Jun 24, 2010

My response to "Is the US Now On the Slippery Slope To Tyranny," by Thomas Sowell

I have kind of stopped talking about politics on this blog, at least in any in-depth way. Because I feel like the interface is not the best for real discussion. If you were all talking to me face to face, we'd be happy, pleasant, maybe a bit lively, we'd laugh. Reading it, the messages usually come across a bit harsher.

But I've made an exception this time, because I spent so much time on this for a friend's sake that I thought, I ought to post it. A lot of effort for just one person is good, but I feel more justified spending two hours on this if I feel like more people might read it. So... enjoy. I hope.

BTW, this friend has also authored a response to this article. Go check it out for a slightly different perspective.

Before I read this article, I decided to read the Constitution. Just to make sure I had it fresh in my head.

OK, so here is my response to the article. I'm going to do it line-by line, as my friends have done sometimes. :) I'll put my responses in italics, in order to help differentiate.

When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s, leading up to his taking power in the 1930s, he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics.

Most politicians have this goal... most are trying to gain the votes of, not only those who normally are active in politics, but also those who have, for whatever reason, remained apathetic or uninformed about politics. This can be a bad thing (some politicians like to use a voter's lack of knowledge against them, instill them with propaganda and so forth) but you have to admit... America as a whole is waaaaay too apathetic about politics. How many people vote? I'd love it if more people voted. In fact, this is the ONE thing I can't stand in a person who I'm discussing politics with: apathy. And many people have to grow politically, too, as they participate in the system. That is the one thing I LOVED about Obama's campaign... it got so many people motivated. He said things that reached people that don't normally vote, and now those people are possibly more interested for the rest of their life. Or at least, more informed. And perhaps will be more likely to continue to participate in the future, and continue to inform themselves.

Such people were a valuable addition to his political base, since they were particularly susceptible to Hitler's rhetoric and had far less basis for questioning his assumptions or his conclusions.

True, true. What does this have to do with anything, though? This is true in any political movement. It's particularly true, right now, of the tea party.

"Useful idiots" was the term supposedly coined by V.I. Lenin to describe similarly unthinking supporters of his dictatorship in the Soviet Union.

That's sad. I don't think Obama thinks of his supporters that way. If he did, he definitely wouldn't be silly enough to say it.

Put differently, a democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive.

Very true. How do they get informed, though? And at what point are they informed enough not to be "useful idiots"? Should those who haven't reached that level of political experience an scholarship be not allowed to vote?

In our times, American democracy is being dismantled, piece by piece, before our very eyes by the current administration in Washington, and few people seem to be concerned about it.

People have made this claim ever since the Constitution was written. I'm excited to understand the basis for this particular perspective, your specific reasoning that the Constitution is being dismantled.

The president's poll numbers are going down because increasing numbers of people disagree with particular policies of his, but the damage being done to the fundamental structure of this nation goes far beyond particular counterproductive policies.

It's true. And a lot of those falling numbers come from the radical left, who are disappointed at how very centrist and moderate our new president has shown himself to be. One has to understand, too, that any presidency that has picked up the kind of troubles that Obama's has, will have its ups and downs. One the one side, people get upset when things don't move fast enough, on the other side, people get upset because things are happening, period. A moderate president like Obama will tick off both sides. I'm surprised his numbers aren't far, far lower. To me, his current approval rating, in spite of all that is currently plaguing our country, is an interesting indication. Of what, I don't know... I don't generally base my opinion of how someone's doing on how everyone else feels about him.

Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere.

True! It says that nowhere.

And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

How? From what I understood, BP agreed to this. Obama's not standing there with his special CIA task-force, forcing billions out of BP. They talked together about how to fix this. BP has also apologized profusely, and made several statements to the effect that what they are doing is not enough.

Many among the public and in the media may think that the issue is simply whether BP's oil spill has damaged many people, who ought to be compensated.

To me, it's more about the egregious damage it has done to the planet. But I agree there are people who deserve compensation. Good thing BP seems to have taken Obama's advice, and is willing to try to work this out. It's likely to their advantage; it's better than being sued for their billions, by however many thousands of angry people have been hurt by this.

But our government is supposed to be "a government of laws and not of men."

If our laws and our institutions determine that BP ought to pay $20 billion — or $50 billion or $100 billion — then so be it.

But the Constitution says that private property is not to be confiscated by the government without "due process of law."

True. Good thing that the government's not confiscating anything... and that BP has agreed to try to repair the damage without having to be forced to by the judicial system. This actually makes me respect the company a whole lot... maybe I'll buy stocks when they've gotten over this hurdle and started developing clean energy technology :)

Technically, it has not been confiscated by Barack Obama, but that is a distinction without a difference.

Nope, it's way different. I'm glad you admitted Obama wasn't confiscating this, though. But I'd like to know what "distinction without a difference" means. Sounds a little shady to me... sounds, in fact, very much like "political-speak."

With vastly expanded powers of government available at the discretion of politicians and bureaucrats, private individuals and organizations can be forced into accepting the imposition of powers that were never granted to the government by the Constitution.


If you believe that the end justifies the means, then you don't believe in constitutional government.

I don't believe that the end justifies the means.

Please explain how these private enterprises were forced to do this. Explain these vastly expanded powers that somehow forced BP to agree to a measure that was clearly to their advantage, not only politically, but also economically in the face of potentially thousands of very expensive lawsuits.

And, without constitutional government, freedom cannot endure. There will always be a "crisis" — which, as the president's chief of staff has said, cannot be allowed to "go to waste" as an opportunity to expand the government's power.

That's nice. Again... could you please explain? I'd like some specifics, please.

That power will of course not be confined to BP or to the particular period of crisis that gave rise to the use of that power, much less to the particular issues.

Ok, now comes the fear-mongering. Just so you know, Mr. Sowell, you need to back up your fear-mongering with real information. Otherwise people are likely to call you out on it.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt arbitrarily took the United States off the gold standard, he cited a law passed during the First World War to prevent trading with the country's wartime enemies. But there was no war when FDR ended the gold standard's restrictions on the printing of money.

This is more Skywalker's area of expertise... I'm kind of hazy on this topic. But at any rate, I don't see what it has to do with Obama. The words "gold standard" are a rallying point for a certain group of people. I think that's your only reason for using the words, because the two situations do not parallel in any way.

At about the same time, during the worldwide Great Depression, the German Reichstag passed a law "for the relief of the German people."

This is all very interesting. Really. I just don't see what it has to do with Obama. I'm waiting for the whole argument of him tearing apart the constitution to be backed up by something at least somewhat tangible... Just one real example. That's all I ask.

That law gave Hitler dictatorial powers that were used for things going far beyond the relief of the German people — indeed, powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others.

"Rain of destruction" sounds kind of cool and biblical. I like it. I think I'm going to tell Bella that the next time she disobeys I'm going to rain destruction on her.

If the agreement with BP was an isolated event, perhaps we might hope that it would not be a precedent. But there is nothing isolated about it.

Isolated event? Of what? Talking to a company--

it's a british company, by the way... so even MORE clearly not something Obama can really do ANYTHING about even if he wanted to-

about the best way they can minimize their losses and discuss a problem that is very real to a large percentage of American people?

I actually wouldn't mind more of those isolated events. ;)

The man appointed by President Obama to dispense BP's money as the administration sees fit, to whomever it sees fit, is only the latest in a long line of presidentially appointed "czars" controlling different parts of the economy, without even having to be confirmed by the Senate, as Cabinet members are.

He was not appointed by Obama. Here's the link, again... please go read it, Mr. Sowell. He's acting as a go-between for Obama and BP, as both the American people as a whole (citizens of several states, involving federal disaster programs, etc) and the company need to figure out a way to work this whole thing out.

Those who cannot see beyond the immediate events to the issues of arbitrary power — vs. the rule of law and the preservation of freedom — are the "useful idiots" of our time. But useful to whom?

I agree with this statement entirely... and I'd say... useful to any politician who wants to use them. Or to their public, if they have a following. Who are you useful to, Mr. Sowell?


Putz said...

i am glad our war machine {afhganistan} ....>>.used to be you girl >>>i always thought i was blogging to a girl foreign and thousands of miles away<<<<<<{remember} has changed> new general>>i just had to say that off the start>>>now about big O>>>my tea party neighbors have said that this slippery slope orchastrated by our leader >>>he has every intention on bringing {intentionally} usa down{ his intention} have i said that enough?????i don't believe it, even though good mormons tell me it is so>>>his idea is to make america great>>>he might not do it but then again our bush didn't do it either>>>i like him and believe in him, and now i am heading out the door to boston before they linch me

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, but some of your retort is just as biased and unfounded as the original.
"[Apathy] can be a bad thing (some politicians like to use a voter's lack of knowledge against them, instill them with propaganda and so forth)..."
"That is the one thing I LOVED about Obama's campaign... it got so many people motivated. He said things that reached people that don't normally vote, and now those people are possibly more interested for the rest of their life. Or at least, more informed."
OR he used BS and propaganda to make a bunch of O-Zombies! The lens through which you view the world sees Tea Party zombies, but I BEG to differ with that view. Please lob your uninformed slander elsewhere.

NoSurfGirl said...


I feel bad that you feel I've slandered something precious to you. But you have to realize how you sound. The word "slander" should be reserved, IMHO, for things that are sacred. Maybe the Tea Party is sacred to you, but it really isn't to me.

In fact... maybe you ought to examine that a little bit.

Putz said...

i don't view your ideas as slander no surf>>>so there anon

Grung_e_Gene said...

Nice point by point dissection.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pulling it apart and commenting piece by piece. Well done.


Anonymous said...

You state that "And a lot of those falling numbers come from the radical left, who are disappointed at how very centrist and moderate our new president has shown himself to be." I find it interesting that while Obama is clearly further left than any other President in this country's history, he is regarded as "moderate and centrist". I think what is happening is that many leftists mistake Obama's lack of results for a lack of leftist effort.

To use an analogy, if a car is starting to skid sideways on a curve, turning the steering wheel into the turn won't do any good. Passengers in the car may perceive that the driver isn't turning hard enough, and may be annoyed at him for that, but that doesn't mean the driver isn't turning hard enough into the turn to take his passengers where they want to go.

Many leftist policies, taken too far, will have the opposite of the claimed intended effect. Since the policies will give more power to those in government, however, those in power will benefit from them even if the supposed "beneficiaries" do not. Indeed, as problems get worse, that can be used as a justification to step up the policies still further.

Lenin didn't call his naive supporters "useful idiots" to their face, nor would I expect any of today's leftists to do so. On the other hand, they count on their supporters to mistake a shortage of "intended effect" for a shortage of action, just like the passengers in the earlier analogy. The only reason such leftists have support is that many people are blind to what's going on.

Note: it's not only Democrats who exploit people's ignorance of true cause and effect. Some Republicans do too, in different ways. Frankly, I think such politicians need to be dumped from both parties.

NoSurfGirl said...


OK... Fair analogy, anonymous #4. But... I think you're wrong about him being further left than any president in our recent history. Unless you mean, recent as in the last two presidencies... but I'm still, to this day, not sure what Bush was. He was nothing, really.

For a post I did on why I think Obama is a centrist, you can look here.

Anonymous said...

Your post about Obama being a centrist contained a video link that no longer works. Without knowing what's in the video, I can't really respond to it.

If you don't mind, though, I'd like to ask you a question related to medical reform: suppose a doctor has time to treat one of two patients, Bob or Joe. Bob isn't feeling wonderful, but accepting treatment would leave him with $500 less than he'd have if he declined, he'd rather have the $500. Joe is feeling lousy, and would gladly give up $1,000 for the treatment. Who should the doctor treat?

As I see it, for the doctor to spend his time treating Bob rather than Joe would effectively destroy at least $500 worth of wealth that could have been divided up among Bob, Joe, and the doctor. For example, if Joe gave Bob $600 cash and gave the doctor $300 in addition to whatever he would have gotten treating Joe, Joe would have received $600 to forgo treatment when he would have gladly taken $500, so he's at least $100 better off. The doctor receives $300 beyond what he otherwise would have gotten, and Joe gets for $900 treatment for which he would gladly have paid $1,000, so he's at least $100 better off.

Perfectly-efficient allocation of resources is impossible, but the primary function of much of the government's involvement in health care is to divert treatments from people who would value them more, to people who would value them less. This makes treatments more scarce for those who really value them (leading to calls for increased government involvement, exacerbating the problem).

Is there some flaw in my logic?

Putz said...

anon the flaw in your logic is the amounts<<<>>>>not 300 dollars but 3000 dollars or 300,0oo if we are talking about a hear, and my unemployed son mike who is pregnan would have to abort his baby because he can't afford food or continued life without the money>>>so poo poo on you who>>>sorry to be so dramatic but i also have a scitophrenic son who nee3ds constant care and $1000 shot{not eggagerating} every two weeks, yes every two weeks and i was only a custodian while in the workd force and he can't work so how do we manage that>>>??????

Cindy said...

Very interesting post! Thanks!

NoSurfGirl said...

It was more the links at the end I was hoping to promote.

The video was that SNL skit about Obama doing nothing.

As to wealth and treating patients, I don't see how the two should be related to each other. I feel like Health Care should be something available to all Americans, regardless of economic situation or social status, just like police protection, and other civic services are. That's how I feel about it... I know a lot of my friends and family wouldn't agree with me on that point. Likely you wouldn't too... that's OK.

If you're getting at the whole Health Care bill as the reason why Obama is "further left than any president in history," I'd have to say that I don't think it is. Who invented socialized education? Far more sinister than socialized medicine, don't you think? I believe that was under president Thomas Jefferson, I believe. Though he'd probably do all sorts of cringing to see how it's turned out.

Not to mention F. Roosevelt. I'd challenge anyone to state that Obama comes even close to Roosevelt, as far as shifting America in a more "leftish" direction is concerned.

I'll add to that: I'm not entirely sure it's a bad thing, either. But that's another post. Suffice it to say... I don't think America's teetering on the edge simply because we've changed over the years.

NoSurfGirl said...

sorry for the redundancy and grammatical mismatch in that last post. It's getting too late... I need some sleep.

Anonymous said...

//As to wealth and treating patients, I don't see how the two should be related to each other. I feel like Health Care should be something available to all Americans, regardless of economic situation or social status, just like police protection, and other civic services are.//

Health-care resources are finite. It's possible for certain programs to increase or decrease the quantity of resources available, but it's difficult to increase the quantity of health care resources beyond a certain point without an extreme increase in cost.

If a given quantity of health care resources is available, any program which allocates resources to someone who would otherwise not receive them will cause those resources to be unavailable to someone else who otherwise would. If 500 of some type of resource are available in some geographic area, which is more sensible: allocate them to the 500 people who value them the most, or allocate some of them to people who value them less?

If Bob would rather have $500 than have the treatment, and Joe would rather spend $1,000 on the treatment than do without it, why should the relative wealth of Bob or Joe have anything to do with resource allocation? If Bob would rather have $500 than the treatment, but someone else would happily pay more than $1,000 for the treatment, why would it be better to give Bob a treatment worth $1,000 than give him $500 cash? If Bob is so hard up for cash that he'd have to take a third job to pay for a $500 treatment, wouldn't $500 cash be more useful to him?

NoSurfGirl said...

I understand what you're saying. And in theory, that should work. The problem, anon #4, is that a large sector (estimated at 30 million) have neither 1000 nor 500 nor even 50 dollars. So they're left out of the picture entirely. They don't have the choice of being treated or not... their treatment is entirely at the mercy and charity of those around them. Now, there are those that say that the poor should be handled in exactly that way--let people give charity. The problem with this is, not enough people care enough to make sure these unfortunate poor get the treatment they need (and in a way, deserve. A lot of the jobs these people hold are jobs that require long hours of grinding work that most people would not choose to do. And the argument that most of these people are lazy just doesn't cut it... many research studies show that while there is a small portion of people on welfare that take advantage of the system, most are trying to improve their circumstances, or at least, do their very best to eke out a living.

As to the other piece of your argument: that health care resources are finite and allowing everyone to participate regardless of their ability to pay the cost of healthcare will unduly burden our system...

we already pay for emergency services for all these people. This cost is astronomical. If, instead, we paid for the front-end of these costs (preventative care), not only would we reduce our cost (we wouldn't have to pay as much for our own services, because we won't be paying for all the pro-bono services provided to the poor at emergency rooms) but the poor wouldn't have to get so very sick in order to get help.

Win-win, in my opinion. ;)

Anonymous said...

Very few people can honestly say that they have no expenditures that they couldn't do without. If someone spends $1,000 over the course of a year for cable television, and then gets sick and demands other people pay for it, how is that person not effectively demanding that those other people pay for his decision to spend $1,000 on cable television?

If someone can't afford to spend $1,000/year on television and provide for his health-care needs, but the person decides to spend $1,000/year on cable anyway, that person should suffer for his decision. If people in that situation know that they'll suffer if they spend their money on cable, they'll be less likely to do so.

Returning to an earlier point of discussion, the reason I brought up medicine is that it's an example both of "skidding", and of a case where Obama and the Democrats are much more leftist than many liberals want to give them credit for. Fundamentally, Obamacare will divert medical resources from those who would pay for them themselves to those who would have government provide it. The more resources are diverted to the government programs, the fewer will remain for those seeking to buy them. This will in turn push up the price so that people who would have been able to buy their own care will no longer be able to afford it and have to seek care from the government system.

Liberals will complain that too many people are still unable to afford care, and will push to keep expanding the program. The problem is that the more the program expands, the less care will be available to those who need it most.

When care is allocated to those who value it most, there's no incentive for people to pretend their condition is worse than it is. If Joe is willing to pay $1,000 for treatment and Bob wants to claim his condition hurts more, he can receive treatment ahead of Joe if he's willing to pay more than $1,000, but it will cost him. If his condition isn't that bad, he'll decide to let Joe go ahead of him (keeping his money).

By contrast, if people don't have to pay for treatment, any effort to allocate treatment to those with greatest need will encourage people to maximize their actual or apparent need. Someone whose condition might get worse will have a considerable incentive to start seeking treatment early, even if the condition might improve, rather than risk having to wait longer if it gets worse. Once the person's turn for service comes around, the person will likely take treatment whether or not the condition ended up getting bad enough to really require it. The longer the waiting lists get, the more treatment will be squandered on people who don't really need it, leaving less for those who do.

In the end, the only people who will be able to receive any sort of timely care will be those who can afford to keep a personal physician on staff. Nice if you're a bigwig or politician. Not so nice if you're anyone else.