Author Archives: Richard Larsen

About Richard Larsen

AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at [email protected]

Our Private Religious and Public Political Beliefs – Politics Is Not A Religion

Today millions of Americans will be united in commemoration of the historical event of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. To Christians, this act marks the culmination of the life of one who came as the Lamb of God to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law for the propitiation and expiation of mortal sin. To adherents of Christ and His teachings, such a belief is fundamental, and consequently, inviolable and sacrosanct. But regrettably, there are many who so believe, who project their private personal theology onto their public political beliefs with similarly unyielding intransigence. There must be a distinction between what is private and public, for politics is not a religion.

politicsReligion is personal and private, and between a man and his God, even if one’s “god” is secular humanism. Those who are devout in their religion will not compromise or equivocate in those personal convictions, and frankly, they’d be hypocritical if they did. But what happens when such a personal religious conviction is projected into public politics?

Many of the principles of political ideologies have their roots in theological tenets, yet when they’re applied politically, they constitute a public application. For example, the left of the political spectrum is supportive of wealth redistribution, either as purely secular socialism, or erroneously applying the biblical concept of “having all things in common.”

Similarly, many on the right believe in the classical-liberal precepts established by our founding documents as fundamentally religious in nature, based in life, liberty, and property (pursuit of happiness). We accept these as eternal verities, yet must be careful when it comes to applying them publically in governance.

The tendency is to feel that since these tenets are fundamental, man having being endowed by his Creator with those inalienable rights, that the codified application of those precepts is inviolable and not subject to compromise in application. For example, the absolute notion of individual liberty would preclude the qualifier that protects the rights of others. We have no more right to do everything we want under the guise of individual liberty, than we do to impinge on the rights of others with no accountability.

Likewise, strict application of the principle of “life” would prohibit capital punishment. And even the concept of personal property is not absolute, since acquisition of property can be regulated so as to prevent appropriation by theft. So even though these are correct fundamental principles, their application is clearly negotiable, or up for compromise, as they are applied politically.

Even our country’s founding document that established the system of governance for the new republic based in those classical-liberal ideals, was hammered out through compromise. Representation in the new federal government was compromised in such a way that the states had equal representation in the upper chamber, and the populace equally represented in the House.

The election process itself, for the two legislative chambers as well as the president, was the result of compromise. And without the compromise on slavery, there would have been no constitution, and consequently, no United States of America. The Constitutional Convention itself was a compromise, since many states wanted to merely revamp the Articles of Confederation, rather than draft an entirely new constitution.

Constitutional-ConventionBy all accounts, the Constitutional Convention was contentious and divided, with the disputation often based on deeply held convictions of the delegates. In what will stand as one of the greatest efforts of compromise in history, the new Constitution was ratified by nine of the thirteen colonies at the convention. State conventions at each of the colonies subsequently ratified the Constitution unanimously, even though several states initially rejected the document. By persuasion, reason and education, every state ultimately voted in favor of the new system of governance.

In short, compromise resulted in the founding of America, even though the principles upon which it was founded were considered by many to be sacrosanct. Did the founders rationalize or diminish their convictions by compromising? Some may have felt so, yet the document that created our republic stands as the crown jewel in application of classical-liberal ideals to principles of governance. Clearly, then, principles and beliefs can be absolute, while application can be negotiable and subject to compromise.

ramirez-the-compromiseIn our private religious lives, we may hold fast to precepts we consider to be absolute and eternally true, yet by our actions, we often betray our convictions. Christians may profess ardently that they “love their fellow men,” yet are they not compromising on that private conviction whenever they act with malice, lack of civility, and vindictiveness toward their fellow man?

If we are to be uncompromising, it should be in our personal convictions, which we have control over, so our outward acts do not betray our principled convictions. But in politics, although we may have convictions in absolute tenets, their public application to governance will always be even more imperfect since they apply publically to all, not just on a personal and individual level. For it’s impossible to project our convictions onto the public realm and have them just as we want them. Definitionally, and a posteriori, they are subject to negotiation and compromise.

As we celebrate this Easter morn, may we resolve to be more uncompromising in our private lives by our outward manifestation of our personal religious beliefs, and more compromising, as long as it’s incremental in the right direction, with our public political ideology. After all, politics is not a religion.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

A Rip In Reagan’s Big Tent – Rifts in the GOP

In a two-party system, as the U.S. gratefully is, there must be a difference between the two major parties. The distinction seems to have eroded over the years as both parties have moved to the left. To those of us who ardently hold to the principles that this nation was founded upon, there is only one major party that at least has the temerity to articulate those ideals, whether it in fact practices them or not, and that is the Republican Party. Those of us who lament the downward slide of the country into statism, and toward eventual financial collapse, must decide whether we want to be part of the solution within the GOP, or continue to be part of the problem. Many who consider themselves to be “patriots” are part of the problem.

Many long-time Republicans are resistant to the efforts of the neophytes, or Tea Party idealists. They stand egocentrically on the ground that the Republican Party is “my” party,” and refuse to let the neophyte conservatives have a place at the table. They roll out by-law and rule changes that seek to centralize the “power” and authority of the party in the hands of a few, rather than expanding and democratizing it, and increasing participation. They attempt to demonize and denigrate the newcomers who, in my estimation, are the very embodiment of the same revolutionary spirit and convictions that founded our republic.

republican-tentOn the other hand, many of the newcomers attack the “old guard” with the same ferocity and animus they hold for those who are ideologically engaged in the process of fundamentally transforming the nation. Some of these Tea Partiers exacerbate the divide created by the egoism of the old guard and take this internal struggle to a level that, if taken to extremes, will fractiously render the GOP impotent, which would serve no one’s interest, except the other Party and the real enemies of freedom. They engage in strident in-your-face confrontational coercion of “ideological purity,” that only fans the flames of discord and apprehension of the establishment Republicans.

There is near universal acceptance within the GOP of the main tenets of the Tea Party movement which are: eliminate excessive taxes, eliminate the national debt, eliminate deficit spending, protect free markets, abide by the Constitution of the United States, promote civic responsibility, and reduce the overall size of government.

The only difference, other than tactical, I can find between the two factions is an understanding of compromise. The old guard has been around long enough to know that everything in politics and government is incremental, and that compromise is critical. They just need to learn to compromise in a way that takes us in the right direction, not the other way. The newcomers have the luxury of standing strictly on principle, and, having never governed, have not had the educational experience to realize that it’s impossible in governance to have things exactly how you want them all of the time. It is possible to compromise on specific legislation or statute without compromising on your principles. Ignorance of this fact will cripple the neo-conservatives unless they learn to adapt.

What is clear, is that the tactics of both factions are churlish, immature, and divisive. Both use labels to demonize and alienate the other, and engage in tactics that are characteristic of Saul Alinsky devotees, not members of the Party of Lincoln. To both sides I would reiterate the counsel of Paul, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Ronald Reagan’s goal was for the Republican Party to be a big tent; the bigger the better. I believe ardently that all who are at the eye of this intra-party storm are conservatives, believing in limited government, individual freedom, protection of life and private property, less government spending and less governmental intrusion and centralization of power. So why should it matter if we’re constitutional conservatives, Tea Party conservatives, libertarian conservatives, or old guard conservatives? As Reagan said, “He who agrees with me 80% of the time is not my enemy.”

Bennett editorial cartoonIf the GOP is to succeed electorally, all factions and persons involved in the party schism must learn to work together. Only by working together can we begin to slow the abominable slide into leftist oblivion. The “old guard” and the Tea Partiers must realize that all brands of conservatives are essential spokes in the same wheel.

If the statists who’re fundamentally transforming the nation are to be defeated, then it will only come as a result of a “united we stand, but divided we fall” conviction. And if we’re not part of the solution to create such cohesiveness, we’re part of the problem of divisiveness and failure. Clearly, both factions are at fault, and both are diluting and dividing the positive electoral influence the GOP could be enjoying if they’d work together against the real enemies of the state, rather than those perceived internally to be.

When conservatives don’t get their way with the candidates of their choice, and choose to stay at home on election day, they get precisely what they despise the most: more centralized planning, more reckless spending, and more expansive intrusion of government in their private lives by handing the election to the opposition. In short, everything that is contrary to their convictions. It’s illogical, and frankly, just plain stupid to alienate and marginalize those who agree with you 90% of the time by treating them the same way as those who disagree 100% of the time. The best thing to do is vote in every election for the most conservative candidate. You are not “violating” your principles by so doing.

housedividedIt matters less what kind of conservative labels we wear in our personal ideology, than that all parties resolve to work together in defeating those whose beliefs are antithetical to our founding principles. If the newcomers are to inch the country back closer to our founding tenets, it’s going to come by nudging the Republican Party back to its conservative roots, not by a hostile takeover, or by splintering into separate, impotent parties. And if the establishment Republicans want to win elections, they’ve got to work with, not against, the Tea Party conservatives and begin harnessing their convictions and enthusiasm, and begin practicing better what they preach. And developing a backbone to stand up against the statists would go a long way toward developing some trust with the more conservative members.

A great starting point for all is adoption of Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican,” and a determination to discontinue the divisive and deleterious speech, inferences, and actions. And for heaven’s sake, start talking with one another, rather than about one another!

One other thing is for certain: the other major Party is celebrating proportional to the GOP’s divisiveness. The victories they can’t win on their own will be handed to them by a bifurcated Republican Party.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Buying Political Influence – Who Should Scare Us More, The Koch Brothers or George Soros?

Judging from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s nearly daily diatribes on the floor of the U.S. Senate, George W. Bush has been retired as the most despised villain, and the cause of all the evils that plague the world. Bush has been replaced by the Koch (a Dutch name, pronounced “Coke”) brothers who are often maligned by the left for their pecuniary influence in politics. Since those on the left are not equally malevolent toward George Soros, who does the same thing, it’s clearly not the money in politics that bothers them — it’s the ideology.

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize winning Fact Check granted a “Four Pinocchio” rating to Reid’s latest round of attacks. The Post says Reid is “setting a high standard for deceptive speech,” and concludes that Reid’s party is “reaching blindly” for someone to cast the blame of their own failures on. The paper, critical of the falsity of Reid’s claim, chides him with, “If you want to join a gun fight, don’t fire blanks.”

charles-and-david-kochDavid and Charles Koch are brothers who run Koch Industries, an oil refinery business that is the second largest private firm in the country. The brothers are tied at number 6 on Forbes top billionaires list with personal net worth of about $41 billion each. They’ve expanded and maintained their fortunes by successfully providing the refined product that keeps America moving – oil.

George Soros is chairman of Soros Fund Management, a hedge fund company. Soros is number 27 on Forbes list with a net worth of $23 billion. He’s made his fortune in large part by selling short against international currencies and collapsing financial institutions. In 1997 he was dubbed “the man who broke the Bank of England,” and he was blamed by the Malaysian Prime Minister for collapsing their currency during the Asian financial crisis. He was also convicted of illegal financial dealings in France. His big bet now is collapsing the U.S. dollar and the free enterprise system.

Economist Paul Krugman has been critical of Soros, and others like him, “who not only move money in anticipation of a currency crisis, but actually do their best to trigger that crisis for fun and profit. These new actors on the scene do not yet have a standard name; my proposed term is ‘Soroi’.”

The Koch brothers and Soros spend lavishly in politics. They support individual candidates, contribute to political party campaign funds, lobby politicians, bankroll political action committees, and have established foundations and think tanks to influence politics.

george-soros-economic-terrorist-obama-politics-1344236489The Kochs spend by far the most, but the bulk of it goes to lobbying. The Open Society Institute is one of George Soros’ organizations, and they provide part of the funding of OpenSecrets.org, so even realizing that their data may be skewed toward a more pejorative coverage of the Kochs, I’m going to rely on their data. According to Open Secrets, the Koch brothers have spent, or as liberals typically describe it, “invested” over $50 million in lobbying from 1998-2010. During that same time, Soros and his primary Lobbying organization, Open Society Policy Center, spent about $13 million.

Donations to federal candidates, parties, and political action committees give a smaller advantage to the Kochs. They invested $2.58 million vs. Soros’ $1.74 million from 1989 to 2010. When extended to include the past four years, the Koch brothers have contributed $18 million in political donations. This sounds like a great number, until we look at the 58 organizations ahead of them, including 18 different unions, according to Open Secrets. Those unions political contributions total over $638 million, almost all of whose funds go to liberal candidates, and is more than 35 times more than the Kochs donate. Among those are the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees $60,667,379, the National Education Association $53,594,488, the United Auto Workers $41,667,858, and the Service Employees International Union $38,395,690

But from here the money for political influence gets a little more shady. From 2001 to 2010, the Koch brothers invested $1.5 million in other political groups, called 527 organizations, compared to Soros’ whopping $32.5 million.

The proliferation and expanded influence of 527s was made possible by the problematic McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform of 2002, so named because of the tax code, Section 527, that they fall under. As described by Benjamin Dangl, the groups “operate as shadow political campaigns working indirectly for or against a particular candidate.” Once contributed funds get to these groups, they can go anywhere, and the audit trail is virtually non-existent. Some are run totally above board and are very straightforward in their objectives. Many others are not. As Dangl says, “Prominent think tanks and campaign finance reform lobbyists say 527s are ‘illegal loopholes’ that enable the privatization of political campaigns.”

The groups that these men contribute to tell an even more significant tale than the sheer dollar volume they pump into our dysfunctional crony-capitalist, or corporatist political system. Since the Koch brothers are ideological libertarians, they’re driven by the classical-liberal Jeffersonian philosophy that America was founded on. Perhaps nothing defines this self-defined mission for the brothers better than the mission statement on the Cato Institute website, which states, “The mission of the Cato Institute is to originate, disseminate, and increase understanding of public policies based on the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.”

The Cato Institute, the Koch’s crown jewel, was established 40 years ago with seed money from Charles Koch, and his brother David still serves on the Board of the organization. Cato is recognized as the sixth most influential think tank in the nation, and number 14 internationally, with its scholarly and empirically documented research.

They also have contributed significantly to the Reason Foundation, publisher of Reason Magazine, applying reason and logic to economic and personal liberty issues. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman strongly supported the Foundation. And with a grant of $30 million, the Koch brothers were instrumental in the establishment of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, with similar objectives.

obama-puppet-teleprompter-george-soros-junkie-sad-hill-newsGeorge Soros runs the Open Society Institute and the Soros.org website, and contributes heavily to many organizations that ideologically are aligned with leftist causes, including Moveon.org. He is reviled abroad for his shady efforts to foment revolution and collapse currencies. His “foundations have been accused of shielding spies and breaking currency laws, and he’s invested over $400 million in institutions of higher education to promulgate and teach his extremist ideology.

In short, the Kochs and Soros are heavily invested in politics and are, by all standards, prototypical “one percenters” in income, net worth, and political influence. And it would appear, at least ostensibly, that all three are playing the influence-for-money game according to the rules established by congress. There is near universal contempt for the crony capitalism and corrupt corporatism that has tainted our political institutions, and politicians, and adulterated our free-market system. But congress has created the rules these players play by. Blaming the Kochs and Soros for using their resources to buy influence is like blaming collegiate athletes for the rules established by the NCAA.

Since most of the Koch’s political money goes into lobbying, their funds are well documented, as required by congressional accounting rules. With most of Soros’ political “investments” going into 527s, the funds are less traceable, and has earned Soros the dubious honor of being dubbed the “Godfather to the left.”

The classical-liberal principles of individual freedom and free markets that are so fully embraced and advanced by Charles and David Koch are the very principles the nation was founded upon. They are the principles that made America great. The progressive socialistic agenda advanced by Soros is antithetical to America’s founding precepts, and is heavily invested in the failure of not only the U.S. dollar, but the collapse of the U.S. economic system.

As distasteful as the pay-for-influence system is, the ideological objectives and uses of that influence should be of even greater concern. Should we fear those who support the ideals that made America great, or the one who seeks to destroy and fundamentally transform the country?

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Argument Against Voter ID Laws Is Itself Racist

Attorney General Eric Holder has been attempting to quell the rising tide of states opting for voter identification laws. Not even delving deeply into the issue raises the immediate question of why the top law enforcement officer in the country would be opposing efforts to maintain integrity in our election system. A government that is dependent on the electoral process should have a vested interest in ensuring electoral integrity. Contrary to the administration’s rhetoric, voter ID laws have nothing to do with racism even though their prima facie argument is entirely based on it.

voter-id-too-hardThis past week U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren ruled that Arizona and Kansas can, and have every legal right to, establish and enforce their new voter ID laws. Both states had enacted new requirements for voters to provide proof of citizenship with some form of government recognized identification. Holder’s Department of Injustice prevented the Election Assistance Commission from issuing amended federal forms in those states to reflect the change. The states sued the federal government, and have won, at least for now. After the ruling, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach exclaimed, “This is a huge victory … for the whole cause of states’ rights.”

In their court arguments, Holder’s DOJ claimed that voter ID laws suppress voter turnout and that there is “no such thing as voter fraud.” Such a statement is nothing short of hyperbolic coming from an administration with deep roots in Chicago, which owes much of its infamy to historic voter fraud and election tampering. Holder himself hails from New York, which has its own blemished record of election tampering, as any student of Tammany Hall could attest.

voter id'sHolder argues that being required to display a photo ID at a voting booth is “racist,” since it’s discriminatory to poor people who may not have one, or be intimidated at the polling station if they have to present one. From a logical perspective, at best this can be deemed fraudulent and specious. Those who Holder et al claim to be the victims of voter ID laws must have valid government identification to receive Medicaid, be issued welfare checks, to have a bank account to cash welfare checks, board planes, register at hotels, drive vehicles, and just about every point of transaction where identity must be validated. If requiring a valid form of identification is an affront to our civil rights as citizens, why are all of those institutions and establishments not charged with civil rights violation? The answer is obvious: we must be able to verify that we are who we claim to be, and it is no violation of our civil rights to be so required.

Since it’s logical to validate identity at the polling booth, which increases electoral integrity, we can only wonder at the real intent behind the opposition to voter ID legislation.

Baloo Toon Gravestone I VOTEDThe rhetorical tool they employ to demean and minimize voter ID laws is brilliant. When logic can be suspended, allege racism. It seems to work so well with the uninformed voter and the servile mainstream media. Pathetically, though, their very argument is fundamentally based on racism itself. For their argument infers that blacks and Hispanics are not intelligent enough, or somehow incapable of procuring government-recognized photo ID! It’s not a matter of poverty, as they claim, since such valid ID is required for receipt of government services. So inherently their argument is race-based, and by definition, racist.

And let’s not be so naïve to believe that this was all accidental. Going back to LBJ’s “Great Society” programs and the “War on Poverty,” the doling of governmental “freebies” and goodies was intended to buy fealty from the impoverished voter base. This was validated by LBJ’s own words when he said, “I’ll have those n****** voting Democratic for the next 200 years.”

Even the resistance efforts against voter ID laws is corrupt. Just this past week, according to the Associated Press, “Pennsylvania Democrats were caught on surveillance tape reportedly accepting cash bribes in return for opposing voter ID in the Pennsylvania legislature. Gifts of Tiffany’s jewelry were also given to Democrat legislators from Philadelphia, reportedly in exchange for “NO” votes on a Pennsylvania voter ID bill that passed in 2012. Despite this evidence, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has not charged any officials. Kane is a Democrat.”

Deader-Vote-5903With as much damage as Obamacare is wreaking across the country, it’s hard to imagine anything in it being more nefarious than we’ve already observed. But believe it or not, a few months ago a more sinister aspect of the “health care” law came to light. As reported by the Washington Examiner, “Gregg Phillips of Voters Trust and Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote discovered that an organization called Demos, which is funded by leftwing billionaire George Soros, has published a document detailing how the Obamacare law is written in such a way as to help Democrats get elected by using the healthcare law to register multimillions of low income citizens to vote. This led Phillips to declare, ‘I think it is the biggest voter registration fraud scheme in the history of the world.’”

The Demos document is titled, “Building a Healthy Democracy: Registering 68 Million People to Vote Through Health Benefit Exchanges,” and has been the topic of extensive discussion on many leftist websites, including Mother Jones, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, the League of Women Voters, and Project Vote.

This should be an affront to all Americans, regardless of partisan affiliation, that one major party would be so heavily invested in “gaming” the system. Perhaps we all should ponder the possibilities of why it is not.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Political Populism, Not Economics, Behind Minimum Wage Proposal

Sleight of hand and illusion have their role in the entertainment world, but when the same tactics are employed in the real world, the stakes are much greater, and the intent more dubious. David Copperfield has met his match in fabricated magic and illusionary tactics. For as any illusionist knows, in order to avoid letting the spectator see what’s really going on, you distract the spectator’s attention. And none are better at that than those leading the country today.

With the spectacular flop of the Unaffordable Care Act rollout, the moribund economy, disappointing jobs growth, dramatic widening of the income gap, higher poverty rates than the country has seen in 50 years, and an impotence with world leaders on the global scene, the Magician In Chief reached for his magician’s hat. And what did he pull out in an attempt to distract the nation from his colossal failures? A minimum wage increase! Voila! And now on cue, let us all be impressed! On second thought, let’s not be.

Let’s look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) own data on who is affected by the minimum wage. According to the BLS, 3.6 million of our total civilian workforce of 155 million workers are at or below the minimum wage compensation level. That is 2.5% of all workers in the U.S. Comprising that group of minimum wage earners, 31% are teenagers, 55% are 25 years old or younger. That means that just slightly more than 1% of the total workforce over the age of 25 is earning minimum wage.

Even that 1% over the age of 25 earning minimum wage are not typically the primary breadwinner of an American family. According to BLS data, 63% of workers who earn less than $9.50 per hour, (remember, the minimum wage is $7.25) are the second or third earner within their household. And nearly half of those live in households with earnings over $50,000 per year. So not only is the group very small that’s affected by the minimum wage, but the data don’t support the notion that they’re the “working poor.”

Min-Wage-590-LAThis segment of the population has been shrinking over the past thirty years. In 1980, nearly 15% of hourly workers were compensated at the minimum wage level. Considering how moribund the economy has been the past few years, it’s nothing short of remarkable that the total percentage of the workforce now paid at that level is a scant 2.5%.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour will lift approximately 900,000 people out of poverty. And it will take a few years to do it. But according to the BLS, there are 50 million Americans living in poverty, as defined by the government. That’s less than 2% of those living in poverty that will be elevated beyond that classification. The rest of those in poverty are in the custody of the state. Perhaps they just need a good job.

But the CBO also estimates that there will be a loss of half a million jobs by raising the minimum wage. Keep in mind that their estimates are always lower than reality. Current Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen affirmed the economics behind the CBO projections. “I think almost all economists think that the minimum wage has two main effects,” Chair Yellen said. “One is to boost pay for low-wage workers and the second is that there would be negative impact on employment.” Considering the realities of laws of economics, if we wanted to see more job creation, perhaps the minimum wage should be lowered, especially since most of those who work at that level are, according to BLS data, young people, and not primary wage earners for a household.

For those who venerate peer-reviewed research, here’s an economic feast of data. Joseph J. Sabia and Richard V. Burkhauser in a research piece a few years ago stated, “While reducing poverty among the working poor is a laudable policy goal, the evidence suggests that minimum wage increases have thus far provided little more than symbolic support to this population

“Several explanations have been offered for this finding. Card and Krueger (1995) emphasize that minimum wages fail to reduce poverty because many poor Americans do not work. Others have argued that even among the working poor, the relationship between earning a low hourly wage rate and living in poverty is weak and has become weaker over time (Stigler 1946; Burkhauser, Couch, and Glenn 1996; Burkhauser and Sabia 2007).”

LivingFromWelfareCheckToWelfareCheck“Moreover, even among affected workers, there is strong evidence that increases in the minimum wage reduce the employment of low-skilled workers (Neumark and Wascher 2008). While an increase in the minimum wage will lift out of poverty the families of some low-skilled workers who remain employed, other low-skilled workers will lose their jobs or have their hours significantly cut, reducing their income and dropping their families into poverty (Neumark and Wascher 2002; Neumark, Schweitzer, and Wascher 2004, 2005; Sabia 2008).”

Unions are fully supportive of an increase in the minimum wage, but it’s not out of solidarity or altruism for the low-income earner. It’s because they benefit directly. The Center for Union Facts indicates that many unions tie their base-line wages to the minimum wage, which means as it goes up, their coffers benefit.

There is another inconvenient truth that the advocates of raising the minimum wage need to address. Our de facto open border policy has depressed wages. Approximately a million low-skilled workers illegally come into the country every year, driving down wages, especially at the lower end of the spectrum. Harvard economist George Borjas has documented how our immigration policies have reduced American wages by $402 billion a year, while increasing profits for employers by $437 billion a year.

Once the actual BLS data are examined, and the laws of economics applied, there is little objective reason to increase the minimum wage. The only reason is political. And in an election year, nothing plays better to the uninformed masses than a populist message, especially when it diverts attention so conveniently away from so many other problems created or exacerbated by the administration’s policies.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Separating Emotion from Logic on “Gun Free Zones”

Debate is raging across Idaho as the legislature considers a bill that would allow guns on university grounds. It’s an emotional issue, and perhaps for that very reason, we should strip away the emotion and consider the issue logically.

eliminate-gun-free-zones-battaile-politics-1357772357It seems that a disproportionate share of mass shootings occur in commercial establishments or school grounds clearly marked as “Gun Free” zones. As a sentient people, we are repulsed, angered, saddened, and outraged at such heinous acts. Perhaps the problem is more related to how “Gun Free” zones attract the attention of the delusional and disaffected who are intent on making a name for themselves.

Every shooting in a school is done illegally per federal law (1995 Gun Free School Zones Act). For those intent on inflicting harm, nothing’s quite so appealing as a gun free zone, for they know all the law-abiding citizens are going to be compliant, giving the perpetrator a veritable shooting gallery to work with, unfettered and undeterred from his mayhem by a legally armed citizen. In short, criminals aren’t the least deterred by gun free zones, and if anything, they’re likely to consider any signage indicating a gun free zone as a welcome sign.

The desire to keep guns far away from innocents, especially on school grounds, is instinctive, yet must be approached logically rather than emotionally, based on empirical data. And there is a lot of it available.

Psycho-Pete-5901The city of Chicago currently has the most restrictive gun control laws on the books, and has been declared a “gun free zone” where handguns are banned, yet it is the bloodiest city in the world in terms of gun-related deaths. The city averages 40 deaths per month from guns, nearly 500 every year. Chicago’s murder rate is 19.4 per 100,000, which is by far the highest rate in the nation, at nearly 3 times New York which is at 6, and nearly 2 ½ times Los Angeles’ 7.5.

In fact, Chicago ranks as the number one deadliest Alpha city (significant urban center in the global economic system) on the planet. Since it is no longer possible for citizens to legally own handguns within city limits, the only ones who still have them are criminals. It doesn’t appear gun control works for Chicago. In fact, the city illustrates how correct the aphorism is that if guns are outlawed, only the outlaws have guns. The law-abiding citizens do not.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2003 thoroughly analyzed fifty-one in-depth studies dealing with gun control. Those studies included everything from the effectiveness of gun bans to laws requiring gunlocks. From their objective analysis, they “found no discernible effect on public safety by any of the measures we commonly think of as ‘gun control.’”

gun-free-zone-cartoonSince gun control doesn’t work, let’s look at increasing the ability of citizens to protect and defend themselves. Simi Valley, California is consistently listed among the safest of American cities. They have all of California’s gun control laws in force, but locals know it as the home to a lot of police officers from neighboring communities. Nothing like trained and armed homeowners to keep a community virtually crime free.

In 1982, Kennesaw, Georgia, witnessing an increase in local crime, did something counterintuitive to the likes of Chicago and New York; they passed an ordinance requiring heads of households, with some exceptions, to own a handgun. Crime dropped precipitously, and has stayed down. So much so, that Family Circle selected the town as one of the 10 best in the nation to raise a family in.

Our problems with violence and mass shootings have much more to do with cultural and societal issues, mental illness, and a lack of ability on the part of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. Guns are not the root of the problem. Our nation was brought to its knees eleven years ago by 19 fanatics armed with box-cutters. The tool of destruction is not the perpetrator; the person using or misusing it is.

Gun control has proven impotent in curbing the problem, and “gun free zones” are absurd, since they practically advertise themselves to be potential venues of mayhem and violence. More gun control is not a solution, but only serves as a Band-Aid to our emotions so we feel like we’re doing something. The problems are much deeper in our society than Band-Aids can cure.

gun-free-cartoon-3The emotional aspect of the issue that we cannot ignore is how the students feel. They must be able to feel safe while at school, and they likely wouldn’t feel safer knowing that anyone can come on campus toting a weapon. The way the legislation is drafted, it is only licensed and authorized personnel who can carry a weapon, which should allay such concerns.

The allowance of licensed and legally authorized personnel carrying a firearm on university grounds is logical. But let’s change the signage at all of our schools. Let’s remove the signs that are so inviting to malcontents and those intending to wreak havoc, and rather than advertise them as gun-free zones, let’s post “These grounds protected by armed and trained personnel. No other weapons allowed.” It may or may not serve as a deterrent, but at least it’s not a welcome sign like “gun-free zone” is!

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

America’s Middle Class Under Assault

The middle class in America is shrinking; numerically in terms of the percentage of the total population, as well as qualitatively in terms of the quality of life. Most of us consider ourselves to be members of the middle class, and we’re being squeezed by declining real income and rising expenses, as we increasingly shoulder the inflationary costs of corporate America, and the burdensome costs of government operations.

median house income2.pngConsider the following middle class statistics as researched by Bill Moyers and PBS. Middle class is roughly defined as those households ranging in income from $25,500 to $76,500. At $51,017 the real median household income in 2012 is even less than it was at the end of the ’80s, and it’s down 9 percent from its high in 1999, with the biggest portion of that decline, 8.3%, in just the past five years.

The median net worth of a family in 2010 was $77,300, compared to $126,400 just three years earlier. In 46 of our 50 states, the poverty rates have increased over the past five years, and the national poverty rate is over 15% for the fourth year running. The last time that happened was in 1965. More and more families are dropping from the ranks of the middle class into poverty.

BLS Participation Rate

BLS Participation Rate

One of the greatest factors adversely affecting median household income is the loss of jobs and extended unemployment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the Participation Rate, which is represented as a ratio or a percentage of the total population, is at the lowest levels in 50 years, with about 62.8% of the population working. According to the BLS U-6 data, 13% of the population is still unemployed or underemployed, and marginally attached to the labor market.

On the cost of goods and services the picture isn’t much better. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the most relied on figure for calculating the year over year inflation rate. According to Forbes, the BLS has changed the way it calculates the CPI 20 times over the past 30 years, including new formulas and indices that have separated the volatile food and energy components and created a separate “Core” inflation rate. By some economist’s calculations, these changes have resulted in a significant dissociation between what the government reports as the inflation rate, and what we see in reality for the prices of goods and services that we buy.

Unofficial CPIEarlier this month Forbes declared, that “The CPI is not a measurement of rising prices, rather it tracks consumer spending patterns that change as prices change. The CPI doesn’t even touch the falling value of money. If it did the CPI would look much different.”

According to the BLS the CPI was up 1.6% last year, and has hovered between 1-4% over the past five years. But if the inflation rate were calculated now the same as it was in 1980, inflation over the past five years would’ve been between 5-12% per year. For example, average out-of-pocket healthcare costs have nearly doubled in just the last seven years, from $2,035 to $3,600.

Energy PricesDomestic energy prices have likewise increased dramatically. Over the past 10 years, energy prices have more than doubled as government energy policy has become increasingly ideological and counterintuitive. Increasing energy costs adversely affect the middle class disproportionately.

These data paint a distressing picture of the current status of the American middle class. And prospects for improvement are virtually nonexistent since the basis for the middle class demise is causally connected with the policies emanating from, and firmly entrenched, in the nation’s capital.

As best-selling authors and Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele explain in their latest book, The Betrayal of the American Dream, “What is happening to America’s middle class is not inevitable. It’s the direct result of government policy, and it can be changed by government action.”

The solution to this malaise should be relatively simple, and recognized by everyone from the chairman of the Federal Reserve to the AFL-CIO. In fact, the labor organization perhaps worded it most succinctly in a piece titled, “How do we fix the U.S. economy?” They declared the first step must be “to put America back to work because high unemployment keeps wages down. Our goal should be ‘full employment, meaning everybody who wants to work should be able to find a decent job.”

regulatory burdenWhat’s stifling job growth is the expansive overreach of government regulation. Last July, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey showed 74% of small businesses are positioning themselves to slash hours, lay off workers, or both because of increase regulation, primarily because of the Affordable Care Act. Investors Business Daily has a running list of nearly 300 large companies that are reducing hours for employees to get below the 32 hour threshold mandated by the Act. And that’s all from just one piece of legislation.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform published research two years ago that illuminates the role government has played in suppressing job growth. The committee reported, “Many regulations and legislation – both existing and proposed – exacerbate the uncertainty created by today’s volatile economic environment. Virtually every new regulation has an impact on recovery, competitiveness, and job creation.” The president’s own Economic Advisory Panel came to the same conclusion, and reported, “regulations are harming businesses and job creation.” This panel went on to suggest several measures that could be implemented in order to quell the expansion of such job-destroying regulation.

Periods of rising middle class income coincide directly to periods of economic expansion and growth. And not coincidently, those are also the periods when diminution of government regulatory control over the engines of the economy occurred, the most significant of which led to the declaration by then-president Bill Clinton, “The era of big government is over.”

The best way for people to increase their station in life is with a good job. Ronald Reagan once called jobs the “best welfare program.” And the best way for good jobs to be created is with a healthy economy that is vibrant, growing, adapting, and adjusting to global and domestic market vicissitudes. And the best way for that to be facilitated is to get government out of the way of trying to micromanage nearly every component of the economy. If the private sector didn’t have to work around overreaching regulation and interference, market efficiencies in the private sector could unleash the creation of jobs, market synergies, and economic growth.

The job situation will not improve appreciably until the cost of doing business starts dropping. Last year the Small Business Administration reported that regulation costs American business $1.75 trillion per year, and costs small businesses as much as $10,585 per employee. Just the costs of Obamacare, Financial Regulatory Reform, and new EPA regulations, are projected to increase that cost per employee as much as 30%, according to Investor’s Business Daily.

make-or-break-cartoonIn 2012, the President said, “This country doesn’t succeed when we only see the rich getting richer. We succeed when the middle class gets bigger. We grow our economy not from the top down, but from the middle out.” He was correct. But it’s time that our policies begin reflecting that stated priority.

The history of mankind is littered with fallen nations and governments that overreached by centralized planning, stagnated their economies, and collapsed under the massive weight of their inefficiencies. Hopefully Bartlett and Steele are correct, that the utter collapse of the middle class is not inevitable. But for it not to be, a reversal of our current trend is critical, and the sooner the better.

Succinctly stated, we have shrinking income, inflation in energy and food “skyrocketing,” as was predicted five years ago, a weaker dollar, a ballooning debt, and a national security-risking deficit. The costs of all these challenges are landing squarely on the back of the middle class. A strong middle class equals a strong America. We can’t have one without the other. And our current policies are killing both.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

The Good of the Whole Sacrificed for a Few

With the stroke of a pen and an utterance from the president, Obamacare’s employer mandate has been postponed yet again, this time until 2016 for some businesses. Headlines across the nation from the mainstream media have praised the delay, declaring it advantageous and good for the nation. If it’s “good for the nation,” why don’t we just delay it indefinitely?

wpwpowopeThe problem with 2,400 pages of legislation is not what politicians promise the legislation will do, but what it does in reality, including the creation of nearly 40,000 pages of regulations affecting our health care. And the reality with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as we’re witnessing nearly daily in financial media, is devastating for the economy, the middle class, and our healthcare system itself.

The ACA (Obamacare) was sold to us on the basis that there were 40 million Americans without health insurance and that the Act would rectify the apparent inequity. That actually is the first broken promise of Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) admits that after 10 years of implementation, Obamacare “will still leave 31 million uninsured.” And we’ll have spent $1.93 trillion failing to achieve the primary objective of the Act! And that new dollar figure from the CBO is still likely an underestimate since they’ve revised the figure upward three times already.

The new requirements imposed on employer sponsored insurance (ESI) plans will make the costs increase significantly for employers. Many employers will discontinue their plans altogether, forcing employees to the state exchanges to buy their insurance for themselves.

nov-2013-obamacare-economy-cartoonLast June, McKinsey & Company released results of a study that found, “Overall, 30 percent of employers will definitely or probably stop offering ESI in the years after 2014. Among employers with a high awareness of reform, this proportion increases to more than 50 percent, and upward of 60 percent will pursue some alternative to traditional ESI.” This contrasts sharply with CBO’s original estimates of 7% of employees losing their current ESI, and the president’s promise that none would.

Those who will be able to retain their current plan will see significant changes. According to the National Business Group on Health, 30% of all companies with ESIs are considering dropping coverage for retirees and over 50% are considering dropping spousal coverage. And it’s not just the private sector, as local governments are looking at the same solutions. The mayor of Chicago, Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is planning to drop 30,000 city retirees off of the city’s ESI and push them into the exchanges to buy their own. He projects a savings of $108 million per year.

Promoting the passage of his signature legislation, President Obama vowed, “that my plan will reduce the cost of health insurance by $2,500 for average families.”  But according to Investor’s Business Daily, since Obamacare passed, the cost of an average family policy has already increased by $3,000, because of the new regulations and mandates imposed on providers and insurers.

All the new regulatory requirements are causing health insurance premiums to soar even more, especially for younger and healthier individuals. After all, the government subsidies will pay for the added expense of covering preexisting conditions, which was forced by the ACA. Holtz-Eakins’ American Action Forum analyzed insurance premiums in five major cities, and calculated that Obamacare mandates will cause premiums to increase additionally an average of 169%.

obamacare-e1312007944473Confirming the fears of many who actually read the bill, Howard Dean, a doctor and former DNC Chairman, wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, “One major problem [with Obamacare] is the so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board. The IPAB is essentially a health-care rationing body. By setting doctor reimbursement rates for Medicare and determining which procedures and drugs will be covered and at what price, the IPAB will be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor by simply setting rates to levels where no doctor or hospital will perform them.” This obviously was what the president was referring to when he said “Give them a pill instead of the surgery.”

As of February 1, 3.3 million Americans have signed up. But how many of those are people like me who lost their insurance because of the new coverage mandates of the ACA? The White House estimated 41 million Americans would lose their coverage. And how many are losing their jobs because of the ACA? The Congressional Budget Office just updated their figure to over 2.5 million. How many are losing work hours and facing reduced income due to the Act? According to financial media, millions.

There are a few success stories that are shared anecdotally to make us “feel” better about the consequences — intended and unintended — of the ACA. But at what point do we say as a nation that the cost to the whole is too great for the benefit of the few? It’s time for government to start using cost-benefit analysis, for the ACA would dramatically fail all such tests. And when the damage is much greater than the benefits, it’s bad legislation, regardless of whose name is on it.

This brings us back to the original question. If delaying the full effect of the ACA is good for the nation, why not delay it indefinitely?

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

With His Pen and Phone, He’s a Dictator

The Constitution of the United States was drafted and ratified as the foundational legal codex of the country in part because it would prevent tyranny in America. It had a series of checks and balances between the three branches of government that were designed to disallow any one branch, or any one person, from amassing so much power that they could run the country, and us, as a tyrant. We are witnessing firsthand the unraveling of those assurances.

obamapenandphone_v1Over the past several weeks the President of the United States has declared that he has “a pen and a phone” and intends to use them to implement his agenda. He has made it clear that he deems this necessary since he has an uncooperative congress that, unlike his first two years in office, refuses to subserviently rubber stamp everything he wants.

It’s clear from the context of his statements that his intent is to use the power of the presidency to sign Executive Orders and use his phone to force his agenda on the nation. By so doing, he is blatantly circumventing the very precautions embedded in our founding legal codex that were designed to prevent despotic rule in our country.

This perception is one shared by Jonathan Turley, a nationally recognized constitutional law expert, professor at the George Washington University Law School, and a self-avowed liberal.

Turley appeared before the House Judiciary Committee two months ago, where Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte asked the following question. “Professor Turley, the constitution, the system of separated powers is not simply about stopping one branch of government from usurping another. It’s about protecting the liberty of Americans from the dangers of concentrated government power. How does the president’s unilateral modification of acts of Congress affect both the balance of power between the political branches and the liberty interests of the American people?”

Professor Turley responded, “The danger is quite severe. The problem with what the president is doing is that he’s not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system. He’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid. That is the concentration of power in a single branch.

At issue in the hearing was whether the president had the authority to unilaterally change the implementation dates of a lawfully passed Act of Congress, the Affordable Care Act. Turley’s response was an undiluted and unqualified, “No.”

Dictator_Frame1This was not the first time the president has exercised unconstitutional powers of the presidency. Three years ago he declared his administration would not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though congress failed to pass his proposed Cap and Trade bill, he has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to actively enforce provisions of that bill that were never made law. He unilaterally proscribed expansion of offshore drilling without legislatively authorized power to do so. He has granted loans to other nations to drill for oil, without authorization from congress. He has, without congressional authority, implemented portions of the Dream Act, an illegal immigration bill, which never passed congress. He has ordered the Federal Communications Commission to adopt regulations giving the government control over the internet, and provide him with a “kill switch” to turn it off.

Just to clarify the role of the president, according to our own laws and Constitution. He is to “faithfully execute the laws.” He has no power to create laws or unilaterally change laws. That is the role of congress. Nor can he reverse legally passed laws. If he had those powers, we would no longer be a lawful nation committed to the rule of law, but would be an autocracy, ruled by the capricious and ideological whims of one man. This is precisely what Obama is doing according to Professor Turley.

We clearly have a president who doesn’t respect the Constitution enough to abide by it. He clearly has no respect for the rule of law since he feels it within his power to single-handedly create new code and force it on the nation.

fuhrer-obamaEven the Executive Order (EO) has not the power to legally do what the president is doing. There are three things the EO can be used for: operational management of the executive branch, operational management of the federal agencies or officials, and implementing statutory or constitutional presidential responsibilities. Executive Orders cannot be used to either create new law, or to annul or reverse existing law. After all, his primary function, according to the Constitution and his oath of office, is to “faithfully execute the office” in enforcement and execution of the laws legally passed by the legislative branch.

We have a lawless president who is not doing what he’s required by law to do, and is exceeding his authority by assuming legislative power to create law. What more evidence do we need to impeach and remove from office, a president that is making himself an American dictator? And where is congress’ spine to reclaim their power that he has misappropriated from them?

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

MLK On Freedom and our Founding Principles

There have been too many relatively young men and women who have struggled for causes greater than themselves and whose lives have been cut short, leaving us, and their causes, prematurely. Oftentimes their contributions and lives are embellished nigh unto sainthood by adulating adherents. Such is the case with Martin Luther King, Jr. But it shouldn’t be, for his example and teachings are of such grandeur and durability that they stand as monuments to his memory, requiring no inflation beyond the reality.

Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from MLK is validation of the principle behind Thomas Jefferson’s immortal citation, “One man with courage is a majority.” One person can make a difference, especially if truth and justice are on their side. When so principally armed, one person can affect an entire nation for good.

The nation that was divided by racial issues in MLK’s era, is now polarized ideologically. Yet the precepts he espoused, and the doctrine he taught, can apply with as much pertinence and relevance to the ideological chasm that seems to be schismatically separating the right from the left today.

143190_600How ironic it is, therefore, that the principles he most ardently proclaimed are so demeaned by the left and the mainstream media in the context of today’s ideological divide. If MLK is to be extolled and praised for his principles, we must embrace all of those teachings which are at once indelibly impressed on our minds as self-evident truths.

Of those, his most oft stated, were the appeals for morality and freedom. “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control…When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Values, life, and liberty are perhaps the most repeated catchwords of the contemporary Tea Party movement. If those principles are self-evident truths, and accepted as such by MLK in the context of a civil rights movement, they are no less viable in the context of the current ideological movement, attempting to throw off the yoke of slavery of an omnipotent and omnipresent government.

MLK’s teachings were framed in a culture of racism and racial discord, but they apply universally to all Americans in the quest for individual liberty. As he said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Certainly those are wise words of encouragement to those of us who object to the usurpation of individual freedom by a government seeking to micromanage its citizens.

He continued, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Individual and universal freedom was fundamental to him. Not just freedom from racism, but freedom, period. Subservience to any form of societal or governmental despotism is anathema to a nation founded on individual liberty.

He reaffirmed this basic tenet when he declared, “I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.”

These founding principles should be applied universally, not selectively or discriminately. But to do so, it is requisite that we collectively rise above the politics of self-interest. For as he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” And as if to underscore this notion, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

Sounding very much like Edmund Burke, MLK declared, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Yes, one person can make a difference, when armed with the truths of freedom, life, and morality. MLK made such a difference, and every American can likewise stand for, and uphold, those eternal verities.

It’s rather disruptive to conventional ideological classifications when we realize such advocacy for individual freedom and liberty are met with as much animus and bigotry today as it was 50 years ago. Considering that our nation was founded on these precepts, they should be unifying, rather than divisive principles.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Media Bias On Display with Chris Christie Coverage

The duplicity and hypocrisy of the mainstream media coverage of politicians, based on party affiliation, could not have been more in evidence than it was this past week. New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie’s scandal was trumpeted across the headlines this week as if it were a five alarm fire, while much more serious scandals with national implications, are often hardly reported at all.

It was revealed this week that members of Christie’s staff had intentionally closed four lanes of George Washington Bridge, connecting Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey. Christie’s staff closed the lanes for four days to create a traffic quagmire to punish Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie in his bid for reelection as New Jersey’s governor.

In a two hour, nationally televised press conference, Christie admitted he was “blind sided” by the revelation, and had no prior knowledge of the scheme. Ensuring that someone was held accountable, Christie fired his two aids complicit in the plan.

There are two aspects of this narrative that are immensely disturbing. The first is the media reaction to the story. According to Media Research Center, “In less than 24 hours, the three networks have devoted 17 times more coverage to a traffic scandal involving Chris Christie than they allowed on Barack Obama’s Internal Revenue Service controversy.” MRC documented 34 minutes and 28 seconds of coverage by ABC, CBS, and NBC dedicated to the Christie scandal, versus a scant, “two minutes and eight seconds for the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups,” over the past six months.

To a reasonable person, the story of potential political bullying by a governor, closing lanes on a bridge, can in nowise be 17 times more significant than a president that uses the most onerous agency of the federal government to do his bullying against his political enemies. To a reasonable and rational electorate, the obvious bias in reporting would cause a mass exodus from the mainstream media until they started reporting accurately and with equitability, without regard for party affiliation.

XH9j5Z0The media have been raising the question whether Christie can be believed when he claims he knew nothing about it. Yet they are unsurprisingly reticent when it comes to Obama’s inexorable “I didn’t know about it until I read it in the paper,” soliloquies he employs to excuse his and his administration’s irresponsibility.

In fact the mainstream media have been AWOL in reporting just the few foibles and lies listed here: “I will have the most transparent administration in history;” “The stimulus will fund shovel-ready jobs;” “I am focused like a laser on creating jobs;” “The IRS is not targeting anyone;” “It was a spontaneous riot about a movie;” “The public will have five days to look at every bill that lands on my desk;” “It’s the previous president’s fault;” “Whistle blowers will be protected in my administration;” “I am not spying on American citizens;” “It’s just like shopping at Amazon;” “I knew nothing about ‘Fast and Furious’”; “I knew nothing about what happened in Benghazi;” and perhaps the best of all, “I will restore trust in government.” If any of these claims had been uttered by our previous president, the press would still be harping on them.

After the copious media coverage of this event, the second most disturbing element is the public reaction. A resident of Fort Lee and one of Christie’s constituents, Robert Tessaro, raised a valid point. He said, “I hope this continues to haunt him. No matter what he knew and didn’t know, these were his people and the culture he created in the state, and it’s not right.”

If that principle applies to Christie, a state executive, shouldn’t it apply even more aptly with the executive leader of our nation? Why are so few of Obama’s constituents raising the same question? Why is Obama exempted from culpability in the creation of a culture of corruption and incompetence in the executive branch?

It was refreshing to actually see someone held accountable for something in government, as Christie dismissed those involved with what is now being dubbed “Bridgegate.” We have witnessed so many faux pas, blunders, mistakes, incompetence, and outright lies over the past five years at the national level, and there has been little accountability. When people are hired, especially for the public good, and they, by their actions, tarnish the people’s trust in their integrity and competence, they should be held accountable.

dc-septic-cartoonHere are just a few of those who have contributed to the culture of corruption at the national level, by deceit and obfuscation, and have not been held accountable: Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner, Van Jones, Susan Rise, Lois Lerner, Hillary Clinton, and Kathleen Sibelius. In fact, books have been written, documenting the culture of corruption in the White House. If Christie is to be responsible for the culture in his administration, shouldn’t Obama be held accountable for his, especially considering the gravity, breadth, and impact of the latter?

Holding a position of public trust requires responsibility and accountability. Not only has very little been shouldered by this administration, but also the media have done little to hold them accountable. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for the media to be equitable and fair in their coverage of elected officials, irrespective of party affiliation. And we, the people, should demand it of them!

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Our Culture, and Language, Are Degenerating

Regrettably, our language seems to be devolving much like our social mores have been. In our increasingly morally relativistic culture, our language is morphing, adapting, and redefining each day, with fewer and fewer absolutes, and increasing laxity and less and less conviction.

WordsThis is not a surprising development, for in many ways, our language and speech not only mirror, but also magnify what is occurring culturally. Psycholinguists argue inexorably about whether language reflects our perception of reality or helps create it. It appears empirically that they’re concomitant.

American linguist Arika Okrent, has said, “The job of the linguist, like that of the biologist or the botanist, is not to tell us how nature should behave, or what its creations should look like, but to describe those creations in all their messy glory and try to figure out what they can teach us about life, the world, and, especially in the case of linguistics, the workings of the human mind.” If that is correct, contemporary language reveals a vacuous, illogical and slovenly collective human mind in this twenty-first century.

I have marveled for years at the unintelligible gibberish that passes for communication today. Kids who use “like” every third word as if it means something, while in reality, it seems to represent little more than a mental vacuity that exists in the mind of the speaker who can muster nothing more substantive to fill their sentences and paragraphs with. The same seems to apply to the use of “you know,” as employed ad nauseam by people of seemingly equal mental acumen.

I used to tease my children’s friends when they’d say, “It’s, like, cold outside.” I’d respond with, “Good thing it’s just ‘like’ cold, instead of just plain cold, otherwise you may need a coat, or, like, something.”

I’ve not heard anyone on the contemporary cultural stage capture this concept quite as concisely as comedian Taylor Mali, who has a laconic monologue dedicated to the principle. Says Mali, “In case you haven’t realized, it’s become uncool to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Or that you believe in what you’re, like, saying. Invisible question marks, and parenthetical ‘you knows’ and ‘you know what I’m saying,’ have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences, even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions.

PowerWordsHe continues, “Declarative sentences, so called because they used to, like, declare things to be true, as opposed to other things that are so totally, you know, not. They’ve been infected by this tragically cool and totally hip interrogative tone, as if I’m saying, ‘Don’t think I’m a nerd just because I’ve like noticed this, okay. I have nothing invested in my own personal opinions, I’m just inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty.’

Mali takes the concept to the next level applying the linguistic vacuity to our relativistic society. He says, “What has happened to our conviction. Where are the limbs upon which we once walked. Have they been chopped down, like the rest of the rainforest, you know? Or do we have, like, nothing to say? Has society just become so filled with these conflicting feelings of nya nya, that we’ve just gotten to the point where we’re the most aggressively inarticulate generation to come along since, a long time ago?”

He concludes with a plea, “So I implore, you. I entreat you, and I challenge you, to speak with conviction. To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it. Because, contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker, it is not enough these days to simply question authority. You’ve got to speak with it, too.”

This is perhaps not just symptomatic of American English and culture, for Terry Crowley in his book on historical linguistics observed, “It seems that in almost all societies, the attitudes that people have to language change is basically the same. People everywhere tend to say that the older form of a language is ‘better’ than the form that is being used today.”

wordle-preambleWords are the communicative devices utilized by mankind to render meaning and common understanding to the mundane as well as the esoteric. Many of the words we use represent absolute concepts and principles, and cannot merely be redefined or altered in practical application without changing the absolute truths upon which they’re based. Words like truth, marriage, and liberty cannot simply be redefined by popular acclaim without vitiating the social conventions, legal institutions, and verities they represent. Otherwise, they become unintelligible gibberish, like the “you knows” and “likes” that are the bane of our contemporary communicative culture; meaningless, trifling, and relativistic.

Perhaps no truer words were uttered by Gore Vidal than, “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too.” As with societal decadence, perhaps the only recourse for language purists is the heuristic “clinging” to absolutism; standing on linguistic and ethical solid ground while the rest of the world devolves to nihilistic relativism.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Greatest Threat to the Nation – Our Own Government

Our economy, and personal liberty, are under assault in America, The threat to the country is much more stealthy and incremental than that faced by our nation’s founders two centuries ago. According to a Gallup poll this past week, 72% of Americans see the burgeoning power of the federal government as our greatest threat. This should serve as a wakeup call to the statists in Washington who are continuously expanding the role of government in micromanaging our lives.

Regulatory Red Tape Entangling the Nation

Regulatory Red Tape Entangling the Nation

Much of this expanded control comes in the form of regulation. Since 1993, over 1.43 million pages have been added to the Federal Register that includes all new regulations, regulatory revisions, and presidential documents. The passage and implementation of the “Affordable Care Act” alone has added 10,516 pages to the Federal Register; that’s more than eight times the length of the Bible.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI) 20th edition of “Ten Thousand Commandments,” which explicates the impact of the mountainous stacks of regulation on the country, estimates the cost burden of all this regulation at $1.8 trillion per year. To put that figure in perspective, that’s more than half the size of the federal budget, and nearly 12% of the entire U.S. economy.

The cost to the government in enforcing regulation is not that great, a relatively paltry $55.4 billion in 2010, according to the CEI. That allocation of the federal budget covers most of the cost of federal agencies and regulatory enforcement. By far, the greater cost is to the economy, and in abrogated liberty, whittling incrementally away at our individual freedom.

cartoonCritics of “big business” should take note that total business profits last year were just over $1.5 trillion, yet the $1.8 trillion in costs for regulatory compliance eclipses that figure. The cost of that regulation is not paid by “big business.” Technically, corporations don’t pay taxes, they just collect revenue from consumers and turn it over to the government. We pay those taxes to the corporations voluntarily in the form of higher prices for goods and services. Consequently, we, as consumers, paid $1.8 trillion more for our goods and services last year to companies just to cover the cost of federal regulation!

According to the House Committee on Small Business, the impact on small business is staggering, and the impact on the economy is perhaps incalculable. Small businesses don’t enjoy the luxury of simply passing on the cost of regulation to their customers, like big business does, but bear a disproportionate share of the costs themselves.

The SBA Office of Advocacy defines small business as independent firms that have fewer than 500 employees, of which there are an estimated 29.6 million in the country. These firms create seven of every ten new jobs, and they employ just over half of the nation’s private sector workforce. The Office of Advocacy calculates that small businesses create more than half of the nonfarm private gross domestic product, and have created over 64% of net new jobs over the past 15 years.

aa-government-im-from-govt-im-here-to-help-cartoonAccording to the SBA, small firms shoulder a regulatory cost of $10,585 per employee. This is 36% higher than the cost of regulatory compliance for large businesses. And since 89% of firms in the country employ fewer than 20 employees, the smallest businesses are bearing a disproportionate share of the regulatory burden.

The cost of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory compliance affects small businesses four times more than larger firms, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Foundation. They also indicate that the complexity of the tax code, and concomitant costs, disproportionately harms small businesses four times more than large firms.

At a House Small Business Committee hearing, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson said, “Tax code complexity has a direct impact on small business viability and job growth. The more time and resources a small business spends on tax compliance, the less time it will have to grow and hire employees.”

Government, and its hoard of agencies and bureaucracies, was not created by divine unction, and are not infallible. They are to serve the people, not rule over us in totalitarian fashion. The tsunami of governmental regulation is debilitating to the economy and job growth, as well as to individual freedom. And much of the regulatory expansion comes not from congressional acts, but by government agencies expanding and rewriting regulation.

government-goliath-cartoonAmericans have just cause to perceive expanding government control as our greatest threat, and we’ve not even touched on the privacy and Fourth Amendment infractions posed by the domestic spying programs.

237 years ago our forebears retaliated against a perceived threat to personal liberty and “taxation without representation” by initiating a revolution against a monarchical power; one that was arguably the greatest power in the world at the time. It’s time for that same American spirit to rise again, this time against a domestic threat, in defense of liberty, and begin scaling back our onerous regulatory burden.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

There is a War being Waged on Christians, and Christmas

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While Congress may not be actively extirpating religious freedom from the public square, small, vocal, and pertinacious groups and individuals are succeeding through social and media pressure to do what congress is forbidden to do, aided and abetted by a sympathetic administration and a collaborative mainstream media. We must ask ourselves why we’re allowing them to do to our American culture what is proscribed for Congress to do. This clearly constitutes an aggressive war on not just any religion, but specifically, a war on Christianity.

RestrictionsIII-graphic-07This observation may be subjective, but it’s supported by objective, quantitative data. In their September 2012 update on the “Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion,” Pew Research revealed, “The United States was among the 16 countries whose scores on both the Government Restrictions Index and the Social Hostilities Index increased by one point or more in the year ending in mid-2010. This was the first time scores for the U.S. increased on both indexes during the four-year period covered in this study.”

Pew revealed, that the “U.S. score on the Government Restrictions Index rose from 1.6 in the year ending in mid-2009 to 2.7 [a 57% increase] in the year ending in mid-2010, moving the U.S. from the low category of restrictions to the moderate category for the first time in the four years studied.”

The quantitative spike on social restrictions was even more significant. According to Pew’s study, “The U.S. score on the Social Hostilities Index also rose, from 2.0 as of mid-2009 to 3.4 as of mid-2010, moving the U.S. from the lower end of the moderate range of hostilities to the upper end of the moderate range. (Social Hostilities Index scores 3.6 or higher are categorized as high by this study.)”

While some governmental and social restrictions on freedom of religious expression are recorded against other religious groups, by far the most highly targeted are those of Christian faith.

christ-birth-aclu-winter-festival-political-cartoonFor example, just last week the Navy removed nativity scenes from the dining hall at the Guantanamo Bay naval base because of a complaint. Earlier this month Pentagon lawyers forced the removal of a nativity scene at Shaw Air Force Base. A Texas school district made rules for a school “winter party” that proscribed any reference to Christmas, and forbade not only the use of a Christmas tree, but the use of the colors red and green.

The ESPN sports network would not air an advertisement for the Catholic Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation because of reference to “God’s healing presence this Christmas,” and “celebrate the birth of Jesus and the season of giving.” And to add insult to injury, the yearly NORAD “tracker” which tells kids where Santa is on Christmas Eve is also under attack.

Let’s put this war on Christianity into an empirically numerical perspective. In America apparently 92% of us celebrate Christmas, while only 6% claim they do not. And only 25% of those, according to the same Rasmussen survey, indicate that they celebrate a holiday other than Christmas at this time of year. When you do the math, that’s 92% that celebrate Christmas, 1.5% who celebrate a different holiday, 4.5% who don’t acknowledge any holiday this time of year, and 2% that don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

Yet in spite of the overwhelming celebration and support of Christmas, there seems to be no shortage of “Grinches” intent on dampening the spirit of the season, a very small sampling of which has just been listed.

Supreme Court case law is overwhelmingly supportive of overt Christmas celebrations, nativity scenes, Christmas programs in public schools, and even singing Christmas Carols, like “Silent Night” and “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful,” in public schools. Supreme Court decisions from Wisconsin v. Yoder and Widmar v. Vincent, to Florey v. Sioux Falls School District and Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District have denounced efforts to force religion out of the public square. And there are literally dozens of cases proscribing such efforts.

tmdsu08121820081219125739The efforts to purge the country of Nativity scenes and Christmas symbolism and celebrations, whether on public property or not, is clearly illegal, based on the predominant interpretation of the “free exercise clause” by the Supreme Court. Such efforts, perpetrated by thin-skinned, bigoted, and selfish people and groups, are also as illogical and misguided as would be the forced removal of Pilgrims from all Thanksgiving festivities, or Old Glory from 4th of July celebrations would be. The icons and symbolism of holidays are fundamental to holiday observance, and are a part of Americana, or our cultural heritage.

To rational people, recognizing a national holiday that happens to have “Christ” in the name, no more constitutes an “establishment of religion” than a public prayer does. Yet efforts to thwart those outward expressions are clearly a violation of the free exercise clause, perhaps not by congress, but by intolerant and misguided malcontents exercising the tyranny of the minority.

As long as the official federal calendar says “Christmas Day,” then Christmas programs, Christmas trees, expressions of Merry Christmas, and the symbolism of the holiday are themselves politically correct, appropriate, and legal.

We can all play a part in preserving our free exercise of religion by resisting the efforts of the intolerant forces in our society and community through information, education, and assertion of our Constitutional rights.

And with that, I defy the tyranny of the vocal minority and anti-Christian crowd, and declare to one and all, Merry Christmas, and “God bless us everyone.”

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Obama’s New IRS Regulations to Attack the Tea Party, Again!

130515-tyranny-obama-irs-cartoon-The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is again being used for political purposes, attempting to suppress freedom of speech, political organization and activism, and thwarting the growth of grassroots groups that are antipathetic to the administration’s objectives. The effects of their previous targeting of conservative, especially Tea Party groups, were significant, according to researchers at Harvard University. The renewed efforts to suppress political activism by controlling and shaping the political landscape are an affront to our core values as a nation.

According to a Treasury Department (which administers and operates the IRS) posting on November 26, several new restrictions are being imposed on political organizations structured as 501(c) nonprofit entities. They include a prohibition to promulgate any information that even mentions political candidates’ names 30 days before a primary election, and 60 days before a general election.

They would also prohibit communications with an audience of over 500 people that so much as mention the name of a particular candidate within that time period.  This provision would include newsletters, columns, blog entries or other publications, whether in print form, broadcast, or online.

The way the regulations are drafted, it appears that the primary goal is not only to cripple any political advocacy group, but to force them into restructuring as 527 groups that are usually issue-based, rather than candidate oriented political organizations. 527s are also non-profit, but have the discomfiting distinction of being required to disclose their donors’ names.

The net result of the proposed regulations would not only severely restrict and stifle political free speech by such groups, but provide public information to enable the systematic targeting of such individuals by an unscrupulous administration using the full force and power of the various government agencies. As we have documented before, and is now a matter of public record, the administration has used the IRS, Department of Justice, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the FBI to selectively harass individuals and organizations who are not supportive of the administration and their agenda.

Constitutional attorney and political analyst Carol Platt Liebau says of the proposed regulations, “Rather than targeting the tea parties at the back end — through ad hoc hassling, unreasonable and intrusive requests for information, and deliberate delay of approval applications — it seems that the IRS is now trying to target the tea parties from the front end, setting up regulations that would make it practically impossible for them (and them alone) to function.”

She continued, “It is unprecedented for any administration (at least in modern memory) so overtly — and shamelessly — to harass law-abiding critics from exercising the liberties the Constitution was intended to secure. And these new regs make it clear that the corruption, politicization and rot at the IRS extend far beyond the little band of officials named in the earlier tea party targeting scandal.”

MacNelly_edtoon_081997House of Representatives Ways & Means Chairman, Dave Camp, agrees. “The committee has reviewed thousands of tax exempt applications. The new regulation so closely mirrors the abused tea-party group applications, it leads me to question if this new proposed regulation is simply another form of targeting.”

For those who don’t believe the administration is behind these efforts to suppress political dissent – the very freedom of speech intended to be guaranteed by the First Amendment – it cannot be mere coincidence that Obama met with IRS union boss Colleen Kelley at the White House the day before the targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS began, as learned from congressional testimony. This is a continued systematic attempt to provide discretionary support of groups the administration likes, while suppressing and defanging those it doesn’t.

Such targeting of groups not supportive of the administration’s agenda is effective in manipulating voter turnout and election results. Daniel Shoag and David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Andreas Madestam from Stockholm University, and Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute published a peer-reviewed research piece earlier this year that validates the hypothesis.

According to their research, “The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5 – 8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.” In other words, the administration’s targeting of conservative groups may have altered the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

The new IRS regulations constitute an additional attack on fundamental liberties of United States citizens, and represent an intentional and nefarious dilution of freedom of speech, association, and political activism by a sitting president for political purposes. If President Bush’s administration attempted to do something this sinister, the mainstream media and the nation would be up in arms. We must ask ourselves, so why not now?

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected]