Saturday, August 31, 2013

So Assad gets away after all with gassing his own people?

Placard on President Truman's Desk
According to the New York Times, Obama told his staff yesterday (and the public today) that before launching missiles against the Syrian government in response to Syrian regime use of chemical weapons against their own people, he:
wanted to pull back and seek Congressional approval first. . . the most compelling [reason was] that acting alone would undercut him if in the next three years he needed Congressional authority for his next military confrontation in the Middle East, perhaps with Iran.
The President added today:
I know well we are weary of war. We’ve ended one war in Iraq. We’re ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military.
So there it is. Obama seems to be passing the buck after first promising retaliation, and positions Congress--loaded with opposition from both left and right to striking Syria--to take the hit for leaving butcher Bashar al-Assad effectively unpunished for his crimes.  It's legally sound to have Congress involved, but it's up to presidents, our commander-in-chiefs after all, to lead us into hostile territory.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Help blacks? Create jobs and fix schools.

Quotation without comment.

while many Democrats have spent the last 50 years dining out on the glories of 1965 and attempting to throw figurative white sheets over the heads of Republicans, Republicans have been searching for solutions to the post-civil rights era problems plaguing black America. Who has been in the forefront of what many have called "the civil rights issue of our time" -- the schools? Republican governors like Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mary Fallin and Bob McDonnell have championed some form of school choice program for low-income students. What does everybody think No Child Left Behind was all about? Hint: It wasn't aimed at suburban kids in decent schools.

--Mona Charen, “RealClearPolitics”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“I have a dream,” and it’s jobs for blacks.

10% of black Americans were unemployed in 1963, compared with 12.6% today. For most of this time, unemployment among blacks has remained almost double the national average and that of white Americans.

--National Urban League’s 2013 “State of Black America Report”

50 years ago to the day, the day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, he spoke at the 250,000 person “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” To King and chief march organizer A. Philip Randolph—president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO—the march was as much about economic justice (jobs) as it was about civil rights (freedom). After King’s speech, the first significant civil rights act passed Congress within the year. But as for jobs, blacks remain as far behind whites as they were 50 years ago.

The Urban League report quoted above makes it clear how bad it’s been for blacks under five Democratic and five Republican administrations over 50 years. During that period, the national unemployment rate during recession years only averaged 6.7%. Yet over the 50 years, the black unemployment average has been 11.6%. Only in one year, 1969, did black unemployment (at 6.4%) ever dip below the national recession average. That means for 50 years, black unemployment has been permanently in recession.

In his speech today at the Lincoln Memorial, President Obama paid tribute to the 1963 March’s focus on jobs. But, no surprise, he did so in a manner that emphasized the role government must play in fixing the problem:
the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination -- the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the march, for the men and women who gathered 50 years ago . . . were there seeking jobs [yes!] as well as justice -- not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. . . This idea that -- that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood [yes!], that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work [yes!], the skills to find work [oh no, government!], decent pay [government action], some measure of material security [government redistribution] -- this idea was not new.
Dr. King explained that the goals of African-Americans were identical to working people of all races: decent wages [government], fair working conditions [government], livable housing [government], old age security [government], health [government] and welfare measures [government] -- conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.
What King was describing has been the dream of every American. It’s what’s lured for centuries new arrivals to our shores [It’s government that lured immigrants here? Really?]. And it’s along this second dimension of economic opportunity, the chance through honest toil to advance one’s station in life [yes!], that the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short. . . black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white employment (sic), Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown [stayed the same, anyway]. . . For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate.
Obama’s got the problem right. But who’s fault is that?

Obama blames:
  • “corporate profits” 
  • “the pay of a fortunate few” 
  • “a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence” 
  • “technology and global competition” 
  • “Entrenched interests -- those who benefit from an unjust status quo” resisting “any government efforts to give working families a fair deal, marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue [against] minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools” who say “growing inequality was the price for a growing economy, a measure of the free market -- that greed was good and compassion ineffective, and those without jobs or health care had only themselves to blame.”
  • “elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth, that government [is] to blame for their growing economic insecurity -- that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.” 
In other words, Obama blames his preferred enemy; his straw-man version of white, rich Republican males.

Obama does admit:
  • “assassinations set off self-defeating riots” 
  • “grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior” 
  • “Racial politics [led to a] language of recrimination” 
  • “equality of opportunity. . . was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself” 
But his concluding “dream” isn’t exactly for a nation measuring children by “the content of their character.” No, it’s rather a pean to his winning Democratic coalition of the government-dependent, the women, the minorities, and the young:
I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native born recognizing that striving spirit of a new immigrant, when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who were discriminated against and understands it as their own. That’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. (Applause.)
Obama isn’t fighting for jobs. He’s fighting for “good jobs and just wages” [government work makes those goals possible]. And he’s fighting for “the right to health care in the richest nation on earth for every person” (Applause); “for the right of every child. . . to get an education that . . . prepares them for the world that awaits them” (Applause); and to “feed the hungry and house the homeless and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise” [government-built infrastructure].

In 1963, we had a march for jobs. For the next 40 years, America created millions of jobs, but it has stalled in the last decade. We need to get back to honest job creation, for the benefit of white, black, and all between. And though Obama and company still believe in big government’s ability to fix the economy, here’s the basic fact:

Only small business creates jobs.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What U.S. response to Syrian WMD used on women and children?

“When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act.”

--Samantha Power, U.S ambassador to the United Nations, in “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (2002)

Thank goodness the President will respond (in some, as yet undefined, manner) to Syria’s gassing of its own women and children. The proper action, foreshadowed by secretary of state John Kerry this afternoon, cuts against bad advice by conservative Charles Krauthammer and others that the U.S. continue to stay out of the Syrian conflict--even after the horrors of gas attacks on, and massive deaths among, Syrian civilians.

Edward Luttwak, a Middle East defense specialist at the conservative Center for International Studies, offered the rationale for this bad “no intervention” advice:
the Obama administration should resist the temptation to intervene . . . in Syria’s civil war. A victory by either side would be equally undesirable for the United States. At this point, a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests.
While Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) atrocity against his own people is chilling, it is also deeply chilling that American national security experts would prefer to have two enemies of Israel continue killing each other indefinitely, rather than have the U.S. weigh in on the side of gas attacks victims.

I have been reminded, again, why I don’t like Realpolitick.

Thus far, the neoconservatives best helper has been the American public’s deep aversion to another war anywhere, anytime--including in Syria. A Reuters/Ipsos poll, just taken, found that only 25% of Americans would support U.S. intervention to counter Syrian president Assad's use of chemical weapons, with 46% opposed, a decline from an August 13 Reuters/Ipsos poll showing 30% supporting intervention if chemical weapons were used, with 42% opposed.

In her book, Power had an answer for those who quote polls to block U.S. intervention in genocidal situations:
The inertia of the governed cannot be disentangled from the indifference of the government. American leaders have both a circular and a deliberate relationship to public opinion. . . constituencies are rarely if ever aroused by foreign crises, even genocidal ones, in the absence of political leadership, and yet at the same time U.S. officials continually cite the absence of public support as grounds for inaction.
Here’s hoping Power and Kerry are able to help Obama follow through (at last) with a tough U.S. response to Assad’s atrocity against his own.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Lawless Obama Administration

“as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”

--Thomas Paine

The conservative Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey H. Anderson presents a detailed record of the current administration’s disinterest in the law. It seems we have a king surrounded by sycophants, including a supine media, resulting in a cast-aside legal system. It resembles the American colonies in 1776, the time of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis.

Herewith, Anderson’s bill of particulars documenting Obama administration illegalities:
  • President Obama in 2012 announced he would no longer deport illegal immigrants under 30 years of age, after having said a year earlier:
With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books. .  .  . Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. .  .  . There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.
  • This July, Obama unilaterally suspended for a year Obamacare’s employer mandate—its requirement that most businesses provide government-sanctioned health insurance—even though the law said the suspended section “shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013.” Asked whether his successor could “pick and choose whether they’ll implement your law and keep it in place,” Obama replied: “I didn’t simply choose to delay this on my own. This was in consultation with businesses all across the country.” Obama has thereby rewritten Article II of the Constitution; henceforth the president shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed unless he and businessmen decide differently. 
  • When the House of Representatives proposed legislation later in July to delay Obamacare’s employer mandate by law, in the wake of Obama’s decision to delay it by executive fiat, the White House called the legislation “unnecessary” and promised a veto. Republicans and 35 Democrats nevertheless passed authorizing legislation through the House. Several weeks later, Obama—as if having forgotten this initiative—declared that, in “a normal political environment,” he could easily have gotten the House to pass legislation delaying the employer mandate, but “we’re not in a normal political atmosphere,” so he had no choice but to act unilaterally. 
  • After congressional members denounced Obama’s claim that the president possesses unilateral authority to suspend the law, Obama told the New York Times, “if Congress thinks that what I’ve done is inappropriate or wrong in some fashion, they’re free to make that case. .  .  . But ultimately, I’m not concerned about their opinions—very few of them, by the way, are lawyers, much less constitutional lawyers.” 
  • In an effort to keep Obamacare insurance costs from rising even more than they are already have, Obama suspended the legislation’s mandated caps on out-of-pocket health costs. 
  • Obama unilaterally suspended the law’s income-verification requirements for its state-based exchanges, which means that massive quantities of taxpayer-funded subsidies will now flow out based on the “honor system.” Yet the plain text of Obamacare says such subsidies cannot flow through its federally run exchanges (only through its state-run ones), but Obama is proceeding as if this legal limitation didn’t exist. 
  • Though Obamacare doesn’t provide exchange subsidies for those making over $100,000 a year, Obama personally had the Office of Personnel Management rule, contrary to the legislative text, that such subsidies can now flow to a certain subset of those making six figures: those working in Congress. 
  •  Obama has failed to meet more than half of the legal deadlines specified in Obamacare. 
  • After seeking U.N. rather than congressional authorization to intervene in Libya, Obama violated the War Powers Act. Offering no pretense that the act is unconstitutional—the only reasonably justifiable basis for ignoring it—he refused to obey the 60-day deadline for gaining congressional authorization for continued use of the armed forces. Even ABC News reported, “this is the first time an American president has defied the War Powers Resolution’s deadline for participation in combat operations without any concurrent steps by Congress to fund or otherwise authorize the role.” 
  • In an effort to circumvent the advice-and-consent role of the Senate (controlled by his own party), Obama made three “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) while the Senate was in session. A federal appellate court declared the appointments unconstitutional on the basis that recess appointments must be made during recesses. Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney opined that the decision “does not have any impact.” With the White House’s blessing, the illegally constituted NLRB issues rulings as if the court’s decision had never been rendered. 
  • Obama ignored the mid-1990s welfare-reform law when he allowed states to strip the “work” out of workfare. 
  • Obama has refused to enforce federal marijuana laws. 
  • Obama has neglected—in the wake of the revelation that his economic “stimulus” was costing taxpayers $278,000 per job—to release timely reports in the manner that’s mandated by the text of the “stimulus” legislation. 
Anderson reminds us that in contrast to Chicago’s Obama, a young Springfield Illinai, Abraham Lincoln, preached steadfast regard for the law and warned his fellow countrymen to beware of leaders who might use lawless means to achieve their ends. Lincoln argued that “the history of the world tells us” that “supporting and maintaining [a constitutional] edifice that has been erected by others” will not satisfy certain “men of ambition and talents” as they “seek the gratification of their ruling passion.” When encountering such threats, Lincoln said, the solution is to rely on the people’s “general intelligence,” “sound morality,” and “reverence for the constitution and laws.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

2012 Election: Cheating the Tea Party

"[Politics] is . . . a continuation of [war] by other means."

--Carl von Clausewitz (updated, revised)

Obama’s 2012 election victory was historic, achieved as it was in the face of high unemployment and falling middle class incomes. Obama’s coalition of minorities, unmarried women, and young people voted against their economic self-interest just as downscale, rural white supporters of George W. Bush arguably did in 2004 and 2000 (see Thomas Frank’s 2004 bestseller, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America).

Also, we have recognized the Obama campaign’s singular technological achievement in every 2012 “toss-up” state of skillfully finding and delivering its voting base to the polls. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan was among the many conservatives paying tribute to the Obama campaign’s technical prowess. Praising the Obama machine last May, she with these words simultaneously diminished the president’s actual achievements:
after the 2012 election the Democrats bragged about their technological genius and how it turned the election. They told the world about what they'd done—the data mining, the social networking, that allowed them to zero in on Mrs. Humperdink in Ward 5 and get her to the polls. It was quite impressive and changed national politics forever. But I suspect their bragging hurt their president. In 2008 Mr. Obama won by 9.5 million votes. Four years later, with all the whizbang and money, he won by less than five million.
When people talk about 2012 they don't say the president won because the American people endorsed his wonderful leadership, they say he won because his team outcomputerized the laggard Republicans. This has left him and his people looking more like cold technocrats who know how to campaign than leaders who know how to govern. And it has diminished claims of a popular mandate.
Then in June, after details of the IRS’s suppression of right-wing groups became public, Noonan offered an even less charitable take on Obama’s re-election:
Think about [2012:] The first thing we learned, in the weeks after the voting, was that the Obama campaign was operating with a huge edge in its technological operation—its vast digital capability and sophistication. The second thing we learned, in the past month, is that while the campaign was on, the president’s fiercest foes, in the Tea Party, were being thwarted, diverted and stopped. . . The president’s victory now looks colder, more sordid.
Noonan was re-enforcing the findings of conservative economist Stan Veuger, who wrote on the American Enterprise Institute‘s blog:
It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party movement dealt the president his famous “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm election. Less well-known is the actual number of votes this new movement delivered—and the continuing effects these votes could have had in 2012 had the movement not been demobilized by the IRS.
the Tea Party movement’s huge success [in 2010] was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.
The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes—more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5-8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.
Cheating. Or is it that “all’s fair in love and war” and politics? Seems like.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Youth Vote: 2012 and the Future

"Washington live[s] in an era of Democratic triumphalism. . . Democrats . . . are convinced that their destiny is almost upon them. To be sure, they thought that before, in 2008, and that turned out to be incorrect. But ultimately, they expect changing U.S. demographics to deliver the sort of rock-solid control of the political process that they enjoyed between 1932 and 1968."

--Megan McArdle, “Bloomberg”

Democrats are the big government party. Those happily and directly dependent upon big government represent Democrats’ core strength. But the big government core can’t hold power on their own; they depend upon more marginal voters who favor Democrats over Republicans, even as Republicans offer the prospect of a stronger, more prosperous economy.

In 2012, Obama skillfully held three demographic groups--minorities, unmarried women, and youth-- to his side against Romney, in the face of a poor economy adversely affecting each group.  “Democratic triumphalism” is the belief that Hillary Clinton will ride to the White House in 2016 on the backs of even more votes from unmarried women, minorities, and youth.

Unmarried women, for sure. We have examined the role of minorities in Obama’s 2012 victory, and tied it in part to Obama’s being our first nonwhite president ever. We now turn to youth and their role--last year and in the future. How do youth feel about Democrats today?

One can read concern in the voice of progressive Ezra Klein, pleading in “Bloomberg" for youth to support Obamacare by signing up for health insurance that offers them few immediate benefits:
young, healthy rich people will need a functional system in the future when they become older, sicker or poorer. So even for those least in need, health-insurance premiums are an investment--not in someone else's future, but in their own. Only a cramped and narrow view of self-interest assumes that the status quo lasts forever.
Obamacare represents a challenge for young people, but nothing compared to that offered by college expenses. Businessweek’s Karen Weise gets at the roadblocks rising costs put in the path of ordinary college applicants and their families:
debt [is] a spiraling problem for colleges: As they raise tuition, more families need aid to afford school. Students take out more debt, but colleges also respond by offering more aid, which then increases the college’s costs. . .colleges are increasingly directing their aid to wealthier families—who need it least—in a bid to increase revenue and raise their prestige (though it doesn’t necessarily fetch smarter students).
the credit rating of a school generally correlates to how competitive a college is, and the more competitive schools use grants, endowments, and gifts to offset costs. Schools rated AAA get about a quarter of their income from tuition, but less competitive schools with the lowest ratings depend on tuition to make up more than three-quarters of their revenue. There [are] calls for states to kick in more support for public colleges after years of declining state funds forced big tuition increases[--f]rom 2008 to 2013, state support fell almost 11%.
Rising tuition costs underline the problem of starting out life with unpaid student loans. Last year, the average student loan balance was $24,300, with one-quarter of borrowers owing more than $28,000, and 10% owing more than $54,000. 60% of college attendees take out student loans, and 37 million people owe money today.

Combine student debt with a rotten job market. Pew Research found that the Great Recession slammed 18-31 year olds. Between 2007 and 2012, their employment rate dropped from 70% to 63%. Also, whereas in 1981, 35% of 18-31 year olds lived at home or with relatives, by last year, that figure had risen to 43%, and while in 1981, 43% of 18-31 year olds lived with spouses, by last year, living with spouses had dropped to just 23%.

Yet so far, Republicans don’t benefit. Stephanie Slade, in US News, reported that
College Republicans asked a focus group of aspiring entrepreneurs why they voted for President Obama even though they see Republicans as the party that favors business. "The Republican Party would make it really easy to start a business and have a successful business if you already have that capital in your bank account … but we're all sitting on our own various debts and our student loans, and the Republican Party isn't helping us with any of that," one respondent explained. . . conservatives have to find a different way of proving to people they're not just looking out for the rich and powerful. More and more it seems their only hope is by making the GOP's raison d'être to get the crony out of capitalism.
According to Sam Youngman, in Reuters, Romney in 2012 drew 37% of the youth vote, compared to the 32% that voted for Republican John McCain in 2008. Still, Obama crushed Romney with 60% of the youth vote, and 18- to 29-year-old voters accounted for 19% of the total vote. Of those 19%, 64% said abortion should be legal and 66% supported gay marriage. And youth determined the election outcome, as the GOP “Growth and Opportunity Project” (p. 23) admitted; it wrote that Romney won voters over 30 by 1.8 million while losing those under 30 by 5 million (later votes enlarged those early-reported margins).

FOX News similarly reported that 60% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for Obama, making up 19% of voters. FOX added that those between 30-39 voted 55% for Obama and made up 17% of the electorate, suggesting 40 rather than 30 may have been the actual age dividing line between Obama and Romney.

In any case, youth change their composition over time, and are a volatile voting bloc to begin with. Liberals Page Gardner and Celinda Lake, writing in “Politico,” noted that younger voters in 2010  shied away from the polls and represented just 12% of voters that year. And the New York Times found that college-age voters 18-24 registered only a 41.2% turnout in 2012, a decline of 7.3% from their 2008 turnout.

Youth twice helped vote Obama in. How a new group of young people will vote in 2016 partly depends upon the campaigns of both parties.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Republicans Can’t Beat Something with Nothing

Come senators, congressmen 
Please heed the call 
Don't stand in the doorway 
Don't block up the hall 
For he that gets hurt 
Will be he who has stalled 
There's a battle outside 
And it is ragin' 
It'll soon shake your windows 
And rattle your walls 
For the times they are a-changin'.

--Bob Dylan (1963)

We are just getting used to the idea that Democrats are America’s ruling class--again, as they were 50 years ago--yet it could be time to sing them out the door.

Democrats are on top, but vulnerable. The party of government--and every Democratic constituency is dependent on big government--is hurting because big government no longer delivers the goods. No jobs. No prosperity. No money for expensive new programs. You have to be blind to miss what’s taking place. And changing the subject to race won’t work, because we know it’s about class, not race. The ruling class holds its position because it delivers. It’s all about performance. And today, the ruling class isn’t delivering.

So change is in the air.   But just as you can’t beat somebody with nobody (see: Romney, 2012), you can’t beat something with nothing.  As New York Times conservative Ross Douthat says,
To overthrow a flawed ruling class, it isn’t enough to know what’s gone wrong at the top. You need more self-knowledge, substance and strategic thinking than conservatives have displayed to date.
Americans can agree with [dumping the ruling elite] but still reject the Republican alternative. . . First, while Republicans claim to oppose the ruling class on behalf of the country as a whole, they often seem to be representing an equally narrow set of interest groups — mostly elderly, rural (the G.O.P. is a “country party” in a far too literal sense) and well-off. . . Second, as much as Americans may distrust a cronyist liberalism, they prefer it to a conservatism that doesn’t seem interested in governing at all. . . The[y] sense that Obama was at least trying to solve problems, whereas the right offered only opposition.
Douthat believes, strongly, that Republicans aren’t reaching those who do need some of what government provides. His fellow Acela Corridor conservative Yuval Levin, however, writing in the National Review, seems more sanguine about life with less government:
the Democratic party has been moving away from economic populism and becoming truly the party of concentrated elite power. As our elites have grown more socially liberal and our economy has grown more concentrated and consolidated, it has become easier to pursue liberal goals through the system than against it and the Democratic party has become the party of the large, established players — the court party.
[Obama’s] agenda [is one] of consolidation — protecting larger players from competition in exchange for their willingness to serve as agents of government power and driving crucial sectors of our economy (finance and health insurance above all. . .) toward greater consolidation. . . As big labor gradually fades, the progressive economic vision has come down to big business and the state.
Capitalism is fundamentally democratic, after all — we today might say fundamentally populist. Adam Smith’s opponents were mercantilists. He argued against economic policies that pursued the benefit of the nation’s largest producers and traders, which were taken to be equivalent to the interests of the nation as a whole. They are no such thing, Smith insisted, nor does helping big business necessarily increase the wealth of the nation.
Clive Crook, a former Economist editor now with the Financial Times, Atlantic, and “Bloomberg,” cautions against blaming inequality--a favorite Democratic target--for the plight of the poor, even as he says helping the poor rise should be a priority:
it[’s] easy to believe that the recent surge in the incomes of the super-rich -- the main driver of U.S. inequality -- will make it easier for the very richest children to stay very rich, but . . . hard to believe it will help the poorest to stay poor. They’re separate issues with separate causes calling for different policy responses. . . Greater economic opportunities for the poor should be a priority for liberals and conservatives alike.
We recently noted how President Obama, in contrast to Douthat, Levin, and Crook, gives relatively little attention to the lower class, concentrating instead on middle class angst. It’s not that the ruling class, operating from its high perch, just can’t see past the middle class to the poor, or that it doesn’t care about lower class lack of opportunity. Rather, it’s that the party of big government, as the Atlantic’s Josh Freedman in an article entitled “How Not to Help the Poor: The Lesson of Soaring College Prices” reveals, understands retaining power is linked to middle class support:
While under a means tested program, funding shortfalls are often made up by raising the costs for the poor (after all, they are still getting a discount), universal programs share [i.e., spread] the brunt of price increases across the board. This creates more political leverage for people who are otherwise viewed as recipients of charity that can be taken away. "Universal programs generally have a greater and more stable effect upon life-course security than targeted programs because they have a larger political base of support," write health policy scholars Barbara Starfield and Anne-Emanuelle Birn.
Freedman is telling fellow big government supporters, including academia, that it’s wrong to increase college tuition sharply while simultaneously raising scholarship assistance for the poor. Means-tested programs hurt the poor in the long run, because it’s easy to cut benefits for the minority when, after all, they at least continue to receive some aid.

The right course to follow, Freedman explains, is the path pioneered by Democratic entitlement programs (“universal programs”). Social security and Medicare help the majority, so build majority political support for the programs. The masses become government program-dependent. So public universities should provide tuition relief to all students, not just the poor, and learning from Democratic experience with entitlement programs, build a universal constituency for subsidized college educations.

Conservatives understand Democrats are on the entitlement path to bankruptcy, and that the affordable, moral alternative is means-tested aid to the poor. The middle class will thereby receive proportionally less government support, but will benefit from a booming economy yielding more and better-paying jobs.

It seems, however, that conservatives have yet to work out how to pull the middle class off their entitlements addiction. Douthat would recommend a methadone program, while Levin leans toward “cold turkey.”

I think Douthat is right. Government should retain universal aid programs, while encouraging private sector growth. It’s the price of “Capitalism + Democracy.” The people rule. So the people will retain the entitlements they love, even as the people move toward greater use of means-tested aid to the poor, and help untether capitalism for the benefit of all.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Separating Democrats' Body from Head

[The movie “Elysium” begins with an overhead] of future sprawling slums and urban ruin. . .identified as belonging to Los Angeles in 2154. Most of the beleaguered inhabitants seem to speak Spanish and do menial labor if they do anything at all, while good health care is very difficult to come by. 

By contrast, hovering far above Earth and appearing like a five-spoked wheel in the sky is Elysium, an enormous space station where the rich live in a stress-free country club environment enhanced by marvelous technology that can cure any ailment, meaning that life can theoretically go on indefinitely. 

Dude. . . that is not Los Angeles in the year 2154, that is Los Angeles today. . . . drive down Wilshire or Melrose. In just a couple of miles those famous boulevards turn from a gorgeous, mile-high, palm tree-lined gilded city . . . to shit-hole city: urban sprawl, graffiti, crime, filth, and grinding poverty. . . In a city that on paper should be a Liberal Utopia, if you want your life expectancy to drop 20 years, you need only find a place to live just a few miles from Hollywood.

--John Nolte, “Big Hollywood”

Nolte totally captures the unintended irony of Matt Damon’s latest pic, which is supposed to be about a Republican-created dystopia, but actually portrays today's liberal Hollywood Hills, where Damon and pals sit by “shimmering pools, sipping drinks, and using million dollar bills to wipe away socialist tears borne of the horror show playing out below them.”

It’s a California of high unemployment, terrible government schools, families unable to afford decent housing, stuck with Medicaid unless they are illegals with no health care at all, as detached liberals choke off job creation in the name of environment protection.

Candidate Obama once told us, “We need a president who will look out for the interests of hardworking families, not just their big campaign donors and corporate allies.” And how’s that working out?

President Obama now tells us, “I’ve got a little over 1,200 days left in office. I care about one thing and one thing only, and that’s how to use every minute of the 1,276 days remaining in my term to make this country work for working Americans again.” Do you follow that? Obama is counting the days until he can collect millions in book royalties and speaking fees, while spouting the same “prosperity is just around the corner” rhetoric he’s fed the nation for the last five years.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan observed:
the Obama White House, always keen to increase the reach and power of government, also seems profoundly disinterested in good governing. It is strange. The long-term project of liberalism involves encouraging the idea of faith in government as a bringer or guarantor of greater justice. But who needs more government if government works so very badly, and is in its operations unjust? This White House is careless with the reputation of government. They are a campaigning organization, not a governing one.
Noonan is onto a profound truth. Liberals, the party of good government, deliver shockingly bad government. What they do to compensate is hunt for issues, any issue, that will change the subject from government failure and raise the specter of something even worse if Republicans take over.

“FOX News” star Bill O'Reilly says:
the grievance industry [wants] to divide the country along racial lines [a]nd they may be succeeding. A recent Wall Street Journal poll asked the folks about the state of race relations in the USA: 52% say they are very good or fairly good; 44% say fairly bad or very bad. But in January of 2010, the number was 72% saying very good or fairly good, just 23% saying very bad or fairly bad. . . the state of race in America seems to be getting worse.
Yet O’Reilly seems to have overlooked another poll showing all this attention on race is not only stirring up calm waters, it is also hurting Obama. According to a recent Quinnipiac University Survey, independents in the last 2.5 years have gone from approving of the president's handling of race relations by a 32-point margin (56/24) to disapproving by a 13-point margin (40/53). That’s a dramatic 45 point swing!

We’ve said repeatedly that the liberal head doesn’t take care of working class and dependent Democrats at the bottom. Will the party keep getting away with it, or will Republicans figure out how to separate the Democrats’ head from its body?

Timothy Carney, at the conservative Washington Examiner, provides a vision of Hollywood’s “Elysium” world writ large:
Obama rightly calls the last few years "a winner-take-all economy where a few are doing better and better and better, while everybody else just treads water." Median household income has fallen by 5% since 2009 — when the recession ended and Obama came into office . . . But corporate profits and the stock market keep hitting record highs.
Government grows, the wealthy, the big, and the well-connected pull away, and the rest of us struggle. . . Obamanomics leans heavily on . . . loan guarantees to sell jumbo jets and more subsidies to make solar panels — taxpayer transfers to the big companies with the best lobbyists. . .
Obama's regulations crush small businesses, protecting the big guys from competition. This hurts Mom & Pop and would-be entrepreneurs, but it also hurts the working class. New businesses are the engine of job growth, but new business formation has accelerated its decline in the last few years, hitting record lows. Government tends to benefit the big and well-connected, and that's not Mom & Pop.
And New York Times conservative Ross Douthat has found that back East, as Hollywood’s world suggests,
gun control, immigration reform and climate change aren’t just random targets of opportunity. They’re pillars of Acela Corridor ideology, core elements of Bloombergism, places where Obama-era liberalism overlaps with the views of Davos-goers and the Wall Street 1%. If you move in [Acela] circles. . . these ideas always look like uncontroversial common sense. [So] we’re left with the peculiar spectacle of a political class responding to a period of destructive long-term unemployment with an agenda that threatens to help extend that crisis toward 2020 and beyond.
Jeffrey Dorfman, a University of Georgia economics professor, seems to agree with Douthat:
A fascinating part of the special-interest coalition that makes up the Democratic Party is . . . groups have aims . . . at odds with another coalition partner. Environmental groups advocate a set of policies that uniformly hurt poor people. Environmental protection is essentially a luxury good. If you have enough money to provide food, clothing, and shelter for your family, then you start to care about the environment.
Separating the Democratic head from its body? The time may be right, but are Republicans up to it?

Thursday, August 01, 2013

IRS Scandal Isn’t “Phony” (II)

Evidence mounts that the IRS scandal is serious the way Watergate was. We earlier showed how the scandal stemmed from presidential pique and fear.  In a hothouse where subordinates treat a presidential wish as a command, loyalists acted following Obama’s distress that a 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowed anonymous donations to tax-exempt political attack organizations.

Obama’s people set out to curb conservative outfits that might turn the ruling to their advantage.  As Patrick Howley of the conservative Daily Caller reported, “Between 2010 and 2012, the IRS sent letters demanding [Republican-leaning] groups’ training materials, personal information on groups’ donors and college interns, and even the content of a religious group’s prayers.”

Then last month, came the IRS story’s big break. From the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan:
The IRS scandal was connected . . . not just to the Washington office. . . but to the office of the chief counsel. That . . . was a bombshell. And Democrats know it. Which is why they are so desperate to make the investigation go away. . .
When the scandal broke . . . in May, IRS leadership in Washington claimed the harassment of tea-party and other conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status was confined to the Cincinnati office, where a few rogue workers bungled the application process. . .
House investigators soon talked to workers in the Cincinnati office, who said everything they did came from Washington. Elizabeth Hofacre, in charge of processing tea-party applications in Cincinnati, told investigators that her work was overseen and directed by a lawyer in the IRS Washington office named Carter Hull.
Republicans called Hull, a 48-year IRS veteran and tax exemption expert, before Congress. Hull testified that tea-party applications under his review were at Lois Lerner's direction sent upstairs within Washington.

Noonan’s report continues:
In April 2010, Hull was assigned to scrutinize certain tea-party applications. He requested more information from the groups. After he received responses, he felt he knew enough to determine whether the applications should be approved or denied. But his recommendations were not carried out.
Hull told House investigators that at some point in the winter of 2010-11, Lerner's senior adviser, whose name is withheld in the publicly released partial interview transcript, told him the applications would require further review:
Q: "Did [the senior adviser to Lerner] indicate to you whether she agreed with your recommendations?"
A: "She did not say whether she agreed or not. She said it should go to chief counsel."
The IRS chief counsel is William Wilkins, one of the only two Obama political appointees in the IRS. Conservative Dick Morris, once Bill Clinton’s chief political aide, wrote what he knew about Wilkins:
Chief Counsel to the Internal Revenue Service[, Wilkins is] a long time Obama crony and Democratic donor who earned his spurs by successfully defending, pro bono, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright from charges that his radical politicization of his pulpit should deny his church tax exempt status. The event that triggered the IRS’ interest [in Wright]? Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech to [Wright’s] congregation during the [2008] Democratic presidential primary campaign. Now does[n’t] that sound like “political activity”?
Well, Wilkins was able to convince the IRS that it was not! He knows his stuff. Tax exempt organizations were one of Wilkins specialties in private practice. He knows the field, making him a likely key man in the emerging scandal. He’s not just a wealthy donor who was rewarded with a plum position who doesn’t know much about taxes. No, he’s an expert on the very area of tax law that is at the heart of the charges of politically motivated harassment of the Tea Party and other conservative groups by the IRS.
This was the Wilkins who then had his hands on the conservative outfits’ applications.

Back to Noonan’s report, drawn from Hull’s testimony to Congress:
What was [Wilkins] looking for? . . . "information about the applicants' political activities leading up to the 2010 election." [Wilkins'] office[, according to another testifier, was] "not very forthcoming. We discussed it to some extent and they indicated that they wanted more development of possible political activity or political intervention right before the election period." . .the conservative organizations in question were, during two major election cycles, deliberately held in a holding pattern.
Hull . . . described what was, essentially, a big, lengthy runaround in the Washington office in which no one was clear as to their reasons but everything was delayed. The multitiered scrutiny of the targeted groups was, he said, "unusual."
In government, as with justice, to delay is to deny. But delay only if the application was from a conservative outfit.

As Noonan wrote:
Hofacre of the Cincinnati office testified that when she was given tea-party applications, she had to kick them upstairs. When she was given non-tea-party applications, they were sent on for normal treatment. Was she told to send liberal or progressive groups for special scrutiny? No, she did not scrutinize the applications of liberal or progressive groups. "I would send those to general inventory." Who got extra scrutiny? "They were all tea-party and patriot cases." She became "very frustrated" by the "micromanagement" from Washington. "It was like working in lost luggage." She applied to be transferred.
In the Congressional hearing, what happened next clearly upset Noonan:
Rep. Elijah Cummings [D-MD] absurdly asked Hofacre if the White House called the Cincinnati office to tell them what to do and whether she has knowledge of the president of the United States digging through the tax returns of citizens. Hofacre looked surprised. "No," she replied.
It wasn't hard to imagine her thought bubble: Do congressmen think presidents call people like me and say, "Don't forget to harass my enemies"? Are congressmen that stupid?
The Daily Caller’s Howley rounds out the narrative with this significant nugget:
IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, who was named in House Oversight testimony by retiring IRS agent Carter Hull as one of his supervisors in the improper targeting of conservative groups, met with Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 23, 2012. Wilkins’ boss, then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, visited the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 24, 2012, according to White House visitor logs.
On April 25, 2012, Wilkins’ office sent the exempt organizations determinations unit “additional comments on the draft guidance” for approving or denying tea party tax-exempt applications, according to the IRS inspector general’s report.
It seems that the IRS Scandal is Watergate, but without the Oval Office tapes that would connect the scandal to the president.