Sunday, February 24, 2013

A normal person's perspective on the Sequester... Or How I Came to Love the Sequester

Everett Dirksen famously said “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money.” If his billion here and billion there added up to $44 billion then he’d have been talking about the Sequester that seems to be everywhere in the news today.

For those not familiar with the Sequester, it is the mandatory cut in federal spending set to take place on March 1st. President Obama essentially warned that the country would likely come to a screeching halt if the mandated cuts actually occurred. Among the damage would be: thousands of teachers and firefighters losing their jobs, 800,000 Defense job losses, nursing home cuts, cuts to Medicare, airports close, hundreds of thousands would miss out on flu vaccinations and cancer screening. Apparently the Myans were just off by a couple of months.

Back to the real money… $44 billion is a lot of money. That’s the kind of money Mark Zuckerberg looks at and goes “Wow”. When you imagine that the Sequester is going to cut that much from the federal budget that seems like a lot… until it’s not.

In 2012 the federal government spent $3.538 trillion. If nothing is done and the Sequester kicks in, in 2013 the federal government will spend $3.553… yes, that’s right, $15 billion more! Somehow, President Obama is trying to suggest that if the country does not figure out how to dodge this $44 billion Sequester bullet, the foundations of our society are going to come crumbling down upon our shoulders. (The total 2013 "cut" includes the aforementioned $44 billion plus $41 billion cut in future years but attributed to 2013.)

That simply makes no sense.

To put this in some perspective, imagine that instead of talking about trillion dollar federal budgets here, we use numbers in the form of your paycheck. Let’s imagine that your family had an income of $50,000 in 2012. While it might have been a challenging year, that’s up 15% from the $43,600 you earned in 2009. (Remember, we’re using government spending as the measure here. If we were instead using actual household income numbers, the $43,600 you earned in 2009 would have instead shrunk to $41,500 by 2012 rather than growing to $50,000). In 2013 you are expecting a .4% raise, taking your income up to $50,211.

Given those numbers, are you going to spend a week knocking on your neighbor’s homes telling them they have to demand the homeowner’s association roll back the dues because you only received a $211 raise this year? Are you going to call your relatives and tell them that you are going broke and that you may lose your house because you only got a $211 raise this year? Are you going to go to your boss and tell him that you’re probably going to have to stop working if he doesn’t give you another $500? Probably not.

If your situation were really as dire as the president suggests and that you were really in danger of losing your house, you’d probably find ways to cut your budget. Even if $40,000 of your expenditures were somehow shielded from cutting – In the case of the government cuts, they are mostly coming out of discretionary spending, half from defense (other than war funding) and half from the rest of the budget. That means that things like Social Security and Medicare payments are mostly exempt – you’d still have a pool of $10,211 from which you could cut the necessary $500. You might not like it, but you could probably eat at McDonalds more often and Chipotle less often. You might rent movies on Netflix rather than go out to the movies as often. You might even buy generic vegetables rather than Green Giant. At the end of the day you would probably figure out how to limit yourself to spending $211 more than you did last year without doing too much damage to your lifestyle.

But then you’re probably not Barack Obama. The president and his administration have suggested a wide range of disasters that will befall the American people if the Sequester goes into effect: There will be a shortage of meat, 125,000 people might become homeless, thousands of FBI would be lost, 100,000 kids would lose Headstart or childcare benefits, terrorist cables would go untranslated, workplaces would be less safe, the Pacific naval power would shrink by a third, firemen and police around the country would be cut, and nuclear waste would pile up. The president suggests all this will occur and much more. Indeed it seems as if America might simply collapse into anarchy if the president doesn’t get tax hikes passed.

Of course none of that actually has to happen. The president has the power to apply the cuts wherever he wants within the discretionary programs themselves. One might think that rather than closing national parks the president might look at cutting things like the Department of Energy program that spent billions of dollars on companies like Solyndra and Fisker. Instead of cutting job training for veterans the president might look at cutting the Obamaphone program that is providing free phones to millions of ineligible recipients. Or maybe instead of threatening to spend less money fighting terrorism he could figure out how to stop providing unemployment benefits to prisoners sitting in jails around the country. There is no doubt substantial waste on the military side as well, and rather than threatening to limit soldier's training perhaps the president could reconsider giving tanks and fighter jets to the Islamists running Egypt.

But that’s not the Obama way. The president would rather scare the dickens out of the country rather than face any limits on his orgy of spending. The Sequester is indeed a blunt instrument. It is however a tool for cutting government growth. Certainly not by enough. Certainly not in the most rational manner possible. But at least they are cuts – if only to the increase in spending.

The Sequester reminds one of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission program which was inaugurated under President Reagan. This was a program where expendable military bases were targeted for closure. Congress was forced to either take it or leave it and thus provided members with a way of escaping blame when a base closed in their districts. It too was a somewhat blunt instrument, but it worked. Given that the Sequester was the president’s idea in the first place, he should stop the demagoguery and embrace the opportunity to take a first step to getting a handle on government spending. Indeed, he should offer another Sequester, or a series of them that make actual cuts in spending rather than just phantom cuts in expected increases. By shielding members of Congress from the slings and arrows that sometimes follow cuts in programs that impact their districts, he would likely find greater support than he would in any item by item battle. Not pretty, but it could be effective. Not likely either because doing anything that actually benefits the country rather than Barack Obama would be unlike Barack Obama.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How Conservatives can win in a world of "Low Information Voters"

How did Barack Obama win reelection despite 8 million fewer people working and a doubling of gas prices since he took office? Despite a flatlining GDP, $6 trillion in new debt, and the disastrous Benghazi? How is it possible that given his abject failure voters could give Barack Obama a second term? Easy… Republicans hate everyone.

This point was crystallized this week when Mary Katherine Ham got into a dustup with Juan Williams over the issue of gun control. Ham made the cogent point that Chicago, with some of the strongest gun control laws in the country is anything but a “promise land” of tranquility. Williams responded with the absurd notion that because Virginia has much weaker gun regulations than DC, the lives of people who live in DC are somehow less valuable.

As nonsensical as William’s argument (if you can call it that) was, its demonizing of Virginians as not valuing the lives of DC residents was not unusual. That is exactly how Barack Obama won reelection and how we’ve gotten ourselves into this quagmire of a bloated mommy state with trillions of dollars flowing to the “needy” and tens of thousands of pages of regulations seeking to “protect” citizens. Conservatives and the GOP have been participating in different conversations than liberals for decades. While conservatives seek to engage in conversations about finding solutions for problems, liberals ignore them and steam ahead building their progressive utopia, regardless of the impact on the actual problems themselves.

The conversation between Ham and Williams provides a clear demonstration of the tactic. Data clearly show that jurisdictions with the most restrictive gun laws not only don’t show lower rates of gun violence, but typically have more gun violence. The conclusion that one might draw from this is that fewer gun laws mean more saved lives. You can disagree with the conclusion or argue about a lack of causation or you can suggest some other alternative explanation for the data. But that’s rarely what liberals do. Instead they suggest that if you’re against more gun laws you don’t want to protect children.

The same construct holds true for virtually every issue in politics:
  • You oppose Barack Obama you’re a racist.
  • You oppose increasing spending on education you don’t’ care about children.
  • You oppose wind farms and electric cars you don’t care about the environment.
  • You want borders enforced you hate Hispanics.
  • You want lower taxes you hate poor people.
  • You don’t support gay marriage you’re a homophobe.
  • You want Obamacare repealed you’re a greedy SOB who doesn’t care about children with cancer or the elderly needing medicines.
  • If you oppose increasing the minimum wage you don’t care about the poor.
And the list goes on. This is the liberal modus operandi: Demagoguery. Rather than engage in thoughtful discussions on the goals and efficacy of government regulations, they seek to demonize their opponents and in the process marginalize then sideline them.

Mitt Romney was just the latest causality of this Democratic pseudo defamation machine… He’s rich and wants lower taxes, therefore he hates poor people. Nevermind he created thousands of entry level jobs that gave poor people an income.

Before him Rudy Giuliani was called racist because of his crackdown on crime in New York City. Nevermind that he saved the lives of thousands of young black men by making the streets safer for everyone.

Ronald Reagan was constantly pilloried for everything from wanting to starve children to being a war monger. Nevermind he created a staggering level of economic growth that provided incomes to parents of millions of children, and that he won the Cold War.

The worst part of this liberal tactic is that it’s almost impossible to refute. Data rarely works to sway the argument. You saw that in William’s rejoinder to Ham. He had no interest in engaging on the facts. You also see it in the painting of the Tea Party movement as racist. Andrew Breitbart offered $100,000 for proof of the claim that Tea Partiers had spit on black members of congress. Despite thousands of phone cameras rolling nobody came forward. Nonetheless the meme of Tea Party racism continues, even in the face of explicit proof to the opposite. Once the left makes an assertion and the sycophants in the media get hold of it, it’s almost impossible to reverse.

Liberals have been seeking to delegitimize conservatives for half a century. Unfortunately it’s been a largely successful strategy, as can be seen by the growth of government regulation and spending under both Democrat and GOP administrations. As such, liberals have no intention of abandoning it any time soon.

Given that playing field, in order to achieve success conservatives are going to have to face those falsehoods head on. At the most basic level they must make the point, repeatedly, that their policies of limited government and fiscal restraint seek to help all Americans, not just particular groups. More importantly however, conservatives must be willing to go toe to toe with Democrats who seek to delegitimize them as haters of one sort or another. They must be willing to stand up and state clearly “I reject the basic premise of your argument” and clearly articulate that opposition to Democrat’s nanny state policies does not suggest that they hate anybody. Rather, by reducing government entanglement in our lives, conservative policies seek to help everyone and anyone succeed.

In a universe of “low information voters” the only recipe for success is for conservatives to stay laser focused on the idea that limited government helps drive prosperity, which helps everyone. Period. That’s it. There's nothing else.  In a cacophony of issues we must narrow the focus to the only ones that count: freedom and prosperity, because once they're gone, nothing else matters.  Conservatives must learn to compellingly deflect the “hate” label and focus attention on how freedom drives prosperity and prosperity makes everything else possible. By explicitly refuting those “hate” labels they can narrow the spectrum of discussion to the consequences of government policies. They should be under no illusion that doing so will change the votes of dyed in the wool liberals. It may however catch the attention of a sufficient number of those "low information voters" to sway the next two elections red and save the country from our impending Greece like collapse.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Benghazi - Five months later the degree of the media's dereliction of duty becomes clear...

Of all of the characteristics one might ascribe to Susan Rice, prescience is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Surprisingly however, five years ago she said something that demonstrated a momentary clarity of vision that is staggering. In a March 2008 interview she said the following: “Clinton hasn’t had to answer the phone at 3:00 in the morning, and yet she attacked Barack Obama for not being ready. They’re both not ready to have that 3 AM phone call.” If the events immediately following Benghazi showed Ambassador Rice to be a hapless marionette of the administration, the event itself demonstrated clearly that she was spot on five years ago.

Unfortunately, Benghazi demonstrated something far more sinister than just an administration’s feeble attempt to cover up its incompetence. It demonstrated the role that a pliant media can play in impacting world affairs.

Here we are five months after Benghazi and we’re only now discovering that President Obama was detached during the entire attack. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on September 11, 2012 he attended a pre-scheduled 30-minute session with President Obama at approximately 5:00 PM EST. During that meeting they spent about 20 minutes talking about the surrounded American embassy in Egypt and the emerging situation in Benghazi. Panetta states that the President left operational details “up to us.” After that, for the next seven hours during which the American consulate and annex in Benghazi were under attack and the American Ambassador killed, Panetta heard nothing from the Commander in Chief, nor from anyone at the White House. Nothing. Not a call, not a text, not an email, no smoke signals. Nothing. Our ambassador was dead along with three other Americans and President Obama was not engaged.

We later learned that Washington sent not a single ship, plane, soldier, or marine to help. Between midnight and 2:00 AM EST – between five and seven hours after the attack began – Secretary Panetta issued orders telling two Marine anti-terrorism teams in Rota, Spain to prepare to deploy to Libya. They would not arrive for another 10 hours, long after the attack was over.

Why were there no assets closer to respond more quickly? According to General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because the State Department did not ask for them. But one would expect, given that the American Ambassador in Libya wrote a letter on August 16th stating the consulate in Benghazi could not sustain an attack, that the State Department would either request more security or close the consulate. You’d be wrong. Why? Because Hillary Clinton claims that neither she nor anyone in her office ever saw the Ambassador’s cable.

So, to recap, for at least 7 hours after the first murder of an American Ambassador in 30 years, the Commander in Chief couldn’t seem to find the time to talk with his Secretary of Defense in order to find out what was going on in Benghazi, ask what could be done to save the others under siege, or to order a single boat, plane or man to the scene. But he could find time to spend an hour on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking to shore up Jewish voters shaken by the troubled relationship. At the same time, on the anniversary of September 11th, in a city known to be a hotbed for Al Qaeda activity in a country in the midst of revolutionary shockwaves, the State Department was somehow unaware that increased security measures were necessary, despite the US Ambassador’s explicit concerns. Then, once the attack began, despite tens of thousands of troops stationed in the Middle East and Europe, there was no way to get a single resource to Benghazi in less than 15 hours. To top it all off, on September 16th the administration sent the hapless Susan Rice to put forth that absurd claim that the attacks were the result of an anti-Muslim YouTube video rather than a planned terrorist attack timed for the anniversary of 9/11.

Now imagine that instead of Barack Obama sitting in the White House two months before an election, it had been George Bush. Is it even remotely possible that Benghazi would not have become the center of the greatest political firestorm in US history? Is it even possible that some Woodward and Bernstein wannabes over at the New York Times, CNN, TIME or ABC, CBS and NBC would not have spent the next month turning over every single rock and looking behind every door and seeking out every disgruntled State Department or DoD employee to find out those things we are only learning about now? That the President didn’t communicate with his Secretary of Defense for more than 7 hours? That Hillary Clinton had left Ambassador Stevens and the rest of the Americans to fend for themselves on the anniversary of 9/11. That during the entire eight hour attack not a single asset was sent to Libya to help. Not one.

Had the Benghazi debacle occurred two months before an election on the watch of any Republican president the mainstream media reaction would have made Watergate look like a high school cheating scandal by comparison. Fresh from the memory of handing the House to Democrats with their dogged pursuit of the Mark Foley “scandal” a mere six years earlier, the prospect of keeping the White House in Democratic hands would have been too much to ignore.

But of course the White House wasn’t in GOP hands, but rather in the hands of Barack Obama, the progressive Messiah. As such, other than Jake Tapper at ABC News, the story barely warranted mention other than to demonstrate that the Republicans were seeking to make a political mountain out of a tragic but unavoidable molehill. And don’t forget Candy Crowley actually running interference for the president during the debate

The Constitution specifically protects the press because the Founding Fathers understood that to protect the Republic it was absolutely necessary for an unfettered press to have the freedom to pillory government actors for their misdeeds, otherwise it’s unlikely that government would ever be accountable to the citizenry. Unfortunately however that freedom can’t demand that a sycophantic press actually do their jobs when it’s one of their comrades in the White House. In that case it’s a little like an amendment saying 8 year olds must be allowed to eat spinach. It protects their right to do something they have no desire to do in the first place. Unfortunately for us, in this case the media’s adversity to spinach has ended up dealing a body blow to the country by inflicting another four years of Barack Obama on it. If we’re lucky maybe Popeye will decide to become a journalist during the next election. Even a fictional cartoon character would do a better job than the current crop of administration cheerleaders passing themselves off as journalists.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Greedy, racist sons of bitches who want children to starve, grandma to die and women to be kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen where they belong... Why I'm a Conservative

Republicans in general, and conservatives in particular, are constantly demonized in the media as greedy, ruthless, heartless, racist sons of bitches who want children to starve, grandma to die and women to be kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen where they belong.

That makes for great copy, but it’s about as far from the truth as you can get. While it might be possible to find someone who actually fits that caricature, in reality conservatives are generally just the opposite.

Why I’m a conservative.

Why am I a conservative? For the simple reason that I am an eternal optimist. I believe that mankind is capable spectacular things… both good and bad, but mostly good. I believe that man has within his reach the ability to solve almost any problem that we can imagine, if given the freedom to do so.

Optimism however is not enough to understand why I am a conservative. I am a conservative because I fundamentally believe in the US Constitution and the intent of its framers. Today, 225 years after the Constitution was written we still have what is the single most powerful document ever written by men. Why? Because it provides the best framework yet constructed to provide citizens with the sustainable freedom that is necessary for progress and prosperity.

I’m not conservative because I hate black or brown or gay people. Or women. Just the opposite. I’m conservative because I believe everyone is equal and that no one should get special treatment simply because they belong to a particular group. Laws that seek to target (or protect) particular groups rarely work according to plan. Take the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was begun in 1969 to ensure that 155 rich people who had paid zero taxes in 1967 would have to pay something. Not surprisingly the law’s impact expanded rapidly and today more than 20 million citizens are impacted by the AMT. The government’s record on affirmative action is similarly precise. Treating citizens differently based on arbitrary categories is rarely a recipe for success.

I’m not conservative because I’m greedy and don’t want to share with others. On the contrary. I’m conservative because I believe everyone should have the same opportunity to achieve success. And this is particularly important because the path to success rarely comes through government. Education, healthcare and poverty programs are the three areas of our economy in which government plays the heaviest role. All three could be charitably characterized as inefficient and expensive, but more realistically classified as abysmal failures. The conservative position that government should get out of the education, healthcare and poverty business is not to suggest those are issues that don’t need attention. They do, but the attention should come from organizations closest to the problem and best able to solve it. That might be private companies, community foundations or sometimes even statehouses. Rarely is Washington the correct answer to any problem.

I’m not a conservative because I want companies to be able to work their employees to the bone and pay them a pittance. Actually, conservatives believe in a free market because they understand that free markets are the best way for investors, consumers and yes, employees, to flourish. Three decades ago IBM was set to take over the world. It didn’t… and not because of anything the government did, but rather because of Microsoft, Intel and the PC. Investors got rich, consumers got inexpensive computers and millions of employees got good paying jobs. A decade ago if you had a mobile phone, odds are it was made by Nokia or Motorola. Today Nokia is barely alive and the shadow of Motorola is now owned by Google. Neither came plummeting to earth because of anything the government did, but rather because Apple changed the world. In the process Apple stockholders got rich, consumers got unprecedented computing power at their fingertips and millions of employees across the nation and around the world got good paying jobs. The way for workers to find their fortune, or at least increase their earning power, is not by government intervention or even government sanctioned union thuggery, but rather by honing the skills and acquiring the tools that employers value. Whether those include basic literacy, a knack for app coding, arc welding experience, punctuality, a nursing degree or any of thousands of other characteristics, by increasing their value to potential employers, workers will not have to look to the government or unions to help them find success. Whether someone wants to see their name on the Forbes 400 or simply to work hard and provide for their family, conservatives recognize that when allowed to harness their genius to meet market demands, people of all backgrounds can achieve, and can do so spectacularly. Not sure? How about Oprah Winfrey, Daymond John, Sara Blakely, Ursula Burns, Michael Oher, George Lopez and countless others.

Which brings me back to optimism. Conservatives generally see that there is great potential in their fellow citizens. They also recognize that government has a way of stifling that potential. Whether it’s through a tax code as thick as an encyclopedia, using regulation to stifle small businesses at the behest of big business benefactors, pouring billions of dollars into businesses that deserve to go bankrupt, or redistributing trillions of dollars into pork barrel projects and counterproductive social programs, government inserts its judgments for those of citizens who are actually out in the world living their lives. With ever more frequency our government does what governments always do, it seeks to centralize power. And for each inch of power the government usurps, miles of prosperity are never realized as bureaucrats have little understanding or appreciation for what makes free markets work and why individual responsibility is so empowering. The result is that millions of people who might otherwise draw upon the gifts God gave them to help contribute to the prosperity of a nation find themselves trapped in the quicksand of government largesse and dependency.

Conservatives are often accused of hating all government. That is absolutely false. Conservatives, like the Founding Fathers, understand that a government is essential to maintaining a free society. The reason for the mischaracterization is simple… government today does far more than it was ever intended to do, or is qualified to do, which gives conservatives much to object to. When the Titanic was setting sail from Southampton on April 10th, a party atmosphere pervaded both her deck and the dock from which she was sailing. On April 15th the unsinkable ship was sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. She and the 1,500 people who perished in the freezing water could have used a chorus of discordant voices shouting that there was trouble on the horizon. Just as the Titanic was not “unsinkable”, neither is our Republic. Conservative voices may sound dour, antagonistic or even shrill at times, but that is simply because they recognize the greatness of the Constitutional gift we have been bequeathed, the fragile state in which it stands today and the danger posed by those who continue to undermine its grace. In the face of such danger silence is simply not an option.

For better or worse, that’s why I’m a conservative…