Thursday, September 19, 2013

You saw it here, first.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal editorialized:
President Obama likes to invoke his predecessors in the Oval Office, as all Presidents do, but in one sense he is unlike the others: Presidents traditionally try to reach a rough domestic consensus if they are faced with going to war abroad. Mr. Obama wants to smooth everything over abroad so he can get back to his favorite pursuit of declaring war at home.
We said essentially the same thing a week earlier, on September 11, elaborating further in our Monday post, “Obama’s Real Enemy is Republicans.”

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rise and Fall(?) of America’s Progressive State

Warner Bros. is in early negotiations to pick up the rights to Wilson, the just-released biography of the 28th president by A. Scott Berg. Leonardo DiCaprio, who is attached to star as Wilson, will also produce”

 --Hollywood Reporter

Voltaire said, “uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one." He said this in advance of the French Revolution. Didn’t Voltaire mean, “Certainty is an absurd position, uncertainty is merely an uncomfortable one, so bring on the uncertainty of change!"?

I would suggest so. Anyway, the present doesn’t work. We need that part of the elite believing most strongly in change to draw themselves up and support a petit bourgeoise-proletarian revolution that reduces elite status and cuts into elite income, but is actually aimed at ousting progressives from power. We should be hurrying out the door the era of empires, kingdoms, dictators, and rule by “the best and brightest”.

What follows could be beneficial but messy, decentralized, more like the “creative destruction” needed to fire up the economy; good if it boosts employment and prosperity, welcomes immigrants, generates elementary and secondary education choices, delivers workable health care, and encourages two-parent, more stable families.

Here’s a related important thought from Emily Esfahani Smith, writing in the Atlantic:
the great philosophical debate [that] has shaped Western civilization for over 2,000 years [is] about the nature of the good life. Does happiness lie in feeling good, as hedonists think, or in doing and being good, as Aristotle and his intellectual descendants, the virtue ethicists, think? From the evidence of [a] study [by Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina and Steve Cole at UCLA], it seems that feeling good is not enough. People need meaning to thrive. In the words of Carl Jung, “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”
First, instinctively, we should take care of ourselves; it’s what we must do. The next step toward adding “meaning” to our own wretched life is to form and raise a family. Do that job, and your life becomes meaningful. We are given life; our charge is to pass it on. Do people focused on “feeling good” make good parents? Not likely. So see how important religion is? It helps us with our primary job--raising a family; leading a meaningful life.

For most of existence for most people, there has been little time for meaningful work beyond raising a family. A meaningful life could simply be family + religion. In America’s first century through the Civil War, for those seeking meaning beyond family and working to support it, abolishing slavery emerged as the dominant cause.

The Civil War changed America dramatically, enlarging government’s reach and creating an industrial powerhouse based in the East and Midwest. The Eastern-based academies of learning broke away from their religion-based origins and embraced science that supported industry while undermining religion. Harvard and other universities gave birth to and nurtured the new, post-slavery path to a meaningful life: progressivism.

Every elected Republican president from Grant to McKinley, 1869-1901, served in Civil War blue, and all supported industry. (Grover Cleveland, the only Democrat who disrupted the flow of Civil War veteran-presidents, bought his way out of the Civil War draft.) Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive Republican post-Civil War colonel, did usher in a new “trust busting” era in 1901, but progressivism truly arrived 12 years later with Woodrow Wilson’s presidency that began exactly 100 years ago.

Wilson’s election turned both houses of Congress Democratic. And Wilson was, of course, a former president of Princeton, a product of the very academia that incubated progressivism. Wilson brought meaning to the lives of progressives, who as the century rolled on, increasingly included not only academics but youth, those from disrupted families, or those without children. People searching for meaning in life beyond family and for that spot religion once filled.

How important was Wilson to America’s progressive tradition? Very, according to Wilson biographer, the progressive A. Scott Berg.   In a Princeton Alumni Weekly interview, Berg said,
Domestically, all our progressive presidents, from FDR to Obama, have followed the trail Wilson blazed. [And] our foreign policy, to this day, springs from Wilson’s speech to Congress on April 2, 1917, when he called for a declaration of war and said, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” He implanted that moral imperative into American foreign policy, and many of his successors have sought to implement it.
Asked by his interviewer, “Why is Wilson so hated by many modern conservatives?”, Berg responded:
Wilson entered the White House with an ambitious Progressive agenda and advanced legislation in ways no president ever had. His proactivity shocked Congress and the nation, because many considered him little more than a college professor — all brains and no brawn. They did not understand how strong a politician he was.  Many right-wing critics further object to his imposing the federal government into our lives. Wilson thought there were basic inequities in this country, primarily economic, that needed to be addressed. During his first few years in office, he muscled everything from the Federal Reserve Act to the Clayton Antitrust Act and the Adamson Act with its eight-hour workday through the Congress.
The federal government expanded into areas of the economy in which it had not intruded before, a presence Wilson thought the country needed in order to prosper. With so much wealth in the hands of so few that the average American did not have a fair chance to compete, he wanted to level the playing field.
Wilson to Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy-Johnson to Carter to Clinton to Obama, 100 years of progressivism and going.

Going, gone. Bigness is unruly. We have moved from massive coal-steel-auto conglomerates to a service economy where each worker counts. We have moved from big government, big industry, big unions, big media to hand-held computers, anywhere texting, twitter, YouTube, individual power, and to seeing bureaucracy as in the way. Yes the old Democratic coalition of special interests still holds together, but any performance-based elite knows it must either deliver results or give way to something else.

We used to say of Maoist China, “We know it’s doomed, we just don’t know when.” Same with the U.S.S.R. Same with American progressivism.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Obama’s Real Enemy is Republicans

We said Obama wanted to turn away from his “red line” threat to bomb Syria, because his real war is here at home. How right we seem to have been. Just five days later, the president is back doing what he loves best: savaging Republicans by name.

What’s particularly striking about Obama’s White House attack on Republicans earlier today is that it came during a police lock-down a few blocks from where Obama was speaking, a speech delivered in the immediate aftermath of a mass murder on Federal property. It was a national tragedy.  Thirteen dead, real blood still flowing. TVs were focused on the hunt for a possible surviving second shooter and on evacuation of the wounded. But the president bulled ahead anyway, dropping verbal bombs on his true enemies:
The problem is -- at the moment, Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on how to grow [the] economy and build the middle class. I say, at the moment, because I am still hoping that a light bulb goes off here. So far, their budget ideas revolve primarily around even deeper cuts to education, even deeper cuts that would gut America’s scientific research and development, even deeper cuts to America’s infrastructure investment -- our roads, our bridges, our schools our energy grid.
you’ve got Republicans controlling the House of Representatives . . . So this is always going to be tough. Having said that, I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100% of what it wants. That’s never happened before. But that’s what’s happening right now.
You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down [Obamacare]. And if that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills that Congress has already run up. . .
[Obamacare] has been the law for three-and-a-half years now. It passed both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. It was an issue in last year’s election, and the candidate who called for repeal lost. The...(APPLAUSE) Republicans in the House have tried to repeal or sabotage it about 40 times. They’ve failed every time.
it’s time for responsible Republicans who share [my] goals -- and there are a number of folks out there who I think are decent folks -- I’ve got some disagreements with them on some issues -- but I think genuinely want to see the economy grow and want what’s best for the American people.
Republicans include “a number of . . . decent folks.” If that’s the president's best pitch to the loyal opposition, we are witnessing war.

Obama’s latest economic-based attack on Republicans follows a late July opening salvo delivered at Illinois’ Knox College, a speech Nile Gardiner of the Telegraph (U.K.) said
was supposed to be the president’s come-back moment, the first of a series of addresses aimed at retaking the initiative by the White House. Instead it was a train-wreck. In an hour-long address, which seemed to last forever, the president spoke in deeply partisan terms, often with bitterness and anger, lambasting his political opponents, dismissing criticism of his policies, and launching into his favourite theme of class warfare, attacking the wealthy and what he calls the “winner takes all economy.” In a display of extraordinary arrogance, he condemned what he called “an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals,” a direct reference to the Congressional investigations into the IRS and Benghazi scandals, which most Americans don’t see as phony. He also defended his increasingly unpopular Obamacare proposals, attacking what he calls “a politically-motivated misinformation campaign.”
Commentators such as Michael Barone, writing in the conservative Washington Examiner, believe they understand Obama can’t shake his love for campaigning (i.e., verbal warfare), accompanied by his disinterest in most everything else:
We have a president who loves to give campaign speeches to adoring crowds, but who doesn't seem to have much interest in governing. . . Obama called for increasing the minimum wage[, which] tends not to create but to destroy jobs, especially for young people with few skills and little work experience. He also called for job retraining. . . Unfortunately, studies have shown for years that government job training programs aren't very effective.
The president [proposed] universal pre-school education. But the administration's own studies have shown that the four-decades-old Head Start program produces little in the way of lasting educational gains. This looks more like an expensive attempt to create more jobs for teacher union members -- and more union-dues money to help elect Democratic politicians -- than a serious attempt to stimulate the economy. The problem Obama faces on this latest pivot to the economy is that most voters believe his policies have retarded rather than stimulated economic growth and job creation.
The partisanship coming out of the White House is nearly unprecedented. As Steven Law pointed out in the conservative Wall Street Journal, Obama is the first president since Nixon to refer to political opponents as "enemies," having done so in October 2010.

In the eyes of Peggy Noonan, also writing in the Wall Street Journal, intense partisanship generates fear:
a lot of people are afraid to be on the wrong side. The wrong side is against the assumptions of the Democratic Party. The right side is for those assumptions. Dig around in the executive agencies and their actions, and you’re helping the wrong side.
And that may be part of the president’s war strategy--strike fear in the hearts of the enemy and in the hearts of anyone who could be identified as aiding the enemy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Income Inequality Rising Under Obama

My brief against progressive elite rule begins with failed job creation, followed closely by a failed K-12 education system in working class and poor neighborhoods. Democrats say one thing, do no-thing. Behind these failures is a single truth touched by my “progressive elite” characterization--we are outside a ruling class that governs for itself, not for the people.

Think our national elite is on your side? Then listen to AP reporter Paul Wiseman’s words on U.S. inequality:
  • the richest 1%. . . earned more than 19% of the country's household income last year -- their biggest share since 1928 . . . And the top 10% captured a record 48.2% of total earnings last year. 
  • In 2012, the incomes of the top 1% rose nearly 20% compared with a 1% increase for the remaining 99%. . . since the recession officially ended in June 2009, the top 1% have enjoyed the benefits of rising corporate profits and stock prices: 95% of the income gains reported since 2009 have gone to the top 1%. That compares with a 45% share for the top 1% in the economic expansion of the 1990s and a 65% share from the expansion that followed the 2001 recession. 
Comment: Obama became president in 2009. Wiseman’s statistics are an unspoken repudiation of Obama administration economic policies.
  • The top 1% of American households had pretax income above $394,000 last year. The top 10% had income exceeding $114,000. 
  • Economists point [out that] U.S. workers now compete with low-wage labor in China and other developing countries. Clerical and call-center jobs have been outsourced to countries such as India and the Philippines. . . technology [replaces] workers in performing routine tasks. 
  • The percentage of American workers represented by unions has dropped from 23.3% in 1983 to 12.5% last year, [reducing] costs for many employers. . . one reason corporate profits hit a record this year . . ., even [with sluggish] economic growth [and] 7.2 % [unemployment]. 
Wiseman quotes Berkeley economics professor Emmanuel Saez defending America's top earners. Saez says highly paid executives or entrepreneurs are the "working rich," not your grandfather’s elite enjoying lives of leisure on inherited wealth. Exactly!! When a Berkeley professor defends the top 1%-10%--like himself people who succeeded by merit--it confirms we are in a transformed America led by wealthy progressives, with the rest of us inferiors trailing below.

They know it. Do you? And does their rule make us all better?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Syria fade: Obama’s just not that into being commander in chief.

I was transfixed two weeks ago by John Kerry’s forceful reaction to Syrian gangster-president Bashar al-Assad’s gassing of women and children. With his secretary of state speaking so strongly, the president himself surely was planning meaningful retaliation, or so I hoped.

But then came Obama’s decision to heave the Syria grenade into Congress’ lap. Obama would let Congress take the hit for firing missiles into Syria. Obama had punted.

Well, passing the buck didn’t work out so well either. As it became increasingly clear that Congress would toss the Syria grenade back by rejecting Obama’s recommendation, in the process handing the president a prestige-deflating defeat, things looked bleak for the White House.

But at the 11th hour, Russian president Vladimir Putin offered to talk Assad into giving up his chemical weapons. Surprised and happy, Obama called for a “postponed” Congressional vote. “Peace in our time,” as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said at Munich in 1938, admittedly under much more serious circumstances.

Obama is a known quantity by now. He is a committed progressive, shaped by his professors shaped by the 1960s--we fought the wrong war! Why were we in Vietnam when the establishment was suppressing blacks and women at home? Obama is a child of affirmative action, raised by white grandparents in multi-racial Hawaii, a state with few African Americans; young, smart, and privileged enough to see how race worked for, not against, him, determined to help minorities and women supplant America’s white male power structure, to take down the America of Reagan Democrats, evangelicals, and the “new” South.

The old establishment used national security to hold the power structure together --“politics stops at the water’s edge.” Obama understood this, how the military industrial complex and the cold war diverted resources away from building economic justice at home. Enemies abroad? In Vietnam, in the Soviet Union, in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, in Panama, in Iraq, in Iran, in Cuba, in Venezuela--these so-called “enemies” were creatures of the establishment, exaggerated threats used to keep resources away from America’s truly disadvantaged.

As Obama moved to the White House, he recognized that America’s first president of color would have a unique opportunity to take the country past old, artificial “enemies” labels, giving it paths to true peace. When that failed to work out, Obama lost interest in foreign policy beyond turning off his predecessor’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He capitalized on one national security event--the 2011 CIA-led effort to kill Osama bin Laden.

Heading into the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions, the Gallup Poll had Mitt Romney ahead of Barack Obama by 47% to 45%. Gallup reported that in 12 of 15 previous presidential elections, the pre-convention poll leader won the election.

How much did these facts have to do with Obama’s saying more or less out of the blue on August 20, 2012, a week before the GOP convention:
We have been very clear to the Assad regime. . . a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.
Commenting on Obama’s “impromptu” remarks at the time, the Washington Post noted they “represented his strongest language to date on how the United States might respond to contain Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.”

strongest language to date.”  Wasn’t Obama reminding the country that the leader who killed bin Laden was cautious but still tough enough for the job, deserving to lead the polls? Only one thing wrong; in his statement, the president had pledged to act.

Thus Obama’s out-of-place 2012 words have brought us to our current curious reality: the president speaks out against Assad’s atrocity, threatens destruction, but in the end, takes no action. His heart remains fixed on peace abroad, war at home.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Obama and Holder fight needed equal opportunity for black children.

"it’s bewildering, if not downright perverse, for the Obama administration to use the banner of civil rights to bring a misguided suit that would block these disadvantaged students from getting the better educational opportunities they are due."

--Washington Post editorial

“Bewildering,” “perverse” from the Obama-friendly Washington Post. And the Post is right. Democrats pose as the party of minorities, and preach education as the path to success. So why are Obama and the Justice Department suing to block Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s effort to help blacks get a better education?

In the governor’s words:
The Justice Department has challenged my state in court for having the temerity to start a scholarship program that frees low-income minority children from failing schools. . . Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder would rip children out of their schools and handcuff them to the failing schools they previously attended. And, in the ultimate irony, they are using desegregation orders set up to prevent discrimination against minority children to try to do it.
Never mind that 90% of the children receiving scholarships in Louisiana are minorities or that 100% of their parents choose to apply for these scholarships. . . a disproportionate share of those in poverty are minorities. Studies of health-care outcomes, incarceration levels and economic opportunity all show that education is key to improving quality of life.
Louisiana’s school choice program began in 2008, first in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, then throughout the state. Under the program, only low-income families with children in poor schools qualify for scholarships that send children to schools of their choice. In the past two years, students previously trapped in failing schools showed improvement on literacy and math tests, with the share performing at grade level rising 7%, even though 60% taking the test this year had been at new schools only 8 months. Not surprisingly, more than 90% of their parents reported satisfaction with their children’s new schools.

Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, is similarly outraged by the Obama Justice Department action. As Lowry explains it:
The Justice Department petition harkens back to a 40-year-old desegregation case involving state-aided white flight to private schools. That case led to a court order forbidding Louisiana from providing assistance to private schools, meant to frustrate desegregation. The document’s description of the noxiousness of past practices is quite compelling — but for the fact that it’s not 1975 anymore. Louisiana has an Indian-American governor, Bobby Jindal, who manifestly cares about the quality of education for everyone — a sentiment that the racial obsessives at Justice evidently can’t understand. [emphasis added]
the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice notes that almost every empirical study finds “that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools.” Since the advent of a voucher program in Milwaukee, the city’s private schools are only 35% white, whereas they used to be 75% white.
I believe strongly that 1) education reform is nearly our top priority, and 2) reform won’t come from within the public union-run Democratic Party. So it’s heartening for me to see the Washington Post fighting back. And encouraging as well to read Sarah Garland’s article in the progressive Atlantic. Garland writes:
the test-score gap between the children of the poor (in the 10th percentile of income) and the children of the wealthy (in the 90th percentile) has expanded by as much as 40% and is now more than 50% larger than the black-white achievement gap—a reversal of the trend 50 years ago. Underprivileged children now languish at achievement levels that are close to four years behind their wealthy peers.
middle-class children are also falling further behind their affluent peers. The test-score gap between middle-income (the 50th percentile of income) and poor children has remained stagnant; it’s the gap between the top earners and the rest that is growing rapidly. . . more poor and middle-income children are completing college these days, [yet] they can’t keep up with the growth in college graduates among the wealthiest families. . . more and more seats in highly selective schools [are] occupied by students from high-income families.
We have been arguing the fault line in America is one of class, not race. Now Garland, a liberal, says the same thing. Here’s the truth: thinking people know a poor white needs help more than a privileged black. But here’s another truth: when your coalition is built upon the public sector unions, shored up by minorities and unmarried women, you don’t dare let victimization by race or sex fade as major issues. Reform will have to come from outside the Democrats’ core coalition.

In her article, Garland builds sympathy for working class families stuck with poor schools by telling us about Larry and Krystal (who are, incidentally, black):
Larry works for the city’s medical-examiner office as a computer technician, and Krystal has stayed home with the boys since New York City laid her off from her job as an operator for its information hotline. [They] want their boys to be more successful than they have been. . .
Opportunities that would launch the boys on a path to being lawyers or doctors can seem elusive, however. Larry, a product of the New York City public schools, refuses to send his children to any of the poorly performing public schools in the neighborhood. They can’t afford Catholic school tuition—about $5,000 a year, they say. Instead, Krystal has researched privately run charter schools in the area and picked out her top choice: an all-boys charter run by the network Uncommon Schools, which receives high marks on the city’s grading system but chooses students through a lottery—meaning they won’t necessarily get in.
Arrrgh! How can this country continue condemning working class children to bad neighborhood schools, instead of providing them the same school choice privileged families enjoy?

How long?!!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Labor Day: Where are the jobs?


It’s a surprise to me, anyway. We have talked for years about the declining (here and here) labor force participation rate. But for the New York Times to focus on job loss, well, that’s an event in itself.

When it comes to the New York Times, we share the view of Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the conservative “Washington Free Beacon”:
A sort of pep talk to the liberal bourgeoisie. . . is what the New York Times under Jill Abramson has become. One reads it to confirm rather than challenge one’s perceptions of the world [--] The Republicans are no good, the president is doing the best he can, equality marches on, America is powerless to influence other countries, illegal immigration has no downside, the government should not be trusted except when it regulates the economy, “institutional” (i.e., invisible) racism plagues contemporary society, traditional religion is a curiosity, etc. . . The paper and its intended audience. . . form a closed circuit.
So it’s a shock, really, to have New York Times Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt writing:
the decline in labor force participation almost certainly receives too little attention. Each month, small changes in the unemployment rate receive great scrutiny. We often overlook just how flawed a measure of the job market that rate has become over the last 13 years.
And to make his point even more obvious, Leonhardt runs two unmistakable graphs. One shows how much the participation rate has fallen since Obama took over:

The second makes it clear we are discussing a relatively recent phenomenon. Labor force participation grew through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as women joined the workforce and the economy boomed, then plateaued during 2002-07 before its current fall:

At least the New York Times now acknowledges we have a problem. But leave it to former Reagan-Bush 41 speechwriter Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal, to help us feel the emotional cost of our excessive unemployment:
Joblessness is a personal crisis because work is a spiritual event. A job isn't only a means to a paycheck, it's more. "To work is to pray," the old priests used to say. God made us as many things, including as workers. When you work you serve and take part. To work is to be integrated into the daily life of the nation. There is pride and satisfaction in doing work well, in working with others and learning a discipline or a craft or an art. To work is to grow and to find out who you are.
In return for performing your duties, whatever they are, you receive money that you can use freely and in accordance with your highest desire. A job allows you the satisfaction of supporting yourself or your family, or starting a family. Work allows you to renew your life, which is part of the renewing of civilization. Work gives us purpose, stability, integration, shared mission. And so to be unable to work—unable to find or hold a job—is a kind of catastrophe for a human being.
It’s Labor Day, and we most fervently desire a U.S. with more folks working. To get there, Noonan says, we need
a political leader on fire. . . with real passion about the idea of new businesses, new inventions, growth, productivity, breakthroughs and jobs, jobs, jobs. Someone in love with the romance of the marketplace. We've lost that feeling among our political leaders. . . Really good politicians don't try to read the public, they are the public. They don't try to be like the people, they actually are.