October 19, 2017

Newsweek: AS CONGRESS AND TRUMP GRIND TO A HALT, THE GOVERNMENT RUMBLES ON

gettyimages-642093036 Newsweek

Donald Trump in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.MARIO TAMA/GETTY

President Trump spent the weekend embroiled in yet another Twitter skirmish, this time with retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker. Trump may even have suffered a rare defeat on his own turf, based on Corker’s hilarious rejoinder about someone missing their daycare shift at the White House. If Trump has a soul, even he laughed at that one.

But many blame this kind of drama as a major contributing reason to Trump “not getting anything done” so far during the first year of his presidency. Even those on the blood-in-their-eyes, Trump-hating left make this criticism. One would think they’d be glad he’s not getting anything done, but apparently, a government not doing anything is even worse for them than one doing things they don’t like.

If only “not getting anything done” were true. The Pentagon goes on waging war, uninterrupted by elections, supposed gridlock, or even “government shutdowns.” War has become the normal state, with “an act of Congress” required to stop it, rather than start it.

Domestically, all of Washington’s unconstitutional regulatory agencies have hummed along without pause. The FDA is still driving up prescription drug prices by keeping thousands of generics off the market. The TSA is still violating the 4th Amendment millions of times per day while virtually never discovering dangerous items brought on board, even during their own tests. And the Social Security Administration goes on cutting checks as if it didn’t have tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities.

Read the rest at Newsweek…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Move Over Obama, Trump Has a Pen, a Phone… and a Tweet

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (standing, L-R), Vice President Mike Pence and Staff Secretary Rob Porter welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

President Trump spent the weekend embroiled in yet another Twitter skirmish, this time with retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker. Trump may even have suffered a rare defeat on his own turf, based on Corker’s hilarious rejoinder about someone missing their daycare shift at the White House. If Trump has a soul, even he laughed at that one.

But many blame this kind of drama as a major contributing reason to Trump “not getting anything done” so far during the first year of his presidency. Even those on the blood-in-their-eyes, Trump-hating left make this criticism. One would think they’d be glad he’s not getting anything done, but apparently, a government not doing anything is even worse for them than one doing things they don’t like.

If only “not getting anything done” were true. The Pentagon goes on waging war, uninterrupted by elections, supposed gridlock, or even “government shutdowns.” War has become the normal state, with “an act of Congress” required to stop it, rather than start it.

Domestically, all of Washington’s unconstitutional regulatory agencies have hummed along without pause. The FDA is still driving up prescription drug prices by keeping thousands of generics off the market. The TSA is still violating the 4th Amendment millions of times per day while virtually never discovering dangerous items brought on board, even during their own tests. And the Social Security Administration goes on cutting checks as if it didn’t have tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Spanish PM Pulls a Lincoln on Catalan Secession

rajoyIn the wake of Catalonia’s referendum on independence, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy continued to argue, as he had in the weeks leading up to the vote, that any attempt by Catalans to become an independent state violates “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.”

Americans watching with interest could hardly have missed the similarity to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, in which he declared, “It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.”

The difference is Lincoln was doing just what he said he was doing, “asserting.” His novel theory had no basis in the words of the U.S. Constitution itself and contradicted both the Declaration of Independence and the ratification statements made by three states, including Virginia, who all reserved the right to secede from the union as a condition of ratification.

The Catalonia Conundrum

Prime Minister Rajoy’s statement, on the other hand, was not based in theory. He was quoting directly Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution, which contains the provision Lincoln had to invent. But Rajoy wasn’t quoting the whole Article, which reads,

The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed, and the solidarity amongst them all.

Jumbled together in that one paragraph are the same conflicting pressures which exploded into civil war in 19th century America and continue to smolder under the surface today. On one hand is the recognition that diverse cultures within the union have a natural right to govern themselves as they see fit, without having their political decisions overridden by politicians in a distant capitol who don’t share their values, have no local stake in the community and, in Catalonia’s case, don’t even speak the same language.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Petty Memories


pettyLike the rest of the music-loving world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of Tom Petty’s untimely passing this week. I suppose I took him for granted, assuming he would always be there making outstanding music, as he had for virtually my entire life. Now that he’s gone, I thought I’d share just a few memories of times the man touched my life.

I had just turned 14 years old when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their breakout album, Damn the Torpedoes. In those days, if you didn’t have the album, you listened to the radio, waiting for your favorite songs to come on, and then turned it up as loud as it went when they did. It was the heyday of the “boom box,” the radio/cassette player combo that ran on batteries or AC. Mine was dark grey.

I didn’t have to buy Damn the Torpedoes right away because my friend, Andy, whose house I lived at when he wasn’t living at mine, had it soon after it was released. That is, one of his four brothers had it, meaning we had it, as long as none of them caught us playing it.

By the way, Wikipedia says Damn the Torpedoes peaked at #2, kept out of the #1 spot by Pink Floyd’s The Wall. But I distinctly remember lying on the floor of my bedroom, hearing Refugee come on the radio and the DJ saying it was from Petty’s album that had been “flip-flopping with Pink Floyd’s The Wall” for the #1 spot for several weeks. I know the internet is never wrong, but it peaked at #1 as far as I’m concerned.

By the time Hard Promises came out, my friend and I were militantly in opposite camps. He liked heavy metal and I liked punk and “new wave.” This was a divide that made Republican vs. Democrat or Yankees vs. Red Sox seem trivial. But we both loved TP & the HBs and were both hell bent on being at the show when the band came to town in the summer of 1981.

Andy’s older brother, Tom, took us under his wing in those pre-driver’s license days. And he had some sort of connection to get good tickets to concerts. Andy and I knew nothing of these worldly things. But, true friend that he was, Andy thought of no one but me in terms of who would accompany him to the concert.

There was only one catch: His brother also had secured tickets to the Judas Priest concert earlier the same summer. And if I wanted to go to see Tom Petty, I’d have to go with my friend to see Judas Priest.

It was a dastardly move, albeit an ingenious one, and he knew he had me. No way was I missing what was to be the single-greatest moment of my life up until that point. But that a heavy metal band was to be my first-ever rock concert gnawed at me. I just hoped none of my other friends found out.

So, July 17, 1981, less than a month before the band I wanted to see came to Buffalo, I accompanied Andy, Tom and Tom’s girlfriend into the Shea’s Buffalo Theater to endure two to three hours of torture, the price for seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers the following month.

But even this story has a happy ending. Judas Priest was so good – instrumentally, vocally and, surprisingly, as songwriters – they won me over. I enjoyed every minute of the concert and was on my feet rocking to Living After Midnight by the end of the show. So, Tom Petty indirectly opened my mind a little that night by forcing me to give a different style of music a chance. I remain a fan of “Priest” to this day.

On August 10, 1981, the big night had arrived. And my “supreme sacrifice” the month before was richly rewarded. Andy’s brother had worked his magic to get us prime seats on the floor, no more than 10 or 20 rows back, right in the middle of the aisle. Petty and the band came out and it was like they had jumped right out of my boom box. Knowing their music much better than I had Judas Priest’s, I couldn’t believe how meticulously it was performed live.

It was just a year later that a friend from high school approached me about forming what would be my first band. I couldn’t play the guitar or sing a note, but I went all-in anyway when the bug hit me, wanting to emulate all my heroes, including The Ramones, The Beatles, The Who, and my all-time favorite, Buddy Holly. But we didn’t cover any Tom Petty stuff in those early days.

I can’t say for sure why, but I suspect it was because you really had to be able to play to recreate those soaring, jangling sounds. That’s not to take anything away from the aforementioned greats. I’m sure they would have all rolled over in their graves if they heard us – even though most were still alive at the time – but there was just no way to fake The Waiting or Don’t Do Me Like That.

I played music as a second job for over 30 years, having a little bit of success with a band called The Skeptics in the 1990s. We managed to crack a dozen or so CMJ charts and took the band about as far as we could without quitting our jobs and going on the road. And by then, Change of Heart and my all-time favorite Petty tune, Listen to Her Heart, were staple covers among the Skeptics’ originals.

In the early 2000s, I recorded my first solo CD, which I wouldn’t end up releasing until 2007. And when it came time to figure out what the cover was going to be, Tom Petty inspired me once again. Not being particularly photogenic, I couldn’t quite capture the attitude of the original, but the cover shot for A Glimpse of the Ether was based on Petty’s classic Damn the Torpedoes pose.

By September 2010, I had been living in Tampa, FL for six years and had a senior management position for a small consulting firm. The CEO of the company frequently invited me to events in his box at the St. Pete Times Forum and I couldn’t have been happier when he did so for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He and I drove to the arena together and I probably told him Listen to Her Heart was my favorite Tom Petty song about once every half mile. After almost thirty years since seeing the band in Buffalo, I wondered if they still played it.

Of course, they opened with it. It was all uphill from there.

It never occurred to me that I’d never get the chance to see Tom Petty live again. I suppose I could have made an effort to do so sometime between 1981 and 2010. But like I said, I took him for granted, especially when the digital age got underway for real and one could pull up video of the live version of virtually any song on one’s phone. I figured I’d get plenty more chances to see him again, his rhythm guitar still meticulous, his voice still soaring through Refugee or Even the Losers. Sadly, I won’t get that chance, but I’m sure glad I did get to see him twice. And I’m glad he left us a body of work that will live forever.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Newsweek: Can the US Survive the Pressures for Secession?

gettyimages-2030662Trump Derangement Syndrome rages on, the latest symptoms flaring equally based on causes both legitimate and ridiculous.

A key characteristic of the syndrome is its ability to evoke the same outrage over the president retweeting a harmless (and let’s admit it, funny) meme as threatening to destroy an entire nation. The breathless apoplexy over absolutely everything Trump-related, down to the shoes his wife wears while traveling, has desensitized Trump’s supporters to behavior even they should be concerned about.

It is true Trump has inspired new levels of hostility — even for politics — but Americans have been hating the president for this entire century, which is no longer in its infancy.

Bush may not have been “literally Hitler,” but he was Hitler nonetheless to the Democrats, just as Obama was “literally Mao” to conservatives.

But the proud American tradition of hurling invectives at the president isn’t nearly as ominous as the trend towards violence. Both the right and the left have mobilized armed groups, not just carrying signs but ready for violence. In fact, violent resistance is the far-left Antifa’s stated raison d’etre.

Read the rest at Newsweek…

How Long Can Americans Go on Hating the President and Each Other?

redandblueTrump Derangement Syndrome rages on, the latest symptoms flaring equally based on causes both legitimate and ridiculous. A key characteristic of the syndrome is its ability to evoke the same outrage over the president retweeting a harmless (and let’s admit it, funny) meme as threatening to destroy an entire nation. The breathless apoplexy over absolutely everything Trump-related, down to the shoes his wife wears while traveling, has desensitized Trump’s supporters to behavior even they should be concerned about.

It is true Trump has inspired new levels of hostility — even for politics — but Americans have been hating the president for this entire century, which is no longer in its infancy. Bush may not have been “literally Hitler,” but he was Hitler nonetheless to the Democrats, just as Obama was “literally Mao” to conservatives. But the proud American tradition of hurling invectives at the president isn’t nearly as ominous as the trend towards violence. Both the right and the left have mobilized armed groups, not just carrying signs but ready for violence. In fact, violent resistance is the far-left Antifa’s stated raison d’etre.

US Government Power Has Never Been Higher

It isn’t that the three men who have held the office since 2001 are monsters. Anyone who paid attention when Bush, Obama, or even Trump was caught in a quiet moment “off the record” would have to admit that they seem like reasonably likable people. That’s the rub. Government makes nice people do terrible things, things even they themselves would have considered barbarous before taking office.

Unfortunately, most Americans do not bat an eye at the worst offenses committed by the presidency, namely the killing of millions in undeclared wars of choice with nations who have never attacked the United States. But Americans on both the right and the left are increasingly feeling the effects of ceding power over domestic affairs to Washington and the executive branch in particular. The stakes of presidential elections are much higher now that Washington doesn’t just regulate interstate commerce, but regulates the minute details of how businesses are run, how crops are grown, what local public schools teach and even what signs they put on their restrooms.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Evacuation and the Danger of Mindless Obedience

causeway traffic jamI relocated to Tampa, FL in 2004 for a job opportunity. I moved into my apartment on Saturday, July 31 and started work the following Monday. One week later, the local news was dominated by Hurricane Charley, which was predicted to be the first hurricane to directly hit Tampa since 1921. Sound familiar?

I was told I was in a mandatory evacuation area, meaning 911 calls might not be answered for anyone who refused to leave. Nevertheless, most of my new, local friends told me to ignore the order. “They always say that,” I was told. “It always ends up being a lot of rain, nothing more.”

Something inside told me they were right. Still, I was new and although I never really feared for my life, I had recurring visions of local first responders pulling me out of the rubble as the media ridiculed the “Yankee who couldn’t follow simple instructions.” So, I played it safe and booked a hotel in Orlando.

On August 13, the hurricane turned right and made landfall in Port Charlotte, about 100 miles south of Tampa. It was a Category 4 when it hit, meaning winds of over 150 mph. It then made a beeline for – you guessed it – Orlando.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Freedom…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Trump’s Embargo on North Korea Is the Precursor to a War

170403091619-kim-jong-un-donald-trump-split-0403-exlarge-169

Not even President Trump’s harshest critics blame him for creating the North Korean problem. The Kim Jong-Un regime’s nuclear weapons capabilities and willingness to brandish them goes back over a decade, to when Kim’s father was still the ruler.

And while each successive U.S. administration has approached North Korea slightly differently, one thing has remained constant: tens of thousands of U.S. troops on North Korea’s border, maintaining a standoff that just passed its sixty-fourth year.

The other constant, since North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test in 2006, has been economic sanctions imposed on the regime under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council. These sanctions began strictly limited to trade directly related to the regime’s nuclear program and gradually widened to include financial and other trade categories.

One need only read this morning’s headlines to judge their effectiveness.

But over the weekend, President Trump saw every president before him and raised them with this tweet:

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

 Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

“Price Gouging” in the real world.

waterArt1Whenever there is a natural disaster, we see two things: the best in human generosity, courage and resilience and the worst in economic ignorance. The former includes individuals rescuing stranded neighbors, volunteers lining up to join charity relief efforts, and corporations martialing their vast resources to pour needed items such as food, bottled water and clothing into devastated areas. The latter includes “economists” repeating the age old broken window fallacy and politicians denouncing and threatening so-called “price gougers.”

Emotions run high during disasters, which is a double-edged sword. The outpouring of sympathy for the victims leads to extraordinary efforts in assistance. But it also leads to irrational resentment of those whose actions are often vital to human survival, but whose motives are judged inferior. These are, of course, the aforementioned price gougers.

One of the weaknesses in rational responses to the accusation of price gouging is just that: they appeal to reason when the accusation is born of emotion. And that disconnect is an irrevocable one until the accuser can be persuaded to look at the situation reasonably. But once so persuaded, the accuser often voices the understandable objection that economic arguments rooted in supply and demand charts and theory are too removed from what the accuser considers “the real world.”

Here, then, is a “real world” scenario in which the actors respond to incentives just as anyone in similar situations have countless times in the past:

There is a hurricane and flooding. Drinkable water is in short supply. A man has $100. He needs a case of water to get his family of three through the week.

He walks into the store, where water is $25/case. There are 4 cases left on the shelf. He needs one, but  can afford 4 and he doesn’t know how long the emergency will last. So, he buys all 4 cases.

Immediately afterwards, a family of five walks into the store with $100. There is no water to buy at any price. This family is now in desperate straits and must look elsewhere to procure what they need to survive.

Can anyone dispute the actors in this little parable have acted rationally and precisely as they would in the real world? No. Neither have any acted in a malicious or overly selfish manner. All have made the best choices among the alternatives presented them.

Now, change the price of a case of water in the above scenario to $100/case. What would be different? Of course, the man with a family of three would now only be able to buy one case of water, giving him what his family needs, but not necessarily as much insurance against future uncertainty as he would like. He gives up a little, but the family of five whose survival was in grave danger in the $25/case scenario is now able to purchase at least one case of water.

In the latter scenario, both families have enough to survive and a strong incentive to conserve water, thereby reducing demand and lowering its price, all other things being equal.

The so-called “price gougers” may have acted in their own interests, but they have not only benefited society economically, they have saved the lives of the family of five. Thus, Adam Smith’s 241-year-old “invisible hand” is confirmed by the real world yet again.

But there are still those who claim that, while the price gougers have acted rationally and within their rights and may even have inadvertently benefited others, they have still acted immorally. In the case of the recent hurricane in Texas, many say,

“No, you don’t understand. Many of these people aren’t even from Houston. They knew the hurricane was coming and bought up a bunch of water at regular prices, with the express intent of coming to Houston and selling it for huge profits, while others were giving water away for free. That’s immoral!”

First, anyone selling water at any price is obviously serving people who don’t have access to the free water. If the buyers had access to free water, they wouldn’t pay for it, at inflated prices or not.

Second, this sanctimonious moralizing begs the question, “Why didn’t you buy up a bunch of water and go to Houston and sell it at regular prices?”

The answers to the latter question are many, but they can be summarized as follows: most people do not have the time, capital or expertise to do what the price gougers did. Who can afford to take off from their own job or cease running their own business to start a whole new one on a few days notice, much less donate their time? Some can, but not most, which is why after all those who can be by charitable work are served, there is still a market for those seeking profits.

Lost in all the moralizing is the reality that the so-called price gougers face all the same challenges as anyone else, having to forego whatever income they otherwise would have earned if not for their disaster-relief project, and face the risk of losing future income because they took off from their jobs or put their own regular businesses on hold. These losses and risks must be compensated, which is another reason they sell products at a premium price, in addition to supply/demand realities.

Thus, in the real world, even with as many people as are able acting as charitably as possible, there is a need for those seeking profits from higher-than-normal margins, whose self-interested actions save lives and mitigate the devastating effects of disasters. Yet, the rest of the world condemn them and governments seek to punish them, threatening not only the price gougers, but those whose lives they may save or whose suffering they may lessen during the next disaster.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Both Lincoln and the Confederacy Were Awful

lincolnWe’re fighting the Civil War again. Whenever both major parties drop any pretense of addressing the real problems facing American taxpayers, their constituents revert to having at each other in “the culture wars.” And no culture war would be complete without relitigating what should now be settled history: the reasons for the Civil War.

Americans sympathetic to the Union generally believe the war was fought to end slavery or to “rescue the slaves” from political kidnapping by the slave states, that seceded from the Union to avoid impending abolition.

“No,” say those sympathetic to the Confederacy. The states seceded over states’ rights, particularly their right not to be victimized by high protectionist tariffs, paid mostly by southern states, but spent mostly on what we’d now call corporate welfare and infrastructure projects in the north.

The declarations of South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas don’t mention taxes or economic policy at all.

That the states seceded for a different reason than the war was fought seems to elude everyone.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.