Views on the News

Views on the News*

September 14, 2013


President Barack Obama has just ended a summer characterized by a convergence of external events and self-inflicted setbacks which cast a harsh light on a so-far anemic second term.  He is now beginning an autumn in which conflicts that have festered sullenly for years, in Syria and on Capitol Hill, are poised for climactic resolution.  In the fifth year of his presidency, some of these observers say, he is making choices that are reminiscent of the missteps some predecessors have made during their awkward early months in power:

·    Through public statements and private leaks, Obama and his subordinates have opened an unusually wide window into the President’s internal deliberations.  In Washington and around the world, both friends and foes can easily read his doubts about his own Syria policy and witness his agonizing over the use of military force in real time.

·    Obama has conveyed that important decisions are open for public pressure and bargaining.  The most vivid example is the ongoing debate over who Obama should select to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, choosing up sides between backers of Larry Summers and Janet Yellen.

·    Obama has diluted the power of his own words.  A senior veteran of Bill Clinton’s Presidency warned, “When the President is on television screens and no one stops to listen - that’s when you worry.”

Long-time Presidential observer David Gergen said Obama risks turning an asset, the openness of his mind, into a vulnerability.  It is often true with leaders that their strengths become their weaknesses.  Americans generally welcomed Obama’s more deliberative nature,” Gergen said. “Now it’s starting to come across as vacillation and indecision and hesitation, and I think that’s undermined some of his authority.”

(“Obama’s summer slump” by John F. Harris and Jonathan Allen dated September 3, 2013 published by Politico at http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/obamas-summer-slump-96181.html?hp=r21 )

If the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is a time for taking stock, the score is clear, that the Dream was a glorious triumph, changing America forever and making it more just, but unfortunately the contemporary civil-rights movement is an intellectually exhausted disgrace.  It is the victim of its own success.  No longer confronted by a system of American apartheid and incapable of simply saying “We won,” it subsists largely on imagined slights and manufactured controversies unrelated to the welfare of real people.  The difference between the movement then and now is the difference between confronting grave injustices and coming up with excuses for your latest press release; the difference between connecting to the nation’s profoundest ideals and reflexively agitating for more government activism; the difference between a calling and a career.  King did his work under clear and present physical threat.  He had a well-developed moral philosophy, based on a profound engagement with the biblical prophets and Reinhold Niebuhr.  He wasn’t merely glib, but truly eloquent, a practiced Baptist preacher who wedded the cadences of the Bible to the nation’s founding ideals under the unbearable pressure of historic events.  That fight is won, no matter how loath King’s self-appointed heirs are to admit it.  In his own speech, President Barack Obama cited people serving the community or otherwise demonstrating kindness or regard for others and declaimed that they “are marching,” just like those marchers in 1963. This is a strained metaphor in the service of a deep misunderstanding.  These people aren’t marching; they are living admirable lives in a society where the civil-rights marches of yore are no longer necessary.  What the contemporary civil-rights establishment can’t acknowledge is that cultural breakdown has more to do with the struggles of blacks than any officially sanctioned discrimination.  Fifty years ago, a movement using self-sacrificing tactics fought and defeated racism in the streets and in the halls of power, but today, its successors use the charge of racism to try to shut down all argument and deflect uncomfortable conversations, so this isn’t a testament to the legacy of a great movement so much as to its degeneration.

(“The New Civil-Rights Movement” by Rich Lowry dated August 30, 2013 published by National Review Online at http://www.nationalreview.com/article/357190/new-civil-rights-movement-rich-lowry )


President Obama will visit Sweden and meet with Scandinavian prime ministers en route to the Group of 20 summit in Russia, and could learn much from their economic progress.   Sweden escaped the crisis in its neighborhood, and it quickly restored steady and stable growth. It presents a proven model for the types of reforms needed in much of Europe and many other parts of the world, including the United States.  Sweden was the world’s third-richest country in 1968 but became a massive welfare state in the 1970s and 1980s and a prototype for how not to run an economy.  It slid to No. 17 in the global income rankings and experienced a deep financial and real estate crisis in 1991.  To its enormous credit, Sweden reversed course with consummate skill and political courage; it has become a paragon of sensible economic and social policy.  Sweden’s economic growth has been much higher than that of the rest of Western Europe, or the United States, since 2006.  Sweden has one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe; it runs a budget surplus every year; its corporate tax rates are considerably lower than U.S. rates; and it spends more on research and development, as a share of its economy, than we do.  Its firms are highly competitive in the world economy, and it runs sizable current-account surpluses.  After its crisis, Sweden reduced public expenditures by 20% of its gross domestic product, slashing social transfers such as unemployment benefits and sick-leave compensation.  It cut its public debt in half (its debt, as a proportion of the economy, is now about half that of the United States).  It cut marginal tax rates and simplified its tax code so much that nearly two-thirds of Swedes simply confirm by phone that the declaration automatically prepared for them by the tax authorities is correct.  The banking system was thoroughly reformed and emerged unscathed from the global financial crises.  Successive governments deregulated one market after another and privatized as market conditions permitted. All children receive vouchers so their parents can choose private or public schools at public expense.  Swedish social security became a true insurance system, rather than a pay-as-you-go one with huge unfunded liabilities as in the United States.  Sweden remains a social welfare society, and government spending still accounts for half of its economy; it finances all education and health care, as is common throughout Europe.  Sweden did not dismantle the social system but, in addition to drastically reducing its costs, adopted macroeconomic and structural reforms to make it sustainable and greatly enhanced its efficiency by privatizing the delivery of many educational and medical services.  The country’s guiding principle is that a successful social welfare society must be fiscally conservative and administratively efficient. This is the central Swedish lesson for the crisis countries of the euro zone and elsewhere.  Sweden now combines a social welfare society with a free-market economy and a high degree of government efficiency, something that Obama should convey Sweden’s economic progress to his G-20 counterparts in St. Petersburg.

(“The Swedish model for economic recovery” by C. Fred Bergsten dated August 29, 2013 published by The Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obama-should-take-lessons-from-sweden-to-g-20/2013/08/29/2a48a5fa-10c0-11e3-bdf6-e4fc677d94a1_story.html )

ObamaCare may very well be the worst law ever passed by the federal government in the history of the U.S. The public didn't want it in the first place, going so far as to elect a Republican senator in solidly Democratic Massachusetts to try to stop it, and they've hated it ever since.  The latest IBD/TIPP poll finds that just 38% want Congress to stop trying to kill it. The rest say lawmakers either should delay it until President Obama is out of office or use every opportunity to prevent its taking effect.  Since its passage, ObamaCare has proved to be a huge mess. The administration has signed several bills repealing portions of the law. It had to issue waivers to hundreds of companies to prevent millions of workers from losing health benefits.  It has delayed the employer mandate, the Medicare Advantage cuts, the ban on out-of-pocket limits, and verification rules needed to prevent fraud because they would have caused massive dislocations.  The Supreme Court ruled ObamaCare's mandate that states expand their Medicaid programs was unconstitutional, leaving a huge gap in its proposed coverage.  Even ObamaCare's biggest defenders, trade unions, are in open rebellion against the law because of the harm they believe it will cause to existing multi-employer health plans.  The Teamsters said ObamaCare would "shatter" these arrangements, the electrical workers union said it would "dismantle" them, and the roofers union has called for ObamaCare's outright repeal.  40,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union quit the AFL-CIO, citing its support for ObamaCare's onerous tax on health benefits.  On top of all this, it's becoming increasingly clear that ObamaCare will fail to live up to its name, the "Affordable Care Act", as state after state announces huge ObamaCare-induced premium hikes.  A Manhattan Institute analysis found that ObamaCare rates will be 24% higher, on average, in 13 states that have reported them so far.  Despite all this, it's hard to see what can prevent ObamaCare from becoming a permanent fixture.  The effort to deny implementation funds in the next fiscal year, which starts October 1st, has gotten little traction with the GOP leadership.  Once ObamaCare's $1 trillion worth of insurance subsidies starts to kick in next year, there will be a huge lobbying force in favor of keeping the law, at least, if not expanding it. Republicans still have one chance to stop this misbegotten law, but only if they join forces and act before ObamaCare moves down the tracks.

(“Is This Train Wreck Unstoppable?” dated September 4, 2013 published by Investor’s Business Daily at http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials-obama-care/090413-669826-can-anything-stop-obamacare-now-webhed-is-the-obamacare-train-wreck-inevitable-.htm )


Under pressure from civil-rights activists, federal bank regulators have killed tougher mortgage rules requiring minimum down payments and credit scores for loans bundled into securities and are recreating the financial conditions that caused the mortgage meltdown.  The Fed, FDIC, SEC and three other agencies regulating Wall Street have adopted the same weak underwriting standards the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set earlier this year for loans.  A week after the President met with regulators at the White House, when he reportedly expressed fears lenders might not want to lend to low-income borrowers, they proposed a broad exemption to the rule covering 98% of all mortgages.  Proponents of tighter underwriting had sought a 20% down payment rule, but now there is no requirement.  The NAACP, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Center for Responsible Lending and Urban League, among others, all fought minimum down payments and credit scores, arguing they "block" housing market access for minorities with weak credit.  The Federal Housing Administration has backed so many subprime loans that delinquencies have threatened the agency's solvency.  Last year, the administration re-adopted a Clinton-era rule that compels lenders to bend mortgage standards for minorities with weak credit.  The Justice Department, as part of a crusade against lending discrimination, has sued banks that maintained strong standards.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has marched an army of investigators into banks to make sure their underwriting policies don't have a "disparate impact" on blacks and Latinos.  Now, by giving risky mortgages and securities an official stamp of approval (and legal protection), the administration has institutionalized the same lax underwriting practices that sparked the mortgage meltdown.  It's pushing the same reckless Clinton-era policies of lowering standards to boost minority homeownership that sparked the mortgage meltdown, but now, in an obscenely cynical betrayal of the public trust, the government is doing it in the name of "financial reform" and "crisis prevention."

(“Affordable-Housing Zealots Hijack Mortgage Reform” dated August 30, 2013 published by Investor’s Business Daily at http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/083013-669443-regulators-mortgage-rules-subprime-securities-risk-retention.htm )


One of the problems that Barack Obama has in mounting an attack against the Assad regime is that the gambit violates every argument Barack Obama used against the Bush administration to establish his own anti-war candidacy.  The hypocrisy is so stunning that it infuriates his critics and stuns his supporters.  Deriding the Iraq war was Obama’s signature selling point. He used it to great effect against both Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war) in the Democrat primaries and John McCain in the general election. For the last five years, disparagement of “Iraq” and “Bush” has seemed to intrude into almost every sentence the president utters.  His sudden pro-war stance makes a number of hypocritical assumptions:

·    The U.S. President can attack a sovereign nation without authorization from Congress (unlike the Iraq war when George W. Bush obtained authorization from Congress).

·    Obama assumes that the U.S. must go it alone and attack unilaterally (unlike the coalition of the willing of some 40 nations that joined us in Iraq).

·    It is unnecessary even to approach the UN (unlike Iraq when the Bush administration desperately sought UN support).

·    The U.S. President must make a judgment call on the likelihood of WMD use, which is grounds ipso facto to go to war (unlike Iraq when the vast majority of the 23 congressionally authorized writs had nothing to do with WMD [e.g., genocide of the Marsh Arabs and Kurds, bounties to suicide bombers, harboring of international terrorists, violations of UN agreements, attempts to kill a former U.S. President, etc.]).

Now review for a moment the Old Obama case against the New Obama:

·    On the perils of going it alone without allies - “Where the stakes are the highest, in the war on terror, we cannot possibly succeed without extraordinary international cooperation. Effective international police actions require the highest degree of intelligence sharing, planning and collaborative enforcement.” (2004) - So far no European or Arab nation has offered military support for our planned effort against Syria.

·    On the need to obtain UN approval before attacking another country - “You know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.” (2013) - After misleading the UN in obtaining no-fly-zones for Libya (and then bombing troops on the ground), Obama is not even approaching the UN for a resolution to bomb this time around.

·    On the idea that armed intervention is ever a good option - “I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” (2008) - The mindset in Iraq was to stop a genocidal dictator like Saddam Hussein who had gassed his own people, and apparently the mission is to stop the genocidal dictator Bashar Assad, who has gassed his own people.

·    On the folly of starting a wrong war to ensure a President’s sinking credibility - “That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.” (2002) - Most believe that we are going to war mostly to restore Obama’s credibility after he issued an ill-advised red line to Syria that he thought would never be crossed — a war, in other words, predicated on “politics.”

·    On the dangers of not defining a mission or a methodology - “I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.” (2002) - We have not articulated the purpose of attacking Syria, the methods of intervention, or the desired outcome of the war, at a time of deep administration cuts to defense, soon to be made worse by sequestration.

·    On not intervening in the civil wars and internal affairs of Arab nations - “The U.S. military has performed valiantly and brilliantly in Iraq. Our troops have done all that we have asked them to do and more. But no amount of American soldiers can solve the political differences at the heart of somebody else’s civil war, nor settle the grievances in the hearts of the combatants.” (2007) - Syria is currently in “somebody else’s” civil war in which the Assad dictatorship, Hezbollah militias, and Iranian volunteers are battling al-Qaeda affiliates, the Free Syrian Army, and unknown coalitions of Assad opponents.

·    On the need for obtaining congressional authorization - “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action. As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J.Res.23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” (2007) - The President did not ask Congress for authorization for the Libya attack. He just flip-flopped and plans to ask permission from Congress to bomb Syria, but indicated that he might bomb anyway should they say no. Neither Libya nor Syria posed an “imminent threat.”

The only explanation for the disconnect between what Obama once declared and what he subsequently professed is that candidate Obama has always been an adroit demagogue. He knew how to score political points against George Bush, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, without any intention of abiding by his own sweeping declarations. The consistency in Obama’s foreign policy is his own carefully calibrated self-interest. Bombing or not bombing, shutting down or keeping open Guantanamo Bay, going or not going to the UN or the U.S. Congress - these choices are all predicated not on principle, but only on what a canny and unprincipled Obama feels best suits his own political interests and self-image at any given moment. In a self-created jam, he flipped and now goes to Congress in hopes of pinning responsibility on them, whether we go or not, whether successful or unsuccessful if we do - Obama is a quite clever demagogue.

(“Obama Indicts Obama” by Victor Davis Hanson dated September 1, 2013 published by PJ Media at http://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson/obama-indicts-obama/ )

A year ago, the President said there was a “red line” that could not be crossed in Syria:  if the Assad regime even so much as moved chemical weapons or used them, the United States would take action.  Well, it seems almost certain that chemical weapons were not only in Syria but were used by the government.  Obama was then caught with his pants down when his red line comment came back to haunt him because he had to do something or else look like an idiot, not just to those who know he’s an idiot but to the ever dwindling members of the Hope and Change crowd.  Obama is going to let Congress decide whether or not Syria should be attacked to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons, killing over a thousand people including innocent children, and more importantly, for crossing Barry’s red line.  In seeking Congressional approval, Obama is showing his rugged determination to defeat America’s greatest enemy… those evil Republicans.  There is no constitutional nor legal requirement to have Congress approve what Obama is proposing to do, whatever that is, because he has the constitutional authority as commander-in-chief to launch an attack.  Although the Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war, a limited attack on Syria, if that’s what he does, can hardly be classified as a “war” even though the attacks could be considered as an act of war.  The War Powers Act, passed in 1973 over Nixon’s veto, only obligates the President to inform Congress of the deployment of troops within 48 hours of commencing action, but troops that are deployed must be withdrawn after 60 days unless the approval of Congress is obtained.  Seeking Congressional approval is being done for one reason - to benefit Obama.  If Congress approves an attack on Syria, it will provide window dressing for Obama to do what he already planned to do.  Since many Democrats are opposed to taking military action, the most likely result is Congress will say no which will be the most beneficial outcome for the President.  He deferred to Congress and to the wishes of the American people.  You have to give Obama credit because he painted himself into a corner, and now he is using Congressional approval as a distraction to shift blame from his failed policies to the Republicans.  Oh by the way… no rush… no answer needed until Obama returns in a week from his next trip abroad to the G-20 summit!

(“Mr. Obama Goes to Washington” by Arthur Weinreb dated September 1, 2013 published by Canada Free Press at http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/57603 )

In authorizing limited strikes on Syria, Congress may inadvertently give its stamp of approval to an ideological revolution in the use of U.S. power, becoming the global genocide watchdog.  The President's credibility on the world stage isn't "on the line"; it's already shot.  The most recent proofs: the unprecedented British Parliament vote against joining him on Syria; the demise of Morsi in Egypt after Obama embraced him; the Snowden defection and consequent collapse of his Moscow summit.  This President is going all out for a congressional endorsement of his strike on Syria to resurrect his dead credibility.  Remember that Obama’s motivation is engineering a fundamental change in America's role in the world.  Obama's pointless intervention in Syria could be a blueprint for a new leftist foreign policy, long championed by his new U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, in which America intervenes not to defend its strategic interests but to avenge victims of bloodthirsty thugs.  This comic-book internationalism would keep the world's lone superpower busier than Superman.  Where do America's armed forces go first to "change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel with their bare hands"?

·    Nuclear-armed North Korea, the slave state where, under Kim Jong-un, over 40% of young children are seriously malnourished?

·    Eritrea in northeast coastal Africa, where Isaias Afewerki caused thousands of young refugees to flee slavery-like indefinite national service and government-tolerated human trafficking for sex and even organ extraction?

·    Zimbabwe, where Mugabe has tortured thousands?

·    Over his quarter century in power, Sudan's Omar Bashir has killed hundreds of thousands?

·    In Islam Karimov's Uzbekistan, where thousands are being tortured today?

·    In Thein Sein's Burma, where tens of millions are starving?

Where to first, Ambassador Lois Lane?  Power complains of "America's toleration of unspeakable atrocities, often committed in clear view," of Hutus slaughtering Tutsis, for instance. If we try to save the world, we will find ourselves neglecting what we can and should do here at home, and that places American credibility on the line.

(“Congress May Inadvertently Endorse New U.S. World Role” dated September 4, 2013 published by Investor’s Business Daily at http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/090413-669824-new-internationalism-may-be-obamas-real-goal-in-syria.htm )


* 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/welcome/bibliography.php

·  Education at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/Culture/education.php

·  Domestic Policy at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/philosophy.php

·  Budget at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/budget.php

·  Economy at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/economy.php

·  Election at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/election.php

·  Judiciary at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/judiciary.php

·  Legal at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/legal.php

·  Taxes at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/dp/taxes.php

·  National Defense at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/fp/defense.php

·  United Nations at http://www.returntocommonsensesite.com/fp/unitednations.php


David Coughlin

Hawthorne, NY