Friday, January 23, 2015

The Prince of Thieves

During his lame-duck term, Barack Obama intends to pursue what he calls "middle-class economics," i.e., proposals to reduce income inequality through taxation. Apparently a one-trick pony, Obama is back to raising taxes on the rich.

In last night's State of the Union Address, Obama explained "middle-class economics" as "the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don't just want everyone to share in America's success, we want everyone to contribute to our success."

Except his policies don't give everyone a fair shot, or set the same rules for everyone. And only a few at the top "contribute to our success."

The Hill calls him Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the poor and middle class. But that's misrepresenting his theft. The idea of Obama's "giving" anything to the American middle class, for whom his enmity is all but palpable, is ridiculous, but the notion of his playing Robin Hood insults our intelligence. During the Obama era, both the middle class and the poor have lost more ground economically than during any time in the last four decades, yet suddenly along comes Robin Hood to right the wrongs of his first six years.

As Rush Limbaugh astutely explained Monday, Robin Hood did not steal from the rich to give to the poor. According to legend, Robin Hood reclaimed the excessive taxes extorted by the sheriff of Nottingham from the commoners in his shire. In modern parlance, Obama is the sheriff, not the woodsman.

Yet Obama's appeal to those who believe the wealthy steal from the rest of society has served him well. Rush alluded to exit polls in the 2012 presidential election that showed 81% said they voted for Obama because he "cares about people like me." For decades, the Left has sweetly whispered into the ears of the unhappy, the aggrieved and the gullible, telling them the rich have stolen everyone else's wealth. If only the playing field could be equalized, if only everyone had an equal share, all would be peachy.

The socialist utopian dream just will not die because there is always wealth to be redistributed. Obama claims tax hikes will help balance wealth distribution, but not a dime will ever reach a single productive person. Ironically, much of what's not swallowed by the gaping maw of government will likely go to Obama's buddies in Big Business, purportedly the Left's most hated foe.

The Left has seized upon a recent study by two neo-socialist economists, who claim the top 1% (written "0.01" to increase its impact) hold 80% of the wealth in the United States. But like all lefties in good standing, they leave out relevant facts. In this case, they ignore the wealthiest sector of the nation: the United States government.

The federal government forcibly extracted more than $3 trillion from American citizens in 2014 -- the first time it crossed that threshold. The study's authors complain about billionaires but say not a word about the trillionaire in the room. And according to the latest Forbes list of worldwide billionaires, the aggregate wealth of them all totals only $6.4 trillion, barely enough to finance the U.S. government for a year-and-a-half. It's also less than a third of federal debt. Added to the federal government, the states have their own billionaire club, particularly California, which has one of the largest economies (and hence, governments) in the world.

Enhancing its rather extravagant income, the federal government owns vast swaths of real estate inside our borders (including 87% of the land in the West), an asset of enormous value. So in comparison, the wealthy in our country, two-thirds of whom according to Forbes earned their wealth, could be among the lowest 1% when compared to government.

The authors conclude that the "public will favor more progressive taxation only if it is convinced that top income gains are detrimental to the 99%." So keep feeding them class envy.

We don't mean to be apologists for wealthy corporatists, some of whom -- such as George Soros and Tom Steyer -- use their wealth to buy our political system. (This while leftists hypocritically attack the Koch brothers or other conservative financiers, whose contributions are dwarfed by leftists.) Of course, others are admirable people who've made a fortune by grit and guts. This nation's founding principles guarantee every person the right to the fruits of his labor. Since the 16th Amendment passed, however, that principle has been turned on its head by busybody activists and government officials -- hypocritical officials, we might add.

Inside the most exclusive club in the world, congressmen and women "earn" more than several average families combined -- on average, just one of them surpasses 18 families' incomes. And the Redistributionist in Chief lives the life of royalty on a scale never before witnessed, jetting around in the world's most expensive plane with entourages of hundreds in tow. Where does he -- the laughable "savior" of the 99% -- get off demanding higher taxes from a "10% family" earning 225,000 badly devalued dollars?

Unfortunately, as long as Democrats can buy votes with taxpayer money, the class warfare of "middle-class economics" will live on. All Obama did Tuesday night was preview the central message of the 2016 presidential campaign.



The Legend of Chris Kyle

The late Chris Kyle is an American legend, joining the likes of Jim Bowie, Daniel Boone and Alvin York. When a solider suffering from PTSD killed Kyle at a gun range in 2013, Kyle's legacy as one of the great American snipers, with nearly 160 confirmed kills in Iraq, was already cemented into the annals of American war. And when "American Sniper," the film depicting Kyle's life, blew out the box office this past weekend, Kyle's reputation was preserved as an American icon.

To put "American Sniper" in perspective, its opening weekend earned the film $89.5 million. Usually, only superhero movies like "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" do this well. But Americans wanted to see the biopic of a real hero. It's Kyle's story -- with its focus on the cost of war and the struggle he had balancing duty to country with duty to family -- that resonated with the American audience. After all, it's an American story.

The film, starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood, was nominated for six Academy Awards, but that didn't stop (or perhaps led to) some members of Hollywood's leftist elite lambasting the film. Actor Seth Rogen said, "American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds." Did Rogen just compare the life of Chris Kyle to a Nazi propaganda film? Rogen is about as moronic as the character he plays in the assassination-comedy "The Interview," which is being used as anti-North Korean propaganda.

Anti-gun documentarian Michael Moore mocked Kyle as a coward: "My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders r worse." The only coward here is the one who does his sniping from behind a camera -- using a high-capacity magazine full of made-up "facts," we might add.

Run-of-the-mill liberals also joined in the clamor against "American Sniper," saying the film is racist because Kyle describes jihadis as savages in the movie, or that Kyle is a war-drunk killer.

There is a difference between Chris Kyle the man and Chris Kyle the legend. The Leftmedia could dredge up enough valid dirt on the man, but they attack the legacy of the fallen sniper because of the American values Kyle represents. Kyle, like any man, was flawed. For example, he was perhaps prone to exaggerated braggadocio, likely fabricating some stories -- including having punched former pro-wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in the face. Ventura won a defamation suit over it, which is difficult to do.

But Kyle didn't return to Iraq again and again because he was arrogant or gloried in killing. According to Kyle, he returned to protect his brothers in arms. "The ideal thing would be if I knew the number of lives I saved, because that's something I'd love to be known for," Kyle said in 2012. "But you can't calculate that."

If that isn't an American ideal, what is?

Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle, took to Facebook to express how overwhelmed she was that "American Sniper," an "honest" depiction of her husband's life, was so successful in movie theaters.

"Thank you for being willing to watch the hard stuff," she wrote, "and thank you for hearing, seeing, experiencing the life of our military and first responders. I put them together because the battlefields may be different but the experience is the same on many spiritual levels."

If Kyle has become our hero, he shows the values America still holds dear on and off the battlefield. We laud the man who runs toward the sound of chaos, who handles a gun with ease, yet is still gentle enough to hang up the weapons of war to be with wife and children.

Violence comes at a price, as Eastwood explores in his cannon of films, and that may cost a man his soul or his mind. For thousands of American soldiers, war is a hell that rages in their minds in the form of PTSD. Yet as Kyle shows, that is a burden the American hero bears out of love of country.



Conservatives Rethink Liberty Vs. Order

This week, the Supreme Court made a decision that was somewhat newsworthy: upholding the right of a prison inmate to do something the prison authorities prohibit. What made it really unusual is that the decision was unanimous, with all the conservative justices signing on, and that the opinion was written by one of the most conservative, Samuel Alito.

Alito is not a staunch friend of prison reformers. In a case involving the treatment of inmates in California, he wrote scornfully, "The Constitution does not give federal judges the authority to run state penal systems. Decisions regarding state prisons have profound public safety and financial implications, and the states are generally free to make these decisions as they choose." Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have been no more sympathetic.

Yet here they were, joining the court's liberals to tell the Arkansas Department of Corrections that it may not force a Muslim convict to shave his face. That demand, the court said, violates his freedom to practice his religion.

The case is a reminder of the everlasting tension within conservative thought between the rights of individuals and the power of the authorities, particularly in matters of public safety and order.

Many on the right instinctively side with police, intelligence agencies and corrections officers when their conduct comes under fire. But another strand of conservative thinking preaches the need to protect citizens against government overreaching and abuse. It's the authoritarian school vs. the libertarian school, Rudy Giuliani vs. Rand Paul.

Jack Hunter, writing in The American Conservative, says controversies like those over torture and police abuse show "there is a significant and perhaps even irreconcilable philosophical contradiction developing on the right."

But in this case, the conservative members of the Supreme Court sounded unabashedly libertarian -- forcing the government to accommodate the inconvenient demands of a violent felon who follows a minority religion that is distrusted by many Americans.

The inmate, Gregory Holt, is doing a life sentence in a supermax prison for burglary and domestic battery. The Arkansas Department of Corrections bans beards (except for medical necessity) because, it says, they can be used to hide dangerous items like razor blades and needles and can be grown or removed for purposes of disguise.

Holt argued that under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), he is entitled to grow whiskers in accordance with his faith. A federal district court and a federal appeals court were not persuaded. They insisted on leaving the matter up to the people charged with running the prisons.

But the Supreme Court disagreed. Alito said the ban on beards violates that law, which limits the government's right to limit the religious freedom of prisoners. The justices had no trouble substituting their judgment for that of corrections officers.

Inmates, the court noted, could also hide weapons in their hair, clothing or shoes. "Nevertheless," wrote Alito, "the Department does not require inmates to go about bald, barefoot or naked."

Why did the conservatives on the court side with the criminal? One reason is RLUIPA, which was partly meant to limit the power of prison wardens. But part of it is that the rule affected something conservatives generally care a lot about: religion.

In 1990, the Supreme Court allowed the denial of unemployment benefits to drug counselors fired for using peyote in a Native American Church ceremony. The decision, written by Scalia, mocked the idea that religious conduct should be exempt from certain laws. "Any society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy," he proclaimed.

But conservatives soon realized that, in a society where Christianity has lost ground, laws that could burden minority religions could also burden their own. They got Congress to pass laws to head off that prospect.

One of those, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was crucial in last year's Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court. It let for-profit employers who oppose contraceptives on religious grounds exclude them from health insurance coverage. Without the statute, a forerunner of RLUIPA, "Hobby Lobby would probably have lost," says Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia law professor.

In that case and this one, the conservative justices showed a notable sensitivity to claims of religious believers. They also showed a new willingness to place individual liberty and autonomy above security and order.

They even dared to question whether sacrificing liberty actually enhances security. The authoritarian element of conservative thought persists, but it may be getting weaker.



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