Thursday, June 26, 2014

What Liberals Want

In the superb, Tony-winning Best Play All the Way - now at Broadway's Neil Simon Theater - Tony-winning Best Actor Bryan Cranston brilliantly portrays President Lyndon Baines Johnson. In this comedy-drama tour de force, LBJ works furiously to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, later, launches the War on Poverty.

While a nearly three-hour play necessarily misses a few things, All the Way seems to epitomize Great Society liberalism: Fight discrimination, fund social programs, shower, repeat. As for the general public, if you want to eat lunch, heat your home, or watch baseball, knock yourself out; Washington has fatter fish to fry.

LBJ likely would be appalled, however, with the scope of modern liberalism. Far beyond even his expansive definition of Big Government, Obama and his ilk try to choreograph every step of American life. There seems to be no detail too minute nor any activity too obscure to avoid what today's liberals crave more than anything else: control.

"Control over the economy. Control over our health care. Control over the government. Control over our lives," Terrence Scanlon, president of the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C., recently wrote. "That's what drives their every move in politics and in public policy. They'll settle for nothing less than total control over virtually everything in this country."

Modern liberalism has little to do with sticking up for the little guy or comforting the poor. It's all about telling people what to do - around the clock. Amplifying the efforts of the often busybody Bush administration, Obama has replaced Uncle Sam with a giant millipede whose spindly limbs reach everywhere. Each aspect of American life, regardless of size, and each spot on the map, regardless of distance, has become fair game for Washington's intrusion - usually in the most costly and high-handed fashion possible.

The recently released Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions is to red tape what trailers are to motion pictures. Every six months, via this document, 55 different federal departments, agencies, and boards preview their coming attractions. The Energy Department, for instance, is producing 80 new rules, such as: "Energy Conservation Standards for Wine Chillers," "Energy Efficiency Standards for Automatic Commercial Ice Makers," and "Test Procedures for Ceiling Fans."

The 182 regulations in the Commerce Department's pipeline include "Fishing Vessel Capital Construction Fund Procedures," "Pacific Coast Whiting Fishery for 2014," and "Red Snapper Allocation."

The Environmental Protection Agency is developing 132 new regulations, including "Rulemaking on the Definition of Solid Waste."

"The distinctive look of San Francisco street signs goes back farther than just about any of us," Victoria Nguyen wrote in SF Bay. That beautiful city has plenty to offer, including its big, tough, manly street names. They appear on signs with bold, strong, black capital letters on a white background. POWELL. MASON. SUTTER. TAYLOR. JONES. UNION. HYDE. These signs are sui generis, which makes them worth visiting San Francisco to savor.

But hurry, because Obama and his Washington know-it-alls are stamping them out, along with others across America, all the way to New York City.

These locally designed and revered signs are being replaced with thin, wimpy, effeminate ones in caps and lower case; the confident SACRAMENTO is becoming the timid Sacramento. As one website reader lamented: "Looks like Anywhere, USA. Another SF tradition gone with the wind."

Even worse, despite federal claims to the contrary, these new signs are harder to read at a distance, largely because the new letters are so small. So, what, really is the point of this exercise?

The U.S. Department of Transportation's 816-page, 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices requires cities to spend their own taxpayers' dollars not on teachers, cops, and firefighters but on Washington's deadly dull signs, all produced in a boring and generic font called Clearview.

 "Our street signs have worked perfectly well for 100 years or more," Milwaukee alderman Bob Donovan told USA Today. "I think it's just the federal government run amok. If they don't have far more important things to deal with, they're not doing their job."

The EPA dislikes the wood-burning stoves that heat some 12 million U.S. homes. So it is requiring that new stoves be 80 percent cleaner, a truly fanciful objective. If you live in a rural area - far from the natural-gas grid - good luck warming your house, especially since propane nearly has doubled in price, thanks to the brutal winter.

A group of parents in Plymouth, Mich., raised some $15,000 in private money and built a new set of bleachers for the local high school's boys' baseball field. The new, stadium-style seats offered comfort and improved sightlines.

 "Foul!" yelled the umpires at the U.S. Department of Education. This new, privately financed structure violated Title IX, they complained, since the girls' softball field had no such renovations. So did Washington's bleachercrats demand similar benches for the girls' diamond? Incredibly, the feds ordered the school to yank out the new seats overlooking the boys' field.

"The world is divided into two groups," Fox News host Tucker Carlson remarked on Fox & Friends. "One group looks at the situation and says, ‘Let's improve the girls' field. Let's make it as nice as the boys' field.'  The other group says, ‘Let's destroy the boys' field.' This is a metaphor for how this administration operates. They want to bring equality to the country. Rather than making the poor richer, they make the rich poorer." Carlson added: "It's like, ‘You've got a broken leg, then I'm going to break my leg. Now we're equal.'"

Brewers and ranchers have had a lovely arrangement for decades. The fermented grains that make beer happen settle in barrels once the good stuff gets poured off. Rather than dump this residue, they sell it to cattle farmers. The cows love this brewing byproduct. It fills their multiple bellies and likely gets them buzzed, to boot.

This symbiosis is just too much for the Food and Drug Administration, which is mulling new ways to force brewers to clean their spent grain before delivering it as livestock feed. The unproven risk that something might go wrong is just way more than what the feds can tolerate. So new regulations threaten to hike costs and frustrate those who bring us suds and steaks.

Likewise, the FDA has decided that, after centuries of doing so safely, artisanal cheese makers no longer can be trusted to use wood planks to age cheese. The Dairy and Egg Branch of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition fears that the wood planks might let bacteria multiply. Of course, there are good bacteria, without which digestion would be impossible. Some cheeses produce such benign bacteria, which make them delicious. Try explaining that to the FDA's germophobomaniacs. Maybe they should fret instead about hospital infections, which kill some 103,000 Americans annually. Wood-aged cheese cannot claim such a death toll.

First lady Michelle Obama's effort to police government-school cafeterias is backfiring badly. Local-school administrators are pinned down by federal rules that govern caloric intake, whole-grain content, and whether "vegetable subgroups" are "dark green, red/orange," or just "starchy." Consequently, unimpressed kids dump unappetizing food by the ton.

The Chicago Tribune quoted a suburban parent exasperated by Washington's micromismanagement of what kids eat in Wheeling, Ill. - 727 miles away from the White House. Said George Marquez: "The government can't control everything."

Alas, Obama & Co. are working feverishly to prove George Marquez wrong.

Rather than focus on a few, core, constitutionally authorized functions (e.g., national security, a justice system, easing interstate commerce, and protecting individual liberty), Team Obama and too many in Washington, D.C., are beyond hyperactive in living our lives for us. It's a wonder that the feds let anyone visit the bathroom unsupervised. (Not so fast! Washington controls even the water capacity of toilets.) Paradoxically, the more that Big Government attempts, the less it actually accomplishes.

Americans must tell the federal government to back off - big time.

Open defiance of such federal idiocy likely will grow more widespread, as well it should. So, if the immeasurably wise in Washington mandate the removal of perfectly fine school bleachers or wood cheese-aging planks, then federal agents can show up and personally pry them out of commission. The victims of such federal abuse, in turn, should invite the news media to chronicle this boneheadedness and educate the American people on how their tax dollars are being put to such idiotic misuse.

Perhaps if the feds actually had to perform this tomfoolery publicly, rather than merely order it, they might stop from sheer exhaustion.



The Left’s Assault on Food Freedom

Meet the food police.

The prohibitionists are at it again. With Michael Bloomberg no longer around to impose his values on hapless New Yorkers, I suppose it was inevitable that someone would take up his mantle as Nutritionist-in-Chief. Granted, Michelle Obama has tried her darnedest, waging a relentless war on fat people ever since her husband took office. But when it comes right down to it, First Ladies aren’t allowed to make laws. That power is vested in Congress, so it will ultimately take a congressman—or woman—to ruin fun and flavor for the nation at large.

Enter Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut congresswoman who thinks what we eat and drink is her business. This enterprising Democrat has taken it upon herself to draft legislation levying an additional excise tax on sodas and other sugary drinks, which she describes as doing “serious damage” to our health.

Where to begin?

First of all, the government—federal or otherwise—has absolutely no business interfering in the consumption choices of individual citizens. No one is laboring under the idea that massive amount of sticky sugar water is great for you, but there are plenty of people who consume soft drinks in moderation without damaging their health in the slightest. By now, everyone understands the tradeoffs they are making when they drink soda instead of water, and they should be free to make those tradeoffs without the meddling hand of government interfering, just as they should be free to consume alcohol, or tobacco, or any other legal substance.

But health is the new religion of the left, the one thing for which it is worth sacrificing all freedoms. The progressive mindset holds that no one should be allowed to damage their own health, and if it takes taxes, fines, penalties, or even jail to keep them in line, so be it. It’s the same pattern of medieval inquisitions, where ensuring salvation for heretics was considered so important that a little torture was a small price to pay. Thankfully, the church has since embraced free will and individual choice, but progressives have been more than happy to fill the paternalistic vacuum by substituting bodily health for God.

Legislation like this is one of the many reasons so many of us feared and resisted a state takeover of health insurance markets a la ObamaCare. When everyone is responsible for everyone else’s health care, collective health becomes everyone’s business. If I have to foot the bill for your obesity, diabetes, and heart problems, I have an incentive to become bossy with respect to your eating habits. That’s why a market in which everyone pays his own way is essential if we want a free society that preserves individual choice.

The irony here is that the policies pushed by Rep. DeLauro and her Democratic colleagues are partially responsible for the problems she claims to want to solve.

“When a two-liter cola is 99 cents and blueberries are over three dollars,” said DeLauro, “something has gone very wrong.”

Why does such a price differential exist, I wonder? Part of it is because government subsidizes corn, from which the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup is made. Soda used to be made with good old fashioned, nutritious, delicious cane sugar, before lawmakers decided to artificially lower the price of corn disproportionately as a favor to agriculture lobbies.

Then there’s the violently elitist, anti-science push to regulate GMOs (repeatedly shown to be absolutely harmless, while resulting in more food at a lower cost) and advocate for organic produce, which is much costlier than conventional agriculture.

Embracing modern agriculture techniques could bring the price of those blueberries down and make for a healthier America, but Democrats would rather punish consumers instead for not adhering to their personal opinions of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle.

The tax code, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, exists for one purpose, and one purpose only: to raise revenue to finance the essential functions of government. It should never be used to try to manipulate citizens into behaving as politicians think they ought to behave. It is not the place of lawmakers to impose their personal values on the rest of us, nor to strip away our choice of what to consume in a free, legal market.



Omission Control

John Stossel

Reporter Sharyl Attkisson's story sounds familiar to me: A major network got tired of her reports criticizing government. She no longer works there.

The CBS correspondent reported on Fast and Furious, the shifting explanation for the Benghazi, Libya, attacks and the bungled rollout of the Obamacare website.

"But as time went on, it was harder to get stories on," she says.

"There are people who simply would rather just avoid the headache of going after powers that be because of the pushback that comes with it, which has become very organized and well-financed," she says on my TV show this week.

I left ABC for similar reasons. When I began consumer reporting, I assumed advertisers would censor me, since sponsors who paid my bosses wouldn't want criticism. But never in 30 years was a story killed because of advertiser pressure. Not once.

I hear that's changed since, and big advertisers, such as car dealers, do persuade news directors to kill stories.

"I do a lot of reporting on corporate interests and so on, so there's pressure from that end," says Attkisson, but "there's a competing pressure on the ideological end." Right. Ideology affects more stories than "corporate interests." My ABC bosses leaned left. They liked stories about weird external threats from which government can swoop in to rescue you.

They are much less fond of complex stories in which problems are solved subtly by the dynamism of the free market. The invisible hand, after all, is invisible. It works its magic in a million places and makes adjustments every minute. That's hard for reporters to see -- especially when they're not looking for it.

Often, when it comes to news that happens slowly, the media get it utterly wrong. I suspect we get it wrong now about things like global warming, genetically modified foods, almost any story related to science or statistics, or, heck, basic math. Math threatens many reporters.

Combine all that with the news proverb "If it bleeds, it leads," and you get some very misleading, scary reporting.

That's why it's good that there's a new media organization called Retro Report that reveals media hype of the past.

It archives stories like the purported "crack babies" epidemic, Tawana Brawley's being "attacked by six white men," the rise of "super-predator" teenagers, and other disasters that didn't happen -- but did have big effects on public policy, as politicians rushed to fight the imaginary menaces.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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