Imagine That!

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You have to be of relatively advanced age to appreciate the grotesque irony that has just been reported. It turns out — oh, my God (that’s OMG for those who live their lives through email) — that hippie-peacenik icon John Lennon was a closet Republican!

And not just some RINO-type, country-club, apologetic, liberal-media-ass-kissing, non-threatening Republican, but a Reagan supporter!

Yes, pick yourself up off the floor. This amazing fact is revealed by Lennon musical sidekick Fred Seaman. Seaman makes his startling disclosure in the upcoming documentary Beatles Stories, in an interview with the flick’s director Seth Swirsky. Seaman revealed that in his more mature life (that is, by the late 1970s), Lennon felt embarrassed by his younger radicalism, and relished debating leftists, including Seaman’s uncle, an "old-time communist."

Lennon said of Reagan, whom he had met at a sporting event, that he would have voted for the politician had he been a US citizen.

All of this inspires me to update Lennon’s signature song, “Imagine”:

Imagine there’s no commies.

It’s easy if you try.

No damn liberals

To tax us on the sly.

Imagine all the money

In our hands to stay!

 

Imagine all the countries —

It isn’t hard to do —

Living in total freedom

And of religion too.

Imagine all the people

Trading goods in peace.

 

You may say I’m a right-winger

But I’m not the only one.

I hope the leftists grow up

So the world can be as one.




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Green vs. Green

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For many years, Mad magazine ran a cartoon send-up of Cold War espionage called “Spy vs. Spy.” A recent report made me chuckle to think that with energy policy, we now have (as the article puts it) Green vs. Green.

On one side of the fence, you have those environmentalists who just love solar power. This includes of course the Obama regime, whose Energy Secretary Steven Chu has pushed solar with a vengeance. Recently, with a grand flourish, Chu announced a $2.1 billion federal loan guarantee to a company intending to open a 1,000 megawatt solar farm in the California desert. Earlier this year the regime granted $1.37 billion in federal loan guarantees for another solar farm in the California desert. Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) now crows that “California is the national leader in clean energy, and our great state is poised to become the world leader in renewable energy generation.” Of course, California is also the national leader in budget deficits, and is poised to become insolvent in the next economic downturn. It is (next to Greece, perhaps) the world leader in fiscal mismanagement.

These California projects are just two out of 11 large solar farms approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and local agencies in California and Nevada. Almost all are being built on land managed by the BLM. These solar farms are projected to produce roughly 4,200 megawatts of power — which sounds like a lot, but is only equivalent to the energy generated by two medium-large nuclear power plants. Naturally, the nukes produce power all the time, not just when it is a cloudless day, and they require but an infinitesimal fraction of the land (precious, protected, government-managed land)that the solar plants will.

And more than a dozen other large-scale solar farms are awaiting approval, all in the Mojave Desert.

The massive tracts of land taken up by the ugly solar farms are a source of anger to another group of environmentalists. For example, Janine Blaeloch, executive director of the Western Lands Project, commented dolorously that “these [solar] plants will introduce a huge amount of damage to our public land and habitat.” The concerned energy analyst Christine Hersey put it in this way: “The irony is, in the name of saving the planet, we’re casting aside 30 or 40 years of environmental law. It’s really a type of frenzy.”

Yes, Christine, it is. It’s the frenzy of an administration that has shut down as much domestic drilling as it could, and is desperate for other sources of power.

One of the concerns harbored by the last-mentioned enviros is the plight of desert animal and plant life, such as the desert turtle, that live in the Mojave. Another concern is the prospect that the massive solar installations will threaten thousands of Native American sites said to be regarded as sacred. Indeed, the non-profit group La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle is suing federal agencies and four of the solar farm companies on this basis.

With Big Solar, it’s Green vs. Green. But why did anyone suppose that environmentalism wouldn’t have as many schisms as any other religion?




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Luck of the Green

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The American Tradition Institute, a D.C. thinktank that monitors and critiques the environmentalist movement, has an interesting Freedom of Information Act lawsuit going on right now. The institute is suing — NASA.

Now, we taxpayers normally think of NASA as some kind of, well, space agency. But NASA is one of the big funding agencies for research on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). And one of the luminaries of the AGW world is the scientist James Hansen — you remember, the one who ran around claiming that the Evil Bush tried to silence him. This poor little victim of truth will go down in history as a modern-day Galileo, standing up to wicked anti-science authority.

But it turns out that this paragon of virtue has been pocketing tall dollars off his disinterested research, over and above the tidy $180K he earns as director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. (By the bye, it is not called the Goddard Institute for Man-Caused Global Warming.)

NASA refuses to release the information on what exactly Hansen has been paid by outside groups, which is why the American Tradition Institute is suing. But it would appear that the New Galileo is receiving megabucks from environmentalist sects, which use his work to further their political agenda.

For example, the enviro group called the Dan David Foundation gave a prize to a group including Hansen, and his share was about $333,000 to $500,000. He also won the “Sophie Prize” of $100,000 for work on a “sustainable future” — meaning a future bereft of jobs for actual people, I suspect. He copped a $550,000 “Blue Planet” prize from the Asahi Glass Foundation. He scarfed up nearly 50 grand in speaking fees. He got a free pass to the conference by the Bill Clinton Foundation that other participants had to pay a cool 15-grand fee for attending. And he snagged a way cool $720K in legal services provided by the George Soros Open (read: Closed) Society Institute.

If you are a federal employee receiving certain types of side income, you need to file certain disclosure forms (Forms 17-60 and SF278). The FOIA lawsuit is intended to get NASA to release those forms for its boy Galileo. The ball is now in NASA’s court.

The recent book Merchants of Doubt (by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway) argues that the scientists who dispute global warming are paid by the Koch Brothers and other Big Oil companies to spreaddoubt about AGW. But when AGW researchers receive lavish funding from Soros groups and others, why, that’s just peachy with some environmentalists. Rather hypocritical, no?

We can certainly say this: it really can be easy being Green. Hell, being Green can result in rolling in the green!




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Hockey Riot, or Prison Riot?

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June 15, downtown Vancouver. This was not a hockey riot. And the lessons that are being learned from it are exactly the wrong ones.

I live in Vancouver, and I watched the last game of the Stanley Cup playoffs — and the postgame bonfire — from the corner of Georgia and Hamilton Streets. That intersection was the center of both the cheering and the chaos. But I’ve been in real riots: Prague when the Iron Curtain fell, an ethnic riot in southern Egypt in my teens, Kathmandu when the king was killed, East Jerusalem during the first intifada. What happened in Vancouver was different. It was a soft, gentle riot. The police were kinder and gentler than any I’ve ever seen at a riot. The rioters — using the term loosely to encompass all Vancouverites, since the rioters reflect poorly on the whole city — quickly mobilized thousands of volunteers to clean up the downtown core, many taking a day off work to do so. I went back the next afternoon, and by 2 p.m. it was nearly impossible to tell that a riot had occurred.

This was a riot in a fundamentally “nice” city, often too nice. People don’t even jaywalk here. After Game 5 I saw police get angry at someone for jaywalking. If you spend your life being told what to do, if taking a bike on the West Vancouver Seawall during the week when it’s nearly empty gets a dozen good Samaritans telling you “it’s against the rules,” and if you combine that with the high energy and low brain function of a Surrey suburban teenager — I have no idea whether the “anarchists” were from Surrey (a blue-collar suburb of Vancouver), but it’s standard practice during riots to blame foreign subversive elements and I just can’t imagine soft-and-gentle Vancouverites rioting, whereas the Ford F-150 culture in Surrey I can — then no wonder people riot when, once every 17 years, they’re suddenly unshackled.

But that will not be the lesson here. The result of this riot will be more rules and constraints on freedom — even though the energy at the corner of Georgia and Hamilton didn’t really come from hockey; it came from people living in a virtual prison of rules and regulations. When people habituated to living under rules and computerized consequences, which follow them their entire lives — people who have never had to learn self-control, internal restraint — suddenly find themselves without external restraints, they go crazy.

Yes, I’m sure that some people were there for precisely that reason, for the opportunity of temporary madness. The media had been going on for weeks about the 1994 riots, the last time Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup in Game 7. So what did they expect? You remind people relentlessly, get them thinking “riots,” and then those few people who think that riots may be fun gather from the whole city to attend. The 2011 riot was a near-perfect replica of its 1994 inspiration, though whereas the older event had a trigger — a man falling from a lamp standard into the crowd below — this year’s version didn’t need one. Or, rather, revived memory of the 1994 riots was itself the trigger, with crowds chanting “Let’s go riot!” by the end of the first period.

But the photo of the kiss in the middle of the riot shows better than any number of words that this was not about hockey. Nor even about destruction. It was about damning the consequences, about a momentary break in our mechanized, almost mineralized society. The power of that photo in telling a different narrative from that of either “hockey fans” or “destructive anarchists” is evident in the energy the mainstream media has devoted to deflating the photo, repeating remarks from the kissing boy’s mother that he was just helping the girl get up — though he’s clearly both kissing and groping her — and that he probably didn’t even know there was a riot going on. I’ve been in tear gas. It’s hard not to notice.

This wasn’t about hockey. It was an outlet. Hockey just happens to be a cultural trump card here in Canada, an excuse to let go, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio. You cure this sort of insanity with fewer rules, more bacchanal outlets — just as prison wardens have slowly learned that you can decrease riots by allowing prisoners to rearrange their own furniture, and forest rangers know that frequent controlled fires prevent major conflagrations. But the lesson learned by the powers that be is the opposite. That’s the truly sad consequence of all this stupidity.

Both the mainstream and the social media are full of outrage right now, from moral to economic. Morally, sure, it’s hard to justify smashing things. But the references to economic harm are a bit too simple. All those cars and shops are insured, and most of the insurance companies are owned by people outside Vancouver, with the costs spread out across either the shareholders or the pool of the insured, depending on your view of how elastic the insurance markets are. Either way, the result will be a net transfer of wealth in Vancouverites' favor. They won't end up being damaged.

But the real beneficiaries will be police budgets and politicians seeking reelection by promising to clamp down on “crime” with new laws, which only the law-abiding will obey, thus decreasing the freedom of the productive members of society without influencing the actions of the law-breakers in any way.

Laws are always a one-way ratchet. That’s why the ability to riot is important. But it’s like pulling out a gun. Stupid to do so without a clearly achievable agenda — whether it’s the elimination of a tax or a law or all the way to some sort of revolution. Still, there is something appealing about all this. In America, the people are scared of the government. In Europe, the governments are scared of the people, precisely because the people haven’t forgotten how to riot. This is why workers have healthcare, a minimum five weeks of paid vacation, and generally far more power vis-à-vis their employers than workers have in the United States. (I’m not debating the economic consequences of that worker power, just the fact that it exists.) I always assumed that Canada was more like the US, but maybe we still have a little life left. The problem is that the act of taking the pulse in this way will itself weaken it.

And sure enough, exactly one week after the riots, British Columbia’s privacy commissioner approved the Vancouver Police Department’s use of an administrative driver’s license database together with facial-recognition software to identify and catch rioters. Big Brother never hesitates to use these sorts of things to get a foot in the door. And what’s perhaps even more frightening, the police have admitted to being overwhelmed with the amount of evidence provided by all the Little Brothers looking on, photographing, filming.

So, yes, I’m upset at the stupidity of the rioters. But not for all the proper moral reasons. Nor for the economic ones. Rather, for the improper, immoral ones. The right ones. What happened on June 15 in downtown Vancouver should upset all self-respecting anarchists and libertarians far more than it upsets the law-and-order types. The latter are strengthened by it. The former are weakened.




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We See Through You, Mr. President

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Reverend Obama, when he was running for the office he now decorates, preached the need for transparency and honesty in government. In particular, he derided “the cynics, the lobbyists, the special interests" who held sway in the District of Columbia. He promised to stop the practice of rewarding donors with political favors.

Well, scratch another promise. As iWatch News has reported, about 200 of Obama’s biggest contributors (each raising anywhere from 50 to 500 grand) have gotten top jobs in his holy administration, big contracts for their businesses, or various other payoffs.

Interestingly, iWatch News is a news outfit supported by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit organization whose avowed goal is to produce nonpartisan investigative journalism that will help achieve transparency in government.

And here’s the stinger. The Center for Public Integrity is funded by a number of primarily left-liberal donors, most notoriously one George Soros, the leftist billionaire and Obama booster.

That’s worth a chuckle, no?




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We're Still Here

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I’m writing this in June, about a month after the world was supposed to end, according to Family Radio’s Harold Camping.

Though I read Stephen Cox’s excellent articles on this topic, I did not listen to Family Radio on May 21. I was already experiencing an irritating weekend. The last thing I needed to hear about was the apocalypse.

I am a libertarian and a Christian. I am quite familiar with the passages in Revelation and the gospels, dealing with the end of the world. The only definite message to derive from these passages is that no one knows when the end will come. In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only"; “watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 36:42).

In March of last year, I talked with my Dad (himself a Christian) about this. (As Stephen wrote in his December 2010 article, Camping had pushed his prophecy about May 21, 2011 for well over a year. And it was not his first prediction of the end.) We were watching television together one evening before walking the dogs. I started changing channels. My Dad said, “I don’t want to watch any more of that end of the world shit.” At the time, quite a few cable channels were airing an unusually large number of shows about Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, and the Apocalypse. I said, “Dad, Harold Camping says the world is going to end in May 2011.” He said, “Harold Camping is full of shit.” After a few moments he added, “Every day the world ends for somebody.”

Indeed.

But today, we are still here. The popular attention paid to this incident, or non-incident, has begun to fade, as new natural disasters occur and celebrity and political scandals continue to break. Most of us go on as we did before, simply trying to get through the day. And, like Stephen, I believe that Family Radio will also go on, airing hymns, Bible readings, and inspirational segments. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But the whole episode can serve a greater purpose than simply mocking an old fellow who, despite making this mistake before, still succumbed to hubris.

As my father said, every day the world ends for somebody. It could end for you or me. The gist of the New Testament, in that regard, is to live according to God’s word as if each day were going to be your last. But what does that mean for libertarians, whether Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or anything else?

Well, let’s each ask ourselves, "What have I done for liberty lately? If I were to die today, would I be able to say that I did all I could do to champion liberty in these dark times? Or that every day, even in a little way, I took a stand for economic or social freedom?” Most of us can probably do more than we have done so far.

What can we do? Attend a local zoning board meeting, a township committee meeting, a local school board meeting, a “town hall,” a legislative hearing, a Tea Party rally, a Libertarian Party meeting. Not happy with any of those? Start your own gathering of citizens concerned for liberty. Protest inane local laws, regulations, taxes, and fees. Talk to your families, friends, coworkers, someone sitting next to you on a plane — I'll bet that he or she will be particularly open to discussing liberty after dealing with the TSA. Run for office as a Libertarian or independent.

And we can still do more. If we look at the body of Reflections amassed by Liberty over its publishing history, it chronicles a relentless creep of the state into every aspect of our lives. Some Reflections concern local infringements on liberty, some concern giant bureaucracies brazenly seizing formerly ungoverned or unregulated spaces, some concern misguided progressive do-gooding, some concern surreptitious theft, such as legislative pay raises passed in the middle of the night. But the process has gone on for too long, and we have watched for too long. We need to draw a line in the sand and start pushing back.

Stephen recently wrote that Harold Camping has backtracked, adjusting his timeline to October 21, 2011. We can’t afford to backtrack. Liberty is at stake. When it comes to defending liberty and economic and social freedom, we must act as if each day is known to be our last.

Do not let this year be the end of the world for liberty.




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On Our Way Down

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While our nation remains mired in economic uncertainty, sluggish growth, high unemployment, and even higher underemployment — in short, Obamalaise — other nations continue to move ahead. A recent report brings this point home.

Citigroup projects that the pattern of world trade is going to shift dramatically over the next 40years, and not in our favor. Citi’s research indicates that Developing Asia’s share of total world trade, which in 2010 was 24%, will grow to 42% in 2030 and 46% by 2050. Conversely, Western Europe, which had the largest share of total world trade in1990 (48%) dropped to 34% in 2010. That's still the largest share. But by 2030, that will dwindle to only 19%, and by 2050 it will be a meager 15%. North America will see similar declines.

Citi projects that China will become the biggest-trading country by 2015, surpassing the U.S. — the current leader — within only four years, and will stay on top for the foreseeable future. But even more remarkable is the forecast that the US will also be overtaken by — India. Even though India was not even in the top 10 largest trading countries in 2010, by 2050 it will become the second largest.

Now, research projections can be wrong — for one thing, they cannot for see exogenous events (e.g., what if China and India get into a major war?). But the trends are pretty clear.

And the causes of these trends are also clear. One cause of trade growth (among others) is the willingness to trade freely with other nations. Asia has embraced free trade with a vengeance, while Obama has done his best to block all progress on the issue, even going so far as to reverse the free trade agreements we have, simply to please his union bosses. For Obama, it is as if Adam Smith never existed. This is taking its toll.

p




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Two Big Surprises

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Well, now, you can knock me over with a feather! Two stories just out are amazing in their a priori improbability. They tell us a lot about the growing awareness of our looming national financial crisis.

The first is the news that the U.S. Senate has voted to end federal subsidies for ethanol, which this year hit a high of $6 billion from taxpayer dollars.

This is surprising for a number of reasons. The ethanol lobby (i.e., the group of rentseekers who derive much of their income from this screwy subsidy) is powerful, consisting of many players in key political states. Moreover, it has been around for more than 30 years — an unhappy product of the Carter presidency. Also, it has been a darling of the environmentalist movement, which has consistently opposed fossil fuel and nuclear power, favoring instead so-called “renewable” sources of power (biofuels, wind power, and solar power).

Even more surprising is that the vote was bipartisan and wasn’t even close: 73 for, and only 27 against, with Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joining Tom Coburn (R-OK) in sponsoring the bill. In the end, 33 Republicans and 40 Democrats joined to kill the subsidy program.

I suspect that a number of facts helped the Senate reach this epiphany. One is that despite over 30 years (and untold billions of taxpayer dollars) invested in research and development, the energy output that you get for the required input still keeps the fuel from being economically attractive — a point that even Mr. Green himself, Al Gore, mentioned when he came out against corn-based ethanol earlier this year. In part, the problem is that we are making ethanol out of corn, which is far less efficient than making it out of sugarcane — and this is why, besides giving the domestic producers of the stuff a hefty tax credit of 45 cents per gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline, the feds have had to impose a whopping 54 cents per gallon tax on ethanol imported from abroad (mainly Brazil).

Another senatorial eye-opener may have been the recent, massive discoveries in domestic sources for oil and natural gas that can be produced by new technology such as fracking. These discoveries make the case for subsidizing domestic ethanol even more dubious.

Besides, politicians are finally beginning to see the obvious, deleterious impact that diverting 40% of our corn crop to make ethanol (which, again, we could buy more cheaply from Brazil) has on food prices both here and abroad. The rapid inflation of food prices has caused riots abroad and is beginning to cause real discomfort here.

Finally, there is the sense that this subsidy program has just gone on too long. As Senator McCain put it, “Enough is enough. The industry has been collecting corporate welfare for far, far too long.” Exactly so. There is demand for ethanol, but the industry needs to supply it in the free market.

The ethanol industry has been angling to replace tariffs and subsidies with federal spending for special pumps and tanks to hold higher concentrations of ethanol. But the House just voted against that by a margin of 283-128.

So it may be that the governmental subsidies for ethanol will end soon.

Now, the second surprising story is that the AARP, the liberal advocacy group that purports to represent the elderly, and was so crucial in helping President Obama ram through Obamacare, has changed its position on reducing benefits for Social Security. John Rother, the AARP’s policy head, has said that the AARP now views change in Social Security’s benefits structure as inevitable, and wants to have an influence on the process. This is a big change from AARP’s earlier stance, which was that all we needed to do was increase payroll taxes to cover the deficits. As Rother put it, “The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens.” Of course, the question is, why would we want this toad and his leftist organization — who did all they could to block reform and increase the depth of the problem — to be “at the wheel” of reform?

It is all so richly ironic. The AARP was viciously instrumental in killing President Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security. It claimed that Bush was going to shortchange the elderly. Now the AARP itself will face the same charges.

Indeed, the AARP immediately aroused the antipathy of a coalition of leftist groups calling itself (in pure Alinsky style) “Strengthen Social Security.” It has already accused AARP of becoming elitists disconnected from their base.

The AARP is approaching this cautiously. It lost about 300,000 members by helping push through Obamacare. To cover its tail, it wants to make sure that the Social Security revision process is bipartisan. Its own polls match public polls that show the elderly deeply oppose changes to the program. One recent poll shows that 84% of all Americans 65 and older oppose any and all cuts in benefits.

But the AARP and members of Congress are finally coming to see the iceberg of fiscal insolvency toward which the economy is headed. Visions of Greece, currently in the throes of riots by dependents of the state and facing the prospect of defaulting on its debts, are concentrating minds wonderfully.

In fact, it is all rather like watching a Greek tragedy. The blind AARP finally has to face its fatal flaw — the mess it helped create and maintain.




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Free Phones!

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Every so often, I entertain myself during my lunch break by listening to conservative talk radio. The other day I tuned in just as the news at the top of the hour was finishing. It was followed by the usual commercials — Lifelock, Goldline. Then a commercial aired that I was shocked to hear.

I can’t remember it word for word, but the main part went like this:

Attention, state residents on welfare or other public assistance! You may be eligible for free cellphone service. You can even keep your existing number. Call Safelink.

A couple of questions entered my mind. Since when do welfare recipients make up any part of the conservative talk radio audience? More important, if this is an actual offer, who is paying for it?

I did some cursory research.

This free cellphone program has its origins in the “lifeline” program created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was intended to ensure that quality telecommunications services were available to low-income customers at just, reasonable, and affordable rates. Basically, it was a discount on a low-income person’s landline bill. The act requires telecommunications service providers to contribute to federal universal service in some equitable and nondiscriminatory manner. In other words, they pay. In 1997, the Federal Communications Commission created the Universal Service Fund to collect, manage, and distribute these funds.

The Universal Service Fund is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company. Its webpage provides a little information about where the money comes from: “Generally, companies that provide interstate telecommunications contribute to the fund. These providers are required to submit revenue data to USAC using the Telecommunications Reporting Worksheet (Form 499).”

The site states that the USAC invoices providers for the required contributions, and that the FCC extended universal service obligations to providers of interconnected Voice-Over-Internet Protocol services in 2006. Finally, it says, “Consumers may notice a ‘Universal Service’ line item on their telephone bills. This occurs when a provider chooses to recover its contributions directly from its customers through a line-item charge on its bills. The FCC does not require this. Each company makes a business decision about whether to directly assess its customers to recover its Universal Service Fund costs.”

So, who pays? We do. Through an underhanded tax on consumers.

No justification, to the effect that telecom companies simply make a business decision to pass these costs on, changes the fact that this is an additional tax on consumers. Personally, I am not a fan of big business and I believe that all business endeavors entail costs and risks, not all of which can or should be passed on to consumers. But the faux ignorance of the explanation is obnoxious. We in the government are just trying to get these companies to do good. So don’t blame us — we’re just trying to do the right thing. Blame the telecom companies that weasel out of paying their fair share under the guise of a business decision.

The result is that you and I are again stuck with a surreptitious tax. You and I are paying for someone else (and not a family member or friend, or even a designee of our choosing) to have a cellphone.  I am all for low-income people having access to phone services, but I’d like to see that access come through greater competition among telecommunications companies to reduce costs and increase service quality and convenience. Or through the work of private charitable institutions. There are ways to address low-income people’s needs for phone service other than a federal government program funded by an underhanded tax.

I looked at my phone bill and found a Universal Service Fee of $4.20. I’m calling and disputing it. I am taxed enough already. I’ll let you know AT&T’s response.




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Share and Share Alike

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My mother never taught me to share…that is, until she first taught me about private property. It’s a wise insight, which few adults share.

How many times have we seen an adult offer a toy or treat, and place it in the no-man’s-land between two absorbed four-year-olds, admonishing them to “share”? Their eyes light up with wonder; then, the wonder seamlessly metamorphoses into greed. Hands dart, each kid grasping to arrogate the goody to himself. But only one succeeds.

The loser, suddenly realizing he’s missed out, looks around perplexed, weighing his chances of liberating the goody from the other kid. Depending on relative size and age, he either makes a bold grab for the goody or starts bawling loudly in the direction of an adult, hoping for vindication. It’s only natural — the tragedy of the commons in miniature.

Sometimes, the adult has an inkling that one essential step might be missing from the lesson of sharing when it is taught this way; that is, one must own something before one can share it. So the adult adds a necessary but insufficient bit to the lesson: she’ll hand the goody to one child in a pretended ritual of conveyance, while at the same time insisting that he must share it. In other words, the treat isn’t really his — its . . . who knows?

Such mixed signals can only create conflict. The kid, believing the treat is his, refuses to give it up. So the adult intervenes, forcibly taking it from the now-bereft child and handing it over to the other kid, meanwhile lecturing both on the virtues of sharing.

There’s a perverse lesson here. The kid who didn’t originally get the goody learns the benefits of having an authority figure forcibly redistributing largesse from one person to another. The other kid learns — as Jimmy Carter once so eloquently put it — that “life isn’t fair” (not a bad lesson in some other context).

But a necessary prerequisite to sharing is still ownership, i.e., private property. We can see from the above examples that ownership is instinctual; it must not be undermined by taking the gift away after it’s been given.

When a child is given something, the adult should emphasize that the gift is the child’s to do with as he pleases, that no one can take the gift from him. This teaches the child the sanctity of private property; like his own, other children’s things are off limits. This is a lesson much more important than sharing, for it teaches integrity.

Sharing, by definition, is a voluntary act; if it’s not voluntary, it’s simply extortion. The only way to teach a child to share is by example — being careful not to cross the line into guilt — a huge temptation.

It can take a while to achieve the desired results. After all, ownership, as a new experience, must first be savored — for an indefinite period of time — in order to be properly imprinted. Only then can the concept of sharing be introduced. Even then, there is no guarantee that sharing will take place, because sharing is, by definition, a voluntary act.




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