Friday, April 30, 2010

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Ben Stein's mistake

Ben Stein is a smart guy.

He has a degree in economics from Columbia University and was valedictorian of his class at Yale Law School.

He has worked as a White House speechwriter and lawyer, an economist, a trial attorney and a teacher. He has written thirty books, some screenplays, and columns for highly respected newspapers and magazines.

This proves that you can be very, very smart and still be very, very wrong.

Today on Fox News, Ben Stein was asked by Megyn Kelly what he thought about President Obama's unscripted comment this week during remarks about financial reform. "I do think," the President of the United States said, "at a certain point you've made enough money."

Ben Stein said the president was totally wrong, and then he made the mistake. He explained why the president was wrong.

Mr. Stein said wealthy people keep what they need for a nice life and give the rest to charity.

That's a mistake, but not for the reason you're thinking. The statement may be completely true, and for the sake of argument let's assume that it is.

The mistake is in accepting the premise that wealth is immoral unless it benefits people who didn't earn it. That premise leads to the conclusion that government has a legitimate interest in taking wealth from some people in order to benefit other people. You can argue that morality is not the province of government, but you have already conceded that something immoral is happening and now you're in the position of arguing that government should do nothing about it.

This is exactly how the Republicans get into trouble with the voters. They concede the premise that wealth is immoral unless it benefits people who didn't earn it. The premise is embodied in the phrase "trickle-down economics" and in the Biblical admonition, often quoted by President George W. Bush, "To whom much is given, much is expected."

Here is a different argument to make against "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money": The statement justifies unlimited government power over individual rights and private property, and that is the end of freedom in America.

Under the U.S. Constitution, it is none of the government's business whether you need what you have. The power of the government is limited. Individual rights and private property are protected. That's what makes this a free country. Freedom is not an accident of history or a supernatural phenomenon that can't be fully understood by mortal men.

If the American people allow government officials to interpret the Constitution in a way that removes the limits on government power, our freedom will be a casualty of our good intentions.

George Washington warned us about this in his Farewell Address. "If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong," our first president said in 1796, "let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."

There's a reason Washington's portrait hangs in the Oval Office.

Under this administration, it's a dartboard.

Copyright 2010

Source note: Washington's Farewell Address can be read online in the archives of the University of Virginia at this link:

Editor's note: You might be interested in reading "Defending Capitalism" and "The Tyranny of the Children" at and in the 2008 post, "Barack Obama: 'We don't mind'" and the 2007 post, "Barack Obama explains socialism."


Saturday, April 24, 2010

In defense of the banks has a story today by Jeanne Cummings and Chris Frates headlined "No one marching for the banks."

It reports that the AFL-CIO plans to lead marches down Wall Street next week in support of President Obama's financial reform proposal. Ten thousand people, organizers claim, will march on Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

JP Morgan Chase asked its employees to write their congressmen and senators to tell them that over half a million people who work in the financial services industry would be adversely affected by some of the proposed changes in the law.

"It’s unlikely that rallying cry will spark much of a popular uprising against the financial regulation reform legislation," Politico reported. "If anything, it underscores the inability of the Big Banks and their allies to latch onto a phrase or argument that could resonate with the public and provide the industry’s Republican defenders with the leverage to reverse the momentum in the regulation fight."

Oh yeah? Is that a dare?

How's this:

In Defense of the Banks

By Susan Shelley

Everyone should be able to get a loan, and no one should have to pay it back.

That's the Obama Doctrine on financial reform.

Banks should be making loans to folks who want to buy cars and houses and start small businesses, and if the folks can't pay back the loans because they're struggling, the banks should make modifications to the loans.

Why should the banks do this?

Because bankers are dastardly evil villains who stole your money for high living and good times. predicted in a 2008 post titled "Hank Paulson's casting call" that the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout, which was forced on all the major banks whether they wanted the money or not, was a slick trick to shift the blame for the foreclosure crisis to the banks and away from the politicians who created incentives and guarantees that caused traditional lending standards to be abandoned.

After all, lending standards cause people to be turned down for loans. Banks typically can't stay in business by making loans to people who don't have the ability to pay them back.

Unless the federal government guarantees the loans.

Then it's no problem at all to make loans to people who can't pay them back, because the government promises to pay the bankers with your tax dollars if the borrowers default. That way, politicians get credit for helping struggling folks buy homes.

And when the folks don't pay and the government makes good on its guarantee and gives tax dollars to the bankers, guess what?

The bankers are dastardly evil villains who stole your money for high living and good times.

If you own a home and you're older than five you probably remember the days when you had to take a wheelbarrow to the mailbox to carry all the solicitations for home equity loans, refinancing loans, second mortgage loans and home equity lines of credit. Some of them came with a pre-printed check attached to a cheery message: Just sign it and deposit it and buy yourself a vacation, a new car, a new kitchen, whatever you want! There was small print on the back but, you know, life is short.

A lot of people spent their home equity as if it was a monthly check from the California Lottery.

A lot of people gambled and bought houses and condos as a get-rich-quick investment.

A lot of people were shocked and dismayed when home values declined.

Some of them put the keys in the lock, called the bank and said, "Come get your house."

But so distorted was the mortgage market by implicit and explicit government loan guarantees that financial institutions all around the globe had purchased mortgage-backed securities in the belief that they were completely safe.

When it turned out that they weren't, the panicked Bush administration pressured Congress for an $800 billion bailout fund to buy up the "toxic" securities and prevent a worldwide financial collapse.

The TARP fund never did buy up the troubled assets. The money was pushed out to "stabilize" the banks, against the will of the banks in many cases.

So let's be clear. If anybody took your money for high living and good times, it's not the executives of the major U.S. banks. It's the folks who are now struggling after borrowing money they never should have been loaned in the first place.

Cold, but true. Not all, but many of the people who are threatened with foreclosure borrowed recklessly and bought a nicer house or blew the money on fun stuff they couldn't afford any other way.

Now President Obama and the Democrats in the House and Senate are trying to reform financial regulations with the stated goal of maintaining financial stability in the future.

When you are on the wrong premise, Ayn Rand wrote, you will always achieve the opposite of what you intend.

Here's one premise: the banks must ease their lending standards to make more loans and must modify the existing loans of customers who are struggling.

Here's another premise: the banks must maintain sound lending practices and hold their customers to the contracts they sign.

On which premise are we more likely to achieve financial stability, and on which are we likely to achieve the opposite?

History has the answer, and you don't have to look back too far to find it.

Of course, President Obama and the Congressional Democrats may not intend to protect financial stability as much as they intend to protect their own power to pressure the banks into doubling as social welfare agencies.

The proposed financial reform bill would give the executive branch of the federal government the power to pre-emptively close down any bank or non-bank financial institution if government officials believe it poses a systemic threat to financial stability. Without any benchmarks, standards or specifics, simply on the say-so of a politician or his appointee, a financial conglomerate could be threatened with an immediate liquidation that would wipe out the debt-holders, the shareholders, and the employees.

Government officials who have that kind of power won't even have to ask for what they want. Financial institutions will be working day and night to find ways to please them.

Here's a premise: President Obama and the Democrats want to have unlimited, invisible and unaccountable power to force the titans of the financial industry to do whatever they say.

That must be the right premise. The plan they have drawn up will achieve it perfectly.

April 24, 2010

Editor's note: "Hank Paulson's Casting Call" was posted to on October 17, 2008.

Copyright 2010


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Portrait of a volcano

America Wants To Know reached the boiling point last month after one too many conversations with friends and relatives who happily, even eagerly, accept the idea that the federal government must take over anything that seems too difficult or expensive for ordinary people to manage on their own.

Late at night, we went to the website and signed up to organize a group called "Freedom-Loving Fiscal Conservatives of L.A."

At the last click of the set-up, we chickened out. But a couple of weeks later, boiling again, we clicked it.

A few days went by and then Meetup sent out an e-mail to let other members know that the new group had been formed.

This is a screen shot of my e-mail inbox after that message went out.

Click the picture to view full-size.

Between 6:04 p.m. on Saturday and 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, 39 people joined the group.

If this is happening in Los Angeles, imagine what's going on in Des Moines. And Cincinnati. And Pittsburgh.

You won't have to imagine much longer. November is coming.

Copyright 2010

Editor's note: You might be interested in the previous posts, "Retiring Henry Waxman" and "Rep. Brad Sherman braves town hall meeting."


Thursday, April 08, 2010

Rep. Brad Sherman braves town hall meeting

Iran's nuclear program is a far greater threat to Israel than the Obama administration's "tiff" with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told a hastily scheduled town hall meeting at a synagogue in Woodland Hills, California, Wednesday night.

Sherman compared the drive for sanctions against Iran to "a car that's been going 5 mph for the last 13 years," and now "needs to go 85." He said under the Obama administration "the car's going 7 mph instead of 5 mph" and lamented, "This president is doing a very little bit at the very last minute."

The congressman from California's 27th District, which includes part of the east San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, passed up several opportunities to offer full-throated support of President Barack Obama.

Sherman said the president ought to speak out personally against the Palestinian Authority's incitement of hatred against Israel in its media and its schools. He said it should be denounced "at the highest levels, not relegated to lower-level folks at the State Department."

Asked why the president has not yet visited Israel, Sherman answered flatly, "I don't know."

Asked if the president feels as strongly as he does about the danger of Iran's nuclear program, he answered, "No president has felt as strongly as I do."

Asked why the White House did not condemn the recent renaming of a public square in the West Bank in honor of a Palestinian terrorist, Sherman said, "It should have been condemned at the presidential level and it wasn't."

The biggest applause of the evening came in response to the question, "Given President Obama's treatment of Israel, do you think more Jews will vote for the GOP?"

Sherman smiled at the raucous reaction and said he was confident that the people applauding had not voted for Obama the first time. Temple Aliyah's Rabbi Stewart Vogel asked Sherman if he would like to poll the group, and a show of hands revealed the crowd of approximately 300 people to be about 40 percent Obama voters, by Vogel's estimation.

Questions were submitted in writing and the congressman did not take questions on any other issues, inviting the audience to bring their concerns about health care and taxes to his next scheduled town hall meeting on July 11.

Sherman concluded by reminding Rabbi Vogel and the audience that fifteen members of Congress live within driving distance of their location. "I came," he said. "I don't know whether the other fourteen would have or not."

Temple Aliyah is located in the 30th congressional district, which is represented by Democrat Henry A. Waxman.


That's the news, brought to you by your faithful correspondent, America Wants To Know, who was personally in attendance at this town hall meeting. We can tell you that it was a courteous crowd of concerned citizens without activists, protesters, interruptions, or fights.

Until now.

It was disturbing to hear a member of Congress minimize the significance of President Obama's condemnation of Israel over the announcement of new housing construction in Jerusalem. It was troubling to hear him dismiss the humiliating treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during last week's White House visit.

"A tempest in a teapot," Rep. Sherman said repeatedly. "Five years from now, nobody's going to remember it."

Whether anyone remembers it or not, the damage will be done. The message will be sent to the world that Israel is a bad actor, and therefore hostility to Israel is justified and appropriate.

The message will be sent that Hezbollah terrorists firing rockets over Israel's northern border and Hamas terrorists firing rockets from Gaza have a good point.

The message goes out that Israel's conduct is so egregious that even the United States can't take it anymore.

Is that a message the United States of America ought to be sending?

For one thing, it encourages every anti-Semite on the planet to come out of the dark and share his thoughts live on C-SPAN's call-in shows.

More importantly, it undercuts the strength of diplomatic language. How effective is it to characterize Iran and North Korea as outlaw nations defying the will of the "international community" for building nuclear bombs after you've characterized Israel the same way for building apartments?

Congressman Sherman emphasized that Israel receives $2.8 billion in armaments annually as a gift from the U.S. taxpayer. Actions, he said, speak louder than words, and regardless of the words that have come out of the Obama White House, not one penny in aid to Israel has been cut or will be cut.

The trouble with this analysis is that it ignores the many times the U.S. has asked Israel to stop fighting before it defeats its enemies. It ignores the many times the U.S. has called on Israel to sit still and take one for the team.

Remember the Scud missiles during the first Gulf war? Saddam Hussein fired missiles at Israel and the U.S. begged Israel not to do anything in retaliation, fearing it would open rifts in the coalition built by the first President Bush to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.

That's just one example of many.

Every time Israel is threatened or attacked it is ready to go to war, and every time it doesn't go to war you can bet your U.S. tax dollar that our government has promised Israel arms and technology that will be sufficient to defeat the arms and technology we just sold the Arabs.

So let's not spend a lot of time whining that Israel's taking advantage of the U.S. taxpayer. We're paying them to teach their kids to use gas masks while they leave our Arab friends standing.


Probably because we fear that if these repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Syria fall, al-Qaeda or its equivalent will control the world's oil supply.

There's always a reason.

Maybe even a good reason.

But just because we have to prop up these hideous regimes doesn't mean we have to stroke them and like it.

If they choose to keep themselves in power by diverting resentment and wailing to their populations that Israel is the enemy, the United States doesn't have to jump to its feet and shout, "Boy, howdy!"

We could treat Israel with the respect that's owed any free country.

And we would, if the Obama administration respected freedom.

Every day there's less evidence that they do.

Copyright 2010


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Retiring Henry Waxman

If you thought it was delicious to replace Ted Kennedy with Scott Brown, you're going to love this fall's election in California's 30th Congressional District.

That's the Westside Los Angeles district currently represented by Rep. Henry Waxman. Don't know him? He's the surly thug who said during a hearing on the cap-and-trade climate bill that a reluctant public, like an uncooperative foreign government, has to be motivated by both carrots and sticks.

You can see it here on YouTube (about 4:22 into the clip):

The punitive Mr. Waxman made the comments to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was testifying that the cap-and-trade plan, which would discourage energy use with higher energy prices, would hurt the economy, increase unemployment, and raise the cost of living for American families.

"Mr. Gingrich, I'm sure glad you're not in charge of foreign policy," Rep. Waxman said. "Do you think the only way to incentivize a country is by offering them more and more carrots? You have to have some threat. And sometimes you have to say, 'To incentivize you, we're going to give you some assistance, but there are going to be consequences.'"

Newt Gingrich looked like a man who had just been handed the winning card in a game of gin rummy.

"Mr. Chairman, I don't think of American citizens the way I think of foreign dictators," the former Speaker of the House answered, "And I don't think this Congress should punish the American people. I think this Congress has every right to reward the American people, but I don't think Lincoln's government of the people, by the people and for the people should be turned into a government punishing the people, and that's a major difference."

Alas, Mr. Gingrich's words were not persuasive to the resentful man with the gavel. He rammed that cap-and-trade bill through his committee and helped to ram it through the House.

"You have to have some threat." That's the Waxman philosophy. When people won't do what you tell them to do, "there are going to be consequences."

After too many years in Congress, Henry Waxman has forgotten that his title is "Representative" and thinks it's "Executioner."

The chairman set up his guillotine on Capitol Hill last year to intimidate insurance company executives. Mr. Waxman sent a flood of angry letters to insurers demanding to see company records documenting salaries, stock options, company perks, conventions and retreats, claims, administrative and marketing expenses, and profits.

Last week the chopping block was put up again, this time for the top executives of AT&T, Verizon, Caterpillar and Deere. The companies had just disclosed to shareholders that the health care reform law will cost them tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and may result in changes to the benefits currently provided to retirees and active employees.

Mr. Waxman was enraged by this and promptly sent letters to the companies' CEOs, demanding to see their accounting documentation and their e-mail correspondence. He told them to show up in front of his committee on April 21 to explain themselves.

What kind of an attitude is this in a free country?

Henry Waxman is not the principal of a middle school, and corporate executives are not drug dealers on the playground, and the American people are not truant twelve-year-olds.

The U.S. Constitution limits the power of the federal government, and arrogant power-lusters like Henry Waxman are the reason. When you watch him in action you can almost hear the voice of James Madison yelling, "I told you so!"

Madison made sure the members of the House of Representatives went home to their districts every two years to face the voters.

In the 30th Congressional District of California, where America Wants To Know happens to live, something new is waiting for Henry Waxman when he comes home to campaign.

A Republican challenger.

In the district that includes Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu.

This is not an April Fools joke.

In June there will be a Republican primary in the 30th Congressional District and the man who's likely to win is David Benning, a pro-business candidate who supports a reduction in payroll taxes and lower corporate taxes. He believes that unpredictable future tax rates are hurting the economy and stifling growth. He favors policies that expand employment instead of policies that expand government and deficits.

Imagine replacing Henry Waxman with a pro-business Republican. Imagine pro-growth legislation on Capitol Hill and the guillotine on eBay.

Here's the link to David Benning's campaign web site:

And here's the link where you can chip in for Henry Waxman's retirement party:

Go ahead. Buy a balloon or two. The neck you save may be your own.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tabloid update: "What Laura's Hiding!"

Have you been to the supermarket this week? The Globe tabloid is almost vibrating in its news racks, that's how excited it is to have the scoop on former first lady Laura Bush's long-awaited memoir.

Now we'll find out, the cover teases, about "Bush suicide fears," and "His 'other' woman" and their "Bitter divorce deal."

Ever since 2007, when the Globe reported that Laura Bush was keeping a "secret divorce diary" for a tell-all memoir that would "expose the painful truth" about her husband's drinking and cheating, the tabloid has been waiting for the day when the whole sordid story would finally come out.

Sorry to disappoint you, but the day has not yet come.

"Former First Lady Laura Bush was paid a whopping $2 million to pen a memoir of her White House years," the Globe complains, "but the biggest shockers are the sizzling secrets she WON'T be revealing in the new book."

Laura Bush: Spoken from the Heart is due out on May 4, and "insiders say" it will be "a whitewash," the Globe reports. Mrs. Bush gave in to her husband's begging and pleading and agreed "not to include any hint that their marriage collapsed while they were in the White House."

The Globe says Mr. Bush bought his wife a $2 million home in suburban Dallas and she lives in it alone, while he spends most of his time at the Crawford ranch.

The tabloid first reported in October of 2008 that the Bushes had reached a "super-secret pact" to end their marriage. A big house in Dallas was part of the deal.

But there's nothing in the former first lady's book about that, the Globe's sources say. There's nothing about the time she "stormed out of the White House and spent the night in Washington's Mayflower Hotel after a nasty confrontation."

Nothing about the "out-of-control boozing."

Nothing about "George's passionate fixation with his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice."

Nothing about the time Mrs. Bush moved out of the White House for several weeks because of her husband's drinking and "refusal to address the troubles in their marriage."

And nothing about "the tragic incident that still haunts Laura to this day when she killed her high school sweetheart in a car wreck."

Come on, you have to cut somewhere.

There are a couple of details in the Globe's story that we haven't heard before.

"Over the years, Laura's mistrust of George and bitterness toward Condi mushroomed," the tabloid reports, quoting an insider. "To this day, Laura hates Condi for not putting the rumors to rest one way or the other."

The Globe says Mrs. Bush confronted Secretary Rice several times and "never got a good answer from her."

Yes, "We thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction" is what she tells everybody.

Today the Bushes' marriage is over in all but name, the Globe says. They're staying together "just for show," and on those occasions when they do sleep under the same roof, "sources say they sleep in separate bedrooms and go days without speaking."

But Mrs. Bush finally decided not to write about "the fights and jealousies and suspicions," much to the relief of her husband. Friends told the Globe they feared the former president was suicidal at the thought of his wife revealing their secrets, and when she promised not to embarrass him, "he appeared to calm down."

Of course, he's not out of the woods yet.

Condoleezza Rice signed with the William Morris Agency and has a three-book deal.

The George W. Bush Library could be the second presidential library with an "Adults Only" section.

Copyright 2010

Editor's note: Catch up on your tabloid reading with "Laura Gets $15M Divorce Payoff" (2008),"Laura's Secret Divorce Diary" (2007), "Bush Marital Turmoil" (2007), "Laura Claws Boozing Bush" (2008), and "All right, let's dish." (2006).


Money bomb update: Just for fun

Today, Republican candidate for Congress John Dennis is holding a money bomb event, trying to raise an attention-getting amount of money for his campaign to defeat Nancy Pelosi in California's 8th Congressional district.

Are you climbing the walls with anger over the health care bill? Are you typing "How to fight socialism" into the Google search box? Are you sick of the sanctimonious, preening politicians who insist that working Americans have a responsibility to pay the living expenses of, well, everybody else?

Is that what's troubling you, Bunky?

Maybe you'll feel better when you find out that the Internal Revenue Service will get $10 billion of your tax dollars to pay for enforcement of health care reform. The new law puts the IRS in charge of penalizing people who can afford health insurance but don't buy it, as well as subsidizing people who need it but can't afford it.

Good thing no one would ever lie on their tax returns just to avoid a huge fine or get free money.

While you still have an extra dollar lying around, you might want to use it to let Speaker Pelosi know how you feel:

Even if you just send five dollars, or one dollar, you'll be helping by adding your name to the list of Americans who are serious about their opposition to higher taxes, bigger government, more debt, and collectivist policies that trample individual rights.

Donor lists like this can be rented to other candidates around the country, helping to rally support and turn out the vote this November.

Not everyone has the whole day free to ring doorbells and make phone calls. Not everyone is a college student or a government employee.

But people who work for a living can organize, too.

Today's money bomb:

Tell a friend.

Editor's note: You might be interested in the previous post, "Money bombing for freedom."


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Money bombing for freedom

Do you remember buying your first computer? Maybe you went to a store, probably a store that's out of business now, and asked the salesperson which computer you should buy.

"It depends," they would typically answer. "Do you want to play games, edit video, do word processing? What do you want to do with it?"

Here's what we what want to do with it.

We want to bury the politicians who are taking our freedom, bit by bit, forcing us to check with Washington before we take any action: Does the government want me to do this? Will the government let me do this? Will the government subsidize me if I do this? Will the government fine me, or tax me, or denounce me if I do this?

Not to mention: What does the SEIU think? Is it good for the auto workers?

Even if you bought your computer for porn and online poker, you can use it today to fight for your freedom.

In the past, political fundraising was a daunting task for candidates who believe in freedom. All the money went to candidates who promised to give away free stuff.

It was a perfectly rational calculation on everybody's part.

Today we live in the world that was created by that bargain: government workers' unions with benefits and pensions and job security that far exceed anything that can be matched by comparable jobs in the private sector; businesses cutting jobs in the face of ruinous costs ordered by the government officials who were elected with the donations of government workers' unions.

The only way out is to lift the burden on the American people and allow economic activity to go unpunished.

The government gravy train must be derailed or we're all going to die shoveling coal into it.

Today America Wants To Know introduces a new feature: The Money Bomb Update.

Between now and November, we will be posting links to the campaigns of politicians who vow to restore freedom in America. If you send a small amount to each of them, even if it's just one dollar, you will be assisting their campaigns by helping them build a mailing list they can rent to other campaigns in the future. You'll be helping to demonstrate that there are millions and millions of American voters who are serious about protecting freedom from the well-intentioned butchers who are carving it up and giving it away with both hands.

Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul is trying to raise $300,000 today. He's fighting against a Republican establishment candidate who's less ideological and more willing to meet the Democrats halfway when they ignore the Constitution and usurp power to accomplish their desired policies.

"Let there be no change by usurpation," George Washington warned in his farewell address, "for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."

Today's money bomb:

Tell a friend.

3-24-10: Update - From Rand Paul's website: "Rand Paul raised $261,880 on Tuesday in his "Give Me Liberty" Money Bomb. He has now raised $550,000 for the quarter and more than $2.3 million over the course of his stunningly successful campaign."