Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Our Media Taught Me

From Victor Davis Hanson at Pajamas Media:

I’ve been over here in Europe for about ten days, getting a different perspective on our illustrious media and how it is handling the various Obama “troubles.”

Perspective and distance are sometime valuable. I used to think, given the enormous size of the bureaucracy and the tragic nature of the human condition, that from time to time disasters would overwhelm us — and there would be not much the president of the United States could do about them. But after Katrina, the media taught me that neither the mayor nor the governor nor the Army Corps of Engineers nor the people of New Orleans were at fault for either the vulnerability to the chance of a catastrophic Katrina or the response after its arrival. No, you see, the commander in chief is the ultimate arbiter of successful or unsuccessful reactions to all such disasters. OK, so be it.

So while I am not inclined to blame Barack Obama for the scandalous federal laxity in the now polluted Gulf, the media long ago taught me that I most certainly should.

I don’t play golf. Never have swung a club. But in the spirit of live and let live, I also never cared much for deconstructing the game in terms of culture and sociology. The media, however, in 2002, taught met that I should in the case of George Bush — that his swing and even his use of a golf cart reflected a certain class disdain for us, or at least a frat-boy frivolity at a time of two ongoing wars. So while I would like to give our present president a pass on his obsession with playing golf at a frequency far in excess to poor George Bush’s, I cannot. I am conditioned now to grasp that Obama’s golf craze is a sort of self-indulgence reflective of a disturbing narcissist who entertains a shocking indifference toward the rest of us.

Press conferences were always painful to watch. Finger in the wind pundits try to one up their commander in chief, who, in turn, is always one slip of the tongue away from global scandal. But the press during the Bush administration also taught me that we need these feeding frenzies frequently, and must demand that our executives prove to be both eloquent and veracious. So while I don’t much care whether Obama stutters off the teleprompter, or idiotically says things like “corpse-man,” or misleads us on matters of fact, or even grossly says things such as the beheading of Daniel Pearl “captured the world’s imagination,” the media lectured me that I very much should care — namely, that President Obama almost never gives a press conference, and on the rare occasions when he does, we know why he was wise not to have done so in the past.

I used to think leadership meant from time to time taking on public opinion, advocating an unpopular position in a genuine belief it was for the long-term good of the country. However, here too the enlightened media taught me once that it is not so. When George Bush wanted to reform Social Security, Barack Obama was widely quoted by the press as a voice of wisdom in warning Bush not to beat a dead horse — given that the public polled overwhelmingly against any changes in Social Security (apparently fiscal insolvency will alone be the remedy for long-needed changes). In other words, we live in a democracy, and even a popularly elected president should not ram down something the people don’t want. Note that argument was advanced again with the Bush insistence on the unpopular (but ultimately successful) surge in Iraq.

Therefore, while I want to say that it was the president’s prerogative to push through an unpopular health care takeover, and to oppose a very popular Arizona law, I have learned that it was almost undemocratic that he has done so. The press instructed me on that again. Why tear apart the country, virtually create a tea-party movement, or pit Arizona against California by stoking the fires of resentment by so diametrically opposing what 60 percent and more of the people want?

Once upon a time, I also thought we were in an existential war with radical Islam. For thirty years and more, terrorists have evoked their religion as they tried to blow up, shoot, or behead Westerners. After the mass murders of 9/11, I thought George Bush was wise to adopt things like intercepts, wiretaps, Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, Predator attacks, and taking the fight to both the Taliban and oil-fed murderous Middle East dictators like Saddam Hussein. But then the media established that these were all not only anti-constitutional measures, but quite unnecessary acts as well. Instead, the anti-terrorism protocols and wars abroad were a reflection of an executive branch out of control, one that could only be stopped by popular agitation, the enlightened criticism of Hollywood artisans, law suits, filibusters, and constant press opposition. So while I am inclined to applaud that Barack Obama has trebled the number of Predator missions, kept Guantanamo open, adopted the Bush-Petraeus plan in Iraq, escalated in Afghanistan, kept renditions and all elements of the Patriotic Act, I confess now that all this is very wrong, without utility and a veritable coup on the part of the executive branch to overturn the separation of powers as established in the Constitution. The media, alas, taught me that too.

Nothing is worse that public servants taking money by abusing the public trust or horse-trading in matters of the public interest. Even the incessant narcissism of putting their names on every bridge or building they authorize with public money nauseates me. So I was glad to see all those right-wing crooks and hypocrites from Duke Cunningham to Larry Craig leave in disgrace. Shame on them! The watchdog media reinforced my inclination to give them no quarter.

So while I would like to cut some slack for the memory of the late John Murtha, or a poor harried Chris Dodd, or an elderly Charles Rangel, I simply cannot. All the good that they did surely cannot balance out their serial ethical lapses. If a Timothy Geithner skipped a few taxes, or a Chris Dodd got a break on a loan here and there, then they rightly must descend into the Abramoff inferno with Cunningham and Foley and Craig. I admire an old admiral like Joe Sestak and understand quid pro quo is the mother’s milk of politics, but thanks to the watchdog media during various ethical problematics in the Bush administration — from the federal attorney firings to Halliburton — I now realize that there can be no tolerance for even the appearance of moral ambiguity. So let the tough media inquiries continue.

Somewhere around the millennium, a new style of aggressive, public-interested, and astute reporter began sermonizing in print, advising on the Internet, and lecturing us on television. At the time I mistakenly assumed that reporters were too often partisans who were creating new, almost impossible standards of probity in order to embarrass conservative opponents: they wanted Republican scandal first, news second. But now, I see that they were simply laying nonpartisan new ground rules for the Bush administration so that they could later prove their integrity and professionalism when a member of their own faith would come into the new crucible of public examination. There was never, you see, a hate-Bush media. So we will shortly see that now as they unrelentingly turn their scrutiny on Barack Obama and his legion of ethical and competency lapses.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Refusing the Entitlement Lollipop

From Michael Gerson at The Washington Post via RealClearPolitics:

In closing the deal on health care reform, Democratic leaders assured wavering legislators that the plan would grow more popular with time as its benefits became clear. "We have to pass the bill," argued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, so that the public "can find out what is in it." Presidential adviser David Axelrod predicted that Republicans would pay a political price for their opposition. "Let's have that fight," he said. "Make my day." Consistent with this belief, the administration recently has been rolling out attractive elements of the law, including coverage for dependents up to age 26.

But after a brief bump, support for Democratic health reform has declined. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 63 percent of voters support repeal of the law, the highest level since passage. A Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll shows erosion in the intensity of support. Last month, 23 percent of Americans held "very favorable" views of the law. This month, that figure is 14 percent, with most of the falloff coming among Democrats (Republicans and independents already being skeptical).

On the theory that the distribution of lollipops usually doesn't provoke riots of resentment, opposition to the health entitlement requires explanation.

One cause is simply economic. At a time when Americans are focused on recovery and job creation -- and how deficits and debt may eventually undermine both -- the economic case for Democratic health reform has been weak, contrived, even deceptive. Recent events in Congress make the point. Two months after passing a law that supporters claimed would reduce federal deficits, largely through Medicare cuts, the House is moving toward a temporary "doctor fix" that would add tens of billions in Medicare costs. Even more expensive fixes are likely in the future. Congressional leaders knew this spending would be necessary when they passed health reform in March. Yet they didn't include this liability in the law, in order to hide the overall cost of the entitlement. In a failing corporation, this would be a scandal, investigated by Congress. In Congress, this is known as legislative strategy.

The economic arguments for reform -- that it would reduce the deficit and health inflation -- were questionable from the beginning. Now they have been revealed as absurd. There is a social justice case for expanding health coverage. But Americans have not found it credible that the creation of a massive new entitlement will somehow help the economy.

There is, however, a deeper explanation for public skepticism about health reform. Since the New Deal, Democrats have viewed times of economic crisis as opportunities for government expansion. In the current case, government itself was implicated in the crisis. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, public satisfaction with government plunged just as the financial collapse took place. Twenty-two percent of Americans report that they trust government all or most of the time -- among the lowest levels in 50 years. One and a half years after a financial meltdown that some supposed would be a crisis for capitalism itself, 58 percent of Americans agree that "the government has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the free enterprise system." Favorable opinion of the Democratic Party -- now firmly associated with the stimulus package, assorted bailouts and health reform -- has fallen 21 points in one year.

In this ideological environment, the administration's emphasis on publicizing the desirable details of the health law is beside the point. Americans are troubled with health reform, not because they lack knowledge of its provisions, but because they are uncomfortable with social democracy.

When entitlements began in America, they were mainly focused on the elderly (through Social Security and Medicare) and the poor and disabled (through Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Medicaid). Benefits for the middle class were largely given through tax deductions for mortgage interest and the purchase of health coverage by businesses. America eventually retreated from some entitlement commitments to the poor because they involved a moral hazard -- discouraging work and responsibility. Entitlements for the elderly have remained a strong, national consensus.

But the idea of a middle-class entitlement to health care, achieved through an individual mandate, subsidies and aggressive insurance regulation, seems to change the nature of American society. Entitlements in the Obama era are no longer a decent provision for the vulnerable; they are intended for citizens at every stage of life.

Americans resist taking this lollipop precisely because America is not Europe -- which even Europe, it seems, can no longer afford to be.

Friday, May 28, 2010

We’re too broke to be this stupid

From Mark Steyn:

Back in 2008, when I was fulminating against multiculturalism on a more or less weekly basis, a reader wrote to advise me to lighten up, on the grounds that “we’re rich enough to afford to be stupid.”

Two years later, we’re a lot less rich. In fact, many Western nations are, in any objective sense, insolvent. Hence last week’s column, on the EU’s decision to toss a trillion dollars into the great sucking maw of Greece’s public-sector kleptocracy. It no longer matters whether you’re intellectually in favour of European-style social democracy: simply as a practical matter, it’s unaffordable.

How did the Western world reach this point? Well, as my correspondent put it, we assumed that we were rich enough that we could afford to be stupid. In any advanced society, there will be a certain number of dysfunctional citizens either unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to support themselves and their dependents. What to do about such people? Ignore the problem? Attempt to fix it? The former nags at the liberal guilt complex, while the latter is way too much like hard work: the modern progressive has no urge to emulate those Victorian social reformers who tramped the streets of English provincial cities looking for fallen women to rescue. All he wants to do is ensure that the fallen women don’t fall anywhere near him.

So the easiest “solution” to the problem is to throw public money at it. You know how it is when you’re at the mall and someone rattles a collection box under your nose and you’re not sure where it’s going but it’s probably for Darfur or Rwanda or Hoogivsastan. Whatever. You’re dropping a buck or two in the tin for the privilege of not having to think about it. For the more ideologically committed, there’s always the awareness-raising rock concert: it’s something to do with Bono and debt forgiveness, whatever that means, but let’s face it, going to the park for eight hours of celebrity caterwauling beats having to wrap your head around Afro-Marxist economics. The modern welfare state operates on the same principle: since the Second World War, the hard-working middle classes have transferred historically unprecedented amounts of money to the unproductive sector in order not to have to think about it. But so what? We were rich enough that we could afford to be stupid.

That works for a while. In the economic expansion of the late 20th century, citizens of Western democracies paid more in taxes but lived better than their parents and grandparents. They weren’t exactly rich, but they got richer. They also got more stupid. When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the modern British welfare state in 1942, his goal was the “abolition of want.” Sir William and his colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic succeeded beyond their wildest dreams: to be “poor” in the 21st-century West is not to be hungry and emaciated but to be obese, with your kids suffering from childhood diabetes. When Michelle Obama turned up to serve food at a soup kitchen, its poverty-stricken clientele snapped pictures of her with their cellphones. In one-sixth of British households, not a single family member works. They are not so much without employment as without need of it. At a certain level, your hard-working bourgeois understands that the bulk of his contribution to the treasury is entirely wasted. It’s one of the basic rules of life: if you reward bad behaviour, you get more of it. But, in good and good-ish times, who cares?

By the way, where does the government get the money to fund all these immensely useful programs? According to a Fox News poll earlier this year, 65 per cent of Americans understand that the government gets its money from taxpayers, but 24 per cent think the government has “plenty of its own money without using taxpayer dollars.” You can hardly blame them for getting that impression in an age in which there is almost nothing the state won’t pay for. I confess I warmed to that much-mocked mayor in Doncaster, England, who announced a year or two back that he wanted to stop funding for the Gay Pride parade on the grounds that, if they’re so damn proud of it, why can’t they pay for it? He was actually making a rather profound point, but, as I recall, he was soon forced to back down. In Canada, almost every ethnocultural booster group is on the public teat. Outside Palestine House in Toronto the other week, the young Muslim men were caught on tape making explicitly eliminationist threats about Jews, but c’mon, everything else in Canada is taxpayer-funded, why not genocidal incitement? We’re rich enough that we can afford to be stupid.

It’s not so much the money as the stupidity, which massively expands under such generous subvention. When it emerged that President Barack Obama had appointed a Communist as his “green jobs czar,” I carelessly assumed it was the usual youthful “idealism”: no doubt Van Jones, the Communist Obama appointee in question, had been a utopian college student caught up in the spirit of ’68 and gone along for the ride. A passing phase. Soon grow out of it. But, in fact, Mr. Jones became a Communist in the mid-nineties, after the fall of the Soviet Union. He embraced Communism after even the commies had given up on it. Like the song says, he was commie after commie had ceased to be cool. On Fox News, Glenn Beck made a fuss about it. But the “mainstream” media thought this was frankly rather boorish, and something only uptight right-wing squares would do. I mean, what’s the big deal? True, everywhere it’s been implemented, Communism causes human misery—not to mention an estimated 150 million deaths. But it doesn’t make you persona non grata in the salons of the West. Quite the opposite. The Washington Post hailed the grizzled folkie Pete Seeger as America’s “best-loved commie”—which, unlike “America’s best-loved Nazi,” is quite a competitive title. Even so, why would you stick a commie in the White House and put him in charge of anything to do with jobs, even “green jobs”?

Well, because “green jobs” is just another of those rich-enough-to-be-stupid scams. The Spanish government pays over $800,000 for every “green job” on a solar-panel assembly line. This money is taken from real workers with real jobs at real businesses whose growth is being squashed to divert funds to endeavours that have no rationale other than their government subsidies—and which would collapse as soon as the subsidies end. Yet Tim Flannery, the Aussie climate-alarmist who chaired the Copenhagen racket, says we need to redouble our efforts. “We’re trying to act as a species,” he says, “to regulate the atmosphere.”

Er, “regulate the atmosphere”? Why not? We’re rich enough to be stupid with the very heavens.

In his book The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism (La tyrannie de la pĂ©nitence), the French writer Pascal Bruckner concludes by quoting Louis Bourdaloue, the celebrated Jesuit priest at the court of Louis XIV, who preached on the four kinds of conscience: 1) the good and peaceful; 2) the good and troubled; 3) the bad and troubled; 4) the bad and peaceful. The first is to be found in Heaven, the second in Purgatory, the third in Hell, and the fourth—the bad but peaceful conscience—sounds awfully like the prevailing condition of the West at twilight. We are remorseful to a fault—indeed, to others’ faults.

It’s not just long-ago sins like imperialism and colonialism and Eurocentric white male patriarchy and other fancies barely within living memory. Our very lifestyle demands penitence: Americans have easily accessible oil reserves, but it would be wrong to touch them, so poor old BP have to do the “environmentally responsible” thing and be out in the middle of the Gulf a mile underwater. If you’re rich enough to be that stupid, what won’t you subsidize? The top al-Qaeda recruiter in Britain, Abu Qatada, had 150,000 pounds in his bank account courtesy of the taxpayer before the comically misnamed Department for Work and Pensions decided to cut back his benefits.

The green jobs, the gay parades, the jihadist welfare queens, the Greek public sector unions, all have to be paid for by a shrinking base of contributing workers whose children and grandchildren will lead poorer and meaner lives because of the fecklessness of government. The social compact of the postwar era cannot hold. Across the developed world, a beleaguered middle class is beginning to understand that it’s no longer that rich. At some point, it will look at the sheer waste of government spending, the other shoe will drop, and it will decide that it no longer wishes to be that stupid.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oil spill response out of control

From David Gergen at CNN:

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has served as an adviser to four U.S. presidents. He is a professor of public service and the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

(CNN) -- Coming back this weekend after a stay in Europe, I had that distinct sensation -- last felt when Lehman Brothers capsized, setting off the Great Recession -- that we once again find ourselves at the mercy of events and people just beyond our control.

Here at home, one hears that by Wednesday dawn, we will know whether BP's latest big try to stop the oil spill will work. If it does, we can begin to feel that we are moving in the right direction, but if it doesn't -- well, no one is quite sure what Plan D looks like. Is this really where we have come: that the fate of our precious coastlines and the waters off our coasts are in the hands of a single foreign-based company?

A month ago, it looked like the White House was on top of this problem, as Cabinet officers scurried here and there, the Coast Guard and others swung into action, there were talks with BP, and the president paid a personal visit. But increasingly, it has become apparent that the federal government may be present but is not in charge.

It keeps saying that BP bears ultimate responsibility. It is keeping the press away. No wonder James Carville, Chris Matthews and Donna Brazile exploded late last week. They are right on a basic point: Ultimately it is not the responsibility of BP or any other company to protect American interests but the responsibility of the federal government. Some Obama supporters have argued that the 1990 Oil Pollution Act limits the president's capacity to take action. Others disagree. Either way, in an emergency, laws can be changed.

Although this disaster is not an existential threat, it could be argued that if the U.S. government had fought World War II in the same way it has fought the oil spill, we might well be speaking German now. Faced with a growing danger to our well-being, a WWII-type government would at minimum have:

• Brought in the CEOs of all the major oil companies and charged them with the duty of an all-hands collaborative effort to stop the spill and help ward off the damage.

• Brought in the best minds in the country, from universities and technology, for emergency efforts to find solutions.

• Moved quickly to mobilize the National Guard and other military forces, if necessary, ensuring that they received the resources needed to protect our beaches.

• Made a clear call to citizen volunteers to help where necessary.

• Given Cabinet officers an ultimatum: Get this under control in the next 30 days, or else.

There will be ample time after this disaster for finger-pointing and blame-laying. The key now is to get this spill under control before it does far more damage.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post had it exactly right Monday morning when it argued that with the European crisis spreading now beyond Greece, "the knife-edge psychology currently governing global markets has put the future of the U.S. economic recovery in the hands of politicians in an assortment of European capitals."

Across Europe, one finds people stunned at the rapidity with which this crisis has grown, threatening not only their weak economies but also their dreams of a European utopia with people living a honeyed existence. All that could go smash now. Indeed, it is ironic that Europe may now be forced to give up its strong welfare state even as the U.S. is moving toward it. But the immediate point is that the U.S. finds itself too much at the mercy of whether European politicians and publics now make the right moves.

It may take a while, but Americans are going to start feeling a lot happier about our country when we once again believe we have strong control of own destiny. Leadership, anyone?


From The Republican Caucus of the House Budget Committe:

Having shoveled out trillions of dollars in new spending and debt, House Democratic leaders now admit they cannot budget for all of it – and won’t even try. For the first time, the House will fail even to propose a budget. Instead the Democratic Majority will resort to an ad hoc, spend-as-you-go process that abandons any pretense of governing. Here are some key points about this budget collapse:


- Threatens Job Creation. The Democrats’ budget failure further erodes confidence in Washington’s intent to get Federal spending and debt under control – and creates even greater concern about impending tax hikes that will further hinder the private-sector job creation Americans desperately need. Washington’s failure to control spending undermines sustainable economic growth and job creation.

- Explodes Spending and Deficits. With no budget, no priorities, and no restraints, the Democratic Majority will push spending to a record $3.8 trillion in fiscal year 2011, and widen the deficit to a record $1.5 trillion this year. Since the President took office, spending has exploded by $1.8 trillion, including the failed “stimulus” bill, appropriations increases far above inflation, and the government takeover of health care, among others.

- Exacerbates Debt Crisis. By failing to address our Nation’s greatest fiscal challenge, unsustainable entitlement spending, the President’s budget – now the de-facto Federal budget – doubles debt held by the public in 5 years and triples it in 10 years – to an alarming 90 percent of gross domestic product.


While Democrats refuse to budget, Republicans have proposed several bills that could begin saving taxpayers’ funds right now. Along with previous calls for specific cuts from Republican Leader John Boehner and Republican Whip Eric Cantor, these proposals – offered as real legislation – would cut spending now to spur job creation and help get our fiscal house in order. Much more needs to be done to rein in runaway spending, but the following proposals are a start towards reassuring the public, and the financial markets, that Congress is serious about getting spending, deficits, and debt under control.

- MORE -

Authorized by……………………………………………………………………Paul D. Ryan, Ranking Republican

- Cancel Unused TARP Funds. Prohibit the Treasury Secretary from entering into new commitments under the Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP]. Ending TARP would prevent up to $396 billion in additional disbursements; CBO estimates savings of $16 billion. H.R. 3140 introduced by Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.

- Cancel Unspent ‘Stimulus’ Funds. Rescind all unobligated budget authority authorized under the “stimulus” bill and dedicate to deficit reduction. Saves up to $266 billion. H.R. 3140 introduced by Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.

- Cut and Cap Discretionary Spending. Return non-defense discretionary spending to pre-Obama (fiscal year 2008) baseline levels. Saves up to $925 billion. Legislation introduced by Reps. Ryan and Hensarling (H.R. 3964) and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio (H.R 3298) include caps on discretionary spending.

- Reduce Government Employment. Hire one person for every two who leaves civilian government service until the workforce is reduced to pre-Obama levels (exempting the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs). Saves an estimated $35 billion. H.R. 5348 introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.

- Freeze Government Pay. Freeze Federal civilian pay for 1 year. Saves an estimated $30 billion.

- Adopt the Legislative Line-Item Veto. Enact a constitutional line-item veto law. The President’s FY 2011 budget included terminations, reductions, and savings that would achieve $23 billion in one year. While Congress may not accept all these savings, the Line Item Veto can help reduce spending. H.R. 1294 introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

- Reform and Bring Transparency to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Reform these companies by ending conservatorship, shrinking their portfolios, establishing minimum capital standards, reducing conforming loan limits, and bringing transparency to taxpayer exposure. According to CBO, the cost to taxpayers of putting government in control of Fannie and Freddie is $373 billion through 2020. Saves an estimated $30 billion. H.R. 4889 introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. H.R. 4653 introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey.

- Create a Sunset Commission. Establish a commission to conduct systematic reviews of Federal programs and agencies, and make recommendations for those that should be terminated; and provide for automatic sunset of programs unless expressly reauthorized by the Congress. H.R. 393 introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas.

Table 1: Estimated Savings From Republican Spending Reduction Proposals

(in billions of dollars)

Proposal Estimated 10-Year Savings

Cancel Unused TARP Funds 16

Cancel Unspent ‘Stimulus’ Funds 266

Cut and Cap Discretionary Spending 925a

Reduce Government Employment 35

Freeze Government Pay 30

Reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac 30

Total 1,302

a This estimate is based on returning non-defense discretionary spending to fiscal year 2008 baseline levels.

Note: The Legislative Line-Item Veto and the Sunset Commission would achieve savings subject to Presidential and congressional action. Therefore these bills are not displayed here.

Source: House Budget Committee Republican staff.

This document was prepared by the Republican staff of the Committee on the Budget, U.S. House of Representatives. It has not been approved by the full committee and may not reflect the views of individual committee members

In Defending Barack Obama Skipping Memorial Day, the Left Calls Dead Soldiers ‘Political Props’

From Red State:

Barack Obama is skipping the Memorial Day tradition of the President laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns. It is not unprecedented. George H. W. Bush was on the campaign trail in 1992 and scheduled to speak at an American Legions event in Maine on Memorial Day.

Ronald Reagan was in the midst of a contentious economic summit in 1983 and so sent George H. W. Bush on his behalf.

Barack Obama wants to go on vacation — the second vacation he has had since oil began spilling out of the gulf. That’s okay though because the oil spilling is George W. Bush’s fault, just like all the new dead soldiers are George Bush’s fault too. Why should he care?

The problem for Barack Obama is simple.

The troops don’t like him no matter how much the White House propaganda machine tries to gin up staged pictures of Obama voting soldiers fawning all over him. But see the tepid response from cadets at West Point or talk privately with lots of soldiers and sailors and you get something else — they fundamentally do not respect their Commander in Chief.

There was no question they respected and loved Ronald Reagan. Same with George H. W. Bush, the last veteran of World War II to serve as President.

Obama? Not so much. And what does the left do when you point this out? They equate dead soldiers to political props/ Seriously.

By suggesting this President, in the midst of a war, should probably be going to Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day instead of taking his second vacation in a month, conservatives are somehow suggesting he use dead soldiers as political props.

After eight years of the left demanding publicity of flag draped coffins returning to Deleware from overseas to use as political props against George W. Bush, it is more than a little humorous to have the left now accuse the right of doing the same. It also ignores a fundamental point leftists too busy calling our soldiers “war criminals” and our dead soldiers “political props” miss — going to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns has nothing to do with using dead soldiers as political props and everything to do with a Commander in Chief who seems to not like the military showing some basic respect to the men and women, alive and dead, who have actually kept us free.

Obama may talk about the government in the first person, but the men and women lying at Arlington know differently.

Of course, Obama really doesn’t like the military, does he. [A period there, not a question mark, is intentional]

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mass. health meltdown is your future

From Sally Pipes at the New York Post:

The future of US medicine under ObamaCare is already on display in Massachusetts. The top four health insurers there just posted first-quarter losses of more than $150 million. Most of them blamed the state's decision to keep premiums at last year's levels for individual and small-business policies, when they'd proposed double-digit hikes to match the soaring costs they've seen under the state's universal-coverage law.

The companies have gone to court to challenge the state's action -- it apparently had no basis for its ruling beyond the political needs of Gov. Deval Patrick. If they win, Bay State health premiums will continue their rapid rise; if they lose, they'll eventually have to stop doing business in Massachusetts -- and the state will be that much closer to a "single payer" system of socialized medicine.

The Massachusetts "health reform" disease means more than just bureaucrats setting prices. It also includes rising government spending and taxes; politicians demonizing doctors, hospitals and insurers -- and patients getting lectured that the restrictions of managed care are good medicine.

It's what's in store for all of America. The Bay State's structure provided the base for ObamaCare. "Basically, it's the same thing," says MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who was a health adviser to GOP Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama.

Like ObamaCare, RomneyCare includes a government-run exchange (the "Commonwealth Connector"), mandates and fines on individuals and fines on businesses. It expanded coverage mainly by expanding Medicaid. Of the 176,766 insured through the Connector, more than 152,000 are on subsidized plans, most paying nothing.

ObamaCare will follow suit. Richard Foster, chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, reports that the law will add $310 billion over 10 years to federal spending and put 18 million more Americans on Medicaid.

Another similarity: RomneyCare offered no real means to control and ultimately reduce costs. Its backers made airy promises of redirecting monies from state-sponsored charity care to insurance premiums, claiming that an insured population would be healthier and save money. In fact, the state has begged Washington year after year for money to plug the system's gaps. In the program's first three years, the feds will have spent $21.2 billion -- $3,000 per Massachusetts resident.

Actually, ObamaCare's cost-control promises are even more fantastic -- from supposed slashing of Medicare payment rates to politically impossible "Cadillac" taxes. The only real cost control in either plan will be the brute force of government.

A Boston Globe story from earlier in the dispute over rate hikes says it all: "Two of the state's big health insurers face stiff fines after they submitted to the state revised premium rates for individuals and small businesses that differed from what regulators ordered."

There's no such thing as a market where bureaucrats set the price. Yet that's what health care has become in Massachusetts under its reform.

"I don't know how much clearer we could have been with them," complained Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Jack Murphy. He told the Globe: "We communicated four times what rates we expected. We're considering all options. At minimum, both will face significant fines and potentially other penalties."

When insurers then complained that they'd post losses, the Patrick administration lambasted them as "outrageous," "uninterested in alleviating escalating health-care costs" and "in love with the status quo."

Government finally caring about the little guy? Hold your cheers -- because the inevitable next step is rationing at the point of consumption. Massachusetts state Senate President Therese Murray has proposed putting an end to "fee for service" medicine in the next five years and moving to a system of capitated managed care, where doctors receive a flat fee for each assigned patient.

This "HMOs for all" approach is designed to lead to soft rationing -- which, in medical terms, means people will have a hard time finding doctors or seeing the ones they have. It's already started. In Massachusetts, one doctor in two is not accepting new patients. Waits for treatment in Boston are the highest in the nation.

And Medicare's chief actuary predicts the same fate under ObamaCare. "It is reasonable to expect that a significant portion of the increased demand for Medicaid would be difficult to meet," Richard Foster wrote in a recent report.

Get ready, America: If nothing else, ObamaCare will put the patience back in being a patient.

Sally Pipes, president & CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, is the author of "The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care."

Private pay shrinks to historic lows as gov't payouts rise

At USA Today:

Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year, a USA TODAY analysis of government data finds.

At the same time, government-provided benefits — from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs — rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010.

Those records reflect a long-term trend accelerated by the recession and the federal stimulus program to counteract the downturn. The result is a major shift in the source of personal income from private wages to government programs.

The trend is not sustainable, says University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes. Reason: The federal government depends on private wages to generate income taxes to pay for its ever-more-expensive programs. Government-generated income is taxed at lower rates or not at all, he says. "This is really important," Grimes says.

The recession has erased 8 million private jobs. Even before the downturn, private wages were eroding because of the substitution of health and pension benefits for taxable salaries.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that individuals received income from all sources — wages, investments, food stamps, etc. — at a $12.2 trillion annual rate in the first quarter.

Key shifts in income this year:

• Private wages. A record-low 41.9% of the nation's personal income came from private wages and salaries in the first quarter, down from 44.6% when the recession began in December 2007.

•Government benefits. Individuals got 17.9% of their income from government programs in the first quarter, up from 14.2% when the recession started. Programs for the elderly, the poor and the unemployed all grew in cost and importance. An additional 9.8% of personal income was paid as wages to government employees.

The shift in income shows that the federal government's stimulus efforts have been effective, says Paul Van de Water, an economist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"It's the system working as it should," Van de Water says. Government is stimulating growth and helping people in need, he says. As the economy recovers, private wages will rebound, he says.

Economist Veronique de Rugy of the free-market Mercatus Center at George Mason University says the riots in Greece over cutting benefits to close a huge budget deficit are a warning about unsustainable income programs.

Economist David Henderson of the conservative Hoover Institution says a shift from private wages to government benefits saps the economy of dynamism. "People are paid for being rather than for producing," he says.

Politicians Should Say No More Often

From Senator Tom Coburn at RealClearPolitics:

Last week's election results confirmed, if anything, that the mood of the electorate is decidedly anti-Establishment. Across America, candidates anointed by the Establishment - the president, congressional leaders, party leaders, etc. - are being taken out in places like Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Kentucky, West Virginia and Utah.

It was curious then that someone as adept as President Obama declined to reassure the public that he is on their side and eager to rein in both parties in an unpopular and out-of-control Establishment Congress. Instead, the president lashed out at his critics with party-line talking points. The president derided Republicans as the "just say no" crowd and, in defense of his economic policies, challenged them to, "Tell us why doing nothing would be better for America."

If the president is upset that some are overstating the degree to which the elections were a referendum on him he has a point. In Utah, for instance, some commentators suggested Senator Bob Bennett's support of a health care bill with similarities to ObamaCare cost him the election. Yet, a poll taken before the vote showed that delegates were more concerned about economic issues than health care by a 10 to 1 margin. In many respects the president is in the same boat as Bennett - neither are "the problem" per se, but both are perceived to be part of the problem rather than the solution.

In this context, the strawman argument the president and many Democrats are using completely misses the point. This argument is wrong, divisive and counterproductive.

First, the claim is false on its face. Those in Congress most deeply opposed to the president's agenda, such as myself, Jim DeMint and Paul Ryan, have our own solutions and reform proposals to fix the country's problems. Offering different solutions and saying no to reckless policies is not obstruction - it is democracy.

Two, if the strawman argument was true and there really was a party that just wanted to say no it would be surprisingly popular. Such a party would certainly be more popular than the party of yes, which many voters would describe as the Establishment.

Voters are twice as likely to believe cutting spending would help the economy rather than hurt economy (53 percent to 24 percent), according to a recent Rasmussen poll. The public believes government is way too big and that it represents itself and special interests ahead of the next generation. They are right.

In the past decade the size of our government has doubled, increasing at more than four times the rate of inflation. This raises a devastating question for the establishment. After years of saying yes to more government and massive increases in spending are we better off? Clearly, we are not. While families have been doing more with less, Washington has been doing less with more.

In their everyday lives, working Americans know that when government does nothing they are able to do more of something else. Every dollar that government does not redistribute through stimulus schemes or earmarks is a dollar that an individual consumer or entrepreneur can use to create real wealth. Not all "government investments" are wasted, of course - or at least not wasted equally - but government spends money far less efficiently than individuals. As Milton Friedman often said, people are most careful about spending their own money on themselves while they are least careful about spending someone else's money on someone else. Welfare states across the world are in a death spiral for this very reason.

The American people know the consequences of a Congress that values "doing something" ahead of nothing. Congress did something to make housing more affordable and inflated the housing bubble. Congress did something to make college more affordable and caused tuition rates to skyrocket. Congress did something to make health care more affordable and created programs that are harming patients and threatening to bankrupt our country. The list goes on.

The kind of change America wants is a more liberal use of the word "no" in our government. They want to hear politicians say no to deficit spending, no to earmarks, and no to policies that expand government rather than individual opportunity.

The timing of the president's remarks were curious because they came a day after one of his top economic advisors, Paul Volcker, former chairman of the federal reserve under Presidents Carter and Reagan, offered a very different take on our economic challenges. According to Volcker, the enemy is not "just say no" Republicans but a political culture in the United States that does not share the "same sense of urgency" about our fiscal crisis as countries such as Ireland.

Time is "growing short," Volcker said. "Today's concerns may soon become tomorrow's existential crises."

Indeed. For the party of yes, the party is over.

The Paygo Con

From Stephen Moore at the WSJ:

A day after beating incumbent Arlen Specter in a Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary contest, Rep. Joe Sestak announced that he would make "enforcement of the pay-as-you-go budget rules" a priority if he wins in November. Good luck to him.

Pay-as-you-go, or paygo, rules require that new entitlement spending and new tax cuts must be paid for dollar-for-dollar with entitlement spending cuts or tax increases. As Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee has noted, the Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi "have violated pay-as-you-go rules by nearly $1 trillion" over the past three years.

And they're not done. In the coming weeks, say Congressional Republicans, we should expect some $300 billion of expenditures that Democrats will declare "emergency spending" and thus do not have to be offset by other spending cuts. The list includes $60 billion for a military supplemental spending bill; $23 billion for education; and $170 billion for jobless and other welfare benefits. All said, the deficit could climb to $1.7 trillion from the current record high $1.4 trillion. "I really can't think of the last time the Democrats paid for anything they want to spend money on," Mr. Ryan grumbles.

The reality is that paygo is designed to stop tax cuts rather than check spending, which is why Democrats will soon return to singing its praises. Before the end of the year, look for Republicans to push for a continuation of the Bush tax cuts. And look for Democrats to insist they must be paid for.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

America's new culture war: Free enterprise vs. government control

From Arthur Brooks at The Washington Post:

America faces a new culture war.

This is not the culture war of the 1990s. It is not a fight over guns, gays or abortion. Those old battles have been eclipsed by a new struggle between two competing visions of the country's future. In one, America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise -- limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.

It is not at all clear which side will prevail. The forces of big government are entrenched and enjoy the full arsenal of the administration's money and influence. Our leaders in Washington, aided by the unprecedented economic crisis of recent years and the panic it induced, have seized the moment to introduce breathtaking expansions of state power in huge swaths of the economy, from the health-care takeover to the financial regulatory bill that the Senate approved Thursday. If these forces continue to prevail, America will cease to be a free enterprise nation.

I call this a culture war because free enterprise has been integral to American culture from the beginning, and it still lies at the core of our history and character. "A wise and frugal government," Thomas Jefferson declared in his first inaugural address in 1801, "which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government." He later warned: "To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." In other words, beware government's economic control, and woe betide the redistributors.

Now, as then, entrepreneurship can flourish only in a culture where individuals are willing to innovate and exert leadership; where people enjoy the rewards and face the consequences of their decisions; and where we can gamble the security of the status quo for a chance of future success.

Yet, in his commencement address at Arizona State University on May 13, 2009, President Obama warned against precisely such impulses: "You're taught to chase after all the usual brass rings; you try to be on this "who's who" list or that Top 100 list; you chase after the big money and you figure out how big your corner office is; you worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car. That's the message that's sent each and every day, or has been in our culture for far too long -- that through material possessions, through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf -- that's how you will measure success." Such ambition, he cautioned, "may lead you to compromise your values and your principles."

I appreciate the sentiment that money does not buy happiness. But for the president of the United States to actively warn young adults away from economic ambition is remarkable. And he makes clear that he seeks to change our culture.

The irony is that, by wide margins, Americans support free enterprise. A Gallup poll in January found that 86 percent of Americans have a positive image of "free enterprise," with only 10 percent viewing it negatively. Similarly, in March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked individuals from a broad range of demographic groups: "Generally, do you think people are better off in a free-market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time, or don't you think so?" Almost 70 percent of respondents agreed that they are better off in a free-market economy, while only 20 percent disagreed.

In fact, no matter how the issue is posed, not more than 30 percent of Americans say they believe we would fare better without free markets at the core of our system. When it comes to support for free enterprise, we are essentially a 70-30 nation.

So here's a puzzle: If we love free enterprise so much, why are the 30 percent who want to change that culture in charge?

It's not simply because of the election of Obama. As much as Republicans may dislike hearing it, statism had effectively taken hold in Washington long before that.

The George W. Bush administration began the huge Wall Street and Detroit bailouts, and for years before the economic crisis, the GOP talked about free enterprise while simultaneously expanding the government with borrowed money and increasing the percentage of citizens with no income tax liability. The 30 percent coalition did not start governing this country with the advent of Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It has been in charge for years.

But the real tipping point was the financial crisis, which began in 2008. The meltdown presented a golden opportunity for the 30 percent coalition to attack free enterprise openly and remake America in its own image.

And it seized that opportunity. While Republicans had no convincing explanation for the crisis, seemed responsible for it and had no obvious plans to fix it, the statists offered a full and compelling narrative. Ordinary Americans were not to blame for the financial collapse, nor was government. The real culprits were Wall Street and the Bush administration, which had gutted the regulatory system that was supposed to keep banks in line.

The solution was obvious: Vote for a new order to expand the powers of government to rein in the dangerous excesses of capitalism.

It was a convincing story. For a lot of panicky Americans, the prospect of a paternalistic government rescuing the nation from crisis seemed appealing as stock markets and home prices spiraled downward. According to this narrative, government was at fault in just one way: It wasn't big enough. If only there had been more regulators watching the banks more closely, the case went, the economy wouldn't have collapsed.

Yet in truth, it was government housing policy that was at the root of the crisis. Moreover, the financial sector -- where the crisis began and where it has had the most serious impact -- is already one of the most regulated parts of our economy. The chaos happened despite an extensive, intrusive regulatory framework, not because such a framework didn't exist.

More government -- including a super-empowered Federal Reserve, a consumer protection watchdog and greater state powers to wind down financial firms and police market risks -- does not mean we will be safe. On the contrary, such changes would give us a false sense of security, especially when Washington, a primary culprit in the crisis, is creating and implementing the new rules.

The statist narrative also held that only massive deficit spending could restore economic growth. "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years," Obama warned a few days before taking office. "Only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the cycle that is crippling our economy."

This proposition is as expensive as it is false. Recessions can and do end without the kind of stimulus we experienced, and attempts to shore up the economy with huge public spending often do little to improve matters and instead chain future generations with debt. In fact, all the evidence so far tells us that the current $787 billion stimulus package has overpromised and underdelivered, especially when it comes to creating jobs.

If we reject the administration's narrative, the 70-30 nation will remain strong. If we accept it, and base our nation's policies on it, we will be well on our way to a European-style social democracy. Punitive taxes and regulations will make it harder to be an entrepreneur, and the rewards of success will be expropriated for the sake of greater income equality.

The new statism in America, made possible by years of drift and accelerated by the panic over the economic crisis, threatens to make us permanently poorer. But that is not the greatest danger. The real risk is that in the new culture war, we will forsake the third unalienable right set out in our Declaration of Independence: the pursuit of happiness.

Free enterprise brings happiness; redistribution does not. The reason is that only free enterprise brings earned success.

Earned success involves the ability to create value honestly -- not by inheriting a fortune, not by picking up a welfare check. It doesn't mean making money in and of itself. Earned success is the creation of value in our lives or in the lives of others. Earned success is the stuff of entrepreneurs who seek value through innovation, hard work and passion. Earned success is what parents feel when their children do wonderful things, what social innovators feel when they change lives, what artists feel when they create something of beauty.

Money is not the same as earned success but is rather a symbol, important not for what it can buy but for what it says about how people are contributing and what kind of difference they are making. Money corresponds to happiness only through earned success.

Not surprisingly, unearned money -- while it may help alleviate suffering -- carries with it no personal satisfaction. Studies of lottery winners, for instance, show that after a brief period of increased happiness, their moods darken as they no longer derive the same enjoyment from the simple pleasures in life, and as the glow of buying things wears off.

The same results emerge with other kinds of unearned income -- welfare payments, for example. According to the University of Michigan's 2001 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, going on the welfare rolls increases by 16 percent the likelihood of a person saying that she or he has felt inconsolably sad over the past month. Of course, the misery of welfare recipients probably goes well beyond the check itself. Nonetheless, studies show that recipients are far unhappier than equally poor people who do not receive such government benefits.

Benjamin Franklin (a pretty rich man for his time) grasped the truth about money's inability by itself to deliver satisfaction. "Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it," he declared. "The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one."

If unearned money does not bring happiness, redistributing money by force won't make for a happier America -- and the redistributionists' theory of a better society through income equality falls apart.

The goal of our system should be to give all Americans the greatest opportunities possible to succeed based on their work and merit. And that's exactly what the free enterprise system does: It makes earned success possible for the most people. This is the liberty that enables the true pursuit of happiness.

To win the culture war, those of us in the 70 percent majority must reclaim -- and proclaim -- the morality of our worldview.

Unfortunately, we often fail to do this. Instead, we sound unabashedly materialistic. We talk about growth rates, inflation and investment, while the 30 percent coalition walks off with the claims to happiness and fairness. (According to Obama, for example, we need to restore "fairness" to our tax code by increasing taxes on the wealthy and exempting more people at the bottom from paying anything.)

The irony is that it is the 30 percent coalition, not the 70 percent majority, that is fundamentally materialistic. What do they consider the greatest problem of poor people in America? Insufficient income. What would be evidence of a fairer society? Greater income equality. For the leaders of the 30 percent coalition, money does buy happiness -- as long as it is spread evenly. That is why redistribution of income is a fundamental goal and why free enterprise, which rewards some people and penalizes others, cannot be trusted.

The 70 percent majority, meanwhile, believes that ingenuity and hard work should be rewarded. We admire creative entrepreneurs and disdain rule-making bureaucrats. We know that income inequality by itself is not what makes people unhappy, and that only earned success can make them happy.

We must do more to show that while we use the language of commerce and business, we believe in human flourishing and contentment. We must articulate moral principles that set forth our fundamental values, and we must be prepared to defend them.

This defense is already underway, in a disorganized, grass-roots, American kind of way. Protests against the new statism have flared around the nation for more than a year. And while some have tried to dismiss the "tea party" demonstrations and the town hall protests of last summer as the work of extremists, ignorant backwoodsmen or agents of the health-care industry, these movements reveal much about the culture war that is underway.

Just compare the protests in America with those in Europe. Here, we see tea partiers demonstrating against the government's encroachment on the free enterprise system and protesting the fact that the state is spending too much money bailing out too many people. Why are people protesting in Greece? Because they want the government to give them even more. They are angry because their government -- in the face of its worst economic and perhaps existential crisis in decades -- won't pay the lavish pensions to which they feel entitled. There's no better example of the cultural difference between America and Europe today, yet it is toward European-style social democracy that the 30 percent coalition wants to move us.

Fortunately, it is hard to dismiss the voice of the voters in some of our most recent electoral contests. Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat from Massachusetts in January by declaring himself not an apparatchik Republican but a moral enthusiast for markets. "What made America great?" he asked. "Free markets, free enterprise, manufacturing, job creation. That's how we're gonna do it, not by enlarging government." His cultural pitch for free enterprise hit just the right chord, even in liberal Massachusetts. It struck at the heart of the 30 percent coalition's agenda for America.

Brown's victory -- and Rand Paul's triumph in Kentucky's Republican Senate primary last week, for that matter -- are but warning shots in the burgeoning culture war. The most intense battles are still ahead.

To win, the 70 percent majority must come together around core principles: that the purpose of free enterprise is human flourishing, not materialism; that we stand for equality of opportunity, not equality of income; that we seek to stimulate true prosperity rather than simply treat poverty; and that we believe in principle over power.

This final idea is particularly challenging. In Washington, a lot of people think they know how to win. They say what is needed are telegenic candidates, dirty tricks and lots of campaign money. To them, thinking long-term means thinking all the way to 2012. In other words, they talk only of tactics, parties and power.

They are wrong. What matters most to Americans is the commitment to principle, not the exercise of power. The electorate did not repudiate free enterprise in 2008; it simply punished an unprincipled Republican Party.

But political turmoil can lead to renewal, and the challenges of this new culture war can help us mobilize and reassert our principles. The 2008 election was perhaps exactly what America needed. Today there is a very real threat that the 30 percent coalition may transform our great nation forever. I hope this threat will clear our thinking enough to bring forth leaders -- regardless of political party -- with our principles at heart and the ideas to match. If free enterprise triumphs over the quest for political power, America will be the stronger for it.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and the author of "The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future."

The feral vanguard

From Doctor Zero at Hot Air:

In “The Necessary Enemy,” one of the first posts I wrote for Hot Air over a year ago, I made this point about the violent and desperate nature of socialism:

Increasing levels of coercion are necessary to expand the socialist system, and keep wealth producers trapped within it. To maintain popular support, the socialist needs voters to stay angry at designated class enemies. The Obama style of total government control over private businesses tends to turn feral with frightening speed, because it attempts to preserve the illusion of private enterprise, even as the “entrepreneurs” are enslaved to the total state.
The SEIU thugs laying siege to the home of a Bank of America executive are a demonstration of this principle. So are the rioters in Greece, who have degenerated to murdering bank employees, instead of merely terrorizing them.

You might object that the SEIU goons weren’t representatives of the State, while the Greek rioters are supposedly an “anti-government” mob. The truth is that American labor unions, and angry Greek pensioners, have become de facto arms of the State. They are the feral vanguard of a collapsing system, using violence and intimidation to make it clear those not favorably connected to the political power structure will be sacrificed to preserve it, for as long as possible. As Mark Steyn says about those “anti-government” rioters in Athens:

They were not an “anti-government” mob, but a government mob, a mob comprised largely of civil servants. That they are highly uncivil and disinclined to serve should come as no surprise: they’re paid more and they retire earlier, and that’s how they want to keep it. So they’re objecting to austerity measures that would end, for example, the tradition of 14 monthly paycheques per annum. You read that right: the Greek public sector cannot be bound by anything so humdrum as temporal reality. So, when it was mooted that the “workers” might henceforth receive a mere 12 monthly paycheques per annum, they rioted. Their hapless victims—a man and two women—were a trio of clerks trapped in a bank when the mob set it alight and then obstructed emergency crews attempting to rescue them.
Remember Barack Obama’s infamous conversation with Joe the Plumber, in which he said, “It’s not that I want to punish your success; I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you that they’ve got a chance to success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody?” This was not merely a watery expression of Marxist principles. It was a damnable lie. Obama has no intention of spreading wealth around for the good of everybody. His objective is to transfer your wealth to the SEIU and other powerful collective organizations, to fund their lavish benefits. He even bought a car company as a gift to the United Auto Workers. The American taxpayer has pumped over $17 billion into GMAC, so it can continue to provide the UAW with wages and benefits far beyond anything those taxpayers enjoy… a wealth transfer hidden behind shell games and media manipulation.

This system has nothing to do with the people “behind you.” It’s all about satisfying people who already have gold-plated retirement plans and Cadillac health care, in exchange for their political support. Some of the most ridiculous benefit plans belong to government employee unions, which means the government is taxing the hell out of the private sector to pay itself to vote for itself. Vast sums are also plowed into subsidies for well-connected businesses, and welfare programs which have dangerously eroded the human capital we prize as our most precious resource.

Virtually every subsidy is an expensive attempt to reverse market forces, and undo the will of the American consumer. A nation which pours its gross domestic product into entitlements and subsidies is essentially trying to short-circuit itself. It will eventually succeed.

It’s imperative for the American people to understand this is the inevitableresult of collectivist economics. Political control of the marketplace always degenerates into the political class robbing independent citizens and unpopular industries, to maintain the support of indentured constituents. Packaged votes and bundled political donations, from loyal and motivated groups, are a far easier route to power than somehow keeping the majority of the country happy – a goal that always eludes socialism, because compulsion and ideology make poor substitutes for ambition and innovation.

That explains why socialism is miserable. It turns feral because it always makes promises it cannot keep, and the primary skill of a successful politician is the ability to avoid responsibility. As of this writing, it remains the official position of the Democrat Party that not a single one of its members bears any responsibility for the subprime mortgage crisis. Dodd, Frank, and Obama swam in millions of dollars of campaign donations and graft. They blocked audits of Fannie Mae, and gave speeches assuring the country that it was completely solvent. They greeted any suggestion of reform or oversight with furious accusations of greed and racism. None of them have been punished. In fact, they all enjoy more power than ever today, although Dodd’s time is running out.

When these politicians insist they bear no responsibility for the disasters they have engineered, or the failure of their policies, their loyal supporters believe them. The hunt for the “true” villains predictably follows. The authors of the deficit time bomb will never admit they made impossible promises, or knowingly sold out future generations to acquire immediate power. They knew ObamaCare was a ridiculous fraud – their house organ, theNew York Times, recently told Greece it should privatize health care to bring down costs. The socialists will never accept responsibility for the system beginning to crash down around them… not while they can designate fall guys for their supporters to hate.

Desperation ignites hatred into violence. The American middle class holds the power to write a different ending than the fiery death spiral twisting through the streets of Athens. That fate is only inevitable if we listen to the people who tell us we don’t have any other choices. We are a nation blessed with millions of clever minds, willing hands, and radiant hearts. There’s no problem we cannot solve, once we dismantle the failed State telling us it’s illegal to try. We can work together as free men and women, or depend on the State to loot individuals for the benefit of the collective, until they have nothing worth stealing. There are no other choices. There never were.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul's Victory, Arlen Specter's Defeat, and the Quest for Authenticity

From Walter Shapiro at  Politics Daily:

Voter rage is the reigning cliché emerging from Tea Party favorite Rand Paul's lopsided victory over establishment candidate Trey Grayson in the Kentucky GOP Senate primary. Coupled with the Pennsylvania primary defeat of Arlen Specter -- a very new Democrat but a very old senator -- the Kentucky results suggest that voters are getting ready to storm the castles of power, wielding hoes and pitchforks.

Forgive me from deviating from press-pack orthodoxy, but after covering the Kentucky Senate race, I just do not see things in those monochromatic terms. Paul's campaign speeches avoid the overheated denunciations of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi that are a staple of Republican rhetoric and lack the exaggerated comparisons to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela that are part of Glenn Beck's chalkboard shtick.

An eye surgeon in civilian life, Rand Paul is trying to peddle authenticity along with his dire warnings about federal spending and the national debt. "The one thing about my campaign is that I am not afraid to be not elected," Paul declared as he brandished double negatives at his final pre-primary rally in Bowling Green. "That's what it's going to take: Someone who will tell the truth." (my emphasis-SP)

An occupational hazard of on-the-road political reporting is noticing only what you expect to see. (Many TV pundits solve this problem by limiting their campaign travels to the few steps between the green room and the set). After hearing the venom during Tea Party protests in Washington, I was braced to walk a mile through the bile among the crowd at Rand Paul rallies. The problem is -- and maybe I was looking the wrong way or interviewing the wrong people -- I failed to pick up any comments harsher than the weather commentary on Fox News.

What I did detect was an undercurrent of frustration with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the dominant string-puller in Kentucky Republican politics since the mid-1990s. It was McConnell who shoved hapless Republican incumbent Jim Bunning out of the Senate race in favor of Trey Grayson, the Kentucky secretary of state and, until Tuesday, the GOP's leading young man in a hurry. Cynical maneuvers like these leave scars. As Louisville attorney and a conservative activist Jim Milliman said before the primary: "Trey Grayson talks in platitudes. I think McConnell tells him what to say."

It is easy to combine Kentucky with Specter's defeat (and the failure of Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln to avoid a run-off election) to produce the front-page headline in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal: "Primary Voters Rebuke Parties." But this shorthand (and I do not envy headline writers on deadline) fails to capture what voters in both parties are actually rebelling against. What has been happening in American politics beginning with last November's elections is something more subtle and (surprise!) more hopeful than irrational anger against all incumbents and elites.

The bipartisan voter rebellion is against political cynicism and entitlement. (my emphasis-SP)Think of Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, whose 30-year Senate career has been a tribute to weather vane verities of self-preservation. When Specter's seniority and Judiciary Committee chairmanship were in jeopardy under George W. Bush, this legendary survivor (until Tuesday) was a loyal Republican. When he calculated he could not win a GOP primary, Specter abruptly became a loyal Democrat last year. About the only enduring principle of Specter's chameleon career is that when he makes a political deal with an incumbent president (Bush or Obama), he stays bought.

Obama's embrace of Specter (and his promises of primary support and fundraising help) set the president up for an embarrassing rebuke when Joe Sestak won Tuesday's primary. The White House undoubtedly justifies its Faustian bargain with Specter as a small price to pay for a desperately needed Senate vote. But while the Washington political community respects the cleverness of Rahm Emanuel-style gamesmanship, voters tend to view such soulless maneuvers (like the flagrant Nebraska Medicaid kickback needed to pass health care reform) as a symbol of Obama's hypocrisy.

Obama's filibuster-proof Senate majority (and the importance of Specter's vote) evaporated in January when Democrat Martha Coakley lost Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to Scott Brown. While other factors contributed to Coakley's humiliation at the polls, her strategy was built around an ill-concealed disdain for ordinary voters. As the Boston Globe wrote about Coakley a week before the election, "Aware that she has little time for the hand-shaking and baby-kissing of a standard political campaign, she has focused instead on rallying key political leaders, Democratic activists and union organizers" That was the article in which Coakley sealed her doom -- and underscored her sense of entitlement -- by recoiling at the thought of wasting time talking to ordinary voters: "Standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?"

Last November's elections were so carefully parsed for partisan meaning that few noticed how cynicism struck out. In a Republican battle in upstate New York that offered an early preview of the Kentucky Senate race, Conservative Party challenger Doug Hoffman -- an early Tea Party favorite -- forced moderate GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava out of the race for a vacant House seat. (Scozzafava endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, who beat Hoffman). A major theme of Hoffman's challenge to Scozzafava was that she had been cynically selected by a cabal of GOP county chairman who thought that a centrist was more likely to win the seat than a conservative.

In New Jersey, unpopular Gov. Jon Corzine, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, tried and failed to use his Wall Street wealth to bury Republican Chris Christie under an avalanche of attack ads (including one that charged the hefty GOP candidate with "throwing his weight around"). And across the Hudson River, New York's billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who had shredded the city's term limits law to retain power, won re-election by only 50,000 votes, even though he outspent his near-invisible Democratic challenger by $100 million.

The hopeful message buried in all these election returns is that voters are tired of being toyed with. The problems afflicting America are too grave to tolerate the cynical, cling-to-power-at-all-costs cynicism of Arlen Specter and other Capitol Hill Machiavellis. The choices voters make in their desperate quest for authenticity are not always wise or well grounded in reality. But politicians and pundits -- obsessively calculating partisan advantage like Scrooge counted shillings -- will ignore at their own peril the stirrings of idealism among voters in both parties.
(my emphasis-SP)

Calderon blasts Arizona immigration law, seeks assault weapons ban

From CNN:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressed two of America's most contentious political issues during a speech to the U.S. Congress Thursday, asking for a return of the assault weapons ban and blasting Arizona's controversial new immigration law as a "terrible" endorsement of racial profiling.

So Obama has found another surrogate to lead the way on an issue that he and the Dems don't want to lead on!!  Just like the SEIU thing s that demostrated on the lawn of the Bank of America exec yeterday.  Get ready for the Admisnitration types like Daveid Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel to start beating the gun control drum!!  Just another reason to GET INVOLVED in this year's political process. - SP

The Republican Party's biggest enemy: itself

From Politico:

Political history and the mood of the electorate would seem to indicate Democrats are on their way to significant losses this fall.

But they may have some help mitigating the damage from an unwitting ally — the Republicans.

The GOP is wrestling with a series of challenges, some familiar and some new, that could dampen the party’s prospects for recapturing Congress this November.

All were on vivid display Tuesday.

In the Kentucky Senate primary, the weakness of the party’s national leadership and the double-edged nature of the tea party movement were revealed in full measure as the candidate tapped by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the father of the modern Kentucky GOP, couldn’t come within 20 points of Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning political outsider who won’t even commit to supporting McConnell for leader.

And while Paul’s romp speaks to the energy GOP candidates can derive from tapping into the tea party movement, the quickness with which Democrats pounced on the GOP nominee’s positions on, for example, eliminating the Department of Education and ending farm subsidies illustrates the political risk Republicans take in nominating ideological purists.

In the Pennsylvania special election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha, Republicans proved that they haven’t yet determined how to win in the sort of districts they’ll need to carry to take back the majority. Paint-by-numbers attacks on Democrats as water carriers for President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t cut it if the opposition doesn’t have actual ties or a record connecting the candidate to the party’s national leadership. It’s as ineffectual as the most recent Democratic efforts to link Republicans to former President George W. Bush. If there’s no predicate laid and if the accused candidate can believably dismiss the charge as political hyperbole, voters won’t buy it.

The GOP also has yet to find a satisfactory answer to the following question: Why should voters return the keys to Congress to them when Republicans don’t seem to have learned their lesson from 2006 when it comes to scandal? Rep. Mark Souder’s admission Tuesday that he had an affair with a staffer makes him only the latest family values-preaching Republican to practice adultery. At least Souder resigned immediately — Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and David Vitter of Louisiana, not to mention South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, remain in office, reminding voters about Republican hypocrisy when it comes to sex.

Publicly, congressional Republicans downplayed concerns about Tuesday’s results and reiterated that they were optimistic about this fall. But there is plainly some worry about how the party is approaching what should be a fruitful election cycle and, in the wake of the 8-point Pennsylvania House loss, exactly how resources should be directed.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, standing just feet from House Minority Leader John Boehner at a news conference Wednesday, took a barely veiled shot at the leader’s recent ramping up of expectations for November.

“I think the message for us as Republicans in the House is we cannot let ourselves get ahead of ourselves,” Cantor said. “There is certainly a business in this town; many people want to predict how many seats that we take back in November. I do think that we will reclaim the majority, but last night is evidence of the fact that we’ve got a lot of work to do and we just can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, said he wasn’t discouraged by the Pennsylvania loss.

But he spoke for others in the House GOP Conference when he expressed regret over just how high the stakes had gotten in the contest for a seat held by a Democrat for 36 years.

“It snowballed into an expectations game that got out of hand,” Cole said.

Of the ads, he said: “It’s always dangerous when you try to do cookie-cutter stuff.”

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is in charge of candidate recruitment for the NRCC, conceded that the $1 million-plus spent on the Pennsylvania special wasn’t well-spent.

“That’s a couple different things we’re going to have to analyze, because why does the polling show that we were close the whole time and then it not be close on election night?” McCarthy said on ABC’s “Top Line” program. “That’s a mistake on our part; that’s a mistake on our investment that we have to make a correction to.”

He said the commitee would “audit” its effort in the old Murtha seat.

Other Republicans, both inside and outside the Capitol, were as candid in acknowledging that they haven’t yet found the formula for victory.

“It is a wake-up call that we need to do better,” Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake said of the Pennsylvania results. “I still think it’s going to be a big year; the wind is blowing in our favor, but it’s a wake-up call.”

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz criticized the quality of the GOP’s campaign in the old Murtha district.

“You need to have a good grass-roots coalition. They didn’t,” Chaffetz said of Republican Tim Burns’s effort, adding: “30-second ads don’t win Republicans elections.”

Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who is running for governor, said that even though the environment may be in the GOP’s favor, the party still had to work to undo the damage done from its most recent time in the majority.

“Republicans still have to go out and earn that vote,” said Hoekstra. “They have to admit some mistakes from the past, and then we will have the opportunity to earn the right to lead again.”

What gave many Republicans comfort was that the Pennsylvania contest took place on the same day as the state’s high-profile Democratic Senate primary.

“There were many Democrats anxious to get to the polls to vote against [Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen] Specter,” Cole said, calling the special election “Arlen’s last revenge on us.”

But senior GOP strategists acknowledged that the loss in Pennsylvania had slowed, though not halted, the party’s momentum since Scott Brown’s Senate victory in January.

“Clearly, Democrats got a shot in the arm in terms of morale: They won a special they were worried about,” said former Minnesota GOP Rep. Vin Weber. “Their candidates learned they can take positions to separate themselves from Obama and Pelosi — and it appears to work.”

Republicans were pleased to see Souder quickly resign and happy to note that Democrats have had their share of scandal, but the Indiana congressman’s affair — which was accompanied by a damning video that was widely circulated on the Internet — was an aggravating reminder of one of the reasons they originally lost the majority.

“It does remind people of what happened to us in ’06,” Weber said.

Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and an influential voice in conservative circles, said the Pennsylvania special was “a reminder that candidates matter and consultants matter.”

The party committees and strategists overseeing races this year had to be careful about running “too conventional campaigns,” he said.

As for Kentucky, Kristol said Paul did amount to a risk but was also equivalent to Oliver North in the 1994 Virginia Senate race or Jeff Bell in the 1978 New Jersey Senate race: candidates who were not able to win general elections but represented a grass-roots fervor among conservatives that was important for the greater cause.

“When you get a lot of grass-roots excitement, you get some [primary] outcomes that if you were king of the world, you wouldn’t arrange,” Kristol said.

Overall, though, both Kristol and Weber said there was no cause for alarm.

“The Republican Party was in horrible shape in 2006 and 2008, and it hasn’t gone overnight into being a juggernaut,” he said. “There will be bumps and setbacks, but they’re in pretty good shape.”

Weber acknowledged that Tuesday had resulted in some shaken confidence.

“They’re disappointed and trying to figure out what they could have done differently,” he said of House GOP leaders. “But there’s still a lot of optimism. Control is still possible.”

But is it probable?

“I wouldn’t tilt that either way,” Weber shot back.

Wall Street "Reform" Just More Crony Capitalism

From Rep. Paul Ryan at RealClearPolitics:

Democrats are nervous. Really nervous. They would like nothing more than to turn the page on their health care takeover, taxpayer-funded bailouts, reckless spending, and exploding debt. In the face of fierce political headwinds, the party running Washington is making an effort to advance its ideology at all costs.

Financial regulatory reform, the thinking goes, provides Democrats an issue where the politics finally align with the Left's policy preferences. Republicans, they believe, can be walked into a convenient political trap by opposing what Democrats call "Wall Street reform." President Obama has mastered the art of bank populism, premised on class warfare, by tapping into powerful emotions of envy, anger, and fear.

From an ideological perspective, big government can combine with big business to advance a more progressivist society. For self-described "progressives," the agenda is straightforward: expand government; co-opt big business; direct the capital markets from Washington to pursue "social justice." Think Fannie and Freddie by much higher orders of magnitude.

Over the past decade, the thinking has been much less clear for conservatives. Being "pro-market" has been fundamentally confused with "pro-business." Conservatives who came to Congress to defend and promote free enterprise have often been led to believe that pathway lies in bolstering established firms as they navigate the maze of government regulations and taxes. These instincts are correct, but the implementation is often flawed. All too often, the results of these efforts have been to exacerbate crony capitalism - erecting barriers to entry against potential competitors to firms that are currently on top.

For their part, companies seeking such protection have a right to pursue their narrow self-interest; but when these actions involve reducing open competition and transparency for short term gain, they do so to the detriment of the very free enterprise system that made their success possible.

Republicans, who profess their zeal for democratic capitalism as the greatest source of human flourishing, all too often have aided the "kings of industry" in pulling the drawbridge up after they've taken the castle. Conservatives must recover the fundamentals of what is needed to defend the free enterprise system. We can begin by rejecting the current financial regulatory overhaul moving through Congress, and by offering alternatives that apply the essential principles that form a true free enterprise system.

The financial regulatory overhaul is not reform. Its fundamental architecture expands and centralizes power in Washington, doubling down on the root causes of the 2008 crisis. It is based on a vision that government can foresee future crises and avert them, despite the fact that an army of regulators never saw the most recent crisis coming.

The complex array of new councils, agencies, and bureaucracies creates endless channels for crony capitalists to penetrate. A financial system that once thrived on entrepreneurial risk and low barriers to entry for investment will now deny admittance to everyone except those sophisticated enough, connected enough, and flush enough with campaign contributions to do business with government and pay the price of entry.

Institutions deemed "too-small-to-succeed" would not be afforded the explicit protections given to the largest firms, resulting in higher borrowing costs and higher hurdles to succeed relative to their well-connected competitors. Unprecedented authority over the operations of financial institutions would be vested in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC would be authorized to seize risky financial institutions if a council of regulators, chaired by the Treasury Secretary, believes a company is in danger of default and poses systemic risk. Once a company has been seized, the FDIC oversees its entire resolution process, including restructuring the order of creditor obligations - serving as creditor, manager, and referee.

Conflicts of interest will inevitably arise on how to treat creditors of failed firms, and increasingly, what were once economic decisions will now be political decisions. Dispelling the market discipline of our profit -and -loss free enterprise system, collusion between government bureaucrats and their private-sector counterparts will determine winners and losers.

Despite roughly 1400 pages of text in the legislation, the destructive role of the government-backed housing giants remains a glaring omission. Enabled by Congress, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac wrought havoc on the housing market and remain on operational life support as taxpayers subsidize their failure. After their leading role in the sub-prime mortgage crisis, they've received $145 billion in taxpayer dollars, with no limit to additional funding. Fannie and Freddie demonstrate just how big federally blessed and guaranteed businesses can grow - and just how hard they can fall.

A number of key corrections to mitigate crony capitalism's destruction have been rejected throughout the Senate debate. Senator John McCain, for example, offered an amendment to end the privatized profit/socialized loss model of Fannie and Freddie, phasing out costly taxpayer subsidies. House Republicans have also put forth serious reforms for Fannie and Freddie, as part of our larger financial reform alternative - despite being shut out of the process in House.

There is no shortage of innovative alternatives to the heavy-handed government approach making its way through Congress - alternatives that make the distinction between "pro-market" and "pro-business." Although a bold departure from the status quo, a proposal put forth by Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff calls for banks to stick to their fundamental purpose of financial intermediation rather than taking on the excessive risks with no strings attached that have lead to taxpayer-funded bailouts. Real reform must decouple America's economic well-being from the fate of a select few financial firms.

Another approach, one that works within the current financial framework, has been offered by Oliver Hart of Harvard University and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago. Their proposal addresses the "too-big-to-fail" question through the use of a market-based trigger that tells firms when to beef up capital. This approach is aimed to better balance "the need to curb reckless risk-taking...while making sure not to unduly constrain economic activity, investment and growth."

Failure to reform the system poses clear risks, but the frenzied push to score a legislative victory prior to the November midterms with a deeply flawed bill poses greater risk. A good-faith reform effort should not continue indefinitely, but the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, for example, has been essentially cast aside by the very same Congress that tasked the commission to investigate the crisis and issue its report later this year. The Democratic leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have opted to rush a bill into law, putting ideological goals and campaign strategy ahead of underlying catalysts for real reform.

The federal government has a critical role in helping ensure financial markets are fair and transparent, and holding accountable those that violate the rules. Reform should aim to restore the principles that have made credit available to American families and entrepreneurs and our capital markets the envy of the world: freedom to participate, an unbreakable link between performance and reward, continued attachment to risk, and a sense of responsibility that ensures those who seek to reap the gains also bear the full risks of losses.

For millions of American families, the real pain from the past financial crisis can still be felt. The financial services sector needs reform - yet the overhaul before Congress exacerbates the worst aspects of today's system. Washington is attempting to solve every problem with greater government control, and higher spending, taxes, and record levels of debt - breathing new life into crony capitalism across our economy.

Paul Ryan represents Wisconsin's First Congressional District and serves as Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee.