Monday, November 08, 2004


I watched with keen interest the debate raging on the Capitalism Magazine website of why either Kerry or Bush should receive our votes. Some planned to vote for Bush while remaining “anti-Bush”; others (including an “anti-Kerryite against Bush”) decided Kerry was less an evil than Bush and would vote accordingly.

In large measure this debate arose in late spring when some prominent thinkers advocated voting for Kerry due to Bush’s religiosity. In summary, the argument was that Kerry was a concrete bound pragmatist void of abiding beliefs. Kerry could do no real damage to the nation since he, like Bill Clinton, could only advocate legislation in a piecemeal, ineffectual fashion, even if such legislation ran counter to his liberal instincts. The Republican congress would check his more radical schemes.

Bush, however, possessed strong beliefs due to his unwavering adherence to Christian ethics. While this philosophy is unsupported by reality it nonetheless is more substantial, and more attuned to popular belief, than the nothingness of Kerry. Bush could do real damage to the nation through policies designed to embed religious concepts within the government, creating in essence the foundations of theocracy. Philosophically at least the nihilist Kerry was less a threat than the religious Bush.

This argument was compelling and caused me to reconsider my intention to vote for Bush. In the end I voted for Bush because the crucial link in the argument could not be established to my satisfaction. Bush, while certainly a religious man, is not a religious fanatic. To me this was a crucial point. For only a religious zealot would work actively to undermine our Constitution by destroying the wall between church and state in order to establish a theocracy.

No single act of Bush during the past four years indicates such fanaticism. Numerous arguments were presented to prove, en toto, that Bush was perhaps a closet fanatic. One of the strongest was that Bush attacked secular Iraq rather than theocratic Iran in deference to his overpowering religious impulses. Yet I concluded the exact opposite: that Bush attacked the secular rather than the religious underscores the notion that Bush is not a religious zealot, for if he was he would not hesitate --- indeed he would prefer --- to attack an Islamic theocracy based upon his hate of an enemy religion. I believe many historical events support this contention of how zealots act, such as the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages and the Muslim attacks of today.

Bush himself was extensively questioned in several pre-election interviews regarding the effect of his religion on his policy decisions. He understood very well the separation of church and state and said so explicitly. He further stated that he has no intention of imposing his religious views on others. Bush’s religious beliefs are private in nature and although he did admit he cannot completely prevent these beliefs from seeping into his decision making, he uses faith primarily to fortify himself in times of doubt.

Of course Bush may have lied regarding his intentions. This is where character enters the picture. I took Bush at his word that he will keep his faith private. And Bush most certainly is a man of his word. For instance, one is struck by his fidelity to promises he made during the 2000 campaign. Further, his administration has been free of scandal, a further sign of an honest (or extremely clever) chief executive. I will accept Bush’s explanation regarding his religion until he gives me reason to believe otherwise.

Thus I categorize Bush as a secular leader who happens to be religious. This is not unusual. Washington started the tradition of oath taking on the Bible in 1789. Lincoln invoked God when in office, perhaps more then any other president before or since. Most of the presidents of the late 19th century were thoroughly pious in their religious beliefs while more recent presidents (Eisenhower, Carter, and Reagan) certainly wore religion on their proverbial sleeve. The secular American republic has endured despite the religious belief of any particular president. That Bush is religious was not in and of itself a sufficient reason to vote for Kerry. It certainly is not proof that he intends to create a theocracy.

When this question was settled another immediately confounded me: what about Bush altruism and Christian ethics? Doesn’t this indicate that Bush is traveling down the road to theocracy by less strident means?

It is true that Bush has a pronounced streak of altruism (I do not maintain that religion plays no part in his persona). He unfortunately advocates service and sacrifice as virtues. Altruistic impulses have caused some terrible Bush decisions, most notably the military prohibition against attacking our enemies when they hide amongst civilian or religious targets. Altruism has also misdirected the rationale for fighting the war on terrorism, from one of rational self interest to one based upon liberation of and democracy for foreign populations.

Still, two points need to be kept in mind regarding Bush altruism. First, he is acting within the context of the dominant ethics of our times. Both he and Kerry accept altruist morality. Until the day comes when altruism falls from grace our choices remain limited. To condemn Bush alone for practicing altruism is unfair and fails to take into account the virulence of the altruism followed by those arrayed against him.

This leads to the second point. Kerry altruism extends far beyond that of Bush. While Bush recognizes that selfishness is sometimes a good thing (as evidenced by his comprehensive tax cuts), Kerry advocates total subjugation of the individual to the “greater good”. Nobody can seriously argue that Kerry would execute a war any less altruistically than Bush, if indeed he would wage a war in the first place. His morality advocates total sacrifice to our enemies, the poor, the environment and any other entity he might arbitrarily invoke. Even our rights are sacrificed to the whims of others in the Kerry worldview. As a blame America first liberal democrat, Kerry’s entire history suggested that he would never act unilaterally, instead relying on the consensus of nations as France before defending our rights. Insofar as Kerry possessed any firm beliefs altruism was it.

In contrast Bush accepted the idea of preemption; he indeed takes the fight to the enemy, albeit at times without moral clarity. Bush will act in America’s interest with or without allies.

How can Kerry morality be preferred in any manner to that of Bush? Bush’s altruism is bad but at least applied unevenly; Kerry’s altruism is horrible and would be applied consistently across the board. Bush’s altruism must be kept in check but is not a harbinger of a theocracy in the United States.

Bush and a Republican congress certainly bear watching. I for one will react vigorously should anyone attempt to insinuate religious tenets into our government. Without more substantial proof I was unwilling to hand the honor and glory of the presidency to Kerry, a man without ideas driven by a mindless altruism. Finally, should Bush suddenly unveil his true religious colors, I believe our many counter-balancing institutions combined with free speech and independent inquiry will crush any attempt to impose a theocracy upon the United States. Mark me as a pro-Bushite against Kerry.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Want Flu Vaccine? Repeal Vaccines For Children Program
Michael Marriott

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 -- Over strenuous objections by some drug companies, the Federal Government is establishing a program guaranteeing free vaccine for millions of children who are poor or uninsured.

The above paragraph appeared in the New York Times in August 1993. President Clinton had just signed legislation creating what came to be known as Vaccines For Children (VFC) Program. The article went on to explain that the federal government now had the power to purchase vaccines from pharmaceutical companies at “discount” prices and distribute them to doctors. Clinton’s aim in this, the first legislative proposal of his new administration, was to “… assure that all children in the United States are protected against vaccine-preventable infectious diseases by their second birthday.”

The Times article noted that drug company spokesmen lambasted the new legislation, quoting David R. Bethune of American Cyanamid that it would “destroy the vaccine industry in this country.” Of particular concern to the industry was the provision to allow the government to buy vaccines at a bulk discount, thereby controlling vaccine costs. In effect vaccine producers faced a price cap.

It hardly took an economic genius to predict the outcome of the legislation. Whenever the demand for a commodity rises while simultaneously the commodity is sold below market price, a shortage of that commodity is bound to occur. And in the ten years since the VFC Program took effect that is precisely what has happened. The vaccine market cannot reach supply and demand equilibrium since it is artificially constrained by the federal government from doing so.

As Mr. Bethune predicted, vaccine manufacturers know a losing proposition when they see one and have jumped ship, leaving vaccine production to fewer firms.

Today in the U.S., five companies make vaccines as opposed to twenty five companies 30 years ago. In particular, flu vaccine has been in short supply since at least 2000 as vaccine producers are unwilling to make a product whose price is controlled and where the risk of litigation is high. The Kansas City Star noted during the flu vaccine shortage of 2003 that the “… decision to force vaccine makers to discount their price resulted in "declining financial incentives to develop and produce vaccines."”

Another year of the VFC Program has only aggravated matters.

This year its affects on Americans would be laughable if not so deadly serious. Quoting the Star regarding the current flu vaccine shortage: “Scene by disheartening scene, the spectacle of a severe shortage of flu vaccine is unfolding around the country. Last week elderly and chronically ill people waited in line for hours to get flu shots. Some were turned away. One died after hitting her head when she passed out or fell while waiting.”

Government response to the mess it has created ranges from the heavy handed to the ham-fisted. One governmental reaction to the shortage is reported by the Star: “States threatened to fine or jail doctors and nurses who gave shots to anyone not in the high-risk groups.” In a less bellicose manner, a township in New Jersey totaling 70,000 people is holding a flu vaccine lottery this year to “parcel out” its paltry 300 available doses.

The net result of Clinton altruism is less flu vaccine, fewer vaccinations, much fewer vaccine producers, less research, more head injury deaths and possible jail time for doctors and nurses. Still, economic knuckleheads abound. Again from the Star: “Congress, the Justice Department, and the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigations into how the nation has been left, on the brink of flu season, with half the flu vaccine it needs.” I can save them all time: the cause of the flu vaccine shortage is government interference in the vaccine marketplace. Congress must repeal the loathsome Clinton Vaccine for Children Program posthaste.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Michael Marriott

The second Bush-Kerry debate held October 8 in St. Louis is now history. As I sit here on October 9 listening to the political wags grade the outcome in favor of Kerry, I shake my head in disbelief: George W. Bush thoroughly pummeled the hapless Senator from Massachusetts. Bush was stylish, forceful, commanding, fact oriented, humorous and glib; by contrast Kerry was halting, stumbling, dour, uninspiring, unspecific and mendacious. Kerry, the purported master debater, has fallen on his rhetorical petard.

If Bush were a racehorse his lead out of the gate was by lengths. Highly animated, he took the fight directly to Kerry, as when the first questioner expressed concern over Kerry’s inconsistencies (the questioner framed him as “wishy-washy”). After Kerry gave a rambling, incoherent answer about Bush’s campaign being a “weapon of mass deception” (so that’s why Kerry can’t keep a consistent position!), Bush put Kerry’s flip-flopping succinctly: “I can see why people at your workplace think he changes positions a lot, because he does.” Bush understands that A is A, that a thing or person is what it is.

Bush continually scored points as the following sample indicates:

Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control. Like you, I'm concerned about the deficit. But I am not going to shortchange our troops in harm's way. And I'm not going to run up taxes, which will cost this economy jobs.
And here he says he's going to be a fiscal conservative, all of a sudden. It's just not credible. You cannot believe it.
Now, he says he's only going to tax the rich. Do you realize, 900,000 small businesses will be taxed under his plan because most small businesses are Subchapter S corps or limited partnerships, and they pay tax at the individual income tax level. And so when you're running up the taxes like that, you're taxing job creators, and that's not how you keep jobs here.

You know, for a while he was a strong supporter of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He saw the wisdom — until the Democrat primary came along and Howard Dean, the anti-war candidate, began to gain on him, and he changed positions. I don't see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics.

MICHAELSON: Mr. President, if there were a vacancy in the Supreme Court and you had the opportunity to fill that position today, who would you choose and why?
BUSH: I'm not telling.
I don't see how you can win in Iraq if you don't believe we should be there in the first place. I don't see how you can lead troops if you say it's the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.
You're right, what does matter is a plan. He said he's for — you're now for capping punitive damages? That's odd. You should have shown up on the floor in the Senate and voted for it then. Medical liability issues are a problem, a significant problem. He's been in the United States Senate for 20 years and he hasn't addressed it.
Yes, I mean, he's got a record. It's been there for 20 years. You can run, but you can't hide. He voted 98 times to raise taxes. I mean, these aren't make-up figures. And so people are going to have to look at the record. Look at the record of the man running for the president. They don't name him the most liberal in the United States Senate because he hasn't shown up to many meetings. They named him because of his votes. And it's reality. It's just not credible to say he's going to keep taxes down and balance budgets.

One may disagree with President Bush but at least it is possible to disagree since his positions are clear, reasoned and unequivocal. Kerry, however, has a distinct problem in his responses. His generally tepid answers rarely go beyond blaming Bush for any and everything. The master debater is far from a master: indeed, his modus operandi is to avoid direct answers while continually sniping at Bush. Here are a few samples of his technique:

GIBSON: The next question is for Senator Kerry, and it comes from over here, from Randee Jacobs.
JACOBS: Iran sponsors terrorism and has missiles capable of hitting Israel and southern Europe. Iran will have nuclear weapons in two to three years time. In the event that U.N. sanctions don't stop this threat, what will you do as president?
KERRY: I don't think you can just rely on U.N. sanctions, Randee. But you're absolutely correct, it is a threat, it's a huge threat. The world is more dangerous today..And what's interesting is, it's a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat.
GIBSON: I both — I heard you both say — I have heard you both say during the campaign, I just heard you say it, that you're going to cut the deficit by a half in four years. But I didn't hear one thing in the last three and a half minutes that would indicate how either one of you do that.
KERRY: After 9/11, after the recession had ended, the president asked for another tax cut and promised 5.6 million jobs would be created. He lost 1.6 million, ladies and gentlemen. And most of that tax cut went to the wealthiest people in the country.
BRONSING: Senator Kerry, we have been fortunate that there have been no further terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. Why do you think this is? And if elected, what will you do to assure our safety?
KERRY: Thank you very much, Ann. I've asked in my security briefings why that is, and I can't go into all the answers, et cetera, but let me say this to you. This president and his administration have told you and all of us it's not a question of when, it's a question of — excuse me — not a question of if, it's a question of when. We've been told that.
GIBSON: Senator Kerry, we got several questions along this line, and I'm just curious if you'd go further on what you talked about with tort reform. Would you be favoring capping awards on pain and suffering? Would you limit attorney's fees?
KERRY: Yes, I think we should look at the punitive and we should have some limitations. But look, what's really important, Charlie, is the president is just trying to scare everybody here with throwing labels around. I mean, "compassionate conservative," what does that mean? Cutting 500,000 kids from after-school programs, cutting 365,000 kids from health care, running up the biggest deficits in American history. Mr. President, you're batting 0 for 2.

So Kerry has established that everything wrong in the world is the fault of George W. Bush, including the nefarious act of “label throwing”. Ominously, former Texas Rangers baseball owner Bush is batting zero for two, whatever the hell that means. What remedies does Kerry propose? The master debater has ---get this--- plans! The main characteristic of his plans is that he has them somewhere and if elected he may even use them, although for the present he cannot articulate what they are exactly.

Consider the following. Regarding health care: “I have a plan to cover those folks. And it's a plan that lowers cost for everybody, covers all children.” Regarding nuclear proliferation: “At his pace, it's going to take 13 years to reduce and get ahold of all the loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I've proposed a plan that can capture it and contain it and clean it within four years.” Regarding legal reform: “It's in my health-care proposal. Go to johnkerry.com. You can pull it off of the Internet. And you'll find a tort reform plan.” Regarding plans themselves: “I mean, seriously — labels don't mean anything. What means something is: Do you have a plan? And I want to talk about my plan some more — I hope we can.” Regarding Bush’s lack of plans: “Now, you didn't hear any plan from the president, because he doesn't have a plan to lower the cost of health care.” The coup de grace comes in his response on Iraq policy: “I could do a better job. My plan does a better job. And that's why I'll be a better commander in chief.”

Kerry has now firmly established his bona fides to become president, for while George Bush is busy bullying uninsured children, Kerry is diligently penning plans. His plans prove he will do a better job. Forget the fact that Kerry was without plans during his twenty year Senate career. His sudden fondness for plans is deep, revealing really; undoubtedly his unspecified plans, will, in the campaign rhetoric of the previous century, provide us with a “full dinner pail”. Keep in mind the president had given specific answers to all the above questions but no matter: various pundits, like Mor-tone Kondracke of Fox news, will later proclaim that Kerry has definitely won the debate. (As a note, I wonder if Mor-tone would consider buying some beachfront property I am selling in the middle of the Mohave Desert).

But the master debater was not yet finished. Even he has limits when it comes to nebulous, inexplicable plans. Launching what he considers rhetorical attacks on Bush, he tries to score debating points. His first mode of attack is to appeal to authority for his candidacy.

The president — and this is one of the reasons why I am very proud in this race to have the support of General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Admiral William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Tony McPeak, who ran the air war for the president's father and did a brilliant job, supporting me; General Wes Clark, who won the war in Kosovo, supporting me; because they all — and General Baca, who was the head of the National Guard, supporting me.

…you know, I was at a forum with Michael J. Fox the other day in New Hampshire...

Chris Reeve is a friend of mine.

Obviously General John Shalikashvili, Admiral William Crowe, General Tony McPeak, General Wes Clark, General Baca, Michael J. Fox and Chris Reeve are all-knowing, infallible beings when it comes to picking presidents. The good news for Kerry is he chewed up debate time by his incessant name-dropping, thereby leaving less time to have to explain the particulars of his aforementioned plans.

Kerry’s second prong of attack was to say funny, dumb things. This mode of attack is uniquely effective within his democratic base. Consider the following Kerry statements followed by my analysis.

A Portion of a Kerry Response: …But you heard the president just say to you that we've added money. Folks, the test is not if you've added money; the test is that you've done everything possible to make America secure. He chose a tax cut for wealthy Americans over the things that I listed to you
A Portion of another Kerry Response: …And I'm going to put in place a better homeland security effort. Look, 95 percent of our containers coming into this country are not inspected today. When you get on an airplane, your bag is X- rayed, but the cargo hold isn't X-rayed. Do you feel safer? This president in the last debate said, "Well, that would be a big tax gap if we did that.”. Ladies and gentlemen, it's his tax plan. He chose a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans over getting that equipment out into the homeland as fast as possible

Comment: So our security depends on more money to X-ray cargo and to fund other terrorist prevention measures. But wait, this is not a test of money. To think people have the audacity to criticize Kerry for flip-flopping!

Senator Kerry, would you be willing to look directly into the camera and, using simple and unequivocal language, give the American people your solemn pledge not to sign any legislation that will increase the tax burden on families earning less than $200,000 a year during your first term?
KERRY: Absolutely. Yes. Right into the camera. Yes. I am not going to raise taxes.

Comment: God I can’t stop laughing. What first hit my funny bone are the dual notions that Kerry can use simple, unequivocal language and issue a “solemn pledge” within the confines of a single answer. The second thing to strike me as humorous is that Kerry will not raise middle class taxes. Bush stated that there is a gap of over a trillion dollars between Kerry’s spending promises and the money he plans to collect by repeal of tax cuts on wealthy Americans. Kerry never bothered to explain the discrepancy, commenting in a withering display of verbal prowess that Bush was using “fuzzy math figures”. I can only conclude, unless Kerry plans to monetize the debt, that he is lying on this point.

And I've gotten good people, like former Secretary of the Treasury Bob Rubin, for instance, who showed how to balance budgets and give you a good economy, to help me crunch these numbers and make them work.

Comment: Whoops, I forgot to include Rubin as an authority figure for Kerry. Never mind. Even Kerry knows that the numbers don’t work without “crunching”, which makes his eyes-in-the-camera pledge even funnier. In fairness, perhaps he meant he would not raise taxes on cameras.

I'm going to be a president who believes in science.

Comment: Yeah sure you will, global warming breath.

Secondly, we're going to create a manufacturing jobs credit and a new jobs credit for people to be able to help hire and be more competitive here in America.

Comment: For a guy who believes in science Kerry has missed the boat here. Either that or the social science of economics has totally overlooked this method of job creation.

Boy, to listen to that -- the president, I don't think, is living in a world of reality with respect to the environment. Now, if you're a Red Sox fan, that's OK. But if you're a president, it's not.

Comment: Okay Senator, time for the long crooked staff to pull you off the stage. Dissing the president is one thing, dissing Red Sox fans is not only stupid, it puts Massachusetts into play as a swing state.

DEGENHART: Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?
KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.
First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.
But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that.

But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society.

But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment.

Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro- abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don't deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can't afford it otherwise.

That's why I think it's important. That's why I think it's important for the United States, for instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about family planning.

You'll help prevent AIDS.
You'll help prevent unwanted children, unwanted pregnancies.
You'll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it.

Comment: What the hell kind of answer was that? I think it interesting though that former alter-boy Kerry points out that faith is an important guiding force in his life. Those who plan to vote for Kerry because of Bush’s religiosity need to take note.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's just not true what he said. The Wall Street Journal said 96 percent of small businesses are not affected at all by my plan. And you know why he gets that count? The president got $84 from a timber company that owns, and he's counted as a small business. Dick Cheney's counted as a small business. That's how they do things. That's just not right.

Comment: The debate was in effect over at this point. I can’t top President Bush’s reaction. BUSH: I own a timber company? (LAUGHTER) That's news to me. (LAUGHTER) Need some wood? Even dour Kerry had to chuckle at Bush’s rejoinder; he had a “God what a doofus I can be” look on his smiling face.

There was a Saturday Night Live skit during the 1988 Bush-Dukakis election where Jon Lovitz played Governor Michael Dukakis. In mock disbelief after Bush mangles an answer, Lovitz deadpans, “I can’t believe I am losing to this guy”. Similarly, it is hard to imagine that President Bush is barely ahead in the polls considering Kerry’s contradictions, misstatements and method of argumentation. Moreover, only the most partisan of commentator can claim Kerry won this debate. Such proclamations defy objective analysis of what was actually said. The only way that Kerry won this second debate is if Bush: 1) sat placidly on his stool,2) drooled into the camera and 3) wore a dunce hat. Short of this it was a decisive Bush win. The master debater is a mere apprentice at best.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Why George Bush’s Vietnam Service Doesn’t Matter
Michael Marriott

Imagine for a moment Donald Trump in front of a corporate board of directors as candidate for the job of CEO. During the course of the interview a director asks Trump about an entry level job as clerk he held thirty plus years ago. The director points out that according to sundry personnel records recently assembled, the Donald had missed work, been insubordinate and in general failed to fulfill his job responsibilities. Trump looks befuddled, as this job decades past has nothing remotely to do with the job under consideration, running a vast and important corporation. Further, even should some tenuous link be established, Trump has since amassed tremendous experience directing the affairs of enterprises that have hired thousands of clerks. His managerial prowess is such that he has operated hundreds of companies and created billions of dollars of wealth. Still, persists the skeptical director; how can Trump possibly claim to be an astute, successful executive if the record shows he could not even make it as a clerk? The director’s ignorance of reality is stunning, his inability to think cogently disheartening. The interview ends as Trump storms out; sickened by the irrelevance of the asinine questioning he has just endured.
The persistent, ad nauseum questioning of George W. Bush’s National Guard service in the early 1970s is equally asinine, and precisely for the same reasons. For those who cannot understand why let me enlighten you: President Bush has accumulated four years worth of experience as commander-in-chief of the American armed services during wartime. It is an objective fact that Bush has for four years directed the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and yes, the National Guard. He has issued orders to generals and admirals. He has forged military strategy as well as formulated the political context within which that strategy is executed. So overwhelming is his experience as commander-in-chief that his National Guard service in the 70s has as much significance to the 2004 election as Bush’s choice of ties for his wedding in 1977.
Nothing relating to Bush’s 70s military service can possibly be relevant today given his current office. Bush’s four years as commander-and-chief trump each and every question relating to his choices during the Vietnam War. Did Bush show up for a physical? Maybe so, maybe not, but, to my recollection, during the four years he has held the office not one issue he has faced tie back to a missed physical in the 1970s. Did Bush lie about his service? And if he did can we trust him as president? A pointless question indeed as his truthfulness as president may now be evaluated across the time he actually held the office.
Thus to focus on Bush’s National Guard service is totally and absolutely irrelevant to the issue of whether he deserves a second term as President of the United States. He possesses a history regarding the job he now seeks, namely his concrete experiences and decisions as President of the United States. These are the criteria by which we must judge his fitness to serve another four year term.
That the brain numbed national media pursues this story is revealing, but not about President Bush. First, media obsession with this story demonstrates that logic and reason are alien notions during national elections. Although character assassination has a long history in American presidential elections, personal, ad hominem attacks are now the exclusive method of discourse, ousting the quaint notion of rational discussion of ideas, at least for the Democrats. Second, it is obvious that the Democratic Party is still powerful enough to set the editorial agenda for most media outlets in this country. It strikes one as extremely curious that news editors across the nation suddenly, simultaneously, and without question decided in unison that Bush’s Vietnam War record was AGAIN worthy of attention and scrutiny. That such a tired story can be resurrected as Kerry sinks in the polls is telling. Finally, it cannot escape notice that more weight is currently given to George Bush and the Vietnam War than to George Bush and the war on terror occurring today. This is disconcerting as all of us living today desire to continue living; call it an affectation on my part that I enjoy breathing.
I have disagreements with President Bush based on his record of the past four years. For instance, Iran was (and is) a much more compelling target than Iraq in the fight against Islamic terrorism. His actions during the early 70s interest me not at all. The war on terror and one’s willingness to fight it actively makes ones past actions relevant if one desires to be president. In Bush’s case, his record as president is certainly germane. In Kerry’s case, his record as senator and “peace” activist is all we can draw on. That Kerry secretly negotiated with the North Vietnamese during a time when our soldiers were in the field says much about his view of our country and its enemies in time of war. That Kerry has consistently voted against modernizing our armed services says much concerning his view of government’s primary responsibility, national defense. That Kerry himself bases his qualifications for the presidency on his Vietnam service catapults the counterclaims of his fellow veterans to center stage. The fact that Kerry cannot defend his purported war record is his deficiency, not that of George Bush.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Michael Marriott
June16, 2004

When I worked in Saudi Arabia as a technical consultant in the 1990s, my coworkers and I were astounded upon receiving our first paycheck: we actually were paid the full amount we had earned. Gross pay minus net pay equaled zero. Never before or since in my lifetime has such a thing happened. Since every working person in the United States deserves such a delightful, fulfilling experience I would like to submit the following proposition.

Let us together repeal the sixteenth amendment to the Constitution by the year 2013. This infamous income tax amendment was passed in 1909 by “progressive” republicans as the best method to collect government revenue, ensure “fairness” and get around the pesky Supreme Court. The latter had the gall to rule in the late 19th century that such levies on income were unconstitutional. Undaunted, the politicians of the era decided that an income tax amendment was necessary. It required four years for the states to ratify the amendment, which became part of the Constitution in 1913.

Hence 2013 presents a nice target date for the amendment’s repeal (rather then a year of mournful reminders, 2013 could become a jubilee year that strikes a majestic blow in favor of individual rights). Further, we all can participate in the nine year debate to determine if our country is to be truly free. Repeal of the 16th amendment would be a real and symbolic reaffirmation that our government is truly limited; no other single act we could possibly perform would so effectively reinforce the idea that America is a country dedicated to individual happiness.

Consider some of the travesties the 16th amendment has spawned in the last one hundred years. The power to tax has become the ultimate politician plaything. The progressive nature of the tax code allows permutations uncountable as politicos raise, then lower, individual tax rates. The tax code can tailored to benefit specific special interest groups to garner bloc votes. As seventy five percent of government revenue is made possible by this insidious amendment, great sums become available to wage war, pay premium prices for toilet seats and allow certain folks to sit and do nothing for a living.

Upon approval of the 16th amendment, a new agency was sired to “help” reticent citizens “volunteer” personal, private income data, the Internal Revenue Service. And such a service it provides! If the IRS suspects tax cheating it can: garnish wages, freeze bank accounts, seize assets and in general make life hell for its “customers”. Over the amendment’s existence, citizens of the United States have been harassed, hounded, and in some cases, driven to suicide for failing to pay their “fair” share to the government. Never mind due process, innocent until proven guilty or other such tripe. The 16th amendment horribly contradicts other parts of the Constitution, such as depriving citizens of property without a trial. These things make one yearn for the good old days of taxation without representation under Great Britain.

The diminution of individual rights is sordid enough but by no means the only effect of the 16th amendment. The income tax has served to raise costs on the very people made poorer by paying the taxes in the first place. The government is able to finance great agencies that cause prices to increase artificially: milk subsidies raise the price of dairy products as do a whole host of similar subsidies in other industries; medical care costs have spiraled since the inception of Medicare and Medicaid; housing costs have ballooned astronomically, in part due to government support of unions, underwriting of loans and special tax write-offs for mortgage interest. I could mention OSHA, EPA, minimum wage and a thousand other regulations but you get the point. The tax system often makes us pay twice.

Lest we overlook another point regarding taxpayers: they pay taxes so that others can have material things that the taxpayer himself may not be able to afford. Housing instantly springs to mind. Poor folks (i.e., unproductive folks) move into government subsidized housing while the hapless taxpayer struggles to save for a down payment, a process made more difficult by the act of paying taxes. Many persons work but have no health care coverage. Not so with those refusing to work at all. Still other taxpayers struggle to capitalize a business while their fellow citizens stop at the Small Business Administration for government financing of their start-up costs. Poor mom and pop farmers feed at the government trough to save their acres of land while a struggling taxpayer in the big city lives on a sliver of land called an apartment.

At the philosophic level there is something morally repugnant in forcing people who get off their butt and work for a living to pay for that privilege. Life can be trying to say the least but when one works, prospers and finally succeeds it is a travesty to levy a tax on that person’s “good fortune”. No working person should have to look over their shoulder to see where the taxman is hiding. The income tax system makes citizens angry at their government, and distrustful to boot. It makes enemies of people who vie to place tax burdens on their fellow countrymen. It divides the nation into permanent classes of the “haves” versus the “have-nots”, divisions that accentuate envy and ill will among the populace.

Finally I note that taxing income is hardly fair as it fails miserably as a barometer of who should pay what. With great envy (see above paragraph) I calculate that for the year 2003 I paid a higher income tax rate than ketchup nabob Theresa “Heinz Inheritance” Kerry (me, 20% average rate on income of 200k, Ms. Kerry, 11.5%, on income of 5.1M). Her fabulous wealth immune from government pillage, she smugly endorses taxation on others so that all below her can be equally poor. I marvel continuously that such a system would ever employ the term “fair” as an adjective.

Of course the income tax system is not fair, has never been fair, and indeed can never be fair. As the Ms. Kerry example demonstrates, our tax system is based on the faulty premise that a person’s income can be arbitrarily classified to produce a tax that affects all taxpayers equitably. A person making $200,000 in San Francisco may be worse off financially than a rustic living in Idaho on an income of $30,000. Net worth is the true measure of wealth, not income.

The solution to these systemic injustices is not to tweak the tax code so that Ms. Kerry pays more. The solution is to scrap the entire system. Anything that has had one hundred years to prove itself and fails to do so is, well, a failure. Dismally so. The efforts of our great people must be directed toward invention, business and improving life rather than filling tax forms, hiring accountants and fighting the government. Work must always be rewarded. So let us begin the fight against freedom’s enemies by finally making gross -minus net-pay equal to zero.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Does Secularism Threaten America?
Michael Marriott

Well here we go again. Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly continues his attacks on “secularism” as a mortal threat to American values. The good news is he has finally come nearer a definition of the term so that it is possible to debate him on logical grounds. His February 20, 2004 Talking Points segment is enlightening:

Why traditionalists are losing the culture war, that is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points" memo. The answer's simple. Americans who believe traditional values are important have no leadership. Secularists who believe society has to change to include income redistribution, drug legalization, gay marriage, social promotion in public schools, no display of Christmas symbols or overtly religious images and on and on, those people have aggressive leadership (italics added).

The mayor of San Francisco is a great example. This Gavin Newsom guy, like him or not, is pretty gutsy. He's simply doing what he wants, violating state law, violating the will of the people. But Newsom has made a calculation that few will stand up to him. And he's absolutely right. At this point, it's me against him...

Here's a prediction. If President Bush and other traditionalist politicians don't start to confront the forces of secularism in this country, we'll be completely different five years from now. Hillary Clinton might well be president, our courts will be populated with very liberal judges, and the USA you used to know will be a memory. And that's the memo.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines secularism as “The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.” As shown above, O’Reilly concurs, in a roundabout way, with this definition. On one side we have the “traditionalists”, or those who believe in basic Christian values, versus everyone else, i.e, the secularists. The latter group includes skeptics, pot smokers, gays, collectivists, socialists, atheists, libertarians, and every other possible category. O’Reilly’s cultural dividing line stands marked by the Bible.

Now, when O’Reilly speaks of “traditional values” he is focusing on ethics. Ayn Rand defines ethics as, “a code of values to guide man’s choice and actions– the choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of life.” O’Reilly unequivocally casts his lot with the mystics in regard to ethics. Mystics determine right and wrong by supernatural means. God’s commandments, as transmitted by a work created by human beings, the Bible, are the gold standard of behavior. Thus mystics refuse to think for themselves, instead relying on external sources to guide their actions. (Mysteriously O’Reilly never considers that mystics are not all Christians; Muhammadans, for instance, act according to the dictates of the Koran, which means that flying airplanes into buildings is acceptable if they believe God commands it.)

There is nothing wrong with creating categories to denote people of a similar mind set. However, such categories must mirror reality. The neat O’Reilly division between believers and non-believers does not meet this concern. A better conceptual construct, one that is consistent with reality, is provided by the great Objectivist philosopher, Dr. Leonard Peikoff. He has demonstrated that all philosophical issues boil down to three categories, or as he terms it, trichotomies. Trichotomies in essence exhaust all possibilities related to the issue under examination and are mutually exclusive. Only one of the three categories within a trichotomy is correct.

Two basic trichotomies exist conceptually. One relates to metaphysics, the other to epistemology. In metaphysics, or the study of reality, the three categories within the trichotomy are: those who believe in a dual universe (Platonists/mystics); those who believe there is one universe (Aristoteleans/objectivists); and those who say no reality exists (skeptics/subjectivists). In epistemology, or the study of knowledge acquisition, the categories are: those who believe knowledge is innate or transmitted through supernatural means (mystics/religion); those who believe that knowledge is the result of interpreting objective reality (Aristoteleans/objectivists); and those who believe that knowledge is gained simply through subjective preferences (skeptics/subjectivists).

Ethics is formed by a combination of one’s metaphysical/epistemological tenets. Thus O’Reilly is correct when he describes the mystic position, i.e., a dual universe leads to God’s commandments which means one must act according to the Bible. Where he errors entirely is in his characterization of the non-mystics or secularists. As the trichotomies above reveal, the secular world is divided between skeptics and objectivists. O'Reilly absolutely makes no such distinction. This flaw seriously undermines his argument that secularists as a group threaten American values.

Consider the major differences in ethics between skeptics and objectivists. Following their metaphysical/epistemological tenets, skeptics believe that man’s consciousness determines reality. If one feels something to be true, then by definition the something is true. San Francisco Mayor Newsom is a skeptic. If gays wish to marry then an objective code of law contradicting that act is irrelevant. Each individual determines right and wrong and each choice, even if diametrically in opposition, is equally valid to a skeptic. Man’s subjective feelings are the standard of morality.

Objectivists, by combination of their metaphysics and epistemology, reject both subjectivism and mysticism, believing instead that reality rather than man’s personal feelings or a supernatural deity set the standards by which we live. The axiom that “existence exists” is the starting point of their philosophy. Life itself is the standard of morality. Insofar as a choice furthers life it is deemed good morally. Rational self-interest, rather than feelings, is the means of determining which choice to make when man is faced with alternatives. Reason and logic, in accordance with a real universe, lead to only one correct choice regardless what a man or combination of men may “feel” is right. To Objectivists, both the skeptics and mystics are absolutely wrong when it comes to a philosophically integrated, rationally anchored ethics.

Thus one may congratulate O’Reilly when he rightly opposes the skeptics. But if he opposes the Objectivists then he is treading on dangerous, and ultimately irrational, ground. It is quite possible to have a consistent and complete code of ethics having never read the Bible. For instance, an Objectivist can oppose the concept of murder using rational self interest as the foundation of his argument . He hardly requires a commandment from God to know that killing humans is inconsistent with the furtherance of life on earth, even if the murder does not involve him directly.

What becomes clear is that O’Reilly and other mystics distrust the human mind. When he groups all secularists together without distinction he not only engages in sloppy thinking, he implicitly condemns man as a helpless creature that cannot think for himself. Both O’Reilly mysticism and secular scepticism result in monstrous ethics. If O’Reilly truly cares about the “folks”, he must recognize his error and promote human reason as the only method of thinking and acting correctly. Far from posing a threat, the Objectivist point of view is the only one that explicitly promotes, protects and intellectually nurtures American values as individual freedom, limited government and capitalism.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Michael Marriott

One year ago, on February 22, 2003 to be exact, I presented a case against raising any new taxes by the Nevada legislature. The forum was a public speech attended by a dozen or so concerned citizens (a copy of the speech is available, http://themarriottchronicles.blogspot.com/). The main thrust of the speech was that any tax increase was immoral, based entirely on the ethics of altruism. Further, no rational argument was offered by tax increase proponents, specifically Nevada Governor Ken Guinn or Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President Kara Kelly, proving that such increases were necessary . The sub-text of my presentation was to formulate ways to combat the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, which had endorsed the notion of tax increases. In all particulars my predictions regarding the fallout of the tax increases have come true. These taxes were ill-conceived, unnecessary, economically disastrous and totally immoral.

The argument for tax increases was at its root irrational. I will not here repeat the fallacies employed by the tax advocates, other than to note I wish those business persons now being hit hard in the wallet had joined with me to fight when we had the opportunity. Further, I hold those business persons who conceded the necessity of tax increases without first requiring proof as responsible as Mr. Guinn and Ms. Kelly for the mess we now find ourselves. Those desiring unearned wealth through the tax system were united in their desire for the new taxes; those creating the wealth, the business community, were divided in their opposition. This “sanction of the victim(s)” mentality was the fatal flaw in the debate, virtually guaranteeing passage of some form of new tax. The predictable result was that a plethora of new levies did indeed pass the Nevada legislature. Let me repeat: those in the business community who conceded the point that some form of tax increase was necessary immediately lost the argument on that point alone.

Once individual legislators believed that they had a mandate to increase taxes the only remaining issues were how to raise revenue and from what sources. No one should be surprised if they fell within the cross hairs of the tax man. I recently attended a panel discussion comprised of disgruntled bankers. Decrying the new taxes on banks as unfair, some on the panel still clung to the notion that new taxes were necessary. Their only complaint is that the burden fell on them. I assume that had the taxes hit another business sector, they would not now be complaining. This is a thoroughly corrupt and cynical outlook. Again, business persons must unite in opposition to new taxes rather than become mired in a mad scramble to find a sacrificial victim.

For those readers unaware of Nevada tax machinations, what ultimately passed is a .7% payroll tax on all businesses and a 2% payroll tax specifically aimed at banks (other taxes also passed including levies on tobacco, liquor, entertainment, business licenses, etc.) In effect, the tax burden on business has trebled, more so on banks. As the first payment was due January 31, 2004 a sudden flurry of outrage erupted. The Las Vegas Review-Journal posted a story dated February 15 titled, NEW NEVADA LEGISLATION: Banks hit hard by payroll tax followed by the sub-caption, Levy may be disaster for many small businesses. The article explains the impact of the taxes in specific terms.

Tod Little, chief executive officer of Henderson-based Silver State Bank, has 110 employees and a quarterly payroll tax bill of $50,000 -- 5 percent of his bank's net income.

"We don't have a privilege license (like casinos)," Little said. "We don't have an edge over any other kind of business. So why should I have to pay more taxes than anybody else? It's not right, and it's not fair. To me, it's immoral.
"(Silver State) will have to evaluate the profit of our branches, and this tax thing makes some branches unprofitable."

Mr. Little needs to consult with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. According to the economic giants there, a business can simply pass along tax increases to its customers.

Other effects of the tax bill would be comical if not affecting real people. A casino is presently weighing whether to keep its lounge piano players if such employees are subject to a new entertainment tax. In an election year, the same people who stridently advocated the new taxes now shamelessly blame others, including the victims, for their “Yea” vote. Within the same Review-Journal article:

Assemblyman David Goldwater, D-Las Vegas, who was vice chairman of the Assembly Taxation Committee, says bankers have no one to blame but their lobbyists and those of other business groups for the payroll tax. The payroll tax is something that Democrats in the Assembly and a lot of Democrats in the Senate fought against," Goldwater said ...

Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, agreed with Goldwater and mentioned that the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce backed the payroll tax, rather than a gross receipts tax that would have exempted some small businesses. Not a single other state has a payroll tax like what we just passed," Titus said ...

Even the bumbling Chamber, which had tried so hard to stay “relevant” during the tax debate, resorts to blaming its members for its anti-business stance:

Chamber spokeswoman Catherine Levy acknowledged the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce favored a payroll tax over the gross receipts tax. Levy said some critics have accused the chamber of backing a tax that was more detrimental to small business. But she said some small businesses agreed with the chamber's position.

At one point, the Legislature discussed exempting the first $450,000 of business receipts, which would have exempted most small businesses. The chamber feared the Legislature would lower that number later to raise more revenue, Levy said.
The chamber objected to gross receipts, in part, because it taxed businesses without regard to profit, she said.

Meanwhile, those on the receiving end of tax largesse are busy dividing the spoils. Las Vegas School Superintendent Carlos Garcia got a “bump in his $200,000-plus salary” recently while two of his deputies received 10% increases retroactive to July 1, 2003 (when the tax increases were passed by the legislature). During the tax debate deadlock the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that education took precedence over the two-third vote requirement for any new taxes passed by the legislature. Now we see why. School administrators were impatient for a raise.

All this was predictable. Forced exactions of property are irrational. Whenever the rights of one group are sacrificed for the benefit of another group the worst impulses in men are agitated. Nothing good is achieved while much harm results. Freedom is diminished, factions are formed, business declines, wealth is destroyed and the populace becomes angry. A perverse law of the jungle prevails as citizen fights citizen through the legislature. To add a final insult, Governor Guinn is already hinting that more tax increases may be necessary in the future. Will those in the business community learn anything from this recent debacle? Can they, like the proverbial rat in the maze, learn from past mistakes? In a town grown prosperous from gambling my advice is: don’t bet on it.

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