Views on the News

March 10, 2012

Views on the News*  

Even after three years in office, Obama remains a political Rorschach test: His friends still project their brightest hopes on him; and His enemies still project their deepest nightmares.  If President Obama wins a second term, liberals believe:

·    Gay rights groups are almost certain he will finally endorse same-sex marriage.

·    Environmentalists are sure he will also make a new, historic effort to fight climate change.

·    The Congressional Black Caucus think Obama will finally do what they want.

The funny thing about all this is: Obama himself hasn’t said he’ll do any of it.  Conservative groups are equally confident that Obama, freed from the fear of losing his reelection bid, would deliver on far-reaching left-wing dreams:

·    GOP candidate Mitt Romney forecasts a runaway spending spree.

·    Newt Gingrich envisions a “war on the Catholic Church.

·    The National Rifle Association predicts a crackdown on gun owners.

In his speeches — over the first few months of his re­election campaign — the President has only sketched out a vague agenda for his next term:

·    He wants to fix the immigration system.

·    He vows to put his health-care law into practice.

·    He wants to rebuild infrastructure.

·    He wants to revive manufacturing.

·    He admitted that they’ve got to figure out how to pay for it somehow.

The details of Obama’s vision can still appear fuzzy — even to him.  Both camps are still convinced they haven’t seen the real Obama yet — or the real Obama agenda.  The speculation about a yet-unseen Obama agenda reflects an unusual commonality between left and right in a polarized election year.  The GOP candidates running to replace Obama have released dozens of specific proposals: for cutting taxes, for reducing Medicare spending, even for a moon colony.  On the campaign trail, Republican candidates have also described their own scenarios for another four years of Obama which range from dour to near-apocalyptic.  In 2008 Barack Obama won election as a blank slate of promises that voters pinned their hopes and dreams on, but now Republicans can point to a full slate of broken promises, both domestically and internationally, and offer better ideas how to lead this country back to economic prosperity and global leadership

(“Obama allies, foes speculate on a big – and hypothetical – second-term agenda” by David A. Fahrenhold and Peter Wallsten dated March 4, 2012 published by The Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obama-allies-foes-speculate-on-a-bigand-hypotheticalsecond-term-agenda/2012/03/01/gIQAkLMOrR_story.html )


Years ago, the late Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin awarded a “Golden Fleece Award for really idiotic government programs, but in recent years the sheer volume of idiotic government programs has exceeded even Proxmire’s vision of doom.  Members of both parties campaign against the deficit.  Over and over, Americans hear platitudes about cutting it.  However, reality trumps political speeches.  No matter which party is in charge, the deficit and amount of government spending has grown.  The reason Republicans and Independents were so chagrined with the Bush administration is they had the opportunity to cut spending and didn’t.  9/11 helped them create another bureaucratic monstrosity.  Talk to a small businessman about dealing with government regulators.  There are legions of anecdotes:

·    Ask a person in the automobile repair business about their experience with OSHA;

·    Ask the garbage business proprietor about the EPA; and

·    Ask the family farmer about the USDA.

Along with the stories, there is also a legacy of deficit.  There is something grossly wrong with what we have allowed our government to become.  It’s far too big; it’s inefficient; and there are no real market related checks and balances that can constrain it.  At least if a big corporation performs poorly, they go out of business.  There is only one way to deal with the deficit that will work:

·    Eliminate the agencies;

·    Sell off the public lands;

·    Sell off the unused buildings;

·    End the subsidies of all things; and

·    Let businesses and individuals sink or swim based on their skill and delivering value propositions to the marketplace.

We have passed out enough Golden Fleece Awards to last three eternities.  We know the problem, and now it’s time to fix it.  Short term, people will lose a government job that probably shouldn’t have existed in the first place.  Corporate America won’t run roughshod over anything because it’s an individual’s choice whether to use a company’s services or not.  It’s not cruel to cut the size of government.  What is cruel is to continue to build up the deficit, extend the reach of government and stay on the road to serfdom.  Deficits and high taxes brought down the empires of Europe, and oversized and over reaching governments will bring down America, if we are not careful. 

(“Cut the Size of Government” by Jeff Carter dated March 5, 2012 published by Town Hall at http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/jeffcarter/2012/03/05/cut_the_size_of_government )

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), is best known for the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which, at the federal level, binds politicians to oppose both higher marginal income-tax rates on individuals and business and “any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”  Opposing tax increases is both smart politics and wise policy, because we don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.  Government revenues have kept pace with economic growth while government spending has run steadily ahead of it.  Not only has spending risen faster than GDP or revenues over the years; a particular kind of spending has led the charge.  Federal spending can be examined in three broad categories:

·    Welfare State - includes Social Security; other income-support programs, such as disability insurance and unemployment compensation; Medicare; other health programs, such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and all programs in education, job training, and social services.  Expenditures, adjusted for inflation and population, were 583% higher in 2008 than in 1965. The welfare state became the core of the federal government, growing from 26% of federal outlays in 1965 to 61% in 2008.

·    National Defense - Spending was 42% higher in 2008 than in 1965.

·    Housekeeping” - meaning everything else that the federal government does: federal courts, prisons, prosecutors, and the FBI; Amtrak and air-traffic control; national parks and the EPA; embassies and consulates; veterans’ programs; NASA; etc. Outlays were 76% higher in 2008 than in 1965.

Even the fact that the welfare state has grown relentlessly does not, in itself, mean that the growth has been excessive.  Democrats have a horrible accuracy predicting program costs:

·    When the House Ways and Means Committee drafted Medicare in 1965, it predicted that the hospital-insurance part of the program would cost $9 billion by 1990 - The actual figure was $67 billion.

·    In 1987, Congress anticipated that a federal program to assist hospitals serving large numbers of Medicaid patients would require $1 billion by 1992 - The final figure: $17 billion.

·    One small Great Society Program, the Teacher Corps, never figured out what it was supposed to be and never accomplished any of the goals that it did set for itself; yet its budget quadrupled in its first seven years.

When Democrats do talk about taxes, they are often equally disingenuous.  The Democrats’ calculation was that when the debt hit the fan, voters and even the opposition party would fall in line to keep the welfare state intact and growing.  It was a reasonable assumption.  The Democratic Party didn’t count on the anti-tax revolution.  At the heart of the Norquist Republicans’ truculent fanaticism is the insistence that citizens can question and alter the endless growth of the welfare state, rather than submit to it as though it were a law of nature.  Tax-fighting Republicans aren’t ripping the social safety net to shreds; rather, they’re alerting voters to the simple fact that America is spending more and more money to render worse and worse services.  Nor does it make sense for the GOP to accede to tax increases in order to win concessions, such as caps on government spending.  There is overwhelming historical evidence that the politicians who establish such limits never shrink from using their clout to evade them.  In an age when market and voter apprehensions about sovereign debt constrain borrowing, the refusal to raise taxes is a spending limit, one far more effective than any parchment barriers that politicians can devise.  Republicans are playing smart politics because when they refuse to raise taxes they force Democrats to make a deeply unpersuasive argument to further expand the welfare state and do further damage to our out-of-control spending.

(“Not a Penny More” by William Voegeli dated Winter 2012 published by City Journal at http://www.city-journal.org/2012/22_1_taxes.html )


One of the biggest surprises to President Barack Obama’s political operatives must be the ongoing unpopularity of “ObamaCare,” since he continues to describe the law as his “signature achievement,” presumably more important than even the economic stimulus, and yet despite dozens of speeches on the subject from The Great Persuader, and the decision to tilt the law’s benefits so they take effect immediately while postponing the costs, ObamaCare continues to draw a thumbs down from a majority of Americans.  By 50% to 42%, the public believes “ObamaCare” is “a bad thing,” according to a recent USA Today survey, a ratio that has remained remarkably steady in the two years since its passage.  Over that time, studies have demonstrated that the law will increase, not decrease, health care premiums and will likely push tens of thousands of workers into government-run exchanges.  Both outcomes run counter to Obama’s central promises that, first, the law will slow health care cost increases and, second, allow workers to keep their current health plans.  The Congressional Budget Office reported that at least six programs that were supposed to save money under ObamaCare not only don't, but some actually are increasing costs.  Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of both ObamaCare and its precursor RomneyCare, now says that premiums are likely to rise under the new health-care law.  In fact, Gruber warns that, even after receiving government subsidies, some individuals will end up paying more than they would have without the reform.  The USA Today survey’s most explosive finding is the widespread belief, by a 3-to-1 majority, that the law’s health insurance mandate is unconstitutional.  If the Court doesn't throw ObamaCare out, Americans want Congress to do so: Half of voters want the law repealed, compared to 44% who want it retained.  This view is grounded in the traditional American notion that the government cannot compel any individual to purchase any product or service, even if it’s for their “own good.”  America’s historic preference has always favored freedom over government guarantees.  The GOP Presidential candidates had assumed that the economy would be the central focus of this election, and it still is likely to be.  However with the superficial “improvement” in unemployment and economic growth numbers, as well as the President’s ongoing campaign to undermine Republican proposals, the economy may not be a decisive GOP weapon.  Most of all, Americans understand that, from the beginning, the debate over health-care reform has really been about control.  The Obama administration believes that decisions about health care are simply too important and too complex for the average American and his doctor to make for themselves.  ObamaCare” appears to be the decisive election issue because this “signature achievement” is uniquely the President’s and his party’s, and it passed through questionable tactics (“deemed to be enacted”) and shady promises (“Cornhusker Kickback”), and twenty-six Republican governors are now engaged in challenging it in the courts, so it comes as close as any to defining the differences between liberal Democrats (“Let us take care of you”) and conservative Republicans (“I can take care of my own family”). 

(“Obamacare may be the best wedge” by Frank Donatelli dated March 4, 2012 published by Politico at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73589.html

Americans Resisting ObamaCare” by Michael Tanner dated March 5, 2012 published by Real Clear Politics at http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/03/05/americans_resisting_obamacare_113368.html )

Rising gasoline prices are again spotlighting President Obama’s energy prescriptive, one of the most dangerous policies embraced by his administration since he is committed to a “clean-energy-future,” which is still a dream.  On the 29 states that have adopted these required minimum mandates for “green” energy that force utilities to buy wind and solar energy drives up electricity costs and slows growth, electricity costs were on average 32% higher than in states without such mandates.  In coal-dependent states, the damage is even worse; in the past decade, those regions have suffered a 54% hike in electricity costs.  President Obama took office with a dream to transform our economy to one reliant on wind and sun, shucking off our messy dependence on dirty coal and Arab-controlled oil.  He has stuck to this vision, even as new technologies have drastically changed the economics and even the cleanliness of fossil fuels.  In the U.S., the newfound abundance of natural gas is a game changer, but has failed to change Obama’s love affair with expensive alternatives.  The Electric Power Research Institute reports that producing a megawatt of electricity in 2015 from natural gas will cost between $49 and $79 compared to $75 to $138 from onshore wind and $242 to $455 from solar photovoltaic.  The report projects that those differentials will be roughly constant through the next decade.  Despite the costs, and in advance of more sweeping regulations, the Obama administration has persisted in toughening rules on emissions, causing the closure of low-cost coal-fired generators and a shrinkage in the amount of electricity produced from coal.  The burgeoning rules could result in closing as much as 7% of the nation’s power production.  One study suggests these changes alone could boost retail electricity costs as much as 12% by 2016.  Electricity rates have already increased dramatically, after decades of decline.  Between 2005 and 2011 the average price for electricity jumped by one third.  In the face of a monumental change in our natural gas supplies, and in the teeth of a sluggish recovery and continued high unemployment, it is unimaginable that President Obama clings to his fanciful quest for renewable energy.  We now have some inkling what the cost of that quest for renewable energy will be, to our economy and undoubtedly to jobs, but the bad news is, Obama does not seem to care.

(“Obama’s Energy Plan: Costs Rise, Jobs Decline” by Liz Peek dated March 5, 2012 published by The Fiscal Times at http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2012/03/05/Obamas-Energy-Plan-Costs-Rise-Jobs-Decline.aspx#page1 )

When it comes to Israel's coming nuclear conflict with Iran, President Obama has told our ally, "I have your back," but given the President's sorry track record, Israel is right to be skeptical.  The President certainly sounded tough when he said "We will do what it takes to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge — because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."  Tough talk is nice, but we only wish we could be sure it was something other than an election-year sop to Obama's faltering Jewish support.  Netanyahu thanked the President for supporting Israel's right to defend itself, but he shouldn't trust Obama's rhetoric.  Just look at his track record.  Under Obama, the U.S. has spent three years trying to get Syria and Iran to alter their behavior toward Israel and the West, to no avail.  Syria is slaughtering its own citizens, while Iran is building a bomb.  Obama says he wants to give diplomacy a chance:

·    Diplomacy has been given a chance with both the Palestinians and the Iranians for more than 30 years, with no results to show for it other than the growing hatred both have for the U.S. and Israel;

·    Obama supported "Arab Spring" revolts in both Libya and Egypt that now look like they'll lead to radical Islamist rule in both nations - A huge mistake;

·    Obama might have shown how tough diplomacy works during 2009's "Green Revolution" in Iran, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the Iranian mullahs' repression - Obama kept quiet;

·    Obama might have convinced Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to recognize a Jewish state of Israel's right to exist, the real key to peace - He didn't;

·    In 2010, when Turkey, a NATO ally, allowed a hostile flotilla to launch against Israel from its own soil, Obama might have forcefully intervened - Again, he didn't;

·    As for Iran, Obama's tough talk doesn't include a red line, one that says: Cross this and we'll hit you hard. This will only embolden Iran's leaders to pursue a nuclear weapon. They don't fear talk; they fear action - The massive cuts that Obama has planned for U.S. conventional and nuclear forces hardly qualify as action; and

·    Even as Obama called for more diplomacy, the International Atomic Energy Agency warned of "serious concerns" over Tehran's atomic program, charging Iran with stonewalling efforts to inspect its nuclear sites, and saying Iran has tripled its output of enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon – Again, no action.

Meanwhile the United States and Europe agreed to reopen negotiations with Iran, Obama emphasized the “window of opportunity” for Iran to prove its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.  He mentioned the military option only as a pivot to snarl at critics.  He accused critics of “casualness” about war, of “beating the drums of war,” of “bluster” and “big talk.”  His record and comments reveal a failure to come to terms with the essential nature of the Iranian thugocracy.  He keeps appealing to a “rational” side as though the quest for nukes is an academic debate that will be settled on points.  With each passing day, Iran gets closer to getting the weapon that could start a global war.  Obama seems to be trying to run out the clock, hoping that none of his mistakes catch up to him before he leaves office.

(“Does Obama Really Have Israel’s Back on Iran?” dated March 5, 2012 published by Investor’s Business Daily at http://news.investors.com/article/603286/201203051854/israel-cant-trust-obama-on-iran.htm

2-faced 2-step” by Michael Goodwin dated March 7, 2012 published by New York Post at http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/faced_step_lET0KbsyusMeOfN2ABTxsI )


* There is so much published each week that unless you search for it, you will miss important breaking news.  I try to package the best of this information into my “Views on the News” each Saturday morning.  Updates have been made this week to the following issue sections:

·  Bibliography at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/welc/bibliography.php

·  Welfare at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/Culture/welfare.php

·  Foreign Aid at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/fp/foreignaid.php


David Coughlin

Hawthorne, NY