkies, love, sex, religion, exercise, music… just about ANYTHING can be considered addictive.

There are those who say that government needs to protect people from the obsessive and compulsive activities. Lawmakers in Georgia, for instance, recently passed a law making it illegal for people to possess video gambling machines. They say the ban is needed to "protect" those who become so addictive to the machines that they do stupid things… like leave their young kids locked inside their cars to roast in the summer sun, or waste their entire paychecks and drain their life savings.

Stupid actions, to be sure, and quite destructive.

But let’s get brutally honest here… banning something does not prevent the destructive acts, it simply compounds the activity.

Consider the great failed experiment called Prohibition. Did it cut down on crime? No, crime exploded. Did it cut down on people being addicted to alcohol? No, it simply drove the addiction further underground, and created even more addicts who could not admit their addiction for fear of being further persecuted. The "experiment" failed because it did nothing to stop the destructive parts of the addictive behavior, but rather complicated them.

So how does Georgia stop the destructive aspects of video gambling by banning the item? It can’t! All it does is transfer those who are addicted to gambling from one form to another… in this case, the state’s own lottery program. You ever get caught up in one of their "instant win" scratch-off games? They can be just as addictive as any video poker machine!

But that does bring up another group of addicts and obsessive personalities whose actions are often never questioned, and are more destructive than all of the crack cocaine, liquor, and video poker games around. Of course, I’m talking about those who are forever hooked on GOVERNMENT!

We never do talk about those people, do we? No, we don’t.

But we know who they are, don’t we? The ones who feel that there is no aspect of the world that cannot exist without some government program monitoring, funding, or otherwise regulating it. The ones who feel that there is no solution that does not involve some aspect of the government, be it the courts or some committee or some agency. The ones who feel that there should be a government program to raise and educate our children, teach them the "proper" ethical standards, provide food, clothing, shelter, jobs, health care, prescription drugs, and then provide pension, senior care, and even burial services. In other words, having government serve as parens patriae, or "parent’s parent", providing womb-to-tomb coverage of each life.

And don’t think for a minute that I’m just talking about liberals! There are conservative who are addicted to government as well! Conservatives who feel that government must pass and enforce laws that reflect THEIR moral standards. Conservatives who feel that government must subsidize THEIR social programs and dictate to other programs HOW such subsidies should be used. And there are conservatives who feel that government should regulate every aspect of human action, from birth to death. Believe me, conservatives are just as addicted to government as liberals are!

So why aren’t we hearing about these addicts? Why aren’t there any 12-step programs for these poor souls?

Certainly those who are addicted to government can be destructive, although their destruction usually affects other people, not them. Their addiction forces others to fork over a percentage of their hard-earned money to support this nasty habit. Their addiction forces others to comply with a myriad of rules and regulations that could possibly hurt their businesses.

If you don’t believe me, look at the small businesses in Georgia that will lose up to one billion dollars that video gambling brought in every year until it was made illegal. They’re not going to get that back with corn dogs and cappuccino machines.

How about the farmers of the Kalmouth Basin? Their crops are going dry because the water that would irrigate their lands was shut off because some judge thinks it would harm some endangered fish. No water, no crops. No crops, no food.

Well, we can’t outlaw government, but it certainly is hypocritical of those who are addicted to government sit in judgement of those who suffer from other forms of addiction.

And as for obsessive personalities, well, I can think of a group of people who are so obsessed with making people think like them that they would turn to government addicts to satisfy their obsession. People who will stop at nothing until everything they survey reflect their beliefs. They’re called moralists.

Look, sometimes having obsessions and addictions can have a positive effect, and sometimes it can have a negative one. But trying to pass laws simply on the fear of those who might develop an addiction does not help resolve that addiction, and it serves to punish those who would not be addicted to that item. It would be better to deal with the addiction than blindly trying to ban anything that could cause it.

Monday, September 3, 2001

Week of 09/03/2001

The Elusive Budget Snipe Hunt
- by David Matthews 2

"The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics." - Thomas Sowell

When I was out camping as a kid, there used to be this little event that everyone took part in called the "Snipe Hunt". That was when we would roam in the woods in the middle of the night, carrying sticks and flashlights, and try to find this little bird called the "Snipe". These birds were night creatures, so supposedly when we shined the flashlight on them, they would be paralyzed. Then we would hit the bird with a stick to knock it out and put it in the bag that we’d carry with us.

We would never find even one of those birds. Instead, after a couple of hours of us kids slogging around in the woods, some adult would be hiding in the bushes for us to pass on by, scaring the crap out of us when we’d least expect it.

The truth was, there was no such bird called the "Snipe." The hunt was just a hoax to keep us kids busy and wear us down for two hours before going to sleep. Of course, I always seemed to sleep more soundly after going out on such a trek. And perhaps that was just the point of the game all along.

Watching the bitch-and-cry routine going on by members of Congress over the federal budget, I’m getting that same feeling as I did when going on that last "Snipe hunt".

After spending money like there was no tomorrow, members of Congress are now complaining about this mythical thing called the "budget surplus", and how it is shrinking. That in and of itself is a falsehood, since there really IS no such thing as a budget surplus in the federal government. Every tax dollar collected is spent, one way or another. The only "surplus" that exists is on paper.

But they’re still crying for it. And, as expected, the Democrats now want to put the brakes on President Bush’s tax cut program. They didn’t even wait for the ink to dry on the tax rebate checks before claiming that the whole tax cut program, rebates and all, was shrinking "the surplus".

So how do you shrink something that only exists on paper?

Let’s get brutally honest here… the mythical tax surplus only came into existence, even on paper, because the federal government did not take into account the influx of money being made on Wall Street during the Bill Clinton regime. Every time the markets rose and fell, brokers would get paid, and Uncle Sam would get his cut through the luxury taxes paid on every stock that was either bought or sold. As long as the markets were unstable, and there was steady growth in the business sector, there would be a huge influx of tax money.

But there was no actual "surplus" because the tax dollars that came in were being spent faster than you could say "pork barrel programs." The money that came in went to help supplement the failed Ponzi scheme called Social Security. It went to help pay off the huge federal debt, which is still being measured with more zeros than a Pauly Shore fan club. And it went to pay for all of those extra pork programs that Congress suddenly found a "need" for. After all, there was plenty of money to spend now that there was a "surplus", right?

So ask yourself what would happen if the economy that sustains that tax income went to crap, and the spending gets even worse than before, what would happen to any so-called "surplus"? Well that would be pretty much a no-brainer. Any "surplus", even on paper, would go down.

Oh, and speaking of pork programs, how about that little junket trip the Democrats took to Europe this past July? The New York Post estimates that we the taxpayers footed about $250,000 for nine members of Congress, their spouses, and members of their staff on a nine-day tour through Brussels, Berlin, Moscow, and London! And they didn’t fly cheap either! They flew first-class on a custom-designed Navy C-32 jet, complete with a chocolate mousse tower, filet mignon, and chicken stuffed with mushrooms. No crappy bag of trail mix for these folks! They also stayed at the best hotels while in Europe… on our dime, of course… and even took in the Bolshoi Ballet and the Wimbledon tennis championships.

Oh yes, such financially minded folk, these Democrats!

Well, I guess that we should be thankful that Congressman Dick Gebhardt only took EIGHT of his congressional buddies, and their respective entourages, over to Europe on our dime. He could have invited even more. I mean, WHO WOULDN’T want to go see the Bolshoi Ballet and fly first-class on a VIP jet loaded with a chocolate mousse tower? You certainly aren’t going to get those kinds of accommodations flying on Delta!

So it makes one wonder… if the Democrats are such spendaholics, why are they now fretting over a mythical budget surplus?

The answer is publicity. The Democrats don’t want people to think that "Junior" has somehow "saved" the economy through his idea of a tax cut. That would dispel the whole Democratic myth that you can tax people into prosperity.

Plus, the Democrats have been fighting giving back ANY tax money tooth-and-nail. They think that the money is theirs to do with as they please, and they will be damned if they will let anyone give that money back to the taxpayers! Oh yes, they know that the tax money is really ours. Why else would they be so gung-ho about spending money like there was no tomorrow?

So the Democrats are playing this little mind control game, trying to convince the public that this mythical "surplus" is shrinking, so they can pretend to be the great budget "saviors" that they never were. And all the while, they’re busy spending every federal penny that they can get their greedy, grubby, pork-laden hooves on. It’s pathetic!

Look, if the Democrats were serious about being budget hawks, they would be the first to cut spending, not increase it! They wouldn’t be trying to sneak in every pork project they can. They’d learn to say "NO" to those special interest groups. And they sure as hell wouldn’t be jet setting off on European vacations at the government’s expense. They’d take Delta like the rest of us, paid for with their own money, not ours!

The ugly truth is that this is just the adult’s version of the great snipe hunt, except played with numbers instead of flashlights and sticks. We’re once again being led through the woods, wondering when we’d ever find that elusive creature, and hoping this year we’d actually find the bird called "surplus" and not some adult popping out of the bushes screaming "SNIPE! SNIPE! SNIPE!"

It would almost be comical… if it weren’t being played with OUR money.