ObamaNet: Your Friendly Neighborhood Provider

After meeting their alleged goal of 7 million Obamacare enrollees, major progressive players like Susan Crawford have decided that nationalizing healthcare isn’t a big enough challenge. Now that the current administration has mastered the ability to have a functioning website, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things, such as creating a public option for the internet.

Susan Crawford (image from Twitter)

Susan Crawford (image from Twitter)

In an interview with the upstart online news source Vox, Crawford (former Special Assistant to President Obama on Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy) gives her argument for why a public option is needed for internet access. In a nutshell, Crawford poses the idea that America is behind the times in providing inexpensive and fast access to the Web to its citizens, citing statistics like Sweden’s blazing fast internet speeds at fractional prices compared to the US (the validity of which Tom Worstall calls into question in his article).

She goes on to explain that the private market has and will continue to provide substandard service in order to drive up profits, which will not serve the public good. Crawford claims quality service is only provided at high prices to the urban elite, leaving many Americans with the only choice of default service from their “local monopoly.”

So naturally, the only alternative is for a government takeover.

Excuse me, a “public option” rather. But what is the difference really? While Crawford claims that this service should be treated as a utility like electricity, the idea of subjecting internet service to utility regulation is far from historical comparison. According to Forbes.com, the US ranks in the top ten of quality broadband service worldwide, trailing densely populated countries like South Korea and Japan which do not deal with the extent of American rural living.

One valid concern about access to Internet is that monopolistic tendencies may keep competitive providers from allowing access for all. But rather than replace private enterprise that may show signs of monopolistic tendencies with a government monopoly, we should hold companies accountable to the standards that have been devised for exactly these types of situations. Inserting a public “option” into the marketplace will only skew prices and competition and – most importantly – stifle free-market innovation. We can do better.

The War (For) Poverty

Photo from nypost.com

Photo from nypost.com

Looking back over the last five years under liberal rule, Americans have come to understand a very simple truth at both the state and national level: liberal leadership is an oxymoron. From the Governor’s mansion to the White House, the shortcomings of the liberal agenda have become a spectacle for the nation to witness; but the problem runs deeper than just the people in charge.

For example, New Yorkers have become all too familiar with this concept. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has virtually waged his own war for poverty by targeting and shutting down charter schools for underprivileged students. No matter that these schools have astonishingly higher test scores in almost every category compared to their public school counterparts. Rather than finding ways to capitalize on the tremendous work of these schools to educate students, de Blasio has blocked efforts with no clear alternative. But here’s the catch: this same platform was what got him 73 percent of the vote in his mayoral election.  How is this possible?

Similarly, the President has seen his approval rating drop to the low 40s as the “deadline” for healthcare enrollment approaches next week. He claimed the American people could keep their own insurance if they liked, but apparently that was just a nice thought. He said you could keep your doctor too, which has also been rescinded. Apparently this is what happens when you have to pass a bill to see what is in it. The administration has chosen to adopt executive orders and partisan strong arming as its standard operating procedures. However, as with de Blasio, this same agenda is what won the President both elections.

The answer for why voters experience such a disconnect with their lefty representatives is the vicious cycle perpetuated by the core beliefs of liberalism. Their most basic maxim is the more government the better. The only way to expand government power is to have elected officials create legislation to do so. And the only way to ensure those officials are elected is to make voters dependent on that legislation.

As a result, the stereotypes of liberals being the party of social justice and equality and conservatives as the enemy of the poor are ideologically reversed. In reality, liberals have no voter base if their constituency weans themselves off their government programs. In contrast, conservatives believe in the ownership of wealth, fighting for policy that creates opportunity for individuals rather than creating a state of dependency (i.e. welfare).

Because of this fundamental difference, liberals have no choice but to lambast and ridicule comments like those made by Paul Ryan about poverty’s roots in culture rather than allegedly oppressive conservative policy.

For if those left of center conceded that issues like poverty are rooted more deeply than dollars and cents, they put themselves in jeopardy of losing the vast majority of their voter base in exchange for more opportunity for those who need it most. God forbid.

If you would like to find out what innovative ideas are coming out of the states to address issues like these, check out spn.org/directory for a list of state think tanks.

Pay No Attention to the (Old) Man Behind The Curtain

Image from savvysugar.com

Image from savvysugar.com

During the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama and his minions revolutionized the campaign landscape with their methods targeted at young voters. Millennials were bombarded with messages around every corner. From memorable memes to hip hashtags, the strategy of the left made the right’s look older than, well, John McCain. They even roped in some of the year’s hottest celebrities to promote catchy slogans like “Vote or Die,” because who wouldn’t want to take serious political advice like that from the well-informed likes of Paris Hilton?

Paris Hilton

Needless to say, the effort paid off, with young voters making a significant contribution to Obama’s landslide margins. However, in the years since that groundbreaking election, the administration’s image of your friend’s cool parents who have iPads and watch Breaking Bad is finally showing its true wrinkles, due in large part to the very competitive advantage that got it into the White House in the first place: technology.

The most obvious example is health care. If liberals really had an administration of hipsters, the one thing they should be able to pull off is a website, while smoking a pipe and wearing kitschy prescription-less glasses, of course. But alas, the very person in charge of the project, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has had zero answers for the ongoing bugs that have plagued the process. Not to mention Nancy Pelosi’s interview on the Daily Show, where she blatantly said she didn’t know why the government couldn’t just contract out the website’s construction. Interesting thought for a liberal news show to suggest the government use the market for help with policy implementation. Imagine that.

Moreover, America has also learned that one man has the power to bring national security to its knees with a few clicks of a mouse. Just Google Edward Snowden for more details. Examples like these reveal the true nature of big government and a disappointing reality for its former millennial supporters.

The generation that bought into the Hope and Change movement is seeing a gap between what the free market has done to improve their daily lives and the jungle of government bureaucracy. When consumers get the latest smart phone, tablet, or laptop, they expect things to work as they should. You open the box, press the button, and go. If a product line malfunctions, the company would be destined for bankruptcy. Thanks to the magic of competition in the free market, we as consumers are simply used to things working like they should.

As the liberal agenda unravels at its seams, Gen Yers are becoming increasingly disillusioned to the mixed messages of big government. No matter how many college basketball brackets or Lil Wayne references the President makes, they are matched by the Vice President’s comments of not being a “technology geek” and manufactured smile. Thanks to the past five years, we have seen the consequences of gross government overreach and the unveiling of remarkably sub-standard products.

So how can government usher itself into the twenty-first century? Come out from behind the curtain, and let those who have set the standard of excellence in this country do what they do best.

Fueling Peace and Security in Ukraine

 As the world’s attention shifts from Sochi to Kiev and Crimea, inevitable discussions of what the U.S.’s involvement overseas should be is in full swing. While the President’s sanctions may send a message, they are seem to be nothing more than face-saving, powerless threats. We’re slapping the wrist of the bully for not playing by the rules when he has no intention of following the rules in the first place.

So then, what is our nation’s appropriate response? After ten years in the Middle East, another war over a little piece of land that most American’s could not locate on a map would not be a popular solution. This may be a rare instance of bipartisan agreement. On the other end of spectrum, perhaps it is time we mind our own business. What’s a conflict on the other side of the world over EU and Russian allegiance have to do with us? We have our own problems to worry about, right?

Unfortunately, Ukraine is a key piece to the puzzle in Putin’s dream of reuniting the old Soviet Republic. The good news is that a possible solution to America’s involvement may not be so binary, but may come in the form of liquid natural gas (LNG).

According to an article from realclearmarkets.com, exporting the U.S.’s quickly expanding capacity for LNG overseas to the Western-European market would have both financial and geopolitical benefits. The article asserts that over half of Ukraine’s natural gas and 30% of Europe’s is provided by Russia. Since Russia’s main source of revenue is oil and gas, inserting our own supply at cheaper prices would have a crippling effect on Russia’s grip in these areas.

If this is such a great idea, why then isn’t it already being done? Nothing more than some good,  old-fashioned government red tape.

Here’s just a swath of some of these regulations as mentioned by RealClearMarkets:

First, getting a project approved to sell to one of the government’s 20 (yes, only 20) approved countries can take years. And since 2011, a whopping 6 projects have been approved. But that is only if you get past the initial step of drilling, which is no small task. Between 2006 and 2011, approved drilling permits decreased by almost 8,000, and the number of days to acquire a permit has doubled. As a result, this disincentive has caused permits applications to decrease by 50% from 2007-2012.

Not only are these regulations hindering our ability to tap into our natural resources for domestic consumption, but also hamstringing our ability to leverage our energy production abroad. Deregulating our LNG markets could provide a creative, safe, and effective solution to the conflict in Ukraine by taking the power out of the hands of the oppressive few and enabling those vying for freedom and democracy in their country to flourish.

Energy fuels our economy, and economic strength and energy independence allow us to be a force for peace and security in the world.

Post-SOTU Hunger Pangs

Image from Politico

Image from Politico

If you watched the State of the Union address last Tuesday evening, you probably had an experience that can be compared to eating a nice, big bowl of lettuce leaves for dinner. It sounds good at the time, and you may have even enjoyed the meal, only to lay in bed starving a few hours later wondering how you got to this point. Finally, over the roaring grumbles in your stomach, you realize one very important detail. You didn’t actually eat anything. Perhaps this sensation was no more poignant than after the President’s discussion of the new healthcare roll out.

Using his signature smooth rhetoric, the President (obviously) stuck to the positives. He cited statistics like the three million people who got coverage under their parents’ plan, or the nine million under “private” insurance or Medicaid. He put a personal touch to these numbers by telling the story of Amanda Shelley, who had a pre-existing condition, got insured, had to have emergency surgery soon thereafter, and was spared high costs. However, he conveniently failed to mention the 700,000 people in Florida and California who lost their coverage, or the circus show surrounding online registration, or the story of Emilie Lamb who suffers from lupus. Her premiums jumped $300 due to Obamacare, and she now works two jobs just to afford medication. Like Amanda, Emilie was also in attendance for the President’s address.

What do these statistical and personal contradictions mean? On the surface, they do nothing more than prolong the political merry-go-round of Washington in-fighting and stretch the already gaping chasm between parties. However, the larger picture shows that regardless of the issue, government interference always results in the picking of winners and losers. Just as in the case of most federal subsidies and “incentives,” government involvement in these areas puts the power in the hands of the removed few, rather than the people who are directly affected. The problem then expands from merely the shortcomings of a liberal health care agenda to a larger issue of government hubris, perhaps the only issue that is truly bipartisan.

So if you found yourself laying in bed unsatisfied by the political lettuce cloaked in your favorite dressing of choice on Tuesday, the reason is that there was nothing to consume. It’s time for the next course.

A “Higher” Calling for the IRS?

IRS

Picture of the IRS building from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iceninejon/1470401797/

Across Constitution Avenue en route to the Sculpture Garden in downtown Washington, D.C., there stands a building with a faded, almost camouflaged inscription above its windows. Stop to stare with a slight squint and the inscription can be deciphered as a short quote of some sorts. This is nothing out of the ordinary, as many such buildings in the area boast lavish engravings and poetic words beautifully crafted across their marble faces.

However, in light of our nation’s recent events, this single quote must give pause to its readers. This single, eight-word quote once hidden in simplicity amongst hundreds of others now seems to scream for attention from the stone on which it was carved.

The quote is from former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and rests on the side of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters. It reads,

Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society

A year ago, the initial irony of this statement may have merely conjured a smirk or a scoff from us taxpayers who have seen a grim horizon of ever-increasing taxes and more government encroachment into our everyday lives. However, the recent IRS scandal of targeting conservative non-profit and Tea Party organizations begs a second glance at Holmes’ words and a second thought to their implications.

IRS Rally

Picture from a Tea Party protest of the IRS’s unfair and unlawful targeting practices.

Taxes are a fact of life. As much as we loathe that dreaded day in the middle of April and cringe at the sight of deductions from our paychecks, most reasonable Americans understand that taxes (should) be used by the government for the betterment of its people. In a civilized society like America, citizens pay for the privilege of highway systems, Social Security (whether their own or someone else’s it seems), and now, controversially, healthcare.

Notice, however, that Holmes qualifies his statement with the word civilized. Unfortunately, the extreme subjectivism of this word creates an elusive and seemingly elastic definition, as history can attest. Even still, perhaps what can be agreed upon is that a civilized society must demonstrate consistency and fairness with the rules and laws that the society itself has put into place. This must be especially true for the highest realms of authority.

So then, what happens when these realms abuse their authority, toss civility to the way side, and contradict the very laws and limitations that have been established to restrain themselves from governmental hubris? A second component of a civilized society, accountability, must step in. The checks and balances system of our government was designed for this very purpose. No single branch has complete authority, and everyone must answer to someone.

Apparently these principles are not shared by our current governing authorities.

The IRS has been caught red handed. Both parties have denounced its targeting of conservative groups and the current administration has pledged to hold the tax-payer-funded “service” accountable for its actions. However, we have seen quite the opposite. Our country’s administration claimed to have no knowledge of the IRS’s actions until they saw the news of it along with the rest of the nation. What’s more, one of the employees who has been directly linked to the scandal was given a promotion after the news broke.

Civilized? Accountability? Nowhere to be seen.

And yet Holmes’ words still stand. Appropriately faded, easily overlooked, and passed by many. This is not a call to disband taxes. To say that the IRS’s actions debunk the civilized foundation of America and therefore we have grounds to refuse to comply with their laws is not the point. This is merely a reminder that the country we pledge our allegiance to, the country that generations have died for, and the country that our leaders serve is not exempt from nor is it above its own laws. And when unlawful acts are committed, the one whom the people voted as their leader must take a forceful stand against such incivility.

Perhaps it is time those inside the IRS’s walls step outside its doors, turn around, and look up.

Montana Ranches in Jeopardy

MONTANA-webTom DePuydt is the third generation to be a part of the land. His grandfather homesteaded in Montana 100 years ago.

Like Tom, Rose Stoneberg’s great-grandmother had a homestead in Montana. Stewardship of the wildlife and the land is a part of her family history.

If we take care of the land it takes care of us. Tom DePuydt

Montana ranchers like Tom and Rose are fighting to save the “Treasure State” legacy—a legacy that is under siege. Natural resources have always provided from Montanans, and Montanans have always stewarded the land. However, the federal government and outside resources are separating the ranchers from the land and its resources.

Montana is land rich and cash poor because they are not allowed to responsibly use their lands and resources for their benefit.

Even as they sit on unimaginable wealth above and below the beautiful landscapes, they have the second lowest wages per job on the nation. They have been cut off from our wealth by people who either don’t understand or don’t care about the human toll of pressing their values on Montana families.

To learn more about the problem and get involved, visit Montana Policy Institute.

Misti Chastain: Tales of Tyranny

Misti ChastainMisti Chastain was  a 10-year-old when she first saw her dream ranch. Twenty years later she bought that land and turned it into a dream ranch for those who need it most.

But her dream was almost thwarted when the county government tried to force senseless regulations on her property.

Chastain owns a horse ranch outside of Olympia, Washington, where she rescues horses and hosts children with special needs. Her work there has been lauded by local teachers and community leaders.

One day, she received a letter from Thurston County that threatened to close her ranch down. It listed 11 property violations, which allegedly stemmed from a neighbor’s complaint. She was charged with building a swimming pool without a permit (it was already there when she moved in) and having a well too close to her garage.

Even worse, it limited her to only have six horses on her thirty acres— a regulation that was not even in county land codes. This forced Chastain to put some of her prized horses down.

I’m getting rid of horses. I’m saying goodbye to kids. I’m closing down programs. It was devastating.

A turning point came when she saw signs around that said “Stop Thurston County from Taking Our Property.”

She called the number on the sign, which led to the Freedom Foundation’s Glen Morgan. Morgan provided the information that restored her will to fight the county officials.

She testified and invited county officials to look around her property—and she invited her friends with video cameras. The county decided that there was nothing wrong with her property, and Chastain was vindicated.

Chastain’s is not an isolated case. Many people suffer under oppressive government regulations on their property or businesses. Glen Morgan warns citizens in Chastain’s position that “your silence will not protect you.” She shined the light of day on what government was doing to her, and she changed her situation.

If you don’t stand up against government grabbing power and squashing individual opportunity when you see it happening around you, then you may just become a victim of it yourself one day.

Do you have a story to share about government’s oppressive reach into your life? Share it on our Facebook page or contact the freedom-protecting think tank in your state.

Is the sequester all that bad for states?

Tomorrow, March 1, 2013, the dreaded and overly dramatized sequester will occur.

President Obama has called the sequester a “meat-clever approach” to cutting the budget. News reports and the president have been telling us that the TSA will shrink and  result in longer airport lines this summer, national parks will close down some of their campgrounds, and the military will be crippled. Further, he has been traveling the states saying that essential state services will also be cut, such as education or law enforcement.

The sequester has forced us to look at government spending a little bit closer to discern the myths from the facts. The good news is that when we dig in, we find these four facts to be true:

  1. States should not depend upon federal dollars to provide essential services, such as education and public safety.
  2. Sequestration will only cut 2.4 percent of a $3.6 trillion budget. Even with the cuts, total spending in 2013 will exceed what was spent in 2012.
  3. The President knew that sequestration was coming, and he has had the opportunity to work with Congress to cut other non-essential spending in lieu of what he now calls the “meat-clever approach.”
  4. Even after the defense cuts, we will be spending more on the military now than during the height of the Cold War.

Sequester

Nobody wants essential services cut, but the hard truth is that the federal government should not be holding the purse strings for any of these services to begin with. Education and public safety should be funded and managed at the state level.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation reported that in January the Texas House of Representatives convened the Committee on Texas Response to Federal Sequestration to prepare for the cuts. After listing the various state programs that might feel the impact of federal budget cuts, the committee concluded its report with this warning about “becoming too dependent on the federal government”:

“The situation we find ourselves in with sequestration should serve as a cautionary tale to consider carefully how much we expand programs on the state level utilizing federal dollars. As recent events demonstrate, the federal government could pull funding at any time and Texas would be left to deal with the ramifications.” Why the Sequester Won’t Be So Bad for Texas

Given the massive national debt, it is more important now than ever for states to take control of their fiscal houses. It’s just common sense– something that Washington politicians know very little about.

George Washington: The Reluctant President

GeorgeWashington

Today is not just another federal holiday, but it is a day we celebrate one of our greatest war heroes and founding fathers. George Washington was not only our first victorious commander in chief, but he also set a precedent for limited executive power. He foresaw the threat that concentrated power can hold.

When he was commissioned by the Continental Congress as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army on June 19, 1775, Washington wrote this in a letter to his wife Martha:

“You may believe me, my dear Patsy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more happiness in one month with you at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad.”

His dream was not conquest or personal glory. A humble, private life suited him.

On February 4, 1789, the 69 members of the Electoral College made George Washington the only chief executive to be unanimously elected (cited from The Smithsonian Magazine).

On the way to begin his presidency, he wrote in his private diary:

“About ten o’clock, I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity and, with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York…with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.”

Washington almost retired after one term, but decided to run for a second for the good of the country. He sensed that the factional division between Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists and Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans would be too much for the young country to bear.

He famously set the tone for a two-term presidency when he refused to run for a third term in 1796.

Throughout his presidency, Washington expressed great humility and even anxiety that he was not good enough for such a monumental job. He truly viewed his position as one of public service and sacrifice, and he had no desire to be an empire builder.

George Washington’s example of leadership is one that should be emulated by business leaders, community leaders, and, most importantly, every commander in chief elected to serve the people of the United States.

 

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