Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Watching China: Finding Economic, Political Weakness

How can you predict a crisis for China? A nation-civilization that moved from one disaster to another for 14 decades, 1839 to 1979, has since then strung together the three-plus most spectacular decades of economic growth in world history. You want now to find Chinese progress in jeopardy? Not me.

Still, China may now be looking at two big problems, one economic and one political.

1. Economy: too much government.

Listen to Michael Schuman, writing in TIME:
it is very difficult to tell what’s really going on in the Chinese economy. Data is sparse or unreliable. And China is in certain ways unique in economic terms — has history ever witnessed a giant of such massive proportions ascend so quickly in the global economy? . . But the more time I spend in China, the more convinced I am that its current economic system is unsustainable. . .

China has adopted a form of the Asian development model, invented by Japan. . . the pieces of a crisis [are] misguided investment, including a giant property boom, propelled on by debt and the decisions of government bureaucrats. . . The economy needs to rebalance away from investment and exports to a more consumption-driven growth model with a primary focus on quality of growth, not high rates at any cost. That’s not happening. . . the World Bank [has] issued a report. . . warning that China could face an economic crisis if it doesn’t reform.
And hear from Yao Yang, Director of Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research:
government must face the problems created by its pervasive role in the economy. A new World Bank report singles out lack of reform of state-owned enterprises as the most important impediment to the country’s economic growth. But that is only a symptom of a deeper problem: the government’s dominant role in economic affairs. . . In recent years, more than one-third of total bank lending has gone to infrastructure, most of which has been built by government entities. . .

government over-investment [continues] in numerous industrial parks and high-tech zones. . . China’s investment frenzy reminds many people of Japan in the 1980’s. . . Infrastructure investment [runs] up against the law of diminishing marginal returns, but consumption growth does not have a limit. Suppressing consumption thus suffocates future growth, and the share of household consumption in GDP has declined from 67% in the mid-1990’s to below 50% in recent years, with most of the decline reflecting . . . government policies.
Schuman, Yao, and the World Bank seem to agree that China is following Japan’s development path—price distortions resulting from government over-emphasis on investment at the expense of free market consumption. “Big foot” government instead of where China should be going: “customer as queen.” Politicians and their friends prevailing over the consumer.

2. Politics: evidence of struggle.

What are the possibilities for political change that benefits the consumer? We have the strongest evidence since the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre of real dissension among China’s top leadership. To me, struggle is good, for struggle could mean at least one faction reaches for wider popular support.

John Garnaut, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, has the fix on China’s leftist opposition, conservatives who want to reach back toward the Maoist era. They are the “Children of Yenan,” the largest and most organized group of revolutionary hero children. They are using their hereditary privileges to sound the alarm about what they see as a party crisis.

In February, they convened 1,200 high cadre children at Beijing's Heaven and Earth Theater, where they heard a speech from Hu Muying, the daughter of Hu Qiaomu, Mao’s secretary who was an outspoken opponent of the reformists crushed at Tiananmen. Hu told her fellow “princelings” that China’s
brilliant achievements were followed by class polarization, rampant corruption, a public spiritual vacuum, chaotic thinking, moral decline, prostitution, drugs, triads and so on. . . We expect the new leadership can recognize the crisis and correct the wayward course. Without this there will be no future. We, the children of veteran party members, keep thinking: “Is this the New China our fathers sacrificed their blood to fight for and establish?”

How come those who have been overthrown and exterminated have returned today?
Heavy stuff. And Hu even drew support from Hu Dehua, the son of late party chief Hu Yaobang, who stood on the opposite side from Hu’s father Hu Qiaomu in the late 1980s. Hu Dehua liked Hu Muying's diagnosis of China's crisis, though he is more liberal-democratic. Politics creates strange bedfellows.

Hu’s indirect criticism of China’s current leadership especially stands out in the aftermath of the crisis that has befallen Chongqing special municipality boss Bo Xilai. After Bo announced the sacking of his right-hand man, the city's police chief Wang Lijun, on February 2, Wang fled Chongqing and spectacularly took refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu. From there, he was spirited away to Beijing, where he is likely spilling to Bo’s opponents all he knows about the Chongqing leader.

Last year, Bo was China’s “great red hope,” poised for promotion onto the Chinese politburo's standing committee as part of this year's wholesale leadership change. As Garnaut writes, Bo had “captivated and polarized the nation by waging war against corruption and breathing new life into the spirit of Mao.” And, as Rosemary Righter, associate editor at The Times (London) informs us, under Bo Chongqing not only posted some of China’s highest growth rates, but also made massive provision of housing and health care for workers in a country where social safety nets barely exist.

Yet Bo’s police chief Wang, Righter writes, had himself become “China’s most celebrated cop, a folk hero for his no-holds-barred campaign against organized criminals and their alleged protectors.” This Bo-Wang mess, involving two heroes, seems evidence of real trouble at the top.

On one side, then, we have Hu Muying, the “Children of Yenan,” and the allies of Bo Xilai. Righter calls the opposing camp the party’s "modernizers." They are led by Wang Yang, party secretary of Guangdong, China's next-to-Hong Kong industrial powerhouse. Wang advocates “free thinking and mind liberation,” relaxation of bureaucratic and party controls that hinder development, strengthening the rule of law, and addressing the causes of swelling discontent in Chinese society. Intervening after a violent uprising against land-grabbing public officials, Wang promoted the leader of the protests and—in what Righter calls a “practically unprecedented move”—ordered villagers be allowed to choose their own representatives in free elections.

China’s future boss Xi Jinping has yet to line up with the modernizers even though his father, Xi Zhongxun, personified “reform and opening up” as Deng Xiaoping’s man in the 1979 Guangdong test lab of Shenzhen. In any battle between Guangdong reformers on one side and Beijing-Chongqing Maoists on the other, it’s Shanghai (where Xi was once party boss) that’s likely to come out on top.

As for the people. . .

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

That Old-time Personal Responsibility

“ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

--John Kennedy

It’s Lent. Jeffrey Kluger, writing in secular-liberal TIME, has some surprisingly positive things to say about this religious season. Noting that religions “can be very healthy,” Kluger suggests that Lent (along with similar seasons in other religions) is about practicing self-control, something he says science is beginning to prove is good for us. Kluger:
Willpower . . . is . . . cultivatable. . . a sort of psychic muscle, one that can atrophy or grow stronger depending on how it’s used. . . behavioral psychologists generally think of willpower as . . . the more you practice it to control one behavior — say, overeating — the more it starts to apply itself to other parts of your life like exercising more or drinking less. . .

conscious adherence and regular practice is precisely the reason religious observances that prescribe strict rituals of self-denial can be so powerful. Every time an observer of Lent craves — and resists the lure of — a forbidden indulgence is a tiny reminder of a commitment made.
The self-discipline Lent encourages is at the core of personal responsibility, people taking charge of their lives. Personal responsibility. It’s Democrat Franklin Roosevelt exalting work as the way to “earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and for our families.” It’s Democrat John Kennedy telling us to give to our nation, not take from it. It’s Bill Clinton, as the recent Clinton “American Experience” show reminded me, advancing the “New Democrat” Democratic Leadership Council philosophy:
We believe in . . . individual responsibility, tolerance of difference, the imperative of work, the need for faith, and the importance of family. . . American citizenship entails responsibility as well as rights
Democrats used to get it. They used to address America’s working class, the heart of their constituency. But that was then.

This is now. Today’s Democrats believe in the “Colorado Strategy,” which marries our knowledge economy’s upper caste (including aspirational, university-connected youth) to the big-government dependency constituencies of minorities and unmarried women.

The upper class has in effect abandoned the “working class” (in quotes because so many no longer work), evidenced by, as Charles Murray writes, its attitude of "condescending ‘nonjudgmentalism.’” Married, educated elite couples that work hard and conscientiously raise their kids no longer advocate that lower class families do the same to lift themselves up. Why has this happened?

Reed Galen is a California-based Republican political strategist. He tells us:
The messages that President Obama and his re-election campaign officials espouse -- that the system is “unfair” that the playing field must be “leveled” -- are code words for letting Americans off the hook. . . But a citizenry that expects -- even demands -- its government to provide happiness is surely bound to end up unhappy with their lives and with their government.

The Democratic message . . . neither requires nor expects anything from citizens. It doesn’t want anything from them other than lemming-like acquiescence. . .What the president and his surrogates should be speaking about is opportunity. [But t]he last thing [Democrats] want is to encourage individual initiative; that would begin to abrogate the need for Uncle Sam to . . . say everything is going to be all right if we have just a little more taxation, a little more debt, a little more government.
If the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton is going to abandon the old-time religion of personal responsibility, then, Galen says, Republicans in their place
should try to articulate what Thomas Jefferson really meant. If you [want happiness,] you are going to have to take the initiative to make that happen. That is inherently American. This ethos doesn’t excuse leaving the most vulnerable among us out in the cold. [But the rest] of us [should] get up every morning and figure out how we’re going to improve our situation -- because in many cases that’s the only thing we can control.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cheap Chinese Labor Disappearing?

The problem of Chinese workers refusing to return to their jobs after the Chinese New Year’s holidays is worse than ever. Last year, we wrote 30 to 40% of migrant workers hadn’t returned to their jobs in Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta, up from the usual 10 to 15%, despite the fact Guangdong authorities had raised minimum wages by up to 20%.

Now Beijing-based author Michelle Dammon Loyalka, in the New York Times, reports that this year, labor shortages are affecting China’s entire eastern seaboard:
Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are still short hundreds of thousands of migrant workers. Shandong Province is missing a full third of its migrant work force, and Hubei Province reports a loss of more than 600,000 workers. Last week, the Chinese government released a report describing this year’s post-Spring Festival labor shortage as not only more pronounced than in years past, but also longer-lasting and wider in scope.
In response, Loyalka has found, companies are giving employees sizable bonuses just for coming back to work, along with cash for every new employee they bring along with them. And wage increases ranging up to 30% have become the norm. Workers are seemingly happier to stay home in the increasingly prosperous interior (see picture), where employers are running out of surplus agricultural labor. Loyalka speculates that China is reaching the so-called Lewis Turning Point — the stage at which the rural surplus labor pool effectively runs dry and wages accordingly take off.

Another problem comes from a shift in the character of China’s work force. China’s younger generation is resisting factory work hardship absent evidence it’s a temporary means to a more comfortable life. 70% of rural migrants are under 30. They have grown up during China’s economic revival and have thus never experienced real deprivation. They are savvy enough to start being choosy, and want higher salaries, basic benefits, better working conditions and less physically taxing jobs.

Loyalka writes that China, having spent the last three decades building export domination on the backs of cheap labor, may now face a serious reduction in its worldwide comparative advantage, a change that could even benefit American manufacturers.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Democrats Missing the Dignity of Work

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

“a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment.”

--Franklin Roosevelt

President Roosevelt understood how important a job is to a person’s health and happiness, and how much jobs mean to a nation’s well-being. Today’s Democrats have left behind Roosevelt’s commitment to jobs; they have forgotten their hero’s words. In his 1935 State of the Union address, Roosevelt offered these thoughts about work’s importance [emphasis added]:

• by the profit motive we mean the right by work to earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and for our families.

• continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief . . . is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. . . It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for [the] able-bodied . . .

I am not willing that the vitality of our people be further sapped by the giving of cash. . . We must preserve not only the bodies of the unemployed from destitution but also their self-respect, their self-reliance and courage and determination.

All work undertaken should be useful — not just for a day, or a year, but useful in . . . that it creates future new wealth for the Nation.

What about jobs today? What is our true unemployment rate? Louis Woodhill, of the conservative Club for Growth, points out that if the U.S. labor force participation rate had merely remained where it was when Obama took office (65.7%), the unemployment rate for January 2012 would have been 11.0%, not 8.3%.

Woodhill helps us make another point: at the beginning of Obama’s presidency in January 2009, America was 9.8 million jobs short of full employment (defined as the employment conditions that existed at the peak of the Clinton boom, in April 2000). In January 2012, after 36 months of Obama, we are now a whopping 15.3 million jobs away from full employment. Measuring that gap, Obama’s term has enlarged ( Series LNS 12000000, LNS 11000000, LNS 11300000, LNS 14000000) the full employment deficit by 5.5 million jobs!

True unemployment rate: 11%. True gap from full employment: plus 5.5 million jobs. These are terrible figures.

People are leaving the labor force and becoming part of an American dependency society. In our “food stamp nation,” nobody is starving. Warren Kozak, in the Wall Street Journal, has found that 96% of parents classified as poor said their children were never hungry.

What folks are doing is draining the Treasury. According to the Heritage Foundation’s “2012 Index of Dependence on Government,” 67.3 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries—depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions. Also, half the population pays no federal income taxes.

67 million means more than one-fifth of Americans (22%) are dependent on the Feds, though this percentage jumps to 30% (91 million) when federal and state employees are included. The dependency total represents an increase of 163% over 1962 (see charts below).

The Heritage Foundation’s study warns:
the greatest danger is that the swelling ranks of Americans who enjoy government services and benefits for which they pay few or no taxes will lead to a spreading sense of entitlement. [T]he democratic political process has become a means for many voters to defend and expand the “benefits” they receive from government (read: their dependence). This can only lead to a corruption of government and of self-serving voters.
All this is so far from the job-based “joy of achievement” Franklin Roosevelt advocated during the Great Depression, when Democrats first began their journey to power. Now that journey has ended in government dependency for nearly a third of the country, with Democrats offering no apologies to FDR.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Democrats betting against children?

Joel Kotkin in Forbes thinks he understands why Obama and Democrats are willing to take on the Catholic church hierarchy on mandated payments for sterilization and “morning after” pills. It’s because the power childless women, the people most committed to family planning, hold within Obama’s constituency. According to Kotkin:
states and regions with the highest proportion of childless women under 45 – the best indicator of offspring-free households — [are linked to] the propensity to vote Demo- cratic. Overall, the most child-free regions were nearly 85% more likely to vote for Obama in 2008. And according to the most recent Gallup survey, they are similarly inclined to vote Democratic today.
Kotkin offers this evidence:

➢ 80% of District of Columbia women under 45 are without children, and the six states with the highest percentages of childless women under 45 (all over 55%) — Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Vermont and California — are all Democratic states.

➢ In Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York, the percentage of childless woman under 45 exceeds 60% (national average is 53%). In the urban cores, the percentage can approach 80% (childlessness correlates with high density and less affordable housing).

➢ The top five child-bearing states — Mississippi, Idaho, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Arkansas — tilt Republican. So do the top child-bearing metropolitan areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, Salt Lake City, and Memphis.

Kotkin points out that the greatest bastions of single households are Manhattan and Washington D.C., centers of the country’s media, cultural and intellectual life, where such households already constitute a majority. Kotkin doesn’t say, but may think, that the power of single households in the elite capital cities may be skewing Democratic analysis. Certainly Kotkin has for years believed Democrats are ignoring the pull Republicans have over families with children. Such families are, after all, raising the future electorate.

While I think Kotkin’s look at childless women under 45 is useful, this blog has focused instead on unmarried women, a larger voting bloc that also cares about abortion and family planning and votes Democratic.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beijing, not Beizhing.

I'm continually surprised by the number of high-paid TV anchors, correspondents, and others who cannot pronounce correctly the name of China's capital city. Here's the correct pronounciation:

My list (so far) of people who need to watch the video:

Bret Baier, FOX News
Bill O'Reilly, FOX News
Scott Pelley, CBS News
Viking River Cruises
Dani Sinha, BBC
Annette Young, France 24
Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
Peter Barnes, FOX News
Ross Westgate, CNBC
Barack Obama
Robert Osborne, TMC
Larry Kudlow, CNBC
Chris Wells, NHK English

Xi Jinping, not Xi Zhinping:

Scott Pelley, CBS News
Wyatt Andrews, CBS News

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Coming Apart

“I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.”

--David Brooks, New York Times

“Coming Apart is a must-read for [mainly] its insistence on drilling down beyond materialism.”

--Heather Wilhelm, “RealClearBooks”

We have already discussed Charles Murray’s Coming Apart (here and here). Now raves are beginning to pour in. To David Brooks, Murray has shown that America’s “real social gap” is between “the top 20% and the lower 30%.” Brooks chides liberals for “latch[ing] onto [the] top 1% narrative” that the financial elite is our biggest problem. Liberals do so because it “excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.” Excellent point.

Yet Brooks himself says,
It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.
Good old Brooks, again quick to defend his elite.

Brooks’ solution for Murray’s sharp division is oh so 1970s: a National Service Program that would “force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together.” Right. How exactly does that bring people together once national service is over? How did that work out for the last draft (or national service) generation, once Vietnam was over?

Heather Wilhelm, as her above quote states, is struck by how committed Murray is to moving life beyond materialism:
"If we ask what are the domains through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life -- achieve happiness," Murray writes, "the answer is that there are just four: Family, vocation, community, and faith." The advancement of the welfare state, he argues, results in the slow gutting of these domains, as well as personal responsibility, which are "the institutions through which people live satisfying lives." This cultural disintegration has had a disastrous human cost for the working class.
Wilhelm seems to agree with Murray’s jaundiced take on the upper class. She quotes him writing,
the new upper class . . . don't mind the drift toward the European model, because paying taxes is a cheap price for a quiet conscience -- much cheaper than actually having to get involved in the lives of their fellow citizens.
Charles Murray himself, in a recent TIME essay, concentrates on the “new upper class,” which he defines as well under 100,000 nationally, as well as a “broader set, numbering a few million people, who hold comparable positions of influence in the nation’s major cities.” This “upper class” is the “Gated Country” we earlier wrote about, and much smaller than the upper-middle class 20% (over 60 million) college graduates who make up Murray’s fictional “Belmont” (though the “Belmont” folks are culturally similar to the upper class, echo their politics, and aspire to join them).

The “Gated Country”-“Belmont” distinction is one both Brooks and Wilhelm seem to miss. Murray’s especially unhappy with those at the top,
so sheltered from the rest of the nation that they barely know what life is like outside Georgetown, Scarsdale, Kenilworth or Atherton. [They can] completely destroy what has made America’s national civic culture exceptional: a fluid, mobile society where people from different backgrounds live side by side and come together for the common good.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Oh Yeah. The Economy May Help Obama.

The stock market is hitting highs not seen since early 2008, and in the case of the NASDAQ, since 2000. Our FOX Index, which measures “healthy” as a total above a Dow of 12,000, an S&P 500 of 1,300, and NASDAQ of 2,500—total, 15,800—is at its all-time (Index began in August 2008) high of 17,113, or plus 1,313 (see chart).

And why not? Job creation for January came in at 243,000, against estimates as low as 121,000, and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.3%. The rate was 8.9% as recently as October. Moreover, the payroll increase for December was revised up to 203,000 from 200,000, and November’s figure was revised up to 157,000 from 100,000. The U.S. has added an average of 183,000 jobs a month in the past five months.

Please see the chart below, a version of which we have run every month since last May. If job growth continues at 180,000 a month over the next 8 months, Obama will sail past his minimum target of replacing all jobs lost during his administration. And if the unemployment rate falls only as much in the next 8 months as it has fallen in the last 4 months, Obama will have America back to the unemployment rate when he took office. A rough four years, yes. But recovery under way? You bet.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Pyrrhic Victory?

“Those of us who believed that a primary fight would toughen Mr. Romney up have little to show for it. Far from sharpening his proposals to reach out to a GOP electorate hungry for a candidate with a bold conservative agenda, Mr. Romney has limited his new toughness to increasingly negative attacks on Mr. Gingrich's character. It's beginning to make what we all assumed was a weakness look much more like arrogance.”

--William McGurn, Wall Street Journal

William McGurn and the Wall Street Journal are establishment and behind Romney. But as we have noted and as McGurn writes above, the Wall Street Journal wants Romney to co-opt tea party reservations about his conservative bona fides and more specifically, to back a bold tax reform proposal. Romney has time to respond, but thus far, arrogance instead.

In the meantime, conservative disgust with Romney’s campaign is broad and deep enough to help kill Mr. Romneycare’s general election chances. Listen to unhappy conservative voices:
Newt, Romney supporters crow, is a loser and "embarrassment." But what about their own candidate? . . . He has been taught how to play a semi-conservative Republican on TV, but his deepest instincts remain liberal. Hence, his dogged pride in Romneycare, legislation that Barack Obama himself would have fathered had he governed the Bay State. . . the GOP will pay a severe price for the Faustian bargain of "electability" . . . A party that chooses power over principle will lose both.

--George Neumayr, American Spectator

In Florida, the Republican empire is striking back. Somewhere. . . is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Gingrich may be an imperfect vessel for Tea Party support. . . but in truth, if you connect the dots between the ideals of the Reagan Revolution, Gingrich’s Republican Revolution and the Tea Party movement, you get a straight line. The GOP establishment is right to fear Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party, just as they once feared Ronald Reagan.

--Milton Wolf, Washington Times

conservatives throughout the country are now keenly aware of the opinion the Establishment has of them, as well as what has been going on behind the curtains in Washington. The current Republican nominating process has further exposed the true nature of the Establishment and their self-centered concerns. . . Mitt Romney has been chosen to be the next Republican nominee for president [and will] fall in line with what is expected of a Republican insider.

the collective and coordinated vitriol and false or misleading accusations against Newt Gingrich by virtually all in the Establishment, led by the so-called conservative media, is unprecedented. . . the fact that he has been successful in fighting for conservative ideals but in an unorthodox and often contentious, and at times unreliable, fashion has the Establishment in near hysterics. . . Never has the Republican Establishment trained its guns on any one candidate in such an unbridled and unrestrained way. The Establishment could not have made a more strategic blunder. . . the damage they have inflicted upon themselves is approaching irreversible. The public now sees the length to which the Establishment will go to make certain their hand-picked candidate is chosen.

--Steve McCann, American Thinker

ordinary voters . . . don’t like and don’t trust the Establishment. They remember that the Establishment supported Dole and McCain (both of whom endorsed Romney). And they want an electable reformer, not a cautious moderate. Those endorsements signal that Romney is not a Reagan, but (at best) a Ford. . . electability is not one of the [reasons to vote for him.] Romney needs to present some dramatic reform plans, starting with income-tax cuts and ending pointless government agencies. If he succeeds without these things, the “Reagan Revolution” is dead. That may be why so many Republicans oppose Romney. . .

--Richard Miniter, Forbes

Romney is being boxed in as the establishment candidate. I think [the Dole and McCain] endorsements are limiting for Romney overall, because you have a a tea party that has largely sat out between Romney and Gingrich -- but when they see all the [establishment] people coming out for Romney, who they blame for the problems in the first place….it pushes them toward Gingrich. He’s not a perfect vehicle at all for any of them, but they really don’t like Romney.

--Eric Erickson, “Redstate”

conservatives will under-vote for president in 2012 rather than support another Bush-Dole-Bush clone in the White House. Heck, there are lots of positive things to say about the Bushes and the Doles, but little good to say about Romney. He’s Bush-Dole without character. But give him this: The guy really, really wants to be president.

--John Ransom, “Townhall”

there needs to be some understanding of the reckless accusations that have become part of the all-out attempt to destroy Newt Gingrich, as so many other political figures have been destroyed, by non-stop smears in the media. . . the poisonous practice of irresponsible smears is an issue that is bigger than Gingrich, Romney or any other candidate of either party.

The[se] practices may well have something to do with the public's dissatisfaction with the current crop of candidates in this year's primaries . . . Character assassination is just another form of voter fraud. There is no law against it, so it is up to the voters, not only in Florida but in other states, to punish it at the ballot box -- the only place where punishment is likely to stop the practice.

--Thomas Sowell, Stanford’s Hoover Institution

[Romney] is the weakest candidate who can face Obama and will go into the general election with a fractured base, thanks to his own character flaws, which are now on display, and his tactics of personal destruction. Moreover, while Romney can swamp his Republican opponents by 3 to 1 or more in every state with his spending advantage, Barack Obama will be raising more and spending more to beat him in the general election, meaning Romney's financial advantage will be non-existent.

--Mark Levin, conservative talk radio host