Friday, July 16, 2010

Signpost 14 -- It's Good to Be King??

  "There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates." (Baron de Montesquieu)

 So we are finally down to the 14th and final Signpost to Slavery. It's been a long road, and an enlightening one if only for me personally!  So here it is, Signpost 14:

14. Any attempt to make a new major law by executive decree. 

 Pro's and Con's of Executive Rule

The annoying thing about the separation of powers called for in the U.S. Constitution (whereby the legislative branch presents legislation, the judicial branch judges it against the measuring stick of the Constitution and rule of law, and the executive branch makes the final decision) is all that red tape.  Partisan politics can lead to filibusters and any one person or group's agenda -- whether potentially beneficial to society or not -- can come to a grinding halt.  This is not always ideal for getting things done in Washington.

With executive rule it's a lot easier for a President to get his agenda passed, because he doesn't actually have to get it passed!  He invents a law and signs it, and unless Congress refuses to fund it, quickly enacts legislation that specifically conflicts with it (which the President can veto, in turn), or 2/3 of Congress votes against the president's veto of their legislation opposing the executive decree, it magically becomes law!  These executive orders can be discarded by subsequent presidents, but history shows that they rarely are.

And in reality, Congress rarely disputes executive orders:

"It has been argued that a Congressional override of an executive order is a nearly impossible event due to the supermajority vote required and the fact that such a vote leaves individual lawmakers very vulnerable to political criticism." (1)
Executive Rule -- An Essential Ingredient in Dictatorship 

What could Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, or Mao have accomplished without the ability to invent laws and regulations, judge them as sound, and enact them without having to bother with checks and balances?

And how many of the laws passed unilaterally by certified tyrants throughout history have been done under the guise of helping, caring for, or protecting the masses?  I would wager a guess that most if not all tyrannical decrees have promised some sort of public benefit.

The notorious Great Purges -- in which an estimated 20-30 million Soviet citizens were murdered by Soviet fire squads or perished in the brutal Gulag prison and labor camps from 1930-1953 -- came about due to an  executive rule by Comrade Stalin against "terrorist organizations and terrorist acts".

Executive Orders in America

Executive orders have been used sporadically by presidents throughout America's history, primarily for mundane directives to different governmental agencies.  Some executive orders have had more of a sweeping influence on America's history, for better or worse.

Lincoln's famed Emancipation Proclamation was an exercise in executive power.  Eisenhower desegregated public schools and Truman integrated the armed forces through Executive Order, bypassing racial separatists in Congress.

Some hotly-criticized orders, however, include Executive Order 10340 from President Truman, which sought to put all American steel mills under federal domain, FDR's  Executive Order 9066 that rounded up German - and Japanese-Americans and led to Japanese-Americans being placed in internment camps during WWII.  

King William Jefferson Clinton

Rule by presidential executive order became more commonplace during the presidency of Bill Clinton, along with presidential directives (executive measures passed in conjunction with the National Security Council, sometimes secretively).  Clinton was responsible for 347 executive orders and among them, "80 classified Presidential Decision Directives (PDDs) mandating secret, unilateral executive actions that impact[ed] on the freedom of Americans." (2)

Through executive power, Clinton waged a war with Kosovo without Congress declaring war, designated that U.S. troops serve under foreign UN command, and exempted UN personnel from being prosecuted for violation of America's civil or criminal law while on American soil.  In another directive, Clinton granted the FBI power to conduct surveillance on groups opposed to the UN and promoting gun rights, as well as "extremist" Fundamentalist Christian groups.  Clinton designated millions of acres of land across America as Federal Reserves or National Monuments, including 1.7 million acres in Southern Utah.  And the disturbing trend of allowing government agencies to spy on the online activities of U.S. citizens, usually attributed to George W. Bush, was actually initiated under President Clinton through PDD-63.

"Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kinda cool."
(Paul Begala, former Clinton advisor, The New York Times, July 5, 1998)

King George "W"

In the year 2001 King George W. came onto the scene of the presidency with promises of smaller government and less involvement in foreign affairs.  Due to a suspiciously convenient disaster, he was able to do a switcharoo on the American populace and take America's War Machine to a new level with preemptive strikes.  He succeeded in getting the PATRIOT Act passed, purportedly to safeguard America from terrorists.  He also signed his own set of 291 Executive Orders during his 8-year stint as president.

Some of W's most infamous Executive Orders include the following:

"- Executive Order 13440 - allowed the use of "special" interrogation techniques blocked by the Geneva convention (aka torture).
- Executive Order 13292 - gave the Vice President full power to classify any documents he deemed appropriate.
- Executive Order 13303 - gave blanket legal protection to U.S. companies dealing in Iraqi oil.
- Executive Order 13438 - allowed the administration to seize property from groups who pose a threat to stability in Iraq, even if said threat has not been proven. The language of the order is so broad that even a domestic critic of the war could be considered a 'threat to stability.' This violates the Fifth Amendment right to due process." (3)

Bush also passed a special directive --NSPD 51-- which essentially gave the president dictatorial powers in the event of catastrophe or emergency.  Suspiciously, most of the details of this directive are classified, and not even Congress has been allowed to see the documents associated with this directive!

(Full list of Bush executive orders here.)

Liberals blasted Bush for his show of excessive executive power and for eroding the freedoms of Americans, and rightly so!  Conservatives largely accepted Bush's actions as good and necessary, though many of them had been more than willing to criticize Clinton for his over-reaching executive authority.  And today, conservatives unite to bemoan the accendance of the latest king in town . . .

King Barry Soetoro, aka Barack Houssein Obama 

Faster than his Republican forebear.
More powerful than Washington insiders.
Able to enact CHANGE in a single term.

Look! Up in the sky!
It's a bird. It's a plane. It's the Obamessiah!

Within King Obama's first week in office, he was hailed for signing executive orders to close Gitmo by January 22, 2010 and do away with torture once and for all. (We'll just overlook the fact that Gitmo is still open as of July 2010, and the anti-torture loopholes only shut down CIA torture centers, with no mention of prohibiting torture if carried out by the FBI, NSA, or corporate contractors such as Blackwater/Xe, and doesn't condemn the torture of individuals detained in counter-terrorism . . .)

This was just the beginning of the CHANGE in Washington --

Corporate Bailout -- CHECK
Takeover of GM -- CHECK
Extended Benefits to the Unemployed -- CHECK
Cash for Clunkers -- CHECK
Healthcare Reform -- CHECK
Cap CEO pay -- CHECK
Sue the state of Arizona for enforcing immigration law -- CHECK

(No matter that this was not the type of change desired by a large percentage of Americans . . .)

No one can doubt that President Obama has been one busy man.  He has appeared to make significant efforts to make good on his many, many campaign promises (though he has yet to reverse many of Bush's most draconian policies).  During the presidential campaign, Obama criticized Bush's prolific use of "signing statements" to pass law without Congress's approval.  As of May 2010, Obama had signed a total of 55 executive orders, including an order entitled "Federal Leadership on Reducing Text Messaging while Driving" and the famous order reemphasizing a limit on Federal funds to be used for abortions, allowing the healthcare bill to pass.

Time will tell whether Obama resorts to using his executive powers more extensively to push his agenda through before he is likely kicked to the curb after one presidential term.  Evidence is mounting that things are headed in that direction:

"With much of his legislative agenda stalled in Congress, President Obama and his team are preparing an array of actions using his executive power to advance energy, environmental, fiscal and other domestic policy priorities." (4)

It is further rumored that Obama may grant amnesty to illegal aliens through an executive order if he is unable to garner enough support in Congress.

 In Conclusion

I will sum up my opinion of executive rule in just one sentence:  rule through executive decree is dangerous to a free society, side-stepping the checks and balances laid out in the Constitution.  Executive orders should be extremely limited in their use, and never ever be used to pass major laws, wage wars, or pass any sweeping changes in our nation.

The fact that Obama shows signs of doing the very thing he criticized Bush for should come as no surprise.

Neither should conservative Americans be shocked if the Republican they elect to replace Obama in 2012 (if we make it that far) follows in the footsteps of previous American quasi-kings -- exercising improper executive power while ignoring the Constitution.  It appears that this destructive trend will continue either until enough Americans wise up and absolutely refuse to allow it, or our nation is totally destroyed.

14. Any attempt to make a new major law by executive decree. -- BIG FAT CHECK

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Signpost 11 -- Minimum Wage . . . Yee Hah!

I have been slammed with a variety of things over the past month and have neglected  my blog.  My apologies!  So now we are down to just two more Signposts to Slavery. Today's post will cover Signpost 11 -- 

11. Wage and price controls, especially in a non-wartime situation. 

Let me start by being completely up front with you -- I am no economics expert.  But I do have a basic understanding of the concepts of supply and demand.  Also, it is abundantly clear to me that many who profess to be true experts in this arena and hold positions of authority seem to know even less than I do!  So I will try my hand at touching on the in's and out's of wage and price controls.

First off, let me state that I don't think in our world, filled with imperfect, less-than-altruistic individuals, that there is any economic system without its faults.  In a capitalist society, someone always finds a way to make a whole lot more money than everyone else (and so long as they aren't doing anything illegal, what's wrong with that?!).  Someone is always in need either due to illness, incapacitation, lack of opportunity, lack of motivation, or some combination thereof.  Wages and prices are determined by supply and demand. Certain freedoms are valued, even if it means that some in the society will not fare as well as others. 

In a socialist society, the state assumes the responsibility of meeting many of the needs of the people.  No-one is homeless, for instance.  Nobody goes without basic health care.  In many instances, jobs are created by the government.  Wages and prices can be fixed by the state.  Certain freedoms are sacrificed in order for the government to provide services and in some cases sustenance to the people.

Of course, America today is some mixture between capitalist and socialist.  Most wages and prices are still determined by the market, but by no means are 100% of wages and prices left alone by the government.  We  have our minimum wage.  More recently, President Obama has placed caps on how much CEO's of corporations receiving bailout money are allowed to make.

Doesn't that sound good?  Power to the people, right?  Blast those filthy rich CEO's anyways!

But I have to wonder -- wouldn't it just have been easier (and far less costly to the American populace) to just forego the corporate bailouts altogether?  The market would have determined which CEO's were worth millions and which should receive pay cut, based on which businesses had products and services still in enough demand during a recession.

As for the minimum wage, it was instituted in 1938 at 25 cents per hour.  Those who argue for a minimum wage say that there are no negative effects of raising the minimum wage (these are probably the same people who see no negative effect from pumping trillions of freshly printed dollars into the economy to prop up failing corporations and banks.)

Those not in favor of a mandated minimum wage argue that it causes inflation, leads to fewer jobs for those with few skills, causes a greater rates of outsourcing of jobs oversees where wages are cheaper, and feeds the market for illegals to work for dirt-cheap wages under the table.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, I am no expert in the field of economics.  But I have enough brains to know that if companies have a limited number of jobs with a limited amount of money to pay to employees, any law mandating a minimum wage will affect how many people they can hire and could certainly cause them to look for ways to hire people oversees or illegally for less.

I can't say for sure if the minimum wage leads to inflation, but it certainly seems possible!

Why would our government be "for" a minimum wage, and vote to increase it from time to time?  Certainly some in government have good intentions -- they don't want the poorest of Americans to suffer so much.  But isn't it interesting that an increase in the minimum wage is a nice handy way to levy a tax increase by stealth as an increase in the minimum wage increases all wages, and therefore increases government tax revenues?!

As far as price controls go, except in a few exceptional cases primarily during wartime, they disrupt the normal levels of supply and demand naturally determined by the market, and lead to shortages, rationing, long lines, as well as inflation.

To quote an expert (emphasis added):

"The reason most economists are skeptical about price controls is that they distort the allocation of resources. To paraphrase a remark by Milton Friedman, economists may not know much, but they do know how to produce a shortage or surplus. Price ceilings, which prevent prices from exceeding a certain maximum, cause shortages. Price floors, which prohibit prices below a certain minimum, cause surpluses, at least for a time. Suppose that the supply and demand for wheat flour are balanced at the current price, and that the government then fixes a lower maximum price. The supply of flour will decrease, but the demand for it will increase. The result will be excess demand and empty shelves. Although some consumers will be lucky enough to purchase flour at the lower price, others will be forced to do without." (1)

Richard Nixon's failed price controls in 1971 led to run-away inflation, and further gas price controls later in the 70's led to gas shortages and even more inflation.

A type of price control taking place today is the subsidization of corn production in the U.S.  For some reason, our government feels it important to pay farmers to grow corn.  Corn is sold for less than it costs to produce, making it a cheap commodity that is being used to produce high-fructose corn syrup, feed for animals (fattening them up faster and causing all kinds of problems in the process), and is being exported all over the world taking out farmers in Mexico and other nations because they can't compete with America's super-cheap corn.

The U.S. government also heavily subsidizes the meat and dairy industry.  Perhaps that is why it is cheaper to buy a Big Mac and Coke (sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, of course) than a salad.

So here we have it -- put the government in charge of wage and price controls, and what you get is bailed-out CEO's with a capped income higher than their income would be if the market had been left to deal with them, and more low-skill jobs going to hire Samrat's in India or Pablo's from Mexico but illegally living in Colorado, than Billy-Joe-Bob's in Arkansas because foreign or illegal labor is cheaper.  And it's cheaper to buy a bag of Dorito's and soda than food that is actually really food

11. Wage and price controls, especially in a non-wartime situation -- CHECK