Saturday, February 22, 2003

Welfare Recipients Forced to Work While Going to College!!!

Check out this editorial, typical of the Register's stance on welfare reform. Always a view protecting the status of current welfare recipients. Reform without pain... that's the only way.

Here are some of the highlights:

The marriage initiatives are simply wrong. They don't work. They only further stigmatize single motherhood and scapegoat single parents as the reason for poverty.

Now, why would we want to stigmatize people who indulge in behavior that puts them in a position in which society (that would be you and me) is compelled to support them? I am absolutely FOR the stigmatization of people who choose to have children when they are incapable of taking on this enormous responsibility. I don't care if they are unable to cope emotionally (like Michael Jackson, who is incredibly rich but, IMHO should have the child welfare people on his butt), or financially. Ever hear of "enabling bad behavior"? The strongest indicator that a child will not grow up in poverty is being born in a two parent household. A two-parent household (I'm for gay adoption and legal gay unions by the way... so I'm not coming at this from a "religious right" point of view.) simply provides a much better and flexible financial and emotional foundation to raise children.

But it's the work requirements that really stand to hurt people. It may not sound like a big deal to require welfare mothers to work more, but it is.

Welfare hurts people, the individuals entrapped in it and society as a whole. The lure of living on the dole has ruined millions of lives in the country. It SHOULD be a big deal. Being on welfare should SUCK. It should be worse than working long hours at a crappy job to support your family. It should be SO BAD and SO HURTFUL that women will think twice before they have children when they are not ready to support them. This isn't Dickinson London in the 1850s, okay. If you choose to be sexually active, use birth control. Use it consistently and effectively. First trimester abortion is safe, available, effective and legal. If your moral convictions make abortion an non starter, take extra care with your contraceptive regimen... or here's an idea... don't have sex.

Currently, an Iowa mother with two children receiving about $300 a month from the government and getting help with child care can meet the requirements of welfare by attending classes full time at a community college. If she uses this time to get an education, the hope is that her long-term opportunities will be more promising. The cycle of poverty will be broken. If the House legislation is imposed, the Iowa woman might need to work 24 hours in a job before her schooling could count for her "work requirement." (It's worth noting jobs are in short supply in the current economy.) That could result in her having to go to school part time instead of full time. If she makes even a little too much money at her job, both her child-care subsidy and tuition aid could be at risk.

Oh please... Yes, we should absolutely encourage people to get an education. There are a myriad of financial aid opportunities to help low income people get a college education. So you've got to work up to 3 (notice the might need to work 24 hours... I wonder what the real requirements are...) days a week to go to college. Tell that to the kid flipping burgers or working a crappy telemarketing job to put herself through college, without the benefit of welfare. So a welfare mother would have to go to school part time. When you do not have the ability to pay your own way, your choices are limited.

That's what stricter work requirements mean in the real world.

What real world? The point is that welfare insulates people from the real world by disconnecting them from the consequences of their actions. If the government is going to be in the business of financing the outcome of behavior, it has a huge stake in influencing people's behavior to lessen the blow. Government should do everything it its power to incent people to be autonomous, responsible, contributing members of society.

Welfare reform is not meant to benefit the people currently on the welfare rolls. It is mean to provide a strong and growing incentive for people NOT to live their lives on welfare and have children when they cannot support them. The policy has a longer view. It is designed to break the cycle of multi-generational welfare recipients. It trades some hurt now for much less hurt later.
Yes, that's me in my backyard last summer. I edited the page header and added the picture.

Friday, February 21, 2003

The Rob and Rekha Show

Rob Borsellino and his wife Rekha Basu are my two favorite columnists at the Des Moines Register. Both transplants from New York (Hey, I am TOO… by way of Minneapolis), they seem to want to do everything in their power to turn Des Moines into the Big Apple. They miss Manhattan it seems.

A couple of years back, presumably fed up with the great unwashed and being a couple of huge journalistic great whites in the cultural backwater of South-Central Iowa, the Borsellinos left for the greener, larger and presumably more lucrative pastures of south Florida. Within less than two years, they were back; praising Des Moines for its livability and the warmth of its people… please let us back into your newspaper and hearts… we made a mistake… it was a mid-life crisis. Then they promptly began writing Op-Ed pieces once again lecturing Des Moines’ residents about their Midwestern troglodyte ways.

Rob and Rekha are to Des Moines what the French and Germans are to the East European EU applicant nations. They are the great elite enlighteners. Be very quiet, listen and maybe you’ll learn something. Ah… Chirac and Schroeder on the banks of the Des Moines River.

I read their articles and want to scream: “I know what you’re doing. I lived in New York City and had to deal with ‘enlightened’ folks like you at cocktail parties. Stop trying to turn Des Moines into New York. I don’t want to live in New York!!! I want to live in Des Moines!!!”

Their columns are like Cliff Note versions of Utne Reader pieces. Droningly, unimaginatively Liberal, almost never insightful, persuasive only if you agree with them in the first place. Why can Iowans be more like folks on the East Coast? Why aren’t they more cosmopolitan? Why aren’t they more sensitive to the plights of minorities and women? Why can’t Des Moines be more of a big city… uh, just without all of the bad stuff? Why aren’t there more and more and more government programs? Why the love affair with guns… and fireworks? Yes… fireworks.

I remember the first Rekha Op-Ed piece that got me going. Four years ago or so, there was a group of inner city black kids riding in a car with A WHOLE LOT of fireworks in it. Somehow, the stash of explosives, well… exploded. The blast killed two of the riders and severely burned the third. How did this happen? It seems one of the kids in the car was launching bottle rockets or something from the vehicle. Rekha’s conclusion…? The behavior was stupid, dangerous and it was not that surprising that the accident happened? Oh no. All fireworks must be banned for private use. We can all watch fireworks displays, put on by safe, licensed pyrotechnicians. We are too stupid to have such dangerous things around. The government must outlaw them for our own good.

Straight up… I LOVE fireworks. I have two boys. They LOVE fireworks. I love to watch them shoot off fireworks. And, you know what…? Before I let them put match to their first smoke bomb, I talked to them about the DANGER of fireworks. “Boys…” I said, in my most stern and fatherly voice. “… fireworks are fun. But they are dangerous. They must be treated with respect and here are some ground rules…”. Hey, I’m a dad. That’s my job.

Rob and Rekha would no doubt be shocked to learn that I’m also teaching my boys how to shoot… oh noooooooooooo, Mr. Bill… guns. I own a 22 rifle and a couple of shotguns. Under my close supervision, my sons are learning gun safety and the joy of target shooting and hunting.

There is a practical reason that make fireworks are a good thing. Human beings SHOULD KNOW HOW TO SAFELY HANDLE THINGS THAT ARE DANGEROUS. Certain things should be treated with a great amount of respect. There is survival value in this. Pay attention, this could hurt you. It’s also (in a low whisper…) part of the fun.

Fireworks do not kill, Rekha. Recklessness and stupidity kill. And when you try to take everything dangerous out the hands of the general populace, what do you breed…? Stupidity and recklessness.

I can’t help but think that East Coast elitists, like their European counterparts, want nothing but a nice herd of docile cows – helpless, easily led. Like cows, we unwashed masses guys are clueless, we can’t be trusted to make our own decisions. All of the gumption must be bred out of us so that the “enlightened few” can easily lead us to domesticity… uh, I mean, the good life.

Chances are, you will be treated to more than a few of Rob and Rekha’s columns in the coming months. My goal is to dissect at least one a week. This is going to be fun.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Domestic Libertarian, International Statist???

I’m a pretty staunch Libertarian on the home front, but I’m a solid backer of the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq. Aha! Domestic Libertarian, but an International “Statist”!!! Inconsistent…? Well, obviously I don’t think so. Some fundamentalist Libertarians would take issue with my view. “Classical” Libertarian thinkers warn us that during a war, government power inevitably grows and threatens civil liberties. How do I reconcile myself to minimalist government within the US while supporting a pro-active role for the US internationally?

In short, I think that the current world environment, post 9/11 is definitely a case in which “the best defense is a good offense”. Why? Because, to react in a defensive posture under the threat of externally supported terrorism on the home front, is to surrender the freedoms that we have taken for granted in this country since its inception. If we change our way of life and give up these hard-earned freedoms, the terrorists have won at least a partial victory. That must not be allowed to happen.

If we allow the terrorists to make us live in fear, the first casualty in the war on terror will be our liberties. Many Americans will not only not mind the government swallowing up our privacy and other rights for the “war on terrorism”, they will demand it. Well, I’m not willing to give up liberties. I don’t want to see cops carrying M16s on every corner in Manhattan. I do not want to be forced to carry a National Picture ID.

If to protect individual liberties at home, we must wage war abroad, so be it. I say this without excuses, without apologies. However, I will try to offer a reasoned argument.

Grab a world atlas. Turn to the page featuring a political map of North America. Notice the heavy lines on the map that define the United States of America. Those lines represent something more than mere territory. They are the boundaries of a living, breathing experiment, refining and re-refining the relationship between the government and the governed. We with US citizenship are incredibly lucky. Either through accident of birth or the guts to leave our homeland, we are fortunate to live in the country that has the strongest conception and practical application of individual liberty on the face of the planet.

Now, I am not anti-immigration. Nor am I xenophobic… I’m half Hispanic after all. I welcome all people who come to the U.S. with a desire for freedom and opportunity and the drive and determination to work. I do not want the line on that map to be the wall of a fortress. Canada and the US have a border that runs almost 3,000 miles. And, at least until this current unpleasantness, it was arguably the most porous international border on Earth. Why? Because Canada and the US share the same fundamental concepts of liberty and justice and have institutions, traditions and infrastructure to support them. We have our differences, but we live in the same conceptual space and the laxity of our common border is a reflection of that.

Though not a xenophobe, I am a cultural supremacist when it comes to the ideas and framework set out in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. When enemies of those ideals, foreign or domestic, threaten our liberties within those lines on the map, the gloves must come off. We must seek out those who threaten our liberty, apply force and make it untenable for them to do so. Homeland Security should not only about protecting life and limb. In fact, I would submit that it is not primarily about physical safety, but rather the right of the American people to feel safe and free in their own country.

We must do everything that we can to avoid a siege mentality. If anything will make us lose the best aspects of the American character, this is it. In fact, we should invite like minded nations and their people into this “sphere of liberty. The bigger this sphere is, the better it is for all Americans and for the world as a whole. To grow this common space, the US should actively promote the promulgation of it its ideas and ideals through example and peaceful discourse. However, when we are under foreign threat, as I believe we are now, the preamble to the Constitution makes it clear, the federal government must “… provide of the common defense…”.

No, there is not an invading armada about to land on American shores. But, we are threatened nonetheless. In the 21st century, there does not have to be a fleet of ships filled with enemy soldiers on the East Coast for there to be a demonstrable threat. September 11th proved that. No, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that those murderous evil men will be able to take over an U.S. airliner and use it as a bomb. The brave passengers of flight 93 made this tactic obsolete less than 2 hours after it was first employed.

This is why the time, effort and tremendous amounts of tax money put into airline security are ridiculous. Think of the inconvenience and indignity that we suffer each time we board an airliner. Oh no, you can’t take that nail clipper on the plane! Little boy, your GI Joe has a 1/8th scale model of an M1 Garand -- that’s a simulated firearm – never mind that it’s a rifle that’s only three inches long. People are scared little boy, this is no time for reason and logic! This makes us feel secure in the homeland, boy!

This incident with the 1/8th scale model really happened. This is a relatively benign example of the absurdities that we will face if we do not deal with this threat soon. Our enemy WILL think of something else. Americans will again die on American soil. We will then contort ourselves and our system to try to “feel” secure in our own country. And it will be impossible to effectively provide “homeland security” without losing touch with who we are.

We must therefore seek these people out and destroy them.

I do not support the move to war without thought or some Libertarian reservations. Governments, including our own, have a track record of doing nasty things to civil liberties in time of war. In the current crisis, it is our duty as free Americans to monitor, speak out against, and resist this tendency of government to turn on its own people. There are those in government that would love to use the current crisis to expand the control of government over our lives. John Poindexter’s Office of Total Information Awareness (the name of this agency is too Orwellian to be believed…) is a heinous example of this tendency.

This is OUR government -- a government that holds power with the consent of the governed -- that would be you and me -- and that we have the responsibility to ensure that the United States does not become an international bully. We cannot allow the defense of our liberties to become a pretext for adventurism or imperialism. The protesters that were on the streets of London, Paris, Rome… not to mention New York and San Francisco believe that the US is already an international bully.

They are wrong.

The behavior of the United States in the second half of the twentieth century proves them wrong. Never in the history of the world has a nation had so much power and been more loath to use it. Think of the world immediately after World War II, before the Soviets had the bomb. Think of the Marshall Plan. Think again of that border with Canada and of the unexploited oil in the Canadian Arctic and put together a reasoned argument to convince me that the US is an imperialist, oil-hungry behemoth that takes what it wants.

We must hold our government to our own standards of liberty and respect for individual rights and national self determination whenever possible in the development and execution of foreign policy. We must learn from our mistakes and excesses from the Cold War era. We did not go overboard too often, but now that we do not have a superpower adversary with thousands of nuclear weapons, we can afford to err more on the side of prudence. Too often we subscribed to the idea that the enemy of my enemy is our friend. We made alliances with petty tyrants and intervened in the internal affairs of leftist leaning countries (think Chile and Kissinger) and did other things that did not really have a reasonable role in containing the Soviet Union. We did those things out fear.

It’s very easy for me with perfect hindsight to question the actions of the State and Defense Departments during the Cold War. However we are a country that learns from its mistakes. We must admit that these unsavory alliances can only unnecessarily weaken our influence with friends, allies and foes alike. Perhaps more importantly, not being consistent to our values whenever possible in foreign relations, weakens our application of those values at home. It takes away from us the best of who we are.

That does not mean that all of our standards apply, however. Terrorists, the states that support them and other foreign combatants are not accused criminals entitled to due process. They are not innocent until proven guilty. Not all international players are reasonable, unlike what France, Germany and the bureaucrats at the United Nations would have us believe. Some are downright nasty. Some players are not even recognized as players. They are pirates that are aided and abetted by nation states.

Iraq is one of those states. Iraq has defied the United Nations and the United States for almost 12 years. There is no doubt that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons. There is a reasonable possibility that they are close to having a nuclear weapon. There is no doubt that Saddam Huessin and his band of kleptocratic thugs have denied the Iraqi people all of the rights we as American citizens take for granted.

What drives our enemy? This is an essay in and of itself. It has been covered in depth by established bloggers. If you haven’t done so already, check out Steven Den Beste, Bill Whittle, and Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Call it “Islamofacism”, “Fundamentalist Islam”, or whatever. This is a war of opposing cultures. They hate us. They do not want to coexist with us. They want us – well not really us, but our way of life – gone.

After 9/11, I did not buy any bumper stickers, or fly flags off of my car. Overt displays of patriotism tend to make me nervous and distrustful. Displaying the symbols of freedom is an inexpensive substitute for putting something on the line to defend freedom. The time for bumper stickers and flags is over. The time for action is here. Let’s get on with it. But, let’s never forget who we are. We must go into this war with confidence, humility and resolve. We must never forget what we are fighting for, not just for America, but for all people who believe in the right of the individual to live his life by his own lights... the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Must Blog... Must Blog...

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Royce Dunbar. I'm a 46 year old Network Engineer and ex actor. I'm also an ex-flaming Liberal... in the Hubert Humphrey sense of the term. I live in Des Moines Iowa, in the heartland of the American Midwest. I live a pretty ordinary life. I've been married for over 21 years, have 2 sons ages 11 and 15. I go to work every day, help my kids with their homework after dinner... the usual stuff.

However, I have found that, other than these obvious middle-class demographic "norms", I share little in common with most of my neighbors. I do not attend a church. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I am pro choice and pro death penalty. I favor goverment policies that are fiscally very conservative and socially very liberal. I'm pro gay rights... just as long as I don't have to pay for their (or anyone else's) lifestyle. I'm pro legalization of all drugs. But I consider the excuse "I was stoned... or drunk... or whatever" to be no excuse for any behavior that ends up harming another person. I believe that the abdication of personal responsibility is the cause of much unneeded suffering in our society. I believe in the the supremecy and power of the market, not because it is a human creation, but because it is a "natural" system, meaning that it is as natural an aspect of the human condition as eating or sex.

I'm anti-welfare state, anti redistribution of wealth by government force, anti-affirmative action (I'm half Puerto Rican, by the way), anti junk science, anti goverment "engineering" of society through "progressive" taxation. Okay... I'm basically anti big government.

I believe in the basic decency of most people. I also believe some people are truly evil and should not walk on the same planet with decent folk. I think that the Declaration of Independence is on of the most incredible pieces of "functional art" created by a human being.

Okay... you guessed it... yeah and the title was a dead give away. I'm a Libertarian.

I also live in one of the most LEAST libertarian leaning states in the US. Most folks here are the polar opposite of Libertarians -- socially conservative and fiscally liberal (even though they claim to be fiscally conservative). You'll meet some who are both socially liberal and fiscally liberal... WAY fiscally liberal. And a few who are fiscally conservative and socially conservative...WAY socially onservative. Iowa is a state in which most people who live the traditional Iowa lifestyle (farming) are on the dole. The state is demographically very old... these folks are, of course, also on the dole. That partially explains why even the social conservatives are fiscally liberal... they (or someone they know) are on the dole.

My first goal in starting this Blog is to simply have an outlet for my thoughts. I love to write, have had several OpEd pieces published (yes... you'll be subjected to them in later posts...) and am hoping to improve my writing. We'll see if goal number one works...

The second goal I have is to provide an alternative to the editorial stance taken by the local newspaper, The Des Moines Register.. The Register is something like a community theatre version of The New York Times. The editorials are, for the most part, poorly-written one-note liberal drones. Most of the front-page material is from the wire services. There is always some "feel good" or "feel-bad" or "feel-worried" piece about some minority, family farmer, fill-in-the-blank victim in the A section. Yep, it's a newspaper about feelings. I'm subscribed to it. I read it. It gets me feel mad. So, I've decided to do something about it.

I've decided to try my hand at "Fisking" the most outrageous pieces, news and editorial, in the Des Moines Register. That will be part, but not all of this Blog. It will be "all over the place". It is my hope that it will be entertaining, informative and worth reading. Only time will tell.