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Weekend At Bernie's

07/02/15

Bernie Sanders is now stirring interest among political pundits who are paid to be stirred by the slightest breeze.  They note that Hillary Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination is drawing  big crowds in places like Madison, Wisconsin.  This got me thinking of a movie that might have starred Senator Sanders, Weekend at Bernie’s. 

It’s about two young guys who, for reasons we can skip, pretend their boss is alive.  So they traipse around with his dressed up remains.

At 73, which is the new 53, Bernie Sanders is still very much with us.  But he won’t be next July, when the Dems’ nominee takes the stage in Philadelphia.  How can I be so sure?

First, Sanders is an avowed socialist.  This thrills undergraduates in Moscow’s sister city, Madison, Wisconsin, but it won’t play in Peoria, Illinois, much less in any key swing state. 

Second, Senator Sanders is not even the second coming of Senator Eugene McCarthy.  That gadfly from Minnesota almost -- almost -- beat President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 New Hampshire primary.   Weeks later Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.

But what knocked out Johnson was not McCarthy.  It was the Vietnam War.  And the most powerful anti-war message came not from Clean Gene but from Uncle Walter. “The Most Trusted Man in America” (network anchors back then had that kind of clout) Walter Cronkite had “reported” that America after the Tet Offensive was “mired in stalemate.”

In 2016 America may well be mired in another war, the one against ISIS.  And Sanders can try linking it to Hillary Clinton, since she voted for the Iraq War and was secretary of state when we pulled all US troops out of Iraq, arguably paving the way for ISIS.  Still, even though terrorists pose a greater threat to America than the Vietcong ever did, America is not too interested in ISIS for one key reason.  We no longer have a draft.  There might be more interest if, heaven forbid, America suffers another attack on the order of 9/11.  Yet it’s unlikely America would then turn to a non-interventionist, if not a pacifist, like Bernie Sanders.

One more thing.  After LBJ dropped out, Eugene McCarthy did not win the 1968 Democratic nomination.  Had he not been assassinated it probably would have been won by Bobby Kennedy, who entered the race after McCarthy cleared the way. 

Is there any RFK in the offing today?  Is there even a Hubert Humphrey, who ultimately lost to Richard Nixon?  I think not.  The latest contender, former Senator Jim Webb is interesting, but he’s to the right of the Democratic base, and Webb left the Senate in disgust with politics.  Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley? Hello?  Joe Biden -  a voice for a new generation? And even if Senator Elizabeth Warren did show interest, she’d be like a backup quarterback:  everyone’s favorite until you actually take the field.
 
So for now we’re left with Senator Sanders.  His candor, honesty and principles pose a stark contrast to Hillary Clinton.  But like the boss in Weekend at Bernie’s, he’s all dressed up with nowhere to go. 




Which July Revolution?

07/01/15

We’re all about to celebrate July 4th.  But maybe without knowing it, more and more Americans are also celebrating July 14th.  Bastille Day. 

The vive la diffe’rence between the American and French Revolutions explains most of today’s political differences. So let’s take a different kind of holiday road trip.  Let’s jump in the Way Back Machine and see where American and French ideals diverged, and which road we want to take going forward.

 Our first stop… the slow-motion decline and then very sudden fall of the Roman Empire. That started Europe's Dark Ages. With no jobs and no law to protect them, peasants huddled around powerful lords, taking shelter in their castles when other lords went marauding.  This came to be called the feudal system. Peasants didn't own any property.  Instead, they were allowed to farm on the lord's land.  In return for giving him most of their crops.

Those peasants only got the chance to make a career move when free trade spurred the growth of cities. Now a peasant could start a business and hire other peasants.  They no longer had to serve a feudal lord.  However, the biggest lords of all -- kings -- fought to control cities and their free citizens. Royal decrees and taxation soon came to cramp business owners.  So did royal wars over religion.

Seeking religious freedom, our Thanksgiving Pilgrims were among America's first European settlers. They set up rules for self-government even before getting off the Mayflower.  And New England town meetings fostered democratic traditions.

Colonial Americans came to believe they had rights given to them by God -- some called this Natural Law -- the rights to life, liberty and property.

Yes, property was listed in Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence.  And the founders believed these rights trumped the powers of government.  In fact, as every law school -- even Harvard and the University of Chicago -- used to teach, the Constitution strictly defined the new national government's powers, noting in the ninth and tenth amendments of the Bill of Rights that all other powers were retained by individuals and the states.

In other words, the American Revolution began with the proposition that individual citizens -- free and equal under the law -- needed to create a limited government to protect their own, individual, inalienable rights.

Now contrast all this with the French Revolution.

The French were rebelling against divine right kings like Louis XIV, who declared, "I am the state!"  When France's peasants and shopkeepers finally said, "The heck with that" (it sounds more elegant in French) they unfortunately had no tradition of self-government. So unlike the American colonists, the French botched their chance to establish a democratic republic and instead came up with the Reign of Terror and then Napoleon's empire.  But that's not surprising, because French ideas about government did not start with individual rights.  Far from seeking to secure private property, they agreed with the philosopher Rousseau that private property was a crime against the original state of nature.  Instead Rousseau said individuals and their property claims had to bow to the "general will" of the state.  Karl Marx, a follower of Rousseau, later inspired Russian Bolsheviks and Chinese communists to make state collectivism supreme.

But why should we Americans care about the French Revolution?

Because many Americans today prefer it to the American Revolution.  They believe that America's founders -- far from advancing the equal rights of all Americans -- disenfranchised and oppressed Native Americans, African slaves, Mexicans, women, gays, lesbians, transgender people and many others.  And they believe only government can redress those wrongs, since the United States remains a fundamentally intolerant, unjust society, much as the French believed their society was fundamentally unjust.

But others disagree.

They note that more than 600,000 people died in a civil war that, however belatedly, emancipated slaves and recognized their equal rights under the law by amending our Constitution -- though shamefully it took much more time to make those rights a reality.  They note that waves of immigrants from around the globe faced discrimination upon landing here but ultimately assimilated, worked hard, and achieved success.  And they note that gays, lesbians and transgender Americans were persuading fellow citizens in 37 states and counting that they had the right to marry even before the Supreme Court stepped in.  The effects on religious liberty remain to be seen.

In sum, conservatives and libertarians believe that while America has at times been unjust, a fundamentally transformed America would be much more unjust.  Because instead of protecting individual liberty and encouraging people to achieve individual success, a collectivist state fuels its own expansion by making people more and more dependent on the state.  And not just poor people.  Businesses, media and academia are all becoming more reliant on state favors like quantitative easing, zero interest rates for the rich and crony contracts.  And they in turn prop up ever-growing government.

But all this begs the question, why are so many Americans, rich and poor alike, choosing to be more like the French?

To paraphrase James Carville's famous advice for Bill Clinton's campaign, "It's the CULTURE, stupid!" And to read about that -- hey, it’s a long holiday weekend or I wouldn’t ask -- click here.


Meantime, as we shoot off fireworks let’s thank all those who risked their lives to defend the greatest nation in the history of the world.  And it is still great not least because people of good will still have the freedom to debate.  




Iran: Walk Away

06/29/15

June 30 is the current deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran.  What should President Obama do?  Perhaps grit his teeth and take a page from the Gipper.

Ronald Reagan would have won a Nobel Peace Prize.  The New York Times, no less, was singing his praises.  He was about to be proclaimed the greatest man in the world.  

The scene was Reykjavík, Iceland in October of 1986.  Mikhail Gorbachev proposed eliminating half of all Soviet and American strategic arms, including long-range missiles.  The Gipper then stunned the world by going Gorby one better.  He offered to scrap -- all -- ballistic missiles within 10 years.  

But there was a catch.  Reagan wanted to keep testing the Strategic Defense Initiative that critics called “Star Wars.”  And not as a compliment; as a testament to Reagan’s supposed idiocy and fixation on his old movie career. 


Gorbachev knew better.  He knew that the missile defense shield might work, as indeed later proved to be the case.  And he knew the Soviet Union could not keep up without bankrupting itself, as also later proved to be the case. 

Gorbachev insisted that Reagan drop SDI.  So Reagan faced this dilemma:  Should he accept the Russians’ assurance that they would destroy all their missiles?  Or should he surrender the mantle of peacemaker and instead confirm his reputation among liberals as a gunslinger? 

The world held its breath. 

And Reagan stuck to his guns.   The Reykjavík Summit collapsed.  Reagan pursued SDI and also medium-range missiles in Europe.  The New York Times howled.  The 1986 Nobel Peace Prize went to Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.  

And Eastern Europe regained its freedom in 1989.  The Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991.

Peacefully.

President Barack Obama now faces a dilemma.  He desperately wants to rescue a foreign policy legacy that includes backing Muslim terrorists in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iraq while backing down against Russia and watching it seize Crimea.  Obama says cutting a nuclear deal with Iran that lifts the current sanctions would increase Iran's lag time to acquire nuclear weapons.  This is quite different from President Obama’s original vow that Iran would never acquire nuclear weapons.  

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, among others, believes it would be impossible under the deal now being negotiated to verify Iran’s arms program, and he just told FOX News: “I would actually fear that the Iranians have the upper hand right now. I actually fear we have painted ourselves into a corner where we believe that any deal is better than no deal at the present time.”

If that is true, we can only hope that President Obama will have the courage to walk away, and perhaps instead increase pressure on Iran, as Reagan did with the Soviet Union.   

Reagan never won the Nobel Peace Prize, but he won the peace, ending the 45-year-long Cold War.  President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize only months after he took office, in 2009.  He still has a chance to earn it.




Replacing History

06/27/15

Striking the Confederate flag from state grounds is long overdue.  But now some demand more.  Whoopi Goldberg wants to treat that flag like the Nazi swastika, which is banned throughout Germany.  And CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield suggests dismantling the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson owned slaves.  George Washington did too, so perhaps the Washington Monument should be next.

The new civil war over the Confederate flag cannot be won by those who claim they only seek to preserve history.  Just as objections to same-sex marriage can’t be sustained by citing thousands of years of tradition, much less theology.

That’s because we’re now at what’s called an inflection point in history.  The long dominant culture of “dead white European males” is being supplanted by new groups on the rise, within America and overseas, from the Middle East to China.

Inflection points bring upheavals.  The oppressed clear the ground to punish their oppressors and make way for their own growth.  They seldom keep even what’s best from the past. 

The first emperor to unify China, Qin Shi Huangdi, reputedly burned all books and buried scholars because he wanted to erase any memory of prior regimes.  Rome leveled Carthage and left it a waste land.  Early Christians and so-called barbarians alike destroyed Roman texts and temples.  More recently the Taliban dynamited the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, declaring them an affront to Islam. 

The West has been declining for quite a while.  Oswald Spengler published The Decline of the West in 1918 as the Great War that hastened cultural anarchy was grinding to a halt.  Long before that, skepticism about established religion, morality, and even rationality undermined the West’s faith in itself, while its various underclasses and colonial subjects seethed.  The upshot is what today’s conservatives might call a demand to “repeal and replace” -- not Obamacare, but anything that smacks of conservatism, from limited government to public schools teaching Shakespeare

But there is danger for the rising classes, including minorities, women, LGBT, and the young.  They can be seduced by tyrants.  The class that will rise fastest is the one that controls government and confers benefits.  Caesar secured power by providing bread and circuses.  Today's progressives and establishment Republicans hook the poor on government subsistence and the rich on crony capitalism, including rigged markets. That's the bread.  The circuses are a no-nothing pop culture.

More selfless leaders would tell their dispossessed followers: “Yes.  You’ve been oppressed. But we can offer you something better than demonizing enemies and leveling the past. We can offer something better than a bleak Orwellian future -- for you, not for us. We can preserve what made America a beacon for people everywhere.  Not an expanding government class doling out benefits to an ever expanding class of victims, but a land of  freedom for those willing to build their success and take responsibility for their failures. That’s the true meaning of American Exceptionalism. 

Thomas Jefferson was a deeply flawed idealist.  But let's not tear down his memorial.  Let's expand Jefferson's ideals to embrace all people.       




Obamacare's Chicago Subsidies

06/24/15

(See June 25 postscript below)

The Supreme Court usually rules on big constitutional issues.  As I’ve shown here, that will certainly be the case with same-sex marriage. 

But that’s not the case with Affordable Care Act subsidies.  The King vs. Burwell  appeal is not about the Constitution.  It's about Chicago bare knuckle politics.  Democrats tried pummeling the states into accepting Obamacare.  Instead, Democrats punched themselves in the face.  The only question is whether the justices will once again bail them out with a split decision.

The Affordable Care Act includes several provisions about setting up exchanges.  But it says federal subsidies will be offered only to people who buy health insurance on “an Exchange established by the State.”

A key Obamacare adviser, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, couldn’t help boasting that the idea was to strong-arm states where Obamacare was as popular as a sucker punch.  According to Gruber,  “(I)f you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”  

In other words, kowtow or else.  And Democrats expected the states to knuckle under.

But guess what?  Only 16 states set up exchanges.  Even Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich -- who controversially accepted Obamacare’s short-term incentives to expand Medicaid -- even Kasich refused to create a state exchange.

So the administration told the Supreme Court, hold on.  No one in his right mind could  imagine we meant to let Obamacare hinge on how states reacted.  President Obama’s accused opponents of having a “twisted interpretation” of the law and he chided the Supreme Court for hearing the appeal, claiming: "This should be an easy case. Frankly, it probably shouldn't even have been taken up."

Critics agree this case should be easy.  They say Congress and the President wrote the statute the way they did because they wanted to bully the states.  They wanted to make the states complicit in Obamacare. They did not expect the states to fight back.

Still, this court may side with the administration.  Remember that a majority of the justices accepted Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion that Obamacare itself violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by requiring Americans to buy government-sanctioned health insurance.  However, Roberts then shocked everyone and saved Obamacare by calling it a constitutional  tax measure.  

Will Roberts save Obamacare again -- perhaps joined this time by Justice Kennedy and others?  

As they say in Chicago, it ain’t over till we’ve counted all the votes. And in Chicago they’ve got a funny way of counting.

June 25 postscript: Well, Roberts and Kennedy did give Democrats a do-over.  But rather than cry foul, conservatives ought to recall what Roberts wrote when he saved Obamacare the first time: Critics must rely not on the courts but the ballot box.  More important, I would add, they must change the course of popular culture, including our culture of dependency on government by rich and poor alike.  But that's a much taller order than winning the occasional election. 




Same-Sex Marriage: Two Big Issues

06/22/15

Shakespeare wrote, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.”  For better or for worse, the US Supreme Court is about to decide whether there can still be an impediment for same sex-sex couples.   Let’s quickly look at the two biggest issues the justices may weigh. 

States’ Rights   The US Constitution does not address marriage, so requirements traditionally have been left to the states.  Right now, 37 states accept same-sex marriage and 13 states ban them.

Congress and President Clinton underscored states’ rights in 1996 by enacting the Defense of Marriage Act.  DOMA lets states refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that are legal in other states.  In 2013 the US Supreme Court invalidated DOMA, but only as it applies to federal benefits.  State bans on same-sex marriage -- like the one in Ohio -- at this point can still stand.    

But maybe not for long.   Not if the Supreme Court rules that states cannot define marriage in a way that violates an individual’s constitutional rights.

In the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia the Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.  The road to that decision was easier than it is for same sex couples because the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution and the 1960s Civil Rights Laws specifically prohibit laws that violate the equal protection of African-Americans. 

Will the Supreme Court now rule that gays and lesbians are entitled to equal protection? 

So far the Court has only prohibited laws that criminalize homosexual conduct;  the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas outlawed anti-sodomy laws.  That’s not the same thing as requiring a state to recognize a marriage -- unless a majority of the justices make the extension.  

Why would they?  They may decide that by recognizing some marriages but not others, states confer privileges and benefits that are denied to same-sex couples. 

Some people say the answer is to get states out of the marriage business.  Let any couple enter into a civil union recognized by the state, and leave marriage to religious or other groups.  

Traditional Definition of Marriage   For thousands of years in cultures around the world, marriage has been confined to heterosexual unions.  A majority of the Supreme Court may be loath to change that as a matter of constitutional law.  Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested as much at oral argument -- but he's generally sympathetic to gay rights.

The counter-argument is that traditions change.   For instance, for centuries divorce was almost impossible in Catholic countries.  And in many countries sodomy is still a crime.  But see above. 

Like it or not, same-sex marriage has been accepted at dizzying speed in recent years, fueled by popular culture and social media.  Click here to see a previous blog about the milestones in movies and TV.

Traditional marriage in America is founded in Judeo-Christian law.  But supporters of same-sex marriage argue that the Constitution bans the establishment of religion.

It seems the new tradition in America, harkening back to John Stuart Mill, is that adults should be free to do anything that does not infringe on the liberty of others.  This applies  to drugs, sex -- and marriage.  To this opponents argue the slippery slope.  If you’re free to marry someone of the same sex, why should you be banned from marrying several people of whatever sex, since polygamy is sanctioned by some major religions?  Or why should you be banned from adult incest?  (Most everyone accepts that children don’t have the maturity to make legal decisions, including about sex -- but that may be next).  

Conclusion   I have no idea how the Supreme Court will decide.  It seems a safe bet that the liberal justices (Breyer Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor) will support federalizing same-sex marriage while the conservatives (Alito, Scalia and Thomas) will not.  Kennedy is usually a swing vote but nobody expected Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind and rule in favor of Obamacare by calling it a tax measure.  So he’s now a wild card in all major cases.  And this case is as major as they get.  What's your guess?




Charleston: Evil and Ideology

06/18/15

America is in mourning for the nine church congregants murdered in Charleston, South Carolina.  Our tears well up as we learn what good people they were.  Our prayers go out to their families.  And our anger demands swift justice for their killer.

Reports of his hate-filled invectives during the massacre show that the suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is a racist.  Facebook postings suggest he’s a white supremacist.

It would be comforting to call him simply evil; even more comforting to claim he was insane.  But this blog deals with politics and, sadly, there are political implications to this atrocity.

Sometimes it’s clear that racism or religious fanaticism undergird politics.   Relying on its 1935 Nuremberg Laws, Nazi Germany killed six million Jews because it believed they infected the Fatherland with communism, degenerate art and racial pollution.  For the same reasons Hitler killed five million more homosexuals, Roma gypsies, Catholics, Poles and other non-Aryans.  

Today, adherents of the ISIS Islamic State, seeking to expand what they call a caliphate, are slaughtering  Shia Muslims, Christians and anyone else they consider apostate.

By contrast the overwhelming majority of Americans believe racism is evil.  We don’t have the space here to review the post-Civil War amendments to our Constitution, the Civil Rights Laws of the 1960s and the continuing drive for full racial justice. 


Yet events like the Charleston massacre will have many questioning the motives of those who want to debate how best to achieve racial justice -- and justice for all people.

Because he’s been gracious to me during two interviews, and a brilliant and thought-provoking White House aide, candidate and commentator for more than a half-century, I hesitate to single out Patrick J. Buchanan.  Yet his views are considered incendiary by many and worthy of censure -- though not censorship, because we do still protect free speech.  


Buchanan believes we should limit not only illegal but also legal immigration.  One reason is that he believes America’s historically white, European and Christian culture must be preserved.  See for example here  and here.

I cite Buchanan because, though he is prominent, I don’t believe he is representative of mainstream conservative, much less libertarian, thought.  It is not necessary to think as he does to argue that change through the rule of law, as well as limited decentralized government, self-reliance and, as I have urged here, the preservation of all cultures -- world-wide and throughout the ages -- will provide a better life for people of all races and creeds.

In other words, conservatism and libertarianism are not by their nature bigoted.  And liberalism and progressivism do not necessarily raise up individuals and communities. Even in the wake of the Charleston tragedy, there must be room for debate. 


South Carolina and the nation were still trying to recover from the unjustified April 4 police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston.  Now this evil at a historic Charleston church has many wondering if South Carolina remains unreconstructed.   So recall that it’s also the state that recently reelected Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, governor, and that appointed Tim Scott, an African-American man, to the United States Senate. 

South Carolina, like our entire country, is still a work in progress.  But we are not a nation of bigots.  And as Dylann Roof will find, we are not a nation of evil. 




On D-Day We Did Not Lead From Behind

06/05/14

How best to honor the inconceivably brave troops who fought on D-Day 70 years ago? 

Give today's troops the same level of support. 

That starts with refusing to ask our troops to storm beaches or to build democracies unless we are committed to total victory

We have not made that commitment since World War Two.  Though Britain was facing annihilation, Churchill refused to negotiate with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess. Franklin Roosevelt refused to deal with Heinrich Himmler at the end of the war when  the Gestapo chief offered to depose Hitler. 

Instead we demanded that Nazi Germany surrender.

Three months later we made the same demand on Imperial Japan. 

America then occupied Japan and the allied sector of Germany, and we helped write democratic constitutions for both nations --  constitutions under which they still thrive as our steadfast allies.

Since then, America's armed conflicts have ended in a draw (Korea), in a surrender (Vietnam), or in muddles soaked in American blood.

George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 promising to forgo nation-building.  After the 9-11 2001 attacks America invaded Afghanistan and quickly ousted the Taliban, which had provided Osama bin Laden sanctuary and training camps. 

Britain and Russia both came to grief in Afghanistan, and Bush knew we lacked the manpower to occupy that mountainous tribal backwater.  We could have used satellites to monitor terror activity, and drones to destroy any new al Qaeda camps. 

Instead Bush opted ...for nation building. 

Then Barack Obama, for political reasons, ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan -- while at the same time setting a withdrawal date.

Nearly 22 hundred Americans have died in "Operation Enduring Freedom." What they have accomplished could have been accomplished with little or no loss of American lives -- or the lives of Afghan civilians.  Particularly now that Barack Obama is bent on freeing detainees at Gitmo, and has just swapped five top terrorists for one alleged American traitor.

The betrayal of our troops goes back even longer in Iraq.  In 1990 W's father, George H. W. Bush, led an invasion after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As punishment Saddam should have been deposed, if not executed.  Instead, America left him in power.  Then-- rightly or wrongly -- W ordered our troops to fight Saddam again, in 2003.

Since then more than 35 hundred Americans have died in Iraq.  Far from giving that country a viable constitution Barack Obama is leaving it without even a status of forces agreement.  And Iraq is verging on all-out civil war.

The hallmark of President Obama's foreign policy has been "leading from behind" and siding with radical Islamists over secular dictators.  In Egypt he supported the Muslim Brotherhood.  In Libya we toppled Muammar Gaddafi and were repaid with a terror attack in Benghazi.  In Syria, Obama's demand for Assad's ouster led to abject humiliation.

Meantime Russia has annexed Crimea, and China is projecting power in the South China Sea.

How should America respond?

There is no easy answer.

We entered World War Two only after Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war on the United States.  Given two years of Axis conquests, we had to wage all-out war.  That included demanding that draftees give what Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion."

But when do we now have the right -- the moral right -- to ask volunteer soldiers to die? 

Not for ill-considered, undermanned attempts at nation building in places fundamentally opposed to limited government and individual rights.

Instead we must use our technology to kill terrorists -- as we should have done in Afghanistan even before 9-11. 

We must make it clear that we will defend allies. This means Barack Obama should not have removed missile shields for Poland and the Czech Republic to appease Vladimir Putin. And we must credibly commit ourselves to defending Israel.

Most important, we must rebuild our economy.  Russia and China are not on the rise because of their military might.  Russia is exporting natural gas while we choke off our own natural resources.  This White  House won't even let Canada transport oil to us through the Keystone XL pipeline. 

And while we go $1.3 trillion into debt to China, the Chinese are becoming what America once was -- the factory of the world.

Worst of all, we are enfeebling ourselves by making our own people -- rich and poor alike -- dependent on big government.

So again to quote Lincoln, what is the "altogether fitting and proper" way to honor those who defended liberty on D-Day?

Support their successors.  And restore the great nation for which they fought.     




The Obama "Period"

06/03/14

Trying to defend his swap of five top Taliban terrorists for one American sergeant who apparently deserted his unit in Afghanistan and possibly defected to the enemy, President Obama today said:

"Whatever the circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he is held in captivity.  Period."

When historians recall great quotations from this president, they'll include "hope and change," and "fundamentally transforming the United States of America."  But another of Barack Obama's most telling statements is one he repeats often:

"Period."

When the president says that he's actually paraphrasing Ring Lardner's famous quote:

" 'Shut up,' he explained."

Because President Obama is in effect telling America, "Case closed. I've made my decision.  No one can reasonably disagree with me. Anyone who does is motivated by politics -- or hatred -- and I will not stoop to pursue the discussion."

Mr. Obama does not just say this to the few journalists who ever (get a chance to) question him.  He's also telling Congress to shut up.  Undermining the whole concept of divided government he used to teach at the University of Chicago Law School.

 By law -- a law he signed -- President Obama was obligated to notify Congress before prisoner exchanges.

The White  House justifies his not doing so by citing a "signing statement" the president submitted -- the same kind of signing statement for which he attacked George W. Bush.

But shut up -- I mean, period -- goes way beyond that.  Most infamously, President Obama repeatedly promised:

"If you like your doctor, you keep your doctor. If you like your current insurance, you keep that insurance.  Period."

Long before that, of course, the president and Democratic lawmakers passed the Affordable Care Act -- one of the most sweeping laws in American history -- without a single Republican vote.  You can't get more shut up than that.

More recently -- just this week -- the president ordered EPA rules limiting carbon emissions that even fellow Democrats, when they had a supermajority in 2009 and 2010, refused to pass. 

My friends, you shut up, too!

We could cite many, many other examples, but that would illustrate why President Obama likes to say period.  He does not relish lengthy discussions.  He does not like being questioned.

So let's end by saying... if Obamacare turns into third-rate socialized medicine for the average American... and if those EPA carbon regs set electricity prices soaring and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs...  and if those five Taliban terrorists kill more American soldiers... it'll be on President Obama. 

Period.




Mark Twain and Carbon Emissions

06/02/14

Mark Twain is supposed to have said, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

Well, that joker never met Barack Obama.

Despite having been rebuffed by Congress when -- Democrats -- had a supermajority in both houses, President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency just coughed up a plan to cut carbon emissions at power plants by 30%.  This is not a surprise.  As a presidential candidate in 2008 Barack Obama threatened a war on coal and other carbon-based fuels that even he conceded  would force electricity prices to "skyrocket."

Then the President's first energy secretary, Steven Chu, said to save the environment, stave off climate change and encourage more mass transportation, "somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." 

Though I'm too much of a dummy to weigh in on the climate change debate, I am old enough to remember the 1970s, when the imminent threat was supposed to be global cooling

Then a decade ago Al Gore warned of imminent, catastrophic man-made global warming

I am not old enough to remember the Medieval Warm Period but don't believe it could be blamed on strip mining and SUVs.

The White  House and its allies are now blaming last quarter's economic contraction, the first in three years, on our very cold winter. The coldest since the Renaissance?  The Great Depression?  No, just since 1994 -- when our economy somehow grew by 6.3%

All of which is to say, President Obama may be defying Mark Twain and trying to do something about the weather and the environment.  But it's not clear that he's accomplishing anything positive.  And it's even less clear that he's doing anything positive for jobs, energy prices or economic growth. 

In fact, with EPA policies like this, it may be a cold day in hell before we see much growth again.




Honest Jay

05/31/14

Departing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was not generous with facts, so I'll help send him on his way with just one. 

Though most members of the establishment media despised President George W. Bush and questioned everything from his 1976 DUI arrest to his Air National Guard Service to the intelligence Bush used to justify invading Iraq, no one -- no one -- ever accused his press secretary, the late Tony Snow, of lying.

But then Tony Snow didn't have to speak for President Barack Obama. 




Health Reform for Veterans -- and the Rest of Us

05/29/14

Veterans like my dad, who served in the Navy in World War Two, are once again doing a service for their country.  Because these men and women who should be receiving the finest medical care are instead giving us a glimpse of what Obamacare will mean for the rest of us.

A physician retired from working with Veterans Affairs blew the whistle on secret waiting lists for patients at the Phoenix VA center, and claims that up to 40 veterans died while waiting for care.  The VA's  bonus structure encouraged those delays. Now we've learned that 1,700 veterans at that facility were left in limbo while document falsification and destruction abetted the cover-up. And at last count 42 unidentified VA centers across the country are under investigation. 

Veterans health care of course has been under fire before.  Squalid conditions right in the shadow of the White House, at Walter Reed Medical Center, were uncovered  during the administration of George W. Bush.  There is now evidence that soon after the 2008 election VA officials warned the incoming Obama administration about inaccurate wait times and President Obama vowed to make the VA "a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible."

The point is not that President Obama's Affordable Care Act is to blame for VA treatment.  It's that the level of treatment veterans receive will be soon be standard, which is to say sub-standard, for civilians too -- apart from the favored few with enough money or political influence.

Instead of being relegated to government clinics and hospitals, veterans long ago should have been given access to non-VA medical centers.  Free market competition would raise their level of health care, and lower the Department of Veterans Affairs' proposed $164 billion budget -- which is nearly double its 2009 budget of  $87.6 billion.

Similarly, instead of centralizing America's insurance market under the Affordable Care Act, true reform would let us gradually move away from the World War Two model of employer-based health coverage -- and toward personal health savings accounts and vouchers (which could and should be more generous for veterans), assigned risk pools for preexisting conditions, and the right to buy insurance across state lines.

A few Republicans are quietly, too quietly, proposing that sort of reform, at least for civilians.

Now as we've just observed Memorial Day and prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day,  the shame of seeing veterans under threat may be the reveille call we need to resist government-run health care for all of us.




America's Second Childhood

05/29/14

Whee!  School's letting out and students are ready for summer fun.  
 
Not just school kids.  Our whole country's enjoying second childhood.  Perpetual childhood.  
 
And that's not so cute.
 
The greatest commentator on America predicted this about 175 years ago.  Alexis de Tocqueville was a huge booster of the United States.  In his study of our young republic, Democracy in America, the French aristocrat extolled democratic traditions going back to the first New England town meetings:

"Americans are taught from birth that they must overcome
life's woes and impediments on their own. Social authority
makes them mistrustful and anxious, and they rely upon
its power only when they cannot do without it." (Democracy
in America
, page 215, translated by Arthur Goldhammer,
Library of America, 2004)
 
By contrast Tocqueville found his native France burdened with big governments, from the Old Regime to the Revolution's Reign of Terror and then Napoleon.  Yet along with many of our founders, Tocqueville as early as 1840 feared for America's future.  The crisis he foretold was not foreign invasion or civil war.  It was the degeneration of our national character.  When Americans ceased to be self-reliant adults and instead sought to be childlike wards of the state, they would invite despotism.  With uncanny prescience Tocqueville foresaw:
 
"...an innumerable host of men, all alike and equal, endlessly
hastening after petty and vulgar pleasures with which they
fill their souls... Over these men stands an immense
tutelary (meaning guardian) power, which assumes sole responsibility for
securing their pleasure and watching over their fate.  It
would resemble paternal authority if only its purpose were
the same, namely, to prepare men for manhood.  But on the
contrary, it seeks only to keep them in childhood irrevocably... "
(Democracy in America, page 818, emphasis added)
 
Think Tocqueville was off base?  Then how do you explain one of the great achievements of the Affordable Care Act being the right of young adults to stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26?   Then again, why shouldn't they?  A record number of those young adults,  many of them out of work or at best underemployed, are now living in their parents' homes.  
 
Not that parents need to be self-reliant.  As we've seen, fatherhood is now under assault  while the Obama reelection campaign's "Life of Julia" website  promised single mothers and other women cradle to grave government care.  
 
Add to all these "victims" the record number of people dependent on food assistance, unemployment compensation and permanent disability benefits and you still have only half the picture.  Because it's not only the poor who get hooked on paternalism.   So do government workers -- bureaucrats, teachers, contractors.  And then consider all of Washington's wealthy dependents -- crony capitalists securing sweetheart deals and tax breaks,  stock investors cashing in on the Fed holding down interest rates and pumping trillions of dollars into Wall Street via quantitative easing, and of course politicians living an aristocratic lifestyle the Bourbons would have envied.
 
That is the economic side of Tocqueville's prophecy.  What ensures its coming true is the decline of our culture, what he called our "petty and vulgar pleasures."  Hollywood and the rest of the establishment media work hand-in-glove with politicians of choice, glorifying the progressive agenda while demonizing conservative values that Tocqueville extolled.
 
How to grow up?  Don't look to our tutelary government for support.  Spend the summer really parenting your kids and instilling your own values.  And  then kick back at the pool with that remarkable book, Democracy in America.   




Which America?

05/26/14

On this Memorial Day we honor the 1.3 million Americans who died in all of our wars, from the American Revolution to Iraq and Afganistan.

 

What did they die for?

 

From the time we declared independence, through the War of 1812, both World Wars, the Cold War and now our wars against Islamic Extremists, those heroes have sacrificed their lives to fend off foreign aggressors and, during the Civil War, to preserve the union from internal division.

 

Yet from our birth America has been about more than national sovereignty.  Unique among nations throughout history, America has been about an idea. The idea of liberty.

 

As Lincoln might have said, we are now engaged in another great civil war, far greater and more consequential than most Americans realize because it is largely ignored by establishment media and establishment politicians of both parties.  It is a war over the meaning of liberty.  The 2014 congressional elections will go far toward waging this war, and it could be decided in the 2016 presidential election.

 

No lives may be lost -- at least not on traditional battlegrounds.  But this war will decide our future for generations to come as much as any of those prior wars did.  Maybe more.

 

So to mark the battle lines and the stakes, let's take a quick, lighthearted look back at history -- hundreds of years of history.

 

We begin by setting our wayback machine to the slow-motion decline and very sudden fall of the Roman Empire and then the start of Europe's Dark Ages. With no jobs, and no law to protect them, peasants gathered around powerful lords, taking shelter in their castles when other lords went marauding.  This came to be called the feudal system. Peasants didn't own any property.  Instead, they were allowed to farm on the lord's land in return for giving him most of their crops.

Those peasants only got the chance to make a career move when free trade spurred the growth of cities. Now a peasant could start a business and hire other peasants.  They no longer had to serve a feudal lord.

However, the biggest lords of all -- kings -- fought to control cities and their free citizens. Royal decrees and taxation soon came to cramp business owners.  So did royal wars over religion.

Seeking religious freedom, our Thanksgiving Pilgrims were among America's first European settlers. They set up rules for self-government even before getting off the Mayflower, and New England town meetings fostered democratic traditions.

Colonial Americans came to believe they had rights given to them by God (some called this Natural Law) -- the rights to life, liberty and property.

Yes, property was listed in Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence.  And the founders believed these rights trumped the powers of government.  In fact, as every law school -- even Harvard and the University of Chicago -- used to teach, the Constitution strictly defined the new national government's powers, noting in the ninth and tenth amendments of the Bill of Rights that all other powers were retained by individuals and the states.

In other words, the American Revolution began with the proposition that individual citizens -- free and equal under the law -- needed to create a limited government to protect their own, individual, inalienable rights.

Now contrast all this with the French Revolution.

The French were rebelling against divine right kings like Louis XIV, who declared, "I am the state!"  When France's peasants and shopkeepers finally said, "The heck with that" (it sounds more elegant in French) they unfortunately had no tradition of self-government. So unlike the American colonists, the French botched their chance to establish a democratic republic and instead came up with the Reign of Terror and then Napoleon's empire.  But that's not surprising, because French ideas about government did not start with individual rights.  Far from seeking to secure private property, they agreed with the philosopher Rousseau that private property was a crime against the original state of nature.  Instead Rousseau said individuals and their property claims had to bow to the "general will" of the state.  Karl Marx, a follower of Rousseau, later inspired Russian Bolsheviks and Chinese communists to make state collectivism supreme. That the state inevitably grows more corrupt and incompetent than any free market boss did not occur to Marx.

But why should we Americans care about the French Revolution?

Because, whether they know it or not, many Americans today prefer it to the American Revolution.  They believe that America's founders -- far from advancing the equal rights of all Americans -- disenfranchised and oppressed Native Americans, African slaves, Mexicans, women, gays and lesbians and many other groups.  They believe those groups continue to be victimized.  And they believe only government can redress those wrongs, since the United States remains a fundamentally intolerant, unjust society, much as the French believed their society was fundamentally unjust.

But others disagree.

They note that 600,000 people died in a civil war that, however belatedly, emancipated slaves and recognized their equal rights under the law by amending our Constitution -- though shamefully it took much more time to make those rights a reality.  They note that waves of immigrants from around the globe faced discrimination upon landing here but ultimately assimilated, worked hard, and achieved success.  And they note that even now gays, lesbians and transgender Americans are losing some battles but winning others by attempting to persuade fellow citizens that society is continuing to evolve.  This debate continues.

In sum, conservatives and libertarians believe that while America has at times been unjust, a fundamentally changed America would be much more unjust.

Because instead of protecting individual liberty and encouraging people to achieve individual success, a collectivist state fuels its own expansion by making people more and more dependent on the state.

And not just poor people.  Businesses, investors, media and academia are all becoming more reliant on state favors, and they in turn prop up ever-growing government.

But all this begs the question, why are so many Americans, rich and poor alike, choosing to be more like the French?

To paraphrase James Carville's famous advice for Bill Clinton's campaign, "It's the CULTURE, stupid!" And we'll explore that in the blog just below.

Meantime, we humbly salute all those who gave their lives to defend the greatest nation in the history of the world.  Now we have to decide what that nation will be going forward.




Culture Wars

05/25/14

In the blog just above called "Which America?" I suggest that our nation is now engaged in a second civil war over the definition of liberty, pitting constitutional conservatives against progressives.  And that to understand why so many Americans are now embracing the French idea of liberty we need to examine our culture.

The best place to start?  The old Ed Sullivan Show! 


On a typical night in the '50s and '60s, Ed would bring onstage everyone from Borscht Belt comics to a wheedling puppet called Topo Gigio to "teen sensations" like Elvis and The Beatles.

Ed also did something that today seems strange.

He showcased opera singers and ballet dancers.

Why go so high brow?

Well, there were only three major networks, and most families owned just one television set, so Ed had a more or less captive audience.

We didn't like everything he shared, but my mom, dad, sister and I patiently sat back and waited for Mr. Sullivan to serve up something for each of us.

More importantly, those divas and dancers answered what used to be a deep-seated American need.

We're a nation of immigrants.  Many of our parents and grandparents arrived with little formal education, but they wanted to "improve" themselves and they wanted their children to be cultivated.  They instinctively realized that what makes us human is the ability to build on all that's best from the past to create something new.

So opera's Enrico Caruso cut the first hit records back in 1902, and Hollywood later made movie stars of Jeanette MacDonald and Mario Lanza .  The classical pianist Jose Iturbi accompanied the bobby-soxers' Frank Sinatra. Stokowski conducted for Mickey Mouse.  And it wasn't public but commercial television that brought a wide public Leonard Bernstein on Omnibus and his Young People's Concerts.

Then two things happened.

First, society changed. The children of those erstwhile immigrants -- to paraphrase one of the kids' favorite movies -- had no more brains than their parents, but they had one thing they hadn't got -- a diploma. And funny how the validation that came with that diploma bred cultural complacency. The children no longer sought self-improvement. They were already new and improved and stuck in their own cultural moment with scant regard for the past. Worse, they were taught that older art propped up the imperialism of dead white European males.

They were taught wrong. Great artists have always looked beyond their own time and their own borders. That's what the Renaissance was all about.

And more recently, just in the realm of music, Debussy was entranced by Javanese harmonies. Duke Ellington retooled Grieg and Tchaikovsky and wrote a Far East Suite. Miles Davis drew inspiration from Africa and Brazil. And Bill Evans grooved on... Debussy.

Humanism is a great circle.

A spiritual descendent of those musicians, Wynton Marsalis, bemoans what most young people now hear in their place.

And that's due in large measure to a second big change: the media explosion. The old-line network trio gave way to cable's hundreds of channels and now innumerable internet and wireless platforms.

What's wonderful is that the fruits of every civilization are now available at the click of a mouse.

What's sad is that producers can no longer count on Ed Sullivan's captive audience -- on a big slice of the media pie -- so they can't easily risk going high-brow, however you might define that. They're instead reduced to fighting over smaller and smaller slices of that pie by pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Ultimately this is about more than culture.

It's about liberty.

The dumbing down and coarsening of our culture makes it easier for politicians to manipulate us.

Long ago families gathered for prayer or story-telling or actual music-making.  It's been decades since we gathered as families, even around a single electronic hearth.

Atomized individuals can make wider choices but -- dreading isolation and seeking solidarity -- we can also be more easily led.  Reaching us on old and new media platforms, Hollywood has a disproportionate influence on our lives. Its political messages permeate everything from obvious polemics to more subtle propaganda.

Everyone remembers that George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four warned us about surveillance.  But that novel also had a more ominous message, revealed in the manifesto of its authoritarian state:

"(T)he only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism... (T)he Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison.  He must be cut off from the past... because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors"

In so many ways we are better off, if you support civil rights, women's rights, gay rights or any kind of technological advancement.  But culturally we are not better off than our ancestors.

That is not to to say we should return to our parlors or even to a world of just three TV networks. The latest generations of electronic devices give us a genie who can transport us anywhere, answer any question (if not always accurately) and connect us to the most arcane communities of interest.

We are omniscient. We are all-powerful!

But -- once in a while -- we might recall the humility of our forebears, their yearning to bring something timeless and uplifting to their lives and the lives of their children.

Building upon all that's best from the past and across boundaries will make us better individuals, parents and citizens.  And it will better equip us to defend liberty.




Putin’s Pipeline to the Future

05/21/14

While President Obama panders to environmentalists, Vladimir Putin just scored a triumph that rivals annexing Crimea.  After 10 years of haggling, Russia's cut a long-term deal to supply natural gas -- to China.

This insulates Putin from threats by the West to limit energy trade if he gobbles up more of Ukraine.   Instead,  Russia can now limit gas shipments to Europe, which would imperil its economies.  And while President Obama talks of an Asian pivot, Putin's done it.  As China quietly menaces South Korea, Japan, and even Australia, Russia is now cementing its closest alliance with Beijing since the 1961 Sino-Soviet split. 

Meantime, President Obama continues waging his war on coal, on off-shore oil drilling (for America, not places like Brazil) -- even on the Keystone XL pipeline, despite the Canadians arguing that transporting their oil to us by rail and truck is far more environmentally hazardous.

The bigger point is that Putin and Obama differ on a lot more than pipelines.  Vladimir Putin -- and China's Xi Jinping -- are nationalists.  Putin seeks to reclaim the legacy of Peter the Great.  Xi wants to revive the Middle Kingdom.  Toward those ends they are building up their economies and their militaries.
 
By contrast, Barack Obama is intent not on growth but on redistribution of income.  Rather than expand America's reach -- for good, as the most selfless nation in the history of the world -- he apologizes for our supposed history of oppression at home and abroad.  President Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism, certainly not as it originally was understood -- as a limited constitutional government dedicated to preserving the preeminent individual rights of its citizens.  Going back to his days as a law school lecturer, Obama has believed government's role is to achieve his notion of social justice.   

So while President Obama cements his alliance with environmental activists and suppliers of alternative energy like Solyndra and Tesla, Russia and China are chortling, "Put that in our pipeline -- and smoke it." 




Outsourcing Liberty

05/17/14

At last, voters are rejecting identity politics, government handouts, crony capitalism, political dynasties and government corruption so pervasive it stifles free market growth.

Unfortunately, we're not talking about America.  All this just happened -- in India. 

The decisive victory of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ends the nearly seven decade long dominance of the Congress Socialist Party that had become a Nehru family business.

One of the poorest nations on Earth, India is still rife with crises that will not be solved by this election.  But it is inspiring to see how young, well-educated Indians chose real hope.

More and more Indian professionals are remaining in their homeland or returning there, shrugging off the lure of the UK and the US, which in many ways they see as powers of the past, not the future. 

And it ill behooves America to patronize the world's biggest democracy, as we've done in everything from that awful NBC sitcom about an Indian call center called Outsourced... to Joe Biden telling an Indian-American supporter "In Delaware you cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent ... I'm not joking" ... to President Obama pretty much ignoring the subcontinent altogether.

Modi's election may not bring America closer to India, because he represents aspirations that are anathema to the Washington establishment -- Democrat and Republican alike.  But if establishment politicians and media want to survive, they'd better notice that it's India's young people who are most fervently embracing Modi's reforms. 

And if any American candidate -- including the Indian-American governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal -- can credibly make the same promises, he or she may do just as well, personally and for our country.   

Meantime, go see Million Dollar Arm. It's a terrific new movie about dreams, hard work and success for both Americans and Indians -- an idea I hope we never outsource.




Fathers: An Endangered Species

05/15/14


Mothers and grandmothers often do a terrific job raising kids.  But all too often they have no choice.  Because today in America one in every three children grow up without fathers living at homeAnd even when they do, many fathers today feel that society is undermining them.  So a television story linked below shows how two very different groups of dads are now gathering to work on fathering skills and to hold each other accountable.

We'll introduce you to a father named Curtis who's trying to break a terrible family tradition.  When Curtis was a kid his father was behind bars. Then Curtis was imprisoned for most of his own son's childhood.  Now that son is incarcerated too.

Then Curtis joined The Ridge Project.  Started by a convict, many of its members have done time separated from families that somehow scraped by without them.  You'll see how Curtis is learning to communicate with his son's mother, how he's finally becoming acquainted with the child he never knew, and why he hopes making that effort will help his son find a better path.

You'll also meet men who seem to be on top of the world, yet worry just as much as Curtis about the future of their kids. The monthly fathers group at Xenia Christian School raises up its members by encouraging them to confess shortcomings and pursue long-term goals.  They also discuss challenges fathers face today.

For instance, welfare rules in many jurisdictions for decades encouraged mothers -- often unwed teenage girls -- to have babies that would be supported by government so long as there was no man in the house.

More recently, a campaign website for President Obama called The Life of Julia showed women voters how government could provide them and their children cradle to grave benefits without much need for fathers.

Yet even today life turns less on government than on popular culture, so members of the Xenia fathers group ask where are the TV shows -- from Father Knows Best  to Cosby -- that used to portray dads as sometimes bumbling but still essential pillars of their children's lives.  Instead they say media today more often denigrate and discard dads.

You can see our story here

Please watch it -- maybe with your family -- and let me know how what more we can all do to raise up stronger fathers to help raise our kids.




Harry Potter and Barack Obama

05/12/14

My girls learned to love big books thanks to Harry Potter. And those books are very big indeed.  Far more than a children's fantasy, the seven-volume saga is also a political allegory.

 J.K. Rowling has confirmed that Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge was based on Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement of dictators paved the way to World War Two.  And I have likened Chamberlain to President Barack Obama.

So let's explore what Harry Potter's struggles with Fudge tell us about America's foreign policy today.

For those sadly unfamiliar with Potter, a quick summary. The wizarding realm went to war against a rebellious dark lord called Voldemort. He was defeated by Harry's mother, who died protecting her one-year-old son.

On Harry's twelfth birthday he's summoned to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he encounters the fugitive, weakened Voldemart and bests but cannot vanquish him.  In volume four, Voldemort reemerges at full strength.  It is at this point that Harry's protector, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, confronts the political head of the wizarding world.  Minister Fudge refuses to admit that Voldemort once again poses a dire threat.  Quoting Fudge now from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

"It seems to me that you are all determined to start a panic that will destabilize everything we have worked for these last thirteen years!"

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing.  He had always thought of Fudge as a kindly figure, a little blustering, a little pompous, but essentially good-natured.  But now a short, angry wizard stood before him, refusing point-blank, to accept the prospect of disruption in his comfortable and ordered world...  (page 707)

 In 2009, newly-elected President Obama also believed the outside world was comfortable and well-ordered -- or soon would be.  Obama set deadlines to withdraw from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars against al-Qaeda and radical Islam.  For the first time in history he also insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood be present when he visited Cairo. Critics warned that the Brotherhood was in league with al-Qaeda, but President Obama applauded when they overthrew longtime American ally Hosni Mubarak and seized power.  The Obama administration didn't foresee Egyptians rising up against the Brotherhood, restoring power to their secular military, and drawing closer to Russia.

Nor did Obama foresee the consequence of America helping to depose another military dictator who was a bulwark against radical Islamists.  Libya's Muammar Gaddafi had been a deadly American enemy, but after the Iraq invasion that frightened strongman began sharing anti-terror secrets with the west.  Yet when NATO decided to attack Libya, ostensibly to preempt a massacre but really to secure Libyan oil, Obama "led from behind."  The upshot is that Libya is now another hotbed for Islamic terrorists, some of whom attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, killing our ambassador and three other Americans.  We have not yet heard the end of the Obama administration's failure to protect or rescue those men, or their attempt to cover-up that failure seven weeks before Obama stood for reelection.

We have elsewhere discussed  this administration's record in Poland and the Czech Republic, in Syria and Ukraine. But let's return to Dumbledore upbraiding Cornelius Fudge over his refusal to fight the Dark Lord by making an alliance with giants.

    "You -- you cannot be serious!" Fudge gasped, shaking his head and retreating further from Dumbledore. "If the magical community got wind that I approached the giants -- people hate them, Dumbledore -- end of my career --"
     "You are blinded," said Dumbledore, his voice rising now, the aura of power around him palpable, his eyes blazing once more, "by the love of the office you hold, Cornelius! ...I tell you now -- take the steps I have suggested, and you will be remembered, in office or out, as one of the bravest and greatest Ministers of Magic we have ever known. Fail to act -- and history will remember you as the man who stepped aside and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world we have tried to rebuild!"  (page 708)

Now although J.K. Rowling has likened Fudge to Chamberlain, I am not suggesting that she would embrace any parallels with Obama.  Nor am I suggesting there are easy solutions now in dealing with Islamists, Russians, the Chinese or even Boko Haram. 

Still, if there are no giants to call upon it may be because the United States used to be the world's giant, not only in strength but in our commitment to decency.  This was based on limited government  -- we were not an imperial power -- and individual liberty.  And this  was the meaning of American Exceptionalism. 

If our leaders no longer believe we are exceptional it follows that we lack the moral force to confront enemies of freedom.  Even worse, if our leaders believe America's past record is something to be regretted and apologized for, it follows that they will favor groups that were once marginalized by America.

Both the human and wizarding worlds are messy, ambiguous, dangerous places.  But there are times when men of vision and fortitude must step up and lead.  Children reading Harry Potter realize this.  It is time adults in Washington realize it as well.




Benghazi: Lies and Legitimacy

05/09/14

A select congressional committee's now being formed to investigate the 2012 terror attack that killed our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, at least two of whom -- Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty -- in a better time would have a Hollywood movie celebrating their valor.

The new committee was triggered by what some are calling the Benghazi smoking gun.  This email doesn't just prove that the White  House lied about an attempted cover-up.  It is one more lie undermining the legitimacy of this president, because we now see that he won reelection by lying.  

When Barack Obama first ran for the White House in 2008, the little-known senator's platform was so vague that veracity was not an issue.  He promised hope, change, transparency, reconciliation, and the end of red-blue state divides.

To be fair, Senator Obama did get a little more specific on the virtual eve of that election, promising -- or warning: "We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America."

But no one really knew what that meant when we voted in 2008 -- or again in 2012.

Why 2012?

Because far from being transparent, President Obama concealed key facts from the electorate, facts that might have defeated him.
 
Days if not hours after al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists invaded the Benghazi compound, the White House was shifting blame to an obscure YouTube video.  U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was offered to five Sunday talk shows to make that case.  The key talking point in a White House email, obtained by court order after a lawsuit by the public interest group Judicial Watch, directs Rice, "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."

By the way, the author of that email was Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser and brother of David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, which just released Sharyl Attkisson over her almost lone reporting on the Fast and Furious gun running scandal, the IRS targeting of conservatives -- and Benghazi.  Establishment media bias enables this administration's lies.


Now it's true that other presidents have lied.
President Eisenhower, for example, lied about a pilot, Francis Gary Powers, spying on the Soviet Union.  But Ike was trying to protect national security.  President Obama was trying to win a second term.

The White House now claims that the "prep" instructions for Rice do not refer to Benghazi.  This insults our intelligence.

And not for the first time.

President Obama also now contends there was not a "smidgen" of corruption in the IRS harassing and drying up of funds for tea party groups that had helped Republicans regain the House in 2010. The truth about the IRS was not just concealed in the run-up to the 2012 election.  It is still being being concealed.

And although the most historic law of President Obama's first term -- the Affordable Care Act -- was passed by Democrats before they lost the House in 2010, we did not realize how fundamentally Obamacare would transform America until after November of 2012.

By design.

The law was written and implemented to deliver its pain after that election.

What The New York Times now calls an "incorrect promise" was President Obama assuring voters at least 37 times, "If you like your health insurance plan you can keep it. Period."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a TV interview conceded after the election that Democrats always knew this would not be possible.  But in the same interview Reid insisted the president told the truth.

How is that possible?

Reid relied on the kind of dishonest argument that ancient Greeks called sophistry. Since insurance plans change every year (though before Obamacare the changes were usually minor) what President Obama called "your plan" is no longer the same plan you had before Obamacare took effect -- and required major changes to those policies.  Therefore, Reid insisted,  even though millions of people are receiving cancellation notices, they are not losing the same plans they liked.

Your head is probably spinning, but the Greek philosopher Heraclitus might have backed up Reid and Obama. He famously said, "You cannot step into the same river twice because new water is always flowing on."

Whatever the merits of Reid's logic, would President Obama have been reelected if he'd admitted that millions of voters would lose their preferred plans?


Another philosopher, Immanuel Kant, wouldn't have had much use for that sophistry.  The German idealist believed the basis for all morality -- for all decent human society -- must be truth-telling.  When we lie to someone it's more difficult for that person to make a reasoned choice. We rob that person of his or her humanity.

When our leaders lie to the electorate they undermine democracy and their own legitimacy.

For a number of reasons, I am not suggesting that President Obama should be impeached. 

But there will be other elections, this year for Congress and in 2016 for President Obama's successor.

Voters will question each candidate's experience and platform -- something they failed to do in 2008.

But above all else voters should ask if candidates have a record of telling the truth.




Monica, Hillary and the Blue Dress

05/07/14

Thanks to one of the most bizarre twists in history, Monica Lewinsky is now speaking out publicly about her affair with Bill Clinton, and the attempt by Hillary Clinton to trash her as Mrs. Clinton had trashed other women before. 

And Monica will be believed. 

Because of a semen-stained dress.

To understand this we have to clear up events widely misunderstood -- due to misrepresentations by the same establishment media now protecting President Obama.

Titillating though it may be, the Monica Lewinsky scandal was never about sex.  It was always about Bill Clinton's abuse of power,  obstruction of justice, perjury and suborning of perjury,  going back to the time he was governor of Arkansas, if not before.

You may be shocked to hear that it was Clinton's own attorney general, Janet Reno, who expanded Judge Kenneth Starr's probe to include Lewinsky.  Starr had been investigating Hillary Clinton and the Whitewater real estate fraud.  Starr and his predecessor, Robert Fiske, uncovered a welter of unseemly and arguably illegal conduct by both Clintons and their associates.  The trail led to a civil suit filed by a former Arkansas state employee, Paula Corbin Jones, alleging that then-Governor Clinton had a state trooper escort Jones up to a Little Rock hotel room, where Clinton exposed himself and propositioned her.

To establish a pattern of such conduct by Clinton with government workers, Jones subpoenaed other women, including White House intern Monica Lewinsky.  Monica now says the affair was consensual, although she concedes, "Sure, my boss took advantage of me".  Feminists (and fathers of daughters, like me) would insist there's nothing consensual about a workplace affair between a powerful boss and a young intern, but let that pass.

What concerned Janet Reno was not sex, and not even the president taking advantage of an intern, but  evidence that the White House persuaded Lewinsky to join President Clinton in committing perjury at their Paula Jones depositions.  That's why Reno had Ken Starr expand his investigation.

What's come to be called the Bimbo Eruption Squad led by Hillary Clinton then went into high gear.  As Monica now says, "The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor's minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me".  Lewinsky was portrayed as a lying, mentally unbalanced stalker, the tool of what Mrs. Clinton called a "vast right-wing conspiracy." 

Hillary Clinton by that time had many years' experience protecting her husband's political career, on which her own ultimately depended.  For instance, Juanita Broaddrick, a nursing home administrator and a Democrat, told NBC News that when he was Arkansas attorney general, Bill Clinton brutally raped her -- and Broaddrick told FOX's Sean Hannity that Hillary thanked her for keeping quiet.

An Arkansas model and actress, Gennifer Flowers, claimed to have had a 12-year affair with Bill Clinton.  Her revelation would have destroyed Clinton's presidential run in  1992, but the public was reassured by Hillary Clinton during a 60 Minutes interview.  

What saved Monica Lewinsky from being destroyed was a blue dress.  It contained a stain from Bill Clinton's semen.  Lewinsky apparently kept it uncleaned to protect herself.

For all the derision and public humiliation Lewinsky suffered, she actually fared better than Judge Starr, who was demonized by the establishment media as a sex-crazed Savaranola, going rogue to bring down the president.  Clinton was impeached by the House, acquitted by the Senate and disbarred from practice in Arkansas and before the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Why is all this important today? 

Because it shows that the establishment media will go to any lengths necessary to protect progressive politicians they favor.  It shows the true character of those champions of feminism, Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And it shows how history can turn on little things that confirm the truth. 

Like a semen-stained dress.




Primaries: Take Me To Your Leader

05/05/14

You know who are the best political pundits?

Martians.

Because whenever they land on Earth they get straight to the point: "Take me to your leader!"

They don't ask for your position on Martian immigration or Benghazi or free birth control.  They demand to talk directly with the party leaders.  

Yet as the primary season gets underway, those party leaders are allowing themselves to be marginalized. We're now hearing constantly from candidates who claim to be independents.  Mavericks.  Public servants who stand up to their bosses.

Baloney.

Take, for instance, Louisiana's senior senator, now seeking reelection, Mary Landrieu. Or, as the late comic Henny Youngman would have said, "Take Mary Landrieu -- please!"

The daughter of former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu and brother of New Orleans' current mayor, Mitch Landrieu -- because heaven forbid we should elect someone who's not the spawn of a political dynasty -- Mary Landrieu these days seldom admits to being a Democrat.  She rails against President Obama's energy policies, especially restrictions on off-shore drilling that cost Louisiana dearly.  She wants to "fix" Obamacare, which was only enacted thanks to a fix nicknamed the "Louisiana Purchase" -- a side deal like the "Cornhusker Kickback" and countless other payoffs, delays and exemptions that have defined the Affordable Care Act ever since.

But one vote Mary Landrieu can't squirm away from is the one she cast to make Harry Reid the Senate majority leader.  Harry is the leader Martians come to see because he rules his Democratic caucus with an iron fist.  Foot soldiers like Landrieu are allowed to mouth off when they're seeking reelection, and even abstain from a non-essential vote if it would prove too costly to the rubes back home.  But when Harry and the Democratic establishment need her, Mary salutes.

The same thing goes for Republicans, though with a twist.

The GOP took control of the House in 1994 under Bill Clinton following the HillaryCare fiasco, and regained control in 2010 after the passage of Obamacare.  Both years their mandate came not from the Republican establishment but from conservatives, libertarians and, in 2010, the new tea party activists.

That split between the establishment and what we'll call the outsiders usually proves the GOP's undoing.  Because true outsiders cannot be bought off by Washington. They want to shrink Washington.

The outsiders briefly became leaders under President Reagan and later Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose Contract with America promised congressional term limits, balanced budgets and a requirement that lawmakers live under the laws they pass, just like the rest of us.  But all those promises were undercut not just by Democrats but also by the GOP establishment under Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.  

This was no surprise.  In Washington the most powerful entrenched interests wind up ruling both parties -- which in truth are one party, the Establishment Party, whose symbol is a pig at a trough.  That party provides payoffs  to everyone from the poorest minorities to the richest crony capitalists. And, with help from establishment media, it marginalizes the outsiders.

Establishment Republicans, particularly those being primaried by tea party candidates, are now making a show of running to the right.  How can you tell if they're sincere?  Like the Martians, insist: "Take me to your leaders." 

Because whatever their merits, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are not Reagan or Gingrich. They do not clearly and forcefully articulate -- much less fight for -- true tax or health or entitlement reform.  In the grand old tradition of other establishment Republicans -- war heroes and great patriots -- like Bob Dole and John McCain, Boehner and McConnell will continue to help manage America's decline.

So as primary season begins by all means support candidates who will support their current leaders in either party -- if you believe they are on the right track. 

But if you want to put America on a freer and more productive course,  demand to be taken to new and very different leaders.




I Am Not Donald Sterling

04/29/14

"I am Spartacus."

"I am Spartacus!"

"I AM SPARTACUS!"

 

That's the thrilling end to Stanley Kubrick and Dalton Trumbo's film, when dozens of crucified Romans proclaim solidarity with the slave played by Kirk Douglas, the leader of their revolt.

 

Today no one is proclaiming, "I am Donald Sterling."  The racist owner of the Los Angeles Clippers will almost certainly be drummed out of the NBA, whether by fellow owners or by the free market.  And for a very simple reason:  America is not a racist nation.

 

People magazine just named the star of 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyongo, the most beautiful person of 2014.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is revealing to us the mysteries of creation on the magnificent TV series Cosmos.   And the president of the United States is Barack Obama.

 

Yes, 96% of African-American voters chose Obama in 2008.  But they were just 13% of the electorate.  Barack Obama was elected by white people. Not despite the fact that he was African-American.  The first-term senator from Illinois, whose stated agenda began with hope and ended with change, was chosen over Hillary Clinton and then John McCain by millions of white voters largely because they longed to show that America has moved beyond racism.

 

Unless you can use alleged racism to advance your agenda.  

 

The man who pledged to unite America told The New Yorker magazine, "There's no doubt that there's some folks who just really dislike me because they dislike the idea of a black president. " One of them may be Donald Sterling.  From Malaysia, President Obama called Sterling's comments "incredibly disturbing" and added, "The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation that's still there, the vestiges of discrimination."  

 

But who are we wrestling?  Conservatives also opposed the progressive agendas of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.  If Hillary Clinton joins their ranks in 2016, critics will at least no longer be called racists.  They'll be called sexists.     

 

The biggest problem with suggesting that racism is not confined to a relatively small number of creeps like Donald Sterling is that the charge distracts America from crucial issues like joblessness, health care, mushrooming government entitlements, crippling national debt, crony capitalism, foreign policy fiascoes and, more generally, Washington incompetence and corruption. 

 

This of course is what the charge of pervasive racism is intended to do.    

 

So by all means let us proclaim, "I am not Donald Sterling!" 

 

And then let's get to work addressing the real problems facing America. 




Boehner: The Crying Game

04/27/14

A week before he faces three Republican primary challengers, John Boehner has gone viral. Here's video, from a recent Middletown Rotary Club meeting, of the House Speaker mocking colleagues, and by implication those in his own base, who oppose comprehensive immigration reform.

Boehner is seen wailing and whining, "Here's the attitude. Ohhhh. Don't make me do this. Ohhhh! This is too hard!"

Putting aside why a man notorious for crying in public should want to cry again to caricature his critics, those critics are in fact saying:

"No, John, it's not hard. Let's discuss this like grownups. In 1986 President Reagan granted blanket amnesty to an estimated three million illegal immigrants in our country. In return the borders were supposed to be secured. They weren't. That's why we now have an estimated 11 million more illegal immigrants demanding a path to citizenship. Some say it's at least double that number, but let's not quibble.

"Now John, we could secure the border right now. In fact, the law requires it. But instead of mocking President Obama and other Democrats for refusing to do that, you take aim at fellow Republicans who refuse to discuss another amnesty until we can be assured that any future flow of illegal immigrants will be stopped -- that Democrats and establishment Republicans will not double-cross us again.

"Those illegal immigrants may be coming here, as former Governor Jeb Bush says, as an act of love. But unlike our grandparents or great-grandparents they are not coming to a country that simply offers legal immigrants a chance to succeed. They are coming to a welfare state. And their expectations of future welfare make them likely Democratic voters. Because Democrats may be lousy at creating full-time private sector jobs, but they're terrific at creating a permanent dependent class (of both rich and poor alike) who become permanent constituents.

"So John, wipe your tears and stand up for the rule of law. We know your most famous quote is, 'We Republicans only control one half of one third of the government.' But under the right leadership Republicans have enough power to demand secure borders before they discuss paths to citizenship.

"That's not hard. It's only right.

"And, John, here's a tissue."




Draft Day -- For Everyone

04/25/14

While Northwestern football players vote on whether to unionize, freedom-loving fans are asking when the NFL will quit its age discrimination. 

Right now, no matter how great you are, no matter how many pro-teams may be aching to draft  you, guys have to  sit out three seasons after high school before they can earn a paycheck from the National Football League.

The NBA has a similar rule. But not Major League Baseball.  Not golf. Not tennis. Not figure skating.

At age 18 you're old enough to die for your country.  But you're not old enough to score a touchdown or sink a three-pointer to support your family.

The NFL and its de facto farm system, the NCAA, claim prospective pros have no complaint because they're getting college scholarships. Much of the debate now -- at Northwestern and elsewhere -- is whether scholarships are enough.  Maybe players should also get better meal plans, longer medical benefits, a cut from jersey sales -- or a salary.

But the bigger issue is discrimination.  Not just age discrimination but also racial discrimination, since a much higher percentage of minorities play football and basketball than golf, tennis or even baseball.

The claim that college compensates players adequately presupposes that they want to go to college.  More and more young people -- athletes or otherwise -- are questioning the benefits of a four-year degree, even if they can afford it.  They may instead choose two-year schools or vocational training.  They may volunteer for the military.  Or they may just enter the workforce, learning practical skills on the job.  But football and basketball players can't do that unless they want to play in some lesser leagues, or go abroad.

Forcing kids to go to college is not just paternalistic.   It provides vast income for NCAA schools.  And it keeps NFL owners from making bad bets on young athletes.  For every Andrew Luck or Lebron James they might draft right out of high school, you can imagine the Cowboys' Jerry Jones or James Dolan of the Knicks bidding up the price of some underage bust.

But that's not a reason to keep King James from offering his services to anyone willing to hire him.  Nobody would have looked after LeBron if he'd been forced to play in college and gotten hurt.  And nobody now regrets that Cleveland gave him a chance -- unless you're now hoping to beat the Heat.

Ohio State's Maurice Clarett sued over the age rules and lost on appeal.  The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case -- which was no reflection on its merits.  There was also talk that Johnny Manziel would sue, but instead he waited to enter this year's draft.  Maybe Johnny Football was right to wait.  But it's not right to have denied him a choice.

Because you can't have a level playing field in football unless everyone's free to take the field.




Tripwire or Polish Joke?

04/23/14

President Obama is now dispatching 600 U.S. troops to four eastern European counties, including Poland -- one of the countries that claims to have been betrayed when Obama scrapped its missile shield five years ago.

Our soldiers' stated mission: military exercises.  The unspoken and perhaps unserious new threat: to respond militarily if Russia swallows another chunk of Ukraine.

Still digesting Crimea, Vladimir Putin last week agreed to hold off further annexation.  But pro-Russian Ukrainians are now occupying government buildings in the corridor Russia needs to establish a land-link to Crimea.     

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has likened Putin's tactics to Hitler's "protection" of ethnic Germans by grabbing one neighboring land after another --from the Sudetenland to Poland.  Yet Mrs. Clinton says nothing about how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encouraged Germany through vacillation and appeasement. 

So let's review that parallel. 

When President Obama was caught by an open microphone in 2012 telling Russia's President Medvedev,  "This is my last election; after my election I have more flexibility," supporters -- including, presumably Mrs, Clinton -- refused to believe that he meant more flexibility to genuflect, despite a history of bowing to our enemies and deserting our friends.

For instance, President Obama's first trip abroad as commander-in-chief was to Egypt, where he invited the Muslim Brotherhood to attend his speech even though the Brotherhood was banned by our ally, Hosni Mubarak, as a terror group supporting Hamas and the creation of a radical Islamic state.

Less than two years later Mubarak was toppled and the Muslim Brotherhood came to power -- and  proved so radical that Egyptians themselves overthrew those Islamists and reinstated the military which, distrusting us, is now drawing closer to Russia. 

 

Meantime America's other secular or relatively moderate allies looked on and realized they also could not count on our country.

 

The pattern was repeated in Iran, when we failed to support massive protests against that militant theocracy. 


In Poland and the Czech Republic when we withdrew their missile defense.

 

In Libya, when we helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi even though he had shut down his nuclear program after the Iraq invasion and was supplying the West with anti-terrorist intelligence.  The Islamists who deposed Gaddafi then attacked our mission in Benghazi and murdered our as yet unavenged ambassador.

 

In Syria, where President Obama unilaterally drew a red line against Assad's use of chemical weapons and then -- lacking support from the British and our own Congress, even for what Secretary of State Kerry promised would be an "unbelievably small" strike --  sheepishly accepted a disarmament plan proposed by Putin that proved to be a fig leaf covering Assad's continued mass killings, and the savage slaughter by his Islamist foes.

 

And most recently in Ukraine, where President Obama warned Putin to keep his distance. 

 

And Putin moved in troops.

 

Ukraine presents a problem seldom acknowledged by the pro-Obama mainstream media or by the more hawkish commentators on FOX.  Although President Yanukovych's first election, in 2004, was later declared fraudulent, international observers said he clearly and cleanly won in 2010.  Putin takes exception to what he calls the pro-western coup that toppled Yanukovych and threatened to install NATO on Russia's doorstep.

 

The larger problem is that Ukraine is now two countries.  Its west favors Europe.  Its east is largely Russian and favors Putin.  Crimea's parliament voted to rejoin Russia for the first time since the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, and Crimea's voters followed suit.  

 

But the biggest problem if we're talking realpolitik:  Europe fears that if it opposes Putin he will cut off their oil and natural gas.  Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has at times sounded like Margaret Thatcher, urging Europe and America not to go "wobbly" against Russian aggression.  But it's not clear how firmly Germany will resist.  

 

Yet there is little recognition of all these dilemmas in President Obama's rhetoric -- or in the bellicose statements by his more militant critics. 

 

Stiil, if there is no easy answer at this late stage for Ukraine (as there was none when Putin overran Georgia under George W. Bush)  we now see -- we have seen for five years -- the hard consequences of an American president drawing red lines, issuing warnings, parlaying with terrorists, deserting crucial allies, weakening our economy, cutting our military and then dispatching troops.

 

It is amateurish.

 

It is dangerous.

 

And it may soon have us wrestling with the Russian bear.


Will Putin be deterred by this belated show of strength?  Or will America's past weakness lull him into further aggression? 


The Poles, our soldiers and the whole world are watching.





Was Ben-Hur a Racist?

04/21/14

Over the holiday weekend Turner Classic Movies treated my family to our favorite Easter film, Ben-Hur. The great William Wyler directed, Maxwell Anderson, Gore Vidal and Christopher Fry polished the script, and their epic swept the chariot race at 1959's Academy Awards.

But today its star would be called a racist.  And maybe you would be too.

Charlton Heston was a fervent civil rights supporter. He marched with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte long before that was fashionable. He was also a union leader, elected president of the Screen Actors Guild six times. And he was a Democrat. Heston supported John F. Kennedy because that Kennedy supported a strong foreign policy and across the board tax cuts to stimulate growth.

Then as Heston said, "I didn't change; the Democratic Party changed" -- from being the party of Jack Kennedy to that of George McGovern. So Heston backed another disillusioned Democrat, Ronald Reagan.

After struggling for years with Alzheimer's, Charlton Heston died seven months before the 2008 election. Yet there's little doubt that Chuck Heston would have opposed Barack Obama. And not because the man who played liberators from Moses to El Cid was a racist.

Heston would have opposed Obama's goal of fundamentally transforming the United States from a strictly limited government to one that's ever-expanding. He would have fought abridging the Second Amendment right to bear arms. And the man who played Thomas Jefferson would have favored Jefferson's original defense of life, liberty and property over Obama's promotion of late-term abortions, collectivism and the redistribution of property.

As for race, Heston would have advanced civil rights while opposing affirmative action, which he believed elevated group identity above character and achievement, and hurt the people it was supposed to help by treating them as victims. The color-blind activist who crusaded with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, Sr. would have seen Barack Obama not as our first black president but as our first affirmative action president; not as a highly-qualified public servant who overcame discrimination, like Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, but as a little-known contender with a slender record of achievement onto whom boosters -- white and black alike -- projected their hope for change, and their desire to elect America's first black president.

So while Obama supporters ranging from the true home run king, Hank Aaron, to Congressman Steve Israel, to the president himself insist that millions of critics of his policies are racists -- a charge that couldn't be leveled at the equally vocal critics of FDR, LBJ, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush --  recall that one man who would have opposed almost all the Obama policies built a 50-year career playing heroes who fought for freedom. And that Charlton Heston's finest hour came not in a Hollywood chariot race but in real life, when he fought real racism.




Sharyl Attkisson: That's the Way It Is

04/12/14

Sharyl Attkisson is now publicly describing how CBS steered her away from investigations that embarrassed the Obama administration, and conservatives are blasting the network. 

 

I applaud CBS. 

 

Because this is another historic, clarifying moment for journalism, comparable to NBC creating the progressive MSNBC and Rupert Murdoch hiring Republican consultant Roger Ailes to create FOX News.  It allows us to see the networks' true colors.

 

For years, CBS feuded with Attkisson over her reporting -- virtually the only in-depth reporting -- of such scandals as the Justice Department's Fast and Furious gun running, and the White House's refusal to protect, defend or simply tell the truth about Benghazi.  Attkisson's investigations got less and less air time.  She claimed that her computers were being hacked.  And then word emerged that she was writing a book called Stonewalled: One Reporter's Fight for Truth in Obama's Washington.

 

Some people say that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  This is human nature.  Different people see different stories differently. 

 

For instance, The New York Times published 32 successive front page stories in 2004 on the abuse of Iraqi inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison.  One story compared that abuse to the mistreatment of Texas prisoners when George W. Bush was governor.  The Times  has shown nothing like the same interest in, say, the IRS targeting of conservatives under President Obama.

 

The key is to realize that different news organizations have different ideas about what it's important for you to know, and what those stories really mean.  Knowing this, you can better assess what you're being told, and check that reporting or analysis against other sources.  Then you can make up your own mind.

 

To see why Sharyl Attkisson's resignation, or slow motion firing, is historic let's review some history.

1800  Newspapers backing Thomas Jefferson brand John Adams a tyrant and warn that, if he's reelected president, Adams will use the Alien and Sedition Acts to imprison political enemies. At the same time newspapers supporting Adams link Jefferson to his slave Sally Hemings and warn that if Jefferson is elected, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced."

1968  CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," concludes a documentary on the Tet offensive in Vietnam by claiming, "We are mired in a stalemate." President Johnson reportedly tells an aide, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." A month later, in keeping with Cronkite's signature sign-off "That's the way it is," Lyndon Johnson announces on TV that he will not seek reelection. 

2007  President George W. Bush and leaders in Congress of both parties support a comprehensive immigration bill. The legislation is fast-tracked for quick passage.  Instead, an avalanche of protest triggered by the alternative media -- talk radio, cable news and the blogosphere -- literally shuts down Senate phone lines.  The bill is killed.  An establishment Republican, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, complains: "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem."

You'll notice that 2007 -- and 2014 -- are looking a lot like 1800, when there was great diversity of news and opinion.  It's 1968, perhaps the peak year for mainstream journalism, that now looks like the outlier.

But the mainstream media refuse to accept that.

For most of our history you knew what brand of journalism you were getting.  Readers of a Federalist newspaper supporting Adams expected that its viewpoint -- expressed not just in editorials but in news reports as well -- would bear little resemblance to that of a Democratic-Republican paper in Jefferson's camp.  More than a century later readers knew that a Hearst or McCormick paper reflected conservative views of the world fundamentally opposed to those published by Ochs or Pulitzer.  

But this diversity diminished with the advent of electronic media and the Federal Communications Commission.  Private printing presses were theoretically available to anyone and, under the First Amendment, Congress had strictly limited rights to abridge published free speech.  By contrast, the privilege of broadcasting on limited public radio frequencies required federal licenses and FCC regulation.

But what really changed most people's notion of news was the advent of television. With only three major networks all based in New York and mirroring more or less identical outlooks (certainly quite different from those of a Hearst or McCormick) audiences came to view TV news as providing a different sort of news than they read in partisan newspapers.  Television news, personified by authority figures like Walter Cronkite, supposedly presented objective reporting of facts, just the facts, ma'am.

Though snooty scribes would never admit it, print journalism benefited from this new perception of objectivity.  The New York Times, long a liberal paper (though not nearly as liberal as now) came to be considered the newspaper of record. Time and Newsweek magazines achieved a similar luster.

As for accusations that a mainstream media cabal was skewing the news -- and not a few elections, too -- well, that was just the ranting of cranks, conspiracy theorists and conservative loons.

And at least one other person.

 Newsweek's former managing editor Evan Thomas, author of its notorious cover story "We Are All Socialists Now," published shortly after Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, earlier spoke on the PBS show Inside Washington about the 2004 presidential race:

Let's talk a little media bias here. The media, I think, want (John) Kerry to win. And I think they're going to portray Kerry and (John) Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all. There's going to be this glow about them that some -- is going to be worth, collectively, the two of them -- that's going to be worth maybe 15 points.

Thomas came by his own bias honestly.  His grandfather was Norman Thomas, six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America. Yet the lockstep media bias Evan Thomas described was a relatively recent aberration, one that cost newspapers, magazines and television news programs a big part of the potential audience that now has other places to go.  

Walter Cronkite's veto of the Vietnam War showed television's influence at the height of its dominance.  But in the next year, 1969, Richard Nixon first rallied "the silent majority." And conservatives found voice in the 1980s through a medium that seemed to be spinning its last Top 40 playlist. With the Reagan administration's lifting of the 1949 Fairness Doctrine, which had made it risky for broadcasters to air partisan talk shows, Rush Limbaugh revived AM radio nationwide. The FOX cable news channel then began presenting programs that it claimed were fair and balanced -- meaning their conservative bias balanced out the liberal bias of the mainstream media.  Most recently the web has welcomed countless outlets for opinion and investigation.  A pivotal moment was the overnight demolishing of CBS claims regarding Bush 43's Air National Guard records.  And online opinion covers every political stripe.

This revived marketplace of ideas -- providing dialogue, dialectic and, yes at times, downright drivel -- is reinvigorating our body politic.

But there is a danger.  Walter Cronkite and his colleagues gave us common ground. We might not have agreed with every opinion implied in their assuring us "that's the way it is."  But at least we were all seeing the same reports.

 

Now all too often conservatives get their news exclusively from conservative outlets (including talk radio) while liberals listen only to liberals (including Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert).  This is polarizing.  We can't talk, much less reach consensus, if we look at the world from sealed rooms offering diametrically opposed points of view.

The remedy is for each of us to work a little harder at civic responsibility, to wander outside our comfort zones.  Get news from as many sources as possible -- from MSNBC and FOX and wherever Sharyl Attkisson winds up.  Stage a debate in your own head.

And then, remembering how bitterly divided America was in 1800, take comfort from the fact that at the end of their illustrious lives, those fierce political opponents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, once again became friends.




Kasich Plays Poker

04/03/14

Ohio's Governor John Kasich just took a break from governing and running for reelection and joined a round of five-card stud.  Along with other possible GOP presidential contenders Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, Kasich met with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas.

Adelson personally bankrolled Newt Gingrich in 2012.  So his high stakes poker game is now being called the Adelson Primary.

How did Kasich make out?  Adelson's not saying.  But let's look at the strong and weak cards in the governor's hand, at least as the GOP sees them.

ACES

Congressman Kasich was one of Newt's top lieutenants, helping him push through the Contract With America in 1994.  Then when Republicans retook the House for the first time in 40 years, young John chaired the budget committee.  The two worked with President Clinton to pass balanced budgets -- something never even proposed when Democrats held the majority.  Kasich now claims credit for the only federal surplus since 1969.

As Ohio governor, Kasich's turned a potential $8 billion state deficit into a $1.5 billion surplus by cutting taxes, reining in spending and aggressively courting out-of-state businesses.

He's also the self-made son of a postman.  And while the freshman congressman sported a Beatle mop, Governor Kasich now has a photogenic family and a manner reminiscent of Chris Christie in his eagerness to ditch talking points and just talk like a regular guy.  

JOKERS

When he voluntarily left Congress Kasich went to work for Lehman Brothers.  But before the firm collapsed, ushering in the Great Recession, Kasich likes to point out that he had a role in taking Google public.

Upon becoming governor, Kasich caught flack for appointing an all-white cabinet with just a handful of women.  He said he didn't play identity politics.

Maybe a bigger misstep was backing a bill to restrict collective bargaining by public employees.  Unlike Governor Scott Walker, who won his fight with public unions in Wisconsin, Kasich included police and firefighters. They became the flash point of the debate, and voters handed Kasich a stinging defeat. 

Pro-union forces may now unite behind Ed Fitzgerald, the Democrats' candidate to unseat Kasich this November.  The chief executive of Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, accuses Kasich of crony capitalism, skewing tax cuts to the rich, skimping on education and grossly exaggerating the Ohio Miracle -- since the state as a whole is still losing population.  (Although the state capital, Columbus -- like our national capital -- is doing very well.)

But maybe most important, tea party members may oppose Kasich for having accepted Obamacare dollars to expand Medicaid. Twenty-one mostly red states refused to go along.  The GOP will want to know: Why Ohio?

SO TO SUM UP

At this point, if Republicans want a governor, Chris Christie -- even with the bridge scandal -- continues to suck most of the air out of the media, particularly the mainstream media, which favors GOP moderates like John McCain and Mitt Romney and then dumps them in the general election. The next choice of the establishment moderates and the media will be former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. For conservatives, Scott Walker shares Kasich's "miracle" success -- and may have a more compelling story of successfully fighting public unions and then surviving a recall attempt in a very liberal state. Also, Walker refused to expand Medicaid.

But of course both Walker and Kasich first have to win reelection. And as Sheldon Adelson knows, that's never a sure bet.    




Obamacare Gag Order

04/02/14

Really it should have been Attorney General Eric Holder.  He would have been happy to oblige. But yesterday President Obama imposed this gag order for the Affordable Care Act: 

"The debate over repealing this law is over."

Well.  At the risk of being held in contempt, here are a few facts that may reignite debate, if not in the mainstream media then perhaps at your kitchen table.
 
The White House claims 7.1 million people have enrolled in Obamacare.  Let's put aside questions about how many of those people actually paid for their policies, because the White House won't answer that.  (A Rand Corporation study reportedly puts the number at just 858,000.) Assume all 7.1 million have paid premiums or are receiving subsidies.

Then note that more than 6 million Americans have lost the policies they previously had -- policies they presumably "liked" and were promised by the president they could keep -- because those "crappy" policies didn't meet Obamacare requirements.  For instance, they may not have provided men with maternity care or women with free abortifacients.  Now neither men nor women may get decent cancer treatment unless they're rich or members of the power elite, but put that aside too.

Those 6 million Americans are required to buy an Obamacare-approved policy or face a penalty. What Chief Justice John Roberts called a "tax" in order to find the Affordable Care Act constitutional.  To collect that tax the Internal Revenue Service hired 16,000 new agents.

Bear in mind that the Affordable Care Act was supposed to be so attractive, tens of millions of people would rush to sign up.  President Obama said it would save the average family $2,500.  Instead we're finding that many premiums have doubled, and deductibles run up to $6,000.  And nervous Democrats proposing to reform the reform law now want to raise deductibles even more.

Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, wrote:

"Now let me define the difference between economic power and political power: economic power is exercised by means of a positive, by offering men a reward, an incentive, a payment, a value; political power is exercised by means of a negative, by the threat of punishment, injury, imprisonment, destruction. The businessman's tool is values; the bureaucrat's tool is fear."

Free market reform of our outmoded, World War Two employer-based model for health insurance would offer rewards to consumers: choice, lower costs, and freedom from bureaucrats and special political interests.  See my previous blog "Replacing Obamacare."  If Republicans don't offer a free-market alternative to Obamacare they deserve to lose.

But what Obamacare and its 16,000 IRS agents do is impose punishment.  Just as we don't know how many people enrolled in Obamacare and actually paid, or how many previously had insurance but had it taken away, or how many are members of the expanded ranks of Medicaid, we also don't know how many of those 7.1 million enrolled out of fear. 

You can bet it was plenty.

And that's what the White House and its media supporters are now celebrating.

If you're celebrating too, I urge you to read another previous blog called "Churchill and the State of Our Union."

You'll be reminded of the British prime minister's warning to those who appeased dictators:  
 
"Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.  But I fear -- I fear greatly -- the storm will not pass."

The White House has delayed Obamacare's employer mandate -- the one that may impact your health coverage -- until after the next elections.  Still, the storm clouds are gathering.
 
So with apologies to the president, the debate over repealing this fundamentally transformative law is not over.




You're Not My Father

04/01/14

No, were not quoting Luke Skywalker or a who's your daddy segment on Maury Povich.

One of the gravest threats facing America today is that we're content to let our founding fathers molder in their graves while our enemies' fathers are very much alive.

Muslims revere Muhammad, although Shia and Sunni disagree about who were his rightful heirs.

China still officially reveres Mao though it repudiates his Cultural Revolution and embraces state-controlled capitalism.  More importantly, China is seeking to restore itself as The Middle Kingdom -- the center of the world.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin, a self-professed Christian, may mute his reverence for Lenin and Stalin, but Putin's nationalism has him aspiring to succeed Peter the Great.  And 80% of Russians approve.

But America?

One of our parties -- The Grand Old Party -- seems happy to manage our decline.  Its Washington establishment did nothing during the six years they controlled the House, the Senate and the White House under the moderate George W. Bush to reform our hideously politicized tax code, our bankrupt entitlements or the regulatory regimes strangling free enterprise while promoting crony capitalism.  Nothing then and nothing now.

As for the other party, its leader dismisses the entire idea of American exceptionalism as it was defined by our founding fathers.

Those framers of our constitution did not see America as a Middle Kingdom. They did not aim to set up a government strong enough to dominate its neighbors.  Quite the contrary.  The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were exceptional 200 years ago for one simple reason.  While most of the world's other countries were ruled by kings and aristocracies, and while even the later French Revolution would advance the "general will" of the nation as the guiding force of their republic,  the American Revolution recognized individual rights as preeminent.  And our founding fathers did not pay lip service to that principle.  As every law student knows, or used to know, the governing principle of our constitution was to set up a strictly limited national government of clearly enumerated powers that -- as underscored in the ninth and tenth amendments -- could not infringe on the existing and unalienable powers of the states and the individual people.

The practical effect of our constitution was that people from all over the world who were victims at home came to America to be free of government constraints and persecution.  The United States of America became the home of the free and the land of the brave.  And the symbol of our country -- long before the French gave us the Statue of Liberty -- was the greatest of our founding fathers, the father of our country, George Washington.

That America no longer exists.  And not just because America no longer celebrates Washington's Birthday as a special holiday but instead celebrates the office and lumps Washington in with every other commander-in-chief from James Buchanan to Richard Nixon to Barack Obama.  And not just because the average American today knows almost nothing about Washington's life or death devotion to limited government and individual rights but instead only knows that Washington had false teeth and was a slaveholder.

No, the founding fathers' America no longer exists because far from coming to our country to escape from being victims, people now live in our country as victims. Their victim status makes them that most precious thing, wards of the state.  And that state has become a leviathan that grows every day, fed by the demands of various victims. The food our leviathan devours is state-mandated redistribution of wealth.

President Obama has advanced  this new definition of America on countless occasions, from talking with Joe the Plumber about spreading the wealth around to, most explicitly, explaining on Chicago public radio how the founding fathers' vision of America was flawed and needed to be fundamentally transformed to include the redistribution of wealth and the guarantee of new rights -- rights that we now see include everything from what the government deems to be adequate health care to what the government deems to be nutritious meals to what the government deems to be fair-paying jobs, and on and on.

The reach of the federal government into our lives would be a big enough transformation.  But the repudiation of the founding fathers' vision of a country of individual rights and responsibilities has a more far-reaching effect.

Progressives, and establishment Republicans who merely grow the government at a slightly slower pace, have not proposed replacing the founding fathers' constitution with anything else.  They simply ignore it. 

The upshot is lawlessness.

Take Obamacare.  Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that the Affordable Care Act was an unconstitutional overreach under the Commerce Clause but he salvaged it as a tax measure.  Roberts articulated no limiting principle for any future tax law.  Beyond that, the Obama administration acknowledges no limits on its unilateral right to delay, cherry pick and rewrite the law, and establishment Republicans have not challenged the administration in Congress or in court.

So a movement that began under Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt is now reaching fruition.  America is being fundamentally transformed from a limited government into an unlimited government.

Ironically, our new unlimited government turns out to be more vacillating and timid than the limited one was when it comes to standing up against foreign tyrannies.  The reason is simple.  America once saw itself as a force for good in the world.  America now sees itself as a land of injustice that our unlimited government needs to reform.  Only once that reform is complete will America have moral authority.  

Meantime, America will be governed by a different class of leaders.  On the establishment Republican side, members of the club.  On the progressive side, political bosses.

There is an alternative.  Both for nuclear families in America and for America as a whole.  An acknowledgement that it does not primarily take a village, and it does not primarily take an old boys' club, to produce a responsible child or a responsible nation. It takes mothers and fathers.

But maybe Luke Skywalker and Maury Povich have it right.  First America has to decide, "Who's your daddy?




X-Rated Welfare

03/18/14

Russia's devouring of Crimea, Obamacare's enrollment deadline, and most important -- because it distracts from the first two -- the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 may all be less important stories than this little item from Gonzales, Louisiana.

Kiss My Lingerie now accepts EBT cards.

Electronic Benefits Transfer cards are what used to be called food stamps. They're not supposed to pay for alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, casinos or adult entertainment (although as we've shown you, fraud is rampant).  Yet it seems Kiss My Lingerie considers novelties like edible panties to be food, not adult entertainment, and the great state of Louisiana apparently agrees.  The Gonzales store reportedly has been told that EBT cards, good for up to $400 a month, can be used for "lingerie and other adult items."

Why should this get your panties into a bunch?

Because government is becoming more dependent on voters who are dependent on government.  Rich and poor alike.  And the best way to ensure dependency is to hook voters on some drug.  From special tax breaks for favored fat cats ...to edible panties.

Now I don't mean to fixate on those panties. Kiss My Lingerie surely has lots of other stuff to entice you. 

And I don't mean to impugn everyone in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Even with America now $17 trillion in debt, we're still rich enough to help those who truly can't help themselves.

But despite this flat economy, pumped up by the Federal Reserve -- where Wall Street expands but too many Main Streets have hit a dead end -- can 47 million Americans really not help themselves? And do programs that let people use food assistance to buy "adult items" preserve what used to be called the American work ethic? 

Assuming that's what you want to preserve. 

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four foresaw an authoritarian future sustained by surveillance and by government destroying the memory of any better life.  But another dystopian novel, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, adds another ingredient: hooking citizens on sex toys and drugs and mind-numbing entertainment.  Old-fashioned virtues -- fidelity, marriage, family -- are made objects of ridicule and revulsion.  By the state.  To keep citizens doped up and docile.

We're checking to see if this EBT policy is followed just in Louisiana -- where former Governor Edwin Edwards once boasted that politicians can get away with anything short of being caught in bed "with a dead girl or a live boy."

But in any event, it's not just Louisiana that's now a subsidized swamp.   The key question may be the one someone on MTV asked Bill Clinton when he was running for president:

"What kind of underwear do you wear?"

And who's paying?




GOP: Can't Beat Something With Nothing

03/13/14

Democrats may or may not take another "shellacking" this November, as they did in the 2010 congressional elections.  But thanks to President Obama's own victories in 2008 and 2012, his party's already gone a long way toward "fundamentally transforming" America. 

And for a simple reason.

Barack Obama has a governing philosophy.  Establishment Republicans do not.  And you can't beat something with nothing.

Campaigning for president near Toledo in 2008, Senator Obama shared his philosophy with Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber.  Joe worried that Obama wanted to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year.  The senator responded:  "right now, everybody's so pinched that business is bad for everybody.  And I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

And how do you spread the wealth?  Partly by raising taxes on higher income earners but also through social welfare programs.   On Chicago public radio in 2001, then-state Senator Obama conceded that European-style social welfare was not sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution as traditionally interpreted by scholars and by the Supreme Court:

 "But," said Senator Obama, "the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.  It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can't do to you, it says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf."

And what exactly must government do?  During his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama made that clear with a website called "The Life of Julia" that promised women cradle to grave social welfare programs covering every conceivable aspect of their lives. 

The Republican leadership's response?

Mush.

Nothing in the way of a governing philosophy beyond sneering, "Go ahead and elect Marxists and wait till you see the country crash and burn."

And that remains the establishment Republican response.

Wait. How about gradually reforming eligibility for entitlement programs -- from food stamps and disability benefits to Medicaid, Social Security and also corporate welfare -- that are bankrupting our country and saddling the young with crushing debt?

"Politically too risky," Republican leaders say.

Replace the Affordable Care Act with the first free market health reforms since World War Two?

 "No need." says the GOP.  "We'll just let Obamacare implode."

Simplify the tax code -- perhaps with some variation of a flat or fair tax -- so that all Americans are treated equally and politicians of both parties can no longer bribe voters by offering special credits and exemptions?

"How would we get reelected?"

You wouldn't.  At least not forever.  Because we should also amend the Constitution to include term-limits,  so that Washington will rid itself of career politicians buying votes from rich and poor alike.

"You must be joking."

If so, the joke's on us.

Without any of these reforms and more, Republicans may still retake the House and the Senate.  They may even win the White House in 2016,  if they don't once again alienate their conservative, libertarian and tea party base.  Then they'll have all the power Republicans enjoyed for six years under George W. Bush, when they increased deficit spending, refused to police Wall Street and the real estate market, and failed to enact any important reforms.  A month before the 2008 election financial markets collapsed and Barack Obama began fundamentally transforming our economy and our national character.

Because Barack Obama has a governing philosophy while the Republican ruling class is content to preserve its share of political power.  For however little time that lasts. 




The Finest First Lady Was a Man

03/10/14

That's not male chauvinism.  It's just that reading about Michelle Obama's official visit to China with her mom and two daughters -- but not the president or the press -- got me thinking about what first ladies do.

And perhaps shouldn't do.

We could use all our space writing about, say, Mary Todd Lincoln.  But for brevity's sake let's look back over just the last hundred years.

When President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1919, Vice President Thomas Marshall could have given him a hand. Trouble was, Wilson's second wife, Edith, didn't tell Tom or most anyone else that the president was no longer capable of running a corner store, much less the country, so Edith secretly became the shadow president.

Skip ahead fifteen years.  Franklin Roosevelt's polio kept him from getting around as much as he would have liked, though FDR did manage to meet Churchill and Stalin during WWII in Tehran and Yalta.  So Mrs. Roosevelt in effect became her husband's legs, traveling where he could not go -- for instance to coal mines in Ohio and West Virginia.  Mrs. Roosevelt was not only one of the nation's most influential first ladies.  After her husband's death she became a delegate to the newly formed United Nations.  And after Mrs. Roosevelt's own death -- according to Bob Woodward -- First Lady Hillary Clinton chatted with Eleanor from beyond the grave.  Mrs. Clinton reportedly also talked with Gandhi.

Hillary of course warrants a blog of her own.  And if she runs for president again we will certainly revisit.  But for now note that she came to national prominence promising on 60 Minutes that if Bill got elected there would be no more women like Gennifer Flowers talking about his sexual peccadilloes.  We did not then know about Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and who knows how many others.  But seemingly as reward for her loyalty at a crucial time, the first lady was put in charge of reworking the country's health care system.

Let me repeat that.

First Lady Hillary Clinton was put in charge -- not of beautifying America's highways like Lady Bird Johnson, or hosting televised White House tours like Jackie Kennedy (back before piddling spending cuts suspended White House tours).  No.  First Lady Hillary Clinton was assigned by President Bill Clinton to revamp the nation's entire health care system.

Forget Republican opposition.  Fellow Democrats refused even to bring the first lady's plan up for a vote.

Hillary however regained clout in the White House when -- who could have guessed? -- an intern named Monica Lewinsky was revealed to have had an affair with President Clinton -- in the White House -- and to have lied about it under oath in the Paula Jones lawsuit.  The first lady stood by her man again (remember the "vast right-wing conspiracy"?) and not only did Bill survive impeachment for lying under oath in the same case, but Mrs. Clinton also went on to win a Senate seat from New York.

It is outside the scope of this blog to review her Senate career, her failed run for the Democratic presidential nomination despite an overwhelming early lead, or her accomplishments as Secretary of State (Egypt, Benghazi and the Russian reset that's led to Ukraine).

But I ask you.  Was Mrs. Clinton's rise to power a triumph of feminism?

We could focus on other first ladies -- Nancy Reagan, for example, feuding with Chief of Staff Don Regan and perhaps getting him fired -- but let's jump to Michelle Obama.

Nobody has accused Mrs. Obama of being a shadow president.  Or of trying to reorder 1/6 of the U.S. economy.  But in the 21st century do we really need presidential spouses responsible for any substantive policies, even if it's just stuff like food labeling and getting soda machines removed from schools?

Do we need presidential spouses making official, taxpayer funded foreign trips on their own (or with their children during spring break) even if they don't criticize foreign governments the way, for instance, Laura Bush did regarding Myanmar and China?  However justified that criticism might be.

There is an alternative.

As mentioned, my favorite first lady was a man.  Denis Thatcher.  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's husband. Denis Thatcher's job was not beautifying Britain's highways or overseeing how England's kids should eat.  Much less running the kingdom.

Denis Thatcher was a retired  businessman. He played a lot of golf -- on his own time and his own dime.

It was also rumored that he gave his wife advice, but all Denis had to say about that was: "For 40 wonderful years I have been married to one of the greatest women the world has ever produced.  All I could produce - small as it may be - was love and loyalty."  

Now you might say, that's not cricket.  Denis Thatcher was a Brit.

Okay, let's end with an American first lady I like just as much as Denis.  Come to think of it, maybe even more.

Harry Truman's wife, Bess, hated Washington.  She refused to follow in the footsteps of Eleanor Roosevelt.  Whenever Harry could spare her, Bess spent as much time as possible in their modest Missouri home.  Eventually Harry retired there too, although he could have made money they desperately needed by hanging around Washington.

That Missouri town had a name that told you a lot about Harry and Bess, and true feminism, and what this country used to be all about.

Independence.   




Lois the Robot

03/05/14

The lavishly retired head of the IRS unit that targeted conservatives, Lois Lerner, once again responded to congressional investigators by taking the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.  Despite President Obama now insisting there was "not even a smidgen of corruption" in the way she and her colleagues pursued their prey.  

So in the afterglow of the Oscars, I got to wondering how the president's friends in Hollywood might film the Lois Lerner story.  Assuming they cared.  Hollywood after all is the land of make believe. 

Let's call our movie...  I, Government.

Okay, we're ripping off that Will Smith flick, I, Robot.

But since when does Hollywood mind rip-offs?

Now pretend we're power lunching in Beverly Hills.

You're a producer named Jerry.

Here's my pitch:

Jerry, sweetheart, how do you like this?

Our heroine is an IRS robot named Lois.

I see her played by Joan Allen.

No, Jerry, not Joan Rivers.

Joan Allen.

I don't think we could get Joan Rivers to take the Fifth and keep quiet.

Anyway, Lois the Robot has always been an unthinking bureaucrat, a cog in the great machine of government. But then her creator, IRS head Doug Shulman, comes back from his daily White House briefing and tells Lois ... that evil is abroad in the land!

Groups with names that include words like Patriot and Tea Party don't just want to beat the bureaucrats' big boss in the 2012 election.

These "small government" groups also want to reform the tax code.

They want to ax countless corrupt tax breaks and exemptions.

They want to substitute a simple flat tax, eliminating the need  for the Death Star known as the Internal Revenue Service, and eliminating most of the 150,000 members... of the National Treasury Employees Union.

As well as supervisors.  Like Lois the Robot!

No, we don't have to build a Death Star, Jerry.

 We can borrow that Star Trek set the IRS used at their convention.

Anyway this warning from the White House awakens a whole new level of self-awareness in the robots. They now fear for their own destruction!

So Lois and her friends go to battle, interrogating the evil tea partiers about their reading lists, their relatives -- even the content of their prayers.

And, most important, drying up contributions during the 2012 campaign.

Who saves the tea partiers?

Jerry, I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that.

We haven't yet found a credible hero.
 
Marco Rubio wants to make a deal with the robots.

Chris Christie went and hired a killer robot of his own.
 
And we can't cast Rand Paul because he commits the cardinal sin in Hollywood.

The guy cuts his own hair.

So what do you think, Jerry?

Really?

Boring?

Nobody cares about big government?

Well, maybe you're right.

But wait.  I've got another script.

It's about national health care reform.

We call it, American Hustle.




Lawlessness

02/27/14

We hope Attorney General Eric Holder recovers quickly from his health scare... and even faster from the legal scare he's just given the country.

Not content to have trampled the rule of law in the Fast and Furious gun running scandal, in refusing to pursue voter intimidation complaints, in spying on Associated Press and FOX reporters, and in a whole docket full of other cases,  the attorney general is now counseling his state counterparts to quit defending state laws -- and even state constitutions -- that ban same-sex marriage.

We'll examine the substance of Holder's stance in a moment. 

But first consider another attorney who once risked his life defending the rule of law.

In 1770 British troops occupying Boston killed five protestors.  The colonial government charged Captain Thomas Preston and his men with murder. 

Fearing for their careers and possibly their lives, no lawyers in Boston were willing to defend the perpetrators of "the Boston Massacre."

 Except for John Adams, who wrote in his diary,

"The part I took in defense of Captain Preston and the soldiers procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough.  It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country."

Far from eternal obloquy, Adams of course went on to earn the presidency. 

In a very different time.  

Eric Holder justifies asking state attorneys general to refuse any defense of their states'  laws by likening bans on same-sex marriage to racial discrimination.  Ignoring the fact that when he ran for president in 2008, and as recently as three years ago, Barack Obama repeatedly opposed same-sex marriage.

Our country may be undergoing a sea change regarding gay rights. And the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed into law by Bill Clinton. 

But the Supreme Court did not overturn any state bans on same-sex marriage.  The majority expressly recognized that these bans for now remain in effect.  

I ask you, for the moment, to put aside your own feelings about gay, lesbian and transgender rights. I am not going to tell you my feelings because in this context they're irrelevant.

And that's because the larger issue is the rule of law.  If we continue to ignore it -- as President Obama has joined Holder in doing regarding DOMA, immigration, recess appointments,  the implementation of his own Affordable Care Act and so much else -- then America truly will be "fundamentally transformed." 

Into a dictatorship.

President Obama has shrugged off the notion of American Exceptionalism.

So let him look deeper into our past.  Recall that Winston Churchill traced Anglo-American reverence for the rule of law back to the legendary King Arthur.  The Camelot that so stirred Jack Kennedy was not just about pageantry and beautiful tunes.  It was about Arthur's idealism -- founded not on feudal loyalties, not on might makes right, but on the rule of law.

Moving from legend to history, when nobles forced King John to sign Magna Carta they were rebelling against tyranny and imposing the rule of law.

England's unwritten constitution is its noblest possession.  Just as America's brilliantly, wisely, justly written constitution used to be our greatest possession.

When he lectured at the University of Chicago's law school Barack Obama took exception to our constitution, calling is a "charter of negative liberties" because it set  limits on government's intrusion on individual rights but did not specify what government must provide for its citizens -- including, the president believes, health care, housing, food and who knows what else.

Our founders might have applauded President Obama's general desire to improve the constitution. They even provided a process for that.  The amendment process.

And well short of constitutional amendment,  gay rights supporters can take their case to the courts and to the voters.  Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. 

But blatantly and systematically ignoring the constitution -- ignoring state laws and state constitutions because they seem to you unjust -- is unlawful.

It is tyrannical.

It is something no supporter of gay rights should support, because lawlessness will eventually come back to bite you too.  Like Churchill's famous crocodile, that appeasers can only hope... will eat them last.  

In sum, John Adams felt it was his duty as an attorney to defend men he found repugnant. But I believe even John Adams would have found Attorney General Eric Holder, and his boss... indefensible.




Hollowing Out Our Military

02/25/14

Hollowing out our military is one of America's most hallowed traditions.

Right after we won the Revolutionary War, in 1783, Congress refused to pay our soldiers back wages and pensions.  This sparked the army's "Newburgh Conspiracy," defused only because General Washington refused to rebel. (See George Washington's Finest Hour.)

After we sacrificed a generation of doughboys on the fields of Flanders in World War I, politicians again gutted our military, especially the Navy.  That left America an easy target for the Japanese Empire until America once again rose -- late, but luckily not too late -- to the challenge of  Pearl Harbor and World War II.

A military buildup hastened the demise of the Soviet Union.  The Clinton administration and then Republican Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld proceeded to "streamline" the military.   One result: insufficient boots on the ground made it impossible to occupy Iraq or even to secure towns our troops had already taken, like Fallujah.  You can debate whether a larger force would have brought peace to Iraq.  Or Afghanistan, where President Obama surged but at the same time set a date for withdrawal.  But if the total victory that let us turn Japan and Germany into democratic republics was not possible,  what right did we have to ask American soldiers to lay down their lives?

All this leads to our current defense secretary, Chuck Hagel,  now proposing to reduce troop strength to pre-Pearl Harbor levels.

Few dispute that there is room to cut at the Pentagon. 

And the more libertarian wing of the Republican party,  led by Senator  Rand Paul,  supports fewer American bases around the world, especially in countries that can afford to defend themselves.

Then too, perhaps we don't need the anti-tank aircraft Hagel wants to scrap. 

Some might even support the White House seeking to  trim everything from military pensions to health benefits to -- I kid you not --  funding for commissaries.    

But at some point you have to ask yourself if our  military is a favored constituency of the Obama administration. 

After all, these are the people who played a game of chicken with Republicans, agreeing to sequestration spending cuts -- only -- if 50% of them came from defense. Seeing no other way to slow the growth of deficit spending, the GOP shocked President Obama by accepting the deal. The president now takes credit for reducing deficits. And the defense cuts continue. 

Why don't Democrats fight to preserve defense spending as fiercely as they fight to expand food stamps,  jobless benefits, disability benefits, and funding for teachers and other public union members?

Critics suggest it's because the Pentagon is not as easily politicized as, say, the EPA, HHS, the IRS and the Department of Education. 

Soldiers don't seem as willing as many other people to remain dependent on government.  Americans who volunteer for military service are often traditionalists.  Many of them hail from the heartland.  They want to defend our country and learn skills in the process so that when they muster out they can be self-reliant.

And national polls showed a vast majority of soldiers and veterans favored Mitt Romney.

Secretary Hagel's proposed cuts may well be in the best interest of America. And if more domestic and entitlement spending boosts our economy, maybe that's America's best line of defense.

But as Congress debates Hagel's budget, many will wonder if 2014 is looking a lot like 1783. 

When some lawmakers felt we no longer needed so many soldiers.

And there was no rush to see that our soldiers were paid. 




House of Cards

02/24/14

When Shakespeare staged plays at court for Queen Elizabeth I about feckless kings like Richard II or evil kings like Richard III he was not suggesting that Good Queen Bess was remotely like them.

Instead Elizabeth's grandfather appears as England's virtuous deliverer at the end of Richard III. And even Elizabeth's hound dog of a dad, Henry VIII, in his play of the same name is made to seem heroic, since his adultery and apostasy finally produce ...baby Elizabeth!  And this libertarian prophesy:

In her days every man shall eat in safety
Under his own vine what he plants


Now contrast Elizabeth's love of Shakespeare with our current leaders' love for House of Cards.

We've learned that its biggest fan, President Obama, has asked for advance copies of upcoming episodes. And it's not just the president.  Peggy Noonan writes that Democrats and establishment Republicans alike in Washington are now obsessed with this Netflix series

Much as Mafia dons were obsessed with The Godfather.

House of Cards depicts Washington as a cesspool reeking of ambition, avarice and revenge.

Which is to say it provides better reporting than you'll find anywhere in the mainstream media.

In times of greatness -- like those of Pericles, Ashoka, Kangxi, and Elizabeth I -- leaders liked to see themselves portrayed as farsighted and enlightened.

In times of decadence and decline, like today, leaders smirk at less flattering depictions, so long as they feel confident of their power and the loyalty of those allowed to poke fun.

Kings encourage court jesters.

Within limits.

But make no mistake. The popularity in Washington of House of Cards is a sign of contempt for us.

And the joke will be on us when these cards collapse.

Unless we act quickly on these other lines from Shakespeare:

The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!




Invisible America: The Long-Term Unemployed

02/20/14

I don't often plug our own television stories. But here's one you might find interesting -- perhaps startling -- because it's deliberately ignored by the mainstream media.

Just click: http://www.fox45now.com/shared/news/top-stories/stories/wrgt_vid_18765.shtml

It's the story of invisible America: the long-term unemployed.

True, most news outlets reluctantly mutter each month that America's jobless rate is falling largely because millions of people are dropping out of the workforce.  Yet we're seldom told what that really means.  And we rarely meet someone who can't find a job, someone you'd never expect would be out of work.

Simply in terms of numbers, January's official jobless rate fell to 6.6% although the economy -- during the holiday season, no less -- created just 113,000 jobs, most of them part-time or government work.

That official rate is bad enough when you recall it's remained stuck far above 5% for more than five years. Under any Republican president this would be called a jobless recovery. Especially since the recovery part is pretty much confined to Wall Street, thanks to artificially low interest rates and federal pump-priming of $75-85 billion ...a month.

In other words, for all its rabble-rousing about income inequality, this administration caters to the rich. If establishment Republicans fail to seize that argument it's because they cater to the rich too.

But we're not going to focus on the official 6.6% jobless rate. We're looking into the real rate -- what's called the U-6 rate -- of 12.7%. The U-6 includes people who have stopped looking for work or who unwillingly accept part-time jobs.

People like Christopher Joseph.

College educated, talented, personable... and out of full-time work for three years.

Chris will tell us...

-- how he and his wife have had to move in with his in-laws...

-- how this 43-year-old father has to comfort his oldest daughter at night because she worries about whether they'll get by...

-- how he's applied for countless jobs...

-- and how he's been lucky to find work at a county job center in exchange for food assistance and other extended government benefits.

But we'll also look at why Chris may have struck out.

He majored in communications.  How many colleges warn students paying tuition up the wazoo (or more likely going deeply into debt) that there are pitifully few jobs in communications or any number of other oversubscribed majors?

Then we'll show you how students can find rewarding and remunerative careers by learning disciplines that match the evolving job market. You'll see how every student majoring in Operations and Supply Management at the University of Dayton has been offered a paid internship and a great full-time job.

Still, not everyone is cut out for work that combines business and engineering. I'm not! In fact, not everyone should be pressured into going to college. Certainly not right out of high school.

Ever since World War Two and the GI Bill we've equated college with upward mobility -- with respectability. A stigma's attached to anyone without a diploma. And a stigma's attached to most anyone who pursues and even excels at a non-collegiate sort of career.

We talk with a small manufacturing firm about this and the challenges they face finding workers.  For instance, they have to test ten applicants just to find one who can pass a drug test.

We hear now from government leaders that Obamacare is freeing people from "job lock" so they can pursue their dreams.
 
But Chris just dreamed of having a decent job.
 
The nightmare will come when a majority of Americans  -- like the "angry young men" of socialized post-war Britain -- no longer aspire to work but instead are willing to live on the dole and nurse their resentments.

The good news ... is that Chris just found a job.

With the same county job center where he previously received only government benefits.

But not all of us can work for the government.

At least not yet.

Keeping America's private sector thriving and creating jobs will require a different mindset from government and from each of us, as workers and as parents.

Now, thankfully, off to work.




George Washington's Finest Hour

02/14/14

On Presidents Day I thought about our two greatest leaders, Washington and Lincoln, who used to have holidays of their own.

This was a good thing.

A necessary thing.

Because we should be honoring individual character and achievements, not just anyone who imagines himself great for having occupied the Oval Office.

America is not about titles and offices, and it's certainly not about power.  America is exceptional because, as our founding documents make clear, inalienable individual rights precede government. We the people created our federal government to protect those rights.

This used to be taught in all civics classes and at all law schools.  Even Harvard's and the University of Chicago's.

No one was more mindful of the limited, decentralized power of America's government than the first and only man chosen unanimously to lead it, largely because he had already demonstrated -- not only supreme devotion and courage -- but also supreme self-restraint.

George Washington could have been a king. The most moving instance of his refusing to seize personal power came in 1783.  With the Revolutionary War won, a bankrupt Congress found it had higher priorities than paying our troops years of back wages. Seething senior officers threatened armed rebellion.  General Washington had previously refused a crown. If he refused again, the army might mutiny against its commander in chief.

Torn between defying Congress and opposing the men with whom he had suffered countless privations and so often risked death, Washington unexpectedly attended a meeting of the officers at their headquarters in Newburgh, New York.  It was March 15, the same day that Roman conspirators in 44 B.C. assassinated Julius Caesar, a military dictator. Washington's ambition and his fate were exactly opposite.

To reassure the soldiers Washington pulled from his pocket a letter from a member of Congress.  Then he fumbled for something else.  Recently the general had found he needed reading glasses.  He had not yet worn them in public. With a slight smile Washington said, "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."  He then read the letter and left.  Witnesses recall that many of the officers were in tears.  They immediately affirmed their loyalty to Congress, the Newburgh conspiracy collapsed, and America remained a republic of laws not men.  

This for me is one of the greatest moments in history.  And upon hearing that, like the Roman leader Cincinnatus, Washington was eager to return to his farm, even King George III called his adversary "the greatest man in the world."

He was: first as the soldier who staked an immense fortune and his own life in the fight for liberty; then as impartial president of the Constitutional Convention; and finally as the first President of the United States, setting the precedent that his office was one of strong but limited power, freely shared with members of the cabinet, Congress and the courts -- and subject always to the preeminent rights of we the people.




Swearing Off Obamacare

02/13/14

A local employer came on our air several months ago and told you that he's not hiring any more full-time workers, due to the "crippling" regulations and costs... of ObamaCare.

I won't tell you that employer's name, or identify his business now..  since that might send him to jail.

Why?

Because the Treasury Department just ruled that businesses must certify -- under penalty of perjury -- that they are not cutting full-time jobs to avoid having to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

The Treasury Department's involved because Chief Justice John Roberts and his Supreme Court majority found the ACA is constitutional only if it's construed as a tax measure. And that gives the IRS power to enforce it.

Now bear in mind that employers make business decisions all the time based on tax considerations.

Heck, our gargantuan tax code is almost nothing but a bunch of politicized tax breaks for favored businesses.

Even more galling, the White House just postponed the ObamaCare business mandate, but not the individual mandate, yet again -- for purely political reasons. They want to delay as many worker layoffs as possible until after the November congressional elections.  

So under penalty of perjury,  let's get this straight:

President Obama -- who "jokes" that he can do anything he wants -- unilaterally rewrites the clear mandates of this "duly enacted, settled law"... but employers can no longer make a business decision based on the tax implications of that law.

Forgive me, but I've got to run -- to warn that local job creator how to stay out of jail.  




Debt Ceiling: America's Bar Tab

02/12/14

Let's say you're a drunk and you've run up a staggering tab at your local bar.

You can't pay it off because you're now just working part-time.

So you go to your wife, who luckily still has a decent job. She says she'll pay off your bill, but only if you promise to drink less and stop running up future bar tabs.

You say, "Honey, I'll talk about the future, but I won't do that with a gun pointed at my head. Pay off the bar bill and then we'll discuss whether I need to cut back on future tabs." 

In this parable, President Obama and his fellow Democrats are the patrons of that tavern (I was going to say bar flies, but that wouldn't be respectful)

... and Senator Ted Cruz is the wife.

What they're of course arguing about is the debt ceiling, which Senator Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner agreed to raise "clean" of any spending cuts. 

In fairness, the analogy is not precise.

Progressives would object to calling anyone a drunk. They would say we're alcoholics, meaning victims of a disease, who can't be blamed for our actions. Be it drinking. Or spending.

And in fairness, establishment Republicans have been more than happy to run up a tab at this establishment.

George W. Bush, for instance, never saw a spending bill he was willing to veto.

Beyond that, GOP leaders want to steer clear of another government shutdown. They want to steer clear of anything that distracts attention before the election from the imploding Affordable Care Act.  

But tea partiers are teetotalers when it comes to deficit spending.

So they are saying precisely this:

"Mr. President, don't claim you only want to pay the bills Congress has already run up, and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States, if you're not also willing to negotiate future spending limits. And Mr. President, don't claim we're trying to put a gun to your head (aren't we supposed to have given up that kind of violent political speech?) when the only leverage Republicans have is when we're asked to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. Otherwise, you ignore us."

Frank Sinatra used to croon a great saloon song called "One for My Baby and One More for the Road."

But when Frank sang, "set 'em up, Joe," he was able to pay his own bar tab -- unlike America. 

And that road he sang about wasn't leading over a fiscal cliff.

So Washington -- and I do mean both parties -- how about joining a 12-step program before you go on another bender? 




Replacing Obamacare

02/11/14

With the latest delays of the employer (but not the individual) mandate, Obamacare -- as passed by Congress -- is now imploding.

President Obama just granted businesses with 50 or more full-time employees yet another reprieve from having to provide them all insurance.

But only till after the next elections.

That tactic, and the false promise that you could keep your policy, helped reelect the President in 2012.

Yet it won't keep businesses from continuing to freeze hiring and reduce workers' hours.

And it means individuals forced onto government exchanges will see even higher premiums and deductibles. What they may not see are their doctors, who refuse to accept lower reimbursement. 

Still, if Obamacare's staunchest supporters now find it hard to defend , that does not mean the Republican establishment has a better plan.

Or any plan at all.

To see why, let's review how America came down with our health care fever. 

It all started ...

with Hitler.

No kidding.

That's when businesses became the prime providers of our health insurance.

During World War II, employers skirted FDR's wage controls by offering workers health
benefits.  Those benefits were not taxed as income for employees, and businesses -- unlike individuals -- were allowed to deduct premiums as business expenses.
 
Soon most bigger employers started offering group health insurance. And as so often, there was an unintended consequence. Since they didn't buy policies themselves, workers stopped noticing what health care actually cost.

But what if you didn't work for a large company?

At first it didn't matter.

In the 1950s, when I was a little kid in a Davy Crockett coonskin cap, my parents -- self-employed at a small business -- had no health insurance. Yet they were able to pay out of pocket to have me delivered and to have my tonsils and appendix removed. A visit to our local doc cost fifteen bucks.

And he made house calls.

But since Washington's tax policies in effect subsidized health care for workers at bigger businesses, those tax deductions soon pushed up prices for everyone.

Washington had created a health care gap by giving some folks the benefit of tax-exempt coverage while others -- like my folks -- had to fend for themselves.

After the war, Washington could have phased out health insurance deductions for employers and returned to free market principles. After all, employers don't buy our food, clothing and shelter.  

But politicians would sooner jump off a bridge -- or worse, get a real job --  than ask voters to give back a government benefit. So instead the politicians tried bridging the health care gap they created... by creating even more benefits, and more health care subsidies -- including Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.

To the surprise of no one, unless your health care included a lobotomy, budgets for both Medicare and Medicaid soon rocketed beyond the estimates used to sell them to taxpayers.

As always, government had little incentive to control costs much less outright corruption. To the contrary, bureaucracies fed on built-in budget increases that outstripped inflation. So did health providers, including physicians, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

To remedy these problems, Democrats passed the  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Obamacare aimed to control costs and insure those 30 million Americans who didn't have insurance through work and couldn't afford to buy it themselves.

But no one is now claiming that the average family of four will save the promised $2,500 a year. Instead, again,  premiums and deductibles are rising.

And even the Washington Post concedes that 30 million people will still be uninsured -- not counting the millions more for whom the employer mandate is being postponed. 

And let's not even get into worries about privacy, politicization, and enforcement by... the IRS.

So Republicans call Obamacare a giant leap toward "fundamentally transforming" our country.

But... who are they to complain?

And what do they promise?

When the GOP called the shots in Washington for six years under George W. Bush, they could have come up with their own solutions -- free market solutions, like

- individual tax-free health-savings accounts, with tax credits for low-income people
 
- assigned risk pools for those with preexisting conditions, perhaps as part of Medicare

- the right to buy policies across state lines to increase competition, and

- malpractice litigation reform

Did they?

Nooo!

Instead the GOP expanded federal entitlements -- for rich and poor alike -- to include prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.

So now a civil war is erupting in Republican ranks.

Libertarian-minded lawmakers were willing to shut down the government to defund Obamacare, or at least delay the individual mandate, just as the White House is now again delaying the employer mandate.

And the Republican establishment?
 
It's continuing to play rope-a-dope, hoping voters will simply turn to them as the lesser of two evils.

But who's the dope here?

By offering no replacement for Obamacare, the GOP will once again turn their own conservative base away from the polls, and allow other voters to be distracted at election time by the headline of the day -- whether it's the next Superstorm Sandy, or some polarizing social issue, or a personal attack on their contender.

Remember the media pouncing on George W. Bush's 24-year-old DUI?

More important, if the GOP does nothing, America truly will have been fundamentally transformed.

Obamacare is imploding.

But as President Obama joked with France's socialist president only yesterday...
"That's the good thing about being President. I can do anything I want."   

Unless the loyal opposition quits taking Obamacare...

lying down.




The Evil Rich Beatles

02/06/14

The 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan...
(I say appearance because you could hardly hear them above the screaming)
... must make President Obama mighty indignant, even though he's been hanging out a lot lately with  Sir Paul McCartney, not to mention Beyonce, Jay Z, and other icons of income inequality. 

To see how unjust it is for these rock, pop and rap stars to rake in their millions while the poor and middle class lose income,  try this thought experiment based on what the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls called the Original Position for an ideally just society.

That would be one where we make up laws and divide up property -- in the dark -- without knowing what our personal positions in society would be.

For instance, want to oppose gay marriage?  Okay.

But what if the lights flick on and you find out... you're gay!

That might or might not change your perspective.

When it comes to property, let's imagine no one in the Original Position would know if they'd be born rich or poor.  Do you gamble on being "lucky in life's lottery?"  Or do you worry about being born on the other side of the tracks?

Well, in our ideal society we could protect against anyone starting out rich or poor by giving everyone the same amount of money -- say $100,000.

Some of us would then spend our money on necessities and invest the rest.  We might next get a good job or even  start a small business. Barring a catastrophe, these prudent people should live stable, middle-class lives.

But now let's imagine four lads named John, Paul, George and Ringo. Instead of investing their money in beauty salons (that was actually Ringo's early dream) they buy guitars and a drum kit.

The boys then take some of the rest of their $100,000 (or whatever that is in British pounds) and entrust it to a manager named Brian Epstein. Brian spends some of their collective cash to hire the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and to do what Elvis did -- cut their first record on their own dime.

In just a couple of years,  what do you know?

Millions of the rest of us are spending a chunk of our $100,000 on Beatles concerts, albums... and even the Beatle wigs my cousin Stevie and I used to pull on over our crew cuts.

Now we fans are all out hundreds or -- if we're real Beatlemaniacs -- thousands of dollars.

And the Beatles are filthy rich.

Bloody unjust!!

So how do we return to the Original Position of income equality?

Well, we could levy confiscatory taxes on the Beatles.

But they've got a subversive nerve and just keep cutting more and more top-selling albums.

If our Utopia really is committed to income equality we could nationalize all music groups and  allow them to be heard only on state-run media (while at the same time making sure their music conforms to state standards and includes messages that promote the state, ideally performed by friends of our leaders).

You laugh? That's what's ultimately happened in collectivist states throughout history.

The  Beatles would protest that their success has grown the economy. Just as they made money for their manager, they've also made billions for record companies, concert venues, wig makers and tribute bands, like that one I had with my cousin.

And the Fab Four might cheekily insist that -- besides having had the moxie to strike out on their own -- they also had the talent to make good.

But as President Obama and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would say, the Beatles didn't get there on their own. They were products of a society -- a Hillary Clinton "village" -- that helped make their success possible by providing them roads and airports so we could get to their concerts. Now it's the band's duty to "pay it forward."

And that philosopher who posited the Original Position, John Rawls, actually went further, arguing that inequality of natural gifts obligates the talented to work for the less talented.

Thing is, all that redistribution or property raises the question: 

Who decides who gets what? 

The rest of us can set steeply graduated tax rates -- which the Beatles will mock in songs like  "Taxman."

But as we know from real world experience, politically savvy people will use their $100,000 in the cleverest way of all: to bribe democratically-elected politicians.

Those politicians will make sure some government revenue goes to the poorest people, but that even more goes to the richest. If you doubt that's been the mission of both Republicans and Democrats alike, please read another prior blog called "Who's Occupying Wall Street Now?"

Between tax breaks, bailouts, government grants and innumerable other provisions, our utopian government will soon ensure that the politically well-connected are as successful as the most talented risk-takers among us. That's why 6 of the 10 richest counties in America now surround Washington, D.C.

And those politicians and their cronies make sure that the growing population of poor people look to the government for hope.   

My modest proposal is that, rather than rely on ever-expanding government to redress "income inequality," we instead limit the size of government, and allow rock bands, hairdressers, and anyone else out to make a buck, to try earning it in a free marketplace, where some bands and beauticians will go bust, but others will be rewarded for their risks.

Will some people wind up richer than others?

Sure.

Should we provide a social safety net for those truly in need?

Absolutely.

But for the rest of us, instead of envying others people's honestly earned success, how about just loving -- and being inspired by-- what they bring us?

Because as the Beatles sang...

"...in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." 




Keeping Your Enemies Closer

02/04/14

One of the questions President Obama shrugged off when interviewed by Bill O'Reilly was why he has not fired Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for the Affordable Care Act fiasco.

In fairness, O'Reilly knew that was a rhetorical question.
 
Because while holding everyone "accountable," the President never fires -- or even reprimands -- anyone.

Not Attorney General Eric Holder for the deadly Fast and Furious gun running scheme, or for spying on reporters.

Not Doug Schulman or Lois Lerner for the IRS targeting of conservatives that President Obama now calls a scandal manufactured by FOX News.

And certainly not former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she failed to protect, rescue, avenge or just tell the truth about the victims of terror in Benghazi, Libya.

President Obama apparently agrees that you've got to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

That maxim's been attributed to the ancient Chinese general  Sun-tzu. 

More to the point it was adopted by a gangster... Michael Corleone.

Who knows what Holder, Schulman, Lerner or Hillary might have coughed up if their boss put them on the hot seat? 

Actually, there is a guy who knows.

Chris Christie.

He's now feeling the heat from a boyhood chum, Port Authority head David Wildstein, who resigned after the Jersey governor hurled so much abuse on underlings... for the Washington Bridge payback ploy, I thought we were listening to Don Rickles.    

Now Wildstein claims there's evidence (he has not produced) proving Christie knew all about that punishment for a Democratic mayor.

Christie may have lashed out in righteous indignation.

Or he may not be so righteous.

But he failed to follow the example of President Obama, who saves his indignation for conservatives.

Of course Christie was at a disadvantage.

He could not count on the mainstream media shrugging off  Bridgegate.

The way President Obama shrugged off Bill O'Reilly's questions. 




Liberty? It's Greek to Me

02/01/14

For my family,  the Super Bowl marks the end of the holiday season.

Meaning it's the weekend we finally put our drooping Christmas tree out of its misery.

If you agree the post-Super Bowl season also means the end of fun and games, perhaps you'll now follow me from your man cave... into philosophy's most famous cave.

Because I believe that's where we can find a way out of our political crisis.

Plato's Republic -- despite many centuries of misappropriation by tyrants, churches and Plato's own followers -- is the first and still the best survey of politics.

What's more, it's a guide to living a good life.

That's because Plato cares less about government than about the individual.

The aim of life for him is the pursuit of truth and goodness. The best government is the
one that assures individual citizens the freedom to become what Plato calls philosophers -- what others might call righteous Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or simply decent human beings.

No government can make you good. Although Plato seems to be constructing an ideal government in his Republic, that government is actually just a metaphor for the ideal individual. The perfect state is impossible. And seeking it can be dangerous. But each of us can strive to be better people.

Plato's Republic is a dialogue. Its lead character is Plato's teacher,

Socrates, who says most of us waste our lives chained in a cave, facing a wall, staring at shadows.

This even before we had LCD monitors and big screen TVs.

Those shadows are false images of reality, illusions --what passes for entertainment and, far worse, conventional wisdom. Peer pressure makes us succumb to those false images.

To pursue truth, cave dwellers need the guts to break free...and be illuminated by the sun.

Socrates shares this subversive parable during a bull session that kicks off, not in downtown Athens, but at the nearby seaport where foreigners come and go. Folks there may be more broadminded.

They'd better be. By the time Plato wrote his Republic the real Socrates had already been
condemned by Athens's democratic majority to drink hemlock for the crime of challenging political correctness.

Conventional wisdom insists the Republic is Plato's condemnation of democracy, and manual for an elite dictatorship.

With apologies for being ignorant, I think it's just the opposite.

Plato wants us to realize that when we seek perfect leaders promising perfect outcomes we're far more likely to wind up with tyrants.

So Socrates, a master of irony, is really mounting a defense of the democracy that killed
him.

As Winston Churchill growled twenty-four centuries later, democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the other ones.

Democracy derives its power from a broad base of citizens, and among those citizens
are at least some who are willing to be taught. The key is to teach enough of them well enough ...before they kill you.

Or tax you to death.

Or needlessly abridge your freedom to expand their power.

Poignantly, that's what Plato shows Socrates trying to do.

What that provoking old man hopes to teach future leaders goes far beyond politics. The initial question posed in the Republic --"What is justice? " -- focuses on personal ethics. And, as always, Socrates answers...

Well, actually he doesn't answer.

He asks questions.

Apollo's oracle at Delphi said no man was wiser than Socrates.

What did that mean?

That Socrates was wise... or that no one was wise?

The latter, Socrates insisted, confessing that all he knew was that he knew nothing.

How many politicians ever admit that?

Yet humility lies at the heart of our defense of limited government.

Unless you know what's right, what right do you have to dictate how other people live?

The most government should do is the minimum it must to protect each citizen's life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Not happiness.

Just its pursuit.

Because happiness for a philosopher -- a free thinker, an independent spirit -- is different from happiness for tyrants or demagogues or their followers. And demonstrating that to young bucks who might someday support either an actual dictatorship or -- just as dangerous -- the tyranny of the majority, is what the Republic really is all about.

So what does make you truly happy, just and good?

The first answer we get in Plato's Republic comes from a jolly codger. He advises: "Don't rock the boat. Placate the powers that be. Go along to get along."

Well, what up and coming kid wants to hear that?  He or she's thinking, "You've made your pile, old man. How do I get mine?"

The answer to that question comes from a sophist -- a tutor hired to teach youngsters how to become movers and shakers. Unlike Socrates, sophists claimed to know everything, or at least how to win every argument.

Like our sophists of today -- lawyers, lobbyists, pundits and politicians -- they knew how to cement power.

And power is justice for Thrasymachus, the sophist who bursts into Plato's Republic.

Fiercely insisting that might makes right, he anticipates...

Nietzsche's claim that morality is a trap laid by the weak to ensnare the strong.

At this point the young people for whose souls the sophist and the philosopher are contending tell Socrates, in effect, "Dude, you're losing this debate. If we have to live in a world where politicians care only about grabbing power, where financial Masters of the Universe promote schemes to squeeze greedy investors and gullible schlubs, and where people who play by the rules wind up subsidizing everyone else, we'd be crazy to obsess about justice. A tyrant's life for me!"

Well. Socrates may know nothing, but he's no dope. So seeing his students slipping away, the philosopher changes the game.

Okay, he suggests, instead of focusing on how puny individuals like us can get ahead, let's consider the individual writ large. Let's examine what kind of government would give us the best chance of living well.

Thrasymachus makes a great case for being a tyrant, but what if the tyrant... turns out to be somebody else?  Would you still want to live amid tyranny?

Probably not.

So what sort of ideal "city in speech" do Socrates and his companions come up with?

They begin by accepting that most of us demand creature comforts. Therefore, folks should be free to plow their fields or ply their trades and amass private property.

But these lovers of luxury will not rule.

The most courageous and civic-minded among us will protect our community from attack. They will become police officers and soldiers. These sentinels will be armed, and honored... but they will not rule.

Who will?

A select group of citizens who -- having passed tests of all sorts since childhood to prove their merit -- will in their late maturity be accepted as philosopher kings.

And queens, since Socrates treats both sexes equally.

After a lifetime of rigorous academic and practical education these guardians will be guided only by a love of what's good for the community.

How can we be sure?

Because Socrates would wean them off all selfish desires.

Really?

Ah, there's the rub.

These ideal guardians would own no private property, but would instead live communally?

The citizens of their ideal city would not marry, but instead mate anonymously?

And they would not know their children, who would be reared in common to avoid
nepotism and dynasties?

Give me a break!

As we mentioned, Socrates was no dope, and neither was Plato. He actually tried turning a ruler into a philosopher king.  Dionysius II of Syracuse, at the urging of his uncle, invited Plato down from Athens to teach an adult education course.

And how did that work out?

Fearing the loss of their meal ticket, courtiers leeching off Dionysius accused the high-minded uncle of high treason, and Plato hightailed it back to Athens before Dionysius ever earned his diploma.

Let's get real.

Rulers are never going to be so philosophic that they're willing to forego wealth, wives
and heirs.

Just look at Washington, chock full of disinterested do-gooders who mysteriously wind up rich.

The few rulers in history who even considered being selfless... gave up being rulers.

For instance, Charles V -- the grandson of Columbus's Ferdinand and Isabella --handed his own son Spain, the Netherlands and a chunk of America, and then retired to a monastery.

This is what we call "the exception that proves the rule."

Most rulers don't become monks.

So if kings are not likely to become philosophers, or philosophers kings, what's the best of all possible regimes?

Socrates surveys the contenders.

First, there's an old-fashioned aristocracy run by warriors who equate nobility with honor.

Trouble is, as economies evolve, honor and twenty-five cents won't buy you a cup of mead.

Impoverished aristocrats -- the kind who sell tours of their castles and marry American heiresses -- are then supplanted by oligarchs, the new tycoons.

The rich become richer, and with the growth of cities and industries we also see the growth of a middle class -- and the urban poor -- and both rightly demand political rights.

Interestingly they find allies in some children of the rich. Expensively educated, disdaining the source of their wealth and filled with guilt over their privileges, the more
ambitious of these trust fund babies become champions of the downtrodden. They become leaders of democratic movements.

They may also become demagogues.

That's how Julius Caesar got started in politics.

You can probably cite current examples.

Whether democratic demagogues really do their followers any favors is discussed in many of my other blog postings, but for now note Plato's fear that democracies are inherently unstable.

While their leaders may start out as idealists, they wind up caring only about power, and they maintain and swell their power base by currying favor.

Some politicians are supported by the rich who swap contributions for sweetheart deals.

Other politicians pander to the poor, including those who want something for nothing by taking it from someone else.

Stoking indolence and envy, demagogues make their followers -- rich and poor alike -- dependent on government handouts.

The greatest risk comes during times of crisis, military or economic, when panicked citizens turn demagogues into dictators.

Athens was in crisis when it condemned Socrates, having just lost a war to Sparta.

Tyranny discards the rule of law, insisting on the need for "emergency measures." These boost the politicians' power even further, so -- in the fashion of George Orwell's Big Brother -- clever tyrants contrive permanent
emergencies.

Think of how Cuba's Fidel Castro fed for fifty years off the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion, forever frightening his subjects into believing the U.S. was about
to invade again.

Plato demonstrates that real world political regimes inevitably degenerate and, if we're not careful, morph into dictatorships.

Fine for Thrasymachus, if he gets to be the tyrant. Not so fine for the sort of person Socrates wants us to be.

Because, again, I believe the point of the Republic is to describe not the ideal state, which is impossible, but the ideal individual, which we can all strive to become.

The components of the impossible ideal state are the same ones each of us ought to balance in our own lives.

Most of us demand a measure of comfort, even luxury, and that's okay. Like the Buddha and arguably Jesus -- who we're told turned water into wine for the wedding at
Cana --  the Socrates of the Symposium rejects an ascetic life, though he counsels moderation.

And it's more than okay -- it's admirable -- to muster courage and dedication on behalf of your community. The real Socrates, when needed, was a valiant soldier.

Yet Socrates did not remain a soldier. A non-conformist voice called on him to break ranks.

Just as the ideal republic would be ruled by disinterested philosophers, so each individual's appetites and passions ought to be ruled by a philosophic spirit -- well educated, questing and unafraid to pursue one's own notion of goodness.

Philosophy leads us out of our caves into perilous places.

Aristocracies, oligarchies and certainly tyrannies display little patience for free-thinkers -- or indeed any individuals beyond their ruling circles. The state always comes first. The only place where you can think for yourself and live by your own light is in a democratic republic.

"If," as Benjamin Franklin warned, "you can keep it."

When enemies finally convinced the majority to condemn Socrates he could have fled Athens. But having enjoyed the benefits of citizenship, the philosopher thought it only right to take his poison.

His pupil Plato then opened a school, the Academy.

And Plato taught those who would rule Athens that they must first learn self-knowledge, self-discipline, self-abnegation,  and above all... humility.

If our leaders followed that example we would have something better than an ideal city, something better than a utopia.

We would have what Franklin, Madison and the other founders intended:




The Real Minimum Wage? Zero!

01/30/14

If you're out of work your minimum wage is zero.

This was once obvious even to The New York Times, which opined in 1987:

"There's a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market."

Not coincidentally this editorial was published during the Reagan economic boom. 

By the time Reagan left office unemployment was down to 5.3 percent, with none of the U-6 nonsense that lowers our current numbers because they don't count people who've stopped looking for work.
 
Nevertheless, either because he thinks it will stimulate the economy or because he wants to change the subject away from Obamacare, President Obama is again pushing a hike of the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

Actually that's modest. 

Fast food workers last month tried staging a nationwide strike for pay raises of at least $15 an hour.

All this  reminds me of an interview years ago with President Clinton's Secretary of Labor...

Robert Reich, who at one point turned the tables and asked me, "Don't you wish, when you were starting out in the news, that employers would have been required to pay you a living wage?"

Seems I was the only reporter Reich ever encountered who answered, to his astonishment, "No."

That's because, far from demanding more than my minimum wage salary, I gladly would have paid any employer who gave me a foot in the door to this highly competitive business.  And I reminded Mr. Reich that even in my previous career, fledgling attorneys until not that long ago routinely followed in the steps of Abe Lincoln. They apprenticed with a seasoned lawyer for little or no pay while learning the business.

Years before that, working as a hotel bellhop throughout high school and college, I didn't make any wage at all.  Just tips.  The more bags we carried the more guests we could check in and the bigger the tips.

What we made was dependent not on fairness and not on our needs but on what we earned.

Bet you had an entry-level job like that too.

Those fast food workers and the unions backing them say the current minimum wage of $7.25 is unfair. And they would have us believe America is a minimum wage nation.

It's not true.

Actually, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, minimum wage employees last year accounted for just 4.7 percent of hourly paid workers. Less than 3% of all workers.  

But if  America is not a minimum wage nation, we are fast becoming a part-time nation.

According to the far from conservative Huffington Post, three quarters of all new jobs created last year were part-time, due to worries about higher taxes, regulations, including Obamacare, and our slow economic growth.

Yes, growth.  

When do you ever hear that word from the White House or even from establishment Republicans?

Not paper growth on Wall Street but real growth on Main Street... among people who make things here in America, for Americans who can afford to buy them.

Real wages and net worth for millions of our workers are now declining.  And that's among those who are lucky enough to find even a part-time job.

Others are members of America's fastest-growing industry... the electoral machine that lets rich and poor alike --  but not the middle class -- vote themselves ever-expanding federal benefits.

Those benefits and regulations are costing us jobs and depressing real wages.

But hold on.

Wages are not benefits.

Can't many businesses afford to pay their workers more?

As President Obama notes, Costco chooses to pay its workers at least $4.25  above minimum wage.

But most businesses subject to the minimum wage law are not giants like Costco. They're small and medium sized companies operating with razor thin profit margins.

Beyond that, requiring  businesses -- big and small -- to raise their wages puts the future of those businesses into the hands of incompetent, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who are more interested in redistributing income than in growing our economic pie so everyone can earn more.

Of course, there is another way to avoid being paid unfairly.

Start a business of your own.

I never had the guts or the gumption to do that.

But instead of envying the success of people who risk failure, I support giving more people the freedom to become entrepreneurs.

Not crony capitalists. I don't believe in bailouts or sweetheart laws (like Dodd-Frank, which protects banks deemed "too big to fail" but not smaller ones).

And although our 401K plans for now are growing, I don't believe in the Federal Reserve indefinitely pumping $75 billion a month or more in new debt to inflate our latest Wall Street bubble.

Candidates -- Republican, Democrat or independent -- who promise to support truly free markets may do very well this November.

Meantime, yes, it's their right and perfectly understandable for fast-food workers to organize a nationwide strike for $15 an hour.  I wish they could make 30.  

And raising the federal minimum wage would help many other workers too.

Union contracts are often pegged to hikes in the minimum wage, and this may be the White House's bigger interest. 

But in the long run the only way to grow our economy is to help businesses -- not government, private businesses -- create more high-paying, full-time jobs, and to inspire workers to go out and get those jobs -- or better still, create them.

The alternative is to have more Americans earning zero.    




Churchill and the State of Our Union

01/27/14

Why does President Obama cringe at the memory of Winston Churchill... to the point of having sent this Oval Office bust back to the Brits in 2009?

One reason may be Churchill's famous warning about big government's insatiable appetite.

In the dark days of 1940, when America had not yet been blasted by Japan into the Second World War,  the British Prime Minister -- standing alone -- implored neutral countries to join the fight, and chided them for thinking that by appeasing dictators they might be spared:

"Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear -- I fear greatly -- the storm will not pass."

In fact, far from passing, look at which Americans have now been devoured...

About the same time he was returning the Churchill bust, President Obama revved up government takeovers of General Motors and Chrysler.  (Ford refused a bailout.)

Secured bondholders cheered, thinking they'd be spared the pain of normal bankruptcy reorganization. The crocodile would not eat them!

Instead what happened?  Ignoring bankruptcy law (as they would ignore so many other laws, including their own) the White House stripped those bondholders of their rights and gave preference to labor union supporters.

President Obama then rewarded another group of supporters -- environmentalists -- by putting the brakes on profitable GM trucks in favor of green energy subcompacts, including Chevy Volts that nobody wanted --  even with massive government incentives.

The upshot: Chrysler is now owned by the Italian automaker, Fiat, and General Motors only this month resumed paying dividends -- now that the government's finally sold its last shares of GM.

Next, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, "Take the Affordable Care Act. Please!" 

While seeking reelection, President Obama guaranteed 30 million people government mandated health policies, and promised the rest of you would feel no pain -- that, "If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance."

Instead it's now forecast that more than 30 million people will lose the policies they liked and be forced to buy Obamacare,  often paying higher premiums and far higher deductibles.

Beyond that, businesses dropping health coverage are replacing full-time workers with part-timers to avoid Obamacare employer mandates.

And healthy young people seduced by the promise of "free" contraceptives and birth control are finding the price is that they can no longer buy the affordable catastrophic policies many of them liked, and that while they can stay on their parents' policies till age 26, they're also staying -- unemployed -- in their parents' basements. 

Finally, though we could cite so many more examples of crocodile government taking the bite out of Americans, consider the major theme of President Obama's State of the Union Address: income inequality.  It's a subject he can address with authority since, as we enter the sixth year of Obamanomics, the poor and middle class are getting poorer while the rich are growing richer.

A record number of Americans are now on Food Stamps and extended jobless benefits, or they've dropped out of the workforce altogether and are no longer being counted as unemployed.

Yet the rich continue to be enriched through crony capitalist federal "investments."

Like the President's pal, Warren Buffett,  the rich often self-righteously skirt paying taxes thanks to a politicized tax code that rewards investors while punishing all of us who pull a paycheck.  Those investments are inflated by the Federal Reserve pumping $75-85 billion a month into Wall Street, panicking investors with the least hint of tapering this deficit bond buying. 

But even the rich may yet rue crony capitalism.  As Tim Carney points out,  in 2010, running pretty much unopposed,  New York Senator Charles Schumer,  "was the No. 1 recipient of money from the insurance industry, private equity, hedge funds, Wall Street, real estate, the cable industry, and hospitals." And Hollywood loved him too.

Yet Schumer, without shame, continues to rail against "plutocrats" and vows to redistribute their riches to the poor. Or at least to greater Washington, D.C., which now outstrips New York and California in boasting six of the nation's ten wealthiest counties.

Those "plutocrats" fund Schumer at their peril.

Just ask the plutocrats of all political stripes and creeds who built up the war machine that Churchill had to fight in World War II.

That crocodile didn't just swallow up Poland and France. It also devoured the German and Italian and Soviet dictators' earliest and most trusting supporters.

So when you hear now about income inequality, free condoms and other stimulating federal investments -- all of which are supposed to cost the other guy, not you -- stop and think to yourself...

Churchill -- or bust.




Our Imperial Senate

01/23/14

Think our politics are dysfunctional?

In 44 BC Roman Senators attacked Julius Caesar like he was a Thanksgiving turkey, because he sought to undercut their authority.

Yet just a few years later, that same Senate made Julius's grand-nephew., Octavian, their first emperor, ushering in a succession of tyrants who trampled on the idea of divided government.

For instance, Caligula showed what he thought of Rome's legislators by decreeing that his horse be made a senator.

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, right down to the horse's patootie.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is defending his institution about as valiantly as those Romans did under Caligula.

Reid has no problem with the President picking and choosing which parts of ObamaCare, or the Defense of Marriage Act, or immigration law he chooses to enforce, postpone, or ignore.

Reid dispenses with the budget committee process in favor of omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions.

Reid shrugged off our joining the Libyan civil war without any congressional authorization.

And, just to end this list short of a filibuster. Reid's now ditched the right to filibuster federal judicial nominees.

In fairness, Senator Reid will no doubt oppose all these encroachments on Senate authority... if Republicans regain a majority.

But this is not a partisan charge.

The late Senator Robert Byrd was no angel.  Opponents noted his past leadership in the Ku Klux Klan, and sneered that Byrd brought so much pork to West Virginia, his state ought to be renamed, like the famous jazz club, Birdland.

But Bobby Byrd revered two things.

The Constitution of the United States of America.

And the United States Senate.

When he served as majority leader, Senator Byrd insisted that both Republican President Ronald Reagan and fellow Democratic President Jimmy Carter treat the legislative branch as co-equal. Even if it might have furthered President Carter's agenda to rule like Augustus Caesar rather than to serve like the man who refused to be a king, George Washington.

Harry Reid can choose to be Caligula's horse.

But voters ought to recall that having an equine, supine Senate was a major factor in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.




Overcoming Identity Politics

01/20/14

On this Martin Luther King Day can we honor that great leader by overcoming identity politics?

Jackie Robinson did not make it to the Brooklyn Dodgers because he was black.

He made it despite being black.

The 28-year-old UCLA star and army veteran who batted .387 in the Negro League was not a prospect.  He was a pro.

And the Dodgers GM Branch Rickey needed him.

Not to assuage white guilt. There was no white guilt in 1947.  Rickey needed a hard driving infielder.

The only way to justify breaking the color barrier was for Jackie Robinson to make good.

He did.

When Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first female prime minister in 1979, she did not promise new government programs for women.  Thatcher instead rolled back socialist programs that had nationalized key sectors of the economy and left Britain reeling from labor union strikes.

As everyone who saw The Iron Lady knows, far from benefiting from affirmative action, Mrs. Thatcher was derided -- by fellow conservatives -- for everything from being a grocer's daughter to having a rather shrill voice.  But she stiffened the spines of wobbly Tories and in time was no more patronized for being a woman than Elizabeth I had been four centuries before.

As much as it prides itself on gumbo -- gastronomically and demographically -- Louisiana was  not looking for a son of Indian immigrants when it elected Bobby Jindal governor in 2007.  But then Jindal did not run as a minority candidate.

Instead of claiming to be a victim or even a trailblazer, by age 36 Jindal was already a Rhodes Scholar, a physician, secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, and the youngest president ever of the state's university system. 

I could mention that Jindal was also elected to Congress, with 78% of the vote. But why demean him?

The point is that none of these high achievers asked to be judged by anything other than their achievements.

Or, as Dr. King would say, they asked to be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

Much less their reproductive organs.
 
By contrast, former President Bill Clinton is once again saying it's time America elected our first woman president, and he feels the best available candidate would be his wife.

The reason may be no more apparent to voters in 2016 than it was in 2008.

Hillary Rodham was a brilliant student in college and law school.  She then married Bill Clinton and joined a Little Rock law firm where her legacy included suspiciously successful cattle futures investments, and real estate dealings that sent other people to jail.

Following a succession of affairs and at least one alleged rape, of Juanita Broaddrick, it was only because Mrs. Clinton stood by her husband on 60 Minutes when Gennifer Flowers came forward that he was elected president in 1992.

Seemingly as a reward, the First Lady was entrusted  -- not with encouraging literacy or proper nutrition -- but with reforming our country's entire health care system. Along with her friend Ira Magaziner, Mrs. Clinton drafted a national plan so radical that it received no support from Republicans or Democrats.

Mrs. Clinton spent much of the rest of her time in the White House dealing with charges ranging from cronyism in its travel office to hiding her old law firm billing records.

But trumping all that, Hillary Clinton again stood by her husband, this time during the Paula Jones-Monica Lewinsky sex and perjury scandal, which she dismissed as a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Mrs. Clinton then won a U.S. Senate seat in New York, a state in which she had never lived.

Under President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton's foreign policies included fostering the Arab Spring and its initial promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the Libyan intervention that led to the Benghazi attack and cover-up, and also the "reset" with Russian leaders who are now sheltering NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

In fairness, Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals on Secretary Clinton's watch.

But it is not at all apparent that America today is more respected in the world than it was five years ago.  Polls suggest the opposite.

And it is not at all apparent why Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president.

True, she achieved celebrity as the wife of a successful politician.  But is this feminism?

Of course, identity politics are not confined to Democrats.

Would first-term senators Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz already be considered presidential contenders if they were not Hispanic?

Who was the last rookie lawmaker nominated for the presidency?

I can think of only two.

Abraham Lincoln served one term in the House. But he then achieved national prominence debating Stephen Douglas seven times in the 1858 Illinois U.S. Senate race. Douglas won the seat, but Lincoln in those debates and in his "house divided" speech took a strong, clear stand on the major issue of the day -- slavery.

The other rookie legislator was Barack Obama.  He had barely begun his one term in the Senate when he began campaigning for the highest office in the land.

Prior to that , President Obama had been a community organizer, a part-time law school lecturer, and a backbencher in the Illinois legislature. His major accomplishments were publishing two autobiographies and delivering a speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.

As it turned out, Barack Obama's identity politics beat Hillary Clinton's.

Racial, ethnic, gender and -- traditionally -- geographic identity will always play a part in our politics.

But they must no longer be the primary factor in selecting candidates.

Someday we will have the first woman president, the first Latino, Asian and gay presidents.

Yet for group identity to define a candidate and determine the votes of other members of that group -- and sympathizers as well --  is to diminish not only that candidate but also the political process and what used to be our melting pot nation.

In 2014 we should instead follow the examples of Jackie Robinson, Margaret Thatcher and Bobby Jindal and judge candidates by what they have accomplished in life -- inside and preferably outside of politics -- and by the vision they have for a country whose motto at least for now remains...

Out of Many, One. 




Christie vs. Reagan: The Real Fighter

01/13/14

While the mainstream media focus -- far more than they did for any of President Obama's scandals -- on the early Republican presidential front-runner Chris Christie and what's come to be called ... "BridgeGate," there's something else about the New Jersey governor that's troubled me at least as much.

This former prosecutor denies he's a bully but proclaims himself a fighter.

Yet there's at least one fight he ducked.

One that tells you a lot about the true measure of the man.

When he ran for reelection last November, Christie didn't just want to win big.

He wanted to show that he alone among likely GOP presidential contenders could attract Democrats as well as Republicans.

So when Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg died, Governor Christie -- instead of appointing a Republican replacement -- called  a special election.
 
Not only that, instead of holding the Senate election on the same day as the November general election, Christie held this vote three weeks earlier.

At a cost of around $24 million.  

Why?

Because had Christie appointed a Republican to serve Lautenberg's unexpired term, the governor himself might well have faced Newark's popular Democratic mayor, Cory Booker,  in Christie's run for re-election.

Instead Booker ran for the Senate seat against weak opposition.

And why did Christie schedule that Senate election for October instead of November?

Because having Booker on the same general election ballot as himself might well have boosted Democratic turnout, and helped Christie's otherwise feeble Democratic opponent.

The upshot:

Booker added to the Democrats' Senate majority.

And Christie's landslide victory landed him the lead among GOP contenders.

Now contrast that with Ronald Reagan in 1976.  The former California governor did not believe the incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, was sufficiently conservative. So Reagan bucked his own party and risked political suicide by challenging Ford, helping to elect Jimmy Carter.

Reagan wound up trouncing Carter four years later, but Reagan in 1976 could not have known he'd ever get the chance.  Rightly or wrongly,  Reagan valued principle over party loyalty and his own political future.

Chris Christie did not face that tough a choice. He was merely seeking to inflate his reelection margin and win some Democratic support.

Giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid another loyal foot soldier, and forcing the people of New Jersey to go $24 million deeper into debt, were just the price to be paid for advancing Chris Christie's presidential ambitions.

Trouble is, Christie may now find that ambition is taking him a bridge too far. 




Out of Work? Just Vote!

01/10/14

A falling unemployment rate used to be good news.

Now it's proof that America truly is being fundamentally transformed.

The official jobless rate in December dropped to 6.7%.

Even though -- at the height of the holiday hiring season -- our economy created only 74,000 new jobs. Nationwide.

And about half of those jobs were part-time.

How can the jobless rate decline when almost no one is hiring?

Because another 347,000 Americans in December gave up looking for work.

Bringing the total number of people who have now dropped out of the labor force to nearly 92 million.

President Obama's answer is to extend jobless benefits yet again.

And indeed that is a brilliant, long-term political strategy.

Promising desperate Americans 99 weeks and counting of unemployment compensation, food stamps, permanent disability, health care subsidies, housing and free phones makes people even more desperate to vote against anyone who might cut back government benefits.

President Obama blames the failure to put America back to work on the financial collapse under President George W. Bush.

More than five years ago.

Yet the financial sector is soaring. Thanks to the Federal Reserve's artificially low interest rates and monthly infusion of funny money the rich are getting richer.

It's the middle class that's being stampeded.

President Obama denies that five years of uncertainty about higher taxes, energy regulations, health care mandates, and government subsidies for favored industries and workers has depressed the free market's ability to rebound from that Bush collapse.

Viewers are now writing to me about their long-term struggle to find work. We will soon be sharing their stories with you.

Meantime, if like me you're fortunate enough to have a job, think what it would be to be without one.

Because that can happen to the best of us.

And then ask yourself if you'd welcome the news that -- while the real unemployment rate is over 13% -- the "official rate" is falling... because no one else can find work either.




The 50 Year War on Poverty

01/08/14

Exactly a half-century ago, President Lyndon Johnson in his first State of the Union Address declared a "war on poverty."

Since then, according to a Cato Institute study cited by Cal Thomas, federal and state anti-poverty programs have cost more than 15 trillion dollars (others estimate 20 trillion) while the percentage of people living in poverty has barely budged.

Much of the spending on everything from child nutrition to job training has been beneficial.

But other payments taught generations of Americans to become excessively dependent on government.

Future historians will look back -- aghast -- at how welfare grew under the Great Society. They'll conclude that however well-intentioned its backers originally may have been, they must have realized that this federal entitlement destroyed families of all races -- urban and rural alike -- by encouraging women to have children out of wedlock and fathers to abandon them.

Yet for years efforts to reform welfare got beaten back by politicians and special interest groups that thrived on their followers' abject dependence.

Aid to Dependent Children or ADC was enacted in 1935 as a pension plan for the widows of West Virginia coal miners and other families whose head of household was "dead, disabled, or absent."

To ensure that there really was "no man in the house" ADC was amended in 1950 to let district attorneys seek child support from absent fathers.

This soon led to notorious midnight raids on the homes of recipients.

And so, of course, more and more women, including young teenagers, refused to marry, or even identify the fathers of their children.

They learned that single motherhood meant subsidized freedom to set up their own homes -- however poor those homes might be. And welfare payments increased with the birth of each child.

Belatedly recognizing the disincentives to marriage and fatherhood, the name of the law was changed in 1960 to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).  But the
basic provisions did not change. And roughly 90 percent of families receiving welfare did not have fathers living in the home.

Calls to make welfare more humane went unheeded. Some critics suggested moving unwed young mothers who accepted welfare into group homes, where youngsters could be watched by trained caregivers while their moms attended school.

Defenders of the status quo branded such plans Dickensian in their heartlessness.

Critics in turn accused defenders of caring more about swelling welfare rolls -- and their captive constituency -- than in liberating mothers and children, aiding family formation and stemming the rising tide of delinquency, drug abuse and dependency that crossed generations.

Finally, in 1996, President Clinton signed a Republican welfare reform bill. It ended the 60 year-old federal entitlement and restored responsibility to the individual
states, now free to experiment with their own education, counseling and work requirements and to limit benefits to a more or less fixed period.

Despite dire predictions that millions of AFDC recipients would be forced onto the streets, the reform bill achieved remarkable success in reducing welfare rolls and helping poor people become self-sufficient.

But Robert Rector and Jennifer Marshall saw a turning point in 2012 when, "the Obama administration issued a policy directive from the Department of Health and Human Services dismantling the core of the '96 reform: the... work requirements that have sharply reduced dependence and increased employment."

In fairness, it's been tough the last five years for anyone to find full-time work.

And President Obama is now focusing on extending jobless benefits once again, while critics demand off-setting spending cuts and a focus on policies that will create jobs. 

On this 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty record numbers of Americans are now receiving food stamps, seeking permanent disability benefits, and qualifying for government health care subsidies.

The White House condemns growing income inequality while opponents say administration policies are making the rich richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class an endangered species.  See "Who's Occupying Wall Street Now?"

As President Johnson urged, we must always help those who cannot help themselves.

But as the War on Poverty enters its next half-century, is it too much to ask that government policies refrain from destroying families, undermining the American work ethic, and leaving people looking only to Washington for hope?




Term Limits Now

01/03/14

A news director once told me, "You have libertarian tendencies;  I have socialist tendencies."

This was just after the first election of President Obama, when a Newsweek cover proclaimed, "We Are All Socialists Now."

You might expect someone with libertarian tendencies to oppose term-limits and take the attitude, "If you like your lawmakers, you can keep your lawmakers " -- for life!

But unless you're a socialist, theory should bend to reality.

So here's why I believe presidential and congressional term limits are not just defensible but vital to preserving our liberty.
 
America's first president was also our greatest, not least because of the many precedents he set that we revered for generations.  Having refused to be a king, George Washington -- who took office reluctantly in the first place -- relinquished it after two terms. The "American Cincinnatus" longed to return to his farm.  And he recognized the risk of unlimited rule.   

Washington's two-term example was respected until...

Franklin D. Roosevelt won four elections.  He went from being a domestic executive during the Great Depression to a wartime commander-in-chief who felt himself indispensable when he last ran in 1944.  To the surprise of none of his intimates, FDR's grave infirmities killed him five months later.

Normally the most genial of men, Roosevelt had spent almost no time preparing his last vice president, Harry Truman, and none at all informing him about the secret weapon that promised to end the war swiftly and save countless American lives, the atomic bomb.

Once he learned of the Manhattan Project, Truman rightly or wrongly dropped two bombs on Japan. And he went on to pursue a far tougher containment policy against the Soviet Union than Roosevelt's.

Nevertheless, because Truman was not as popular as FDR, or because many Americans bristled at 20 years of Democratic rule -- or simply because they realized George Washington was right -- Congress in 1947 passed the 22nd Amendment to our Constitution, and the states ratified it in 1951.

Today, some supporters of President Obama claim the biggest reason he has lost mojo is not that his policies are self-defeating, or that his credibility is shot, but that he is a lame duck.

They want to repeal the 22nd amendment and let him run again.  Recent polls suggest it's unlikely a majority of Americans would go along, but that's because Mr. Obama has lost popularity.

The bigger danger will come someday when a wildly popular president wants to remain in office --one who has been successful or, more likely, one who promises to relieve catastrophic failure by doling out more government benefits.

Because it's not optimism that breeds dictators but dread.

Or to paraphrase our only four-term president, "You have EVERYTHING to fear, so vote for me."

But while presidents are limited to two terms for now, when Congress passed the 22nd Amendment it did not set limits on itself. If that surprises you, consider the issue's poster-boy, George Nethercutt.  

This Republican from the great state of Washington argued in 1994 that the not-so-great state of affairs in Washington, D.C. should be blamed ...on political hacks.

Of both parties. 

For every Jimmy Stewart retaining his principles when Mr. Smith Goes to Washington we have a hundred statesmen on the take.

Together, Democrat and Republican hacks constitute the eternal, impregnable Washington establishment.

Power brokers with the fattest paychecks pay off pols on both sides of the aisle with everything from campaign contributions to insider stock tips and lobbying jobs for family, staffers and --if they ever do leave office still breathing -- former-lawmakers themselves.

As government grows to be far and away the most powerful economic force in our country, providing the biggest contracts and the best jobs and targeting anyone who opposes the growth of government, it's hard for us to imagine how much power our lawmakers wield.

In their supreme arrogance they even exempt themselves from the laws they pass to control the lives of others... including Obamacare.

And the longer they stay in office, the more powerful they become.

So they do anything it takes to remain in office.

Our hero, George Nethercutt understood this.  Twenty years ago he challenged, not just any Bozo congressman of the opposing party but the Speaker of the House, Democrat Tom Foley.  

The key issue in their race was ...term limits.

Nethercutt, a little known lawyer and political neophyte, vilified the 30-year congressional veteran as a creature of Washington, D.C.

Nethercutt nobly vowed to serve no more than three terms on the Hill.

And he won.

Then a funny thing happened.  In 2000, instead of relinquishing his seat, Nethercutt told The Washington Post, "I'm less enamored with the idea of term limitations, and I'm the perfect example of why we don't need them."

Like Franklin Roosevelt, George Nethercutt had come to see himself as indispensable.

Ignoring Charles de Gaulle's jibe that, "The graveyards are filled with indispensable men."

Yet Nethercutt's constituents are equally to blame.

Glad to gorge themselves on all the pork George sent home from the Appropriations Committee, they voted him a fourth and even a fifth term.

Mark Levin in his excellent book The Liberty Amendments is now calling for congressional term limits, and reminding us of the prescribed process by which the states could seize the initiative in amending the Constitution.

Meantime, creatures of Washington like Nethercutt -- not to mention barons who have lorded it over Capitol Hill for decades longer than he did -- must be opposed in primaries by more principled opponents.

And those who only pretend to uphold principles -- libertarian or progressive or anything in between -- and then reveal themselves to be rank opportunists must be opposed too, even if it risks a safe seat and some party-line votes.

By the way, George Nethercutt finally lost a Senate bid and went on to run a foundation, named after himself, that acquaints college students with Washington, D.C.'s inner workings.

As too often happens, Mr. Outsider is now Professor Insider.




Modern Family and the Tax Code

12/10/13

If like me you've been happily married for years

(our wives, like Modern Family's Claire, may not be as enthused, but they put up with us)

... and you have kids who have not committed any heinous crimes, for which I'm grateful even on slow news days...

if, in other words, you've contributed to "family formation"

... do other taxpayers owe you a reward?

I say no.

But a conservative pundit who's a walking encyclopedia of politics -- heck, he writes The Almanac of American Politics

Michael Barone, disagrees.

Mr. Barone sides with social conservatives in suggesting, "Today a strong case can be made that we need tax and other policies not just to encourage entrepreneurs but also, to the extent possible, to help bolster family formation."

Policies, he writes, like higher child tax credits.

In other words, Barone wants to pick winners and losers, something I believe Republicans must refuse to do if they ever truly want to offer voters an alternative to the other party

... the party of big government.
 
Establishment Republicans have long supported countless tax breaks for behavior they consider worthy.

And I do mean countless.

Our federal tax code and regulations now include more than 9,000,000 words.

And these are not, as Hamlet breezily said,  just "words, words, words." They're highly politicized words that order every aspect of our lives.

Some are the result of good old-fashioned cronyism and vote-buying.

But millions of others stem from a desire, like Barone's, to engage in social engineering.

Our rulers deem home ownership better than renting an apartment, so they include a mortgage interest deduction.

They deem contributions to designated charities more important than doing charity at home or privately, so they include designated charitable deductions.

Perhaps most important, politicians want to boost contributions to political groups, so they confer tax exempt status on 501(c)(4) "social welfare organizations" that

-- as we've seen with tea party groups -- gives the IRS enormous and highly politicized discretion. 

My point is not that we should discourage political groups, charities, or home ownership -- much less families.

But I believe each of us will be in a better position to have children, buy homes, support charities and churches and donate to political groups ...

if our economy is growing.

And the  most important thing we can do right now to grow our economy is not to carve out still more tax breaks, but to simplify -- gradually but radically simplify -- the tax code and treat everyone equally.

Getting back to families, I do agree with Michael Barone that we must remove government disincentives to family formation, of the sort that we find in the Affordable Care Act. See my previous blog just below called "Obamacare's Marriage Penalty." I believe this penalty was included for the same reason politicians include so many provisions in our tax code: to advance their own notion of social engineering and to buy votes.

America was founded on the principle that each and every one of us should be free to pursue our own vision of "happiness" so long as it does not directly harm others.

I may -- and probably do -- share Michael Barone's ideas about what makes a happy life, a life that contributes to the greater good of this greatest of all nations.

But I don't need politicians or my fellow citizens advancing that idea by making our tax code even more hideously complex -- and tyrannical.




Who's Occupying Wall Street Now?

12/04/13

After nearly five years of fundamentally transforming key sectors of our economy -- including energy, banking, health care and, of course, government benefits, President Obama today bemoaned a growing income gap.

For which he blames... the rich.

But along with Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservatives, and NSA surveillance, one of the dirty little secrets of this administration has been how the rich never had a better friend ... than Barack Obama.

On his watch it's not leftist protesters now occupying Wall Street but rather Washington manipulators inflating stock values and shrinking the middle class. 
 
Last month for the first time ever the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 16,000.

A key reason is that investors are hooked on government heroin.

The Federal Reserve through "QE" -- quantitative easing -- continues to pump $85 billion a month into Wall Street -- the same amount as an entire year's sequestration furloughs and cuts. 

And by keeping interest rates artificially low (though they are rising for all but the favored few) there aren't many places to invest or even save -- other than Wall Street.

Yet while the stock market is going gang busters:

Middle class income is lower than it was five years ago.

Food stamps now feed 48 million people -- 1 in every 7 of us.

The labor participation rate is the lowest we've seen since the catastrophic Carter years. 

And the greatest growth now -- apart from Wall Street -- is the demand for jobless and disability benefits.

What all this means is that both the destitute and investors are now equally dependent on Washington. 

But wait, didn't President Obama raise taxes on rich investors like his good friend Warren Buffett?

Yes. But the dirty little secret there is that Mr. Buffett paid lower taxes than his secretary because he declares very little income. Like many other wealthy investors he makes most of his money through capital gains, taxed at a far lower rate than ordinary income. And while middle class people with 401K plans may benefit from soaring stock rices, a bubble market disproportionately enriches... the rich.   

That's why cuts in food stamp funding create no less panic than hints that the Federal Reserve may taper quantitative easing.

And that's why Janet Yellen was tapped by President Obama to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve. Like Ben Bernanke she supports keeping interest rates low and quantitative easing high.

Now is it a surprise that all this is happening -- not under the historic "Party of Wall Street" -- but under a Democratic administration?

Not a bit. 

Throughout history and around the globe, statist regimes have catered to both the poor and the rich.

It's the middle class that gets plundered. 

So even if this Wall Street bubble does not burst before the 2014 elections, Repubicans had better simplify and target their message.

Soft-pedal social issues.

If there's no international crisis, put foreign policy divides on the back burner too.

And instead focus on what the GOP sees as the need to rid Washington of crony capitalism, corporate welfare, and quick fixes like raising the minimum wage.    

If populists of whatever party win office, investors may be less giddy.

And government bureaucrats dispensing benefits will be downright gloomy.

But the vanishing middle class need no long be preoccupied with who's occupying Wall Street.




Give Me Liberty or Give Me SEX!

11/25/13

Ladies, is the White House respecting you in the morning?

Sure they do. Around election time.

Nearly one-quarter of the 2012 presidential voters were unmarried women, and President Obama successfully wooed more than two thirds of them.

During the campaign,  the White House went after single women with its website called "The Life of Julia," which promised cradle to grave government benefits.

But many women who no longer need husbands still want the occasional man. So to sell them on Obamacare's chief joy -- free contraceptives -- two nonprofit groups in Colorado funded this ad campaign, which has now gone viral.


 
The "Got Insurance?" campaign revives memories of Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congress that she and other law students at Georgetown University were suffering financial hardship because that Catholic school's health insurance plan did not provide birth control.

Fluke became a lightning rod for Obamacare advocates when Rush Limbaugh called her a slut.  But someone who might have understood her better was Aldous Huxley.  His novel Brave New World depicts government in the future keeping citizens docile by teaching small children sex games, and by providing older ones with free contraceptives.

Huxley's government also hands out a feel good drug called soma and keeps its perpetual adolescents entertained with "feelies" -- movies that appeal to every faculty except the mind.

The "Got Insurance?" campaign and Sandra Fluke defend taxpayer subsidized contraceptives as a matter of health and personal finances, not just fun.

But thousands, perhaps millions of single women are finding that the price of Obamacare
far outstrips what they're saving on birth control.  And while "free" contraceptives may represent liberation, the mandate to buy government-regulated health insurance or pay a tax could curtail the freedom:

-- to buy a low-cost policy that covers catastrophes but not routine treatment, or

-- to keep your previous policy, doctor and hospital, or

-- to choose your own treatment -- especially toward the end of life.

There is a different kind of freedom that neither Democrats nor most Republicans have been pushing -- free market alternatives to Obamacare. To read more about them, and how we got here, see my blog just below called "Hitler, Davy Crockett and Our Health Care Mess."

Meantime, ladies, hope that Got Insurance guy is good to you. 

Both the one in the ad... and the one who's selling you that insurance.




GOP Better Fight and Unite

11/07/13

The Republican establishment refused to support their party's nominee in the Virginia governor's race, tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, and he lost by just 55,000 votes.

The Republican establishment did support incumbent Chris Christie in the New Jersey governor's race, and he won with more than 60% of the vote. 

But citing policy differences and scandal, a lot of tea partiers now say they could not support Christie for president even if he becomes the GOP nominee.

Both the Republican establishment and the tea party are suicidal.

If Republicans hope to win the White House again they must fight for their favored candidates tooth and nail in the primaries. But then they must unite behind the eventual winner.

Ronald Reagan challenged a sitting Republican president, Gerald Ford, in 1976. Yet when Ford won the nomination Reagan appeared at the GOP convention and said:

"We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: 'There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President.' "

Then, when Ford was beaten by Jimmy Carter, and Carter gave us soaring inflation, interest rates and unemployment -- not to mention a 444-day hostage crisis in Iran -- the GOP turned to Reagan, and he won in a landslide.

But Reagan was already a master of political reality.  As a two-term governor of California he constantly compromised with Democrats -- even over abortion -- as he later would with a Democratic Congress.  Reagan won more than he lost, and he accepted partially losing on some issues, and living to fight another day, as the price of divided government in a constitutional republic.

Speaking of which, our founders compromised a heck of a lot too in writing the Constitution. In fact it's often not possible to speak of the "framers' intent" because they remained deeply divided on a whole slew of issues, from the future of slavery to the power of federal courts.

The point is not that the GOP should compromise in the first instance but that it must compromise as a last resort if the bitter alternative (for them) is leaving control of the federal government in the hands of Democrats.

If Republicans want to win, let Chris Christie make the case in 2016 that his big tent moderation or pragmatism can best help the GOP achieve its aims.

Let Ted Cruz retort that pragmatism has left Republicans complicit in crony capitalism, expansion of entitlements, and a 17 trillion dollar debt serviced by Federal Reserve funny money.

Let those contenders and others duke it out in substantive debates, and with campaign ads that do not leave fellow Republicans too grievously wounded.

Try to keep disaffected GOP voters and tea partiers from falling for third party candidates financed by Democrats, as happened in Virginia.  And urge those voters not to stay home, as millions did protesting Mitt Romney.

How many of those non-voters are among the millions now losing their health insurance?

In short, let GOP primary candidates fight but then unite.

And then -- even more important -- let them reach out to the rest of the country and make their case that less dependence on government, and greater personal responsibility, will bring America and all the world a better future.




This Just In

11/04/13

The most startling headline Obamacare's brought us so far is not that its website has a few glitches, or that tens of millions of Americans will lose the insurance they like, or that the government exchanges are giving all but the insolvent sticker shock. 

No, the  biggest headline is that we're seeing any headlines at all.

The mainstream media, or as George Orwell called them in Nineteen-Eighty Four, the Ministry of Truth,  have actually been somewhat critical of the Obama administration lately.

The key word there is "lately."

For instance, the nation's number one news program, 60 Minutes,  just aired an expose' on the administration's action and inaction  in Benghazi -- more than a year after the terror attack there and nearly a year after President Obama's reelection.  Prior to that CBS report, the most memorable coverage of Benghazi came during the 2012 second presidential debate when CNN's Candy Crowley did something for President Obama that his administration did not do for the Americans trapped at that diplomatic mission.

She came to the rescue.

Similarly, NBC of all networks is now getting credit for exposing that the White House knew insurance policies would be canceled for tens of millions of Americans, despite President Obama's promises to the contrary.  But we've also learned that the White House was warned of those coming cancellations in 2010.

Where was NBC three years ago? 

That CBS, NBC and even John Stewart are exposing President Obama now says more about timing than about truth.

We are now a year away from the next congressional elections -- elections crucial for the White House if it hopes to keep the president from becoming a lame duck.

And we are three years away from the 2016 presidential election, when it now seems Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.

Mrs. Clinton wants the dirty linen on Benghazi to be aired now, not in 2016.

And she and media liberals want health care to be fixed now if that's at all possible, so conservatives cannot dwell on how, in 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton came up with her own health care plan, Hillarycare, that was even more far-reaching than Obamacare -- and so unpopular that it was defeated by fellow Democrats.

The point is that in 2014 and 2016 -- as in 2012 -- you will not be seeing mainstream media stories critical of this administration.

We did not learn about the IRS targeting of conservatives until after the presidential election, nor the truth about Benghazi, nor the truth about Obamacare.

And if we're learning some of the truth now, it's because the White House can safely say, along with Mrs. Clinton...

"What difference at this point does it make?"   




Washington: We Break It, You Buy It

10/11/13

On weekends my wife and I like to borrow movies from the library, and one we found tells you a lot about what's really troubling our country.

Charlie Chaplin's silent classic, The Kid.

Charlie adopts little Jackie Coogan, and to support him Charlie has Jackie throw rocks through people's windows, so Charlie can then sell them new panes of glass.

That's what Washington has been doing to us.  Creating crises and then fixing them by expanding the power of Washington.

Think back to the housing bubble.

Washington inflated the real estate market by insisting that banks grant mortgages to people who didn't have full-time jobs or sometimes any income at all besides government benefits (which sadly is the case with more and more of us).

Then when the mortgage bubble burst, Washington came to the rescue by selling us bailouts, stimulus spending, banking reform and higher taxes.

Oh, and one other thing.

To coax Wall Street investors back from the window ledge, the Federal Reserve pursued QE -- quantitative easing. The Fed has been buying bonds to the tune of $85 billion -- every month.

Does that figure sound familiar?

$85 billion is the amount of an entire year's sequestration cuts.

But Wall Street is now so hooked on that QE heroin that the mere whisper of tapering sends it into a tailspin.

Yet those rocks Washington has been throwing to shatter windows are nothing compared with the boulder that could demolish our entire economy.

Most Americans have been getting their health care from employers since World War Two, for reasons that from the beginning were arbitrary and unfair.

Republicans should have pursued free market health care reforms decades ago,  along with entitlement reform, tax reform, and a general reining in of Washington's power. But establishment Republicans instead paved the way for Democrats to insist that the only way to reform health care was by letting Washington assume control of 1/6 of the U.S.economy.

Hence, Obamacare.    

Wait a minute.

Am I suggesting that President Obama is a tramp like Charlie Chaplin?

Hardly.

Charlie was just trying to scratch out a living.

The president and his political allies (in both establishment parties) all live like kings.

So is there a happy ending to this movie?

Only if the Kid and the Tramp finally realize that the trick is not to break windows, but to build new houses -- in the free market. 

And they'd better realize that soon. Because there's another lesson to be learned from The Kid.

Mischievous little Jackie Coogan grew up to be

TV's Uncle Fester.

It could get scary, friends.


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Blog Entries

Weekend At Bernie's
Which July Revolution?
Iran: Walk Away
Replacing History
Obamacare's Chicago Subsidies
Same-Sex Marriage: Two Big Issues
Charleston: Evil and Ideology
On D-Day We Did Not Lead From Behind
The Obama "Period"
Mark Twain and Carbon Emissions
Honest Jay
Health Reform for Veterans -- and the Rest of Us
America's Second Childhood
Which America?
Culture Wars
Putin’s Pipeline to the Future
Outsourcing Liberty
Fathers: An Endangered Species
Harry Potter and Barack Obama
Benghazi: Lies and Legitimacy
Monica, Hillary and the Blue Dress
Primaries: Take Me To Your Leader
I Am Not Donald Sterling
Boehner: The Crying Game
Draft Day -- For Everyone
Tripwire or Polish Joke?
Was Ben-Hur a Racist?
Sharyl Attkisson: That's the Way It Is
Kasich Plays Poker
Obamacare Gag Order
You're Not My Father
X-Rated Welfare
GOP: Can't Beat Something With Nothing
The Finest First Lady Was a Man
Lois the Robot
Lawlessness
Hollowing Out Our Military
House of Cards
Invisible America: The Long-Term Unemployed
George Washington's Finest Hour
Swearing Off Obamacare
Debt Ceiling: America's Bar Tab
Replacing Obamacare
The Evil Rich Beatles
Keeping Your Enemies Closer
Liberty? It's Greek to Me
The Real Minimum Wage? Zero!
Churchill and the State of Our Union
Our Imperial Senate
Overcoming Identity Politics
Christie vs. Reagan: The Real Fighter
Out of Work? Just Vote!
The 50 Year War on Poverty
Term Limits Now
Modern Family and the Tax Code
Who's Occupying Wall Street Now?
Give Me Liberty or Give Me SEX!
GOP Better Fight and Unite
This Just In
Washington: We Break It, You Buy It
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