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 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, 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.”