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Views on the News

Views on the News*

August 17, 2013

 

If Republicans abet the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, piecemeal or otherwise, a third political party will emerge from the ashes, composed of Republicans, who will be relegated to the back of the political bus by Democrats. For those millions of Americans, a federal government run by one-and-a-half parties attuned to the progressive agenda is rapidly approaching the end of its shelf life.  Mark Levin is heavily invested in the idea that Article V of the Constitution, which concerns the amendment process, is a way for Americans to take their country back.  To his credit, Levin was quick to point out that such reform would be ridiculed and thwarted at every turn by our ruling elites in both parties, who have a vested interest in making sure that Washington, D.C. remains a nexus of power far beyond anything the Founding Fathers envisioned.  A third political party would facilitate the process in the sense that it would represent a second front, articulating the same overall objective, namely the restoration of a government by, of, and for the people.  One of the simplest, and likely most resonant parts of the platform would be a promise by every third party candidate that Congress will no longer be exempt from the laws they write for the rest of us, or entitled to any special perks, or lifetime pensions.  A third party may be a quixotic effort at first, and it may take years before any serious changes occur.  According to the Real Clear Politics, 61.8% of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and a whopping 75.8% of the nation disapproves of the job Congress is doing.  Millions of Americans despise intolerable status quo, the one that is squeezing the lifeblood out of the middle class, even as it coddles the too big to fail” crony capitalists at the top of the heap, and promotes an unprecedented level of dignity-depleting dependency on the other end of the scale.  Levin and others bright lights should flesh out a third party platform that speaks to such a reality. Keep it simple, Constitutional, and something that does not get bogged down by exactly the kind of cultural issues, that progressives and their media enablers use to divide Americans and obscure the true nature of their agenda.  The current level of bipartisan-induced rancor only accrues to the legions of government officials who create the very same problems they tell us can only be solved by more and more of their intervention.  Ronald Reagan once said, Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” so is tyranny if we choose to eradicate it.

(“Time for Third Party” by Arnold Ahlert dated August 13, 2013 published by Canada Free Press at http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/57185 )

Washington is in a post-policy moment as Congress passes little of substance, few bills make it to a vote, and those that do are intended as messages, symbols, or stunts, rather than policy reforms. The President makes speeches gesturing toward policy reforms, but they largely repackage old ideas. The last Presidential campaign was not fought over new ideas and initiatives, but over policies past.  A convenient conventional wisdom has developed, blaming Republican party obstructionism for refusing to cooperate with Democrats to get the gears of legislation turning again.  GOP obstructionism is not imaginary, but this self-serving narrative misses the point.  The real problem is that Republicans do not have a policy agenda of their own. They have opposition to the President, and a lingering taste for tax cuts, defense spending, and domestic surveillance.  Democrats, as the party of activist government, always have something more to be done, but the President's party seems nearly as drained of policy energy as the GOP, resting on recycled ideas and expansions of existing programs.  This is what really lies underneath the recent policy stagnation, not obstructionism, but exhausted party agendas with nowhere left to go. The truth is that both parties have largely achieved their long-term policy goals, and neither has a strong sense of what to do now.  Over the past four decades, the GOP has effectively ensured that relatively low marginal tax rates and spectacularly high levels of defense spending are all enshrined in American politics.  Democrats, meanwhile, have successfully defended and expanded the entitlement state.  Near-universal health care, the holy grail of the American left, is at hand, and the administrative state has grown large and unaccountable.  One key difference between the two parties is that some Republicans have realized that they are spinning their wheels, and are looking for a way to escape. Hence the various factions vying for a new path forward: Libertarian populists, conservative reformers, neo-con revivalists, security-state skeptics, other right-leaning entrepreneurs all start from a shared assumption that the Republican party’s policy ammunition is largely spent.  The party needs a new story, a new framework, and new ideas to drive it.  Democrats, on the other hand, have not yet taken stock of their situation.  Already Obama’s second term resembles a once-promising TV series stretched over far too many seasons. There is widespread belief amongst Democrats that they are ascendant. They are already running out of steam. Hillary Clinton, the party’s most likely Presidential nominee in 2016, is intimately linked to the two previous Democratic administrations, and will run as a defender of their achievements.  The end of policy is not permanent.  Both parties will eventually settle on new directions and new agendas, perhaps modified only slightly from their old ones, perhaps radically changed.  Both parties have to figure out what it is they want, and what they stand for: Republicans, having had an earlier start, are beginning this process, however slowly, while Democrats have yet to begin. 

(“The End of Policy” by Peter Suderman dated August 14, 2013 published by Reason at http://reason.com/archives/2013/08/14/the-end-of-policy )

 

Among university professors, government planners and mainstream pundits there is little doubt that the best city is the densest one, but the highest rates of upward mobility are not in dense cities.  This notion is also supported by a wide number of politically connected developers, who see in the cramming of Americans into ever smaller spaces an opportunity for vast, often taxpayer-subsidized, profiteering.  More recently density advocates span a much-discussed study of geographic variations in upward mobility as suggesting that living in a spread-out city hurts children’s prospects in life.  Yet the study actually found the highest rates of upward mobility not in dense cities, but in relatively spread-out places like Salt Lake City, small cities of the Great Plains such as Bismarck, N.D.; Yankton, S.D.; and Pecos, Texas, all showed bottom to top mobility rates more than double New York City.  Rather than an ode to bigness, the study found that commuting zones (similar to metropolitan areas) with populations under 100,000 have the highest average upward income mobility.  There are at least three major problems with the thesis that density is an unabashed good:

·    Census and survey data reveal that most people do not want to live cheek to jowl if they can avoid it.

·    Most of the attractive highest-density areas also have impossibly high home prices relative to incomes and low levels of homeownership.

·    Dense places tend to be regarded as poor places for raising families.

Roughly four in five buyers, according to a 2011 study commissioned by the National Association of Realtors, prefer a single-family home.  Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the pattern is not likely to end, barring a longer-term recession or government edict. As the number of households once again begins to rise and birthrates tick up, single-family homes are once again leading housing growth.  Buyers of single-family homes are not necessarily embracing exurban lifestyles so much as reacting to basic economic factors.  People move further out in order to afford something better than an apartment.  Overall, domestic migrants tend to be moving away from these denser metropolitan areas.  Between 2000 and 2008, a net 1.9 million people left New York, 1.3 million left Los Angeles, 340,000 left San Francisco, while 230,000 left San Jose and Boston.  In contrast, some of the largest in-migration has taken place over the past decade, as well as since 2010, in relatively sprawling cities, including Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Nashville.  In reality virtually all net population growth in the nation took place in counties with under 2,500 persons per square mile. The total population increase in counties with under 500 people per square mile was more than 30 times that of the growth in counties with densities of 10,000 and greater.  There is clearly a growing chasm between affordable, family-friendly cities and those that, frankly, are not.  Until the 1970s, in virtually all American metropolitan areas, a median-priced home cost roughly three years’ median income.  Many of the metro areas beloved by density advocates, such as New York and San Francisco, now have median home price multiples well over 6 or 7; if current trends continue, they could, as occurred during the last housing boom, reach upward of 10.  Not surprisingly, these areas all have low rates of homeownership compared to the national average.  All these factors are particularly relevant to one group: families.  Much of contemporary urban theory rests on the idea of weakening family connections: fewer marriages and lower birthrates will decrease the appetite for lower-density housing. Families do not make up the prime market for dense housing; married couples with children constitute barely 10% of apartment residents, less than half the percentage for the population overall.  This flight from density among families is not merely an American phenomena.  There are far higher percentages of families with children in the suburbs of Tokyo, London and Toronto than within the inner rings.  The ultra dense cities of East Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul have among the lowest fertility rates on the planet.  Some have suggested that the Obama administration is conspiring to turn American cities into high-rise forests.  The coalition favoring forced densification, greens, planners, architects, developers, land speculators, predates Obama.  The density agenda need to be knocked off its perch as the summum bonum of planning policy.  Unless the drive for densification is relaxed in favor of a responsible but largely market-based approach open to diverse housing options, our children can look forward to a regime of ever-higher house prices, declining opportunities for ownership and, like young people in East Asia, an environment hostile to family formation.  

(“How Can We Be So Dense? Anti-sprawl Policies Threaten America’s Future” by Joel Kotkin dated August 8, 2013 published by New Geography at http://www.newgeography.com/content/003873-how-can-we-be-so-dense-anti-sprawl-policies-threaten-americas-future )

 

Lawmakers have fallen in love with enacting big, “comprehensive” laws, which more likely than not are more complex than necessary, more costly than warranted, and less effective than promised.  ObamaCare is the perfect example of this. It stretched across hundreds of pages and aimed to regulate about one-sixth of the entire economy.  As an added inducement, lawmakers were told they should pass the bill even though they hadn’t read it.  Not surprisingly, ObamaCare is an unfolding nightmare. States are struggling to set up health-care exchanges. Cost estimates keep climbing, while the number of people who will supposedly benefit from the law is declining.  ObamaCare is the opposite of “too big to fail;” it’s too big to succeed.  Another example is the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, passed in 2010.  The goal was audacious: to prevent another banking crisis like the one that rocked the economy in 2008, but the law covers far more than just banking.  Dodd-Frank imposes broad regulations on huge swaths of the economy, and this overreach is causing problems. As of February 1, only 37% of some 400 required rules overall have been finalized.  No wonder our economic recovery is struggling.  There’s a pattern here, and we see it repeated in the ongoing debate over immigration reform.  The Senate passed a 1,200-page immigration bill after receiving their final copies of the measure only two days before.  Yes, the United States needs to fix our broken immigration system. Yet the better approach would be to break the issue down into small problems and write focused bills that solve each problem.  With each smaller problem that is solved, the larger problem would itself become smaller.  There’s another bonus: Bills that are short and simple don’t leave room for powerful interests to slip in special favors for themselves.  When it comes to lawmaking, bigger isn’t better, so instead of trying to do many things at once and failing at all of them, lawmakers could accomplish narrow goals and improve the economic and political climate along the way.

(“Comprehensive Bills Don’t Work” by Matthew Spalding dated August 14, 2013 published by National Review Online at http://www.nationalreview.com/article/355703/comprehensive-bills-dont-work-matthew-spalding )

Republicans are virtually unanimous about one thing: They want to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), and even have a proposed replacement system.  The GOP alternative is called the Patients' Choice Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn and Congressman Paul Ryan.  Unlike the Democrat approach, it solves problems rather than creating new ones.  The current system has a number of problems that need solving:

·    People who obtain insurance through an employer are able to buy insurance with pre-tax dollars, whereas people who purchase insurance on their own are basically forced to purchase it with after-tax dollars.

·    Group insurance, however, is not portable. So the kind of insurance the government encourages all of us to have is the kind of insurance that does not travel with us from job to job and in and out of the labor market.

·    Further, the subsidy for employer-provided coverage is open-ended. This means people can always lower their taxes by buying more insurance. As a result, most Americans are over-insured, leaving patients with perverse incentives to over-consume care and providers with perverse incentives to maximize against payment formulas.

·    Until recently the subsidy for employer-purchased insurance applied only to third-party insurance and not to self-insurance. This encouraged everyone to (wastefully) rely on insurance companies and employees to pay every medical bill. This, in turn, destroyed price competition and quality competition and effectively suppressed normal market forces throughout the health care system.

The Affordable Care Act leaves every single one of those perverse incentives in place and adds new ones!  The Republican approach eliminates every one of them by offering a fixed-sum, refundable tax credit for the purchase of private health insurance.  Every individual and every family would get the same amount of help from government, regardless of where the insurance is purchased, at the office, in an exchange or in the marketplace.  People would no longer be encouraged to buy employer-specific, non-portable coverage.  Since the subsidy is a fixed sum, it would apply only to the core insurance we want everybody to have. Any additional insurance would be purchased with after-tax dollars.  The Republican approach also gives people greater flexibility in combining health care savings with third-party insurance.  The Republican approach is a defined contribution approach. People are given a sum of money to buy health insurance.  They may add funds of their own to this amount. Suppliers of insurance will then be allowed to compete in the private marketplace to see what they can offer for premiums people can afford.  By contrast, ObamaCare takes a defined-benefit approach.  The government intends to tell all of us what insurance we must have, whether it is affordable or not. Further, the ObamaCare approach double penalizes people who choose not to insure: failure to claim the credit means they will pay higher taxes and there is a penalty imposed on top of that.  There are a number of ways in which Republican and Democratic approaches differ:

·    Tax Fairness. Under the Republican approach, every individual and every family will get the same help from government, Regardless of whether they work less than 30 hours a week or more; whether their workplace has fewer than 50 employees or more; and whether they are in a union or not.

·    Fair Treatment of Employers, Employees and Retirees. Unlike ObamaCare, the Republican approach: would not encourage employers to avoid hiring new workers; would not encourage employers to drop health coverage for current employees or for their retirees; would not penalize employees and their employers if they work full time rather than part time; would not favor small over large business or vice versa; would not favor non-union over union firms or vice versa; and would not encourage outsourcing or labor saving technologies or in other ways discourage economic recovery.

·    No Mandate. No one would be forced to buy health insurance. People who turn down the tax credit and elect to be uninsured would have a higher tax bill, however.

·    Universal Coverage. ObamaCare is expected to leave 30 million people uninsured and the actual number is probably much greater than that. By contrast, under the Republican approach it's hard to imagine anyone remaining uninsured. The reason: every adult can have at least $2,500 of health insurance for free.

·    Minimum Bureaucracy. The Republican bill is only 56 pages long.  Because the tax credits are the same for everyone, there would be no need for an exchange to verify income or establish that an applicant had not been offered affordable coverage by an employer or link electronically to five or six different government agencies.

The Republican plan can be paid for with money already in the system (that is, with no new taxes) even after restoring some Medicare spending and reversing the taxes on investment income.  The Republican approach is focused on getting rid of perverse incentives and treating everyone equitably, while the Democrat approach leaves the current system's perverse incentives and inequities in place and adds new ones.

(“Is There a Republican Alternative to Obamacare?” by John C. Goodman dated August 10, 2013 published by Town Hall at http://townhall.com/columnists/johncgoodman/2013/08/10/is-there-a-republican-alternative-to-obamacare-n1660684 )

 

President Obama’s new Climate Action Plan is central government planning in-waiting, because its dangerous premise is that the government can and must “control” climate by introducing yet more rounds of regulation, subsidies, and taxation.  This Plan is all pain-no gain.  The Plan is premised on faulty climate assumptions and a disregard of economic and energy realities. Top-down government intervention is a recipe for adverse unintended consequences.  Obama’s blueprint includes just about everything from hydro-fluorocarbon emissions and forest growth to hospitals and military installations.  It would create a new bureaucracy and launch subprograms such as the National Drought Resilience Partnership and the Climate Data Initiative.  Although not mentioned, Obama’s Climate Plan would impose permanently higher energy prices, effectively a hidden tax on American families and businesses. The plan would also launch new rounds of fanciful green-tech subsidies, adding to the $48 billion waste documented by the National Academy of Sciences.  Climate scientist Paul Knappenberger found that, by the end of the century, the United States will be responsible for less than two-tenths of a degree centigrade of the nearly three degrees of global warming that alarmists expect to occur.  According to EPA data, total American greenhouse gas emissions have only risen 1% since 2005.  Meanwhile, levels in China, India, and Russia have combined to rise more than 6%. China is now the world’s largest producer of CO2 and India third, just as one would expect where so many citizens need electricity desperately.  Of course, this basic global reality hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from pushing unnecessary, wasteful, climatically inconsequential energy controls at home. And with any system of command-and-control policies, justifying this scheme requires some well-calibrated fear-mongering.  Global warming “paused” more than 15 years ago. A global-cooling trend has been discerned since 2002.  So far, the President has decoupled policy with facts and peer-reviewed research, so nothing less than an intellectual/political uprising is required to quell what has become a faith-based crusade, the religion of choice for deep ecologists and allied collectivists.

(“President Obama’s New Climate Action Plan is All Pain, Negative Gain” by Robert Bradley Jr. dated August 6, 2013 published by Forbes at http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertbradley/2013/08/06/president-obamas-new-climate-action-plan-is-all-pain-negative-gain/ )

 

The West can no longer rely on American leadership in the world, because Washington’s judgment and effectiveness in foreign policy cannot be trusted. It is quite an achievement for the one remaining superpower to appear as ineffectual and wrong-footed as the United States has managed to do in the past week.   The President’s global strategy in his second term was based on two resounding premises.  First, al‑Qaeda was “on the run” having been smashed by the killing of Osama bin Laden and the successful US drone operations in Pakistan, then in May, Obama gave a triumphal speech in which he declared the War on Terror officially over.  Over the past week, 19 US embassies in the Middle East and North Africa had to be closed for a week, and diplomatic staff evacuated from Yemen because of “specific terrorist threats”.  Obama rephrased his dismissal of the Islamist forces: al-Qaeda may not be “on the run” but it is “on its heels”.  More confusingly still, Obama is apparently determined to return some Guantánamo prisoners to Yemen, where they will presumably add to the dangerous mix of jihadi terrorists.  The questions remain: is the US “at war” with global jihad or isn’t it? It is now engaged in drone attacks on Yemen, whose government is repeatedly declaring victory over the local al-Qaeda branch. What precisely is America’s role in this, if not as part of an international “War on Terror”?  The second plank of the Obama global plan was that America’s contentious relationship with Russia would be “re-set”, thereby eliminating one of the main obstacles to the West’s attempts to deal with Syria and Iran.  Last week, the re-set crashed rather spectacularly taking the entire software program with it.  The White House decided to cancel the scheduled Obama-Putin meeting during the G20 summit in what was publicly presented as a “snub” to the Russian president, who had been so famously unhelpful over the matter of Edward Snowden.  Well, one man’s “snub” is another’s attempt to save face.  The Obama putdown of Putin looking like the “bored kid at the back of the class” was an attempt to counter the damage done to US prestige by the mischievous Russian president.  The American government seems to be incapable of stating, or acting, in a consistent, decisive way at a very dangerous time. Obama has accused Putin of having a Cold War mentality.  There must be at least a glimmering of doubt even in Europe, where the Obama presidency has been given an absurdly easy ride, that America, too, is adrift in the post-Cold War landscape: that it no longer has any clear conception of its global role. Obama, who talks constantly about his hopes for the future, seems to have very little interest in the new demands this new landscape might make on his country.

(“Obama’s not to be trusted on foreign policy” by Janet Daily dated August 10, 2013 published by The Telegraph at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/10234042/Obamas-not-to-be-trusted-on-foreign-policy.html )

* 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:

·  Principles at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/intro/philosophy.php

·  Environment at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/environment.php

 

David Coughlin

Hawthorne, NY

www.ReturnToCommonSensesite.com