As Ronald Reagan famously said, “There you go again.”
Of course, Reagan was blaming Jimmy Carter for launching false attacks during a debate. And that line was so effective, it not only helped Reagan win the debate, but a presidential election that would change American history.
But “there you go again” can apply equally to President Obama. Once again this week, the president was out on the campaign trail bashing and oil and gas companies. And he continued to spread major falsehoods about this industry, which I guess is the polite way to put it.
Obama is obsessed with oil and gas. He is a prisoner of the left-wing environmental groups. And really, he’s extending his leftist class-warfare attack from rich people to successful oil and gas producers.
What seems to have Obama especially steamed is the fact that the conventional-energy companies are profitable. Especially the five largest. So he wants to tax them. He then wants to redistribute their income to his favorite green-energy firms. Sound familiar? I don’t know which is more important to the president -- the fact that he hates fossil fuel or the fact that he hates success. Or that he wants an energy-entitlement state.
But here’s what I do know, factually.
Oil companies have an effective corporate tax rate well above 40 percent. And they operate within one of the highest-taxed industries in America. According to the Tax Foundation, for more than 25 years, oil and gas companies have sent more tax dollars to Washington and state capitals than they earned in profits. That’s a fact.
Single-handedly, oil and gas companies finance over 10 percent of non-defense discretionary spending within the U.S. budget. According to The Wall Street Journal, ExxonMobil, the world’s largest energy firm, paid out $59 billion in total U.S. taxes over the five years prior to 2010 while earning only $40.5 billion in domestic profits.
And Obama wants to raise taxes on conventional-energy firms by somewhere between $40 billion and $80 billion? Whatever happened to the supply-side principle that if you tax something more, you get less of it?
But with gasoline prices headed towards $5 a gallon, and with oil prices over $100 a barrel, virtually the whole country outside of the White House wants more oil, more retail gas for the pump and more energy supplies everywhere in order to bring prices down. Raising taxes won’t do it.
Make no mistake about it: Fossil fuel is going to drive the American economy for decades to come. Green energy is not.
Obama’s other line of attack is that oil companies shouldn’t get any subsidies. They made too much money for that. Well, I’m against oil subsidies. There’s about $90 billion worth in the federal budget. Better to end them, slash corporate tax rates across the board and let the free market decide energy policy and production.
But on the subject of subsidies, so-called renewable-energy subsidies (think Solyndra) are 49-times greater than fossil-fuel subsidies, according to studies by the Congressional Research Service. And the Congressional Budget Office says renewable green energy received 68 percent of energy-related tax preferences in fiscal year 2011, while fossil fuels got only 15 percent. Additionally, oil, natural gas and coal received 64 cents per megawatt hour in subsidies, while wind power alone received $56.29 per megawatt hour. That’s nearly 100-times what fossil fuels got.
By the way, the so-called subsidies that Obama is talking about are really depreciation write-offs for investment. Oil companies get a 6 percent deduction from income. Most manufacturing industries get 9 percent. And every company in the economy is eligible for faster investment write-offs.
Frankly, the most pro-growth corporate-tax policy would be 100 percent cash-expensing for new investment, a slashed corporate tax rate, and no more subsidies, preferences and carve-outs. That would be an unbelievable job-creator.
But President Obama is too busy spewing falsehoods to support his ideological agenda than to take account of the facts. And while he’s at it, one of the greatest, pro-growth revolutions ever is taking place right under his nose. It’s the oil and gas shale miracle, which if left unfettered will turn America and Canada into an energy-independent New Middle East inside of 10 years.
In fact, the collapse of natural-gas prices brought on by this revolution could become one of the biggest tax cuts for the economy in history, making all our industries vastly more competitive, revolutionizing transportation and providing more consumer real income at home.
Obama should quit the demagoguery, stop bashing oil and gas, stop taxing success and let our ingenious, creative, free-enterprise private economy spur America to a new generation of prosperity.
Hoping to spend the week sliming Paul Ryan and screeching about the mythical Republican “war on women,” the Democrats instead have been set back as the news cycle spun out of their control. Foreign policy, health care, and energy have forced them into a defensive crouch. No wonder I’m in such a good mood.
David Axelrod most likely is not. He must have wished he could go back to bed on the morning of Mar. 26, when news broke of President Obama’s “hot mic” moment at the security summit in South Korea. ABC News had caught the president telling Putin stooge Dmitri Medvedev that he needed the Russian dictator to give him “space” on issues such as missile defense until after “my last election,” at which time he will have “more flexibility.” Medvedev nodded sympathetically throughout the conversation and said, in his best General Orlov imitation, “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.” All that was missing from the ridiculous exchange were fulminations over “moose and squirrel.”
The president embarrassed himself. Not only did Obama give us a glimpse of his backwards statesmanship, in which “diplomacy” involves telling a corrupt strongman that electoral concerns prevent him from further accommodation. He also reminded Republicans and independents of the high stakes in 2012. What would be the results, not a few conservatives wonder, if the president had all the “flexibility” he desires?
As it happened, the hot microphone mess was the least of the president’s troubles. The gaffe was still in the news when oral arguments over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act began at the Supreme Court. The first day of proceedings concerned whether the Court could rule on the law at all since the individual mandate will not be enforced until 2014. But even those arguments went poorly for the administration and its hapless solicitor general, Donald Verrilli Jr., who was unable to explain how the mandate could be a “penalty” one day and a “tax” the next day.
Yet the liberal panic did not truly begin until Mar. 27, when the Court heard arguments over the mandate’s constitutionality and even the president’s most hardened supporters had to acknowledge his signature policy was in trouble. No sooner had the proceedings concluded than a hysterical Jeffrey Toobin fled the courtroom, screaming that Obamacare was in “grave, grave” condition. The flimsiness of the administration’s arguments had transformed Toobin into a Henny Penny in drag, running around Capitol Hill and warning his fellow liberals that the Court could overrule Obamacare in “one big package” and that at the very least the mandate is “doomed.”
The administration and its friends in the media found themselves in a truly helpless position. If Toobin is proven right and the Court overrules Obamacare in part or in whole, Republicans will pounce, the president will look like a loser, and Democrats will be both demoralized and radicalized (not a winning combination). If Toobin is proven wrong, however, he will look like an idiot, Republicans and Tea Party activists will mobilize for the fall, and Democrats still will have to defend an unpopular law whose consequences grow worse with each passing minute.
The liberal reaction to this dilemma has been a predictable combination of spin and scapegoating. The noted legal mind Chuck Todd, who seems to have missed the class on Marbury v. Madison, asked guests on his show whether a Court decision against the health care overhaul might not be an unprecedented intrusion of one branch of government over the elected branches. Meanwhile, James Carville and Harry Reid lamely suggested an anti-Obamacare ruling would be good for the president and his party. The White House was reduced to using Newspeak, referring to the mandate as the “personal responsibility clause.”
It was Verrilli, however, who bore the brunt of the blow. After transcripts and audio of the arguments revealed little difference between his platform and that of a former Miss Teen South Carolina, left-of-center talking heads likened the longtime attorney to Bill Buckner and a clueless actor in a fifth-grade play. Mike Barnicle suggested that the administration would have been better off sending in Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini to argue the case.
None of the commentators who hurled these insults dared to ask whether they might have done any better. They probably could not have improved on Verrilli’s performance for the simple reason that the arguments for the constitutionality of the federal health insurance mandate are weak. So it goes: Whenever liberals are dealt a setback, as has happened repeatedly during the last three years, they blame their defeat on a lack of message. Once again, they have failed to realize that the marketing is not the problem. The problem is what they are selling.
As a possible anti-Obamacare majority was forming inside the Supreme Court chambers, the magnitude of this week’s Democratic rout was becoming apparent across First Street. Senate Democrats had hoped to spend the last few days before Easter Recess reminding Americans that Republicans are the protectors of those horrible, greedy oil companies. To that end Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Dick Durbin had Bob Menendez introduce a bill eliminating tax breaks for carbon energy producers and replacing them with tax breaks for green energy companies. The Democratic leadership had expected the Republican caucus to block debate on the Menendez proposal, handing liberals and the White House a tactical victory.
This is your Democratic-controlled Senate at work: No budget in three years but plenty of votes to score partisan points. What the oaf from Nevada had not anticipated, however, was that Republican leader Mitch McConnell would allow debate on the bill, thereby providing the Senate GOP an opening to blame Obama’s anti-drilling policies for high gas prices. The Menendez proposal went down in the end as expected, but not before Republicans turned the tables on Democrats.
The week ends, then, with the Democrats in disarray as a result of the president’s gaffe, unanticipated trouble at the Court, and shrewd maneuvering by McConnell. Having spent most of 2012 under fire for the mind-numbing Republican primary and for not properly appreciating Sandra Fluke’s unique contributions to society, this was the first good news cycle for conservatives in a long time. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts. Rarely do politics get better than this. Though they might on Nov. 6.
()()() And he did not even mention that the "racist" killer of Trayvon Martin turned out to be a Hispanic-American Democrat
This week has really reminded me of Election Day 2004. Liberals, then, were just plain convinced John Kerry was going to be elected president, so much so Bob Shrum actually called Kerry, “Mr. President.” The left had convinced itself Bush was unpopular, Kerry had closed the deal, andeverything was swinging his way in the final week. So, when the early, unweighted exit polls came up Tuesday afternoon, they were exuberant.
I imagine a lot of liberals felt a similar letdown reading the transcript of Tuesday’s debate on Obamacare. Almost immediately Justices Scalia and Kennedy jump in with tough questions, with the latter quickly getting to the heart of the matter: “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?”
The Court might very well uphold the law, but it will not nearly be the slamdunk that almost all liberals thought it would be. Why did the left get it so wrong?
It’s important to keep in mind that the concept of governmental limits is something that many liberals do not accept, at least not beyond the Bill of Rights (minus the 2nd and 10th Amendments, of course!). For a century, the progressive/liberal attitude has been: we want to make things better, so why are you bothering us with these antiquated notions of enumerated powers and federalism? Or, as Justice Kagan put it today:
The Federal government is here saying, we are giving you a boatload of money. There are no -- there's no matching funds requirement, there are no extraneous conditions attached to it, it's just a boatload of Federal money for you to take and spend on poor people's healthcare. It doesn't sound coercive to me, I have to tell you.
Of course, not everybody sees things this way. There are a substantial number of people – conservatives – who raise a skeptical eyebrow whenever a person in a gray suit knocks on the door and says, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
The problem for the left is that they do not have a lot of interaction with conservatives, whose intellects are often disparaged, ideas are openly mocked, and intentions regularly questioned. Conservative ideas rarely make it onto the pages of most middle- and high-brow publications of news and opinion the left frequents. So, liberals regularly find themselves surprised when their ideas face pushback.
I think that is exactly what happened with Obamacare. The attitude of President Obama (a former con law lecturer at the University of Chicago, no less!), Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid was very much that they are doing big, important things to help the American people, why wouldn’t that be constitutional? No less an important Democratic leader as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee cited the (nonexistent) “good and welfare clause” to justify the mandate.
Having no intellectual sympathy for the conservative criticism of this view, they rarely encountered it on the news programs they watch, the newspapers they read every day, or the journals they peruse over the weekends. Instead, they encountered a steady drumbeat of fellow liberals echoing Kagan’s attitude: it’s a boatload of money, what the heck is the problem?
Then, insofar as they encountered conservative pushback, they mostly ignored it.
They mostly ignored the cases from the 1990s – namely Morrison and Lopez – where the Supreme Court put limits on what Congress could do under the Commerce clause. Insofar as they did pay attention to these cases, it was only to insist that they did not apply to Obamacare. They never stopped to think that maybe the lesson of Morrison and Lopez is that the conservatives on the Court took seriously the idea of enumerated (and therefore limited) powers, and so maybe a novel device like an individual mandate would not be a slam dunk for a Court that now has a 5-4 conservative bent.
They also ignored a 2009 report from the Congressional Research Service report that warned:
One could argue…whether a requirement to purchase health insurance is really a regulation of an economic activity or enterprise, if individuals who would be required to purchase health insurance are not, but for this regulation, a part of the health insurance market…This is a novel issue: whether Congress can use its Commerce Clause authority to require a person to buy a good or a service and whether this type of required participation can be considered economic activity.
They also ignored the 11th Circuit Court decision that struck down Obamacare with a carefully constructed, 300-page decision that won the endorsement of a Clinton appointee.
They preferred to cite the 6th Circuit’s upholding of the bill, in particular conservative Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s concurrence, but they ignored his many exhortations to the Supreme Court to bring some clarity to the Commerce Clause, to set some limits to congressional power (by, for instance, striking down the law) or quit saying there are limits. They did the same when the D.C. Circuit upheld the law, and Judge Laurence Silberman similarly suggested that this was a matter ultimately for the Supreme Court to issue some guidance..
So that is why the left was so surprised. They have no intellectual sympathy for the positions articulated by the conservatives on the Supreme Court. Those opinions rarely if ever make it into their news reports, newspapers, or magazines, and insofar as they were confronted with these contrary views they just ignored them.
Did you know Che Guevara was at heart an Irish freedom fighter?
What does an Argentine-born Cuban Communist revolutionary executed in the Bolivian jungle 45 years ago have in common with a small town on Ireland's west coast? Apart from tenuous ancestral connections, the answer is nothing. Recent attempts, however, to manufacture such an association have provided yet another illustration of the left's on-going determination to whitewash history.
In February this year, Galway City Council announced plans to build a statute of Che Guevara to "honor one of its own" (one of Che 's grandmothers was born in Galway). It wasn't long, however, before several Irish business leaders, journalists, and eventually the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee vented their outrage about the council's decision. Why, they asked, would Galway erect a monument to someone who had personally killed several people without even the pretense of trials? Why would they honor a man who oversaw one of the Castro regime's most brutal periods of oppression -- including arbitrary imprisonments and summary executions?
The Irish left's initial reaction was to deny these facts and launch ad hominem attacks. When that failed, they produced extraordinary rationalizations which bordered on the absurd. One columnist, for example, wrote: "Yes, Che was ruthless and fanatical and sometimes murderous. But was he a murderer? No, not in the sense of a serial killer or gangland assassin. He was one of those rare people who are prepared to push past ethical constraints, even their own conscience, and bring about a greater good by doing terrible things."
Apparently murder isn't really murder if it's justified by "a greater good."
We shouldn't, however, be surprised by such responses. They reflect a pattern. Getting contemporary French left-wing intellectuals, for example, to acknowledge the ideological genocide unleashed in the Vendée by the French Revolution in the 1790s is almost impossible. In present-day America, any mention of Planned Parenthood's early association with the eugenics movement invariably results in stone-walling and, eventually, lame explanations that its founder Margaret Sanger was a "child of her time." The same approach shows up in most American liberals' studied refusal to discuss slurs employed by the likes of Bill Maher to describe conservative women.
But it's when the left is confronted with the history of Communism that the denials, ad hominem vitriol, sullen silences, and feeble excuses really get going. Back in 1997, several French intellectuals, many with left-wing backgrounds, published The Black Book of Communism. This text exhaustively detailed how Communist movements and regimes had imprisoned, tortured, starved, experimented upon, enslaved, and exterminated millions across the globe throughout the 20th century.
Though a few brave lefty souls conceded the book's damning evidence, the left's general response followed the usual playbook: attacks on the authors' credibility; arcane disputation of precise numbers killed (as if a million-less here-or-there made any meaningful difference to the overall thesis); claims that Stalin represented a "distortion" of Marxism; and even bizarre suggestions that such crimes shouldn't distract us from Communism's "genuine achievements."
Overall, the left has been remarkably successful in distorting people's knowledge of Communism's track-record. Everyone today knows about the Nazis' unspeakable crimes. Yet does anyone doubt that far fewer know much about the atrocities ordered by the likes of Lenin, Castro, Mao, and Pol Pot? Do those Occupy Wall Street protesters waving red hammer-and-sickle flags actually understand what such symbols mean for those who endured Communism?
But while the left's response to such awkward queries won't likely change, the unanswered question is why so many left-inclined politicians and intellectuals play these games.
Part of the answer is the very human reluctance of anyone to acknowledge the dark side of movements with which they have some empathy. Even today, for example, there are Latin Americans inclined to make excuses for the right-wing death-squads -- the infamous Escuadrón de la Muerte -- that wrought havoc in Central America throughout the 1970s and '80s.
The sheer scale of denial among progressivists, however, suggests something else is going on. I think it owes much to the left's claim to a monopoly of moral high-mindedness.
Anyone who reads progressivists' writings soon discovers they usually assert to be working to liberate the rest of us from all sorts of oppression. Normally, the end-goal is to usher some secular utopia. Karl Marx, for instance, described his particular end of history as a world in which it would be possible for everyone "to do one thing today and another tomorrow; to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, breed cattle in the evening and criticize after dinner, just as I please."
Claiming the moral high-ground, of course, allows the left to dismiss its critics as unethical, disingenuous, or dangerous. In many instances, the same self-righteousness has been invoked to justify the left's use of ferocious measures against its opponents, real and imaginary.
Seeking, for example, to legitimize the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, its architect Maximilian Robespierre claimed: "The spring of… government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror.… Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue."
Unfortunately for progressivists, the lengths to which some leftists have gone to realize their objectives cast into extreme doubt their claims to moral authority. After all, who in their right mind would associate virtue with the guillotine in the Place de la Révolution? Isn't it supposed to be reactionaries who do such appalling things? Could it really be that Saint Che himself once actually said: "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail.… a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate."
As a rule, conservatives generally aren't into utopias. Since Edmund Burke's time, they've underscored human fallibility and the folly -- not to mention hubris -- of trying to create heaven-on-earth.
For the left, however, any recognition of such hum-drum truths about the human condition severely compromises their raison d'être. That same self-understanding also means they must wage a war of rejection and rationalization against whatever contradicts their mythologies, such as some very unromantic facts about not-so-angelic figures like Che .
Ultimately, historical truth usually triumphs over mere ideology. Lies have a way of disintegrating from within. But as Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote, "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." Conservatives forget that advice at their peril.
When Barack Obama asserted – in advance of a jury trial or grand jury investigation, let alone a completed police investigation – that he identified with young Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed in Florida, it was an extraordinarily reactionary moment with possible ramifications of interference with the justice system.
But it was not surprising.
Since obtaining the presidency, Barack Obama has led a Democratic Party that would be better called The Society for the Preservation of Racism.
The reason is evident. Increasingly, racism – and more generally the division of our country into racial and ethnic interest groups — is all the Democrats have. The rest of liberal/leftist ideology is disintegrating all around them, as fragile and illusory as the welfare state itself.
Without racism – or more exactly the putative existence of racism – the Democratic Party would be an association of overpaid trade union executives, unemployed Occupy movement sympathizers and trial lawyers. In other words – mighty small.
So no wonder Barack Obama rushes to judgment in a case for which none of us know the true details, a case, moreover, in which those details are so obscure and debatable that they may be ultimately unknowable, our opinions mere projections of our prejudices and beliefs.
Did the six-foot-two Martin sufficiently injure or threaten to injure George Zimmerman to justify a mortal response? Frankly, I don’t know and suspect I never will know to any degree of certainty. I also will probably never know to what degree race had to do with it, if anything.
Nevertheless – tragic as it is and was for Trayvon Martin, his family and friends – the teenager’s death is an ultimately marginal event in a gigantic country, a one in 311 million shot, the furthest thing imaginable from an epidemic of any sort.
When this death was first publicized last week, Leon de Winter  made this clear when he published statistics in PJ Media indicating the numbers of white on black and black on white murders are minuscule in the USA. In the years 1974 -2004 “86% of white murders had white offenders, and 94% of black murders had black offenders.”
By 2009, according to Department of Justice statistics, the number of white murder victims had declined to 3518 of whom 454 were killed by blacks (for whatever reason – who knows if they were racist?). Black victims were at 2867 of whom 209 were killed by whites (again for whatever reason). By way of comparison, traffic deaths for the same year were 33,963 . Obviously, you have much better chance of being killed by a Porsche than by a racist.
Still, Obama and the Democrats think we have a Big Race Problem. As an ex-civil rights worker (South Carolina, 1966), I cry $%&^#! (That’s a word recently employed by presidential candidate Rick Santorum when a addressing a reporter.)
Proof that we are no longer a racist country is everywhere. (Yes, I know racists still exist. So do pederasts and spousal abusers. They always will. But racists are a decreasing minority.) But no proof was more interesting and powerful than when the late Andrew Breitbart offered $100,000 to anyone who could give evidence even one person in the Tea Party was racist.
I don’t know how many people identify with the Tea Party, but given the recent election, it should run into the millions. Yet no one could come forth with a single verifiable racist – not even with the motivation of a hundred grand.
The truth is racists are pariahs in America, as they should be, more so probably than in any country in the world.
So why do Democrats and soi-disant liberal/progressives persist in calling us racist? Paramount, of course, is the political self-interest referred to above. But other reasons exist. In an earlier article, I wrote of a Nostalgia for Racism , a yearning for the halcyon days of the civil rights movement when we all could feel righteous (or self-righteous) for battling the likes of Bull Connors or George Wallace.
Unfortunately, however, things have gotten nastier. What we see now is an attempt — conscious or unconscious — to generate racism by false accusation, literally to manufacture it.
This desperate behavior as racism diminishes is what we see in Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and, needless to say, Louis Farrakhan. But it is also visible buried not far below the surface of our president, the man who promised to be a post-racial president.
So most of us were therefore unsurprised when Obama injected himself almost instantly into the Martin-Zimmerman Affair. He just couldn’t resist, just as he couldn’t resist injecting himself when the Cambridge police had the most minor dust-up with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.
Racism had to be preserved. It just couldn’t go away.
What is the solution to this endlessly depressing syndrome? Way back in 2005, the actor Morgan Freeman  hit the nail on the proverbial head when being interviewed by 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace. “Stop talking about it,” said Freeman to the astonished Wallace. “I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”
No truer words on the subject have ever been spoken. Too bad Freeman couldn’t adhere to them himself .
But the story isn’t entirely sad. Racists still are pariahs, even if race baiters are everywhere. We should all remember that – and keeping mocking the race baiters until they go away. That, for good or ill, is our assignment. Whoever said it would be simple? ************************************************* ****
Democracies are in general prone to fits of the mob. Just read the Thucydidean account of the debate of Mytilene. Or watch a 1950s Western as the lynch party heads for the town jail. Fear of democratically sanctioned madness is why the Founders came up not just with classical tripartite government to check and limit power between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches, but also now generally disdained notions of allowing states to impose property qualifications for voting, the Electoral College, two senators guaranteed per state regardless of population, and senators originally selected without direct votes.
They were not concerned that under Athenian-style democracy the proverbial “people” and their populist Rottweilers in government and the press could not check the power of capital and birth, but were worried, as Juvenal later quipped, over who would police the police. So there had to be checks on the mob as well — a fickle and unpredictable force as we saw in the last eight years.
2006 Evil Guantanamo/ 2009 Good Guantanamo
Sometime around 2005, the anger of the mob over the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols peaked. Preventative detention, renditions, military tribunals, Guantanamo, Predators, wiretaps, and intercepts were all considered unlawful, unnecessary, and immoral. The Bush-Cheney “terror state” seemed capable of almost anything, as it shredded the Constitution while claiming to “protect” us from non-existent terrorists. Dick Cheney went from a respected and perennial Washington insider, given his due by both liberals and conservatives as a sober and judicious administrator over the past thirty years, to a pernicious Darth Vader.
The Left never really adduced any evidence to support its charges, but such serial attacks went largely unanswered. Candidate Barack Obama both benefited from and whipped up the venom, only as president to embrace or expand all of what he had once so vehemently denounced. He soon became predator-in-chief, increasing targeted assassinations eightfold, as he joked about them being unleashed at any potential suitors of Malia and Sasha.
The Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism policies were quietly reinvented as necessary (given that no post-9/11 plot [and there were many] had succeeded) and continue on today as if no one ever had questioned their utility or legality. The fist-shaking mob apparently decided that what was truly bad before 2009  was mostly good afterwards, or at least not bad enough to question an Obama presidency. So it threw down the torches and drifted on home, wanting the proverbial prisoner in the jail freed and canonized rather than hanged.
Today we are left with either one of two liberal assumptions: the Bush-Cheney protocols are still bad, but to continue to criticize them would now be to weaken the liberal agenda of their present adherent Barack Obama; or, why get riled over politics? — every out-party attacks the in-party any way it can, so get over it.
Planet Warming on Hold
One of the most venomous lines of attack against George W. Bush was his supposed failure to address climate change. These were the mob days of the anguished Al Gore, still smarting over having won the popular, but not the electoral, vote in 2000, damning Bush as a liar, as he created Gore, Inc. — a near organic-growing merchandising empire of several hundred millions of dollars.
Gorism both hyped a global carbon threat and then offered the consulting and expertise to address it. His carbon footprints and “offsets” followed the medieval model of selling exemptions. In such holy work, there were no such things as conflict of interest, influence peddling, or simple bad manners. Gore rode his Earth in the Balance  / Inconvenient Truth  express train to a Nobel Prize, a sizable fortune — and a general impression that he had become unhinged, whether in his incarnation as a “crazed sex poodle” or a vein-bursting screaming “he lied!” mental patient.
No matter, Barack Obama came into office on the shoulders of this screaming mob. His team lectured us on the wisdom of withholding oil leases, on the desirability of European-level gas prices, and on why we must soon pay skyrocketing energy prices. Obama-sanctioned cap-and-trade passed the Democratic-held House.
Snow fell . Ice still formed outside the kitchen window. Chicago, as is its habit, got both really hot and really cold. Volvos still needed gas. People in Malibu still liked central heating. Philology adjusted accordingly. Global warming begat climate change and the latter begat climate chaos: if the planet were not hotter, then snow and ice were symptoms of such heating; and if even that were insufficient proof for us dunces, then tornados, earthquakes, and hurricanes would have to do.
Yet the mob mentality began to fade, as revelations about everything from doctored research, politicized grant-giving, and false conclusions about glaciers, Greenland, and polar bears began appearing in the liberal news — suggesting that if such scandal made even the mainstream media, then the phrenology-like fad was nearing an end.
Obama had done his part in postponing the Keystone pipeline, putting oil on federal lands off-limits, and talking up boondoggles like the Chevy Volt and Solyndra. But the idea of $5 a gallon gas  makes even the most liberal Santa Monica Volvo driver edgy, and now the global-warming movement has collapsed . Bush is in Texas, not the White House. Obama now blames Solyndra on Republicans, brags about entrepreneurial wildcatters in the Dakotas, does photo-ops in front of derricks, and promises to allow bits and pieces of the Keystone pipeline.
And the mob? Why hurt the liberal cause by going after Obama? Suddenly, the would-be-lynchers have left the sheriff’s office porch and are in twos and threes heading back home.
The mob, of course, had once tried to storm the jail to get at Bush over presidential ethics and decorum. It was a valiant effort. “Rovian politics” had polluted the national scene. PACs, the revolving door, lobbying, earmarks, and mega fundraising had ruined American politics. An Enron-insider mentality had warped the White House. “Swift-boating” was Rove-inspired character assassination.
Now? We live in an age of Peter Orszag, the OMB to Citibank monorail, and $1 million sent to the Obama PAC from the misogynist Bill Maher whose “t—t” and “c—t” are the sorts of popular smears against women  that Obama does not wish his daughters to experience.
The idea of a Democrat running for president according to the rules of public campaign financing was destroyed four years ago by none other than Barack Obama. His genius lies in demonizing his donors  as “fat cats”, “one-percenters,” and “corporate jet owners,” while they fork over cash, again on a medieval principle that the more you lecture the usurer or money-changer, the more he purchases penance for his soul by giving the church a marble block or two for the dome of the cathedral. Or is the shakedown not a shakedown, but rather a simple connivance for the big money guys — Obama is dead even in the polls, so why not keep a stiff upper lip and hedge your bets?
I think it was around January 2009 when ethics in government ceased to be an issue. Insider influence peddling suddenly became the necessary price of getting green energy. Bundling and corporate giving were vital to getting universal health care passed. And $35,000-a-head private dinners were a sort of castor oil, a bad-tasting medicine that led to better air and water for all of us. In those happy days, John Edwards was a populist idol. Jon Corzine put his financial expertise to work for hoi polloi. Steven Chu’s Nobel Prize-winning physics mind would be let loose on the pernicious carbon lobby.
Then it was all over. The Obama team of Goolsbee, Orszag, Romer, and Summers headed back to tenured births or big money or both. “Millionaires and billionaires” meant skipping the insignificant former and concentrating on shaking down the important latter. Today, we just shrug when Obama lectures us at 9 a.m. on paying our fair share, and then does a $40,000-a-plate fundraiser in the Upper West Side or Palm Beach at noon.
The Old Race Card
The same hang-the-suspect hysteria breaks out over race only to dissipate as if it never happened. Before 9/11 it was the reparations movement. Then it was the Bush neglect of the underclass. Then it was the preppie white non-rapists at Duke . Then it was Eric Holder’s lectures about “cowards,” “my people,” and the racists who wanted answers about Fast and Furious.
We went from the beer summit to Trayvon Martin’s resemblance to the boy the president never had. In each case, facts did not matter: Bush increased Great Society spending, and sent $15 billion to save black Africans from the ravages of AIDS. If there were any voting fraud, it came as a result of Acorn, Chicago wards, and the SEIU get-out-the vote machine, not Karl Rove with levers and gears.
The Cambridge police did not act stupidly. And if police do stereotype, it may be because 12% of the population commits almost half the violent crime in the nation. In the case of rare black/white and white/black murdering (94% of murdered African-Americans were killed by other African-Americans), a minority is more likely to commit murder (and rape) against a majority than the majority is against the minority.
As I write, the hysteria (is there any other word for it when Spike Lee twitters the address of George Zimmerman or the New Black Panther Party publishes a wanted poster  or the mayor of Philadelphia calls the death an “assassination”?) is beginning to die down, somewhat.
The initial moblike news (in this regard, Fox News’s Shepard Smith was especially culpable in whipping up frenzy when he did not have the evidence to support his allegations) that a white, Germanic-named vigilante ran down and executed a small African-American child (at least Mr. Martin seemed so from his adolescent photos in the press) eating candy while strolling in an exclusive gated community is not quite the entire story. At least it has morphed into an account of an excitable, gun-carrying Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer, in a mixed community, prompting (?) a fist fight with an unarmed 17-year-old, 6’2” youth in a hoodie. Mr. Zimmerman apparently lost the struggle, and then pulled out a gun and fired — even as the narrative seemed to change with new information every day. The case is not helped by presidential editorializing that now, after the beer summit and Sandra Fluke, seems a gambit to divert attention from $4 a gallon gas and 8% plus unemployment (17% in Fresno County).
The Trayvon Martin tragedy is not over. We do not know all the facts; bad judgment, racism, and ill-intent may well have led to manslaughter or even second-degree murder or, then again, in theory, self-defense, but to speculate about any such charges without evidence is to become mob-like. My own view is that carrying a weapon requires greater forbearance, but I was not there and still have no idea what transpired. As I write this, the account will be out-of-date by tomorrow’s disclosures. What we are left with are no rules of national anguish: When ten African-Americans are murdered by other African-Americans in a single weekend, is it news or not news? When the occasional African-American murders a white person, as in a recent car-jacking, is it a sign of something the nation must note? When an Hispanic shoots an African-American, is it news to the degree he has a European name, but had he been Jorge Martinez with an Anglo mother, it would not have been news?
The role of a president is to rein in the mob, not to unleash it. The latter is what community organizers do; the former is what makes statesmen. Yet on issue after issue — anti-terrorism, global warming, government ethics, and racial relations — a frenzied mob, egged on by the media and demagogues like Barack Obama, have almost stormed the jail, only to dissipate when met by either evidence, or the knowledge that the incarcerated was one of their own — as if they had never screamed and threatened in the first place.
In part one I mentioned that one of the reasons that the Libertarian agenda was likely to grow in the coming years was the GOP's failure, to this point, to truly embrace the agenda of its grassroots base.
To partially illustrate this I would like to take a bit of time and analyze the current on going nominating process that in all likelihood will in the end produce Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate. The first question that must be asked is a basic question that each person must decide for themselves:
Is the primary purpose of a political party to produce a candidate that is most capable of winning an election or is its primary purpose to promote a candidate that best represents its governing philosophy?
I will leave that question hanging as I go on to point out some simple facts about the Republican race to date. The current RCP Delegate count shows Romney with 565, Santorum with 256, Gingrich with 141 and Paul with 66. So by any measure Romney clearly leads the math. Even adding all the non-Romney delegates together you only have 463 delegates. But let's take a closer look at those delegates shall we.
Of Romney's 565 delegates 45 come from territories where the voters the delegates supposedly represent won't even be allowed to vote in the general election. To show the absurdity of this, in America Samoa seventy people met in a caucus to allocate nine delegates to Romney. These delegates chosen by seventy people will have the same impact on the nominating process as any delegates chosen by hundreds of thousands of voters in states like Michigan, Texas, or Florida. Even though it is true that in other caucus states small numbers of people end up voting for delegates out of proportion to the voters they represent, at least those delegates represent voters who can actually vote for President.
Then we have multiple situations where either Gingrich or Santorum did not meet various ballot requirements most notably Virginia. The point is often made that if a candidate can not meet these various requirements then he is somehow not qualified or organized enough to be running for president anyway. This of course is not a constitutional argument or even an argument based upon voter's preference which is supposed to be the guiding factor in elections, it is simply a process argument. A process which individual states have designed in order that the party has more control over who the nominee is than the voters.
There should be no reason that the guiding principle in choosing a party's nominee is tilted more towards a candidates ability to raise money than it is towards a candidates ability to connect with the voters he represents. All of these various rules sometimes confusing and contradictory tilt the playing field to the candidate who either has run before and/or has tremendous financial resources going in to organize in order to avoid the mine fields of state party's rules. Why should a party organize itself in such a way as to preclude the rise of a popular figure? If the answer is that you need rules that everyone knows going in and people should live by them regardless of the hindrance to the popular will of the people then we get to the next issue.
What of the two states violating "party rules" and allocating their delegates as winner take all prior to April 1, Florida and Arizona? If these rules had been applied then Romney would still have won the states but he would have had perhaps 40 fewer delegates and the various other candidates would have divided those remaining 40. All of which is far less than these two states and 3 others should have had for violating party rules to begin with. On the one hand we are told that meeting "rules" is "sacrosanct" when applied to state rules which place an undo burden on late arriving or not as well financed early candidates, yet can't be enforced on state parties who willfully violate the rules. Both of these situations shift the power of the nominating process away from the voters to the power of the party.
This is no small matter, not only do situations such as these and many others give the appearance that the party is more important than the voters they represent, they allow a system to exist where process trumps both principles and voter's choices. It is often touted that the nominating process is a weaning experience meant to weed out those incapable of winning in the general election. This is nonsense on its face since in every general election someone looses, exactly half the time the "weaning process" produces the looser. Shouldn't the process be designed to allow the person who most completely represents the political philosophy of the greatest number of the party's constituency be the guiding principle of the structure of any nominating process?
But let's get back to the current GOP race and our original question on the purpose of a party. Putting aside all the "unfair" idiosyncrasies in the GOP nominating process which would require a volume, what of the actual contest to date.
Let me first say that a Republican is a Republican as far as elections are concerned. It does not matter if the voter is a so called RINO (Republican In Name Only) or the most conservative SoCon, NeoCon or any other Con, so long as the person votes for the Republican in the general election. However if you believe that a political party is more than just winning elections but also represents the "mainstream" of governing principles of that party, then the whole idea of who votes for whom in a primary is important and as a practical matter where that vote is cast can also be critical. A vote cast which is meaningless to a general election contest being a case in point.
Let's start with this simple accepted proposition, that the United States is currently divided into three categories of states from an electoral point of view, red states (Republican dominated), blue states (Democrat dominated) and purple states (swing states that could go either way in any given election). Of the states (not territories) that have held elections to date thirteen have been in undeniably red states which brings up an interesting point in itself. Why have we reached this far in the process 33 contests (5 territories and 28 states) and only 13 have been held where the GOP base is in the majority? It would seem if you are trying to determine the will of the party then you would begin your contest where the party dominates. How much different might the nominating contest have unfolded had Kansas rather than Iowa been the first caucus and Louisiana rather than New Hampshire been the first primary? Putting aside what has transpired, consider what the situation was at the time, it is very likely that Perry would have dominated these contest and Romney would have been gasping for breath rather than the other way around after the first two contest.
You may say "well that is the way it is" or "that is the way it has always been". I would answer why is it that two relatively small swing states, at best, have more influence over the GOP nominating process than states which are far more loyal and representative of GOP principles? I use Kansas and Louisiana as examples but any other two red states could suffice to show this farce and injustice to the GOP base. Remember back when it was believed that Romney had won Iowa and after New Hampshire we were told that these unprecedented victories all but insured a Romney nomination? This despite the fact that at that point not a single "red state" had even cast a ballot.
So thirteen of the thirty three contest held thus far have been held in red states. Of those contest Romney has won 1 primary, Arizona and 3 caucuses Alaska, Idaho and Wyoming. The other nine contests, seven primaries Georgia, South Carolina to Gingrich and Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana to Santorum. Then two caucuses North Dakota, Kansas to Santorum.
Putting electoral irrelevant US territories aside, of the twenty eight states which have held contest 13 have been held in red states, 8 have been held in blue states which the Republican candidate has little chance of winning and eight have been held in at least marginally "swing states", Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and we will throw in Michigan. Of those swing states, with the exception of Virginia where neither Gingich or Santorum were on the ballot, Romney did not receive a clear majority of the votes cast. This includes Michigan which he barely won despite it being his native state and New Hampshire where he owns a home and borders and is in the media market of the state he governed.
Since the Romney campaign likes to tout math and promotes his commanding lead in not only the delegate count but popular vote, let's look at some math. Let's start with what are undeniably "red states" which have cast ballots so far and the delegates they have selected. We will consider Michigan a swing state and I have have excluded the Missouri "beauty contest" which Santorum won overwhelmingly
Red States South Carolina,Arizona,Alaska,Idaho,Wyoming,Georgia,Sout h Carolina,Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama,Louisiana, North Dakota, Kansas
We will ignore the territories since they have no bearing on the general election and the blue states which if any Republican candidate is competitive in probably means the election is a GOP blow out. But some very interesting observations can be made on the nominating process thus far.
* The combination of Santorum and Gingrich are dominating the Red States with Gingrich on his own beating Romney in the popular vote. There can be little doubt that had either Gingrich or Santorum gotten out after Florida (or before) the chances are that they would have made the red state domination over Romney in votes rather than money so overwhelming that people long ago would have been asking why Romney was even in the race.
* The swing state numbers which seem to greatly support Romney are very misleading for several reasons. First they include Michigan which normally would be considered a blue state, but being that Santorum did so well there the difference in the head to head is minimal. Second the numbers include the popular vote and delegates of Virginia whith neither Santorum or Gingrich on the ballot. Finally in regards to delegates the numbers include Ohio where Santorum because of rules did not qualify for a complete slate and Florida which held a winner take all election against party rules. All of these inflate Romney's perceived dominance. Then there is the far more important factor which has played out across the nominating process but would really have made a difference in the swing states then and those to come.
* Had Gingrich left the race prior to Super Tuesday it is more than likely that Santorum would have won Ohio which would have propelled his campaign and given him even more overwhelming victories in Alabama and Mississippi not unlike he just achieved in Louisiana now that Gingrich supporters have belatedly started to move towards Santorum. But even more important than Santorum's ability to dominate Romney in red states, was the affect it had on his ability to gain traction in swing states. His strength minus Gingrich in swing states was made obvious by Santorum's trouncing of Romney in Missouri which as I pointed out is not represented in the figures and Santorum's close victory over Romney in all important Colorado.
All of this is "what if" and "could have been" conjecture to be sure, but it is extremely important going forward for the GOP. It is obvious that Romney is not in any way the choice of the base of the Republican Party. Truth be told neither Gingrich or Santorum were either, they were at most non-Romney candidates which shows how totally unacceptable the majority of the GOP electorate finds Mitt Romney.
At this late stage of the process, the perceived inevitable nominee is loosing to a former Pennsylvania "big government" conservative by 22 points in a southern red state. Far from accepting the inevitable, it seems that conservatives are giving the "establishment" the finger. All of this will probably not change the "inevitable" nomination of Romney. Hopefully it will also not dampen turn out to replace Obama, but after 2012, I suspect we will see a serious move from many in the base to either leave the Republican Party or totally take it over and destroy the current "establishment".
The fact that recent polling shows that among Republicans that Sarah Palin is more popular than Romney shows what direction things are headed and it is not going to be pleasant for current Republican office holders. And if Romney somehow manages to loose the election to Obama and the establishment attempts to blame it on the "grassroots" then the GOP could go the way of their predecessor the Whigs.
The other night Sue (my wife) and I were watching the news which at the time was dominated by the riots caused by the Koran "burning" in Afghanistan.
Sue turned to me and said something that I had been thinking for some time "So why are we not supposed to support Ron Paul?"
A good question, who any longer wants our troops in Afghanistan? According to polls not too many of us do and in this. like much else, we are coming to embrace Ron Paul's view (sort of) on the "conflict."
However the answer to the question, "why are we not supposed to support Ron Paul?" , is more nuanced. Simply put when it comes to some of his foreign policy positions Ron Paul is a nut job.
Ron Paul like many people who are obsessed with a certain ideology tend to see things in the extreme. They see the worst of motives in those that oppose them. Rather than believing that his opposition on the right have a differing vision on the solution to problems, he ascribes dark motives to his foes and ignores the very real concerns that they are attempting to address. In this respect he often times employs the tactics of Obama and the left, creating straw men arguments to slay foes who might otherwise give his views fair hearing.
Nowhere has this failure of Paul to confront reality been more pronounced than his unwillingness to face up to the threat to our national security posed by radical Islamist. He ascribes all blame to US foreign policy while ignoring the theological underpinning of the problem which will result in a continuance of the conflict irregardless of our policies. As the 9-11 Commission so aptly observed they are at war with us even if we are not at war with them. This state of "war" has little to do with our foreign policy, rather it is driven by a religious belief that the west, primarily the United States, are infidels and the enemy and must either be subjugated or destroyed.
Paul simply ignores this truth and ascribes all fault to the United States' "imperialism" which in itself is a demonstrably false narrative more in tune with far left anti American liberalism than Constitutional conservatism.
The shame of this is that much of what Paul advocates as a solution to our foreign policy ills are not only arguably acceptable policy prescriptions, but also gaining in acceptance, Furthermore there is an entire wing of the Republican Party and a huge segment of Independents who though not entirely in line with Paul's foreign policy prescriptions are at least receptive to them.
An example of this policy melding, if you will, would be Rick Perry's suggestion while he was a candidate that foreign aid needs to be zeroed out and allocated based on other nation's support for our national interest and policies. Paul's position is that there should be no foreign aid at all, a position which has not only constitutional backing but makes some practical and certainly fiscal sense as well.
Perry's position could be seen as a stepping stone from our current insane foreign aid policies moving towards Paul's position, or it could be seen as a compromise between the two. A compromise if you will between the neo-cons and the libertarians.
There in lies the seeds of the failure of Paulian libertaranism, the inability to compromise even when in doing so it leads to an incremental move towards your ultimate goal. This incremental strategy is what has allowed the left and the progressives to move the nation so far away from the libertarian nation that Paul and his followers claim to want to return to. Yet they seem unwilling to reverse this march with anything less than total capitulation of not only their ideological foes but those who are ideologically oriented and inclined to support them.
When it comes to domestic policy, on nearly every ideological front, on nearly every policy issue Paul and his libertarian followers are leading the way. More and more conservatives and independents are "seeing the light" and moving towards their views. Whether it be monetary policy, the Tenth Amendment, or the downsizing of government, nearly everyone in the grass roots right agrees with the Libertarians. Even on many of the social issues such as gay marriage and drug legalization most on the right are willing to allow these type issues to be decided by the states as long as the Federal Government stays out of them. Which is the Constitutional argument.
On so many issues libertarians and grass roots (the majority) of conservatives not only have common ground they are walking the same path. The only thing that stands in the way of a true partnership is in fact Ron Paul himself.
Ron Paul's extreme views on American foreign policy as stated above not only turn off many who would be willing to come to his side, but worse they draw into his following a segment of political thought which is antithetical to most of the rest of Paul's agenda. This following is closer to the OWS Movement than the Tea Party Movement and despite attempts to find common ground between these two movements by some they are worlds apart and can not and will not be merged. About the only real thing the two movements have in common is their opposition to TARP, but the motivation for that opposition is diametrical opposed to one another.
Paul's failure to address this, but rather, in some ways to endorse the OWS views is another reason for his inability to gain traction on the right where his ideological constituency of Constitutional conservatives should be.
It would seem that the libertarian movement, given Paul's failure to create a natural coalition due to his intransigence on key issues, would doom it to return to the fringe of political thought and power in the United States. Although this is possible , it is not likely for several reasons, not least of these being that the GOP establishment is not only not giving the grass roots constitutional conservatives a reason to support the Republicans, they seem to be marginalizing this dynamic and core constituency of the party. Indeed the Republican establishment seems intent on driving this foundational segment of their party away.
More on this in part two. ************************************************* ****
Obamacare dominated the 2010 midterms, driving its Democratic authors to a historic electoral shellacking. But since then, the issue has slipped quietly underground.
Now it’s back, summoned to the national stage by the confluence of three disparate events: the release of new Congressional Budget Office cost estimates, the approach of Supreme Court hearings on the law’s constitutionality and the issuance of a compulsory contraception mandate.
Obamacare was carefully constructed to manipulate the standard 10-year cost projections of the CBO. Because benefits would not fully kick in for four years, President Obama could trumpet 10-year gross costs of less than $1 trillion — $938 billion to be exact.
But now that the near-costless years 2010 and 2011 have elapsed, the true 10-year price tag comes into focus. From 2013 through 2022, the CBO reports, the costs of Obamacare come to $1.76 trillion — almost twice the phony original number.
It gets worse. Annual gross costs after 2021 are more than a quarter of $1 trillion every year — until the end of time. That, for a new entitlement in a country already drowning in $16 trillion of debt.
Beginning Monday, the Supreme Court will hear challenges to the law. The American people, by an astonishing two-thirds majority, want the law and/or the individual mandate tossed out by the court. In practice, however, questions this momentous are generally decided 5 to 4 — i.e., they depend on whatever side of the bed Justice Anthony Kennedy gets out of that morning.
Ultimately, the question will hinge on whether the Commerce Clause has any limits. If the federal government can compel a private citizen, under threat of a federally imposed penalty, to engage in a private contract with a private entity (to buy health insurance), is there anything the federal government cannot compel the citizen to do?
If Obamacare is upheld, it fundamentally changes the nature of the American social contract. It means the effective end of a government of enumerated powers — i.e., finite, delineated powers beyond which the government may not go, beyond which lies the free realm of the people and their voluntary institutions. The new post-Obamacare dispensation is a central government of unlimited power from which citizen and civil society struggle to carve out and maintain spheres of autonomy.
Figure becomes ground; ground becomes figure. The stakes could not be higher.
Serendipitously, the recently issued regulation on contraceptive coverage has allowed us to see exactly how this new power works. All institutions — excepting only churches, but not excepting church-run charities, hospitals, etc. — will be required to offer health care that must include free contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause abortion.
Consider the cascade of arbitrary bureaucratic decisions that resulted in this edict:
(1) Contraception, sterilization and abortion pills are classified as medical prevention. On whose authority? The secretary of health and human services, invoking the Institute of Medicine. But surely categorizing pregnancy as a disease equivalent is a value decision disguised as science. If contraception is prevention, what are fertility clinics? Disease inducers? And if contraception is prevention because it lessens morbidity and saves money, by that logic, mass sterilization would be the greatest boon to public health since the pasteurization of milk.
(2) This type of prevention is free — no co-pay. Why? Is contraception morally superior to or more socially vital than — and thus more of a “right” than — penicillin for a child with pneumonia?
(3) “Religious” exemptions to this edict extend only to churches, places where the faithful worship God, and not to church-run hospitals and charities, places where the faithful do God’s work. Who promulgated this definition, so stunningly ignorant of the very idea of religious vocation? The almighty HHS secretary.
Today, it’s the Catholic Church whose free-exercise powers are under assault from this cascade of diktats sanctioned by — indeed required by — Obamacare. Tomorrow it will be the turn of other institutions of civil society that dare stand between unfettered state and atomized citizen.
Rarely has one law so exemplified the worst of the Leviathan state — grotesque cost, questionable constitutionality and arbitrary bureaucratic coerciveness. Little wonder the president barely mentioned it in his latest State of the Union address. He wants to be reelected. He’d rather talk about other things.
But there’s no escaping it now. Oral arguments begin Monday at 10 a.m.
The only way out is to reject the Obama Entitlement State for freedom and choice.
WASHINGTON -- We in America today live in a country circumscribed by entitlement policies devised by an America that has steadily been disappearing. Those policies established over a generation ago cannot possibly in mathematical or demographic terms support the America of the present much less the America of the future. That is the stark reality. We need to reform those policies or we shall go bankrupt, and raising taxes on the so-called rich will not fix things. Even raising taxes on the middle class will not fix things. Nor will spending a trillion dollars more than we have on hand fix things. Eventually those trillion-dollar deficits have to be paid off. Facts are facts; the day of reckoning that our hayseed politicians have said was up the road a piece is here. We have to do something now and we can begin by growing the economy.
That is the burden of Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan’s carefully thought-out budget for fiscal year 2013. The way he would get the economy growing again is by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to a more competitive 25 percent. He would allow American corporations to bring profits earned abroad home without penalty so that they could invest in jobs and factories here. His budget would eliminate the complexity of the tax code on individuals and families and consolidate the tax brackets from the current six brackets to two of 10 percent and 25 percent. He argues that revenue would remain steady because of the elimination of special-interest loopholes and because of economic growth.
As for confronting the budgetary overhang, the Ryan budget offers disciplined spending cuts that amount to $5.3 trillion over the next decade. He would return to the states the responsibility for federal programs such as food stamps and Medicaid, for at the state level the needs of the citizens are better understood than at the national level. He would reorganize education and job training and make Pell grants dependent on need. Taking on the major force behind our budgetary exigency, Ryan plans a complete overhaul of healthcare, eliminating Obamacare and reforming Medicare. For those in retirement or near retirement there would be no change in Medicare. For those facing retirement a decade from now the House budget provides guaranteed coverage for various options to be financed by "premium-support." Recipients can bid for various options made available by competing insurance companies. As Ryan said in the Wall Street Journal the day before he announced his budget, "Forcing health plans to compete against each other is the best way to achieve high-quality coverage at the lowest cost…."
That same day Ryan announced on YouTube, "Americans have a choice to make -- a choice that’s going to determine our country's future. Will it be the future that looks like the America we know -- one of greater opportunity, greater prosperity -- or more of what we’re seeing today, debt, doubt, and decline?" That stress on choice is becoming a theme of Republicans as opposed to President Barack Obama’s Entitlement State.
Choice of one policy over another policy. Choice over the government straitjacket. Choice is the natural consequence of a people who believe in personal liberty.
By making choices in public policy one creates competition and all the benefits that come from competition. One creates better policies, policies suited for individuals' varying needs. One creates efficiencies in distribution and in design of policies. Ever since the New Deal, the Nanny State mentality has been developing ever more intrusive policies to govern our lives and to limit our freedoms. The result is the Entitlement State and the trillions of dollars of looming debt. Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues think their budget can eventually eliminate the debt and get the economy growing again. Moreover, they believe a sufficient number of Democrats are concerned about our freedom and the budget overhang to act in a bipartisan manner at least on some of the matters he has taken up. We shall see, but for now the Senate Democrats have not even attempted a budget in three years!
The bleating about broken government and partisanship continues: “Why can’t those boobs in Washington agree on anything?” We’re constantly told that the way to fix the country is to dethrone the Left and the Right and empower the middle. Americans Elect, No Labels, the Gangs of Six and Fourteen, conservative Democrats, and liberal Republicans — handing things over to these middling mincers and half-a-loafers is supposed to be the answer to all of our problems. It’s as if we should just put Nelson Rockefeller’s mug on the dollar bill and be done with it.
But what if the real compromise isn’t in forcing the Left and the Right to heel? What if instead the solution is to disempower the national elites who think they’ve got the answers to everything?
Federalism — the process whereby you push most political questions to the lowest democratic level possible — has been ripe on the right for years now. It even had a champion in Texas governor Rick Perry, and Ron Paul still carries that torch.
The main advantage of federalism is more fundamental than the “laboratories of democracy” idea. Federalism is simply the best political system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness. A one-size-fits-all policy imposed at the national level has the potential to make very large numbers of citizens unhappy, even if it was arrived at democratically. In a pure democracy, I always say, 51 percent of the people can vote to pee in the cornflakes of 49 percent of the people.Pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible — while protecting basic civil rights — guarantees that more people will have a say in how they live their lives. Not only does that mean more people will be happy, but the moral legitimacy of political decisions will be greater.
The problem for conservative and libertarian federalists is that whenever we talk about federalism, the Left hears “states’ rights” — which is then immediately, and unfairly, translated into, “Bring back Bull Connor.”
But that may be changing. In an essay for the spring issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Yale law professor Heather K. Gerken offers the case for “A New Progressive Federalism.”
Gerken’s chief concern is how to empower “minorities and dissenters.” Not surprisingly, she defines such people in almost purely left-wing terms of race and sexual orientation. Still, she makes the very compelling point that the current understanding of diversity — having minority members as tokens of inclusion — pretty much guarantees that racial minorities will always be political minorities as well.
“While the diversity paradigm guarantees racial minorities a vote or voice on every decision-making body, it also ensures that they will be the political losers on any issue on which people divide along racial lines,” Gerken writes. “Racial minorities are thus destined to be the junior partner or dissenting gadfly in the democratic process. So much for dignity.”Allowing local majorities to have their way, Gerken continues, “turns the tables. It allows the usual winners to lose and the usual losers to win. It gives racial minorities the chance to shed the role of influencer or gadfly and stand in the shoes of the majority.”
She’s right, and not just about her favored groups. For instance, Mormons (not a group Gerken highlights) are a national minority. But they are a Utah majority. Hence, Utah takes on Mormon characteristics. It’s no theocracy, but it is more representative and distinctive. In areas where Latinos or blacks are the majority, what’s so terrible about having institutions that reflect their values?And federalism would let them all live by their mistakes as well. In San Francisco, which Gerken touts as a haven for “dissenters,” they translate their values into law. I think much of what passes for wise policy in San Francisco is idiotic, but it bothers me less than it would if Nancy Pelosi succeeded in making all of America like San Francisco.
I don’t see eye to eye with Gerken on everything, and I suspect she would be reluctant to push the welfare state downward. (Public employees in Galveston, Texas, for instance, are not part of the Social Security system.)
Still, I’m delighted her essay has received respectful treatment from the Left. A Left-Right federalist compromise would make America a happier, freer, more prosperous and interesting country. It would also dethrone those in both parties who think they know what’s best for more than 300 million Americans. ************************************************* ****
The president's budget gives more power to bureaucrats, takes more from taxpayers to fuel the expansion of government, and commits our nation to a future of debt and decline.
By PAUL RYAN
Less than a year ago, the House of Representatives passed a budget that took on our generation's greatest domestic challenge: reforming and modernizing government to prevent an explosion of debt from crippling our nation and robbing our children of their future.
Absent reform, government programs designed in the middle of the 20th century cannot fulfill their promises in the 21st century. It is a mathematical and demographic impossibility. And we said so.
We assumed there would be some who would distort for political gain our efforts to preserve programs like Medicare. Having been featured in an attack ad literally throwing an elderly woman off a cliff, I can confirm that those assumptions were on the mark.
But one year later, we can say with some confidence that the attacks have failed. Courageous Democrats have joined our efforts. And bipartisan opposition to the path of broken promises is growing.
And so Tuesday, House Republicans are introducing a new Path to Prosperity budget that builds on what we've achieved.
Like last year, our budget delivers real spending discipline. It does this not through indiscriminate cuts that endanger our military, but by ending the epidemic of crony politics and government overreach that has weakened confidence in the nation's institutions and its economy. And it strengthens the safety net by returning power to the states, which are in the best position to tailor assistance to their specific populations.
More important, it tackles the drivers of our debt and averts the fiscal crisis ahead. This year, our nation's publicly held debt is projected to reach 73% of the economy—a dangerously high level that, according to leading economists, puts the nation at risk of a panicked run on its finances.
As shown in the nearby chart, our budget tackles this crisis head-on by cutting debt as a share of the economy by roughly 15% over the next decade, putting the nation's finances on a path to balance, and paying off the debt. By contrast, the president's budget pushes debt as a share of the economy even higher. In his budget's own words, it allows the government's fiscal position to "gradually deteriorate" after 2022.
On the critical issues of health security and tax reform, our budget draws a clear distinction between serious reformers and those who stand in the way of the growing bipartisan consensus for principled solutions.
Our budget's Medicare reforms make no changes for those in or near retirement. For those who will retire a decade from now, our plan provides guaranteed coverage options financed by a premium-support payment. And this year, our budget adds even more choices for seniors, including a traditional fee-for-service Medicare option.
We also introduce a competitive-bidding process to determine the growth of government's financial contribution to Medicare. Forcing health plans to compete against each other is the best way to achieve high-quality coverage at the lowest cost, and implementing these reforms in Medicare can have the effect of lowering health-care costs for everyone. This is the key to increasing access and affordability while preventing government debt from threatening the health security of seniors and the economic security of all Americans.
Our budget also spurs economic growth with bold tax reform—eliminating complexity for individuals and families and boosting competitiveness for American job creators. Led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, our budget consolidates the current six individual income tax brackets into just two brackets of 10% and 25%.
We propose to reduce the corporate tax rate of 35%, which will soon be the highest rate in the developed world, to a much more competitive 25%. Our budget also shifts to a "territorial" tax system to end the practice of hitting businesses with extra taxes when they invest profits earned abroad in jobs and factories here at home.
We reject calls to raise taxes, but revenue nevertheless remains steady under our budget because we close special-interest loopholes. More important, our reforms will grow the economy—and the faster the economy grows, the more revenue the government will have to meet its priorities and start paying down the debt.
These patient-centered Medicare reforms and pro-growth tax reforms have a long history of bipartisan support. Medicare reforms based on choice and competition have their roots in the Clinton administration's bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. And in recent years, I've worked with Democrats to advance these reforms.
Tax reforms based on lowering tax rates and closing loopholes go back to the Reagan administration, when Democrats served as the congressional co-sponsors of the landmark 1986 tax reform law. More recently, the chairmen of President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission put forward a plan for lower rates and a broader base.
It makes sense that these ideas have attracted leaders in both parties. The premium support model offers the only guarantee that Medicare can keep its promise to seniors for generations to come. And pro-growth tax reform, by lowering rates for all Americans while closing loopholes that primarily benefit the well off, can eliminate unfairness in the tax code and ensure a level playing field for all.
While these ideas have enjoyed growing bipartisan support, President Obama has doubled down on policies that have drawn growing bipartisan opposition.
With regard to Medicare, his latest budget calls for giving "additional tools" to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an unaccountable board of 15 unelected bureaucrats empowered by the new health-care law to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for seniors. Just this month, Democrats and Republicans alike voted for a measure to repeal this board.
And with regard to tax reform, the president's latest budget calls for taking more from American families and businesses by raising rates and adding complexity to the tax code—precisely at odds with the bipartisan consensus for tax reform.
It is rare in American politics to arrive at a moment in which the debate revolves around the fundamental nature of American democracy and the social contract. But that is where we are. And no two documents illustrate this choice of two futures better than the president's budget and the one put forward by House Republicans.
The president's budget gives more power to unelected bureaucrats, takes more from hard-working taxpayers to fuel the expansion of government, and commits our nation to a future of debt and decline.
The contrast with our budget couldn't be clearer: We put our trust in citizens, not government. Our budget returns power to individuals, families and communities. It draws inspiration from the Founders' belief that all people are born with an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Protecting this right means trusting citizens, not nameless government officials, to decide what is in their best interests and make the right choice about our nation's future.
Mr. Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
For many months after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- aka Obamacare -- became law, it was mainly the measure's conservative opponents who ruefully contemplated then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remark that "we have to pass the health care bill so you can see what's in it." Opponents anxiously wondered if people might actually like what they found in the law once it was on the books. If that occurred, odds were good Obamacare would never be repealed. And there would be no stopping government takeovers of other major sectors of the economy.
More recently, as revelations have accumulated concerning what could happen once Obamacare is fully implemented, it may well be the measure's liberal proponents who have the most to fear from learning more about Obamacare. The report released Thursday by the Congressional Budget Office could only magnify such fears because the analysis devastated President Obama's most frequently uttered claim on behalf of his health care reform: "If you like your present coverage, you can keep it."
Rather than accurately describing a key feature of his proposal, Obama's reassuring claim was calculated to ease fears of the unknown among millions of Americans who worried about what might happen to them and their families under a complicated, bureaucratic health care program. After all, why worry about things like those new government-run health insurance exchanges if you get to keep the health insurance coverage that you like?
Now comes CBO saying that a computer model used by it and the Joint Committee on Taxation to project the impact of changes in federal health care policy could result in as many as 20 million Americans losing the insurance they currently have through their employers. A more likely outcome, according to CBO, would be only 5 million people losing their present coverage. But whether the actual total proves to be 20 million or 5 million or some figure in between, such losses undermine Obama's credibility with large numbers of people who were previously willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Politically damaging as such an outcome would be to the president's re-election campaign, however, there is a qualifier buried deep in the CBO report that should keep Obamacare backers wide-awake at night. "Models of the health insurance system, including those developed and used by CBO and JCT, are generally based on observed changes in behavior in response to modest changes in incentives, but the legislation enacted in 2010 is sweeping in its nature," CBO said in a classic Washington CYA formulation.
"Given the high degree of uncertainty, some Members of Congress have asked how CBO and JCT's estimates of the effects of the ACA on health insurance coverage would differ under alternative assumptions about the behavior of employers. The analysis presented in this report is illustrative of a wide range of possible outcomes regarding employers' behavior but does not reflect all of the dimensions of uncertainty inherent in CBO and JCT's projections of insurance coverage," CBO continued. In other words, the congressional authors acknowledge that nobody can be certain just how bad things will be once Obamacare is fully implemented.
Budget: Our out-of-control federal debt is a lot like a bad disease: Just because you ignore it doesn't mean it will go away. Even as pundits and economists tout a U.S. recovery, our fiscal picture just keeps getting worse.
Weird, isn't it, that politicians have almost stopped talking about the worsening fiscal picture and are instead talking up the economy, the stock market, female contraception, Rush Limbaugh — anything but our budget.
That's why it was good to hear former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels make a case this week in rather stark terms that our budget deficits and growing debt have to be tackled right away, or we'll lose control of our future.
"Whether one believes in a large, very active government or something more limited, mathematically the amount of debt we already have and the terrifying rate at which it is accumulating will lead to national ruin," he said. "There is no other outcome arithmetically possible."
Unfortunately, the debate over our soaring deficits and debts too often is posed simply as a political fight. Sorry, but wherever you are on the political spectrum on spending, taxes, deficits and debts, the reality is unless we change course soon, we'll soon be bust. Period.
Not all the blame goes to politicians, though. The root cause lies in Americans' ever-growing dependency on Big Government.
"Too many people are dependent on the compulsory charity of others through the government," Daniels said. "Too many people are simply selfish and short-sighted. They don't want to hear ... they will make life much less promising for their children in the future."
More troubling, he said, "they can easily be appealed to by demagogues who just say to keep doing nothing." That's where we are today. A Democratic Congress and a president seemingly intent on doing nothing.
As Daniels spoke, the Congressional Budget Office was preparing its new budget outlook — including long-term projections that confirm the Indiana governor's gloomy outlook. Like Daniels, it's likely to be ignored.
It's bad enough that the deficit this year will be $93 billion larger than estimated just two months ago, hitting $1.2 trillion for all of 2012.
What's worse, the nonpartisan CBO says, is if nothing changes, spending will hit 25% of GDP in 2022, a record, pushing federal debt to "unsupportable" levels. Recall during his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama pledged a "net spending cut" during his first term. That has now become something of a joke.
The CBO estimates government spending will exceed 23% of GDP for the next decade, well above the long-term postwar average, pushing up U.S. debt and deficits for decades to come — the greatest spending surge ever.
As the Heritage Foundation observes, "deficits never fall below $883 billion and would reach $1.45 trillion in 2022. (Public debt) also continues rising, from 73.3% of GDP today to an alarming 93.2% in 2022."
That's just 10 years away, folks. Yet, Congress hasn't passed an actual budget in nearly three years now, and the president's own budget is openly treated by both parties as a joke. But as Mitch Daniels suggests, if we let it happen, maybe the joke's on us.
Budget: Our out-of-control federal debt is a lot like a bad disease: Just because you ignore it doesn't mean it will go away. Even as pundits and economists tout a U.S. recovery, our fiscal picture just keeps getting worse.
Weird, isn't it, that politicians have almost stopped talking about the worsening fiscal picture and are instead talking up the economy, the stock market, female contraception, Rush Limbaugh — anything but our budget. That's why it was good to hear former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels make a case this week in rather stark terms that our budget deficits and growing debt have to be tackled right away, or we'll lose control of our future. "Whether one believes in a large, very active government or something more limited, mathematically the amount of debt we already have and the terrifying rate at which it is accumulating will lead to national ruin," he said. "There is no other outcome arithmetically possible." Unfortunately, the debate over our soaring deficits and debts too often is posed simply as a political fight. Sorry, but wherever you are on the political spectrum on spending, taxes, deficits and debts, the reality is unless we change course soon, we'll soon be bust. Period.
Not all the blame goes to politicians, though. The root cause lies in Americans' ever-growing dependency on Big Government.
"Too many people are dependent on the compulsory charity of others through the government," Daniels said. "Too many people are simply selfish and short-sighted. They don't want to hear ... they will make life much less promising for their children in the future."
Subscribe to the IBD Editorials Podcast More troubling, he said, "they can easily be appealed to by demagogues who just say to keep doing nothing." That's where we are today. A Democratic Congress and a president seemingly intent on doing nothing. As Daniels spoke, the Congressional Budget Office was preparing its new budget outlook — including long-term projections that confirm the Indiana governor's gloomy outlook. Like Daniels, it's likely to be ignored. It's bad enough that the deficit this year will be $93 billion larger than estimated just two months ago, hitting $1.2 trillion for all of 2012.
What's worse, the nonpartisan CBO says, is if nothing changes, spending will hit 25% of GDP in 2022, a record, pushing federal debt to "unsupportable" levels. Recall during his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama pledged a "net spending cut" during his first term. That has now become something of a joke.
The CBO estimates government spending will exceed 23% of GDP for the next decade, well above the long-term postwar average, pushing up U.S. debt and deficits for decades to come — the greatest spending surge ever. As the Heritage Foundation observes, "deficits never fall below $883 billion and would reach $1.45 trillion in 2022. (Public debt) also continues rising, from 73.3% of GDP today to an alarming 93.2% in 2022."
That's just 10 years away, folks. Yet, Congress hasn't passed an actual budget in nearly three years now, and the president's own budget is openly treated by both parties as a joke. But as Mitch Daniels suggests, if we let it happen, maybe the joke's on us.
The position of attorney general of the United States of America ought to command the highest level of respect. One of only four cabinet positions that can trace its origins to the administration of George Washington, it is among the highest stations in American life: chief law enforcement officer of a constitutional republic that stands, like no other country in the world, for the concept of equality before the law.
Yet during the tenure of Eric Holder, the Justice Department has become anything but a neutral arbiter. Indeed, who you are — and how that identity fits into the political schema of the left — is the most accurate predictor of what kind of treatment you’ll receive from the DOJ.
We were reminded of that unfortunate reality earlier this week, when Holder’s Justice Department announced that it was prohibiting the implementation of a Texas law requiring voters to present photo identification, claiming that it violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act (the DOJ had taken similar action against South Carolina in December).
Both cases are based on tortured rationales that requiring photo identification — which both states will provide to voters for free — discriminates against minority voters. And both states are suing in response. Yet, regardless of the outcomes of those cases, we can be sure that we haven’t seen the last of Holder’s racialist crusades. Since the very beginning of the Obama administration, his fixation on racial issues has been as consistent as it is divisive.
The first sign of this pernicious trend came in the earliest days of Holder’s tenure, when his Justice Department refused to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party who stood outside a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008 wearing paramilitary outfits and shouting racial slurs at white voters while one of them brandished a billy club. While video of the incident left the public aghast, the DOJ dropped nearly all of the charges and dramatically narrowed the others, claiming the press had overblown the entire affair.
Amidst allegations that senior Justice Department officials wanted the case killed because they didn’t believe that civil rights laws should apply to white voters, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights launched an investigation. During that time, one Justice Department official, J. Christian Adams, resigned his position after his superiors instructed him not to respond to a subpoena.
Attorney General Holder, for his part, was unmoved. When grilled on Capitol Hill about the Justice Department’s failure to follow through on the case, Holder snapped when Republican Congressman John Culbertson of Texas quoted Democratic activist Bartle Bull — who witnessed the event — as saying that it was “the most blatant form of voter discrimination I have encountered in my life.”
“Think about that,” replied the petulant attorney general. “When you compare what people endured in the South in the ’60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, and to compare what people were subjected to there to what happened in Philadelphia — which was inappropriate, certainly that … to describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all, for my people.”
It was a moment of self-consciously righteous rage that spoke volumes about Holder’s psychology. There was racial tribalism (“my people”), the characterization of a disgusting event as something like a breach of etiquette (“inappropriate, certainly”) and a failure to grasp right and wrong in absolute, rather than relative, terms (whether or not the Black Panthers incident rose to the same level as the most egregious injustices of the Civil Rights era has no bearing on whether or not it should have been prosecuted). Each of those traits have been hallmarks of the Holder era.
The attorney general’s obsession with race has been monomaniacal. Within the first month of his tenure, he told DOJ employees at a Black History Month event that, when it comes to race, America is “essentially a nation of cowards.” In an interview with The New York Times late last year, Holder claimed that attacks on him were “a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him, both due to the nature of our relationship, and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”
At a speech in Atlanta just a few weeks ago, Holder showed there were no depths of minutiae he was unwilling to plumb when he complained, “We’ve often seen that students of color, students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students with special needs are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled. This is, quite simply, unacceptable. … These unnecessary and destructive policies must be changed.” Holder conveniently ignored, however, data that show those students were punished more often because they actually got in trouble more often.
This is the controlling thesis — perhaps the only thesis — that occupies Eric Holder’s mind: any public policy he disfavors can’t be motivated by honest disagreements about first principles or empirical realities; it must be the product of prejudices buried deep within the subconsciousness of its proponents.
When Arizona passed its tough new immigration law (which Holder’s Justice Department subsequently sued the state over), the attorney general publicly warned that the law had “the possibility of leading to racial profiling and putting a wedge between law enforcement and a community that would, in fact, be profiled” — yet Holder admitted at a congressional hearing less than a week later that he hadn’t even read the law.
He even used a similar rationale to defend Obamacare, writing an op-ed with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius where he compared attempts to overturn the law through the courts to efforts to defeat Civil Rights legislation decades earlier.
There is a touch of tragedy to Eric Holder. He is seemingly unaware that he lives in the most advanced era of racial relations in American history. That we have arrived here is a justifiable source of pride for the nation — and it ought to be even more so for the nation’s first African-American attorney general, a man who has seen the transition happen within the course of his own lifetime. For Holder, however, there is only suspicion, paranoia and a touch of vindictiveness. It goes beyond disturbing to see an office so big inhabited by a man so small.
DESPERATE FOR CASH, PRESIDENT TRIES TO SCARE WOMEN, ANTIWAR GROUPS, UNIONS, DEMOCRATS INTO GIVING
On March 13 the Obama campaign released one of the more interesting fundraising appeals in recent memory. “If the general election were held today,” wrote campaign manager Jim Messina, “President Obama would lose to Mitt Romney—according to the latest poll from Washington Post-ABC News.” More troubling to Messina: “The other side has groups ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to tear down President Obama.” The Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney, “will spend and say anything to win.” The letter concluded, “If the idea of a President Romney scares you, it’s time to own a piece of this campaign” by donatingto Obama’s “two-term fund.”
Leave aside the fact that “scary” is not a word one would normally associate with Mitt Romney (“boring,” maybe, but not “scary”). What made Messina’s letter so revealing was his total omission of the incumbent’s record and of any positive rationale for his election to a second term. The policies of this president—the stimulus, the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq—were totally ignored for what should be obvious reasons: Those accomplishments are unpopular or slow-motion disasters in the making or, in several cases, both. Messina is left with the Goosebumps defense: Donate to the Obama campaign or else nasty Mitt Romney and his friends the Koch brothers and Karl Rove will come and … well, do something bad to you.
Barack Obama is now the candidate of fear. The press is so occupied by the Republican horserace that it has missed one of the biggest stories of the age: the Obama team’s adoption of tactics that the president would have ruled out as “politics as usual” only four years ago. The shift is born of necessity. Despite holding fundraisers at twice the rate of his predecessor, the Obama campaign’s high burn rate has left the president with less cash on hand than Bush had at this point in the 2004 cycle. These money troubles spurred the president’s hypocritical decision last month to support outright the Priorities USA super PAC. But even Obama’s endorsement has not been enough to energize Democratic donors. Priorities USA raised only $2 million in the month of February, half of which came from self-described “comedian” Bill Maher.
Obama’s tepid fundraising reveals a Democratic donor base torn between disillusionment and apathy. Some wealthy liberals, living contentedly in la-la land, are holding back money because they believe Obama has not been left-wing enough, especially on the issue of climate change. (An extremely witty Huffington Post video illustrates the liberal disaffection well.) Others have seen the mainstream media coverage of the Republican primary and concluded, not entirely without reason, that the GOP is no threat at all. Why write a check, then, when the president is a lock?
Thus America has had to endure a month of lunatic debate over whether there is a Republican “war on women.” The Democrats have devoted Olympian energy to a massive distortion of history, attempting to turn an argument over government infringement of conscience protections into an argument over just how closely conservatives resemble Piltdown man. The media helpfully have parroted the DNC line.
No Republican has proposed to ban contraception. The only clock the GOP (and a majority of the country) wants to roll back is the one ticking down the seconds until the final implementation of Obamacare.
But that has not stopped the Democrats, from friendly media to the president himself, from suggesting that only one political party is concerned with the fortunes of XX chromosomes. The latest transparently desperate move is Sen. Chuck Schumer’s push for a vote on a version of the Violence Against Women Act that is designed to fail. Such cheap political stunts are meant neither to make law nor to pursue the public interest. Their purpose is to increase the political fortunes of the Democratic Party by firing up the activists who form its core. The “war on women” sloganeering is intended to animate the feminists without whose votes Obama surely will lose.
Obama’s fear tactics are not limited to domestic issues. The president has repeatedly evoked the danger that might ensue if a Republican president actually were to take an aggressive approach to curtailing the Iranian nuclear program. “If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so,” he said at his press conference last week, decrying “some of these folks [who] have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk.” Meanwhile, the administration has engaged in leaks and in press spin devoted to the notion that an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be not only futile but also disastrous for American national security.
Yet it is not only the Republican candidates but also the American people who are engaging in “loose talk of war.” Polling may show that the U.S. public is open to and indeed outright supportive of military action to destroy the facilities, damage and delay the program, and disrupt the Iranian regime. But, to hear the president tell it, the greatest threat is not Iran but Republican swagger and the possibility of outright conflict. The message to the antiwar activists who bankroll Democratic groups and campaigns: Get off the sidelines or our worst fear, a war with Iran, may come true.
Bogeymen lurk in every corner of the president’s rhetoric. If he’s speaking to a labor group, he raises the specter of what Republicans would do to their benefits and wages and jobs. If he’s speaking to Latinos, he suggests that the GOP is preparing to round them up illegally and engage in mass deportations. Not a speech goes by without a mention of the bad old days of George W. Bush. It is only a matter of time until the president and his surrogates tell African Americans that a Republican victory would mean a return to Jim Crow.
Obama soon will discover, however, that the politics of fear only take one so far. Animosity is a powerful inducement to political activity, but it cannot win over a majority of the country. The more Obama gins up his base, the more he alienates the independents and white voters who could be his undoing. It also helps when the fear in question has something to do with reality. George W. Bush warned against the dangers of Osama bin Laden and an axis of evil between rogue states and global terrorist groups. Barack Obama is warning against the purported danger of your uncle who watches Fox News Channel, criticizes Nancy Pelosi at Thanksgiving dinner, and doesn’t find 8.3 percent unemployment terribly impressive.
Obama is trapped. He is a victim of his own failures as president and his decision to abandon the ground of American unity that was always the key to his appeal. Voters are more likely to support a candidate who offers positive change. They want to grasp a shred of hope. It was Obama who offered that in 2008. It will be a Republican who does it in 2012.
You can almost hear the note of surprise in their voices when you read the Washington Post and New York Times reporters' stories on their papers' latest political polls.
Surprise! Just when they thought that Barack Obama was pulling ahead, with positive job ratings, and just after the mainstream media have been savaging Republicans for two words Rush Limbaugh uttered on his radio program, Obama's numbers seem to be tanking.
Actually, the numbers are not so striking or so surprising. The media narrative for the last four weeks has been that the president's job approval has been rising in response to good economic news.
But the economic news has not been all that striking. We had a quarter in which economic growth reached 2.8 percent. We've had two months with job growth of better than 200,000.
Peachy. But in 1983, the year before Ronald Reagan's re-election, the gross domestic product rose 8.9 percent not just for one quarter but over the whole year. There were two months when job growth was 729,000 and 660,000.
That's the kind of economic recovery that enables an incumbent president's campaign to run a credible "Morning in America" ad. If the Obama campaign ran one now, it would be fodder for "Saturday Night Live" and Jon Stewart.
Nor was the supposed spike in Obama's job rating so high. In the realclearpolitics.com average of recent polls, it never got better than 49 percent approve, 47 percent disapprove.
Now the ABC/WaPo poll has it at 46-50 and the CBS/NYT poll at 41-47. Rasmussen Reports tracking has it at 47-52.
That downtick is not huge, though it seems to be offsetting the February uptick. Some basic factors are still working for Obama. Americans want to think well of their presidents; this helped Bill Clinton in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2004. Many voters do not want to be seen as rejecting the first black president.
On the other hand, Obama's major policies are unpopular. You can gauge that by the number of words devoted to the stimulus package in his last State of the Union: zero.
Or by the persistent unpopularity of Obamacare. Or by the fact that 50 percent in the ABC/WaPo poll strongly disapproved of his handling of the economy.
Or by the response to Democrats' claims that Republicans were waging a "war on women" by opposing the administration's mandate that religious affiliated organizations' insurance policies cover birth control.
The New York Times in its print article buried its own results, as blogger Mickey Kaus noted. Its poll showed women favored allowing religious organizations to opt out of such coverage by a 53 to 38 percent margin. The margin among men and women together was 57 to 36 percent.
Four dollar gas prices surely took a toll on the president's numbers as well, despite his repeated boasts that domestic oil production is up.
Americans know the president cannot set the price at the pump. But they are also apparently aware that his administration shut down oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and has been slow-walking drilling permits, that it banned offshore drilling over other coasts and that it denied a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Keystone denial remains astonishing for reasons that, I suspect, any Democratic pollster would tell you if you could promise absolute confidentiality.
A February Pew poll showed a 42 to 15 percent margin for building the pipeline. The fact that Obama was lobbying Senate Democrats last week to block the pipeline and that all but three voted to do so won't help the president or his party.
Last year, I described the Keystone decision as a "no-brainer." It never occurred to me that Obama would decide to favor the rich environmentalists he encounters at fundraisers over the mass of the American people who want the Canadian oil and the construction jobs the pipeline would supply.
Obama's February uptick and March downtick in the polls will probably not be the last fluctuation we will see in his political standing.
Opinion about Mitt Romney, who at this writing seems virtually certain to be the Republican nominee, could fluctuate even more. Events could shift opinion, too.
But some fundamentals are unlikely to change. Voters' focus is on economic issues and on these most oppose the president's policies. His media cheerleaders who thought his February numbers meant the election was over were fooling themselves.
"If you have 10,000 regulations," Winston Churchill said, "you destroy all respect for law."
He was right. But Churchill never imagined a government that would add 10,000 year after year. That's what we have in America. We have 160,000 pages of rules from the feds alone. States and localities have probably doubled that. We have so many rules that legal specialists can't keep up. Criminal lawyers call the rules "incomprehensible." They are. They are also "uncountable." Congress has created so many criminal offenses that the American Bar Association says it would be futile to even attempt to estimate the total.
So what do the politicians and bureaucrats of the permanent government do? They pass more rules.
That's not good. It paralyzes life.
Politicians sometimes say they understand the problem. They promise to "simplify." But they rarely do. Mostly, they come up with new rules. It's just natural. It's how the public measures politicians. Schoolchildren on Washington tours ask, "What laws did you pass?" If they don't pass new laws, the media whine about the "do-nothing Congress."
This is also not good.
When so much is illegal, common sense dies. Out of fear of breaking rules, people stop innovating, trying, helping.
Think I exaggerate? Consider what happened in Britain, a country even more rule-bound than America. A man had an epileptic seizure and fell into a shallow pond. Rescue workers might have saved him, but they wouldn't enter the 3-foot-deep pond. Why? Because "safety" rules passed after rescuers drowned in a river now prohibited "emergency workers" from entering water above their ankles. Only 30 minutes later, when rescue workers with "stage 2 training" arrived, did they enter the water, discover that the man was dead and carry him to the approved inflatable medical tent. Twenty other cops, firemen and "rescuers" stood next to the pond and watched.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, sometimes called the first libertarian thinker, said, "The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished. ... The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be." He complained that there were "laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox." What would he have thought of our world?
Big-government advocates will say that as society grows more complex, laws must multiply to keep up. The opposite is true. It is precisely because society is unfathomably complex that laws must be kept simple. No legislature can possibly prescribe rules for the complex network of uncountable transactions and acts of cooperation that take place every day. Not only is the knowledge that would be required to make such a regulatory regime work unavailable to the planners, it doesn't actually exist, because people don't know what they will want or do until they confront alternatives in the real world. Any attempt to manage a modern society is more like a bull in a darkened china shop than a finely tuned machine. No wonder the schemes of politicians go awry.
F.A. Hayek wisely said, "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design." Another Nobel laureate, James M. Buchanan, put it this way: "Economics is the art of putting parameters on our utopias."
Barack Obama and his ilk in both parties don't want parameters on their utopias. They think the world is subject to their manipulation. That idea was debunked years ago.
"With good men and strong governments everything was considered feasible," the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote. But with the advent of economics, "it was learned that ... there is something operative which power and force are unable to alter and to which they must adjust themselves if they hope to achieve success, in precisely the same way as they must taken into account the laws of nature."
I wish our politicians knew that. I wish they'd stop their presumptuous schemes.
We need to end the orgy of rule-making at once and embrace the simple rules that true liberals like America's founders envisioned.
There have been many frauds of historic proportions -- for example, the financial pyramid scheme for which Charles Ponzi was sent to prison in the 1920s, and for which Franklin D. Roosevelt was praised in the 1930s, when he called it Social Security. In our own times, Bernie Madoff's hoax has made headlines.
But the biggest hoax of the past two generations is still going strong -- namely, the hoax that statistical differences in outcomes for different groups are due to the way other people treat those groups.
The latest example of this hoax is the joint crusade of the Department of Education and the Department of Justice against schools that discipline black males more often than other students. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, this disparity in punishment violates the "promise" of "equity."
Just who made this promise remains unclear, and why equity should mean equal outcomes despite differences in behavior is even more unclear. This crusade by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is only the latest in a long line of fraudulent arguments based on statistics.
If black males get punished more often than Asian American females, does that mean that it is somebody else's fault? That it is impossible that black males are behaving differently from Asian American females? Nobody in his right mind believes that. But that is the unspoken premise, without which the punishment statistics prove nothing about "equity."
What is the purpose or effect of this whole exercise by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice? To help black students or to secure the black vote in an election year by seeming to be coming to the rescue of blacks from white oppression?
Among the many serious problems of ghetto schools is the legal difficulty of getting rid of disruptive hoodlums, a mere handful of whom can be enough to destroy the education of a far larger number of other black students -- and with it destroy their chances for a better life.
Judges have already imposed too many legalistic procedures on schools that are more appropriate for a courtroom. "Due process" rules that are essential for courts can readily become "undue process" in a school setting, when letting clowns and thugs run amok, while legalistic procedures to suspend or expel them drag on. It is a formula for educational and social disaster.
Now Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder want to play the race card in an election year, at the expense of the education of black students. Make no mistake about it, the black students who go to school to get an education are the main victims of the classroom disrupters whom Duncan and Holder are trying to protect.
What they are more fundamentally trying to protect are the black votes which are essential for Democrats. For that, blacks must be constantly depicted as under siege from whites, so that Democrats can be seen as their rescuers.
Promoting paranoia translates into votes. It is a very cynical political game, despite all the lofty rhetoric used to disguise it.
Whether the current generation of black students get a decent education is infinitely more important than whether the current generation of Democratic politicians hang on to their jobs.
Too many of the intelligentsia -- both black and white -- jump on the statistical bandwagon, and see statistical differences as proof of maltreatment, not only in schools but in jobs, in mortgage lending and in many other things.
Some act as if their role is to protect the image of blacks by blaming their problems on whites. But the truth is far more important than racial image.
Wherever we want to go, we can only get there from where we are. Not where we think we are, or wish we are, or where we want others to think we are, but where we are in fact right now.
But political spin and pious euphemisms don't tell us where we are. After a while, such rhetorical exercises don't even fool others.
If we don't have the truth, we don't have anything to start with and build on. A big start toward the truth would be getting rid of the kinds of statistical hoaxes being promoted by Secretary of Education Duncan and Attorney General Holder. ************************************************* ****
Get ready for a new round of green bankruptcies, as Europe trims back subsidies for solar companies and taxpayers lose their appetite for subsidizing green power.
“The mini-bubble resulting from the rush to cash in on solar subsidies in European and U.S. markets is ending, as feed-in tariffs drop in Europe while loan guarantee and tax credit programs tighten up in the U.S.,” says a new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch according to CNBC.com.
Germany is dialing back subsidies for solar this month by 29 percent with subsequent decreases each month, according to Bloomberg.com.
Rasmussen has recently released a survey of voters that show a diminishing number of voters support subsidizing the production of the Chevy Volt.
Only 29 percent of likely voters agree with Obama’s latest proposal to include a $10,000 subsidy in the federal budget to support the purchase of every electric vehicle.
The survey found that 58 percent oppose the plan, while 13 percent remain undecided.
And make no mistake, without subsidies solar, electric vehicles, wind power and other alternatives remain a chimera.
“Steven Cortes, CNBC contributor and founder of Veracruz Research, also sees solar stocks declining further and wonders about the impact of the recent natural gas boom on the sector.
“’As much as I love sun, I hate the solar space. This is not a real business, it’s a political construct,’” Cortes said on Fast Money Wednesday. “’And they can’t compete with natural gas at these levels.’”
“That figure is 48.3 percent more than the five-year average, the Energy Department said,” reports the AP. “Natural gas fell 3 cents to finish at $2.27 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York. The price has fallen about 27 percent this year and is at the lowest level in a decade.”
Last week Abound Solar announced it would lay off half its workforce despite receiving a $400 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy last year. The rating agency Fitch’s hit Abound over failures to meet stated goals, old technology, calling the company “highly speculative” according to ABCNews.
Reports ABC: It remains way too early to determine whether Abound is poised to follow the trajectory of the best-known solar manufacturer to receive a sizeable government loan -- Solyndra, the California firm that filed for bankruptcy in September after having burned through the bulk of its $535 million federal loan.
However, there is an old saying in the market that the tape doesn’t lie.
And the tape on solar companies is horrendous.
In the second quarter of 2008 First Solar (Symbol: FSLR) briefly touched $300 per share. Today it trades at $27.49. That equals losses of about $24 billion in market capitalization in just four years.
In April of last year Trina Solar LTD (Symbol: TSL) was trading just under $30 and is now trading at about $7.31. Earnings estimates have gone in the last few months from Trina losing about 17 cents per share for 2012 to losing about 63 cents per share.
The Guggenheim Solar ETF (Symbol: TAN) has also moved down from around $300 per share in mid 2008, until it trades now at $27.02.
And the fundamentals aren’t getting better for solar soon, because solar can’t compete with coal-fired or nuclear generated electric.
“Fewer solar panels will be installed this year,” reports Bloomberg “as the first drop in more than a decade worsens a glut of the unsold devices that’s already slashed margins at the top five manufacturers, an analyst survey showed... Without government incentives, even record low prices for solar panels may not be cheap enough to encourage solar farm developers and homeowners to install them in the volumes needed to work through the glut, said Rozwadowski, the most pessimistic analyst in the survey. He expects installations to drop to 20.7 gigawatts.”
It’s important to note that the poor performance of the solar industry came at a time when government financial support has been at an all-time high world-wide. It only goes to show that politics and public policy are poor substitutes for free market economics.
Expect the solar industry to continue to crash and burn as government money continues to dry up along with public support.
A medical journal article ruthlessly proposes — and its editor defends — rhetorically dressed-up infanticide.
Posted By Tom Blumer
Almost three centuries ago, in A Modest Proposal, satirist Jonathan Swift suggested that poor children in Ireland should be fattened up for a year and sold as food. This would spare families years of expense, provide them some income, enhance the upper crust’s dining experiences, and improve the nation’s economy.
Given the long-lasting fame which came to Swift as a result of this work, I figured that Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, two Australian writers who somehow convinced the UK’s Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) that they are “ethicists,” were surely attempting a similar exercise in Juvenalian satire in their February 23 paper titled “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?”
In that paper, excerpted here (the original has since gone behind a subscription wall), the pair told us that society faces a really big problem, namely that many pre-born babies who should have been killed in the womb escape because their physical condition wasn’t fully known ahead of time:
An examination of 18 European registries reveals that between 2005 and 2009 only 64% of Down’s syndrome cases were diagnosed through prenatal testing. This percentage indicates that, considering only the European areas under examination, about 1700 infants were born with Down’s syndrome without parents being aware of it before birth.
The fact that many of the parents of the other 36% might in otherwise stable circumstances have chosen to end the pre-born baby’s life if only they had known of the baby’s handicap is far from the only problem. Sometimes the mother’s life situation changes for the worse, and what was expected to be a bundle of joy has become a serious encumbrance.
That’s all bad enough, but there’s something even worse:
… to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden … on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion.
One must admit that as satirists, the two Aussies really rock.
The pair then immodestly proposes that we make the exercise of killing already-living children palatable by changing the language:
… we propose to call this practice “after-birth abortion,” rather than “infanticide,” to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which “abortions” in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.
… The alleged right of individuals (such as fetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality, which someone defends, is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.
Giubilini and Minerva are absolutely brilliant, aren’t they? Through their satire, they make incredibly powerful pro-life arguments. Over forty years of reason-based attempts at persuasion and breathtaking improvements in science and technology affirming the wonders of human life at all stages have failed to prevent the annual slaughter of a million-plus children in the U.S. from abortion on demand. But now, in points bluntly made and sharply executed, the two Aussies have found the key. After reading their work, nobody can possibly believe that children, once born, are not entitled to continue to live. Once readers are reminded of that obvious point, they’ll reach the inescapable conclusion that “pre-birth abortion” is every bit as evil as “after-birth abortion.”
… Uh, what’s that?
Giubilini and Minerva aren’t satirists? They really are “ethicists” — and they’re freaking serious? O … M … G.
Indeed, they are, pun intended, dead serious, as is JME’s editor Julian Savulescu. In a blog post five days later, jaded Julian not only defended the publication of the indefensible work, he virtually agreed with its authors’ immoral proposal:
The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defense of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.
… the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible.
Savulescu also bitterly attacked those who dared to express their outrage over the decision to publish the Australian pair’s conclusions in a “scholarly” journal. Oh sure, he cited death threats and racist comments, which everyone agrees are out of bounds and should be legally pursued when warranted. But it’s clear from his posting of the following comments he identified as “abusive threatening correspondence” in his introduction that the thin-skinned Savalescu despises being on the receiving end of any form of disagreement from the rest of us inferior beings:
“These people are evil. Pure evil. That they feel safe in putting their twisted thoughts into words reveals how far we have fallen as a society.”
“I don‘t believe I’ve ever heard anything as vile as what these ‘people’ are advocating. Truly, truly scary.”
“The fact that the Journal of Medical Ethics published this outrageous and immoral piece of work is even scarier.”
What Savulescu calls examples of abuse and threats, the rest of us would characterize as “strongly worded opinions.” There is little doubt that if they could, “ethicists” like Savalescu and many of his odious American counterparts would silence any and all dissent from their “ethical” discussions. Really, can gulags for objectors who won’t shut up be that far behind?
Abortion proponents in the late 1960s and early 1970s ridiculed those who warned against the “slippery slope” consequences of allowing abortion on demand. “It won’t lead anyone to seriously consider euthanasia and infanticide,” they said. Well, yes it did.
We’re even taking the first steps towards realizing Swift’s sardonically imagined world where its people consume its children — not in preparing what we eat (yet), but indeed in what we drink , again accompanied by astonishing arrogance:
In a decision delivered February 28, the Security and Exchange Commission ruled that PepsiCo’s use of aborted fetal remains in their research and development agreement with Senomyx to produce flavor enhancers falls under “ordinary business operations.”
… PepsiCo also requested … (that a related shareholders’) resolution be excluded because it “probed too deeply into matters of a complex nature upon which shareholders cannot make an informed judgment.”
Can anyone reasonably doubt presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s Linkdeep concern that if we continue down our current path — one which, if Obamacare is ever implemented, will lead inexorably to a point where “every man, woman and child in America … (will be) dependent upon the federal government for your life and your health” — we will “leave a very cold dangerous, frightening America to our children”? ************************************************* ****
The specter of austerity lies heavy on America. Hardly a day passes without another warning from New York Times whiner and erstwhile economist Paul Krugman, his colleague Nicholas Kristof, and the legion of other progressive apologists that “austerity” is threatening the U.S. recovery and destroying Europe.
Where is this austerity? It is certainly not anywhere to be found in the federal budget. Total spending in 2011 was $3.598 billion in 2011, higher than the stimulus-bloated total in 2009, and 21 percent higher than the year of the Bush administration. Austerity?
Maybe the austerity is found in discretionary spending — the annual decisions of Congress. Mandatory spending — entitlements — continues its relentless march to the (red) sea, up to $2.215 billion in 2011 or 24 percent above 2008 levels. But discretionary spending in 2011 was $1.346 billion, an entire $1 billion lower than in 2010. One billion dollars. To be sure, the new Congress put the brakes on the discretionary-spending binge, but austerity it is not.
Or, perhaps the austerity stems from the draconian Budget Control Act of 2011 — the so-called debt limit deal. The BCA “cut” $917 billion from discretionary spending over the next 10 years. Sort of. Actually those “cuts” are promises that a future administration and Congress in, say, 2018 will spend less that it would otherwise (honest, really and truly, cross our hearts). Hopeful thinking, yes. But austerity?
Maybe the austerity is sneaking in at the sub-federal level. Mr. Krugman is fond of making this claim. But the data don’t really bear that out. In the National Income and Product Accounts state and local spending has risen the last three straight years and is back to 2008 levels. And recall that 2008 spending was bloated by bubble-driven revenues, to the point that it was over 50 percent above 2000 levels. Austerity?
Occasionally the argument is shifted from spending to whether the deficit is “big enough” — too rapid deficit reduction being portrayed as a danger to the recovery. Viewed from this perspective, the gold-standard measure of Keynesian stimulus is the change in the full-employment budget deficit — the amount of discretionary tax cuts and spending increases. The Congressional Budget Office conveniently publishes this each January. The data show that the full-employment deficit did diminish from $1.079 billion in 2009 to $904 billion in 2010, but turned around and widened in 2011 to $928 billion. That pattern hardly tracks the lackluster recovery that has been underway since June 2009.
In short, austerity is a myth. But the myth does a disservice by blocking efforts for the real changes the economy needs: fundamental entitlement fixes and tax reforms. These reforms are not near-term in nature, are a step to rationality and not to austerity, and will happen either of our own accord or when international lenders force them upon the U.S. The latter should be unthinkable. It is time to put aside the austerity myth.
Despite popular opinion why Obama will have a hard time being reelected.
Part two A bad weather forecast
I am going to get away from the demographics that I concentrated on in part one for a bit, though I will come back to them. I would like to touch on the issues. There are many issues where Obama is acting contrary to the views and wishes of a majority of the American people. Truth be told there are far too many issues where Obama is acting against the people many of which the Americans people are not even really aware of, but we will focus on some big ones. Let's start with one that is current and if it remains a topic going into fall will be devastating for Obama.
Gas is important. Fuel for our cars is like the weather report, everybody pays attention to it because it always has the potential of affecting your day, or in some cases to dramatically disrupt your life.
Currently gasoline prices are only like a heavy thunderstorm or snowfall, a real inconvenience and a slight disruption in peoples lives but everyone can see a potential tornado or blizzard forming. If gas prices just remain as they are now, hovering around the $4 a gallon mark, two things will happen.
First people will remain and probably grow more pessimistic about their economic circumstances. Irregardless of the unemployment numbers the price of gas is both personal and immediate. You can tell people it is not snowing or that the economy is getting better but if you're shoveling to get out your door or spending $50+ a fill up, all the weatherman's sunny forecasts are nothing more than proof of why you need to turn the channel.
The second thing that will happen and will suck the life out of any rosy economic narrative the Obama campaign may wish to spin is that high energy prices will at minimum slow any real economic growth. As we so often hear, unemployment is a "lagging indicator" in the economy. Simply what this means is that going into a recession increased unemployment is one of the last things to happen and coming out of one during a recovery it is too.
A Gallup poll released this week showed 17% of Americans were already making cut backs in other areas of their life in order to accommodate higher gas prices, This is based on the current gas prices of below $4 a gallon if prices go above that, 28% say they will make "significant" cutbacks. Not only do these types of adjustments hurt one's personal attitude, they dramatically slow down the economy in general. The more money you are putting in your tank the less movies you are going to, the less vacations you take, the less televisions you buy and the ripple affect throughout the economy can be devastating.
Some people make the argument with some evidence and justification that the high gas prices beginning in the winter of 2007 and spiking in the summer of 2008 was the straw that broke the camels back setting off the "great recession".
Obviously the slower the recovery the slower it will be for unemployment figures to go down. High gas prices in the summer besides drawing attention to Obama's insane energy policies will also hinder economic growth and keep unemployment high
Of course the media will try everything in their power to downplay Obama's responsibility for gas prices, but the reality of the gas prices themselves, will if continued, have a very negative affect on Obama's reelection prospects.
Yesterday the President actively lobbied US Senators to defeat a Republican amendment which would have allowed for the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. Eleven Democratic Senators voted with all the Republicans but could not reach the 60 vote threshold. Obama's continued opposition to this project which nearly 70% of the American public support just adds to the belief that Obama is totally out of touch with America when it comes to energy policy. Which he is.
Once the Republicans pick a candidate the message is going to be more focused on all policy fronts. As far as gas prices go the argument is as simple as it always has been. If, as liberals claim, speculators are driving gas prices, the question is what are the speculators speculating on? Why the future supply of gas/oil- right?
The argument the President is making lately is that the only way to solve high gas prices is to reduce demand rather than increase supply. "We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, and our buildings, and our factories,t hat's the only solution to the challenge. Because as we start using less, that lowers the demand, prices come down." Besides being intellectually dishonest, it fails the common sense test which the vast majority of American's still use to make decisions.
Despite the demagogic platitudes most Americans know that you can both chew gum and walk at the same time or invest in new technologies while increasing supplies of needed fuels. In fact most people recognize that you can not have the former without the latter, new technologies require investments which only a strong economy can generate, and a strong economy is virtually impossible without cheap energy.
To show how absolutely stupid the argument against increasing domestic drilling is, let me offer up that right wing radical Barney Frank who just the other day while talking about high gas prices stated "..one of the things we should do is release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve..." Now consider that statement, in order to bring down prices we should, in essence, provide more gas to the market place.
Congressional Democrats are ramping up pressure on President Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to prevent rising gas prices from threatening the economy and their election-year prospects.
Now if "drill baby drill" won't help gas prices why will releasing the same commodity from the SPR do it? Everyone knows it takes five to ten years to bring oil to the market but two points. One if we had started an aggressive drilling policy four years ago, last time we went through this wouldn't we be close to extracting far more than we can ever take from the SPR? The second point is even more ironic, what do those evil speculators speculate on? Why it's future supplies of oil now isn't it ?
This whole issue of a disastrous self-defeating national energy policy which has squandered billions of taxpayer dollars on pipe dream green energy projects while refusing to expand domestic supplies of energy will be a focal point of the 2012 election regardless of gas prices. If however gas prices remain above $3.50 going into the election season,it will be like a hurricane battering the coast day after day as eleven Democratic Senators recognized yesterday.
President Obama is once again proposing selectively punitive treatment of the oil and natural gas industry, one of the strongest job-creating sectors of the U.S. economy.
The oil and natural gas industry, one of the strongest job-creating sectors of the U.S. economy, has been unfavorably targeted by President Obama’s proposed 2013 fiscal year (FY) federal budget. To start with, Obama is proposing, for the fourth consecutive year, to repeal Section 199 of the “American Jobs Creation Act.” If enacted, this selectively punitive treatment would increase taxes on oil and natural gas companies by almost $12 billion over the next decade. It could possibly jeopardize some of the millions of American jobs supported by oil and natural gas producers and prolong the sub-par “jobless recovery.”
The Section 199 tax deduction is currently available to all U.S. manufacturers on their qualifying income from domestic production at a rate of 9 percent—all but the oil and natural gas industry, which is already unfairly penalized by previous legislation with only a 6 percent deduction.
Furthermore, the Obama budget additionally targets oil and natural gas companies for higher taxes by proposing to repeal: a) the expensing of intangible drilling costs, b) “last-in, first- out” (LIFO) accounting in favor of the higher-taxed “first-in, first-out” accounting methodology, c) the deduction for tertiary injectants (fluids, gases, and chemicals) that are used in unconventional drilling, and d) the percentage depletion allowance to recover costs for capital investments. Additional tax increases on the oil and natural gas industry would come from proposed modifications of the dual capacity rule (a U.S. tax policy that prevents the double taxation of foreign earnings), increasing the amortization period for exploration costs, and reinstating Superfund taxes.
Taken together, it is estimated by the American Petroleum Institute that all eight targeted proposals of the administration’s FY2013 budget would burden the oil and gas industry with almost $86 billion in higher taxes over the next ten years. Energy companies, who have recently been aggressively expanding operations in domestic oil and natural gas fields from North Dakota to Texas to Pennsylvania, will have an incentive to shift their operations overseas if U.S. tax policies make it less profitable to engage in domestic oil and natural gas exploration and drilling.
In the same FY2013 budget, President Obama has favorably targeted so-called “clean” energy for a variety of direct subsidies and preferences. The administration’s top ten budget provisions for green energy include the following:
• Extending the production tax credit (of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity) for wind energy through calendar year 2013.
• Extending the Treasury Cash Grant Program (Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) to assist small renewable energy companies through 2012, extending tax credits (for renewable companies able to use the credits) for one year, and converting the program into a refundable tax credit through 2016.
• Increasing research and development funding to $350 million for advanced energy technologies (up from $40 million disbursed by the U.S. Department of Energy over the last two years).
• Expenditures for clean domestic manufacturing, with $290 million for improving industrial processes and materials, and $5 billion for the “48C” clean energy tax credit available to manufacturers of “cleantech” products.
• Expenditures for solar and wind energy, providing $310 million for the SunShot Initiative, a program designed to make solar energy cost competitive with fossil fuel energy without government subsidies by 2020, and $95 million for wind energy, including expansion in offshore wind technologies.
• Expenditures for energy efficiency, including an 80 percent increase in funding to promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings and industries.
• A 10 percent increase in funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s FY2013 budget for implementation and enforcement of federal environmental safeguards, and $222 million for the U.S. Department the Interior’s newly formed Bureau of Safety and Environmental Protection.
• Expanding Department of Defense clean energy initiatives, including doubling (to $1 billion more than the FY2012 budget) expenditures for efficiency retrofitting of buildings and meeting efficiency standards for new facilities.
• Maintaining funding (at the FY2012 budget level) for international climate financing, with at least $833 million to support sustainable landscapes, clean energy, and adaptation to climate change in developing countries.
What makes this differential tax treatment especially misguided at this time is that the oil and natural gas industry has been one of the most robust sectors of the economy, actively creating the “shovel-ready” jobs that Obama agrees are so critical to the economic recovery.
Overall employment in the U.S. economy still remains short by almost 5 million jobs, and more than 3 percent below the pre-recession employment peak in November 2007. But the oil and natural gas industry has added 34,200 jobs over that period and expanded industry employment by more than 22 percent. Oil and natural gas companies have been on a hiring spree, adding almost 100 new payroll jobs every day for the last year.
In contrast, job creation in green energy projects has so far been very disappointing. According to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis of $4.3 billion in public funding for wind energy under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there were 36 wind farms that employed 7,200 American workers during the peak of their construction, or an average of 200 workers per project. Today, according to these companies and state and local government economic development officials, those projects employ only about 300 workers, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $14 million per permanent job.
And consider the solar sector. Struggling company Abound’s recent announcement of 180 layoffs was the latest example of an ongoing solar shakeout that started with Solyndra’s bankruptcy last fall and the loss of 1,100 jobs. According to the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association, there are more than 37,000 additional solar jobs at risk, because the $10 billion of taxpayer-funded subsidies for renewable energy that were part of the aforementioned 2009 stimulus program expired in December.
The oil and gas industry could be creating even more jobs if the United States had more of a pro-development policy for traditional energy sources instead of a government-driven, heavily subsidized, green energy approach. For example, energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie evaluated the impact on production, jobs, and government revenues of implementing regulatory policies that support the development of oil and natural gas resources, including: a) opening federal land that is currently “off limits” to exploration and development; b) lifting the drilling moratorium in New York; c) increasing the rate of permitting in the offshore Gulf of Mexico; d) approving the Keystone XL and other future Canada-to-U.S. oil pipelines; and e) leaving regulation of shale resources predominantly at the state level.
Under a scenario that encourages the development of new and existing domestic energy resources, Wood Mackenzie estimates that by 2015 an additional 1.27 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) could be produced, rising to 10.4 million BOE by 2030. That would be a 47 percent increase over the estimated 2030 production levels under a current development path case.
Furthermore, under the new development path, there would be a potential increase of 1 million new oil and natural gas jobs by 2018, and 1.4 million new jobs by 2030, while adding cumulative potential government revenue of $36 billion by 2015, and nearly $803 billion by 2030.
America’s manufacturing sector is another area of robust job growth, and manufacturing companies have hired almost 400,000 new workers since the beginning of 2010. U.S. energy and tax policies have important implications for the manufacturing sector because of the energy intensity of America’s industrial sector. In 2010, it was estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that roughly one-third of total U.S. delivered energy is consumed by the manufacturing sector. Additionally, total industrial demand for delivered energy will increase 16 percent by 2035. Nevertheless, the government estimates that fossil fuel consumption will decline only modestly, from 83 percent of total U.S. energy demand currently, to 77 percent in 2035. Therefore, traditional energy sources of oil and natural gas will continue to play a major role in providing stable supplies of affordable energy to America’s factories. To the extent that oil and natural gas companies are targeted with higher taxes or unfavorable regulatory policies by the Obama administration, American manufacturers will be hurt by higher energy prices, which could jeopardize job growth in one of the economy’s key sectors.
Obama’s tax proposals to favor solar and wind energy over traditional energy sources like oil and natural gas might make sense for him politically, but can’t be justified with either economic or scientific principles. Obama’s policies are destined to damage the economy because they will penalize the efficient, job-creating oil and natural gas industry, which requires no direct taxpayer subsidies beyond what any American manufacturer is entitled to, and because they will raise energy costs for American consumers and manufacturers. Meanwhile, subsidizing the inefficient green-energy industry with generous amounts of taxpayer money would destroy jobs on net and raise energy costs.
This whole bizarre episode demonstrates just how desperate the Democrats are.
The world is spinning out of control and the spin rate is accelerating.
Having to pay for your own contraceptives has suddenly become a national crisis. In one way it is beyond belief and in another it is totally predictable.
Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown law school, in testimony before a congressional committee argued that she and forty percent of her fellow students are "struggling financially" because they have to pay for their own contraceptives.
The Democrat-media complex, rather than laughing in her face, is making Ms. Fluke a hero. She even got a phone call from President Obama urging her on.
How did we get to this point? Birth control is not a significant budget item. Recreational sex is not a necessity. Sex with contraceptives is not imperative for survival of the species.
If the cost of contraceptives is straining Ms. Fluke's budget I have some simple suggestions, ones she may have even considered herself. For example, why not ask your sexual partners to share the expense? As a liberated woman I assume you don't always expect them to pay for dinner. Besides you, your sexual partners are the primary beneficiaries of your intimacies. You're obviously not too timid to broach the subject. Politely explain to them that from now on if they want to play they will have to pay. If you've ever taken an economics class you can explain to them that there's no such thing as free sex. Sharing the cost would be a kind of "user fee." What could be fairer than that? It's simple voluntary exchange. Seems to me it's a whole lot fairer than asking the rest of us to bear the expense.
The fact that contraceptives have become a hot political issue is bizarre beyond belief. Before the January 7 Republican debate in New Hampshire it was nowhere on the political horizon. In that debate moderator George Stephanopoulos badgered Mitt Romney about whether or not states have the constitutional authority to ban contraceptives. Romney was understandably befuddled by the question. In retrospect it is now clear that there was a method to the madness of Stephanopoulos' question.
The Urban Dictionary defines "wag the dog" as follows: "When something of secondary importance improperly takes the role of primary importance.… To start a war or military operation to divert negative attention away from yourself." President Obama cannot run on his record. His reelection team knows that. "We don't want to talk about the economy, Obamacare, or gasoline prices. Let's talk about contraceptives or Rush Limbaugh." In the movie Wag the Dog the president did not start an actual war, he faked one.
Ms. Fluke has become a hero of the Democrats. For what? For whining about the tragedy of having to pay for her own contraceptives? She is the latest in a long line of pathetic people who have been used to further their despicable objectives. Ms. Fluke has allowed herself to be used as a Democrat prop. Like those who have preceded her she will soon be dumped on the land-fill of no-longer useful chumps. Cindy Sheehan and Monica Lewinsky are two names that come to mind. For the rest of her life Ms. Fluke will be known first and foremost as the woman who publicly pleaded for free contraceptives. I feel sorry for her. I'm extremely thankful that she is not my daughter. Ms. Fluke is a sad commentary on our dysfunctional educational system. Her bachelor's degree was in "Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies." What a joke!
The controversy employs some of the favorite tactics of the Democrats, one of which is complete corruption of the language. We are told, for example, that the contraception debate is about women's "reproductive freedom." Is anyone on the right advocating interference with anyone's freedom to reproduce? Isn't what the Democrats want the prevention of reproduction? Democrats will claim all manner of bogus connections if it helps them further their agenda. If you're against forcing insurance companies to pay for contraceptives, it's because you're a misogynist and you don't care about women's health. As Mona Charen points out, "Democrats are geniuses at muddying the waters and twisting the debate in a direction they find congenial." If the mainstream media came within shouting distance of its responsibilities, Democrats would never get away with such absurdities.
Nevertheless, Republicans should not be discouraged. This whole bizarre episode demonstrates just how desperate the Democrats are. As the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto says, "There seems to be wide agreement that the Sandra Fluke kerfuffle handed the left a major victory. We respectfully dissent." Maybe the world isn't spinning out of control. ************************************************* ****
MADE MILLIONS LOBBYING FOR FANNIE MAE, GENERAL MOTORS
BY: Andrew Stiles
The Obama administration has hired former lobbyist Steve Ricchetti to serve as counselor to Vice President Joe Biden, Politico’s Mike Allen reports.
Ricchetti, who served as deputy chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, was a registered federal lobbyist for nearly a decade. In 2001, he founded Ricchetti, Inc., described as “one of the most successful and respected boutique government relations firms in Washington.”
Ricchetti’s firm made millions lobbying on behalf of clients such as Fannie Mae and General Motors, both of which have been on the receiving end of taxpayer-funded bailouts.
Biden’s office, in a release announcing the hire, applauded Ricchetti’s extensive experience in “public service, business and political life,” which included “10 years at the helm of an independent public affairs firm.”
Given the critical stance taken by the Obama-Biden campaign in 2008—against lobbyists in general, and Ricchetti in particular—the hiring has raised eyebrows.
“I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over,” Obama said on Nov. 10, 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa. “They have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president.”
Obama also promised voters “lobbyists won’t find a job in my White House,” a claim the nonpartisan watchdog website Politifact.com has rated a “promise broken.”
As Politifact notes, although the president signed an executive order codifying this pledge on his first full day in office, the administration has made use of a loophole in the order that permits “waivers” for former lobbyists to serve. In some cases, the administration has hired former lobbyists without a waiver and without disclosing details to the public.
In 2007, an Obama campaign memo obtained by Ben Smith singled out Ricchetti for his role as a bundler for Obama’s primary opponent, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.).
Five Of Clinton’s $100,000 Bundlers Are Federally Registered Lobbyists. Five of the “HillRaisers” listed on Clinton’s web site are federally registered lobbyists: Steve Ricchetti, John Merrigan, Yashar Hedayat, Matthew “Mac” Bernstein, and Gary Mauro. HillRaisers are defined as anyone who raises more than $100,000 for Clinton’s campaign. [Clinton Bundling List; Senate Office of Public Records]
Another campaign memo, from March 2008, blasted Clinton for her connections to Ricchetti.
“We know that Clinton has requested at least two earmarks linked to top fundraisers and donors—GM lobbyist Steve Ricchetti and billionaire Alan Gerry,” the memo states. “Will her campaign release the other earmark requests she has made that are linked to fundraisers, campaign donors, or donors to the Clinton Library?”
The Obama administration’s relationship with the lobbying community has come under increased scrutiny recently. The Washington Free Beacon discovered last month that a prominent bundler for the president’s reelection campaign was a registered federal lobbyist.
~~~~~~ “[Since] ‘the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute’ in the home … we found that this right applies to handguns because they are ‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to “keep” and use for protection of one’s home and family.
Thus citizens must be permitted ‘to use [handguns] for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.’”
Justice Samuel Alito writing the majority opinion McDonald v. Chicago. >>> "..President Obama is not even leading from behind on Iran; he is simply behind."
GM has just announced it will be idling the plant (and the 1,300 workers at that plant) where the "game changing" Chevy Volt electric car is -- uh, was -- built. GM says it's only temporary -- until they figure out how to "align production with demand."
It could be a long wait for those workers.
GM projected production of 45,000 Volts this year. That may have been just a little bright-sided. Last year, 7,621 of them found buyers (about 2,400 fewer than the 10,000 GM had hoped for). This past month, just over 1,000 of the $40,000 sort-of electric cars (sort of, because deep inside the thing, there's a gas engine that serves as a sort of carry-it-with-you "range extender"), which means "production" and "demand" have a ways to go before they are, er, aligned.
One reason why, obviously -- though perhaps not to GM -- is that the concept itself was misaligned. Electric (and hybrid-electric) cars exist for one reason: To do an end-run around gasoline. The whole point of the exercise, as a practical matter, is to lower the cost of driving by cutting the driver loose from $4 a gallon fuel. But when it takes $40,000 to do that, it becomes pointless as a practical matter. Yes, it's a clever bit of engineering. I know. I've driven the Volt. Remarkable. It can operate at steady 60 MPH for several miles (rather than coast for a few seconds, like most hybrids) purely on the strength of its electric motor and batteries. Very cool. But also very expensive -- and that's the point that matters.
The Volt's sticker price is in BMW 3 Series/Lexus GS land. Do people who purchase $40k cars have to worry much about $4 gas? Apparently this thought did not occur to the people at GM responsible for the Volt. Even with a $7k direct federal subsidy to each buyer (more on the indirect subsidies below) a new Volt still costs what we call in the car business "entry luxury" money. Easily two (even three) times the amount that would buy you any one of several very appealing compact sedans, several of which get 40 MPG on the highway.
So, drum roll, people looking for something economical did not look at the Volt. Who did? CEO Dan Akerson conceded that the average income of a Volt buyer is $170,000 annually -- not exactly hard times.
GM figured (so it said) the Volt could be sold to the less flush on the basis of its down-the-road economies. But those are theoretical and ill-defined (including, for instance, such as variables as winter driving; how will extreme cold weather affect the electric drivetrain? Etc.). But the up-front costs are very real -- and forbidding. People facing lean times are not lining up to finance a $40k purchase, even with a $7k carrot dangled in front of them. And the potential buyer pool of 170k'ers per year is just about dried up.
Is GM unaware? I doubt it, because all kidding aside, GM is anything but stupid. That is, the people running it can do math. They also understand marketing -- and politics. And that's where the troof comes out about the Volt and why it ever saw the light of day.
GM, like every car company, has embraced the politics of green because it leads to taxpayer-financed green. Think Solyndra was a boondoggle? The Mackinac Center for Public Policy estimates that the actual cost-per-car of each Volt, once all the federal subsidies are factored in, comes to $250,000 or $3 billion, total. (Lookee here for more.)
Guess who paid for that?
It wasn't GM's money. It was your money. And mine. And the money taken from millions of other taxpayers, all poured into the coffers of GM to further the advancement of otherwise economically untenable projects that would never have see the light of day except for the fact that we have a system of crony capitalism that distorts the free market like a funhouse mirror.
The Mackinac study's author, James Hohman, tartly described the Volt as "the most government-supported car since the Trabant" -- a reference to the infamous two-stroke, plastic-bodied POS manufactured in the old DDR -- that's East Germany, for the edification of younger readers.
And that's what rubs. If you or I decided to build a Homer Mobile (remember?) in our garage, it'd be up to us to finance the thing and if we went next door to our neighbor's place and flashed a gun demanding money or else to "help" we'd be shot by the neighbor or tossed in jail. But that's because we are not Too Big To Fail. GM, of course, is. And has many big friends in Washington, too. So it can indulge in the building of electric Homer Mobiles and send the tab to us -- and pocket the proceeds.
Because keep in mind that GM is not losing money on the Volt. We are.
~~~~~~ “[Since] ‘the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute’ in the home … we found that this right applies to handguns because they are ‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to “keep” and use for protection of one’s home and family.
Thus citizens must be permitted ‘to use [handguns] for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.’”
Justice Samuel Alito writing the majority opinion McDonald v. Chicago.
My soul carries a new scar. The pain is fresh and keen, and I know that while time might see the pain fade, I will never fully recover from what I've seen, and done. For I have failed, intentionally and knowingly, in the first duty of a parent: protecting the lives of two of my children.
My wife and I wanted children; alas, we needed IVF treatment to realize this dream. Several cycles and multiple embryo implantations later, we welcomed our blessing from G-d, who is the light of our lives.
Recently, we tried for another.
"It never rains, but it pours," said the fertility doctor -- of the three embryos that were implanted, all three took. We were faced with the news of triplets. I was shocked, knowing the burden that would entail, but since G-d gave us three, I was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to help, manage, and provide.
My wife? Something snapped. She insisted that we do a "selective reduction" from three to one, or else she would have a full abortion. She was adamant. She would not carry three. She would not carry two.
I was presented with a Coventry-esque decision: save one, or save none. I chose the former, though I tried on several occasions to convince her to at least keep twins. I failed.
We were told, point-blank, by the doctor who would do the procedure that they would inject potassium chloride into the placenta to stop the hearts. We were told, point-blank, that it was painless. Even then, I knew I was being lied to, but given the choice presented, I agreed anyway. My mantra became "Save one, or save none."
Before the procedure, my wife's eyes teared up; she asked the doctor over and over if they would feel pain, and was assured they would not. I asked again if my wife was sure about this because once done, it could not be undone. She said she was sure, but her tears and her looking away from the screen, deliberately, and her wanting me to not look either, told me the truth: she knew as well that this was wrong. I wanted to insist that she look, but I think that her mind -- already fractured by the news of triplets -- would have snapped permanently had she seen the images onscreen. And to save the one, and for the sake of the one we already had, I needed my wife sane.
My wife didn't look, but I had to. I had to know what would happen to my children. I had to know how they would die.
Each retreated, pushing away, as the needle entered the amniotic sac. They did not inject into the placenta, but directly into each child's torso. Each one crumpled as the needle pierced the body. I saw the heart stop in the first, and mine almost did, too. The other's heart fought, but ten minutes later they looked again, and it too had ceased.
The doctors had the gall to call the potassium chloride, the chemical that stopped children's hearts, "medicine." I wanted to ask what they were trying cure -- life? But bitter words would not undo what had happened. I swallowed anything I might have said.
I know they felt pain. I know they felt panic. And I know this was murder. I take cold comfort in knowing that as far as we can tell, the survivor is still fine, and in knowing that this decision did not come from me; I would have taken the chance on triplets, even with all the work and effort it would have required. I pray that this one child will come to term, will be born into this world alive and healthy, and I know he or she will have all our love.
But that emotional scar will ache my whole life. I see my child's smile every night and anticipate a new one in some months...but I think of the two smiles I will never see. Every day, returning from work, I hear "Hi Daddy!" and know there are two voices and two giggles that I will never hear. I play with and cuddle my child, looking forward to the same with the second...but I know there are two sets of hands that will never touch mine, two sets of toes that will never be counted, two hugs that will forever be absent from my arms.
I pray to G-d every day to take those two innocents to Him, to welcome them, and I ask them every day for forgiveness. As I will every day for the rest of my life. I don't know what accommodation my wife will make mentally and spiritually. That is her business, and a burden her conscience must bear.
But let nobody fool you. It is not painless for the child, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Abortion is not an excision of a featureless bunch of cells; it is infanticide. We have revived the practice of child sacrifice to the new deities of casual sex and convenience. We rationalize the reality of murder by altering our perspective of the nascent life through euphemisms like "fetus" or descriptions of "a clump of cells"...just like the Nazis convinced themselves that the people screaming as they were shot or gassed were "Untermenchen," subhuman, and therefore guiltlessly exterminated.
This is how every perpetrator of genocide has always rationalized his or her actions. By doing likewise, we condemn our own souls
I wept in joy, a few years ago, when I saw my first child's heartbeat on the screen. And I weep in agony now at the memory of two of my children's heartbeats being stilled. "Save one, or save none" has been eclipsed by "Out, out, damned spot!" as I wonder how I can redeem myself.
If, by baring this scar for others to see, I can prevent an abortion, perhaps that will help to balance the scales for when I face G-d's justice and I finally meet those two children -- who I hope will forgive me for my failure.
Today, in the United States, the federal government does not force insurers to provide free contraception. Yet contraception is as widely available as it is cheap. Most insurance policies cover it. The federal government gives birth control to the poor through Medicaid. The federal government spends an additional $300 million per year to provide it to low-income and uninsured Americans who don’t qualify for Medicaid—spending that the staunchest conservatives in Congress supported even when Republicans controlled the presidency, the Senate, and the House. If a middle- or upper-income woman happens to be in one of the small number of plans that don’t cover contraception—say, an employee at a college run by Catholic nuns—she can buy birth control pills for as little as $9 per month at Target.
Yet by the logic of the Obama campaign and many Democrats in the House and Senate, the current policy amounts to a “ban” on contraception. And the federal government can only right this injustice by forcing private insurers—including insurers of religious institutions—to provide free contraception, as well as free drugs that can induce abortions early in pregnancy.
“Let’s admit what this debate is really and what Republicans really want to take away from American women. It is contraception,” New York Democrat Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor. He said Republicans were trying to enact a “contraception ban” that would send the country back to the “19th century.” Not to be outdone, Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said that Republicans want to take us back to “the Dark Ages . . . when women were property that you could easily control, trade even if you wanted to.”
The Obama campaign claimed that Republicans effectively wanted to force women to get a “permission slip” from their employers to “access birth control pills, intrauterine devices, or any other type of contraception.” Obama’s deputy campaign manager wrote in an email to supporters: “If you’re a woman, who do you think should have control over your choice to use contraception: You or your employer?” The New York Times and others in the mainstream press reported Republicans were backing a measure to allow employers to “deny coverage” for contraception, mimicking the Democrats in substance if not in style.
Of course, the bill the Obama campaign and friends were demagoguing wouldn’t have denied anyone access to birth control. The amendment, sponsored in the Senate by Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska, would merely let private employers or insurers opt out of Obama-care’s benefits mandates for moral or religious reasons—taking the country all the way back to . . . 2012. Americans currently have this right—the mandate doesn’t take effect until August for most employers and next year for religious institutions.
The conscience protections in the Blunt-Nelson bill are identical to the protections included in many federal health care laws on the books and even the 1994 Clinton reform that never became law. The bill wouldn’t affect state birth control mandates or federal laws that already require insurers to cover pregnancy, childbirth, mental health, HIV treatments, and other services.
Before a vote on the Blunt-Nelson bill last week, the New York Times reported that “Republicans appeared to be divided.” In fact, just one Republican, liberal Olympia Snowe of Maine, voted against the measure. Three Democrats—Nelson of Nebraska, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia—voted for it. The measure narrowly failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The question now is whether supporters of religious freedom will keep up the fight. A number of freshmen Republican senators, like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, have tackled the issue head-on. Polls taken before and after the fight over the issue show no erosion of support for Brown in the most liberal state in the country.
Yet other Republicans seem skittish about the issue because polls have supposedly shown support for President Obama’s “accommodation” of religious institutions. A Quinnipiac poll, for example, asked voters: “Do you think the federal government should require private employers to offer free birth control coverage as part of their health insurance benefit plans or not?” The results: 47 percent said the government should require free contraception, 48 percent said it should not. In other words, the federal mandate in general split the country down the middle.
The poll then purports to show that the Obama administration’s method of imposing a mandate on religious institutions is popular. Voters were asked:
As you may know, President Obama recently announced an adjustment to the administration’s health-care rule regarding religiously affiliated employers providing birth control coverage to female employees. Women will still be guaranteed coverage for birth control without any out-of-pocket cost, but will have to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies if their employers object to birth control on religious grounds. Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama’s decision?
Worded this way, 54 percent approved, 38 percent disapproved. But the question didn’t poll the policy, it polled Obama’s spin. There was no mention that the federal government would require anyone to do anything. At the very least, a fair question would also present the other side of the argument—that Obama’s “adjustment” is an accounting gimmick to which religious institutions still object.
Rasmussen polls show that support for Obama’s policy depends on how you ask the question. Although voters are divided 43 percent to 39 percent on the general policy of requiring contraception coverage, voters oppose mandatory free coverage of the “morning-after pill” 50 percent to 38 percent. No polls have yet been taken on Obama-care’s mandatory free coverage of the “five-day-after pill” called “ella” that can induce abortions during early pregnancy, according to animal testing. And how would voters respond when asked if the federal government should fine religious institutions that refuse to comply with the mandate?
The debate may still be won or lost. The pro-mandate Democrats and their allies in the press have framed it as a fight about “denying access” to birth control. But recall that the “health care reform” bill itself was popular in polls in the spring and summer of 2009. Democrats and the press misled the public about how much it would cost, how many would lose their current insurance, how it would use tax dollars to help pay for abortion-on-demand. Yet opponents of Obama-care managed to get the word out and turn public opinion against the law—because it is a bad law and the facts are on their side.
The opponents of Obamacare’s newest mandate requiring free coverage of abortion pills and contraception again have the facts on their side. The mandate provides opponents with the opportunity to again make the case against Obamacare. As one popular sign from the 2009 and 2010 Tea Party rallies read, “If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it’s free.” The price of “free” health care will be steep in terms of dollars, but even steeper in terms of freedom.
They've seen the future and they know it doesn't work.
In recent years, American liberals' love-affair with all things contemporary Western European (sans Margaret Thatcher and Benedict XVI) has acquired an increasingly desperate edge. As evidence for the European social model's severe dysfunctionality continues to mount before our eyes, the American left is acutely aware how much it discredits its decades-old effort to take America down the same economic path. Hence, the ever-more screechy insistence that Europe's existing mess is due to specific, even one-off factors.
Exhibit A in this regard is the New York Times' Paul Krugman. In his latest missive on this topic, "What Ails Europe?" our Nobel Laureate informs us that European welfare states aren't central to the problem. Sweden, he points out, is doing well, despite the fact it has a large welfare state. Instead, Krugman maintains, what truly plagues Europe is a money problem.
Putting aside the fact that Sweden has actually implemented significant welfare reforms and economic liberalization policies since the 1990s, Europe does indeed face huge monetary challenges. Having a common currency while permitting euro-members to violate mutually-agreed debt limits was always a recipe for disaster. Greece could happily splurge on adding tens of thousands of public sector workers to the government's payroll and financing Chicago-esque patronage politics, while Portugal built dozens of now-idle, often half-finished soccer stadiums.
Why? Because everyone knew if things went bad, then preserving the euro (a sacred cow for Europe's political class) from the impact of nations' defaulting meant that heavyweights like Germany would go to considerable lengths to try and prevent a currency-meltdown.
Yet this amounts to only a partial -- and therefore inadequate -- explanation of Europe's present disarray. Moreover, it can't disguise the truth that there's something even more fundamental driving Europe's economic crisis. And this reality is that the Social Democratic project is coming apart at the seams under the weight of the economic policies and priorities pursued by most Social Democrats (whatever their party-designation) -- including the American variety.
From the beginning, post-war Social Democracy's goal (to which much of Europe's right also subscribes) was to use the state to realize as much economic security and equality as possible, without resorting to the outright collectivization pursued by the comrades in the East. In policy-terms, that meant extensive regulation, legal privileges for trade unions, "free" healthcare, subsidies and special breaks for politically-connected businesses, ever-growing social security programs, and legions of national and EU public sector workers to "manage" the regulatory-welfare state -- all of which was presided over by an increasingly-inbred European political class (Europe's real "1 percent") with little-to-no experience of the private sector.
None of this was cost-free. It was financed by punishing taxation and, particularly in recent years, public and private debt. In terms of outcomes, it has produced some of the developed world's worst long-term unemployment rates, steadily-declining productivity, and risk-averse private sectors.
Above all, it slowly strangled the living daylights out of economic freedom in much of Europe. Without Germany (which, incidentally, also engaged in welfare reform and considerable economic liberalization in the 2000s), it's hard to avoid concluding that Social Democratic Europe would have imploded long ago.
But don't take my word for it. In mid-February, the European Central Bank's new president, Mario Draghi, bluntly stated: "The European social model has already gone." That is decidedly not music to American liberal ears. Further distorting the tone, Draghi added: "there was a time when (economist) Rudi Dornbusch used to say that the Europeans are so rich they can afford to pay everybody for not working. That's gone."
Then there are the pointed criticisms of the European model expressed in a recently released World Bank report. Outside the parallel universe inhabited by Occupy Wall Street and assorted fellow-travelers, few would accuse the World Bank of harboring many radical free marketers, let alone the "neoliberal" bogeymen regularly conjured up by European politicians.
Among other things, the report refers to weak work incentives, anemic entrepreneurship levels, feeble venture-capital markets, over-regulated service sectors, European businesses choosing to stay small to avoid compulsory unionization and extra red-tape, labor markets crippled by powerful restrictions on companies' ability to dismiss employees, research and development steadily falling further behind America, and on-going declines in annual work hours. The report also notes that Europe, with just 10 percent of the world's population, accounts for an astonishing 58 percent of the entire world economy's spending on social protection.
Such is the long-term economic price associated with what amounts to many Europeans' near-obsession with securing economic security and equality through state action. It also has made a continent that once literally ruled most of the world into a textbook example of the basic un-workability of the Social Democratic dream.
Hence, it's little wonder that Krugman and others dismiss those who warn of disturbing parallels between Europe and America as having "no idea what they're talking about." The purpose of such remarks is to shut down discussion -- just one of American liberalism's many illiberal traits -- in the face of awkward truths and facts.
In a way, we're been here before. Prior to Communism's defeat in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, many American liberals were in denial about the performance of command economies. Another Nobel Laureate, the late Paul Samuelson, argued in the thirteenth edition of his renowned textbook Economics, that "the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and thrive." Providentially, this edition was published in the year, ahem, 1989.
Such tragically mistimed observations, however, reflected decades of ignoring the realities of life in command economies. In the tenth edition of Economics (1976), for example, Samuelson claimed: "It is a vulgar mistake to think that most people in Eastern Europe are miserable."
Vulgar? A mistake? Well, I guess all those secret police, informers, "re-education facilities," barbed-wires, and Soviet troop concentrations in the "workers-paradises" were just there for decorative purposes.
In the real world, of course, there are genuine arguments for us to have about what Europe's present drama means for America. Even some of Krugman's New York Times' colleagues have engaged such questions, albeit rather tentatively. But to just deny that Europe's failures don't represent an important canary in the tunnel for America surely reflects a disposition from which American liberals regularly accuse their critics of suffering: instinctual closed-bloody-mindedness. ************************************************* ****
The decline of the blue social model is a subject I’ve been thinking about for the last thirty years. My first book, Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition was written in the mid 1980s from the standpoint of someone who still believed that the blue model was synonymous with progress and civilization. In that book, I looked at how globalization was dismantling the social compact not just in the United States but throughout the developed world, and argued that the decline of consensual social market capitalism wasn’t just a challenge to the American domestic system. It was a challenge to America’s global leadership — the model and ideal we proposed for life under social capitalism was falling apart. Our argument against the communists had been that capitalism could produce more wealth and more justice than communism, and the social welfare state of the western world was Exhibit A for that proposition. At a time when the Soviet Union still stood, and the ideological competition with communism was still real in parts of the developing world, the thought that the capitalist welfare states of the west would soon be coming under immense pressure was an unsettling one.
It was also unsettling to think about what the decline of what I now think of as the blue social model would mean in the United States. We looked to be headed for a generation of wage stagnation among blue collar workers. The decline of manufacturing as a source of high wages and secure jobs in the United States had already begun by then; my reflections on globalization suggested that the decline would go on for quite a while — as it has. Our society was going to become less equal, and less able to provide the kinds of growing social insurance and welfare payments that it had done in the past.
At the time, I could not imagine an acceptable alternative to the blue model – and didn’t really want to, because the blue model seemed superior to anything else that could be imagined. Partly as a result, Mortal Splendor was a gloomy, sunset over the west kind of book.
Oh well. As Bob Dylan put it, I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now. Over the years I’ve gradually come to understand that the old model wasn’t just broken by evil corporate greedsters hellbent on pillaging the middle and working classes – not that such people don’t exist and don’t need to be watched. It was being broken from below as much as from above, and the left did as much to dismantle it as the right. The Ralph Nader consumer movement, for example, set about attacking the comfortable corporate oligarchies who sold shoddy goods at high prices to the public (can you hear me, Detroit?). Nader and his followers wanted consumers to have more choices, and they favored competition over monopoly. But it was exactly their ability to sell shoddy products at high prices that made so many American companies so profitable in the golden age of the blue model – and it was those profits that underwrote the wages and benefits that gave blue collar workers lifetime security and middle class incomes. Nader’s attack on corporate oligarchy was blue-on-blue violence.
Consumers wanted better goods and lower prices than the blue model could give them. Savers wanted higher interest rates than the highly regulated blue era banks could give them. Companies and consumers wanted more innovative telecom service at lower prices (and with less arrogance) than Ma Bell was ready to offer. The whole country was fed up with the inconvenient schedules and high prices that came with the oligopolistic air travel market. Individual investors were sick and tired of high trading fees and restricted information in the stock market. And given the choice between a shoddy and expensive American car, an expensive but well made European one, or a cheap and reliable Japanese car, fewer and fewer Americans picked something made in Detroit.
Americans wanted more than the blue model could give them, and increasingly they sensed that they could get it. That, more than corporate plots and Gordon Gekko style misdeeds on Wall Street, is why the blue model is going the way of the mastodon.
I can still remember the feeling I had back in the early eighties when I first began to see how low wage manufacturing in the developing world plus the globalization of finance were going to rip up the social fabric I identified with progress and stability. I see many people, some on the left, some in the center, going through that kind of moment today. My first reaction, and that of many people today, was to cling tighter to the blue model as I sensed its fragility and vulnerability. But over time I’ve come to see this breakdown and the transition to something new as the next stage in the story of social and human progress, rather that as some kind of horrible return to savagery.
One of the realizations that helped me accept the need to move on was the corrosive effect of one of blue model America’s most unattractive features: the emphasis on consumption rather than production as the defining characteristic of the good life. As I reflected on the corrosive consequences of this shift, and also began to see that a post-blue society might reverse this priority, I began to think more positively about what could come next. Frank Fukuyama wrote about the appearance of Nietzsche’s Last Man at the end of history; that Last Man is more or less Homer Simpson come to life, a mostly passive, consumption-focused individual whose life is all episode with no plot. But if the blue model isn’t the end of history, and if we are moving to something new — there is hope. Bart and Lisa just might grow up into a bigger world that would stretch their capacities and make them something more than Homer and Marge.
Under the blue model, Americans increasingly defined themselves by what they bought rather than what they did, and this shift of emphasis proved deeply damaging over time. The transformation to a new and higher kind of political economy will require us to put production and accomplishment back at the center of our value system. Both on the left and on the right this is something that should be welcome to a lot of thoughtful people.
Production and Consumption
In 19th century America, production and consumption were typically interrelated. The family on its farm was a production team as well as a consumption unit. They didn’t just play together and watch TV together; they worked together to feed and clothe themselves. Loyalty to your spouse was about much more than not cheating; it was about pulling your share of life’s load as you worked together on a common project. Your partner was really your partner then: the person you married was the person you worked with.
That wasn’t just true on the farm. Husbands and wives worked together to run stores, to train and care for apprentices, to operate inns – even to run embassies. The wife of a blacksmith might not shoe horses, but she might keep the books, manage supplies, and do many other things that made the joint business work. The wife of an ambassador might not negotiate directly with foreign potentates, but navigating the social labyrinths of a foreign capital, giving entertainments that drew the well informed and the influential, monitoring the domestic staff to see whether any were reporting secrets to foreign paymasters: all these fell within the purview of the diplomatic wife.
Beginning very early in life, children played a role in the family firm. On farms, very young children took care of chickens and learned to weed the kitchen garden; older boys and girls undertook increasingly responsible tasks, working side by side with their siblings and parents. A large family was an economic plus in those days partly because the labor of older children and teens often did more than offset the cost of their keep. (My redoubtable sister once complained that she had to hire a cleaning service when her kids went off to college to make up for all the chores they used to do. Women like her, and kids like my nephew and niece, were once much more common than they now seem to be.)
The family didn’t just work together. They planned together. Farm kids sat with their parents as they figured out each year what crops to plant: how many acres of wheat, potatoes, corn, tobacco and so forth. They learned how weather and price fluctuations on international markets affected the farm’s success and the family income. When they bought shoes or other store bought goods, they knew exactly how much work, planning and anxious calculation went into the money they brought to the store. They knew exactly what their taxes were and how much they hurt.
American kids spent more time in school as a general rule than kids in other parts of the world in the 19th century, but their “book learning” was only one part of a much broader and richer education that prepared them to be productive citizens. Parents taught kids the fundamentals of agriculture and animal husbandry; they taught them the hundreds of skills that went into maintaining a family farm. In urban areas and sometimes on farms, adolescents went to work on nearby farms or serve as apprentices. There they found production units much like the one they came from: the husband and wife were the proprietors of a bustling family enterprise that might include a few hired hands but in which young people and older people lived, learned and worked side by side.
American life is in many ways richer today than it was in the 19th century, and I personally have no desire to harness up Cyrus the mule to plow the north forty, but it’s hard to deny that the older model of family and work is more human than the rigid separation of roles and the progressive hollowing out of family life that marked life in the 20th century.
In the 20th century, it became increasingly common for both parents to work in quite different jobs and professions, often many miles from home. Blue collar workers worked in factories and warehouses; pink collar workers in service and clerical positions; professionals and white collar workers in offices. Almost always, the parents commuted to work as the kids commuted to school.
Kids continued to learn things from their parents and to help around the house, but their lives and education were increasingly distant from the home. Formal schooling took up more and more hours (though past a certain point of diminishing returns it’s not clear just how much more was always learned), and kids spent fewer and fewer hours working with and learning from their often absent parents.
The intensity of the partnership between the parents didn’t fade away completely in the 20th century, but the separation of work and home inevitably reduced the centrality of the pair bond in the lives of both halves of the couple. Husbands and wives continued to raise children and maintain a home together and of course their financial well-being was bound up in each other, but increasingly they spent huge portions of their time away from each other and developed networks of friends, relationships and connections that did not include their spouse. The family became a kind of retreat from the cares and troubles of the workaday work: it was a place you went to get away from it all, rather than the place where everything happened.
If we wonder why marriage isn’t as healthy today in many cases, one reason is surely that the increasing separation of the family from the vital currents of economic and social life dramatically reduces the importance of the bond to both spouses – and to the kids.
Education and child-rearing were greatly affected, and in my view not always for the better, by the Great Divorce between family life and work. The educational program of the 19th century, in which formal schooling played a limited role, was integrated into the activities of daily life for the most part. Life wasn’t divided into “learning years” and “working years”; you were always doing some of each and work was seen as part of the education of most kids: it built character and it built skills.
That old model changed for many reasons. As the American workplace moved away from the family farm to the office or the factory, there was less learning to be done in the home. The new kinds of work were less suited to this kind of learning. Repetitive factory work taught very little; to put ten-year-olds in a factory for a shift was to deprive them of learning and stunt their intellectual growth. On the other hand, office and administrative work often demanded skills that few children could acquire. It was cruel to put kids in the factories or coal mines; useless to put them in an office.
As the educational system grew more complex and elaborate (without necessarily teaching some of the kids trapped in it very much) and as natural opportunities for appropriate work diminished, more and more young people spent the first twenty plus years of their lives with little or no serious exposure to the world of work. Summer jobs filled the gaps for some, but over time even these have become less available and in any case, those jobs tended not to have a lot to do with what many kids would go on to do in their adult lives. These jobs rarely served the same kind of integrated educational and work purpose that, for example, helping your parents around the farm did for kids who expected to grow up and farm themselves.
The Hollow Men
There is nothing natural or particularly benign about this long isolation from the realm of economic production. Historically, young people defined themselves and gained status by contributing to the work of their family or community. Childhood and adulthood tended to blend together more than they do now. Young people in hunter-gatherer tribes hunted and/or gathered with greater success as they approached adulthood. Farm kids moved toward adulthood as they contributed to the family’s well being at a higher and higher level. The process of maturation – and of partner-seeking – took place in a context informed by active work and cooperation.
In the absence of any meaningful connection to the world of work and production, many young people today develop identities through consumption and leisure activities alone. You are less what you do and make than what you buy and have: what music you listen to, what clothes you wear, what games you play, where you hang out and so forth. These are stunted, disempowering identities for the most part and tend to prolong adolescence in unhelpful ways. They contribute to some very stupid decisions and self-defeating attitudes. Young people often spend a quarter century primarily as critics of a life they know very little about: as consumers they feel powerful and secure, but production frightens and confuses them.
The separation of learning and work was originally seen as a way to promote learning: by allowing young people to concentrate full time on learning without the “distraction” of work, they could do a better job in school. It is certainly true that working kids too hard can make it impossible for them to learn – but it is also true that cutting kids off from work can also reduce their ability to learn. The maturity and sense of purpose that come with responsibilities in the real world make students more serious about what they choose to learn and how hard they work to take advantage of the educational opportunities they have.
That so many American kids spend so many years in school without learning basic, elementary school-level reading and math skills — to say nothing of the other things that in theory 12 years of formal education should teach — is a devastating critique of the way we organize this part of our lives. The sheer amount of time wasted is staggering – to say nothing of the money, effort or lost potential. People often speak of the need to revive vocational and industrial education as a way of reaching students for whom the traditional academic classroom holds little appeal; more basically, education needs to be integrated with the priorities and purposes of life as these young people experience it.
The segregation of work and the elevation of consumption weaken our society profoundly, but the isolation of family from work and from school was part of a bigger shift. In the 19th century, the social emphasis was on production generally, and not just in the family. In the 20th century, as work became more alienating and less human in many jobs (robotically repeating mechanical activities on an assembly line, robotically repeating routine clerical procedures in an office) Americans defined themselves less by what they did at work, and more on the basis of lifestyle choices and leisure activities. You “expressed yourself” by what kind of car you drove, music you listened to, church you attended, food you ate and other lifestyle choices that you made.
You were also increasingly a consumer rather than a producer of government. In the 19th century, American communities were small and generally self-managed. Most Americans lived in small towns or in rural areas where government really was something people did for themselves. The “state” scarcely existed; outside port inspectors and postal officials, the federal government was largely invisible. And even at the state level, local communities were much more autonomous than they generally are now. Local mayors and selectmen had very few mandates coming down from on high; people managed their own schools and roads and other elements of their common life by their own lights.
In the 20th century Americans became more politically passive as the state grew. The citizen was less involved in making government and more involved in watching it, commenting on it, and picking candidates who were sold the way other consumer goods are marketed: you voted for which party and candidates you supported, but more and more of the business of government was carried on by permanent civil servants acting under expert guidance. Government did much more to you, and you did less of it yourself.
The shift from producer to consumer took place in many fields – often with very important and beneficial results, but always taking a certain toll on the autonomy and dignity of many people. In the 19th century most American health care was provided by family members, often relying on traditional medicines. In the 20th century professional doctors and nurses took over the job. In the 19th century most Americans provided most of their own entertainment: amateur theatricals, family and neighborhood music and so on. In the 20th century you watched television, saw movies and bought music. Americans grew and prepared most of their own food in the 19th century; in the 20th century they bought it in restaurants and supermarkets.
Why We Turned Blue
Part of the shift was the natural result of urbanization, the specialization of labor and the rapid development of scientific knowledge. People in cities can’t raise their own food and a denser, larger population can’t be as informally and directly self governed as a small community; as the world becomes more complicated it pays to concentrate on one or two activities that you do well, and buy more goods and services from others who specialize in different things; and while the average grandmother might have known as much or more about health care than a college educated doctor in 1830, by 1930 it was pretty clear that the trained doctor knew best.
Another force behind the shift was that the subjection of so many millions of workers to rote tasks was, as the Marxist critics of progressive society used to point out, profoundly alienating. The worker on the assembly line and the typist in the typing pool were producing something of economic value, but the process of working was not rewarding in any way. There was none of the satisfaction a craftsman derives from the experience of skills and tools well used to create. There was none of the healthy interaction with nature that a farmer has. Like slaves relentlessly chopping cotton or cutting cane to the demands of a taskmaster, the toiling masses of the 20th century were often doing jobs of no intrinsic interest at a pace they did not control; they were cogs in a machine — though unlike slaves, they were paid and could, in theory, quit.
Since work itself was so unrewarding for so many, satisfaction came from getting paid and being able to enjoy your free time in the car or the boat that you bought with your pay. It was a better deal than most people have gotten through history, but the loss of autonomy and engagement in work was a cost, and over time it took a greater and greater toll.
Another force promoting the shift to a consumption based social model was the felt need to keep up consumption so the economy could work. It was not just the experience of the Depression that led so many to the conclusion that under consumption was the characteristic problem of a capitalist economy. Marxists believed that overproduction was a chronic and irremediable feature of a capitalist system, but they weren’t alone. Many businessmen promoted imperialism in European countries and to some degree in the US because they wanted overseas markets for their goods. When the age of imperialism came to an end, the intensive development of home markets replaced the extensive development of foreign markets in the eyes of many social thinkers and planners: promoting the growth of the domestic market struck many observers as a necessary part of promoting growth overall. (In much the same spirit, China today is thinking about how to expand its domestic consumer market as its production outstrips the demand overseas for Chinese made goods.)
The long decline of the family farm and the stagnant or falling incomes of farmers led many ordinary Americans to define America’s economic problems in terms of insufficient demand. The Great Depression was widely understood to have resulted from insufficient demand: the problem was that an excess of supply reduced prices, and the New Deal attacked the problem on the one hand by restricting supply (imposing quotas on agricultural production, for example) and pumping up demand through public works and transfer payments. Stimulating consumption was the goal.
Another factor promoted the rise of a consumer economy: the development of new and much more expensive goods required a psychological and institutional shift. If people couldn’t buy cars and refrigerators — to say nothing of houses — on credit, the markets for these goods would be vanishingly small. Americans had traditionally been averse to debt, whether personal or governmental. They thought like producers, for whom debt is sometimes necessary but always a cost. Thrift mattered, and for many Americans it was a point of pride not to buy on credit; if you didn’t have the cash for something, you waited.
That kind of attitude wouldn’t keep the car factories humming. The blue social model involved an unprecedented expansion in the use of credit by private households, large companies and all levels of government. Debt was the mother’s milk of blue prosperity and John Maynard Keynes was the prophet of the blue age. While consumer finance has deep roots in Anglo-American history, with installment plans used to sell goods like furniture and sewing machines well back into the 19th century, the 2oth century became a golden age of consumer credit, and to carry large balances on credit cards, home mortgages and student loans came to seem normal and respectable in a way that would have shocked Americans living in the 19th century.
Between the 1930s and the 1970s this worked better than many of its critics expected. In a relatively closed economy like the US, if more people went into debt to buy more stuff, the demand would stimulate economic growth, which would tend to raise wages and employment. The additional income would offset the cost of carrying the debt and support additional consumption as well.
There are many things to be said about this form of economic organization, both good and bad, and economists are still arguing over basic Keynesian ideas. It’s not necessary to resolve that conflict, however, to see that whatever may or may not have been the case in the past, today Keynesian demand-side management seems to be less sustainable than it once was. We stimulate more and grow less than we did back in the halcyon days.
But the real problem with the debt-based, consumption-focused blue social model, the one that bothered many social critics even in the days when the blue model was working and looked sustainable, is one of values. A consumption-centered society is ultimately a hollow society. It makes people rich in stuff but poor in soul. In its worst aspects, consumer society is a society of bored couch potatoes seeking artificial stimulus and excitement. They watch programs on television about adventures they will never have. They try to change their consciousness through the consumption of products (entertainment, consumer goods, drugs) rather than by changing the world and accomplishing things. The massive use of recreational and mood altering drugs reflects and embodies the distortions that a passive, consumption-based society produces in human populations over time.
There is a kind of double consciousness that a consumer society gives people. On the one hand, in the realm of consumption, you are king. Companies bid for your attention and favor. You are a critic and a connoisseur: politicians bid for your votes, networks and film companies for your attention. As long as you are spending your money (earned or borrowed) society feeds your sense of power and worth.
But outside of that realm of consumption, most Americans had very little power under the blue model. You worked in a factory or an office where you did not have a whole lot of autonomy, and where your job, as often as not, was pretty dull. You did not make big plans, take big risks or otherwise wrestle with the world.
The logical endpoint of blue society is a nation of underemployed, pot smoking couch potatoes snarking superciliously at Hollywood while they watch the Oscar ceremonies on TV. Those are the Last Men at the end of blue history. The good news is that this can’t last. A society of such people can’t summon up the will and the vision, or make the sacrifices, necessary for this state of things to continue. Long before a society reaches the ultimate point of blue dissolution, things will change.
We are seeing those changes now. Competition from low wage labor overseas and automation at home is forcing millions of people to face life on new terms. The low rent cocoons of the welfare state — warehousing “surplus” people for generations at a time — are becoming unaffordable. We are being called — driven — to a new kind of life and a new social model that gives us another chance to get the balance between consumption and production right.
It took me a while to see it, but since the 1980s I’ve come to understand that the shift away from blue is not all loss. The blue model was a very comfy couch, but there is much more to do in this world than watch Simpsons reruns while eating chips.
"While I would have preferred that both sides would have come together around a solution like we had in West Virginia, I am voting in favor of this measure to protect the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America,"
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)on why he will vote for Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) amendment on the Obama administration's contraception mandate.