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.

Atlas Shrugged Part III

2014_08_08_Wallpaper_WIJGBY VAL MULLER

Atlas Shrugged Part III (Who Is John Galt?) is now out in theatres, and I’m looking forward to it.

I donated to the Atlas Shrugged Kickstarter campaign (you can even find my name on the Producer’s Wall at http://www.atlasshruggedmovie.com/kickstarter?p=19) because I think the ideas in the novel are important to share. Although I’m not sure a three-part movie can concisely deliver the ideas of the book to those who aren’t already fans, I was glad to hear it was finally being made into a movie.

For those who haven’t read the book, I wanted to share why I think Rand’s philosophy is such an important concept.

First, a bit on Ayn Rand. Rand was born in Russia in the early 1900s and moved to America in the 1920s. In Russia, her father worked hard to run and own his own business, but under Lenin, that business was confiscated. Seeing the damage done by fanaticism, including seeing thugs take over the college she was attending, Rand dedicated herself to reason above all else. Her experience in Russia allowed her to see how damaging “groupthink” can be as well as what happens when people stop being guided by reason and let other, more emotional, concerns lead them.

In her writing, Rand liked to make sure the reader got the point. That’s why her novels are so long. She had a definite idea of what she wanted her novel to be, and she was uncompromising in seeing that idea to fruition—in some ways, she is like her main characters. The problem is, this makes for a long-winded novel, the length of which intimidates most would-be readers.

I have taught The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged several times. The main lessons my students gather from these texts is not something I taught them—it’s something they came to on their own, and it surprised me. But they are right: They have learned that our society tends to value people’s intentions over results.

As a broad example, if a politician institutes a program with the intention of helping the poor, but that program becomes bankrupt or backfires or ends up making the people it’s trying to help too dependent or even worse off, we tend to reward that politician for wanting to help the poor—regardless of the results. On the other hand, if a business owner produces dozens of jobs—thus helping people in need of work—we still look critically at him because his intention from the start: to make money for himself. Even if the result is that consumers now have goods to purchase and people now have jobs, his intent from the start was inherently selfish, and thus we judge him as a bad person.

Our society has it backwards. We should judge results rather than intent. After all, wasn’t Hitler trying to make the world a better place (at least in his own mind)? Should we judge his intent, or the results?

In Atlas Shrugged, we see a war between government and business. The government in the book is one not dissimilar from our government today: one rooted in crony capitalism and nepotism, one that encourages the public not to think but to blindly follow emotions. The government in Atlas Shrugged, in short, over-regulates the country to (literal) death. In The Fountainhead, the media—controlled by a small group of powerful people—puts out so many pointless stories that people aren’t even able to think about what truly is important anymore. In fact, they blindly follow what they are told to think by their preferred media source. Sound familiar?

Like our government today, those in power in Atlas Shrugged pick the winners and losers. If one company is becoming too successful, the government creates new regulations that cripple that company, all in the name of giving other companies a fair chance. The result of this is that those with prowess in business—those who are able to provide quality products for low prices—are punished. Those who are unable to provide quality products for low prices are rewarded with subsidies and other protections. The end results, of course, is mediocrity that hurts everyone. Now, instead of some people having minimum wage jobs and other people living like Carnegie, Jobs, or Gates, no one has jobs. Everyone suffers and misery is shared equally.

I can’t help thinking about GM (at present, I own a Chevy, which has greatly disappointed me despite my desire to “buy American.”). The government recently subsidized the Volt through various incentives and tax credits, both for buyers and for manufacturers at each step of the process. This is an example of the government deciding on a “good intention” (electric cars). The results, however, were not what was desired. Electric cars, even today, are not very efficient. And they ignore the fact that electricity is usually produced with the same non-renewable sources electric cars are trying to avoid. Again, moving to electric cars is a good intention, but the result of government interference was not useful. The same is true for the government’s movement to produce gasoline using corn (ethanol). Remember when corn used to be so cheap at the grocery store? Not anymore. Even environmentalists have come out to say that producing gas from corn is not efficient—it costs too much energy to produce. Again, the intention was “good”—to help shed our dependency on foreign fuels. But the result was actually harmful.

Borough Market cake stall, London, England - Oct 2008

If an electric car were made by a big company with no subsidies, or a new form of gasoline were created by a private company, both businesses would probably be criticized because of their “greed” and their desire to make money. But in business, decisions must be made based on logic. Whereas the government has an “unending” supply of (tax) money and borrowed debt it can throw at pet projects, businesses need to make economic sense. In a true free-market economy, an electric car would only be produced if it could be made as a reliable car for a price people would be willing to pay.

The government can force its “customers” to buy a product or service that it creates or that it permits businesses to offer (an obvious example is the Affordable Care Act). Some health insurers quickly gave their support to the idea of government-mandated insurance because it would bring them a steady supply of customers forced into their storefronts by the threat of government fines, higher taxes, even imprisonment or men and women with guns showing up to enforce the government’s will.

As long as an insurance company met the mandatory minimum coverages of the health law, there would be customers and guaranteed revenue. In the absence of free markets and competition, businesses lack incentive to provide a better quality, more affordable product. As a result prices increase and customer satisfaction suffers. In the free market, a business earns its customers because a transaction in the free market does not take place unless both parties derive some benefit from it. With several choices and healthy competition, prices remain low over the long term and innovation brings people new and exciting products such as smart phones and smart watches.

But in Atlas Shrugged and in our world today, people complain because of the “unfairness” of businesses (those heartless, greedy capitalists!). Remember when cell phones first came out? They were quite the status symbol. Only the very wealthy could afford the brick-sized phones. It wasn’t fair to people who couldn’t afford them. But in the long run, they made things better for everyone. Now, cell phone technology has improved so that almost everyone has one. (Though the government is still messing around with the cell phone market, as with most things today).

The point Rand made in Atlas Shrugged is that people need to use common sense—logic—and not be persuaded by emotions that are often exploited to take greater control of our lives. The events in the book—which lead to starvation and freezing to death when food and fuel become scarce—seem so outlandish as to be a hyperbole. But they were based on Rand’s personal experience following the upheaval in Russia where she saw deaths from starvation and freezing as the government seized businesses in order to eliminate “unfairness.” The events Rand witnessed and used in her book illustrate the potential end result of crony capitalism and allowing the government to manipulate us and give up our freedom of choice.

She also saw the greatness that could happen when people are allowed to produce within a free market—when consumers are allowed to willingly pay for something they desire as a way of rewarding insight and punishing shoddy products. And this is the bottom line. If everyone simply used logic in everyday interaction, most bad decisions would be eradicated from the start. But in Atlas Shrugged, as in our modern culture, we transfer the responsibility to think for ourselves to media outlets with deep agendas on both sides of the spectrum, and we reward intentions rather than outcomes. In both cases, we’re just asking for trouble.

Val Muller started writing as soon as she could hold a pencil. Teacher, writer, and editor, Val pens a children’s mystery series, Corgi Capers, inspired by her growly-dog Leia and her fraidy-dog Yoda. Her supernatural chiller, Faulkner’s Apprentice, is her most recent outlet for purging her nightmares, with her young adult novels, The Man With the Crystal Ankh and The Scarred Letter, forthcoming. Her favorite novel is Orwell’s 1984, and she believes strongly in promoting freedom and celebrating individual achievement as a way of bettering the lives of all. Stalk her at www.ValMuller.com

Photo Credit:

“Borough Market cake stall, London, England” By Diliff (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Many Are Missing the Point of Today’s Hobby Lobby Decision

heart_pills_whiteToday the US Supreme Court ruled in the controversial “Hobby Lobby Case” that the government has no authority to require closely-held companies to provide, at their expense, free birth control to women. We see it as a small victory for freedom.

From this ruling, various political movements on either side of the issue have found a victory or a rallying call. Pro-life groups see it as a ruling in their favor. Liberal women’s groups professing a conservative “war on women” have used it as a call to vote in November’s elections or donate money.

As we said a little over 2 years ago, the idea of a “right to birth control” means that people have a right to purchase or a right to use birth control. It does NOT mean that someone else has to pay for it so you can have it for free.

The Hobby Lobby case was about that very question. Should the owners of Hobby Lobby have to pay for employees to have birth control coverage that included some methods of birth control that the company’s owners found to be against their religious beliefs?

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) mandates that employer-provided health insurance must cover a variety of medical services. For example, for birth control alone, the law required employers who pay for employee coverage to cover “at no cost” some 20 different methods of birth control. Hobby Lobby’s owners objected to 4 such methods. (More on “at no cost” in a moment.)

And that is where the progressives charge in. Their righteous indignation and vitriol at the Hobby Lobby ruling is only starting:

Wendy Davis, Democrat candidate for the Texas governor’s seat: “Today’s disappointing decision to restrict access to birth control puts employers between women and their doctors.”

Lena Dunham and Sandra Fluke:

Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissenting opinion used terms like “radical,” “havoc,” “startling breadth,” and “minefield,” perhaps displaying her own limited intellectual capacity to grasp the concepts of freedom and individual responsibility.

All invoke an image of a greedy male cigar-clad fat cat sitting in the corner of the exam room of his helpless female employee’s doctor visit in order to snatch away her birth control pills. If only he would just let her have them!

People like Wendy Davis, Sandra Fluke, and Lena Dunham don’t want you to realize that many forms of birth control can be obtained inexpensively–with some methods, depending on circumstances, being paid for completely by private foundations. US News & World Report put together this survey the last time the issue bubbled over in 2012. Liberal progressives want you to think that the only way a woman can get birth control is for the government to require someone else to give it to them for free.

This begs the question, is this issue truly about birth control, or is it about power? Suppose Hobby Lobby were to increase the paychecks of their employees by an amount equal to what the average birth control method would cost. The employee would then be free to purchase said birth control or use the money for something that was more important to him or her. (Yes, that’s right, men would get the increase too.) But we doubt that would be satisfactory to the Sandra Flukes of the world.

To us this seems to be as anti-freedom as it gets. Convincing women that they need to be dependent on someone else to give them free stuff that is available in the marketplace should be offensive.

What of the Hobby Lobby employee? There is no law or other government edict or executive order or action handed down by a pen and a phone that requires a female (or male!) employee to continue working at Hobby Lobby. If coverage of the 4 types of birth control that Hobby Lobby doesn’t want to cover is important to those individuals, they are free to seek employment with another company that does provide health insurance covering such services.

Hobby Lobby is also accountable to its customers. If they feel Hobby Lobby is treating its workforce unfairly, they are free to send their comments to the company or even shop elsewhere if they want to send a stronger message. Decisions have consequences, and Hobby Lobby is not immune from the consequences of its decisions.

We don’t know what the outcome will be for Hobby Lobby. Will its employees and customers support the bold decision to challenge the government’s health law? Will employees quit en masse to work for another company? Will customers flock to other craft supply stores?

Because people are free to interact (lawfully of course) with their employers and stores in a manner they see fit, we don’t know the exact consequence for Hobby Lobby of today’s Supreme Court action. But we do know one thing: Government can’t guarantee free birth control without controlling people. They can’t promise free stuff with one hand without taking the other and using it to force someone else to make it or to pay for it and give it away. The Sandra Flukes of the world would have us think that the Affordable Care Act provides free birth control and that this is something that must be fought for in order to maintain. But is it really free?

The Daily Caller reported in April that Morgan Stanley surveyed health insurance issuers earlier this year about the cost increases of health insurance policies. Not surprisingly, it is one of the largest annual price spikes (of nearly four times the previous annual growth rate) in recent years as the regulatory impact of Obamacare has become known to insurers. Before Obamacare was implemented, women using birth control pills likely had a co-pay or co-insurance fee.

When this charge disappeared, liberal progressives gleefully pointed out this fact, hoped for votes and campaign contributions, and decried a Republican “war on women” at any attempt to limit or change the arrangement. But birth control wasn’t free before Obamacare, and the unfortunate news is that despite the best-laid plans of progressives, birth control pills are still not free. As the super-sized annual insurance premium increases show, instead of a co-pay, now you just have to pay for birth control pills up front in your annual policy premium whether you use them or not.

If you think the 4 forms of birth control that Hobby Lobby objects to are a key concern, then write the company and vow to do all of your craft supply shopping elsewhere (and follow through! Alternatively, you could give up your crafting habit and donate these funds to one of the organizations that provides free birth control to women). Conversely, if you strongly agree that Hobby Lobby is doing the right thing, then let them know that too and do all your craft supply shopping there. If the issue is not of high importance to you, then shop at whichever craft supply store offers the best coupons or weekly ad deals. This is the essence of freedom, and that is a beautiful thing.

On D-Day’s 70th Anniversary, a Simple Mission: Remember Them

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on a day remembered as “D-Day.” D-Day was one of World War II’s largest-scale operations, involving nearly 5,000 naval vessels, 11,000 aircraft, and some 150,000 soldiers—mostly representing the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. The National D-Day Memorial Foundation provides a stunning narrative:

“The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run, and crawl to the cliffs. Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell.”

D-Day PictureFrom this day-long mission, the Allies suffered nearly 12,000 casualties, with 4,400 confirmed dead paying freedom’s heavy price to wrest Continental Europe from the hands of a Nazi tyrant. Despite losses of life and limb on a scale many of us cannot imagine from our relative positions of ease and comfort, they achieved their mission. The sacrifices made on D-Day allowed Allied Forces to gain a critical beachhead in Nazi-occupied France and from there launch the ground operations that would eventually lead to victory in Berlin one year later.

Seventy years later, time has taken its toll on the heroes who survived that day. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently estimated that approximately 670 World War II veterans die every day. This is more than double the rate at which soldiers were lost in active combat operations during the War itself. As their time is quickly passing, an important and living link to our national past will be forever lost. And so we each should take up a simple mission. Remember them. Remember the comforts they put aside, the loved ones they left behind, the blood they shed, and the lives they lost in the name of preserving freedom’s flame for a future generation. For you.

Remember them when some politician comes to you and asks you to voluntarily give up your freedom for the promise of comfort or security that is shackled with unseen chains. Remember that we will not give away with a pen that which was purchased with blood. Remember that we are not granted our rights and freedoms by a benevolent government in a distant city—for such a government could surely take away with one hand what it gives with another. Remember that government’s only legitimate purpose is to preserve, protect, and defend our freedom, not grant back to us meager parcels of what we already own. Remember that when you turn away from defending your gift of freedom, you or your descendants will have to pay the price for winning it back after it is lost. Remember that your freedom has been paid for by heroes like the ones who served and died on D-Day and many other days like it. Remember the significance of what they did, and remember how it enables us to enjoy the life and freedom we do today. Remember them.

Virtual Interview with Howie Lind – Candidate for US Congress, Virginia 10th District

Freedom Forge Press resides in the 10th Congressional District in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The seat for the House of Representatives is being contested this year due to the planned retirement of incumbent Frank Wolf (R-VA) who has represented the citizens of the Virginia 10th District since 1981.

We invited all candidates who have publicly announced their intention to run for the seat to a Virtual Interview.

Howie LindFreedom Forge Press (FFP):  Chris Christie remarked in July 2013, “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought.” Christie appeared to be discussing the government’s role in fighting terrorism and responding to critics of all the federal government’s widespread domestic spying programs. Do you think Christie is right, or do civil libertarians have legitimate concerns?

Howie Lind (HL): The legitimate role of the Federal government has been subverted; we all want “the bad guys” tracked and interdicted. There is absolutely no evidence that the widespread dragnet of metadata accomplishes this. As an example, our intelligence agencies knew that we had major issues with the two individuals involved in the Boston bombing, yet failed to respond. Obviously, we have a major disconnect here, and if we continue the indiscriminate gathering of individual information, someday it will be used for the worst of reasons.

FFP: What would be your top 3-5 legislative priorities if elected?

HL: Repealing and replacing Obamacare, Reforming the tax code, reforming Federal spending, Restoring defense capability.

FFP: Considering all the federal government does and all the influence and control it exerts on states via Medicare/Medicaid and other spending, do you think the federal government is successfully doing its job to “promote the general welfare” of all citizens in these United States?

HL: No.

FFP: Gallup recently released a poll with a record number of respondents (72%) saying that “Big Government” is the biggest threat to the future of the country. “Big Government” has always led the other categories (Labor, Business). Yet the president, a clear advocate for transformational large government, won re-election with 51% of the popular vote. What do you think we are missing here?

HL: Our culture and our educational institutions have not been promoting or educating the American public on the foundational constitutional precepts of liberty and individual responsibility.

FFP: A quote is attributed to John Adams: “But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” Looking over the past 10 to 15 years and the rapid pace of government expansion invites a lot of pessimism to accept that quote as true. Do you think that quote is true? And if not, what do you think it will take for the country to get back on track?

HL: Historically it is accurate. I don’t think it is too late, but time is growing short. Reagan is the model to follow; it is possible to turn the ship of state, however, it takes bold, consistent effort.

FFP: When, if ever, do you think it is acceptable for the federal government to play favorites with favorable regulatory requirements, grants, tax credits, or other policy levers?

HL: As a general rule, no, there should always be a level playing field. Of course, there may be some exceptions that are of such national importance that they demand attention; the space race, interstate highways, and some other very narrow exceptions come to mind.

FFP: Grover Cleveland is one of our favorite Democrats. Following a drought in Texas! Congress passed an appropriation for a seed bill of a modest sum of $10,000 (about $289,000 in today’s dollars). Cleveland vetoed the bill and issued this statement:

“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering… …though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. … Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

Given the various types of federal aid, the increased participation in those welfare programs—which shot up markedly during the current administration, and the record high level of people who have left the labor force, do you think Cleveland had a valid point, or does government have a duty to relieve individual suffering?

HL: Yes, Cleveland was broadly correct. Cases of calamity and individual suffering, the individual community and its private resources, and the state are the best provider of services. The Federal government has proven time after time that the least efficient manner in which services can be delivered is through the central government, regardless of constitutionality. FEMA comes to mind. Certainly the Federal government has a role in exceptional circumstances where a region or state is affected and request support, but clearly we have “federalized” every type of event that should and can be handled locally.

FFP: Is it time for term limits?

HL: Yes.

FFP: If elected, what will you do in office to promote individual freedom?

HL: Adhere to the Bill of Rights.

FFP: If elected, what will you do in office to limit the size, scope, and power of government?

HL: Tax reform and the elimination of base line budgeting. Complete reorganization of EPA and its oversight functions. Consolidation of antiquated agencies and programs spread throughout the government.

FFP: The Tax Foundation estimates that the average tax payer will work into the 2nd week of May just to pay his/her federal, state, and local tax bills for the year. Do you think this is appropriate?

HL: Of course not; anytime that the federal budget grows beyond 18%, there is clear historical evidence to suggest that there negative economic growth is stalled. The tax structure is in need of major reform.

FFP: By many objective measures, spending by the federal government has ballooned out of control in the 20th Century to unsustainable levels where we find ourselves today.

Is there a specific aspect of government (e.g., an agency, program, function) that you would agree to freeze, reduce, or cut?  (If so please name the agency/program/function?)

HL: I believe the time has come for massive re-organization; one tiny example is that there are 19 job training programs spread over the government. We need to ask a basic question: What is the legitimate constitutional role of the Federal government, what are those things that only it can do? Everything else needs to be returned to the states to pursue – and we’ll find many of them are never picked up by the states because they simply are not critical programs.

FFP: Why are you running for office? (Or if you’d like to address a question we didn’t ask, please add it here and give your response).

HL: I want to go to Washington to do something, not be someone. The Republic is in a critical place, and there may be little room left to turn our course back to economic sanity and individual liberty.

We would like to thank Howie Lind and members of his campaign staff for participating in our virtual interview. For more information about Howie, visit his campaign website.

Status of campaign participants (As of 3/29/2014):

[Republican Candidates]

Barbara Comstock – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

Stephen Hollingshead – Has accepted our invitation; responses are pending.

Howie Lind – Has accepted our invitation and submitted responses.

Bob Marshall – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

Marc Savitt – Has accepted our invitation; responses are pending.

Rob Wasinger – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

[Democratic Candidates]

Richard Bolger – Has withdrawn from the race.

John Foust – Has not responded to our invitation to participate.

Sam Kubba – Has withdrawn from the race.

Olympic Update: The Results Are In, And They’re Not Good!

800px-Olympic_Rings.svgWe recently posted that Team USA would need to sweep all 98 medal podiums at Sochi (and 122,000+ more Sochis besides) in order for the IRS to have enough taxable medal winnings to pay off the interest on the federal government’s debt in 2014 alone.

Unfortunately, Team USA did not win gold, silver, and bronze in all 98 events. Accordingly, we will have to revise our projections.

Team USA won 9 gold medals, 7 silver, and 12 bronze medals. This will give the IRS the opportunity to leech a mere $178,200 in tax revenue, a downward revision from $1,940,400.

This unfortunately means that the IRS will have to wait for more than 1.3 MILLION Sochis (which will take 5.3 million years!) in order to collect the revenue needed to pay off only one year of interest on the federal government’s debt today.

Are we being ridiculous? Of course we are! The US was never going to win all medals at all 98 events at the Winter Games.  But then again we’re no more ridiculous than the federal government’s politicians who continue to irresponsibly enact unrealistic budgets that spend far more than is collected in revenue and far more than is the constitutional mission of the federal government.

Go Team USA, Your Government Needs Your Prize Money!

800px-Olympic_Rings.svgThe 2014 Olympic Winter Games are underway in Sochi!

Team USA Olympians are engaging in their quadrennial quest for winter gold, and, if they’re successful, they’ll pay for it. Each medal comes with a cash prize of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze (per medal) paid by the US Olympic Committee to the event winner.

And the IRS is already salivating at the opportunity to stick Team USA with tax bills on their winnings.  At the highest tax bracket, Americans for Tax Reform estimates an approximate $9,900 tax bill for each gold medal, $5,940 for a silver, and $3,960 for each bronze medal.

But let’s take it a step further.

There are 98 events at the Winter Games this time around.  If Team USA were to sweep the medal podiums and win every single medal available (gold, silver, AND bronze) in every single event, the IRS would need more than 122,000 Sochi Winter Games (at 98 events each!) just to pay the interest on the federal government’s debt, for this year alone!

Despite having imposed math mandates on states, it’s clear yet again from this example that federal government elected officials utterly fail to comprehend even the most basic math.

So ski, snowboard, skate, shoot, and curl hard Team USA. Your government needs you!

De Blasio’s Unbridled Corruption Play

deblasio_Fraud3New York City has itself a new mayor. And the first thing he is going to is tackle the city’s biggest problem of…horse drawn carriages?

De Blasio’s campaign website lists “A Humane City for New York’s Animals” as 14th in an overall list of issue priorities.  But at a press conference Monday, De Blasio said, “We are going to get rid of horse carriages, period,” bumping the issue up to be one of the first tasks he undertakes as mayor.  The escalation of priorities deserves scrutiny.  Let’s put De Blasio to the side for a moment and take a closer look at some players in the horse drawn carriage opposition “industry.”

One of New York City’s biggest advocates for banning horse-drawn carriages has been a group called New Yorkers for Clean Livable And Safe Streets (NYCLASS). Sounds like a decent group, right? Everybody likes clean, livable, and safe streets! Animals seem to be an afterthought in the organization name, but at NYCLASSleast they found room to clarify on their website tagline “Get political for animals.”

NYCLASS is a 501(c)4 non-profit “social welfare” organization. We’re assuming the IRS didn’t give this group the same flack in issuing their non-profit status the same way they have with other groups recently.

Steve NislickThe group’s founder, Steve Nislick includes his bio on the website as a member of the NYCLASS board of directors. Steve is “an avid equestrian,” “animal lover,” and “proud rescue dad of a former NYC carriage horse.”  Lovely titles–that is exactly the kind of  background suggesting someone would create a non-profit organization concerned with clean livable and safe streets that also advocates for animal rights.  If only that were true.

Steve Nislick seems to have left a bit out of his bio.  Both of the other board members listed a three paragraph bio on the website. Let’s help Steve a little bit since he seems to have forgotten about spending the past four decades at Edison Properties, a New Jersey-based real estate property development and investment firm.

Steve Nislick - Edison Properties But it seems that Mr. Nislick wasn’t always as slick at covering his connections to real estate development when it comes to the ongoing dispute over horse-drawn carriage rides in the city.

In 2009 Michael Gross published an article on his website after finding a 5-page pamphlet supporting a horse carriage ban, signed by none other than Steve Nislick.

In the article Gross quotes from the Nislick pamphlet that banning horse-drawn carriages would be “‘a windfall for the carriage industry from the sale of its multi-million-dollar stables alone.’ Nislick writes, before getting to his real point. ‘Currently, the stables consist of 64,000 square feet of valuable real estate on lots that could accomodate up to 150,000 square feet of development. These lots could be sold for new development.‘”

HMMM!  So the CEO of a real estate development and management company suddenly finds himself to be an emphatic friend of animals. The same CEO with nearly all of his company’s business interests in the City of New York. The same CEO whose company owns several storage and parking businesses situated in the same West Midtown area as the stables for the horses that power New York’s iconic horse-drawn carriage industry. And the same CEO who founded a social welfare organization that just happens to support a candidate who wants…well…what he wants. Neat, huh?! What a coincidence!!!

Besides putting his energy behind NYCLASS, Nislick also contributed the maximum $4,950 for an individual campaign contribution, held a fund raiser on Dec 13, 2010 for De Blasio, and in his board role at NYCLASS would have approved expenditures of some $770,000 for attack advertisements against De Blasio’s primary opponent Christine Quinn.  Sounds like a lot of effort to get to 14th place on the mayor’s list of priorities.

Let’s put Nislick back in his stable and return now to New York’s new mayor. De Blasio claims on his campaign website that carriage horses suffer “abuse” and  “inhumane treatment” which must be immediately banned in favor of “electric, vintage-replica tourist-friendly vehicles.”

But the New York Post reports that it looked into investigations completed by the city that might provide some evidence that there is widespread abuse or inhumane treatment of carriage horses. It found both the city health department and the ASPCA conducted investigations that determined no serious violations existed in terms of safety or health of the horses. The carriage industry hired a veterinarian from Cornell University to examine its horses. His report found “45% of the 130 animals inspected were “fat,” 50% were in good condition and 5% would be classified as thin. The thin horses were not unhealthy, just thin.” As far as finding any evidence of maltreatment of animals, there isn’t any. So what is the justification for government involvement?

May we humbly suggest, that if tourists wanted to be driven around the city or Central Park in electric, vintage-replica tourist-friendly vehicles, that an enterprising individual would be providing the service already.  Maybe Steve Nislick could have taken his 3/4 of a million spent on political activities and used it as seed money to start such a business.  He then could have seen for himself if the market wanted electric, vintage-replica tourist-friendly vehicles. When his business enjoyed undoubted success, he could have put the horse drawn carriage industry out of business and bought the property he coveted at a bankruptcy auction.

But instead, Nislick’s answer is to find a political opportunist in Bill De Blasio and legions of polyezniy idiots of liberal and progressive activists supporting causes like animal rights, social justice, and environmental activism to use as his and try to use the power of government to achieve his goals. The resulting loss of freedom impacts tourists, consumers, and the owners and employees of the current horse drawn industry.

And it’s important to remember that the existing business–despite being despised by political opportunists–are real people. Horse drawn carriage operators in the city accounts for more than $15 million in economic activity and provides nearly 300 jobs and stables for 200 horses. What about their freedom to operate their business without being badgered by idiot politicians who can’t find something better to do with the public’s time?

We’ll point out that Democrat Bill De Blasio doesn’t have a monopoly on this bad idea.  His Republican opponent in the mayor’s race, Joe Lhota, is reported as supporting replacing the horse drawn carriages with electric carriages also. It goes to show that neither party is immune from putting forward freedom killing bad ideas and pretending that government knows best or has the answers to life’s ills.

Business owners attempting to purchase political power within the colossus of government in order to achieve their business goals through force is not capitalism. This is corporatism and “crony capitalism,” better known as crapitalism. But it is not what one would expect to find in a society that values freedom, market competition, or free markets.

It’s what one would expect to find in a banana republic run by a despotic dictator where the dictator’s friends are rewarded for their loyalty and support. And where the dictator’s enemies are punished in order to give spoils to the supporters. (Kind of reminds us of how our current president does business, who commented on Oct. 25, 2010: “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.”).

We hope this effort to demonize one of New York’s tourist industries fails. The logic and politics behind the movement to end the horse drawn carriages are based on fraud, corruption, and kind of smell a lot like a steaming pile of the stuff that comes from the horses the mayor and his ilk are trying to forcibly retire.

Freedom to Defend Yourself: Recent Events from New York and Florida

As New York was digging out from a significant snowfall, a Greenwich Village building superintendent was clearing snow from his truck. In broad daylight a man approached, pulled out a gun, and stole the truck.  Fortunately the victim was not physically harmed.

But wait, wasn’t the recently passed SAFE Act demanded by Governor Andrew Cuomo and hastily passed by the New York legislature designed to make it “SAFE’r? The politicians even thought REAL hard and put “safe” in the law’s name in order to make it extra effective.

But contrary to the beliefs of opportunistic politicians in the State of New York, their law didn’t have the desired affect of keeping criminals from getting guns.  This reveals an arrogant flaw in the way people think who want to give the government more power. Passing laws does not turn evil people into good people. Thinking otherwise is foolish.

The only thing the SAFE Act did for the victim in this case was to legislate a tactical advantage for a criminal over a law-abiding citizen who did not have the legal means to defend himself. Would a carjacker, arming himself with a gun, really stop to make sure he only had the requisite number of bullets in it?  No more! Of course not.

AK47Turn now to Florida where a man was severely beaten by three armed home invaders who entered his property.  The homeowner was able to get his AK-47, and began shooting at his attackers, killing one and chasing the other two out of his house.

What if the Florida man actually lived in New York?  Or what if anti-gun fanatic Michael Bloomberg had been successful in buying enough Florida state elections to export New York’s lunatic gun laws to Florida? Again in this situation, the intruders were armed. Criminals seeking to invade homes, steal property, and beat homeowners probably don’t care if they have an unregistered gun, or even a gun with 9 rounds in it instead of 7.

The freedom to defend yourself and your family is fundamental. That is why the Second Amendment exists. Government at the local, state, or federal level has no business restricting the freedom of law-abiding citizens to legally own firearms in the interest of self defense.

The Greek philosopher Demonax the Cynic once remarked, “probably all laws are useless; for good men do not need laws at all, and bad men are made no better by them.”

These two recent news stories well illustrate this point.

The Great Christmas Takeover (Part 2)

When we last left our heroes, Santa and company were being inundated with orders from the NSA and other US government agencies bent on taking over Christmas. You can read Part 1 here. And now, part 2 of…

Has Santa had enough? Will the paperwork arrive in time? What about the factories being shut down? What nefarious regulations await the jolly old elf? Who will save Christmas? Find out in the third and final installment…read it now!