Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Great Wall of Canada



Unlike the United States, which often makes presidents of its governors, Canada has no tradition of elevating its provincial premiers to the office of prime minister. But, as the Romans used to say, Exceptio regulam probat (“The exception proves the rule”) – and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall might be that exception.

Last week, Premier Wall was in Washington, DC, to talk about a bevy of issues with congressional leaders. I spoke with him during his trip and asked, of the many topics he was in town to address – energy, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, country-of-origin meat labeling – which was most important?

Refreshingly, unlike many politicians, Wall gave a straight answer: the Boundary Dam and Saskatchewan’s revolutionary carbon capture project.

The $1.35 billion undertaking, which is set to go online this summer, will become the world’s first post-combustion, coal-fired carbon capture and storage facility. In converting the Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Saskatchewan, the project integrates a rebuilt coal-fired generation unit with carbon capture technology to create low-emission power.

Coal is copious in Saskatchewan, and Wall is convinced Boundary Dam can make the best of that resource.

“Clean coal is not an oxymoron,” he avers, and he hopes to establish a model from which other economies, including the United States, can learn.

In this way, and not for the first time, tiny Saskatchewan, with a population of just over 1 million, is showing larger jurisdictions how to do things well.

The cradle of Canadian socialism, a place so flat you can watch your dog run away for days, Saskatchewan was for decades shunned and scorned, even by those who were born there.

“We used to give luggage as a graduation gift,” Wall recollects of provincial tradition. But in recent years, a burgeoning economy, fostered by a government with the good sense to get out of the way, has reversed that. “We have net in-migration from every province in Canada,” Wall reports, “with the occasional quarterly exception of Alberta.”

Speaking of Alberta, Wall is one of many voices, Canadian and American, advocating the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from that province to Texas. After years of studies and reports, Keystone is the most scrutinized conveyance in the history of running liquid, yet its approval remains elusive.

Wall contends there is a window to get Keystone approved before the November congressional elections, for one reason: “Democrats don’t want to lose the Senate.” This reverses the rationale of many conservatives, including Charles Krauthammer, who think the Keystone’s approval is a fait accompli after the election, but not before, as Democrats’ opposition is a purely political stance, to motivate their voting base among the environmental left.

In either case, Keystone would be one of 75 oil pipelines criss-crossing the Canada-US border, and Wall is bemused that this particular project has become a cause celebre. During his DC trip, Wall speculated on concessions Canada might make in order to expedite the approval. His comments were misconstrued by the Canadian media to suggest he favors a carbon tax – which he most certainly does not – perhaps as an honest mistake, or wishful thinking by liberal-minded reporters, hoping to co-opt a popular politician to their cause.

The United States needs Keystone more than Canada does, and even the most verdant Democrat understands this. If there’s one metric that affects federal politicians, including presidents, it’s the price of gas, and a steady, affordable supply from a neighbor and ally will be beneficial in this regard.

As to being misquoted, Wall is not exactly angry (and honestly, what is an angry Saskatchewan Premier going to do – swat you with his curling broom?), though he does evince some frustration. For the benefit of American readers, a Canadian politician admitting to being “frustrated” is the rough equivalent of a president going to DEFCON 2.

Back home, Wall is having undeniable success in his second term. Saskatchewan unemployment is at 3.8% and as Premier, Wall enjoys an approval rating of 66%.

Even those of us who are not professional politicians, and who cannot count on 66% approval in our own living rooms, have to be impressed by such numbers.

As a pundit, one is privileged to interact with leaders in various fields, including and especially politics. Sometimes, one is grateful the conversation is at an end. That is, an interlocutor may be important, erudite and newsworthy, but something about them is irksome, and one gets the feeling of being played.

With Brad Wall, the opposite is true. While he is plainly intelligent, and discusses policy at a high level, he is at ease with himself, and a free trader in the marketplace of ideas. He is outcome-oriented, yet simultaneously and invariably pleasant.

This puts him in contrast to the prime minister many hope he will replace. Canada’s current leader, Stephen Harper, has something of a following among American conservatives but, as his critics point out, he has never been embraced by a majority of Canadians. This seems, at least in part, a function of Harper’s bloodless demeanor.

Harper’s attempts to seem genial, which are clearly unnatural to him, result in a discomfiting incongruity, like a nursery rhyme in a horror film.

During his DC sojourn, Wall noted numerous photos of Ronald Reagan in congressional offices. “Reagan was not interested in the whole left-right thing,” Wall notes, “but up and down.”

To Wall, an effective leader will defend his ideas or improve them, placing purpose ahead of ideology. Most of all, he understands that progress is achieved by the citizens he serves.

“Government is not going to take credit for the economy,” Wall says, speaking of Saskatchewan and of successful stewardship in general. It is a refreshing philosophy, from which a nation would benefit.

Theo Caldwell, an author and broadcaster, is a dual US-Canadian citizen. Contact him at theo@theocaldwell.com


Monday, March 3, 2014

Dave Camp's Tax Reform Shows Why We Should Abolish the IRS



As Congressman Dave Camp’s big line goes, the United States’ tax code is ten times the size of the Bible, but with none of the Good News.

When someone whose signature riff laments the length of tax laws attempts to remedy the situation, you’d expect his fix to be the soul of brevity.  The fact that Camp’s newly released proposal clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages makes one wonder if the right problem is being addressed.

As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Camp has undertaken a worthy task in issuing a new discussion draft on tax reform.

But in slogging through the document’s 979 pages (for those with lives to lead, a 32-page Executive Summary is also available), what becomes apparent is the ubiquitous, soul-crushing influence tax considerations have upon every aspect of American life.

From education to adoption to health care to religion – literally, from birth to death – there is a tax consequence to almost every action, no matter how intimate or picayune.

Camp’s ambition is to simplify the system and eliminate many of the politically driven incentives within the code.  This is laudable, but in finding offsets and attempting to help families or charities or other worthies, he ends up with slightly less of the same – a regime wherein almost anything you do is some of the taxman’s business.

Whether the tax implication is good or bad is beside the point.  What matters is that the conduct of civil society becomes influenced and distorted by tax considerations.

Camp has attempted to improve the system by working within it.  To see a dedicated and diligent public servant achieve such an underwhelming  result through this approach yields an inescapable conclusion: The system itself must be scrapped.

To his credit, Camp spends considerable energy attempting to reform the Internal Revenue Service, enumerating rights for targeted taxpayers and calling a halt to the agency’s lavish spending on itself.  But this merely addresses symptoms.

To wit, if you have to write a law saying agency employees should not squander money on conferences while abusing the taxpayers they purport to serve, the rot is already too deep.

As its recent, infamous conduct reveals, the IRS is a malignant outfit, for which America has no need.  The United States survived and thrived for the majority of its history before this absurdly titled “Service” was spawned barely 100 years ago.  Despite its arrogant, institutional insistence that it embodies  that necessity of civilized society spoken of by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the IRS has shown itself to be unscrupulous and unworthy to gather the nation’s financing.

It is an abiding challenge to make Americans understand things can be different, and this is not how taxes are handled in other parts of the world.

Officious though they may be, the tax authorities of other developed nations do not infest every aspect of private life, nor do they operate as political enforcers  for the party favored by the bureaucracy – and they most certainly do not treat their citizens abroad as tax subjects, requiring them to file and pay taxes regardless of where they reside (with the exception of Eritrea).

As columnist Mark Steyn often notes, Americans’ cringing fear of their tax department is a disgraceful anomaly among liberalized nations, and unbecoming supposedly free citizens.

If, then, we lance the boil that is the IRS, how do we fund the government?

You may choose one of the following options (but not both): a consumption tax on goods and services (Fair Tax), or a single, small rate of tax on income (Flat Tax).

There is ample support  for each of these in Congress and across the nation.  Administered by a new, small agency, with no other mandate and separate from the IRS (which would be permitted to melt like Margaret Hamilton), either approach would provide ample funding for the business of government, while minimizing the influence of taxes on Americans’ personal choices.

No one, not even Camp, expects there to be much movement on his proposal during this Congress, if ever.  This is partly a function of political reality, but also of the timidity of his plan, notwithstanding its intended comprehensiveness.  A truly comprehensive reform of America’s tax system would start by throwing the whole thing in the ocean.

Simply put, it is impossible to get excited about Camp’s plan, much less explain it in terms that are politically appealing.  For all its foofaraw about closing this loophole and eliminating that special interest incentive, we are still left with a tax policy that inserts itself into almost every area of human existence, and which starts at 1,000 pages.

Instead of an ever-present influence, make the tax code an afterthought.  To unleash America’s potential, to allow her citizens to pursue happiness and go boldly in the direction of their dreams, get the taxman out of the way.


Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com


Friday, February 21, 2014

Rand Paul's Righteous NSA Lawsuit



Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is suing the federal government on behalf of everyone who has a mobile phone. For this, he should be thanked. Paul’s spirited opposition to the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ electronic communications, which his lawsuit seeks to curtail, is consistent with the ideals of individual liberty on which America was founded.

Even so, Paul’s lawsuit has been denounced as self-promoting and frivolous by his many detractors. Prominent among these is Andrew C. McCarthy, prosecutor and columnist of note. An accomplished man, worthy of respect, McCarthy is out where the buses don’t run on this particular issue. His defense of government surveillance has been eloquent and wrongheaded, much like his criticism of NSA opponents in general and Paul in particular.

Typical of our over-lawyered age, McCarthy offers a legalistic rejoinder that does violence to common sense. Specifically, he and other proponents of NSA surveillance point to the 1979 Smith v. Maryland case, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that telephone records belong to the phone company, rather than the person using the phone.

Consequently, the NSA’s collection of so-called metadata – records of which phone numbers call each other, for how long, etc. – does not trespass the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches, since these are property of a third party.

McCarthy displays this argument more brazenly than most, waggling the Smith precedent about in the breeze as though the sheer majesty of this court decision from the era of rotary phones completely overwhelms any modern dispute. With exasperation, he laments that he has not yet received an adequate response on this point, daring anyone to disagree with his cocksure reasoning.

Challenge accepted, Counselor.

In particular, McCarthy demands to know how phone records can be considered among the “persons, houses, papers, and effects” protected by the Fourth Amendment, in light of the Smith decision.

Even if one concedes the Smith decision to be so impeccable that it is beyond question, a phone record is nowhere near the same thing today as it was in 1979. McCarthy acknowledges this facet of the Paul suit, only to dismiss the personal, identifying nature of mobile phone use by saying the NSA “generally” does not seek cell-phone records, claiming “strict” rules require their decoupling from location information, and citing a Wall Street Journal report that the NSA collects only 20 percent of call data anyway.

This is at odds with other reports and defiant of common sense. Are we to believe that a massive government surveillance program, capable of electronic omniscience, ostensibly designed to stop terrorism, opts to focus on landlines, as though the next suicide bomber is waiting for orders beside the wall phone in his mum’s kitchen?

Even if that were true (and when have they lied to us before?), and the NSA “generally” eschews cell-phone records, the instances where such records are sought can identify your location, your personal and business contacts, and most or all of your private communications.

Today’s argument, therefore, is rather different from that of 35 years ago, such that while Smith may relate to the Paul suit, it is far from dispositive.

And Smith is, of course, not beyond dispute (or, as McCarthy puts it, “settled”), just as any decision can be revisited and revised. By McCarthy’s logic, for example, would a Supreme Court decision in 1973 mean that the right to partial-birth abortion is “settled”?

Indeed, in considering America’s legacy of liberty from its genesis to today, it is Smith that is the outlier.

That is, from the 1791 ratification of the Fourth Amendment, to the 1979 Smith decision, to the Paul suit of 2014, the first and the third are consistent in their respect for personal privacy, while the second is out of place.

Remember that the Fourth Amendment, as part of the Bill of Rights, represents the supreme law of the land, whereas the 1979 Smith decision is an interpretation thereof. Isn’t it just possible that James Madison had it right, but the Burger Court got it wrong?

That McCarthy will not even countenance this possibility reveals why ostensible conservatives like him (and, frankly, the publication for which he writes) are losing the support of personal sovereignty advocates across America.

Again and again, as the Bill of Rights itemizes negative liberty – things the government may not or must not do – its bias is toward maximizing individual freedom while thwarting the state’s ability to interfere. Whose actions are more consistent with that philosophy – Rand Paul’s or the NSA’s?

McCarthy’s willful blindness to this, preferring to re-state the Smith principle through ever more abstract analogies, evinces the disconnect between the modern legal caste and the plain sense of everyday people.

Moreover, his unblinking faith in the benign strength of the state and America’s security apparatus demonstrates why prosecutors often make poor interpreters of public policy (Chris Christie, please call your office).

Beyond the Smith precedent (which, as demonstrated, is far from the Hulk Hogan leg-drop finishing move he imagines it to be), McCarthy’s secondary arguments become weaker still. In what McCarthy calls a “devastating” admission, the Paul brief notes that the NSA program collects phone numbers, but not the names associated with them.

On what temporal plain do McCarthy and other NSA proponents reside, wherein our policy on phone record proprietorship remains “settled” from a few decades past Pennsylvania 6-500 and the space between getting a phone number and finding out who owns it is like the Great Gulf between the Old Testament Lazarus and the rich man in torment?

Are we to believe that, while the NSA can collect and track every phone number in the country, when it comes to finding out who each number belongs to, they will cluster at an impasse like the marching band at the end of Animal House?

Or do McCarthy et al. insist the NSA will stop short of applying names to collected phone numbers because, well, that’s what the rules say they should do?

In either case, the argument is preposterous, and it is dispiriting to see estimable men like McCarthy, Charles Krauthammer and others advancing it.

Remember, we are speaking of a program which, apart from its antipathy to personal privacy, has been found on a bi-partisan basis never to have thwarted a single terrorist plot.

In McCarthy’s case, it is not even that he favors the letter of the law over its spirit. Rather, he relies upon an outdated interpretation of the letter of the law to justify a willful disregard of its spirit.

Let us start from scratch, asking one simple and honest question: Do you believe the Framers of the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, would be content with the tracking and storage of the private communications of every American by the federal government?

In launching his lawsuit, Rand Paul is doing two things that are very American: suing, and standing up for freedom. The latter, at least, is worthy of commendation.


Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Canada's FATCA Capitulation



As of this past week, the Canada Revenue Agency works for the Internal Revenue Service. The subordination of Canada's tax authority to its American counterpart came in the form of a euphemistically named "Intergovernmental Agreement" pursuant to the US Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

The result is that starting Canada Day (July 1), Canadian banks and other financial institutions will be required to comb through client accounts containing $50,000 or more to determine if they are “US Reportable.”  They must then inform CRA, which will pass the information along to the United States.

Notwithstanding that Canada’s leaders have subjected their citizens to the most rapacious and malevolent tax department in the world in the form of the IRS, they have committed a craven surrender of national sovereignty.

FATCA, passed by the US Congress in 2010, is an extension of America’s anomalous and larcenous practice of demanding taxes from people, regardless of where they reside in the world.  The United States is one of only two countries that engage in this disgraceful conduct (Eritrea being the other).

Let us eliminate a deliberate misconception: This agreement is not about catching "tax cheats" as its proponents aver and journalists obediently repeat.

It is about expanding America’s oversight of global commerce, while increasing its ability to confiscate funds to which it has no legitimate claim.

Indeed, the only apparent cheating is that of the United States, which assumes the power to demand taxes from people who do not live in that country, do not use any of its public services, and in many cases have never been there.

This is international theft, effected by the threat of fines, prosecution and imprisonment.

Most people, including Americans, are unaware of the United States' criminal practice of worldwide taxation. Consequently, when breast-beating yahoos proclaim "America, love it or leave it," they evince ignorance that, as a practical and financial matter, leaving is not an option.

Renouncing US citizenship is no clear solution (although record numbers have done so in recent months), since the American government broadly defines its tax subjects as "US Persons."  This may include people who have studied or worked in the United States, or who have never set foot on American soil yet have family or business associates with roots there.

Why, then, would Canada acquiesce to such an absurd arrangement?

Some might suggest the deal was struck as a political quid pro quo, to convince President Barack Obama to approve the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas.  But the prevailing politics of the president’s hesitation have always been domestic, rather than international.

After years of studies and reports, Keystone is the most scrutinized conveyance in the history of running liquid, and its delay persists to appease the environmental left of Obama's Democratic base, not to force Canada to sell out its own people to the IRS.

If, after November’s congressional elections, Obama at last approves the pipeline, Canadian politicians might claim credit.  But this would strain credulity.

More likely, Canada caved to America’s overt threat that nations not complying with FATCA would face a 30 percent withholding tax on all US-based investments.  Herein lay a true test of character which, for the moment, Canada’s leaders have failed.

It's easy to be tough with Eritrea, but when the world’s largest economy demands submission to its will and quantifies a sobering sum for non-compliance, real courage is required.

Herewith, therefore, a policy for estimable Canadian leadership: When another country comes along and says their laws will henceforth be your laws, tell them to cram it with maple syrup.

That goes for Eritrea, the United States, and all imperious interlopers in between.

As a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, I appreciate and have benefited from the unique trading relationship of these two countries. But in this case, the United States is being a bully and, like many bullies, needs a smack in the nose.  Canada, meanwhile, needs a leader with the sand to deliver it.

A simple no would suffice. Call America's bluff, if indeed that's what it is. If, however, the US means what it says and really were to begin slapping a 30 percent withholding tax on Canadian investors, Canada should respond by granting an immediate tax credit in that amount to affected individuals and institutions.

This may take a bite out of federal tax receipts, but right is right. If America's largest trading partner were willing to stand up against such preposterous demands, other countries would have the courage and blueprint to do the same.

It also bears mentioning that such a move could make Canada more attractive to international investors. That is, those wanting access to North American markets, yet wary of US tax overreach, would be pleased to see Canada will not go along with it.

Every country has the right to craft and enforce its own laws within its borders.  But when a nation insists that its laws must apply in other countries – as the United States does in this and other instances – that’s a problem.

Through this agreement, Canada has shown the world it lacks the courage to govern itself.  This cannot stand.

Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.  He can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com


Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.  He can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com

Monday, February 3, 2014

Canada's Complicity in the US Surveillance State



In Canadian political debate, accusing one’s opponent of advocating “American-style” policies used to be the equivalent of launching a nuclear missile.

The trajectory of these attacks was usually left to right, with some earnest advocate of the Canadian welfare state blasting a heartless proponent of free markets and individual responsibility, as though a slight reduction in subsidies for public broadcasters or allowing citizens to pay out-of-pocket for medical expenses were one step removed from leaving the elderly on ice floes to die.

Much has changed in recent years, however.  For one thing, the American health care system is now more beholden to the government than its “socialized” Canadian counterpart ever was.  Relatedly, the ideological leadership of the countries has reversed.  Whereas Liberal prime ministers like Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien once sat opposite Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Canada now has its most right-wing prime minister in at least a generation, while the United States is in the second term of arguably the most left-wing president in its history.

But one issue on which an ostensible rightist like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and an unapologetic leftist like President Barack Obama seem to agree is that the surveillance capacity of the state must know no limits, citizens of both countries must be constantly tracked and monitored, and the two governments must synchronize their efforts in this regard.

If ever there was a time when Canada should act on its aversion to “American-style” policies, this is it.

From banking to taxes to travel to personal communications, Canada has signed on to the most appalling excesses of America’s growing surveillance state.  The rationale is usually found among the catch-all phrases deployed to justify today’s creeping totalitarianism: the “War on Terror” or “keeping us safe” or the “War on Drugs” or “money laundering” or “tax evasion.”

Whatever the stated reason, such policies are born of the institutional panic that someone, somewhere, is doing something the government doesn’t know about and has not had the chance to regulate, mandate or ban.

Most recently, CTV News reports, the Canadian and American governments have agreed to compile a shared, biographic database of residents’ border-crossings, starting this June.  The new system will be used to verify eligibility for Medicare and other benefits (and, of course, will “combat terrorism”), but it evinces Canada’s disquieting modern tendency to surrender its citizens’ information to a rapacious US government.  It is most certainly an “American-style” presumption that people need to be watched at all times, their communications monitored, their comings and goings tracked and recorded.

This accompanies revelations  by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden that Canada’s electronic spy agency, in conjunction with the NSA, has used Canadian airport Internet service to track the wireless devices of thousands of travelers for days after they left the terminal.

The freedom to travel has been one of the most conspicuous casualties of the US “War on Terror” and Canada should be ashamed of its complicity.  In response to edicts issued by the Obama administration, Canadian travelers are subjected to a homegrown version of the pornographic fraud that is American airport security.

(As to Snowden, they want to fry this kid for breaking the first two rules of Fight Club, but he has done more to preserve the cause of freedom than those who get paid to snoop on their fellow citizens.)

Canadians need not travel to become entangled in the web of US surveillance.  Canada’s acquiescence to America’s Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) will see to that

Beginning on July 1 (ironically, Canada Day), Canadian banks and financial institutions will be required to review all client accounts containing $50,000 or more to determine if they are “US Reportable.”

This transcends the infamous and larcenous practice of the Internal Revenue Service demanding tax returns and payments from “US persons” worldwide.  Under the FATCA regime, not only will US Persons (broadly and capriciously defined by the US Treasury) be required to file taxes with the IRS even if they have never set foot on US soil, their assets must be reported to American authorities.

The closest Canada has come to effective resistance is a meaningless bureaucratic tweak: rather than report directly to the IRS, Canadian banks would report to the Canadian tax authority, which then forwards the information to its American counterpart.

In each of these cases, Canada has gone along through a national self-interest no more considered than, simply, the United States said so.

Canada and the United States enjoy the largest bilateral trading relationship in the history of the planet.  It is in the interests of both countries to keep that going.  Canada, as a resource-rich, exporter nation, enjoys unique access to the largest consumer market in the world.

Nevertheless, economic comity is not everything, and there would be much to be said for a prime minster who, like Hugh Grant at the end of Love Actually, has the courage to stand up and announce he is unhappy with important aspects of the relationship. 

Can such leadership be found, or has Canada made peace with an “American-style” future?


Theo Caldwell, an investor and broadcaster, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.  He can be contacted at theo@theocaldwell.com



Monday, January 27, 2014

Of course Canada is more business-friendly than the United States



A recent report from Bloomberg News ranks Canada as the second-best country in which to do business, behind Hong Kong and ahead of the United States. This comes on the heels of a survey by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation, in which Canada was rated sixth in economic freedom, while the United States came in twelfth.

To anyone who has done business in both countries, this comes as no shock.

Indeed, the only surprising thing about these reports and the surrounding analysis is that Americans continue to be flabbergasted each time their system of high taxes and crippling regulation, backed up by a draconian prosecution regime, is revealed not to be working.

As I explained to Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson last year, not only are Canada’s personal and corporate tax rates lower than those of the United States, the compliance burden of the American system – including the international theft perpetrated by the Internal Revenue Service in the form of its worldwide reporting requirements – makes serfs of its citizens and renders the country inhospitable to business.

Reports of Canada’s economic success usually give credit to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and that’s fair enough. But there is nothing novel to Harper’s approach. Politicians of many parties in numerous countries have opted to reduce tax rates as a means to increase revenue and entice capital. It is only relative to other modern Western leaders, to whom the concept of growing an economy by shrinking the government has seemingly never occurred, that Harper’s approach seems revolutionary.

From a policy perspective, Harper bears little resemblance to the hard-right, puppy-eating Sith Lord his liberal detractors imagine. As just one example, despite enjoying a Parliamentary majority – which amounts to near-dictatorial powers until the next election – Harper’s Conservatives have just enacted one of the environmental movement’s most absurd agenda items (and this is some distinction) in the form of a ban on incandescent light bulbs.

Fair or not, Harper’s image is bloodless and cold. He is not a smiley sort, and this is perhaps a good thing as his attempts to seem cheerful result in a Bond-villain rictus that puts no one at ease. While this may satisfy some people’s notion of a heartless conservative, the test of a political leader is the effectiveness of his policies, not how chummy he comes off while spending other people’s money.

For the United States, this demonstrates that electing leaders on the basis of demographic superficialities and big government populism, even as their policies harm the same middle class they purport to help, is a path to economic mediocrity and worse.

But elected leaders are only part of the problem. America’s administrative state, wherein myriad regulations are drafted and enforced by anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats, smothers the prospects of small business. This distinction is important, as large corporations are better able to absorb the costs of massive regulation – and indeed, can lobby to have those regulations crafted in their favor – while small business is the lifeblood of a vibrant economy, creating two-thirds of the new jobs in America.

An entrepreneur seeking access to North American markets would be positively loopy to choose the United States over Canada. Apart from America’s crushing regulatory and tax requirements, its fearsome prosecution apparatus stands ready to mete out harsh punishments for mistakes or non-compliance. This rapacious, unforgiving system, for which incarceration is the default solution, informs the cruel irony that the “Land of the Free” holds more prisoners than any other country on Earth.

As a matter of commerce, justice, or just day-to-day living, America is one of the least-free developed nations in the world. In almost every respect, not only is Canada a more liberty-minded environment than the United States, it isn’t even close.

Theo Caldwell is an author, investor, and a former Member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade.  He can be reached at theo@theocaldwell.com

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Charles Krauthammer's Defense of the 'Victimless' NSA



In conservative quarters, telling Charles Krauthammer he’s wrong is like giving the Pope a noogie. As a graduate of Harvard Medical School, a board-certified psychiatrist, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, Krauthammer is rightly revered as the most brilliant participant in modern political debate.

Unseemly though it may be for a plebian like me to take crayon in hand and write that Krauthammer is mistaken, in his defense of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program, he is.

Krauthammer is the most prominent among a number of conservatives who, while advocates of limited government in other spheres, have defended the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records and electronic data as essential to national security. A recent tack, which both Krauthammer and Senior Political Analyst Brit Hume have articulated on Fox News Channel, is to state that not a single victim of abuse under this program has been identified.

The spectacle of such respectable public commentators advancing a defense so specious burns the eyes and sears the soul.

By its very nature, the NSA program is secretive, such that citizens cannot know if their communications are being read by government operatives. What we do know is that all phone records and emails are collected, and it is the scope and opacity of the system that offends freedom-minded people.

Perhaps we cannot yet point to someone whose Pier 1 card was cut up before his very eyes because a disgruntled public servant opted to futz with his credit rating (although we know that NSA officers have used their positions to spy on love interests – are those people not victims?), but officials have admitted to “minor” abuses of the database. By and by, we can expect more to emerge.

It has been less than a year since the general public learned of this nefarious undertaking, and new revelations of its scope appear daily. Every step of the way, the government has admitted to as little as possible, while outright lying when it could. As Tony Stark observed of intelligence agencies that fear intelligence: “Historically, not awesome.”

Contemplating President Obama’s recent speech on the NSA, Krauthammer concluded that there would be no practical change to the program, and ended his analysis with, “If I were a lefty, I’d be really upset.” Usually, Krauthammer’s meaning is clear, but I admit to being puzzled by this cast-off remark. Having never been accused of leftism, yet disquieted by the NSA program and the president’s unwillingness to curtail it, does Krauthammer contend that I and millions of Americans who object could only do so as a reflex of modern liberalism?

He may see an inconsistency at work, whereby conservatives who have been hawkish in years past betray their principles by weakening our anti-terror apparatus.

I submit that the greater contradiction, which has more profound implications for the republic, is represented by erstwhile champions of personal sovereignty and individual freedom, like Krauthammer, advocating ubiquitous government surveillance in the name of “security.”

Almost as unsettling as Krauthammer’s departure from good sense is the gentlemanly, previously prudent Hume defending the NSA thusly: “This program threatens no one unless it’s abused.”

Exactly. About how many government programs, or even household objects, could one say the same? The IRS threatens no one, unless it decides to. The police are no danger, unless they opt to be. That waffle iron is no threat, unless you close your hand in it. And so on.

As a matter of pure semantics, perhaps Krauthammer, Hume and others are correct. When you have no privacy or space of your own, when you have no expectation that your personal communications will not be monitored by the authorities, you are less a victim than a slave.

In free societies, governments ought not to have this power. Personal privacy is a codified, self-evident right of citizens, and the burden of proof is upon those who wish to compromise it, not those who seek to maintain it.

In previous, rare instances in which my conclusions have differed from those of Dr. Krauthammer, I have assumed that the mistake was on my side. But brilliance and bad judgment can occupy the same space, and some of the most profound, perspicacious thinkers can be very wrong on big issues (the late Christopher Hitchens’ ardent atheism comes to mind).

A breathtaking resume, impeccable reasoning, and scholarly intonation are no match for common sense. In this case, the mass surveillance of citizens by their government is anathema to a free country, and the brightest among us, Charles Krauthammer included, ought to see that.

Theo Caldwell is an author, investor, and a former Member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade.  He can be reached at theo@theocaldwell.com