Review of Atlas Shrugged Part III

2014_08_08_Wallpaper_WIJG**SOME PLOT SPOILERS BELOW**

A few notes before I begin my review. I am a huge fan of the ideas and ideals of Ayn Rand, yet I always had issues with her long-winded method of storytelling. I realize she wanted to maintain complete artistic control and kept detailed journals, but I argue that her ideas could be more effectively spread through a more conscious awareness of her audience. In fact, before we even knew it was being made into a film trilogy, my father and I discussed the fact that it would be great for a talented filmmaker—who truly understood the unique language of cinema and the ways it differs from a novel, and who also understood the true points Rand wanted to make—could bring Rand’s ideas to the big screen.

I mentioned in a previous post that I donated to the Kickstarter campaign for Atlas Shrugged Part III and was anticipating the film. I showed Part I to my high school students one year, and they seemed to enjoy it, and although I saw flaws from the transition into the book, I was pleased overall. So it pains me to admit that Part III was a disappointment. Rand, in her books, harshly criticizes those who applaud effort or intent—instead, she emphasizes the importance of judging results. The result of this film is that people who already love Ayn Rand were given a film to watch; those who don’t already embrace her ideals were not given anything to help them do so.

First, the film only seemed to cater to those who were already fans. I do appreciate the filmmakers getting Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck for guest appearances, but I’m not sure what this does to open Rand’s ideas to the general population. Nothing screams crazy to a liberal like either of those two. (Of course, I did enjoy seeing Ron Paul in there, as he was dedicated enough to name his own son Rand). But in general, the film did little to show characters’ motivations. As an example, the pirate Ragnar’s actions barely seemed justified. In the book, it is clear that Ragnar was only taking goods that the government—or private companies with government intervention—essentially stole from those who produced the goods. He would not touch a private ship doing private business. The movie did not communicate this clearly.

Second, the film ineffectively used the language of cinema—when it attempted to use it at all. There was too much “telling”—direct narration—rather than showing. I enjoyed how in previous films, background information was communicated to the viewer through media clips (news reporters). In this case, the narrator simply used voice over to directly tell us things that had happened not only in society, but among characters as well. It felt lazy—as if the filmmaker simply wouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered to find a more effective way to communicate that information. It made the whole story flat. Dagny, to me, was too passive—not strong enough as a character. I also felt no chemistry between Dagny and John Galt. There could have been a few inexpensive scenes inserted in the film to show how harmful the government policies were. Instead, the filmmaker assumed the viewers all hated government policies and understood how they could harm the economy.

For instance: how about having a little boy sitting at dinner in a working-class home and asking for a second helping of his paltry meal. His mother, in tatters, could tell the boy there was no more food for seconds. She could then glance at his father in the corner, who is sitting, ashamed. The little boy, tearful, could ask “why?” And the mother could explain, “Your daddy can’t work at the factory anymore. The metal broke down and there’s no way to fix it. Until the metal’s fixed, all the workers have to stay home.” Something like that to show how government policies directly impacted the common man.

Third, the acting was lackluster, compounded by the fact that the cast is ever-changing. These actors have not worked with each other in the other two parts, so there was no background, no chemistry. D’Anconia’s actor was far too old and overweight for the character in the book. Rand’s “hero” characters are always fit, a physical representation of their abilities. This to me was a terrible casting decision. The characters seemed like empty shells that recited important parts of Rand’s ideas. With no soul beneath, they were unconvincing to an unconvinced.

Finally, it seemed that the way this movie was created—even more so than the first two—was a string of major points from the novel without heart. Yes, Rand said use your head and not your heart, but in the language of cinema, we must consider the audience’s emotions if we are to be effective. If not, then why make a film in the first place. The torture scene was ineffective and “small” compared to how magnificent it seemed in the book. The radio address, too, seemed out of place because things weren’t established as “bad enough” in society to warrant it. In the book, people are literally starving and freezing to death. A few cutaways could have helped establish this. At the end of the book, the country is in desperation for someone to lead them—someone like John Galt. This film made it seem like things were just a little bad. Without preparing the viewer, the ending was ineffective. When New York went dark, there wasn’t anything to it.

I understand that the people working on the film faced many challenges, but there are plenty of independent films that are done effectively. My biggest complaint is in the film’s failure to use the language of cinema to communicate Rand’s ideas in a new way—a way that would appeal to visual learners who would otherwise be fearful of tackling the huge tome. But it seems the only people to enjoy the film were already fans. With disappointment, I encourage you to read the book instead of seeing the film. It’ll be much more rewarding.

Obama’s Syria Address Another Example of Misunderstanding America’s Founding Values

President Obama discussed American exceptionalism during his Syria speech. But he knows nothing of America’s true exceptionalism and its role in preserving freedom.

In the closing lines of his address to the nation attempting to justify the use of military strikes against Syria, President Obama showed yet again how little he understands (or values) America’s founding principles, which are essential to freedom.

The president said this:

America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Here we pause for just a moment to remind you–and the president, of his earlier remarks regarding “American exceptionalism.”

“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I expect the Brits believe in British exceptionalism; just as the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Which at its core meaning is to say, he does NOT believe in exceptionalism at all. If everyone is exceptional, then no one is. As the word suggests, “exceptional” refers to something being unusual or an “exception” to the rule.

Does the president truly believes in American exceptionalism? Or was he merely using it as the tagline for a 15-minute commercial attempting to swing wildly unpopular opinion for his desire to start another military conflict in the Middle East?

American exceptionalism is not to say that the US is the world’s policeman or is unusual because it has economic or military strength. It does not mean that Americans are “better” than Obama’s Brits or Greeks–or anyone else for that matter. It doesn’t mean America deserves a larger seat at the world’s table of decision makers because we think we are special.

The true meaning of American exceptionalism can be traced back to the founding of the country and the values and principles that were infused into the Constitution as written in 1787.  America was exceptional or an exception to the rule at that time because in an age of kings and queens and despotic rulers, a country was founded where rule would be by the consent of the governed not by a “divine right of kings” or a “mandate from heaven” claimed by despots.

At a time in the world’s history of serfs and subjects, existing by the grace and mercy of a liege lord or a sovereign, the American Declaration of Independence boldy declared that “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Put another way, rights were recognized as existing in nature, as blessings from a Creator, not as privileges that are granted by a government. In America the government’s purpose is to secure these rights, not to grant them in exchange for political favors.

The US Constitution limits government’s power–establishing the principle of governing by consent of the people or the idea that Americans are citizens, not subjects. But this principle is lost on one such as Barack Obama. He views the US Constitution not as promoting freedom and individual liberty. No, to him, the Constitution is like “a charter of negative liberties” because it only states what the government cannot do to its citizens; it does not charge the government to take actions (such as redistributing wealth) on  behalf of citizens.

Imagine the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights that you hold dear, whatever they may be (or all of them). Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to keep and bear arms in one’s own defense, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, right to a jury trial, freedom from testifying against yourself, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment (partial list). To Barack Obama these things are “negative liberties.” They do not grant the government the power to do what it wants, these rights only provide people guarantees of freedom from government action.

Thus, to Obama, and those that think the way he does, the Constitution is not a great document. It is not great because it tells the government it cannot infringe on people’s rights. The Constitution is flawed because it does not empower the government to act on the behalf of some, at the expense of others. Examples of what progressive statists have in mind of what the government should be empowered to do are similar to the “rights” that the Soviet constitution offered its subjects–or the rights that FDR attempted to propose in a “Second Bill of Rights” in the 1940s, such as a right to employment, a right to a living wage, healthcare, housing, education and social security–even food, clothing, and recreation.

But Liberty is:  the quality or state of being free (thank you Merriam-Webster):

a :  the power to do as one pleases
b :  freedom from physical restraint
c :  freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
d :  the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
e :  the power of choice

Because to give the kinds of things to people that progressive statists want, the government needs more power, not less. They need the power to tell you what to eat; what to put in your car–if you even get to have one; power to decide if you will receive medical treatment, or the power to kill you if it deems you are too expensive and too useless to keep around. They need power to tell you where you can live, how big of a house is too much, when you’ve made too much money, how much electricity you will be allowed to consume, and so on.

But these are not liberties according to the common sense definition above. Freedom and liberty exist when people are not told what to do–this is the exact opposite. To Barack Obama, the obvious definition of freedom and liberty doesn’t come about by limiting the government’s power over its people. To him those are “negative liberties” (even though they apply only to the government). To Barack Obama, liberty only exists when the government has the power to grant its citizens the material things that will seem to bring them happiness. And while some may claim this fits into definition “d” above, that is not true. The things that the government grants must be produced by or paid for by someone. The arbitrary seizure of property in order to redistribute it to someone else fits clearly into a definition of “arbitrary or despotic control.”

The meaning of actual freedom–that is the real world definition and not that of a learned constitutional scholar–matches the idea present at America’s birth: that freedom exists in nature and it is government’s job to secure it for their people. Barack Obama’s interpretation is more in line with the vision that governments must take more power in order to grant rights to their people. But this idea, despite being forwarded by self-proclaimed “progressives” as they like to call themselves, is quite regressive. It diverts us back to the world from which America emerged as an exceptional nation–a world where citizens are subjects rather than the masters of their own destiny that they can be in a free society.

Barack Obama does not identify with the values that were forged into the American constitution. These are the ideas that allowed individual freedom to take hold and propel the country to its present stature. These ideas and values are foreign to him. Leaving us to ask, if Barack Obama knows nothing of the true exceptionalism from whence America came, how can he claim the moral authority to lead its government?

Gun Crime Down; Democrats Stubbornly Promise Renewed Assault on Gun Freedoms

Despite gun crime decrease of 49 percent; Obama, Reid promise further gun control actions.

Freedom Forge Press

Do you remember Chris Rock’s well thought out reasoning for supporting President Obama’s push for tighter controls on the freedoms of law-abiding gun owners? Let’s rewind the tape for you!

Thank you, Chris, for that thoughtful and well-reasoned justification for why law abiding citizens should surrender their Second Amendment freedom. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

A Pew Research Center report released yesterday detailed a 49 percent decrease in gun-related crimes in the United States since 1993. The trend line shows a decline from 1993 to 2001, a leveling off, then resumed a downward movement in 2007. Interestingly, the same report shows the public is woefully uninformed about the trend. A public opinion poll showed 56 percent of respondents thought gun crime was up from 20 years ago. Twelve percent correctly identified the trend as lower; the rest, sadly didn’t know.
These results are interesting to note along side a recent Gallup poll. The poll asked what issues are most important to the public. Gun control came in at a respectable…4 percent, well behind the economy and unemployment (which really represent the same issue, no?), dissatisfaction with the government, and government spending. None of these items seem to draw much attention or interest from the Obama Administration.
Yet assaulting the freedom of lawful gun owners continues to be a fascination of the president and Congressional Democrats. Following the Senate pulling gun control bill, the president’s official Twitter account had the below message:
It probably doesn’t help that the “90 percent” figure is pure fantasy. The Gallup poll above shows the number is about 4%. And reality tells us that gun-related crime is on a downward trend without further government “help.” But as if taking his cue from the president, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly stated on April 26 that gun control will “definitely” be back again this year.
Returning to Chris Rock’s comments above, that gun owners and the country should listen to the president because he is “our boss” and like our “dad of the country.” And when your dad says something, “you listen…when you don’t it usually bites you in the ass later on.”
Well Chris, and those who shared the “Demand a Plan” platform with you, nodding and laughing with you, we see it differently. We’d like to introduce you to a group of people known as the Founding Fathers. You can think of them also as founding “daddies” or “daddies of the country” if that helps. They wrote things like, “no free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms,” and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
See these “daddies” of the country lived in another time when their government was attempting to take away basic freedoms too. Based on their experience with this tyranny, they put checks and balances on government power in place, like the Bill of Rights, to safeguard against future government mischief.
We’d like to see our current president and virtually all Members of Congress–from BOTH parties–get reacquainted with our founding fathers/daddies and relearn the principles of limited government that are illustrated in the Constitution that they have taken an oath to protect and defend.

US Senate Says “Presto” And Free Money Appears!

Senate Proposed Marketplace “Fairness” Act Limits Personal Freedom, Choice

Freedom Forge Press

Yesterday the US Senate approved its version of the “Marketplace Fairness Act.” The proposed law seeks to require online retailers to collect and pay sales taxes to state and local jurisdictions. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea. After all, shouldn’t individuals buying goods across state lines have to pay sales tax? It’s only fair because if they went to their local store they would have to pay sales tax. Right? People who rudely seek a deal across state lines rob schools, police, and firefighters of their state and local tax funding.

Enter Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Dick Durban (D-Illinois), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) with the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” which should be renamed the “Free Money from Thin Air Act.”

In the world before the bill, retailers did not have to collect and pay sales taxes on goods sold online to out of state customers. That is, unless, and we are over simplifying here, a) the seller had a physical location in the same state as the buyer; or b) the seller’s state had an agreement with the buyer’s state that would require sales taxes to be collected and paid to the buyer’s state.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is one group lobbying Congress in favor of the law.  According to the NCSL, states lost an estimated $23.3 billion in 2012 alone from their inability to collect taxes on online and out-of-state purchases. $11.4 billion of that figure is estimated to be lost from an inability to tax online sales. To make up for lost revenue, many states passed “sales and use” tax filing requirements. When filing state tax returns, residents would have to report on the amount of goods and services they purchased from outside their home state and pay their state’s sales tax. That attempt was about as successful as starting a fire with two wet sticks.

As a solution, states could opt to step up enforcement on their own residents who were not paying the sales and use taxes.  But we can only imagine how well the voting public would reward their politicians for dumping this increased tax bill on their laps. Plan B would be to impose the tax collection requirements on the seller of the goods and services. This is a more attractive option for politicians because the out of state sellers often have no local representation and no ability to hold politicians accountable for their actions. The only problem to date has been that if the seller resides in another state it is well outside the reach of the clutches of the home state’s taxing agency thanks a Supreme Court ruling that said such taxation was not constitutional unless authorized by Congress,

Enter the Senate with its “Free Money from Thin Air Act,” which if passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the president would provide the very authorization needed to overrule the Supreme Court and permit states to levy taxes on out of state businesses.

And it is only out of fairness (the bill’s name is the Marketplace FairnessAct didn’t you know?!) that states are requiring out of state Internet sellers collect and pay the same taxes as their in-state competitors. The politicians say it’s very unfair for the “bricks and mortar” store to have to inconvenience their customers by collecting taxes when the buyer can order the same item from an out of state online seller and avoid the sales tax. This argument completely overlooks the problem of shipping costs from the out of state seller’s point of view. Many customers have come to expect free shipping from online retailers. So adding a local sales tax on top of a shipping cost will place the online out of state store at a disadvantage. Where is the “fairness” now?

More than once, advocates of the law say, it’s not a new tax, it’s a “due” tax. But if the tax bill hasn’t been collected in the past, it seems like the Senate is expecting the $23 billion to materialize out of thin air–with no impact to consumers. If the issue is state budget pressures, one solution could be to stop dumping unfunded mandates (e.g., Obamacare) onto state budgets. This would relieve the pressure from state budgets without expecting consumers to fork over another $23 billion in “taxes due.”

Of course there’s no reasonable way to comply with the law without some complex tax accounting software. This may explain why Amazon.com made a sudden U-turn from its vigorous opposition to applying state and local taxes to its sales and now supports the law. Trying to find the answer to this reversal and new found friend for politicians doesn’t require much sleuthing. Amazon isn’t looking for tax fairness, it’s looking for customers. Amazon’s convenient new Tax Collection Services offers online merchants a convenient 3% fee for figuring out all that tax mess.  Three percent of $11.4 billion is likely a rich enough potential customer base to come out in support of the new taxing measure.

As usual, Congress, and in this case Democrats and several Republicans in the Senate show an abysmal intelligence of how commerce works outside of their DC dreamland. A few oversights that the Senate made:

1. Complexity. Suddenly, online retailers would be required to have a working knowledge of nearly 9,600 state and local tax laws and regulations affecting everything from different tax rates for different goods and whether certain items are exempted from sales taxes.

2. Enforcement. The bill authorizes state taxing authorities to target online retailers with audits to verify compliance. Businesses simply do not have the financial resources to put into defending and answering auditor’s questions from a variety of taxing authorities.  Not to mention that responding to audits takes them away from much more efficient uses of their time, like running their businesses. The Senate was generous to limit the audits to one from each state. (The Government speak looks like this: “single audit of a remote seller for all State and local taxing jurisdictions within that State”)

3. Ambiguity over what a “State” means. Most people grew up (at least those who were in school since 1959) understanding there are 50 states. This bill extends the “state” definition to include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and “and any other territory or possession of the United States.”

4. Native American Tribes recognized as state taxing authorities. “And any tribal organization (as defined in 18 section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b)).” There are 566 such tribal organizations.

5. What does an “audit” mean. State taxing authorities–to include the 550 new states the Senate found–can engage in all kinds of harassment of businesses without initiating a formal audit.

The bill introduced by Sen. Enzi was supposed to limit a small business’s risk of visits from state tax auditors to one per state. But with final bill markup, a small business is potentially at risk of more than 600 audits with the expanded definition of what a “state taxing authority” means.

The Wall Street Journal reports asking Senator Enzi’s office for clarification on the above issue. When the answer (today!) was that the Senator was still trying to figure out the answer when the bill was passed last night reminds us of the “have to pass the bill in order to find out what’s in it” stupidity started by then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when referring to ambiguity in the Affordable Care Act.

The proposed law serves as another example of Washington ignorance of the private economy. It also illustrates the politicians’ ongoing search for free money at the expense of the freedom of small business owners who operate across state lines. While the search goes ever on and on, 69 Senators waved a magic wand and expected “free money” to come flying out of a magician’s hat. Sixty-nine Senators want you the taxpayer to believe their illusion that they’ve found a cost-free way to fund state and local budgets without harming consumers–ignoring the fact that the money will come from somewhere.

These politicians think they’ve done their part to spread the pain of state and local sales tax in a way that makes the process “more fair” for brick and mortar and online retailers. But they’ve failed to consider a more reasonable alternative–that instead of simply spreading around the tax pain, they could have acted to reduce or eliminate the tax pain by eliminating wasteful spending, ending duplicate government programs, and pretending that unfunded federal mandates such as education, Obamacare, and environmental regulations magically fund themselves

Obama Hears, Addresses “Voices” of Opposition

While speaking at a commencement ceremony in Ohio, President Obama stated that college graduate and young people should disregard any “voices” that constantly warn against government tyranny.

“The voices”, according to the president, say that government is a source of tyranny and bad things. That “tyranny lurks just around the corner.”  The president urges his audience to reject these “voices,” because accepting that tyranny is possible means that our experiment in self rule is just a sham and that people can’t be trusted.

The the president expresses in this speech illustrates his utter ignorance of America’s founding and the very points of federalism, divided government, checks and balances on power, and the concept of natural rights–those given to men and women because we are born, not because some government grants them to us.

In Federalist No. 51, James Madison writes, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But men are not angels. In this line, he acknowledges that some government is necessary. But he goes on to write, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”  But angels do not govern the affairs of men, nor are they working in modern government. Thus government power must be controlled.

The president implies that those who fear government tyranny and speak their concerns seek only to “gum up the works” to getting things like gun control, government healthcare, and other legislative agenda items pushed through Congress.

Perhaps the president fails to recognize what tyranny is, we are glad to help him out.

Source: Dictionary.com

Government (at all levels, not just federal) has engaged in a variety of oppressive behavior in the last few years. Examples abound such as banning the sale of sodas of an arbitrary size, banning legal gun owners from having or purchasing guns with more than 7, 10, or more bullets in an ammunition magazine. The government enacted a mono-partisan take over of healthcare, passing a law of approximately 2,000 pages with so many fill in the blanks for the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the federal bureaucracy that the current count of regulations issued to fill in the legislative blanks stands at nearly 20,000 pages, a tower of paper more than 7 feet tall. The president has, despite taking an oath to the contrary, arbitrarily selected what federal laws he will enforce and which he will not.

The president signed a law authorizing the indefinite detention of US citizens without trial and without right of judicial review. His Department of Homeland Security has amassed more deadly hollow point ammunition at a rate faster than used by the US military in conducting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His Department of Justice is involved in an illegal gun running scandal that resulted in Mexican drug cartels obtaining weapons which were used to murder a US ATF agent and Mexican citizens. Instead of submitting to Congressional oversight, the White House asserted executive privilege to avoid having to answer for its bad acts.

Finally, the US government has recently involved itself in a number of warrant-less, paramilitary raids on American businesses for trumped up charges (The Gibson Guitar factory raid is just one of several examples). While no actual wrongdoing is found, the government refuses to file charges, return seized property, or allow a judicial hearing on the actions that took place.

The examples above do not inspire confidence that government is a merely a benevolent, nurturing force for good. Despite the president’s urging to the contrary, government and the intention of individuals running it are not always noble or pure. And that is why the entire framework of setting up the federal government is one that restricts its powers. The federal government is granted power by the Constitution via enumerated powers–those specifically given to it. Those powers not granted are reserved to the states or to the people. No matter what politicians benevolently promise, that’s how the system should remain.

Government Pays Hospitals to Let Patients Die?

UK-based The Daily Telegraph printed a story illustrating one of the dangers of socialized medicine. Based on a Freedom of Information Act request, the report demonstrates financial incentives were paid to National Health Service (NHS) hospitals to employ a controversial treatment, called Liverpool Care Pathway, for patients believed to be dying. The treatment can involve withholding diagnostic tests and “nonessential” treatments. In some cases “can involve the removal of hydration and nutrition from dying patients.”

In a sample, NHS hospitals were paid at least an equivalent of $20 million (£12.4 million), and potentially in excess of $32 million (£20 million) as an incentive for putting patients on the “treatment” course. As the debate over government’s proper role in healthcare in the US continues, this example from “across the pond” shows us exactly why Americans should be distrustful of a greater role for government in the healthcare sector of the economy.

We’ve heard the argument before. It goes something like, “well healthcare in the UK is so much better and efficient than here because they don’t give you medical services until you really need it.” Or so the argument goes.

The fundamental flaw for the pro-government approach to health care delivery is that politicians and government bureaucrats tend to see “healthcare” as a finite resource that must be distributed as “fairly” and as equitably as possible to the voting constituencies (or an even more cynical view, campaign donating constituencies). In dessert terms, government views healthcare as a cake and its mission is to decide who will get how big of a piece.  We’ve heard ad nauseum from one presidential candidate about fairness. We’d like to point out that our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which describe the roles and powers of government does not discuss “fairness.” They do, however, mention “freedom.”

And freedom is lost in a government-controlled healthcare system. As seen in the bureaucratic machinations of the Affordable Care Act, an unelected, appointed group of bureaucrats serving on the Independent Payment Advisory Board will wield power (not subject to Congressional override) to determine anything from a list of accepted treatments to an overall “per capita funding level” in the event that the growth of medical payments exceeds targeted amounts.

Government fails to efficiently allocate resources because it is subject to political pressures. Would government mandates have lead to the creation of “minute clinics” now popping up in various pharmacies and discount stores across the US? No, of course not. Because rather than finding a way to more efficiently deliver service–and thus find a way to increase the size of the healthcare cake available to all, government is locked into its finite resource mentality of allocating scarce resources. It’s the incentive to reap the rewards of their innovation that has inspired US companies to research and develop new medical technologies–technologies that other countries benefit from (even those with socialized medicine). If the US turns to socialized medicine, who will be left with any incentive to develop new and life-saving medical innovations?

Sarah Palin is noted for coining the phrase “death panels” and was savagely criticized for it. But the reality is she’s far closer to the truth than those who attacked her for using the phrase to describe the future of government-managed care in the US. The UK health system uses a metric called “quality adjusted life years” to determine if a disabled or elderly patient will be eligible for various treatments. One of President Obama’s healthcare advisers, Ezekiel Emanual, is noted for his contributions to the Complete Lives System, which evaluates a patient’s future overall value to society in decisions of allocating healthcare resources.

Which leads us to our conclusion. If government is permitted to decide what treatments are available to certain patients, healthcare in the US becomes an entirely new proposition, not unlike the relationship many people have with their cars. When a car needs a new transmission or another expensive repair, many owners (excepting true car lovers!) either resort to a do-it-yourself option or often weigh the cost of a repair against how many useful years a car “realistically” has left. If the fix is determined to be more expensive than its worth, the car owner evaluates trade-ins or how to finance a new car.

This is the undeniable reality of government-managed care that we see coming via “Obamacare.” Government management of the healthcare system chases political rewards rather than economic ones. If a company finds a low cost and profitable way to deliver care via a minute clinic, patients win by finding a low cost provider, and the company wins by earning profits. But instead of engaging in this market-based behavior, the UK government established financial rewards to ease a patient’s passing and allocate scarce healthcare dollars to other areas. It kind of reminds us of another group, also from the UK:

(Warning: Strong Language at close of clip, but very funny!)

Atlas Shrugged and Government Regulation by Val Muller

I saw Atlas Shrugged Part 2 this weekend. For a limited-government fan like me, it’s a must-see.

You don’t have to have seen the first part to appreciate the second. Part 1 established the world in which the characters live—a world dominated by an energy crisis that has “forced” the government to take tighter control of business and production. In this world—a world not dissimilar to ours—masses of people began hating businesses for being greedy and refusing to share the wealth. All the while, a man named John Galt is claiming all the intelligent and competent members of society—people like our Andrew Carnegie and Steve Jobs. People who create products and resources and opportunities that benefit everyone else. These productive members of society have been disappearing—giving up their hard-earned businesses (often by destroying them) to a world that doesn’t appreciate their contribution.

In the midst of this world lives Dagny Taggart, member of the Taggart family that now owns the nation’s largest railroad chain. With the energy crisis, railroad is the primary mode of travel (note that the filmmaker has slightly modernized the book from which the movie is derived, as Rand wrote in a time when even computers didn’t exist). With increasing government regulations, though, it’s becoming more difficult to be productive, and at the end of Part 1, business owners are forced to sell all but one business—because it isn’t fair that one person should own and operate more than one.

Part 2 follows Dagny’s efforts to continue her family’s railroad business despite a brother who is controlled by politicians (and is the incompetent head of the railroad company). She is also thwarted by increasing government regulation (the Fair Share Act) that forces companies to produce and provide equally to all consumers, not to mention the fact that the major suppliers for the railroad’s raw materials have been disappearing with John Galt.

Despite these disappearances, Dagny has not given up on helping her world and saving her business, and her one partner in this is Hank Rearden of Rearden Steel. Even with increasing government regulations (under a state of emergency, the federal government has seized the ownership of all copyrights), Dagny will not give up, and she struggles to discover who John Galt actually is (if he exists at all) and why everyone competent is disappearing. In the meantime, the more the government tries to fix the economy, the more the country falls apart. At the end of Part 2, even the people are realizing that the government is nothing more than a masked thief, taking what belongs to individuals under the guise of law.

While the film is a hyperbole of our current society, it isn’t that far from our reality. The film’s premise is that capitalism isn’t the problem—government-regulated crony capitalism is the problem. As a result of the government’s regulations, Dagny’s company is forced to shut down some of its rail lines. As a result of the government’s regulations, important producers are unable to secure the raw materials needed to run their businesses. A coal mining company, for example, is unable to buy enough steel to reinforce its mines, resulting in a coal shortage, resulting in a further energy crisis, resulting in lower production across the board. The point is, government regulation that claims to be fairly dividing up resources for everyone just ends up hurting a supply-and-demand system that, if left unregulated, would find its own natural balance and create a better world for all involved.

We can see this problem even today—thankfully on a smaller scale (at least, for now). I even have an anecdotal example from my own HOA experience. Our HOA hires a lawn management company to manage common areas—including mowing, aerating, and fertilizing the common grassy areas. A few times per year, the company sprays pesticide on the lawns. When I walk the dogs, I sometimes walk for the equivalent of two city blocks without seeing a single pesticide application notice sticking in the ground. By the time I see one, I’ve already let the dogs run through the grass, and during this time of year I’m usually wearing sandals as well.

When I contacted the lawn company about placing more signs to inform residents with children and pets of the dangerous pesticide, I was told that the company placed the exact number of signs as required by law, so they were already complying and were not required to place any additional signs. It struck me that in this case, government regulation had failed. Some probably well-meaning politician had at some point created legislation mandating the requirements for placing pesticide application warnings. Companies, being held to the law, now fulfill the minimum requirement and then wipe their hands clean of responsibility.

The mistake here is in thinking government regulation is necessary in the first place. In a truly free market, consumers pressure companies into having good ethics. If a consumer is not happy, he votes with his wallet. If a lawn company was not placing signs for pesticide applications, customers would become angry, and the company would either have to start putting up more signs or look for new customers.

Government regulation makes business lazy and makes people stop thinking. Without government regulation, people would have to be much more aware of business and legal procedures. Businesses shipping labor overseas, for example, would have to balance the potential cost-savings with the potential anger (and quality issues) experienced by its customers. Standards for cars and vehicles—gas mileage, safety ratings, etc.—would not disappear if the government were to step down from regulating. Customers would have to become more informed. Private rating companies (they already exist!) would be used to inform customers of the dangers and benefits of each vehicle. Without aiming for the lowest common denominator—government’s gas standards—companies’ brains would start working on their own, innovating to create even more industrious cars. And to take a shot at the Chevy Volt, without government subsidies, this inefficient vehicle would never have left the drawing room. What customer, in a free market, would want a vehicle that is not cost effective, even factoring in gas savings?

Remember when you were a kid, and you did your chores just well enough that your parents wouldn’t make you redo them? Think about things you actually enjoyed doing. Didn’t you do them with much more ardor and investment than something you were forced to do? Probably didn’t even seem like work, did it? It’s how humans operate. When we’re told to do something, we figure out the minimum standards and make sure we tick all the boxes. When we do something we’re passionate about, we’re much more innovative.

This country was not founded on government regulations. It was founded on the belief that individuals are competent enough to make smart decisions. At some point along the way, we’ve “checked out,” as Dagny notes, turning over our brains to government bureaucrats. I say, it’s time we start thinking for ourselves and shrink bureaucracy back to the molecular size it ought to be.

VAL MULLER is a fiction writer and teacher living in Virginia.  Her mystery series, Corgi Capers, is available with DWB Publishing. You can keep track of her at www.valmuller.com

Government Corruption File #1 : The WARN Act

Here we have a prime example of the federal government ignoring its own rules when politically convenient for a government incumbent running for re-election.

A few facts:

1. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act was passed in 1988 by a Democratic-controlled Congress. President Reagan did not sign the bill, but it became law because it was passed by a veto-proof majority of Congress (during an election year of course!).

2. The Congress passed, and President Obama signed a law stating that if debt commission recommendations did not receive a vote in Congress, there would be drastic cuts to government spending that would take effect January 1, 2013. In federal budget speak, this is known as sequestration.

3. The WARN Act covers employers having 100 or more employees.  Employers must give at least 60 days advance notice or they may face lawsuits from employees for back pay.

4. January 1, 2013 – 60 days = November 2, 2012.

5. November 2, 2012 is 4 days before Election Day (Nov 6).

6. Contractors providing goods or services to the government would potentially be required to mail out thousands of layoff warning notices to employees, particularly in the battleground state of Virginia, which has many federal contractors. Does anyone see a problem?

7. The Administration, via the Department of Labor, issued letters to federal contractors in July encouraging federal contractors not to comply with the law.  They wrote in typical government-speak: “it is neither necessary nor appropriate for Federal contractors to provide WARN Act notice to employees 60 days in advance of the potential sequestration because of uncertainty about whether sequestration will occur…”

Translation: Despite the fact that the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate have no plan to reverse the pending budget cuts, you, Business Owner, should not comply with the law.

8. Fearing lawsuits, federal contractors announced that they would continue with plans to send out the WARN Act notices.

9. In September, the government again encouraged businesses not to comply with the law and not to send out the WARN Act notices.This time the notice came from higher up in the Administration’s food chain: The Executive Office of the President/Office of Management and Budget.

In a memo dated September 28, the Administration promises federal contractors that they may be reimbursed the cost of any potential lawsuits but only if they followed the Department of Labor guidance. So there you have it. The Administration–standing for re-election–is promising YOUR tax dollars to companies in exchange for not complying with federal law so that the President’s campaign can score political points (or avoid the consequences of its own decisions).

Of course government’s solution would be to pass a new law (after the election of course) with even stiffer penalties for greedy businesses who “don’t follow the rules.”  Never mind that the government takes no responsibility for its own actions.

This is the kind of corrupt government meddling with the private economy that leads to losses of freedom for everyone. The government instructs businesses to ignore a law so that the consequences of that law are avoided at a politically convenient moment. This is why crony capitalism has earned the name “crapitalism”. It stinks!

Atlas Shrugged II Premieres Friday 10/12

Whether you believe Atlas Shrugged is hyperbolic, cautionary, or even prophetic, it’s an important story to read to remind us of the freedom America offers—and to remind us how quickly that freedom can be taken.

Since Ayn Rand is not the most concise author, we’re fortunate that the book is being made into a film. Part One of the trilogy was released on tax day last year, and Part Two will be released on Friday.

To understand the genius of Rand’s work, it’s important to understand a bit about her life. Born in Russia in 1905, Ayn Rand was subjected to the culture of collectivism in Russia. Almost immediately after teaching herself to read, Rand discovered European fiction, which introduced her to the idea of the hero—the individual—something lacking in Russian culture. She saw two revolutions, and a resulting Communist victory forced her father’s pharmacy to be confiscated, causing her family to nearly starve to death. It wasn’t until her last year of high school that she was introduced to American history. The principles she learned led her to hold America as the paragon of freedom.

She continued her studies through college in Russia, but communists continued to take away students’ rights to freedom of thought. Rand took solace in Western films, once again holding Western culture as the paragon of free men. In 1926, she arrived in New York after telling Soviet authorities she planned only a short visit to America to visit family. Her intention was never to return, and indeed she remained in the United States for the rest of her life.

She moved to Hollywood to become a screenwriter, meeting Cecil B. DeMille and Frank O’Connor, her future husband and Hollywood actor, during her first two weeks there. She continued her writing career, creating characters and stories that illustrate the potential of the ideal man. Atlas Shrugged pits the government collective against individual businessmen.

Here is a synopsis from the producers—hope to “see” you at the show!

In Atlas Shrugged II, the global economy is on the brink of collapse. Unemployment has risen to 24%. Gas is now $42 per gallon. Brilliant creators, from artists to industrialists, continue to mysteriously disappear at the hands of the unknown.

Dagny Taggart, Vice President in Charge of Operations for Taggart Transcontinental, has discovered what may very well be the answer to a mounting energy crisis – found abandoned amongst the ruins of a once productive factory, a revolutionary motor that could seemingly power the World.But, the motor is dead… there is no one left to decipher its secret… and, someone is watching.

But, the motor is dead… there is no one left to decipher its secret… and, someone is watching.

It’s a race against the clock to find the inventor before the motor of the World is stopped for good.

Who is John Galt?

 

America’s Fiscal Irresponsibility Fuels China’s Military Rise

US government debt has swelled to a whopping $16 TRILLION dollars last month in September. That’s $16,000,000,000,000.00 or a sixteen with 12 zeros after it. The number has grown so large so fast that some have difficulty putting a number this big into normal terms.

As President Clinton left office in 2000, the US government had $5.6 trillion in debt. This represents the accumulated deficits of every single year of government operations dating back to the founding of the Republic in 1776. (Some may argue on the date, but the US government established in 1789 recognized all debts incurred by previous governments during the revolution and Articles of Confederation period.)

From 2000 to 2012, the US government added another 10.4 trillion–nearly tripling the size of the debt in 12 years. I explained this to a friend, who said, well things just cost more these days. True but, here’s the score:

224 Years: $5.6 Trillion
12   Years: $10.4 Trillion

Clearly this isn’t possible simply because of price increases in the cost of milk and cookies. And unfortunately the consequences of such poor fiscal management extend beyond future tax increases, having no funds for funding essential government functions, or even funding a reasonable social safety net.

All borrowers have to pay their bills. And in America’s case, we owe A LOT of money. Which means when America pays its bills in the form of interest payments, there are lenders on the receiving end of those payments.

The US Treasury maintains a list of foreign governments who own US debt. As of July 2012, China owned $1.15 trillion in US debt securities or about 11 percent of total publicly held debt. The Treasury Department doesn’t publish exactly what maturities and interest rates each country owns–but a fair estimate would be to assume that 11 percent of debt entitles China to approximately 11 percent of interest paid.  That’s 11 percent of total interest payments on the national debt–$250 billion in 2012–for a total of $27.5 billion.

China has announced a 2012 military budget of approximately $100 billion. At that rate of spending, it can be estimated that US interest payments provide about one-fourth of China’s annual spending on building the world’s 2nd largest military budget.

 

So why point this out at all? Well if you’re part of a group of people concerned about China’s military rise and its commitment to peace in the Pacific, it’s difficult to see how providing one-fourth of the money used for military development via interest payments is a good idea. If you’re not concerned about China’s military rise–maybe we could at least agree on the fact that surely the US could find more productive uses for the $27.5 billion given directly to China if not the total sum of $250 billion spent annually on nothing but interest payments to finance the government’s financial mismanagement.

 

Image courtesy of vichie81 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net