Tuesday, December 10, 2013

“The Defining Lie” = “The Big Lie”?

Quotation without comment.

From Roger L. Simon of the right-wing website “PJ Media”:

In the last few days Barack Obama has attempted to change the subject of public discourse from healthcare to income inequality,  which he has dubbed “the defining challenge of our time.” . . this should come as some surprise. But it doesn’t. The fight for “income inequality” is and has been for a long time the defining lie of modern liberalism. [emphasis added][See blog post here.]

This is not to say that income inequality does not exist.  Of course, it does.  But what liberalism does is pretend to do something about it, to whine and complain about it, in order to ensure the support of the poor, the semi-poor and minority groups, while doing nothing that changes the substance of their inequality in any permanent way.  Indeed, it often exacerbates it.

Consciously or unconsciously, these liberals may actually want the lower classes to remain the lower classes.  After all, if they bettered themselves, they might leave the Democratic fold.  That wouldn’t do.  So the system goes on.

Rising Youth Disenchantment: Political Impact

Seldom does a university-run opinion poll garner the media attention accorded the Harvard Institute of Politics’ (IOP) recent look at youth political attitudes (IOP’s poll is of all youth, not just Harvard types). IOP found that a mere 22% of under-30 Americans would definitely or probably enroll in Obamacare when they become eligible, while 45% will probably or definitely not enroll. Asked how they viewed Obamacare, only 38% of these young Americans approved, 57% disapproved.

These results are stunning, but perhaps not unexpected. Why shouldn’t young people balk at a program that seems to offer few or no benefits at an unacceptable cost?

The IOP poll further surprised with numbers on how far Barack Obama’s popularity has fallen among youth. Only 41% approve of the job he’s doing, as against 54% who disapprove. Among those under 25, the figures are even worse: just 39% approve, with 56% disapproving. It's well-known that young people are a key part of Obama’s political base. Or so they were.

The IOP poll results contained other disturbing details for Obamacare supporters:
  • asked if the quality of health care would be better, worse, or the same with Obamacare, only 18% said better, 40% said worse, and 37% the same. 
  • asked if health care costs would increase, decrease, or stay the same with Obamacare, 51% said increase, 11% said decrease, and 34% said stay the same. 
  • young people are more worried about student debt, with 57% calling it a major problem, 22% minor, and a mere 4% saying it was not a problem. 
In the poll’s single finding that should most unsettle the White House, 52% of youth under 25 would recall Barack Obama from office, if given the chance.

In spite of the poll's startling findings, the IOP provided it a cliche-like, safely nonpartisan conclusion:
young Americans . . . are sending a message to those in power that for them to re-engage in government and politics, the political process must be open, collaborative and have the opportunity for impact -- and not one that simply perpetuates well-worn single issue agendas.
Hmmm. We had earlier evidence of youth discontent with the political choices progressives were offering them. Michael Barone, in the conservative Washington Examiner, wrote about slippage of young people support for Democrats--specifically Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial election, where Obamacare didn’t become an issue until campaign’s end:
The Virginia exit poll showed voters ages 18 to 29 favoring McAuliffe over Cuccinelli by a 45% to 40% margin. The “Rock the Vote” [progressives] sent out an email crowing about this, but put in context, it’s a dismal result. The 30-to-44-year-olds were much more strongly for McAuliffe (56% to 37%), providing some evidence . . .that young people just entering the electorate are less liberal than those who did so in 2008. In comparison, the 2012 presidential exit poll showed Obama leading Romney 61% to 36% among that age group in Virginia--statistically indistinguishable from Obama's 60% to 37% margin among 18-to-29-year-olds nationally, which was down from 66% to 32% in 2008.
The youth vote is volatile. But the IOP poll suggests Obamacare may fail to enroll enough youth to finance improved healthcare for seniors.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Rising Youth Disenchantment: The Facts

"ObamaCare[‘s] whole Rube Goldberg scheme depends on using insurance policies to distribute wealth from healthy young Americans to older, sicker ones."

--Michael Goodwin, New York Post

That’s the problem Obamacare hands youth, in a nutshell.

Conservative commentator Michael Barone offers details:
egregious is Obamacare's requirement that policies for one age group cost no more than three times the cost for another. In practice, this means that young consumers, who incur few heath care costs, are asked to subsidize people in old age groups, who incur many more.
This is the opposite of the progressive economic redistribution, which American liberals usually favor. People in their 20s tend to have negative net worths. They owe more -- in consumer debt, on college loans -- than they have in bank accounts, home equity and financial assets. In contrast, people in the 55-64 age group, the oldest covered by Obamacare, tend to have relatively high net worths.
The “jerk” applied to less wealthy, less secure young people is so obvious that it’s even drawn the attention of liberal Charles Lane in the Washington Post, who calls pandering to seniors “old wine. . . in a new bottle":
The poverty rate for seniors in 2012 averaged 9.1%, much lower than the rate for children, which was 21.8%, and lower than the overall U.S. rate of 15%. Some 15% of youths ages 16 to 24 are neither employed nor attending school . . . For middle-class youths, college tuition costs are a constant source of insecurity.
Lane is right to focus on the high college tuition and related student loan problem, the surface anxiety produced by the lack of jobs awaiting new graduates. From libertarian economist Veronique de Rugy in Reason:
fewer than half of Americans today between the ages of 18 and 25 are employed. For those in that cohort actively on the job market, the unemployment rate is 16%, versus 6% for job-seekers aged 25 and above. These young folks are also more likely to be long-term unemployed: While accounting for just 14% of the labor force, they make up 19% of the long-term unemployed.
In July 2013, just 36% of Americans age 16-24 not enrolled in school worked full-time, 10% less than in July 2007. [Of] 17 million young Americans, 5.6 million were working part-time, 3.2 million were unemployed, and 8.4 million were out of the labor force altogether.
Dan Schwabel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, believes that millennials (born between 1976 and 2000) are the Great Recession’s real victims, saying, "almost 60% of millennials have a bachelor's degree, but the most common jobs are in retail."

Fewer jobs means fewer families, as Fortune’s Nin-Hai Tseng writes:
The share of 18 to 34-year-olds living with their parents rose from about 27.6% before the Great Recession in 2007 to above 31%, where it remains today. . . Millennials have contributed to the sharp decline in household formation, which likely will take a while to return to normal.
Up until 2008, about 1.1 million new U.S. households were formed each year, mostly due to population growth. That has declined dramatically; between the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2011, only 450,000 new households a year were created. Even as the economy improves, household formation hasn't -- only 521,000 households were created between the first quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. In all, there are 2.4 million missing households in America.
So should young people be financing expanded health care for the elderly? Right now?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Die Große Lüge (The Big Lie)

"the relentless decades long trend . . . is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead. I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: making sure our economy works for every working American. That’s why I ran for president. It was the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office."

--Barack Obama, 12.4.13

What an odd “defining challenge,” given that American inequality, as we have documented, has risen to new heights under Obama. Does he really believe the public will swallow such words?

Hitler (r.) with Ludendorff
“The Big Lie” is an epithet carelessly hurled at anyone who tells “big lies.” But the term has real history. Adolf HItler first used Die Große Lüge in Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), published in 1925:
the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature . . . in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
Hitler wrote that the “Big Lie” was Jews attributing Germany’s World War I defeat to Gen. Erich Ludendorff, who was de facto dictator of Germany at the end of the war, then part of the failed 1923 Munich Putsch that landed Hitler in the prison where he wrote Mein Kampf.   For us, the irony is that Mein Kampf perpetuates Hitler’s own “Big Lie” that a “stab in the back” by Jews and leftists at home (a concept linked to Ludendorff) had defeated an intact German army. (The army did surrender on foreign soil and march home in orderly fashion.)

“The Big Lie” is real. Robert Conquest, the famed British historian of Stalinism in Soviet Russia, wrote in The Harvest of Sorrow (1986) about Stalin’s coverup of his destruction of richer peasants in 1930-37, when 14.5 million died:
Stalin had a profound understanding of the possibilities of what Hitler approvingly calls the Big Lie. He knew that even though the truth may be readily available, the deceiver need not give up. He saw that flat denial on the one hand, and the injection into the pool of information of a corpus of positive falsehood on the other, were sufficient to confuse the issue for the passively instructed foreign audience, and to induce acceptance of the Stalinist version by those actively seeking to be deceived.
One need not be a mass murderer to tell a “Big Lie.” It’s more about having a low enough opinion of the masses to believe that bigger lies are more likely to succeed, at least over time. Rising inequality is overcome by preaching equality. Dropping sanctions against Iran prevents Tehran from going nuclear. Forcing middle class households out of health care plans to fund medical care for others is compatible with saying “you will keep your plan, period.”

The “Big Lie” in America today is that our ruling class puts the people's interests ahead of its own. The “big truth” is that propaganda serves those in power. As Thomas Sowell of Stanford’s Hoover Institution writes:
Those who want to "spread the wealth" almost invariably seek to concentrate the power. It happens too often, and in too many different countries around the world, to be a coincidence. Which is more dangerous, inequalities of wealth or concentrations of power?
Conservative Jonah Goldberg, in USA Today, provides a specific look at how our leaders manipulate a specific interest group--women:
By what right are liberals seeking to impose their values on everyone else? Isn't that something they denounce conservatives for? They could have allowed for [Obamacare] plans that exclude controversial forms of birth control — or even uncontroversial ones — which would have lowered premium costs and expanded health care coverage to more poor people. But Democrats wanted a wedge issue to drum up a new battle in the culture war.
We are seeing some evidence, however, that in fact you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. As former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen put it in the Washington Post, “Americans are not just angry about a broken Web site; they are angry about a broken promise.”

Jonathan Tobin in the conservative journal Commentary reminds us:
Anyone who underestimates the president’s still potent powers of persuasion is making a mistake. It’s also probably foolish to think that the mainstream media that has gone off the reservation in recent months won’t respond to Obama’s planned three-week-long dog-and-pony show as they always did before he was mired in a spate of second-term scandals and disasters.
 But Tobin, like Thiessen, does believe that no “Big Lie” is going to work this time:
actually once a president’s mendacity has been exposed . . . his credibility can’t be recaptured. At this point, presidential salesmanship should be regarded as a depreciating asset rather than a magic political bullet. [Also,] blaming the GOP for sabotaging ObamaCare is a thesis so patently absurd that even most of the liberal media has trouble swallowing it.
Actually though, you can fool some of the people all the time. The unknown is how many equals “some”? Enough for a majority?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Will Christie be the GOP Populist Answer to Clinton?

[one can’t] say Christie is the man for the job, at least not yet. His problem is that—so far—he looks to be a divisive figure within his own party. Many conservatives are suspicious of him. Whether their reasons are legitimate or not is beside the point. One of the (many) causes of Cuccinelli’s failure in Virginia was that his own coalition was divided between the “grassroots” (who loved him) and the “establishment” (who did not). This sort of division, if taken into 2016, will prove crippling. Alienate the grassroots, and watch the base stay home. Alienate the establishment, and watch the big-money donors withdraw. The party must find a candidate who not only is immune to Clintonism, but also does not exacerbate existing divisions within the GOP coalition. All hands will have to be on deck in 2016.

--Jay Cost, Weekly Standard

Hillary Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe’s victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in Virgina seemed, we wrote, the lead story of last month’s off-year election. Right behind, though, came Chris Christie’s 20%-plus re-election victory as New Jersey governor, winning with 60% a state where previously, no Republican had gained over 50% of the statewide vote since 1988, and where just 39% of voters have a favorable impression of the GOP.

Before Christie can begin prying moderate votes away from Hillary, however, he must first win the Republican nomination--not an easy task, as Jay Cost suggests (above). One who thinks Cristie can win is former governor Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ), who predicted Christie’s early Garden State experience running against Republican candidates to his right will help him nationally in 2016. Whitman opined:
I’m sure he’ll be attacked by the mindless ones that would rather go down in defeat with an ideologically pure candidate than win an election. I think we’re getting to the point where Republicans are finally saying we want to win.
Maybe so. It’s over two years until the GOP primaries begin. Way-too-early national polls have Christie leading a potential pack of 2016 GOP candidates, CNN giving him 24% and a 9% lead over runner-up Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) farther back at 10%.

“RealClearPolitics” reporter Scott Conroy, looking at a ridiculously early poll of 390 Iowa GOP caucus goers, suggests how Christie could actually win Iowa’s socially conservative GOP caucuses, then by storming to victory in more friendly New Hampshire a week later, quickly wrap up the nomination. Conroy’s poll shows Christie first at 17%, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) second at 16%, with other conservatives trailing. Such projections parallel how Mitt Romney virtually tied for first in the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses. Romney with 25% of the vote grabbed just enough of smaller groups of “somewhat conservative” and “moderate” caucus goers, leaving other candidates to split the dominant conservative cohort.

Conroy thinks Christie will, as Romney did, downplay Iowa until the last minute as protection against a possible embarrassing defeat there. There’s another reason to follow Romney’s playbook: pushing hard early in Iowa could encourage conservatives to rally around a single conservative choice to block any Christie “1-2, Iowa-New Hampshire” victory strategy.  

New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat supports moving Republicans away from social conservatism, and instead making a populist reach for working class voters motivated by economic distress. Discussing Cuccinelli’s failed Virginia gubernatorial campaign, Douthat thought the GOP candidate was too wrapped up in social issues to embody populism effectively, but said Cuccinelli had made a “game attempt” to channel it. Douthat added
you can’t ignore [populsim’s] potential downside for Republican fundraising, or the hard reality that the party’s donor class has the ability to kill a candidate they don’t link in a general election as thoroughly as the party’s populist wing can kill a candidate in a primary. Which is why, for a conservative populism to really work, it needs to have a clear appeal to the political center that the party’s current populist standard-bearers haven’t managed (yet!) to quite formulate. You need a lot of non-Republicans, as voters and small donors alike, to make up for the reality on display in Virginia [with Cuccinell’s defeat] — which is that if G.O.P. donors don’t get the party they want, some of them will find a perfectly comfortable home as Clinton-McAuliffe Democrats instead.
Douthat may believe Christie could bring populism and money together, judging from another column he wrote after November’s off-year elections, one titled “Dear Governor Christie.” In it, Douthat warns Christie
you [can’t] just run on your own awesomeness without specifying where you would take the country if you won. That act wears thin in a long campaign, and it’s likely to wear especially thin in a party that needs a new agenda as badly as Republicans do today. . . you’ll need substance as well as regular-guy style: a tax plan that doesn’t play just as a giveaway to the 1%, a health care plan that isn’t just a defense of the pre-Obamacare status quo, an approach to spending that targets corporate welfare as well as food stamps.
There it is, Douthat’s pitch for Christie to carry the populism flag.

Douthat concedes that while critics--and that would include those who have Christie’s ear--underestimate libertarian populism in two ways, they get some of a third point right:
1. [critics] miss the potential breadth of the libertarian populist idea, which many of them are assessing purely through the lens of economic policy even though it has obvious implications for social issues and foreign policy [pro gay marriage, marijuana, criminal justice reform, isolationism abroad]
2. many economic issues and policy controversies potentially map onto the libertarian populist “insider vs. outsider” framework[, given that “insiders” also include] well-salaried bureaucrats, even-better-salaried contractors, employers who want low wages and energy companies with the right lobbyists
3. critics [get that t]here really is a big fiscal-policy hole in libertarian populism. . . ideas like the flat tax. [Candidates should] focus. . . on payroll taxes instead, which would be a solid step toward a more plausible right-of-center domestic policy.
Douthat may gravitate toward Christie as a fellow Northeastener, but Douthat’s libertarian populist philosophy better fits Ted Cruz, the potential candidate nipping Christie’s heels in the Iowa poll mentioned above. Cruz is close to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), the man who best embodies Douthat’s libertarian populism, right down to the idea of a payroll tax reduction.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nuclear Option: Iran, U.S. Senate

Senate Majority Leader Reid                                         Iran President Rouhani
More signs Iran is going nuclear: the Washington Post, usually friendly to President Obama’s foreign policy, has published an editorial raising serious questions about Iran’s intention to set aside its "nuclear option."  The editorial nevertheless has a closing line cop-out, opining that delaying Iran’s progress toward a bomb “is far preferable to. . . military action.”  That's siding with the administration against a "straw man," since its opponents for now favor maintaining stiff sanctions, not bombing.

A week ago Saturday, the administration boosted Iran’s "nuclear option."  Two days earlier, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invoked the “nuclear option” in his chamber, enabling the administration for the first time to confirm judges and executive appointments by majority vote.  On this “nuclear option” no negotiations, no compromise with the Republican enemy, just a quick fait accompli that blew up Senate Rule 22, requiring a two-thirds vote to change any rule.  Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), in opposing his party’s action, quoted Levin’s predecessor Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI) in 1949 saying that that if the majority can change the rules at will, "there are no rules except the transient unregulated wishes of a majority of whatever quorum is temporarily in control of the Senate."

Nuke the G.O.P., give nukes to Iran. It confirms what we said here recently: Obama’s real enemy is Republicans. Of course it’s dangerous to appease Iran.  It’s also reckless to allow a simple majority to run the Senate, because in months, that majority might be Republican. Why the misplaced “nuclear options”?

Noah Rothman, writing in “Mediaite,” hazards a guess as to what’s happening in the Senate. It’s in line with “prospect theory,” a predictive model of economic behavior. Prospect theory
stipulates that when a person begins to come to terms with increasingly likely losses, they become risk-takers. Losses sting, the theory asserts, more than gains reward. Thus, risk-seeking behavior increases as the acute pain of an imminent loss comes clearly into focus.
It’s a phenomenon we’ve touched on many times, discussing how animals will fight harder to hold onto what they have than they will fight to gain new territory.

Rothman believes Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” because “the ground is collapsing” from under their feet:
In a panic, they are falling back on maneuvers which mitigate immediate pain and provide short-term gains, all the while acknowledging that the risks they are taking are high and the prospect of long-term advantage extremely low.
The same can be said for appeasing Iran--taking a risk for short-term gain, with “the prospect of long-term advantage extremely low.”

How unfortunate, these misdirected “nuclear options.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Iran: What Appeasement Looks Like

Munich, 1938: Chamberlain-Hitler                         Geneva, 2013: Zarif-Kerry
The Great War--the “war to end all wars,” re-named World War I after another, even more horrible war came along--changed diplomacy forever. From 1918 on, negotiations frequently involved democracies willing to pay almost any price not to go to war, the West’s 1938 cave-in to Hitler at Munich being the most infamous example. Munich turned out badly enough that “peace through strength” (Roman Emperor Hadrian, 76-138 CE) became America’s and the Free World’s operating principle in the post-war era.

Vietnam alienated American liberals from war as an instrument of diplomacy. Starting in 1968, the Democratic Party base opposed war, and believed the world’s greatest enemies of peace were other Americans still willing to fight. In the 1980s, Democrats backed the Western Europe “nuclear freeze” movement. In 1991, only 10 of 56 Senate Democrats voted for war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion (“Desert Storm”).

In 1994, Democratic president Clinton failed to check genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, due to his party’s reluctance to use force under any circumstances. He later did authorize an air war against Serbia in Kosovo, a sanitary operation that resulted in one American death. Democrats could not oppose war in Afghanistan following 9.11, the worst attack ever on American soil. But the party bitterly fought against the U.S. effort to overthrow and replace Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and once President Obama had pulled the U.S. out of Iraq, went to work to end our combat role in Afghanistan as well.

Under Democrats, U.S. diplomacy is returning to appeasement, negotiations that unfold when one side won’t fight.  With war off the table, the appeasing diplomats simply try to craft a document that looks like “compromise.” But in truth, if only one side is willing to consider war, the “compromises” that result--North Korea (1995, 2007), Syria (2013)--leave the aggressor with what they want.

Such is the likely outcome of our one-sided negotiations with Iran. Michael Hirsh in the National Journal and others are already comparing Saturday’s Iran agreement to Richard Nixon’s famous 1971 opening to China, complete with a Nixon-Mao handshake photo:
the rapprochement between Washington and Tehran . . .could open new doors to the resolution of long-festering conflicts that have left the two countries on the opposite side of bloody divides in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and even the Israeli-Palestinian issue, altering the strategic landscape in a way not seen, perhaps, since President Nixon blindsided the Soviets by making friends with Communist China at the height of the Cold War.
The differences are so striking. China in 1971 respected American power, and wanted the U.S. to help counter Beijing’s unfriendly Soviet neighbor to the north. Negotiations involved two parties willing to war. Negotiations were aimed at a common adversary.

The Obama administration, ostensibly opposed to a nuclear Iran, is by contrast negotiating away its sanctions leverage over Iran, appeasing Tehran by allowing Iran to re-enter international trade without giving up its nuclear ambitions. And who does Hirsh identify as the common “foe” that brings Iran and the U.S. together, the way opposition to the Soviet Union brought the U.S. and China together? Says Hirsh, astonishingly, “Israel and Saudi Arabia, hitherto America's two closest allies in the region”!

Come again? We are uniting with adversary Iran against our two best allies in the Middle East? For what possible end? How does Iran’s gain at the expense of Israel and Saudi Arabia in any way advance world peace? Or in any possible way U.S. interests? The way Chamberlain caving to Hitler at Munich advanced Britain’s interests (“Peace for our time”)?

Appeasement doesn’t work. And “peace through strength”--a willingness to use force against those who understand only force--is the two-millennia-old true path to peace.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Clinton/McAuliffe/Clinton--Road to White House, 2016

Bill Clinton   Terry McAuliffe   Hillary Clinton
"I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they've got."

--Bill Clinton (11.12.13)

In other words: “Obama, you broke your promise.” With those words, Bill Clinton opened up crucial space between spouse Hillary’s campaign for the White House and the current White House occupant’s signature Obamacare. What a difference from just 14 months ago, when Clinton at the Democratic convention delivered perhaps last year’s single most effective defense of Obamacare.

How quickly politics moves on. We're early in Obama’s second term, and it’s on to the next presidential campaign. Obama’s one-off presidency, which like Jimmy Carter’s 1976 post-Watergate presidency came out of nowhere in a disaster’s aftermath (Iraq, financial collapse), seems likewise headed for historical oblivion.  Consequence since 1932 has meant Roosevelt (+Truman), Eisenhower (+Nixon), Kennedy (+Johnson), Reagan (+Bush, +Bush), and Clinton (+Clinton?): five key presidencies potentially spanning nearly a century.

Remember how close Hillary came to beating Obama in the 2008 primaries? The popular vote total was Obama 17,535,458, Clinton 17,493,836, a victory margin of 0.1%. Obama, the minorities' president, was an early surprise. Hillary, the woman president, is due.

The Clintons have just carried old fundraising pal Terry McAuliffe to Virginia's governorship, this year’s off-year election story and a preview of the upcoming presidential campaign. Philip Rucker in the Washington Post followed Bill Clinton campaigning on McAuliffe’s behalf, and spotted just how the Clintons will head back to the White House by running against Obama:
Clinton credited his work across the aisle with balancing budgets and creating 22 million new jobs — and lamented the state of the country today. “This economic thing, it’s terrible,” Clinton said in Hampton[, Va]. “Median family income — after you adjust for inflation, is lower than it was the day I left office. That was a long time ago. And we need somebody who wants to do something about it.”
Bill Clinton repeatedly said the Founding Fathers wanted elected officials to be practical above all else, designing a system of governing that would force them to negotiate with each other. “Read the Constitution of the United States of America,” Clinton said Sunday in Richmond. “It might as well have been subtitled, ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ ”
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA) [said] that the message laid out by Bill Clinton would be “a really powerful theme into the next cycle.” “We’re the party of governance,” Connolly added. “You want things to work? You have to eschew that hard-right, I-know-best ideology.”
The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost believes the McAuliffe campaign strategy
mimicked the old Clinton approach, which will surely be Hillary Clinton’s tack in 2016. . . First, he started with a solid base of support from those in the lower socioeconomic strata of society, in particular poor African Americans. According to the exit polls, he won 65% of those who make less than $30,000 a year, and 90% of African Americans. To this substantial group—about half  his total voting coalition—he added people at the high end of the socioeconomic strata. He won 57% of people with a postgraduate degree and 55% of people who make more than $200,000 a year. In Virginia, a state with a tight relationship to the federal government, these are people with great faith in the capacity of technocratic experts to manage society. Add their gentry liberalism (support for environmentalism, abortion rights, gay marriage, etc.), and they were easy McAuliffe targets.
McAuliffe followed a tired-but-true playbook: In his public appearances, he played the role of crusading populist, looking out for the people and not the powerful; behind the scenes, he massively outraised his opponent by currying favor with the powerful interests he publicly disclaimed. What to do with all that cash? With an electorate that is growing tired of big government, it is not enough for a Democrat as liberal as McAuliffe to paint a positive vision of the future. Instead, he had to scare the bejesus out of people, warning them in ad after ad that his Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, is an extreme crypto-Puritan who would set the Old Dominion back a century or more.
It’s not a secret anymore (however dimly the public makes it out), this marriage of big money to a Democratic Party still speaking to the less fortunate. Michael Barone of the conservative American Enterprise Institute sees the wealth-poverty gap most on display in heavily Democratic states:
Liberals like [Timothy Noah, writing in the Washington Monthly] often decry income inequality. But the states with the most unequal incomes and highest poverty levels these days are California and New York. That's what happens when high taxes and housing costs squeeze out the middle class. As Noah notes, "Few working-class people earn enough money to live anywhere near San Francisco."
This leaves a highly visible and articulate upper class willing, in line with their liberal beliefs, to shoulder high tax burdens and a very much larger lower class -- many of them immigrants -- available to serve them in restaurants, landscape their gardens and valet-park their cars[,  those] living in. . . high-rise, restaurant-studded, subway-served neighborhood[s].

Friday, November 22, 2013

Obamacare to Death Panels

Holman W. Jenkins, in the Wall Street Journal has found the “essence” of Obamacare:
millions of people are being conscripted to buy overpriced insurance they would never choose for themselves in order to [pay for] the poor and those who are medically uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions.
That’s it.

James Oliphant, in the National Journal, explains how Obamacare’s key redistribution objective became law:
in July 2009—or any time while the program was being debated in Congress[--Obama] couldn't stand up before the American public and say that the only way to achieve the program's goals was to reallocate money within the health insurance market. That there would need to be a transfer of wealth—from the young to the old, from men to women, from the healthy to the sick. That to raise the floor, you had to lower the ceiling. To do so would have handed his enemies the kind of weaponry they craved, validation that Obama was indeed some sort of "socialist" who believed in "redistribution." It could have killed the effort in its tracks, then and there, making the tea-party eruption in town halls across the country in the month that followed look like a Kiwanis meeting.
So he lied. Oliphant, like Jenkins, is crystal clear that under Obamacare:
there are winners and there are losers. And there were always going to be. That fact, even more than the star-crossed rollout, may be the more enduring political threat to Obamacare.
Stan Veuger, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, offers Democrats some unwelcome, gratuitous “Monday morning quarterbacking” advice:
In retrospect, president Obama probably should have accepted House Republicans’ reasonable, and, seen in the light of recent developments, generous offer to raise the debt limit and fund the government in exchange for a delay in the individual mandate. The federal government would have remained open for all of October, and many an inconvenient political problem would have been avoided.
Be serious. Obama in early October wasn’t going to compromise, as they say, “period.” He and his political operatives were salivating over the political victory at hand, quietly encouraging the Republicans’ suicide mission to shut down the government over Obamacare funding, a crazy GOP plan that would end with Democratic control of the House in 2014. So, next, all of us watched in shock as Obama the inattentive president so publicly brought down Obama the skilled politician.

Oliphant seems pessimistic that Obama’s healthcare scheme will work out, even if the president turns the political battle around:
Obamacare [is] either a finely tuned machine whose parts have to work in an almost orchestral fashion for it to produce the wellspring of results that have been promised, or an infernal, jury-rigged contraption that could collapse from the smallest series of stresses.
One sign of the depths of despair to which the Obamacare rollout has taken progressives comes from the New York Times’ Thomas Edsall, who Tuesday wrote:
The chaos surrounding efforts to activate HealthCare.gov reinforces a key conservative meme: that whatever the test is, government will fail it. Insofar as voters experience their interaction with government as frustrating and unreliable, the brunt of political damage will hit Democrats, both as the party of government and as the party of Obamacare.
In that same vein, that Obamacare may be ruining Democrats’ future, Jonathan Tobin writes in the conservative journal Commentary:
the belief that sooner or later the general public would regard Obamacare as untouchable once it went into effect was misplaced. Unlike other expansions of government benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that were paid for by future taxpayers, the Obamacare losers are made up of the middle class of the present.
Again, Obamacare is not just politics, it’s on a larger mission. A mission, according to Jenkins, headed down a dark path. Jenkins addresses progressives with the following words:
The government-run systems you so admire in other countries mostly came about long ago. They came about to expand access to medical care at a time when medical care couldn't do all that much for people. We live in a different age. America, let's face it, would be embarking on a single-payer system not to expand access—though that slogan would be used—but to deny and limit care in order to control runaway spending. [emphasis added]
Death panels.  It’s possible that in the end, Democrats as well as Republicans will welcome Obamacare’s demise.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Major Chinese reforms in the works?

China values stability, and China’s fear of luan, or disorder, helps account for an old, tired Communist Party’s continued rule over the world’s newest superpower. Look at the picture below of China’s current Party Central Committee, taken last year. Compare it to the picture that follows of the 1969 Central Committee, installed in the midst of Cultural Revolution turmoil--a very different world:

Central Committee of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress

Central Committee of the 9th Chinese Communist Party Congress

After 43 years, little change. Mao’s picture has been replaced by a Communist Party hammer and sickle, not significant, since the Party still honors Mao.

The picture below is one of the current Politburo Standing Committee, photographed at last week’s 18th Congress, 3rd Plenum. Note the leadership’s uniformity, used to project stability: all male, all with slick-backed black hair, dark suits, white shirts, neckties, all voting "aye."

(L-R:) Wang Qishan, Yu Zhengsheng, Li Keqiang, Xi Jinping (blue tie), Zhang Dejiang, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Gaoli
 The Economist is somewhat excited about this 3rd plenum:
Third plenums have a special place in Chinese politics as the venue for big changes in direction—and President Xi Jinping had hinted that this one would be no different. Xi, like his predecessor, Hu Jintao, has learned to talk a good reformist game. But Hu failed to change much, partly because he never found a way round the . . . state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and local governments, who benefit from the current system and so stand in the way.
the [third plenum’s] communiqué calls for the market to play a “decisive” role in allocating resources. Until now, party literature has said the role of market forces should be “basic”. [The change to "decisive"] is a sign that Xi wants the market to play a bigger part in shaping the economy; [possibly taking] on the SOEs, which squander vast amounts of capital. [A] new “leading small group” to oversee reforms [could] bang together the heads of obstructionist SOE bosses and provincial leaders to make them work together better, and Mr Xi himself could well chair it.
China is rich, corrupt, successful, developing unevenly, gripped by the need for market economy reforms, burdened by powerful stakeholders in the SOEs and provinces who like China’s unreformed political structure just the way it is.

Confucius says, “The gem cannot be polished without friction.” Will we see the necessary friction, for which the Economist wishes?


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Obama in a bad place.

“I am not a crook.”

--Richard Nixon (11.17.73)  

"the game’s not over.”

--Barack Obama (11.14.13)

We are watching Obama’s approval/disapproval ratings in the “RealClearPolitics” averages hit all-time lows.

November 5 was the year anniversary of election eve 2012, the day before the president’s amazing 5-million-vote triumph over Mitt Romney. Prior to this November 5, Obama’s 4 year-9 months presidency had experienced net approval ratings below -9% for only a grand total of 9 days, all in 2011 when voters were mad at both Obama and Congress for their debt ceiling fights. At that time, Obama spent 2 days below -10% at -10.2%, his previous all-time low rating.

Starting November 5, 2013, Obama’s ratings have been below -9% for 11 days, below -10% for 9 days, below -11% for 7 days, and below -12% 3 days, including his all-time worst day November 13, when his disapproval rating exceeded his approval rating by -13%. And the trend remains downward, standing at -12.9% yesterday. He will surely recover somewhat, but will he ever return to the positive ratings he last enjoyed June 7?

"President Obama's job approval rating has fallen to the level of former President George W. Bush at the same period of his Presidency," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. A year later under the weakened Bush--November 7, 2006--Republicans lost their House and Senate majority, dropping 30 and 6 seats, respectively.

Sean Trende, the “RealClearPolitics” numbers guy, writes:
if Obama’s job approval is 40% on Election Day, [Democratic] gains would be unlikely, and losses in the low double digits -- perhaps even as many as the 20 or so seats that would accompany losing 11% of their caucus. . . would be plausible. Of course, [t]he big game is in the Senate. In 2014, there will be 7 Democratic seats up for re-election in states that were more Republican than the country [over] the last two presidential elections.
In the National Journal, Alex Roarty has found that presidents whose approval plummets in their second term don't recover. "In fact, no president in the last 60 years has watched his approval ratings bounce back during their second term."

And Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, a “Skull and Bones” Yale grad once declared persona non grata by the Bush White House, has just written, “on the . . . question of whether Obama can rebuild an effective presidency after this debacle, it’s starting to look as if it may be game over.”

Milbank’s column is a further indication the Washington establishment is separating itself from a damaged administration.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Democrats holding onto the hoi polloi.

Truth #1: The Democrats’ Obamacare aims at the single-payer health (national health insurance) model found in most other developed countries, systems that permanently bind their nations’ populations to government and its high taxes.

We have repeatedly quoted Victor Fuchs of Stanford’s 1976 honest assertion that a “most effective” way to build “allegiance to the state is through national health insurance.” The Democrats seek to marry the rest of society to its national elite, and to make the entire middle class what nearly half the country already is: government-dependent.

Democrats want to remake the United States into a top-down social democracy. And they are making great progress. Look at the graph above. It shows that we now have as many government dependents as full-time workers.

Terence P. Jeffrey, at the conservative “CNS News,” provides similar, even more dramatic figures:
Americans who were recipients of means-tested government benefits in 2011 outnumbered year-round full-time workers, according to data released [in October] by the Census Bureau. . . There were 108,592,000 people in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2011 who were recipients of one or more means-tested government benefit programs, the Census Bureau said[, alongside] 101,716,000 people who worked full-time year round in 2011. That included both private-sector and government workers. That means there were about 1.07 people getting some form of means-tested government benefit for every 1 person working full-time year round.
Jeffrey notes his 108,592,000 figure for those receiving benefits does not include people funded solely by non-means-tested government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, and non-means-tested veterans compensation.

Robert Samuelson at the Washington Post adds the entitlement population into his picture of how government has wrapped itself around the bulk of voters, even before Obamacare goes into full effect. According to Samuelson’s figures, the largest entitlement programs in 2012, ranked by the number of recipients, are:

1. Medicaid/CHIP*: 63.2 million
2. Social Security: 55.8 million
3. Medicare: 49.9 million
4. Food Stamps: 46.6 million
5. Child Nutrition: 35 million
6. College Loans: 11.3 million
7. Unemployment Insurance: 8.9 million
8. Supplemental Security Income*: 7.9 million
9. Veterans Compensation: 3.8 million
10. Civil Service Retirement: 2.5 million
11. Military Retirement: 2.2 million
12. Farm Subsidies: 1.3 million
*CHIP stands for "Children's Health Insurance Program," mostly subsidized school meals. "Supplemental Security Income" aids the aged, blind and disabled.

Samuelson’s list contains overlap: most Medicare recipients receive Social Security, and some unemployed get food stamps. But Samuelson still finds that after eliminating double counting, about half of U.S. households receive some federal benefit.

They say a “gaffe” is a candid truth better left hidden. And so it was with Romney’s infamous quote that “47%” of us “are dependent upon government.” Romney was right, and is right until Obamacare raises the dependency percentage even higher.

Have the Democrats, then, won permanent control over the country’s hoi polloi? Not yet, because there’s another trend cutting sharply against the centralized state Democrats love and worship.  

Truth #2: The top-down, big government model is so yesterday.

Scott Rasmussen, the former pollster whose views are informed by continuous re-examination of popular thinking, writes about how our post-industrial citizenry is undermining centralized control:
[Leaders] in Washington are frustrated by the public distrust. They dream of public relations programs to overcome it. What is needed, though, is for the government to change its behavior, so that it can earn the trust of the people it serves.
More recently, Rasmussen added that change began
in the 1970s with the launch of cable television networks. That gave individuals more choices in the 1980s, and the Internet expanded those choices in the 1990s. Now we’ve reached a level of personalization powered by more than 100 million smartphones. The culture of individual choice and customization is so strong that no two of these smartphones are alike. We have different apps, music and more.
Over the past 30 years, as society has moved away from centralization, the political class has resisted. Government has grown ever more centralized. In fact, the federal government today directly controls a far larger chunk of the nation’s economy than it did just a generation. . . ago. [But] politics and government always lag . . . politicians are not thrilled with riding the new wave that disperses power away from the political class. The disconnect cannot continue. Sooner or later, the politicians will concede.
Change has reached even the heart of the national elite--its capital-centered Washington Post. Listen to Washington elite journalist James Fallows on the Graham family’s separation from the newspaper it built into an opinion-shaping giant:
My first reaction to news that the family had sold the [Washington Post] is simple shock. [But] what we consider "serious" journalism has never been a viable business. Foreign reportage, serious investigative or government-accountability coverage -- functions like these have always been, in economic terms, parasites that need to ride along on some profitable host body. In the old days, that was the fat, bundled newspaper, which provided a range of information to an audience with no technological alternative. We're in the un-bundled era now, and serious journalism has been looking for new host bodies -- much as higher education, museums, the fine arts, etc have also needed support beyond what the flat-out market would provide.
“Serious journalism,” along with “higher education, museums, the fine arts,” all “looking for new host bodies”? “Host bodies” indeed! What a graphic euphemism for big government! The storm of change is raging, and the media-academic-nonprofit-entertainment/arts elites are all looking for more taxpayer support, nicely delivered via Democratic Party-run government.

We are far from the days when “progressive” and “liberal” actually meant “progressive” and “liberal.” Here is Kurt Schlichter, at the conservative website “Townhall,” saying of the late Andrew Breitbart, the right wing’s answer to provocateur Michael Moore:
Andrew was born and raised a liberal. He stopped being a liberal precisely because he believed in the things that liberals claimed they believed in – that all individuals should be treated with respect regardless of race or creed, that they should have a voice in their government, that civil [liberties] matter, and that hypocrisy is wrong. It was his epiphany that liberals actually believe the opposite of what they preach that drove him out of the liberal camp. His incredible honesty and his refusal to accept the snobbery and lies that characterize liberalism made him liberalism’s Public Enemy Number One.
Ruben Navarrette, on CNN.com, spoke with dismay about where mainstream journalism’s support for centralized authority has taken it today:
once we sanitize the news, or manipulate it to serve an agenda, it's no longer news. It's public relations. Or worse. Think of it as nanny journalism. Too many people in my profession have strayed from the mission of reporting what happened. . . to massaging what happened in order to advance some greater societal good. And when journalists. . . impersonate social workers, we ask for trouble.
But less trouble, now that the mainstream media no longer remains the force it once was, as the central government it so faithfully supports continues bucking inevitable tides of change.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Obama Ship of Fools

No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.

--Barack Obama (6.15.09)  

Justice Department guidelines, set forth in the U.S. Attorneys Manual, recommend prosecution for fraud in situations involving “any scheme which in its nature is directed to defrauding a class of persons, or the general public, with a substantial pattern of conduct.” So, for example, if a schemer were intentionally to deceive all Americans, or a class of Americans (e.g., people who had health insurance purchased on the individual market), by repeating numerous times — over the airwaves, in mailings, and in electronic announcements — an assertion the schemer knew to be false and misleading, that would constitute an actionable fraud.

--Andrew McCarthy, National Review  

They were running the biggest start-up in the world, and they didn’t have anyone who had run a start-up, or even run a business,” said David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign, who was not the individual who provided the memo to The Washington Post but confirmed he was the author. “It’s very hard to think of a situation where the people best at getting legislation passed are best at implementing it. They are a different set of skills.”

--Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post  

It is so bureaucratic and so cumbersome that a whole bunch of it doesn't work or it ends up being way over cost.

--Barack Obama (11.7.13)  

how someone wired the way Obama is got so far in politics remains a puzzlement. His aloneness is generally regarded as springing from a surfeit of self-confidence, a certitude that he really does know best. But at least one former senior administration adviser has argued that the trait springs from the opposite source: a basic insecurity on the president’s part, one that keeps him from surrounding himself with strong intellectual rivals in either the White House or the Cabinet. Competent they may be, but with Hillary Clinton gone there is no figure of unquestioned stature. He has quietly purged from his inner circle those most likely to stand up to him, and barely suffered the manful efforts of his latest chief of staff, McDonough, to encourage him to reach out to the remaining slivers of the Republican sanity caucus in Congress.

--Todd Purdhum, Vanity Fair

Purdum’s article is a signal the Washington D.C. elite, of which Purdum is a part (he’s married to Bill Clinton’s former press secretary Dee Dee Myers), has given up on Obama and is turning to Hillary.  

The real problem is a president and a Washington culture which both believe it is okay to lie to get a bill passed. There is no connection between such behavior and the values of most Americans beyond Washington, for whom getting what you want usually results from hard work, honest bargaining and a little compromise. 

--Salena Zito, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

I personally believe that Americans do long for a nation where “getting what you want” does result from “hard work, honest bargaining and a little compromise.”  Government, not the American people, are our “Ship of Fools.”

Here’s a longer, extended comment from conservative Robert Tracinski, writing in “RealClearMarkets”:
The lie about being able to keep our health insurance, and the left's defense of that lie, lays bare the arrogant paternalism of big government.
[The current] line of defense on the cancellation of existing health insurance policies is that "everyone knew" this was going to happen. It's just that nobody bothered to tell the public. It's an example of the old Clinton Rules for how to dispose of a scandal: "it's not true, it's not true, it's not true, it's old news."
This illuminates the extent to which the mainstream media, rather than being a check on the political system, is a part of it. When reporters come from the same cultural and ideological perspective as the politicians--and the Obama White House has been notorious for its revolving door between the administration and the press--then the watchdogs become lapdogs. That's why the fact-checkers couldn't be bothered to fact-check such an important and obviously false claim back when it would have mattered. They couldn't fact-check it precisely because it would have mattered.
"everyone knew" that President Obama's promise wasn't true, but none of them raised the alarm: they thought it was a good thing that people would be pushed off of their health insurance and onto the exchanges. They intended this consequence to happen. The only thing they didn't intend was for the public to figure it out. . . they intended to "help" us, without bothering to get our input or permission.
Ayn Rand. . . once described the architects of the welfare state as "monument builders." Like the kings and dictators who preceded them, who laid waste to whole continents so they could build heroic monuments to their own vanity, modern politicians and bureaucrats use the welfare state as a costly monument to the moral vanity of their own self-proclaimed compassion. ObamaCare is building another such monument.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Dirty Politics Virginia Style

We earlier learned how last year Obama Democrats used support for third-party, Libertarian candidate Dan Cox in Montana to help re-elect Democratic senator Jon Tester against unfavorable odds in a state that voted for Romney. Now, though practically nobody has noticed, the same “dirty politics” story has repeated itself elsewhere.

The place is Virginia. It’s an historically conservative state now tipping Democrat based upon northern Virginia’s large and growing Federal government-connected population. But Democrat Terry McAuliffe ran poorly for governor there four years ago, and needed help this time around, help that could come from having a third-party Libertarian candidate on the ballot who could draw conservative but socially libertarian votes away from Republican social conservative Ken Cuccinelli.

Andra and Joe Liemandt
Enter Austin, Texas, software billionaire Joe Liemandt, a major Democratic Party benefactor and Obama campaign bundler. In March 2012, ABC News reported Liemandt was among three dozen of the Obama campaign’s largest bundlers invited to a state dinner honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron. ABC noted the invited bundlers, who included Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, were responsible for at least $10.7 million of the $250 million the campaign had collected to that point.

Yet in Virginia this year, Liemandt paid for the professional petition circulators needed to put gubernatorial candidate Robert C. Sarvis on the Virginia Libertarian ballot. Liemandt’s Libertarian Booster PAC made the largest independent contribution to Sarvis’ campaign. As stated, Liemandt is a Democrat and a top bundler for Obama, part of the small circle that includes Terry McAuliffe, himself a major Obama bundler and the Democratic party national chair when Obama was elected in 2008. So is there any question Liemandt was doing McAuliffe a favor by putting Libertarian Sarvis on the Virgina ballot, in a spot where he could draw votes away from Republican Cuccinelli?

Libertarian-leaning Republicans were pretty upset about the Sarvis candidacy, noting he doesn’t support tax cuts (he in fact supported new taxes on roads), didn’t oppose medicaid expansion and called himself “pro-business,” not pro-free market.

Conservative Charles C. W. Cooke, writing in National Review, was angry that Sarvis advocated a “vehicle-miles-driven tax,” something Cooke said was “almost impossible to square” with any “remotely coherent ‘libertarian’ position” on privacy, since the plan required installation of government GPS systems in private cars, “an astonishingly invasive proposal.”

A Quinnipiac poll showing that Sarvis actually took slightly more of the vote from Democrat McAuliffe (47%) than from Republican Cuccinelli (45%) seemingly undermined the “dirty politics” nature of Sarvis’ candidacy. But who is to say Democrats inclined to dump McAuliffe--because of Obamacare for example--wouldn’t have ended up with Cuccinelli if Sarvis weren’t an option? At the same time it’s highly likely Republicans upset with Cuccinelli’s stands on abortion, divorce, gay marriage, or guns--not to mention his identification with the Republicans who closed down government--were only too happy to vote Libertarian Sarvis.

In the end, Sarvis received 6.6% of the vote, while McAuliffe’s margin over Cuccinelli was only 2.5%. McAuliffe owes big thanks to Mr. billionaire Democrat bundler Liemandt.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Optimism--reasons for?

Progressivism is leaving a mess behind. It’s more than no jobs, lower income, dysfunctional single-parent working class families. It’s the politics of “victimization” (of minorities, of women, of youth) that substitutes government programs for self-reliance. It’s a culture that retains excellence for the upper class, while treating the rest of God’s children to the everybody’s-a-winner protective embrace of “self esteem.”

The “Federalist’s” Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, with no reference to left-behind boys or masculinity, captures the safeness of today’s progressive-orchestrated childhood:
the signs of [a] crushing of America’s spirit of risk-taking are everywhere. I see it every time I take my children to a suburban playground. The dangerous metal slides, rickety merry-go-rounds and tall monkey bars are a thing of the past, a casualty of federal regulations and rapacious lawyers. The benefit is supposed to be fewer injuries, although the evidence of that is surprisingly thin. Those old playgrounds had [an escalating] danger to them that taught kids how to assess risk.
When you grow up thinking that every fall will be cushioned by safety mulch or fall height-rated rubber flooring, turns out you have trouble when it comes to real world rock-climbing. When everything is a safety crisis, nothing is. So it should be little surprise that older children are less likely to heed warnings against smoking, drinking and having, in the parlance of modern educators, “unsafe” sex.
It’s that bad. But then Bret Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal, points out how well it goes at the top. After all, the U.S. is a “Nobel superpower”:
Since 2000, Americans have won 21 of the 37 physics prizes, 18 of the 33 medicine prizes, 22 of the 33 chemistry prizes and an astonishing 27 of the 30 economics prizes. Pretty impressive considering our nonstop anxiety about failing schools, mediocre international test scores, undergrads not majoring in math or the sciences, and the rest. Singapore, South Korea and Finland may regularly produce the highest test scores among 15-year-olds, but something isn't translating: Nobody from Singapore has ever won a Nobel. Korea has one—for peace. The Finns last took a science prize in 1967.
Stephens attributes America's Nobel success to three factors:
  • an immigration culture that welcomed everyone. 
  • a mostly private, highly competitive, lavishly endowed university system, juiced by federal funding for fundamental research.
  • a culture of individualism and an ingrained respect for against-the-grain thinking. 
Sadly, though, all three Stephens’ positives are threatened by today’s sick economy and the strains it produces.

One could also be optimistic about what might happen in the K-12 schools, based upon what we now know about how children learn. According to Joy Pullmann, also in the “Federalist,”
The achievement gap between black and white, rich and poor is not due to lack of money. It largely comes down to a vocabulary gap, which means a knowledge gap, because words name things. Perhaps you’ve heard of the 30 million-word gap? Many poor children have a massive vocabulary deficit that modern U.S. education simply does not overcome. (This is largely the fault of parents who put their child in front of the TV or iPad instead of reading him books, but teachers can overcome it.) It’s not the money, it’s the education.
Better schools can make a huge difference, giving us a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, the effort to dumb down education may be reaching even our Nobel-Prize-generating university system, says Pullmann:
The past several years have seen a deluge of demands that a high school diploma now qualify all bearers for non-remedial admission to college. The Obama administration has unilaterally required this of all states using No Child Left Behind waivers. This will . . . dilute college academics, because everyone is simply not suited for college.
Let’s be optimistic; hopeful. Change begins with knowing the problem, then finding a real solution.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Will Libertarian Populism Help America?

Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz
“The Tea Party is.   .   . a libertarian, small government protest against the centralization of federal power, and a populist resentment of snooty Ivy League professors who think the common people aren’t very smart.”

--Walter Russell Mead, American Interest  

“All the people a few weeks ago [were] saying there is no way you can win this fight. They also said there is no way any D’s are going to flip. We are starting to see Democrats flip as this thing—it’s a train wreck—it’s not working. In any political fight, when the truth is on your side, you are in a good situation.”

--Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Remember how “a few weeks ago” Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee (R-UT), the two who helped shut down government in an effort to defund Obamacare, were “tea party” extremists sending the Republican Party into oblivion? Well in spectacular fashion government today isn’t working, and perhaps the philosophy that drives Cruz and Lee--libertarian populism--deserves a closer look.

Stephanie Slade in US News presents an outline of what libertarian populism stands for--doing away with “the reality that our current system unfairly privileges big institutions at everyone else's expense.” Writes Slade:
crony capitalism is a problem in America. When the biggest, richest, most powerful institutions can collude with government to rig the game in their favor, the competition that makes free markets the greatest force for freedom in the world begins to break down. Aspiring entrepreneurs are dissuaded from trying to start new businesses, because they doubt they'll be able to compete with existing ones – not on the merits, but in the big firms' ability to buy influence with policymakers.
our needlessly convoluted "swiss cheese" federal tax code [means l]arge entities have the resources to hire an army of lawyers and accountants to ensure they're taking advantage of every possible loophole. Most individual taxpayers, well, don't have that option. As a result, middle-income households end up paying nearly as much, and sometimes more, in taxes than the wealthiest Americans.
The libertarian populist answer . . . is to flatten and simplify the tax code . . . because it makes it harder for [the rich] to avoid what they owe. Fewer loopholes means less [spent on] seeking out . . . loopholes. This does in a day what decades of carve-outs meant to benefit the middle class have failed to accomplish: It levels the playing field. And that is the crux of the libertarian populist formula: get government out so entrenched institutions can't . . . game the system.
The Washington Examiner’s Timothy P. Carney tells us Sen. Lee has detailed a variation of libertarian populism that “smashes some GOP idols”:
First, Lee’s plan isn’t a flat tax. He calls for a 15% rate and 35% rate. He puts much more emphasis on making the tax code clean and simple – eliminating deductions, streamlining returns – than on flatness. This tacitly accepts the notion of a progressive income tax code. He’s agreeing that the rich ought to pay a higher portion.
Along the same lines, Lee’s tax plan would cap the mortgage interest deduction at $300,000. Most homeowners would see no difference, but lobbyists living in Northwest Washington and Chevy Chase would see their deductions shrink.
Most importantly, Lee rejects the notion, persistent among some conservatives, that there’s something bad about knocking low-income families off the tax rolls.
The centerpiece of Lee’s bill is an expanded child tax credit that would not only reduce income taxes to zero, but also offset payroll taxes. In doing so, he explicitly rejects Romney 47%-ism: “Working families are not free riders.”
In short, Carney says, Lee is trying to help the working class and the middle class--the folks--by getting government out of their way.

But to get voters on your side, Lee maintains, you need to define “the other side” and fight it. You have to take on crony capitalism, just as US News’ Slade told us. Quoting Lee,
At the top of society, we find a political and economic elite that – having reached the highest rungs – has pulled up the ladder behind itself, denying others the chance even to climb. From Wall Street to K Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, we find special interests increasingly exempted and insulated – by law - from the rigors of competition and from the consequences of their own mistakes.
Lee says the U.S. economy is “rigged for big government, big business, and big special interests. And rigged against the ordinary citizens and forgotten families who work hard, play by the rules, and live within their means.”

Seems correct to me. As Lee’s colleague Cruz said, “when the truth is on your side, you are in a good situation.”

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Populist Solutions?

populism: the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite.

Here, from Michael A. Fletcher of the Washington Post, another dismal report on what’s happening to our middle class:
A majority of Americans with 401(k)-type savings accounts are accumulating debt faster than they are setting aside money for retirement, further undermining the nation’s troubled system for old-age saving. . .Three in five workers with defined contribution accounts are “debt savers,” . . . meaning their increasing mortgages, credit card balances and installment loans are outpacing the amount of money they are able to save for retirement.
Most of these folks are over 40, college educated and earning more than $50,000 a year. According to Mike McNamee of the Investment Company Institute, which represents mutual funds, these people fail to consider their “full balance sheet and financial picture, which for many households may mean saving for retirement through a 401(k) plan while also paying down student loans, taking out a mortgage to buy a house, or borrowing to send their children to college.” So they end up with debt outstripping retirement savings.
We have documented middle class pain. It’s time for solutions. What follows are three, from individuals I admire.   
  • Go for “Less Government, More Responsibility” 
Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell, at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, is a bright man unimpressed with the value of intelligence. He just wants power passing to the people instead. Sowell  writes:
If the preconceptions of the Left were correct, central planning by educated elites who had vast amounts of statistical data at their fingertips and expertise readily available, and were backed by the power of government, should have been more successful than market economies where millions of individuals pursued their own individual interests willy-nilly. But, by the end of the 20th century, even socialist and communist governments began abandoning central planning and allowing more market competition.
Yet this quiet capitulation to inescapable realities did not end the noisy claims of the Left. In the United States, those claims and policies have reached new heights, epitomized by government takeovers of whole sectors of the economy and unprecedented intrusions into the lives of Americans, of which Obamacare has been only the most obvious example.
In the same vein, Sowell adds:
Those we call "public servants" have in fact become public masters. And they act like it. They squander ever more vast amounts of our tax money, and still leave trillions of dollars of national debt to be paid by our children and grandchildren. They intrude into our private lives with ever more restrictions, red tape and electronic surveillance. And they turn different groups of Americans against each other with class warfare rhetoric and policies. . . we have . . . a Congress and an ever growing federal bureaucracy composed of people who have become a permanent ruling class.
  • Regain Economic Growth 
Robert Samuelson
Sowell wants government’s role reduced so that the market economy can work.  Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson knows that what best helps people is economic growth, and that we suffer terribly today because growth has slowed:
Economic growth . . . encourages lending because borrowers can repay from rising incomes. It supports bigger government because a growing economy expands the tax base and makes modest deficits bearable. Despite recessions, it buoys public optimism because people are getting ahead. The presumption of strong economic growth supported the spirit and organizational structures of postwar America.
Everyday life was transformed. Credit cards, home equity loans, 30-year mortgages, student loans and long-term auto loans (more than 2 years) became common. In 1955, household debt was 49% of Americans' disposable income; by 2007, it was 137%. Government moved from the military-industrial complex to the welfare state. In 1955, defense spending was 62% of federal outlays, and spending on "human resources" (the welfare state) was 22%. By 2012, the figures were reversed; welfare was 66%, defense 19%.
In our slow growth economy, the welfare state is devouring us. But Samuelson is worried it will be hard to achieve change. We won’t have growth, yet we won’t give up on the need for growth:
As economist Stephen D. King writes in his book When the Money Runs Out -- The End of Western Affluence: "Our societies are not geared for a world of very low growth. Our attachment to the Enlightenment idea of ongoing progress -- a reflection of persistent postwar economic success -- has left us with little knowledge or understanding of worlds in which rising prosperity is no longer guaranteed."
While annual U.S. economic growth has averaged slightly more than 3% since 1950, predictions of future growth cluster around 2%, with the forecasted slowdown tied to more permanent factors than the Great Recession. According to Cato Institute economist Brink Lindsey:
U.S. economic growth [was due] to four factors: (a) greater labor-force participation, mainly by women; (b) better-educated workers, as reflected in increased high-school and college graduation rates; (c) more invested "capital" per worker (that's machines and computers); and (d) technological and organizational innovation. The trouble, [Lindsey] writes, is that "all growth components have fallen off simultaneously."
Samuelson believes
What looms -- it's already occurred in Europe -- is a more contentious future. Economic growth serves as social glue that neutralizes other differences. Without it, economic and political competition becomes a game of musical chairs, where "one person's gain is another's loss," King writes.
We need economic growth. How do we get it back?
  •   Help the Middle Class 
Joel Kotkin
Joel Kotkin, a geographer at California’s Chapman University, of the three thinkers is the most focused on helping the middle class, not the wealthy. Kotkin is a true populist. Kotkin writes:
the top 1% of earners garnered more than 90% of the income growth in [Obama’s] first two years, compared with 65% under George W. Bush. . . the greatest inequality was found in the nation's megastates – California, New York, Florida and, yes, Texas. At the metropolitan level, generally the worst income gaps were found in some of our biggest metros, such as first New York, followed by Miami, Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco, as well as New Orleans.
California is producing. . . billionaires, three times as many as in regularly faster-growing Texas, but the middle class . . . now constitutes less than half California's population. The state also suffers the highest rate of poverty in the country and is now home to roughly 1/3rd of the nation's welfare recipients, equal to almost three times its proportion of the nation's population.
Remember when you thought California represented America’s future? If it still does, we are in trouble. Kotkin is interested in the “why” of other parts of the country being more equal, more nurturing of our middle class:
ethnicity, something discussed more emotionally than logically[, seems to explain equality]. The least inequality. . .occurs within . . . the “Germanic belt” that extends from large parts of Pennsylvania, across the northern Great Lakes and the Plains, all the way to the Pacific Northwest, as well as Utah; many Mormons are of German, Scandinavian and other northern European stock.
The “Germanic belt” areas . . . tend to emphasize education, most importantly, at the grade school level. The best science scores among eighth-graders, according the National Educational Assessment, are found almost totally in the northern-tier, heavily Germanic region of the country. Northern European redoubts such as Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Utah and northern New England all scored best.
Washington and Oregon also score relatively well on the science tests, and rank among the most egalitarian areas of the country. These areas, along with the San Francisco Bay Area, also attract high levels of Asian immigrants, people who, like German-Scandinavians, tend to stress education and generally have prospered more than the norm.
So Kotkin would argue we do need government support of education, though probably not of the industrial-era-government-school model currently inflicted on so many young Americans. We have to combat the growing distance between the elite and the rest of us:
“trickle down” economics, as practiced now by the Fed and celebrated on Wall Street, clearly does not improve life for most people. If we follow this approach, we could very well end up, as economist Tyler Cowen suggests, with a country where 85% of the population struggles while 15% enjoys unprecedented high standards of living.
under the current liberal regime, the prospects for the poor and working class have decreased markedly while the wealthy, often villainized by the administration, have luxuriated. During much of the tenure of the first black president, the gap between Anglo incomes on the one side and those of blacks and Hispanics has widened, doubling since the Great Recession.
Like Sowell and Samuelson, Kotkin encourages broader-based economic growth. But Kotkin also calls for “nurturing fundamental values of education, family and social engagement,” values he sees in the “Germanic belt” and among Asian Americans.

Kotkin implies it comes down to culture.