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]

Do We Have An Attitude of Gratitude?

Much of what we read here is dedicated to analyzing, opining, and criticizing elements of the body politic and problems with the world, our nation, and our community. In spite of all that we find that needs fixing around us, one of the most woeful things we could do is to be ungrateful for all that we should be thankful for.

It’s often difficult to think in those terms. We are often overwhelmed at the daunting challenges and vicissitudes of life that we face on a daily basis. Problems with health, the loss of a loved one, financial woes, the loss of a job, problems with a marriage or with children, often consume us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Yet somehow we find ways to deal with our personal crucibles, to surmount our challenges, and crest our Everests.

The human spirit, if not doused with hopelessness, can be indomitable. We find ways to deal with, overcome, and survive our ordeals. We find solutions to our woes and answers to life’s tough questions. Often such resolution comes from insights, counsel, and wisdom from a loved one. Other times they come from unseen founts of wisdom and loving arms of solace after earnest and heartfelt pleadings to our Maker.

But as arduous and challenging as life can be for all of us in one way or another, there is always much to be grateful for. And hopefully, the significance of Thanksgiving has not been lost to us.

gratitude5We may be of bad health, but hopefully some things are still working fine. We may be struggling financially, but we’re still together as a family. We may have a child struggling with his or her own inner demons, yet as long as there is love, there is hope. To everything there is a silver lining. It may be obscured by our preoccupation with our trials, but it’s there. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find it.

I’m convinced that many of the social and cultural problems we face today are the result of a loss of a collective sense of gratitude. Rather than being grateful for what we have and the blessings that we enjoy, although sparse they may sometimes seem to us, we focus on what we don’t have, or what we think we deserve or we’re entitled to. This lack of gratitude is concomitant with narcissism and self-centeredness, and reveals a deep character flaw; absence of humility.

In my estimation, no one has captured this sentiment better than a former president of the LDS Church. Gordon B. Hinckley said some years ago, “Our society is afflicted by a spirit of thoughtless arrogance unbecoming those who have been so magnificently blessed. How grateful we should be for the bounties we enjoy. Absence of gratitude is the mark of the narrow, uneducated mind. It bespeaks a lack of knowledge and the ignorance of self-sufficiency. It expresses itself in ugly egotism and frequently in wanton mischief….

“Where there is appreciation, there is courtesy, there is concern for the rights and property of others. Without appreciation, there is arrogance and evil. Where there is gratitude, there is humility, as opposed to pride.”

In a rather simplistic fashion, we have the proverbial conundrum of whether the glass is half full, or half empty. In our individual lives, it all depends on how we choose to look at things, and whether we choose to focus on the deficiencies in our lives or on the bounties that we enjoy. And that’s all a matter of attitude.

The evangelical author and pastor, Chuck Swindoll, made a statement years ago that has profoundly shaped my perspective about life, and about gratitude itself. He said, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

May we all choose an attitude of gratitude, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and the silver lining to the dark and ominous clouds in our lives. May we express our gratitude to one another, manifest by acts of courtesy and respect. And perhaps most importantly, may we express daily our immense dependence upon, and gratitude to God. Not just on Thanksgiving, but everyday of our lives.

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].

 

JFK Ideologically More Tea Party Patriot than Democrat

We’ve been inundated by recounts of the assassination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago this week. There is nothing productive or of consequence that can come from continued musings over conspiracy theories, or retelling of the mythical Camelot that did not exist during the tragically truncated tenure of the 35th President. The most valuable thing that we can take from his incumbency is his political wisdom, which was copious.

Unlike many of his fellow alumni from Harvard, especially our current president, JFK understood economics. Shortly after he was sworn in, the President said, “Lower rates of taxation will stimulate economic activity and so raise the levels of personal and corporate income as to yield within a few years an increased — not a reduced — flow of revenues to the federal government.” He was the first supply-side president, and understood that the key to economic growth is to free up capital for private investment that creates jobs, makes and sells things, and increases the standard of living for the entire country. After all, he had history on his side, and it had worked for nearly 200 years.

“Our tax system still siphons out of the private economy too large a share of personal and business purchasing power and reduces the incentive for risk, investment and effort — thereby aborting our recoveries and stifling our national growth rate,” he said.

140456_600And on another occasion, “It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now… And the reason is that only full employment can balance the budget, and tax reduction can pave the way to that employment. The purpose of cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy, which can bring a budget surplus.”

JFKs tax cuts were passed posthumously in February, 1964. The result of those significant tax cuts, which still didn’t go as far as he wanted them to go, had dramatic effects on the economy. Real GDP grew at 5.8% in 1964, 6.5% in 1965, and 6.6% in 1966, while the unemployment rate declined from 5.2% in 1964 to 3.8% in 1966, falling all the way to 3.5% in 1969. And, as predicted by our first supply-side president, tax revenues increased dramatically, from $94 billion in 1961 to $153 billion in 1968.

He not only understood real-world economics, but he understood the proper role of government in a free society, as America was founded to be. He said to the New York Economic Club in December, the year before he died, “The federal government’s most useful role is not to rush into a program of excessive increases in public expenditures, but to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures.”

In other words, foster a climate that is conducive to economic growth, rather than creating government programs – expenditures, as he referred to them – which siphon the lifeblood out of a free economy. JFK was a Reaganite, economically speaking, before Reaganites even existed.

There are far too few Republicans that believe that today, and I would venture to say, there are no Democrats who believe that today. Too many of today’s politicians are statists, convinced that the government’s role is, rather than foster an environment that is conducive to economic growth, function as parasites or leaches, sucking as much capital and monetary velocity out of the economy as possible to pay for our alphabet soup acronyms of government programs and agencies.

Our nation would be so different today if presidents 36-44 all believed like JFK and Reagan did. We wouldn’t be struggling under an insurmountable $18 trillion in debt, more than half of which came in the last five years. We wouldn’t be witnessing the meltdown of our health insurance and health care delivery, with as many as 93 million Americans (the administration’s own estimate), losing their health care.

We wouldn’t have an omnipresent government that gathers our financial information, health care information, monitors our phone calls, and even spies on our social media activity. We wouldn’t have a government that tries to tax the very gas that we exhale, with the distorted and fabricated justification that it will “save the earth,” as well as regulation on anything and everything that works, moves, or produces anything.

JFK-Today-590-CIJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy was the last Democrat president that properly understood the role of government, and the quality of life assured to all from a free market economy that wasn’t taxed and regulated to death. As a matter of fact, our 35th President was committed to a balanced budget, loved the Constitution, loved his country, was against “big government,” was an NRA member, anti-communist, pro-life, and in spite of his challenged morality, was a deeply religious man. By today’s politico-ideological spectrum standards, JFK would be a Tea Party patriot.

This is manifest even more clearly by one of his Independence Day speeches, where he said, “Conceived in Grecian thought, strengthened by Christian morality, and stamped indelibly into American political philosophy, the right of the individual against the State is the keystone of our Constitution. Each man is free.”

And contrary to the Washington Post’s bizarre claim this week, JFKs assassin was a communist, not someone who would sympathize with the Tea Party of today.

Based on his own words and convictions, I think it’s safe to say that JFK would be appalled by how much our nation has degenerated from what it was intended to be, and his vision of what it should be.

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]

Illegal Actions of our Autocratic President

Our country was founded as a constitutional republic; a federation of autonomous states tied together by a Constitution that stated explicitly what the powers of the federal government were. We have now been unofficially, yet fundamentally transformed into an autocratic “ineptocracy.” And we needn’t look any further for evidence than this week’s presidential attempts to “fix” the increasingly unaffordable Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Having been caught in his perpetual lie, “if you like your insurance you can keep it,” the president this week promised to “fix” it, by allowing people to keep their insurance plans for another year, if they wanted. Not only is that genie out of the bottle and operationally impossible to put back in, but more significantly, it represented another evidence that this president feels his power is not constrained or limited by the Constitution, or by the rule of law.

bg111513dAPR20131115084526Article II, Sec. 3 of the Constitution commands the president to faithfully execute the law. The president, and even more broadly, the executive branch, does not make law. That’s the role of the legislative branch, or congress. Once laws are on the books, the president cannot change them; they are to be executed, enacted, and implemented by the president and the executive branch.

Yet, just as he did in July when he delayed the ACA employer mandate by a year, this week he, without authority, said he would “allow” people to keep their policies for another year if they liked them. The president has no such authority! Those are laws passed legally – although regrettably – by congress and signed into law. The president has no authority to arbitrarily choose what laws to enforce, which to not, or change laws arbitrarily and illegally by his own discretion. His oath is to faithfully execute them!

It makes no difference that the law he whimsically changed this week has his name on it, as even he refers to it as Obamacare. He still doesn’t have the power or authority to autocratically change aspects or dates of implementation of the law.

He also acted illegally when he declared he would not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as his fiat that he would implement elements of the so-called Dream Act for immigration reform, on his own, with no congressional action.

An autocrat is one who has absolute power. And that is how our president is acting. The Constitution was written brilliantly with inherent checks and balances on the power of any one of the branches of government. But apparently, when you’re Barack Obama, there’s no perceived limit to your power; you can do as you please, when you please, and when you mess up, claim you never knew about it until you “read it in the press,” like the rest of us. Outside of the fantasy world of the Washington Beltway, such an egocentric and narcissistic attitude would be considered delusional. But that’s what we got when we elected, and then reelected, someone with a messiah complex.

holb_c11359420131115120100I have long maintained that our republic can only survive if people elected to office honor their oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” Every time Obama spuriously and capriciously changes a law, chooses which he will execute and not execute, he is definitionally acting outside of the law, and he breaks his oath of office anew.

I mentioned that we have an autocratic ineptocracy, and explained the autocratic component. We have been fundamentally transformed into an ineptocracy which is a “political system of government where the incompetent are elected by the unproductive in return for goods and services redistributed from the competent and productive, until the former so outnumber the latter that the system collapses.”

Several years ago Ayn Rand said, “We are fast approaching the stage of ultimate inversion: the stage where government is free to do as it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission.” It seems obvious that we’ve now achieved that state of ultimate inversion of our founding principles. And the inversion is exacerbated by the fact that it’s the arbitrary actions of an autocrat at the helm of the nation that declares that government can do as it pleases, while we paean citizens have our liberty eroded further with every stroke of his pen, and utterance from his lips.

There’s nothing we can do to rein in the autocratic hubris at the head of the country. We can only hope that in three years we may choose someone who respects the law, follows it, and will fervently keep the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. And we can pray that our fundamental transformation is not irreversible. In the meantime, we can attempt to follow Thomas Jefferson’s counsel to “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

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 Biggest Presidential Lie of All

As presidential lies go, this is the biggest, and it’s one that our president has uttered hundreds of times. “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.” We now know, and it’s documented, that the president and his staff have known for years that was not true. They lied to us.

On page 34,552 of the Federal Register for 2010, an entry by the administration says their “mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013.” That represents over 51 million people who will lose their health insurance, because of provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Let’s make sure we understand all of this. Section 1251 of the ACA refers to a “grandfather” provision that allowed people to keep their existing plans if so desired.  But subsequent regulations by the administration interpreted that key section so narrowly that it would be virtually impossible to retain plans that were in place in 2010, unless the firm or organization had a waiver from implementation.

One of those subsequent regulatory changes was that if a plan that had been grandfathered per Section 1251 of the ACA were to make any changes after 2010, they would no longer be grandfathered. It’s inconceivable that any health insurance plans could’ve gone through the last three years of massive premium inflation with no changes! And not just in premiums, but changes in coverage, deductibles, or maximum out-of-pocket costs.

Screwed-2013Declaring policies in effect in 2010 grandfathered as long as they made no adjustments the past three years would be tantamount to the administration saying that we could use the freeway for our travel needs for as long as we like, as long as we never change our speed or direction!

The Congressional Budget Office indicates that 156 million of us are covered under employer-sponsored plans. There are also another 25 million who, again according to the CBO, have “non-group and other” insurance coverage, in other words, most of those buy their own insurance. Again, it’s totally inconceivable that there are any plans that, based on the administration’s narrow interpretation of the grandfather clause, have not had any changes since 2010. In short, that means there are no grandfathered insurance plans! Yet the president has the temerity to claim we’re losing our insurance because of our carriers!

That’s not to say that everyone will lose their current coverage. Many of those plans have likely adjusted to accommodate the new requirements of mandated coverage as defined in the ACA. Mandated coverage now includes maternity care, gestational diabetes screening for pregnant women, FDA-approved contraceptive methods, contraceptive education and counseling, breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling, sexually transmitted infections counseling for sexually-active women, and HIV screening and counseling for sexually-active women.

Isn’t it wonderful that all of us over age 40, and single men, get to pay for all of those services that we’ll never use? The freedom and flexibility of the ACA just never ceases to amaze me! I guess that explains in part why there were so many (6, officially) Americans who signed up on the first day!

liesHere are some other lies told by the President, and his Democrat allies in congress about the ACA. We’ve been promised that, if we like our doctor, we can keep him. In all likelihood, we can’t, since that doctor may be out of the network for our new plan that we were forced to buy.

He said our premiums would go down, that the ACA “will bend the cost curve down.” “The average family will pay $2,500 less for their insurance premiums.” Instead, they’ve gone up, $2,581 higher, according to Kaiser Health.

He said it would reduce the amount of healthcare spending in the country, that’s obviously not true. He said it would not add a dime to the deficit, yet it borrows $600 billion from Medicare, which is going broke, and at the current enrollment rate, the entire cost will add to the deficit.

He said he would not raise taxes a dime on anyone making under $250K, yet the bill is partially funded by taxes on insurance companies, drug companies, medical device companies, and health care providers. All those costs are going to be passed on to the patients, most of whom make far below $250K per year.

The further into the implementation of the ACA we get, the more convinced I am that deception, distortion, extortion, and outright lies are the very foundation of it. Even the notion that it was going to provide insurance coverage for everyone is a lie, since according to the Congressional Budget Office, even after 10 years of implementation, there will still be 31 million Americans without coverage. So we’ll have spent $1.93 trillion failing to achieve the primary objective of the Act, and literally destroying the coverage that the rest of us get.

We received our insurance cancellation letter from my wife’s employer the first of October. We were already paying an exorbitant premium that had increased over 25%, for a high $2,500 deductible. As we study our options on the Idaho ACA website, the policies within our capability to pay have deductibles of $8,000. And to make matters worse, we will still be paying up to 50% of our health care expenses after the deductible is met. I guess it’s meant to assuage our concerns that our maximum out-of-pocket expenses per year are capped at $12,700. We will be paying more for a new policy that will exact from us five times as much in out-of-pocket costs. This is not affordable care; this is highway robbery!

And the real kicker is that the administration knew all along what would happen to us all, as evidenced by their own words in the Federal Register. What’s different about this lie, though, is the mainstream media didn’t ignore it like they have all the others. NBC actually had the audacity to run with the story. For those of us who’ve been wondering where the media has been for the past five years, this actually provides a little glimmer of hope. Perhaps they’ll actually start doing their job now.

Their-Lips-600-NRD-wLogoThese lies, continuously uttered by our president, are much more significant than some of the others that have landed presidents in hot water. Certainly more significant than, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” and “I am not a crook,” and “No new taxes.” These lies adversely affect all of us.

It’s no wonder that even though the ACA passed in 2009, they made no attempt to start collecting the taxes or implementing the mandates until after the 2012 election. If this had been implemented within two years after passage, in a logical world, there would be no Democrats left in congress today, for they were the only ones who voted for it.

This entire package was sold to us based on lies. And as destructive as the ACA is to the nation, to jobs, to the economy, to health insurance, and to family budgets, no one who supported and pushed for its passage should ever hold elected office again. It’s time to start holding politicians accountable, not for their intentions, but for their actions!

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 Spenders in Washington are the “Terrorists,” Not the Conservatives!

There was a time when it was thought to be prudent to not spend beyond one’s means; a time when frugality was a desirable trait, and when such discipline and restraint constituted a man or woman of wisdom in financial affairs. Judging from the predictable reaction to the storyline fed by the mainstream media regarding fiscal policy in our nation’s capital, such fiscal discipline no longer is perceived as wise, but as extremist and radical.

And apparently there’s an ancillary postulate that accompanies that conclusion; that those who desire to not inflict harm on the nation due to bad government regulation fall under the same broad definitional brush of extremism and radicalism.

RAMclrFNL-022212-worst-IBD.jpg.cms_Just since 2006, the last year the U.S. government had a budget passed by both congressional chambers and signed by a president, government debt has shot from $6.7 trillion, to over $17 trillion. The largest segment of that spending occurred over the past five years with four consecutive years of $1 trillion deficits. Our government has been spending 60% more than it’s been collecting in tax receipts.

Those figures do not even begin to address our long-term debt due to non-discretionary entitlement programs. According to the General Accounting Office’s (GAO) 2012 annual report, their most recent which was issued nearly one year ago, unfunded debt including Social Security and Medicare was $70.7 trillion, an increase of 8% over 2011 levels. Our national debt increases by an estimated $8.2 million per minute, and about $350 billion per month.

The GAO was explicit in its warning to the policy makers about our spending. They said in the very first paragraph, “GAO’s simulations continue to show escalating levels of debt that illustrate that the long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable.”

For those who may have difficulty grasping the gravity of the word “unsustainable,” let’s clarify the term. That means it is “not able to be maintained at the current rate or level.” That it is “not able to be upheld or defended.”

Former Comptroller General of the United States, David M. Walker, has been sounding the clarion call of economic disaster for the nation if spending is not reined in, and politicians refuse to deal with fiscal realities of unabated spending. He describes America as a “sinking ship” in a sea of our own debt. He points out that, “The US ranks near the bottom of developed global economies in terms of financial stability and will stay there unless it addresses its burgeoning debt problems,” based on the Sovereign Fiscal Responsibility Index.

“We think it is important for the American people to understand where the United States is as compared to other countries with regard to fiscal responsibility and sustainability,” Walker said in a CNBC interview recently. He predicts that the country is rapidly heading towards a debt crisis that could come within the next few years if we continue on our present course.

Those are the facts, at least a small glimpse at our dismal fiscal reality. And yet, when facing another massively expensive entitlement, and a debt limit, and a government “shutdown” over spending issues, the press and their chorus of ideologically-compliant sycophants across the land excoriate the one group of politicians that sees the threat of our current reality!

The fiscal terrorists are not those in the House, who out of conscience and their commitment to their voters refuse to budge on spending without fiscal reform. The biggest terrorist threat to the nation are those who vote perfunctorily to increase our debt, continue to spend beyond our means, and refuse to say no to new spending programs that threaten to expedite the collapse of the nation from debt implosion! They are destroying the nation minute by minute, and debt limit increase by debt limit increase, by continuing our unsustainable spending trajectory with no attempt at addressing it.

How idiotic it is when the mainstream media rejoices when a debt limit, regardless of how temporary, is increased. When the government resumes full operations without any substantive assessment of our unsustainable mountain of debt, as identified by the General Accounting Office! And how idiotic it is when a majority of the American public applauds the resumption of our unsustainable course of debt accrual, with no apparent concern for the perpetuity of the republic!

The president is claiming credit for a slight deficit reduction this past year. That’s sublimely ironic considering it happened because of an idea he floated, and then denounced, and become enacted as a 5% reduction in spending known as the sequester.

The sequester has made a slight difference in the trajectory of our mountain of debt, but not nearly enough. If the nation is to survive financially, a change of course and reassessment of our spending priorities is critical. Our role is to be an informed electorate, and if we love America, support candidates with a commitment to saving the nation from the spendthrift politicians in control now.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

This Week’s Crisis: Obama Wins, Nation Loses

Brinkmanship only works in politics if the crises the parties are facing, and their consequences, are unsatisfactory to both parties. If the consequences of a manufactured crisis are only totally unacceptable to one party, or person, in a conflict resolution scenario, you know who’s going to win the showdown at the very outset. That’s precisely what we saw this past week with the high drama in Washington.

Brinksmanship is generically defined as “the practice of pushing dangerous events to the verge of, or to the brink of, disaster in order to achieve the most advantageous outcome.” The government slim-down of the past couple weeks, and the approach this week of the hyped “default” on our debt presented a case study in brinkmanship by parties which, if we studied their motives and priorities, we could have, and did, presciently predict the outcome.

{4a4b2129-c6cd-4ba3-84b5-1a2bac3ac409}.gifBut to understand why the House “blinked” and the president didn’t, we need to understand the motivations for both positions. The president and his team like crises, because they are opportunities for them. The president’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel infamously declared, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “Never waste a good crisis.”

This perspective reflects the most common transliteration of the Chinese character for crisis, where the two components represent “danger” and “opportunity.” The administration made it clear five years ago that crises represented opportunity to them, as Emanuel completed his thought, “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Coupled with the “crisis is opportunity” theorem, the presidential hubris and narcissism guarantees that he will get his way, regardless of the consequences. Dr. Sam Vaknin, an Israeli psychologist and globally recognized expert on narcissism has stated of Obama, “should he be subjected to psychological testing, for instance, to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is a classical tool for diagnosing narcissism, or to the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), I have no doubt in my mind that he will be diagnosed as a classical, malignant, psychopathic narcissist.”

One of those tests includes what he calls “pronoun density,” which refers to how many times one says “me,” “my,” “I,” and “myself,” in a single sentence unnecessarily, especially in places where you could have substituted other, more appropriate pronouns. Vaknin, describing a piece that he wrote in July 2008, said, “Obama’s pronoun density is three times the average pronoun density of a psychopathic narcissist. I mean, that’s how bad it was. That is a major clinical sign.” Predictably, one of the characteristics of narcissists is that, filled with their own sense of inflated self-importance and self-admiration, they don’t capitulate. They’re going to get their way, regardless of the cost.

On the other side of the negotiations (which really never occurred since Obama ostentatiously refused to do so), was the House of Representatives, comprised of a politically and ideologically diverse group of 435 individuals, 232 of which are Republicans, most “in name only.” However, there is a group of 46 within the House that are driven by a set of principles, rather than a personality or a plenary rule for crisis management. Their convictions, which got them elected from their respective districts, are reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit by reducing government spending and taxes.

Ironically, the mainstream media, and left-leaning politicians, refer often to the caucus of 46 within the House as extremists or radicals. I often wonder if those applying such appellations think of themselves, or their frugal spouses, as radicals or extremists, if they’re penurious in their own lives. Or is economic illiteracy so rampant among the political elite and the mainstream media that unconstrained spending, without regard for paying for accumulated debt, is somehow unreasonable; hence, “radical” or “extreme?”

Other than their conviction toward prudent and measured fiscal matters, their penultimate shared value is patriotism. If there was a Hippocratic Oath equivalent for politicians, they would be the first to take it, vowing to “do no harm.” The republic, after all, is perpetuated more logically by disciplined fiscal policy than by profligate, unrestrained and irresponsible spending. The latter hastens the day of impending financial collapse of the dollar and the entire economy, as the nation races toward an implosion under the weight of a national debt that today exceeds $17 trillion, or 110% of the national GDP, which is now higher than financially troubled Spain’s debt to GDP ratio.

Although default was discretionary to the president and the secretary of the treasury, the House acquiesced to the president’s demands rather than allow for that possibility. And prudently so, for through the sequestration spending cuts, and the recent government “shutdown,” the president has applied spending restrictions as punitively and painfully as possible. It’s disconcerting when the leader of the free world has a temper tantrum over not getting his way, and makes everyone suffer, as he applies the restrictions in a way to make them “as painful as possible.”

In light of these factors, the winners and losers of this past week’s brinkmanship were highly predictable. The winner is the president, and the loser is the nation.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Debt Limit and Government Funding – It’s All On Our Tab!

We’re into week two of the government slowdown and the stakes for government resumption have just been raised. Negotiations for funding the government, which have been stifled by the White House until the House of Representatives abandons their principles, are now merging with the imminent debate over the federal debt limit. This creates another “crisis” for the White House that will yield new opportunities for making the nation suffer as much as possible until the president gets his way.

What began as a courageous effort on the part of the House to derail the Obamacare train before it crashes and damages the economy and our health care delivery even further, has weakened dramatically over the past two weeks. The latest iteration of the House’s terms is to simply do for individuals what the president did unilaterally for businesses; allow a one-year delay in implementation.

Something as logical as a delay in implementing the individual mandate for healthcare insurance can hardly be expected from such an ideologically driven White House, even if the Healthcare.gov website is a complete bust. Digital Trends said of the first week of operation, “the befuddled beast that is Healthcare.gov has shutdown, crapped out, stalled, and mis-loaded so consistently that its track record for failure is challenged only by Congress.”

Describing the technological debacle, they continued, “The site itself…still rejects user logins, fails to load drop-down menus and other crucial components for users. The site is so busted that, as of a couple days ago, the number of people that successfully purchased healthcare through it was in the ‘single digits,’ according to the Washington Post.” Well, it would appear the American people have bought another government “lemon,” for the bargain price of $394 million!

What’s even worse is that despite the efforts to apply a quick fix to the site, it continues to crash, reset user passwords, and stall. CNBC interviewed a technology expert this week who said getting the “bugs out” could “take years.” Sounds to me like a one year reprieve for the individual mandate is well warranted.

And still there is no end in sight for the government slowdown. The House has offered to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling for six weeks without resumption of full government funding. The president still refuses to even talk to House majority leadership until they are willing to completely cave to his demands.

138528_600What will likely happen is the Republicans will cave, the government will be funded with a “clean” Concurrent Resolution, and the debt limit will be raised another couple of trillion dollars to allow us to mortgage the nation and our children’s futures with an even more menacing and potentially disastrous debt. In other words, the can will be simply kicked down the road again, with no reduction in spending, no plans for reducing the debt, and no plans for increased fiscal stability for entitlement programs. And the Democrats will likely win a new look at increasing taxes.

Which brings us to the debt ceiling discussion. The notion behind having a debt limit is to force those in government to be fiscally responsible and keep the national debt below their self-imposed boundary. Instead, the debt limit is increased with much drama and political demagoguery and they then sprint to the newly imposed limit only to repeat the drama and demagoguery all over again. It’s very much like a spendthrift who hits their credit card limit and then whines and moans to the bank until they increase the limit, and a new spending binge ensues. Gratefully there’s an increasing number in congress who’re refusing to kick the can down the road any further without meaningful fiscal reform, but they’re still in the minority. And ironically, even though they seem to be the only fiscally sane ones, they’re vilified by the mainstream media and their liberal demagogue counterparts.

And the threats by Treasury Secretary Lew and the president of defaulting on our debt shouldn’t even be on the table. It is unconscionable that they would jeopardize the credit worthiness of the nation to achieve their political objectives. Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution declares that the nation will honor the debts that we have incurred. But that is only meaningful to politicians who actually honor their oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and there seem to be precious few of those.

More significant, is that according to the General Accounting Office, we hit the $16.7 trillion debt limit in May. By prioritizing payments, juggling the issuance of new debt securities, and accounting gimmicks, the Treasury Department has flat-lined the federal debt for the past five months. With over $250 billion in tax-receipts collected each month, there is no more reason for a default in October than there was in May. It’s only a possibility with an administration steeped in the Saul Alinsky ideology of political chicanery, posturing, and strong-arming.

Prepare for the drama and the politics of self-destruction. After all, we, our children and grandchildren, will be footing the bill and paying the price for the inevitable procrastination of meaningful fiscal reform.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Wow! The Sun Still Rose Even With Government Shutdown!

Listening to the mainstream media and the dominant party in D.C. this week would lead one to believe that the earth would quit revolving on its axis, the sun would no longer rise, and all life forms would cease to exist if the government was shutdown. But low and behold, life continues, and one can’t help but feel just a little more free, although even that is undoubtedly illusory.

While opinions may vary regarding who gets the credit for curtailing spending by shutting down non-essential federal government functions for a few days or weeks, most of the credit must be ascribed to the president and the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. After all, they were the ones who decided that the spending bills passed by the House were not to be even considered in the Senate; all twelve of them, to date.

It really should say, "Has he no shame!"

It really should say, “Has he no shame!”

Harry Reid actually had the audacity to say of the House, “Who are they that they can pick and choose what programs to fund or not to fund?” As is the case with most who belong to his political party, the good senator should acquaint himself with the U.S. Constitution, which specifically states that all spending bills originate in the House. As such, the House has every right to decide what to fund and what not to, and is fulfilling its constitutional duty in the process. If Reid had any integrity or backbone whatsoever, he’d take up a version of one of the House’s resolutions and at least bring it to the floor for a vote. Since he refuses to do so, the credit for extending the quasi-shutdown is all his and the president’s, as they refuse to even consider anything that varies from their desires.

What’s most perplexing about the positions of the House and the Senate is in how the priorities of one party are somehow less important, hence negotiable, while the other’s is not. The president and the Senate are obdurate in their resolve to not accept anything but a complete funding of government. The House has some divisions even within the Speaker’s party over funding Obamacare. Yet the media and the liberal punditry seem to think that the only ones who should capitulate are those in the House. Granting the benefit of the doubt to both parties that their positions are based in principle, why is one principle deemed negotiable while the other’s is not?

If the funding and operation of Obamacare is so critical to governmental operations, according to the governing party, why has the president by fiat simply changed certain implementation dates and requirements? The fact that he’s granted over 1,000 waivers, mostly to unions and political allies, and by the stroke of his pen delayed the employer mandate by a year, clearly evidences that the health care law is not inviolable.  Yet he and Reid will not even consider a spending bill that includes a one-year delay in the individual mandate. It appears that a delay in implementation is only a good idea to Obama if it’s his idea or it benefits his benefactors.

Reviewing the list of what constitutes “essential” versus “non-essential” federal workers makes one realize this is not really a government “shutdown,” it’s more of a slow-down or a slim-down. There are a total of about 2.7 million federal government employees, including 589,000 postal workers. According to reports, there are 800,000 “non-essential” employees who’re on furlough until full funding is restored. That means 63% of the federal work force is still working, including almost all of the Social Security Administration, Homeland Security, and our military and most of the defense department. Even Health and Human Services is nearly fully staffed.

With the modus operandi motto of “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” the administration is acting the same way they did when their sequester went into effect. They want to make sure everyone feels the pain and discomfort of the slim-down. Not being content to close the national parks, the administration ordered barricades, (or should we call them Barry-cades?) and closed signs posted for parks that aren’t even staffed. They even attempted to close national landmarks that are not funded by the government, including Mt. Vernon, the Claude Moore Memorial Farm, and over 100 campgrounds near the Grand Canyon, which are all funded privately.

The Washington Times quotes an angry Park Service ranger in Washington as saying, “It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation. We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”

You’ve got to admire the hutzpah of our “greatest generation.” A group of World War II veterans from Mississippi took matters into their own hands at the open-air WWII Memorial. They tore down the Barry-cades and tweeted, “Normandy was also closed when we got there.”

It would appear that the president’s desire is to make the slim-down more painful to the average citizen than needs be, if for no other reason than to make sure everyone notices, is inconvenienced, or is perturbed. After all, what kind of a “good crisis” would this be if the government “closed down” and no one noticed?

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 degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

The Obamacare Train Wreck

The problem with 2,400 pages of legislation is not in 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. And not just for the economy and the middle class (as we discussed last week) but for our healthcare system itself. When you dramatically alter the third-party payment system and place federal mandates on available health-care insurance plans, the whole health care delivery system is adversely affected. To believe otherwise is naiveté.

Obamacare_NO_01_280x271The 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.

One of the byproducts of a third-party (insurance company) payment system for health care is that the consumer or patient is considerably removed from the cost of services. The ACA increases this gap by requiring “free preventive services,” restricting deductibles, and proscribing lifetime benefit limits. Currently, over 36% of health insurance plans have higher out of pocket limits than allowed by the ACA. The Act also places new restrictions on Health Savings Accounts that have allowed 24 million Americans to be more attentive to pricing since they paid for services themselves. These provisions will remove the consumer from the cost of service even more, which has an escalating effect on healthcare costs.

“We will keep this promise to the American people. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away,” we heard daily from the president while pitching his plan. This is the second major broken promise of the ACA. 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.

In June, McKinsey & Company released results of a study where they 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 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, mostly in anticipation of the new regulations and mandates imposed on providers and insurers.

All the new regulatory requirements are going to cause 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 rise additionally an average of 169%.

The National Center for Policy Analysis warns that seniors may be the most hard hit with service quality, and quantity issues. NCPA President John Goodman correctly observed that almost half of Obamacare is paid for over the next decade by draining $716 billion out of Medicare.

Confirming 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.”

This barely scratches the surface of the myriad of problems created by the ACA. To my count, there are dozens of such problems. Ted Cruz was right to dominate the news cycle for 21 hours in an attempt to prevent this “train wreck” to the economy and our health care. The ACA is clearly the wrong prescription for our healthcare ailments, and won’t even accomplish what it was promised to do.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Union Leaders Denounce Obamacare

Contrary to what former Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, the time to find out what was in the dubiously named Affordable Care Act (ACA) legislation was before they passed it, not after. Even before full implementation next year, most Americans have recognized the threats posed by the massive, arguably worse legislation ever passed by any legislative body. Now we’re seeing the worst of those threats materialize.

Some of the most vociferous denunciation of Obamacare is coming from those who were so ardently supporting its passage, and the party that was forcing it upon the nation. Last week representatives of three of the nation’s largest unions sent a warning letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. They accurately identified some of the unintended negative consequences of their onerous legislation, declaring that the health care law would “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Joseph Hansen, the international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and Donald Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE which represents hotel, food service, textile, gaming, and airport workers, signed the letter.

Obamacare_NO_01_280x271They began their diatribe, “When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat…We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision. Now this vision has come back to haunt us.”

They continued, “The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are causing nightmare scenarios. First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.”

These observations have been validated by what’s happening with employers across the country. In April, the Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey of small business owners. According to their study, 41% of 603 small business owners have put a hold on hiring because of Obamacare. Over 20% had already cut hours for their employees and reduced payroll.

So far this year dozens of private sector employers have announced reductions in hours for employees because of the demands of the health care law. Walmart’s reaction has drawn perhaps the most attention since they are the largest private sector employer in the country. Reuters revealed that nearly all of the retail giant’s new hires are part time employees. Nearly 10% of their employees are now part-timers, versus their previous 1-2% average. And they’re not alone, as over 200 public sector employers have had to make similar adjustments to avoid the penalties of not providing health care insurance for employees who work 32 hours or more.

Towers Watson, a human relations consulting firm, surveyed nearly 500 companies earlier this year regarding their health care plans. Over 40% of them indicated they are significantly altering their health insurance plans as a result of the ACA. They also found that 60% of the companies surveyed will look to the new health insurance exchanges as a means of reducing insurance and administrative costs. They’ll simply drop their company sponsored health insurance plans and send their employees to the exchanges to buy their own. Many indicated they will provide at least some pecuniary assistance in the transition.

The union leaders concluded their letter by declaring, “on behalf of the millions of working men and women we represent and the families they support, we can no longer stand silent in the face of elements of the Affordable Care Act that will destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans.”

Not only is the oxymoronically named Affordable Care Act wreaking havoc within the health care and insurance industries, but it’s creating havoc with jobs, and the livelihoods of the very middle class that the ruling class in Washington claims to be so supportive of. Frankly, the union representatives are exactly right. The ACA is in the process of destroying our healthcare system as well as the 40 hour work week and full-time employee status of middle class workers.

The ACA never was the prescription for the ailments its sponsors claimed it was. It should be defunded, repealed and replaced before our health care system is irreparably broken, and the middle class downsized to part-time status. Sen. Max Baucus was right, it is a “huge train wreck coming down.”

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 degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Constitution Week: It’s Never Been More Needed!

Citizenship Day, and Constitution Week. If ever there was a time in our nation’s history when we needed to be reminded of our duties as citizens, and be refreshed, or newly instructed in our understanding of our Constitution, it is now. The spirit of apathy, and ignorance of our founding documents including the Constitution, plagues too many of our fellow citizens. This is a rectifiable weight around the neck of American democracy.

By joint Congressional Resolution, and the signature of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, September 17th was declared Citizenship Day, and September 17-23 of each year would be designated Constitution Week. That was reaffirmed in 2002 by then President George W. Bush. September 17, 1787 marks the historic signing of the Constitution for the United States of America.

US Constitution - We The PeopleThomas Jefferson obviously knew of mankind’s inclination toward apathy and ignorance, when he said, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of Constitutional power.”

Over the course of the past few years, the abuses of Constitutional power have increased exponentially. There has never been a time in our history when remedial education of citizenship and the Constitution have been more requisite.

That is the objective of Constitution week, to 1) emphasize our responsibility of protecting and defending the Constitution to preserve it, and our freedoms, for posterity; 2) to understand the unique and binding nature of the Constitution in our heritage as Americans; and 3) to study and more fully comprehend the historical events surrounding the founding of our country.

Almost as a word of warning, Jefferson said, “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries, as long as they are agricultural. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become as corrupt as in Europe.” Our government has reached that point much sooner than Jefferson envisioned.

Abraham Lincoln said of the Constitution, “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” As soon as some of the rights or government limitations advanced by the Constitution are questioned, all of them are subjected to similar scrutiny and selective application, eventually. Each right curtailed or impinged upon, opens the door for similar abuses of any and all of the others enumerated in the Bill of Rights, comprising the first ten Amendments to the Constitution.

Albert Einstein, an immigrant to America, recognized the need for all citizens to be informed, educated, and resolute in preserving our rights, which include limitation of the powers of the state. Said he, “The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.” With so many of our fellow citizens more concerned about getting their share of government largesse at the expense of their taxpaying neighbors, the determination to defend and support the Constitution and our liberties is commensurately diminished.

With all of the recent expansion of federal government infringing on our constitutional rights, we as citizens must take note of what Lincoln said of those who seek to trample our liberties. He said, “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”

It’s difficult for us as a citizenry, to stand collectively and individually against those who seek to subvert our liberties if we suffer from abject ignorance of what those rights are, and what our government was constructed to do, and not to do. It is readily apparent from blogs and social media that great numbers of our fellow citizens suffer from acute ignorance of our founding documents, as they opine based on assumptions rather than what the Constitution authorizes.

Hence, the primary objective of Citizenship Day and Constitution Week, to increase our understanding and knowledge of our founding documents and the rights and privileges assured thereby. Ignorance, apathy, and selfishness are pitiful excuses for citizens in a constitutional republic that was founded upon principles of individual liberty and limited governmental power!

Whether there are public observances or opportunities for constitutional edification or not, let us each avail ourselves the opportunity this week to become more informed, more educated, and more proactive citizens by reading our Constitution and studying the history surrounding its ratification. I’m convinced most of those who are critical of our Constitution will be amazed at what is in it, but perhaps even more, what is not.

As Benjamin Franklin portended after the signing of the Constitution, we have a republic, if we can keep it. And for any quasi-objective observer of our contemporary political environment, we’re not keeping it, but letting it slip away, one constitutional precept at a time. Now is the time to remedy our constitutional illiteracy, and to uphold those who take their oath to support the Constitution seriously.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Illogic of Obama’s Plan to Bomb Syria

Now we’re seeing what a real “unilateral” military venture looks like. Those opposed to Bush’s attack on Iraq in 2003 constantly criticized it as a unilateral effort, even though he had over 50 countries pledging support. Obama’s threat to bomb Syria with only the conditional backing of the French represents a true unilateral exercise. And if Congress fails to authorize military action against the Assad regime, it’s not even a U.S. unilateralism, but an Obama unilateralism. He would stand alone.

With growing evidence of state-sponsored use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the usual response would be some reprisal to discourage such usage again. That is certainly the hope of the administration. But that is hardly a “slam dunk” proposition when the country is embroiled in a bloody civil war, and our enemies are battling our enemies.

bg090613dAPR20130906014512It’s morally unconscionable to back either side in this conflict. On the one hand is the despotic regime of Bashar al-Assad, who is also the Secretary for the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. The regime is closely aligned with Russia, and shares political and financial support of Hezbollah, the terrorist group, with Iran. Syria’s support of Hezbollah landed the country on the vilified State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 1979. Hezbollah has played a significant role during the civil war battling insurgents alongside the official Syrian military.

On the other hand are the insurgents, those fighting to topple Assad. Early on in the civil war, the largest revolutionary group was the Free Syrian Army, a group of army defectors that was non-sectarian. However, they have lost their leadership role to the Syrian Liberation Front, Hamas, and especially to Jabhat al-Nusra, all of which espouse an Islamist ideology. The latter group is comprised mostly of fighters from Iraq’s post-war insurgency and have pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Until the political correctness of the Obama administration started redefining Islamic extremist groups, these were all terrorists.

If Assad is deposed, Syria will likely follow the pattern of Libya and Egypt, with Islamic fundamentalists assuming control, which plays directly into the Islamic extremist determination to establish an Islamic Caliphate that encompasses the entire Middle-Eastern region, paving the way for the return of the Twelfth Imam.

The current U.S. players in the Syrian diplomatic minefield have significant baggage with regard to the Assad regime. John Kerry, current Secretary of State, has had several visits with Assad, where he’s referred to him as a “very generous man,” and a “friend.” Nancy Pelosi led a friendly congressional delegation to Syria in 2007 despite, or because of, the opposition expressed by the Bush administration, and then botched her message of peace with Israel. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has heaped praise on Assad for being a “reformer.” These socialistic bedfellows are no longer on cordial terms.

The Obama team has made it clear that they want to encourage Assad to not use chemical weapons again. That’s the intent behind their plan to fire a few tomahawk missiles at non-strategic locations within Syria. Assad is not to be targeted, nor are his chemical stockpiles, or any of his military installations. Obama clarified last week in a PBS interview that he envisioned the strike being a “shot across the bow,” a warning to not use chemical weapons again. In other words, it’s symbolic, and serves no tactical purpose.

The Obama strike would be comparable to when President Clinton ordered 23 tomahawk missiles shot into Iraq in June of 1993 for the attempted assassination of former President George H. W. Bush. Those strikes accomplished little, as alluded to by George W. Bush after the attacks of 911, when he vowed he wouldn’t make that same kind of mistake. Bush reportedly said, “I’m gonna be patient about this thing, and not go firing a 2 million dollar missile at a 10 dollar tent just to hit a camel in the butt.”

Hezbollah has been saber rattling ever since Obama’s announcement to bomb Syria. They have threatened retaliation against American interests overseas, especially in the Middle East, and retaliation against Israel. Israel has been consequently beefing up defense shields preparing for an attack from Iranian and Syrian based Hezbollah forces. And we shouldn’t be so naïve as to suppose Russia or China, close friends to the Assad regime, would sit idly by while their ally is attacked. Our diplomatic relationship with Russia is already the worst it’s been since the cold war. This will make it undeniably worse.

If you get the feeling that a tepid and mostly symbolic bombing of non-strategic targets in Syria can set off a full-scale regional conflict including the Islamic extremist desire to wipe Israel off the map, you’re not alone!

The U.S. has no national security interest in Syria, other than limiting the use of chemical weapons, which a limited bomb-strike will in no way assure. The country is engulfed in a bloody civil war where our enemies are fighting our enemies. Let them have at it. The consequences of our involvement are potentially much, much greater than can possibly justify the illusory intended results of a limited strike.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Hypocrisy and Discrimination at the MLK Commemoration

The dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned for America 50 years ago this week has mostly been achieved. But regrettably, those who attempted to honor him on the anniversary of his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, rather than honoring him, tarnished his memory with a new kind of segregation and discrimination, based on ideology.

Dr. King declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” With a black president, and several black congressmen and civic leaders in attendance, clearly the racial glass ceiling is shattered. And while there may be still a few pockets of actual racism around the country, electoral evidence on its own clearly signals the demise of racial discrimination in any systemic form.

2013-08-30-digest-cartoonBut what was in evidence this week in Washington was a new version of discrimination, based on ideology. Where were the only black U.S. Senator, and the only black Supreme Court Justice? They were unceremoniously not invited to speak. It clearly is not based on race, but based on ideology. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is a Republican, and is the only black senator, and is one of only eight in history. Clarence Thomas is a conservative jurist, was appointed by a Republican president, and is only the second in history to hold that position. The only conceivable explanation for their exclusion is based on ideological alignment.

So let’s see if we understand this correctly. It’s not enough to be a minority and stand as evidence, based on station in life, that skin color no longer has relevance in today’s society. Rather, what’s most important is that one subscribes to liberalism, pay homage to their Party, and then skin color no longer matters. In other words, what the organizers of this week’s event honoring Rev. King did, was engage in exactly the kind of conduct King himself denounced. They discriminated.

In fact, of the three dozen speakers at the event, not one was a Republican, a conservative, or anything but a died-in-the-wool Democrat. Clearly we witnessed a gross and blatant example of discrimination. Why would they intentionally discriminate against the party of Lincoln, the party and ideology that pushed through the 13th and 14th Amendments ending slavery, and the party that pushed through the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, 1960, and 1964? None of those would’ve been possible without Republican support, and in most cases, ardently advocating for them.

It would appear that issues regarding race in the 21st century, are not about race at all, but about using race as a political tool for liberalism and advancing the cause of their party. How else could one possibly justify that the party of Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd, and Jim Crow Laws, would be the arbiters of all arguments alleging racism? The hypocrisy and duplicity are unsurpassed! Especially when we realize that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was himself a Republican.

Confirming this observation, King’s speech 50 years ago cited the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Amendments to the Constitution referring to our individual liberties as citizens. Yet the administration of the first black president, proving in part by his position that King’s dream has been realized, officially classifies the types of persons who quote those documents as terrorists, potential terrorists, or right-wing extremists. Based on that alone, Obama would’ve had to recognize in King a threat to national security. How’s that for an ideological conundrum?

It becomes painfully more clear all the time that the left’s concept of diversity, in a racial context, really has nothing to do with ethnicity, but everything to do with an ideological homogeneity, exclusivity and purity. The line of demarcation is purely ideological. If you’re a conservative or a Republican, expect no tolerance, no inclusion, no attempts at understanding, and no seat at the table of acceptable political speech. Such should be rather segregated from the mainstream of societal discourse, branded as possible terrorists, and classified as extremists.

Some of the idiocy that passed for lofty elocution at the rally this week confirms this observation further. Martin Luther King III claimed that some still use race as a “license to profile, to arrest and even to murder,” obviously referencing the Trayvon Martin case. Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, claimed the Supreme Court had “eviscerated” the voting Rights Act by making it possible for states to pass voter ID laws. Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, apparently referencing the same Supreme Court decision, claimed that even though Klansmen in white sheets are no longer a menace, that judges in black robes pose as great a threat.

And then President Obama, in his inexorable role as salesman for his unpopular Obamacare, made a failed attempt at convincing us that MLK would’ve approved of it. Apparently the President has not read anything that MLK wrote or spoke of, since everything he said was based on the principle of freedom, which is sacrificed at the altar of the Affordable Care Act.

The Party that sponsored this week’s rally is ideologically and politically the least qualified to heap accolades on Rev. King. They have, after all, replaced their Jim Crow laws, forced segregation, and slavery, with government handouts and party loyalty that have made minorities slaves to new masters: the government, and the Party that controls it.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Selective Application of Tolerance

Tolerance is a virtue. But to be a positive force in a nation, or a community, it must be applied universally, not selectively. Definitionally, it denotes not only forbearance of behavior, but of opinions that are disagreed with. Yet the degree of intolerance shown to those who oppose the radical homosexual agenda is immensely disturbing, especially coming from those who are such ardent advocates of toleration.

Those who oppose the leftist agenda are often subjected to threats, obscene anonymous phone calls, character assassination, and disturbing mischaracterizations in social media for having the courage to express their opinions.

A courageous couple, Ralph and Rochelle Lillig of Pocatello, ID, have felt the wrath and intolerance of the radical left. And what is the heinous injustice the Lilligs are guilty of? They have the chutzpah to suggest the citizens of their town exercise their right to vote on whether to accept a proposed “anti-discrimination” ordinance that criminalizes any perceived discrimination against homosexuals or transgenders. Encouraging democratic involvement is fundamental to the American tradition. The Lilligs should be lauded for advancing the notion that their community should actually have a direct voice in the laws the citizens are beholden to, rather than just leaving it in the hands of elected officials, some of whom have proven susceptible to coercive pressure from a small yet vocal minority.

640px-Westerkerk_-_Gay_symbols_2There is a local group that calls itself 2Great4Hate, which is supporting the ordinance. They are exercising their freedom of speech to advance their agenda. They are not being vilified for doing so. So why do they display such intolerance to the Lilligs for exercising their freedom of speech? It would appear that the left’s version of tolerance is very selective and exclusive. I was unceremoniously ostracized from their Facebook group because I failed to comport with their selective concept of “tolerance.” Apparently it’s not enough to simply oppose any form of discrimination, but one must accept the entirety of their narrow, codified version of it, regardless of the unintended consequences.

The left’s version of tolerance obviously excludes social conservatives who have the temerity to support the nuclear family, and broad exercise of freedom of speech. This was made painfully clear by their reaction to Chik-Fil-A last year when the company CEO revealed they were supportive of the traditional nuclear family. The left’s reaction evidenced a selective tolerance disorder, where it’s not enough to merely advocate treating others the way you want to be treated, but you have to buy into their precise agenda of forced acceptance of aberrance, deviancy, and codified enforcement.

As a principle, and a characteristic to be aspired, tolerance is antithetical to ideological conformity. If tolerance is publicly demanded of behavioral and ideological aberrance, it should likewise be extended toward people of contrarian values. Freedom of speech and expression should be absolutes for all citizens and groups, not proscribed for those who believe differently. Applying a common aphorism, if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.

It’s disconcerting when the primary means of advancing a particular agenda is verbal guerilla warfare of intimidation and personal attacks against those who have the audacity to disagree with them. It smacks of a fascistic tyranny of the minority by attempted intimidation of nonconformists.

I was critical of Attorney General Eric Holder when he claimed that we’re a “nation of cowards” for not addressing racial issues to his liking. But it’s no wonder we’re becoming a nation of cowards, since whenever someone has the courage to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and it doesn’t conform with the left, they get vilified and publicly excoriated. That doesn’t seem very “tolerant” to me.

Christopher Hitchens, the secularist and author of “God is not Great” said in a New York Post interview, “More and more I find that those people are the real enemy intellectually. There’s no dishonesty like liberal dishonesty, just like there’s no intolerance like liberal intolerance. There’s nothing they won’t excuse and no excuse they won’t deploy. Their piety is a big aspect of that.”

The ultimate hypocrisy is to claim adherence to a standard of behavior yet fail to hold oneself accountable to that standard. If tolerance is a noble virtue to which our society must aspire, it must be applied universally, not just demanded of those who believe differently by those who have so little to spare. The bigotry and churlish behavior exhibited by the left on these kinds of issues should be sufficient to give any sentient person cause to spurn not only their conduct, but their agenda.

Tolerance is “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” It doesn’t mean we have to agree, but it does require civility and mutual respect, in spite of perceived differences. It’s a worthy virtue to aspire to collectively as a society. But to have any collective efficacy, it must be applied universally, not selectively.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board.  He can be reached at [email protected].

 

Wow! Wisdom from Hollywood!

When something substantive emanates from Hollywood, it’s worth taking note of. While so much of the celebrity world, and the pop-culture media, is egocentric, self-aggrandizing, and self-absorbed, infrequently does someone from that environment offer something visionary, insightful, inspiring, and non-hypocritical. Yet Ashton Kutcher did just that as he proffered some wisdom and hope to a youthful crowd this week.

ashtonkutcherteenchoiceSunday evening at the Teen Choice Awards, Kutcher was presented the Ultimate Choice Award. His take on the significance of the award may have been implied by his joke about it, as he referenced it being the “old guy award.”

He then said that he wanted to share three things that he thought important for his young audience. And frankly, in retrospect, they’re three important concepts for people of any age.

His first point was, “I believe that opportunity looks a lot like work.” He described the various jobs that he’d had before he succeeded in acting, including helping his dad carry shingles for roofing jobs; a dishwasher at a restaurant; working in a deli at a grocery store, and sweeping the floors of a factory. He continued, “I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. Every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job and I never quit my job before I had my next job.”

There are so many of all ages today who believe that certain jobs are beneath their dignity, so they choose to not work at all, refuse to accept responsibility for their own lives, and subsist in a state of dependency. But especially with those of Generation Y there seems to be the pervasive expectation of entitlement. They feel entitled to all the comforts their parents worked for years to acquire, but they want it now, and are convinced they’re entitled. Those of Generation Y, especially, must come to realize the self-worth and satisfaction that comes from hard work, and what it does to build character as well as provide for needs and wants, and that there is no job that is “beneath” them, and no perks to which they are entitled.

They’re not even entitled to opportunity, which, as Kutcher explained, looks a lot like “work.” They have to assume responsibility, exhibit discipline, and be trustworthy to earn a shot at a job. Each job, regardless of pay or station, is an opportunity to improve skills, improve character, become more responsible and accountable, thereby preparing for the next opportunity.

Kutcher’s next point appears cavalier, but it conveys much more depth than evident at first blush. He said, “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart. And being thoughtful and being generous. Everything else is crap. I promise you. It’s just crap that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less. So don’t buy it. Be smart. Be thoughtful and be generous.”

How refreshing! To have someone from the Hollywood in-crowd promoting character and intelligence as “sexy, as opposed to the superficial and physical attributes touted by his entertainment contemporaries! He’s right; everything else is “crap;” the hairdos, the tattoos, the plastic-surgery-enhanced body parts, etc. ad nauseam.

Kutcher’s final point was obviously inspired by his most recent acting role of portraying the inimitable Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, in the just-released movie “Jobs.” He said, “Steve Jobs said when you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is, and that your life is to live your life inside the world and try not to get into too much trouble. Maybe get an education, get a job, make some money, and have a family. But life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing: everything around us that we call life was made up of people that are no smarter than you. And you can build your own things and you can build your own life that other people can live in.”

While not all of us may have the ability to technologically build our world or our life as Jobs did, we can all build our lives, and do more than simply subsist. We build our lives each day by the decisions we make, the volition we exercise, the character we infuse, the judgment we exercise, and the people we serve.

The fact that Kutcher would use his elevated pop-culture status, and such a venue, to promulgate such verities is encouraging. But perhaps even more significant is the fact that video clips of his comments are going viral on the internet. That such positive, elevating, and ennobling rhetoric would resonate with so many around the country is not just a good sign, it’s an indication that there may be room to hope that the heart and soul of our society have not been terminally infected with the debilitating notion of entitlement.

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 degrees in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board.  He can be reached at [email protected].