Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why Obama Failed At The Health Summit

After seven and a half hours and 60,000 words expended, the health care summit ended in a defeat for Barack Obama and the Democrats. How do I know that? Because the MSM has chosen to ignore the event, rather than trumpet it as Obama’s victory. That’s standard MSM practice when the Democrats lose. In fact, the only Democrat I’ve found that’s seriously calling it a victory is Time’s Joe Klein, and his article almost strikes me as parody. . . or he’s high. So why did Obama fail?

1. Pre-Summit Sabotage. Obama sabotaged himself before the summit even began. When he suddenly announced an extremely partisan plan -- much further left than what the Republicans and Democrats had already been arguing over -- he guaranteed the negotiations would go nowhere. The intent was to excite his base. But a funny thing happened on the way to rally. . .

First, the Republicans very intelligently kept their cards to themselves. They attacked Obama’s proposal, but they didn’t offer their own proposal. This gave the media nothing to attack. With the only story being a discussion of Obama’s proposal, which the media couldn’t discuss without angering the public, the only story left was that this summit would be a waste of time because the Republicans would never agree. This, in turn, alerted the otherwise-blind left that Obama’s proposal was nothing more than posturing. Thus, the target audience, leftist activists, just shrugged this off.

2. The Great Underestimator. If there is one thing Obama has shown consistently, it is that he has no ability to judge how others will react. From the Chinese to the Hondurans to the Republicans to the Tea Party public, Obama has never once managed to grasp that people would disagree with him. And, consequently, he’s never once managed prepare himself to deal with resistance. In this case, he misread the Republican position from the get go and he had no idea how to deal with a Republican Party that had no intention of (a) looking obstructionist and (b) playing the role of whipping boy.

3. Obama The Unprepared. When the Republicans showed up prepared to lay out their case against Obamacare, it quickly became clear that Obama was overmatched. Despite spending a year dealing with the health care issue that he started, it was obvious that he has no grasp of the facts.

For example, when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis), who has been a heavy thinker on health care, pointed out that:
• “The bill has 10 years of tax increases, about half a trillion dollars, with 10 years of Medicare cuts, about half a trillion dollars, to pay for six years of spending. . . [and has a] true 10-year cost [of] $2.3 trillion."

• “The bill takes $52 billion in higher Social Security tax revenues and counts them as offsets. But that's really reserved for Social Security. So either we're double-counting them or we don't intend on paying those Social Security benefits.”

• “The Chief Actuary of Medicare [testified] that as much as 20% of Medicare providers will either go out of business or have to stop seeing Medicare beneficiaries [if this bill passes.]”
Obama had no response. . . nothing. Ryan also compared this plan to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. His presentation is well worth watching. Not coincidentally, Republicans are repeating his points all over television now.

When Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va) tried to discuss the 2,400 page Democratic bill, Obama could only respond by calling it a prop and incredibly implying that this bill was a roadblock: “[Bringing that bill], these are the kinds of political things we do that prevent us from actually having a conversation.” Nancy Pelosi must be spinning in her grave.

These are not the responses of a man who grasps the facts. These are the responses of a man who assumed he could wing it.

Even his winged-Democratic monkeys were unprepared. Indeed, reading the transcript of the meeting, I found little evidence that they were present. And when they did speak, they seemed to think that telling stories of individuals who suffered without health insurance would carry the day. But this meeting wasn’t about whether to reform the system, it was about how to reform the system. Thus, they had nothing of value to add.

4. Obama The Bad Sport. If there is one thing Americans do not like, it is a bad sport. . . and that was Obama. He whined about props, he tried to pass the buck, and, worst of all, he announced himself above the rules: “I’m the President, the time I speak doesn’t count.” (paraphrase). Do not underestimate how poorly such statements play to the public. These are the moments people remember from the likes of Richard Nixon and others who have declared themselves above the law.

5. Obama Doesn’t “Get It”. Obama has given the Democrats six weeks to gather the votes they need for reconciliation. How stupid is this? Unbelievably stupid. It is impossible to see the polls and not to understand that Obama/Pelosi/Reidcare is deeply, deeply unpopular in the country. Their attempts to pass this plan cost the Democrats Ted Kennedy’s seat, and they’ve endangered perhaps 80% of sitting Democrats.

So what should Obama do? There are proven political strategies for dealing with such resistance. But the one thing you never do is to keep picking at the scab. You don’t keep bringing the issue up day after day, dragging it out right into election season. All that does is keep the issue fresh, and the public upset and angry. Moreover, this creates a no-win situation. If you pass it, the public hates you. If you fail, then you’re a loser and you’ve roused the public’s suspicion for trying. The best strategy is to find a quick substitute, pass it, and declare victory. But Obama has unwisely chosen to prolong the pain another six weeks and then watch it fail.

And fail it will. I have always maintained that they can’t get this through the House, and I still see nothing that has changed my mind. Indeed, there are already quotes coming from House members about wanting a second chance to vote NO on this turkey to save their political careers: "People who voted YES would love a second bite at the apple to vote NO this time, because they went home and got an unpleasant experience. On the other hand, I don't know anybody who voted NO who regrets it," said Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Penn).

Plus, take a gander at this math. Pelosi passed PelosiCare with 220 votes (she needed 217). The sole Republican YES is now a NO. One Democratic YES died, and two others have resigned. That reduces the YES camp to 216. . . one short. Not to mention they never solved the abortion, illegal alien, funding or lack-of-public-option problems.

6. Finally, to borrow a quote from former Arizona Cardinal’s Coach Dennis Green: “Obama is who we thought he was.” At least, he’s the guy I thought he was. During the election when the left was drinking Kool-Aid and having messianic visions, and the right was terrifying itself about Saul Alinsky’s corpse, I took a look at Obama himself and I realized that I’d seen him before. . . I’d seen him in so many unaccomplished young attorneys who had no idea what they didn’t know and didn’t have the sense to shut up and learn: arrogance and ignorance is a deadly combination.

What tipped me off was Obama’s contention that he could solve any problem if only he was given the chance to meet with the other side, combined with his inability to tell you exactly how he planned to it. In his mind, his powers of persuasion are all the preparation he needs. Then China flipped him the bird. . . and the Republicans. . . and the Hondurans. . . and the Iranians. . . and the Russian. But each of these involved meetings we never got to see. Now we got to watch Obama’s silver tongue in action, and it showed exactly what I expected -- a man who knows nothing about persuasion, a man who has no idea how much work it takes to conduct a successful negotiation, a man who is neither articulate nor likeable, a man who doesn’t understand how little he knows or that everyone else in the room is on to him.

And that grasshopper, is why you failed.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CPAC: Libertarians v. Religious Right

CPAC was much more interesting this year than usual. Not only did it signal the start of the Presidential race, but it signaled an interesting shift in conservative thinking, one which bodes very well for conservatives recapturing the majority of the public. It was also a change that has upset Mike Huckabee -- and he’s very wrong on this.

In the past, CPAC has largely been dominated by social conservatives. This year, that changed. This year, CPAC was co-sponsored by a gay group called GOProud. Moreover, the conference was heavily attended by libertarian-leaning conservatives, as evidenced by Ron Paul winning the straw poll rather handily.

This is a good thing. Conservative philosophy is about freedom of the individual and limited government interference in our lives. That’s why principled libertarian thinking fits so well into the conservative movement. They are a natural fit, and their return can only make the movement stronger.

Indeed, the return of a strong libertarian element to the conservative movement, and by extension the Republican Party, will help to impose the real change that is needed in the Republican Party -- a principled opposition to the continued expansion of government.

One of the problems with the Republicans over the past decade has been that they have not been opposed to the expansion of government. Yes, they opposed the expansion sought by the Democrats. But then they would turn right around and try to expand the government themselves. Indeed, it became so bad that the only way to tell a Democrat from a Republican was by looking at the direction in which they were trying to expand the government. Bush was a big proponent of this with his “compassionate conservatism,” which translated roughly into big government working to achieve social conservative and big business goals.

The reintroduction of libertarianism should help put a stop to that kind of thinking and should better align the Republican Party (and the conservative movement) with those 60% of Americans who consistently claim to share conservative beliefs, but who will not identify themselves as conservatives because they view the brand as tainted by its recent advocacy of government intervention.

And that brings us to Mike Huckabee and the Religious Right. Now before everybody gets upset, let me point out a few things. First, having a strong moral grounding is certainly a big part of conservative thinking, and there is nothing inconsistent with being conservative and wanting to see our government act in a moral and ethical manner. Nor could you argue that a belief in God is inconsistent with being conservative. Nor is there anything about conservatism that requires one to believe that the government should blindly ignore morality or religion. BUT.....

The vast majority of conservatives reconcile their belief in God and morality with their belief in individual freedom by understanding that the government should guarantee individual freedoms and should not be a tool for imposing personal views on others. A true conservative thinker would not want the government to push their religious beliefs on others any more than they would want the government imposing another’s beliefs upon them. Not only is this bad for society, but it is bad for religion (see e.g. Europe or the Middle East).

That is why libertarian thinking and social conservative thinking should, with rare exceptions, actually fit together quite nicely. If both respect the principle that the government should not get into the business of imposing beliefs, then everything should be harmonious between the two groups. It’s only where either group violates this principle that the problems arise.

For example, on the religious side, public education should not teach religious doctrine. Nor should the government fund church activities -- though it should not discriminate against religious groups either by, for example, allowing a group like ACORN to receive federal contracts to do community work but excluding a similar Catholic group. Nor should the government be involved in regulating (or criminalizing) “bedroom issues.” It’s just not anyone’s business. You have the right to speak and to persuade, you do not have the right to use government force to require compliance.

On the libertarian side, libertarians must tighten up their thinking and understand that libertarian does not mean libertine (“anything goes”). The relevant question is "will government force be applied" not "does somebody want it." For example, as I pointed out before the advocacy of gay marriage that many libertarians have undertaken is actually inconsistent with libertarian principle because it requires imposing the beliefs of gay advocates onto religious people. Moreover, libertarian thinking does not mean anarchical thinking (“no government”). For example, libertarians are wrong about legalization of drugs, though the reasons will need to wait for an upcoming post. The fact of the matter is that for society to function, some level of regulation is required, and laws, by their very nature, are based on moral judgments.

Both groups are vital to the conservative movement. And if both groups respect this boundary of respecting individual rights, then they should be able to form a powerful partnership that will finally bring together that 60% of Americans that we just haven’t been able to connect with.

But, disturbingly, listen to Mike Huckabee when he was asked why he didn’t attend CPAC, as he has done repeatedly in the past: “CPAC has become increasingly more libertarian and less Republican over the last years, one of the reasons I didn’t go this year.”

Therein lies the problem. Mr. Huckabee and others like him (several leaders of the Religious Right became almost hysterical when they learned that GOProud was a co-sponsor) need to learn to respect libertarian thinking and views. Libertarians are not out-of-line with conservative thinking, it is Mr. Huckabee who is out of line with conservative principles. Indeed, as you may recall from my prior article about his pardons, Huckabee has already demonstrated that he has a dangerous, unprincipled belief that his own personal beliefs are superior to the rule of law. That’s not conservative thinking. That is, in fact, the worst kind of far-left thinking.

Unfortunately, implicit in Huckabee’s dismissal of libertarians is more proof that he is not comfortable with individual rights, that he prefers a government that imposes favored views. This is not conservative thinking. This is the kind of thinking that created the recent RINO problem and discredited the brand. This is the kind of thinking that needs to be excised from the movement.

I encourage Mr. Huckabee and others to meet with the libertarians, to learn from them, and to come to an accord. If not, do not ask for my support any time soon.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

ObamaCare Takes Hard Left Turn

This morning President Obama unveiled a new version of ObamaCare. If you believe the MSM, the reason was a last ditch effort to save health care reform and to get the public’s support for his “negotiations” (read: trap) with the Republicans on health care. Not quite. This bill is an attempt to energize the left, and it takes a disturbingly hard left turn. . . one that deserves the dreaded "S" word.

Let’s start by pointing out that nothing the Congressional Democrats have done with health care could be called “center,” “center right,” or even “center left.” Their plans have involved pure, old-fashioned liberalism: direct government participation in the market, massive regulation of private enterprise, forced participation by the public, unaffordable promises of subsidies, a one-size-fits-all plan for the little people, and soaking the rich and evil corporations to pay for this healthtopia.

Let’s also point out that during this entire debate, Obama remained conspicuously silent. Even his speech to save health care was vague and noncommittal. The reason for this was not, as the MSM would have it, to avoid Bill Clinton’s mistake of being too forceful. The reason was that Team Obama simply didn’t have a plan. Indeed, to this day, they still have no ideas. They have wants. . . a wishlist, but they have no idea how to implement those wishes. Thus, rather than expose their inadequacies, they deferred to Congress -- creating a royal mess. In fact, Obama’s refusal to referee disputes between Democrats was the key factor in creating the chaos that ensued (even the MSM is starting to catch on to this).

So what’s changed? Why ObamaCare 2.0?

Obama needed to reconnect with his hard left flank. They are furious that they’ve gotten nothing from him and his Democratic super-majorities, and they now lay the blame at his doorstep. Unless he can change this and inspire them, they will sit out the next two elections and the Democrats will get slaughtered. Hence, ObamaCare 2.0.

What Obama has done in this version 2.0 is take the Senate bill and add a few panderings to placate his left flank. Here are some of the new provisions that should worry you:
• The prior versions prevented insurance companies from rejecting people for pre-existing conditions, but they didn’t control what the insurers could charge for such policies. This version does. In fact, this version would prohibit insurers from charging more for pre-existing conditions period. In other words, the guy who needs the heart and lung transplant pays the same as the healthy 20 year old.

• This version all but eliminates the tax on Cadillac plans, to placate the unions. Why is that bad (beside the pure politics of it?). Well, to make up the missing tax revenue, this bill (1) increases the payroll tax on "the rich" (read: "the employed") AND (2) it changes the way Medicare taxes are determined -- they would now be based on your total income (including investment income, interest, rents, etc.) rather than being merely a payroll tax. . . so much for encouraging savings, and (3) an increase in the capital gains tax. All of these are direct job killers.

Of course, on the plus side, everyone will now have to file taxes and that’s a good thing because it eliminates the something-for-nothing mentality created when 40% of people were taken off the tax rolls.

• Finally, and most importantly, it would give the federal government the power to regulate the health insurance industry like a public utility, meaning a board of seven HHS employees would be able to (1) block premium increases, (2) set premium rates, and (3) demand rebates for consumers.

That’s called “price control” and it didn’t work for Richard Nixon and it didn’t work for the Soviets. So why is Obama channeling Nixon. . . or Brezhnev?
I do not use the word “socialism” lightly, as you’ve no doubt learned from reading this blog, but this is pure socialism. This moves so far beyond mere liberalism that it is shocking that an American President would suggest it. It is even more shocking, given the 100% failure rate of such policies in the past, that anyone with a brain would try this again.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Weekly Bidenism

After last week's stunning claim that Bush’s surge in Iraq would be Obama’s greatest policy achievement, Joe felt ready for the big leagues. So he took on Dick Cheney, the boogey man. He lost. But in his defense, he was sabotaged by. . . himself. Get ready for. . . The Weekly Bidenism.

You may or may not have heard that Dick Cheney accused the Obama administration of not taking terrorism seriously. Cheney had some reasons, though no one apparently told Joe what they were, because Joe’s defense was summed by Joe as such:
“I just think he’s wrong. He thinks I’m wrong. I think he’s wrong.”
Now that is one compelling argument. It’s logical, it’s laid out so anyone can see that Joe is right, and oh! the command of facts! I must admit, I’m almost convinced. If only Joe could give me one more reason to think that Cheney might be wrong. . . perhaps impugning Cheney’s motives? Let’s ask Joe:
“I’ve never questioned another man’s motive.”
Oh come Joe, pretty please?
“I mean, it’s almost like he forgot he left us a $1.3 trillion debt. There were two wars going on, one that was ignored, one was -- wasn’t going all that well.”
Thanks Joe, I knew you could come up with a reason that Cheney must be lying, he must be trying to cover up that horrible Bush record. . . wait a minute. What’s this about a $1.3 trillion debt? The debt under Bush was $9.9 trillion, the deficit was $200 billion. I wonder what Joe could be talking about? Maybe Joe was just angry when he said this -- Joe has admitted that, kind of like the Green Hulk, he exaggerates when he gets angry.

Oh wait, I know! He’s talking about the $1.3 trillion deficit (not debt) that Obama racked up last year (or maybe he means the $1.6 trillion deficit he’s planning for this year -- you never know with Joe)! So if a $1.3 trillion deficit discredits a man, then Joe has just discredited Obama. Nice Joe, truth suits you. . . you should try it more often.

And what’s this about one war being ignored and the other not going so well? Didn’t you tell us last week that Obama’s biggest achievement was Bush’s 2007 surge? How could Iraq not be going well? As for ignoring Afghanistan, I seem to recall one simple Senator from Delaware swearing that a surge wouldn’t work in Afghanistan. . . of course, that was before Obama implemented an Afghan surge.

But it wasn’t just Biden’s blasting of Obama/Cheney that caught my attention last week, no, no, no, no. What I found truly interesting was Joe’s attempt to assure us that Obama has made the country safe from terrorism. Let’s listen to Joe, as he soothes our fears:
“We have made more progress in dismantling the hierarchy of Al-Qaeda central [nah nah nah, we killed more bad guys than you did]. . . and evidence of that is, now they’re going to lone bombers as the means to get there [you mean like the suicide bombers they’ve used in every attack other than 9/11?]. … I'm more worried about, and harder to detect, and I'm very concerned about a terrorist attack in the United States along the lines of the 'Christmas Day bomber.' You get a disgruntled student, someone who has some relationship with the United States who is -- able to be recruited quickly, able to be indoctrinated quickly. And they say, basically, 'Here's a bomb. Go do it,' as opposed to the kind of planning that's needed to pull off -- a very complicated 9/11. Am I less worried about an attack? No, I'm worried. Am I less worried about a catastrophic event? Yes.”
Because planes blowing up is not a “catastrophic event” unless there are several at once? And did Joe just say that by succeeding against Al Qaeda, Team Obama has made them more dangerous? And is it really smart for Joe to assure us that this administration is on top of the terror issue by telling us how worried he is about this “new” (read: ancient) threat of single bombers? Maybe we should avoid planes and other public transport, just as he suggested during the swine flu faux-crisis:
"I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now… When one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, (be) suggesting they ride the subway."
Ah Joe, you make scaremongering an art form, even when you aren’t trying.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Immigration: Abuse of the Guest Worker System

I’ll talk more extensively about immigration in a future post as part of my Rebuilding the Republican Party series. But today I want to talk about one aspect of it -- the H1 guest worker program. This is a program that makes a lot of sense and which we should support for a variety of reasons. But it’s being abused by big business, and that needs to stop.

The H1 program allows various industries to import workers under a temporary guest worker visa to handle jobs where there aren’t enough Americans willing or able to do those jobs. In practice, this program was aimed at Mexican farm labor. And, as a concept this makes a ton of sense. Here are the benefits:
1. American companies get the labor they need to do jobs that Americans simply won’t do. Farming is a perfect example because this is the kind of work that few Americans are willing to do anymore. The labor is back-breaking, the pay is poor, the hours are long, and few Americans live anywhere near where these farms are located.

2. To attract Americans to these farms would likely (not certainly, but likely) cost so much in wages that it would dramatically increase the price of food, particularly healthy foods like fruit and produce, to the point that it would become a hardship on American consumers and American health.

3. This protects American jobs as these farms would most likely have been forced out of business by lower cost producers in Mexico. This means that all of the associated industry that supplies these farms and moves their goods to market would disappear from our economy.

4. This program stabilizes the relationship between the United States and Mexico. By letting millions of Mexicans work legally in the United States, the chance of conflict between the two neighbors decreases dramatically -- unlike the situation where millions of Mexicans sneak across the border to work illegally, which generates tensions on both sides of the border.

5. This program allows the United States to keep track of these people, who apparently would have come here any ways and worked illegally. It also allows us to impose taxes, which can be used to pay for the social services these guest workers use while in the United States, and to limit the size of the “gray economy” -- which reduces crime.

6. It reduces illegal immigration. When we started cracking down on the border, it was discovered that our illegal immigration problem actually got worse. The reason was that when it was easier to cross the border, these workers would come to the United States to work during the growing season and would then return home. With the border “sealed,” the risk increased dramatically that these people could not get back into the United States the next growing season. Thus, they stayed here instead. . . and they snuck their families across the border. Apparently, whole villages in Mexico emptied out for this very reason.

7. This stabilizes an important neighbor by letting these workers move freely back and forth. Not only does this slowly improve the standard of living in Mexico, but these people are not dependent on criminal gangs to get them across the border.
These are significant benefits. They add to our economy, our security, and they improve the neighborhood. No Americans lose their jobs, consumers benefit, and an industry continues to survive in the United States that would otherwise vanish -- an industry that is relevant to our national security. So long as it is clear that this worker program is not a way to circumvent the immigration system, and so long as it is clear that anyone with a criminal record will be deported immediately and will be denied future permits, this system makes tremendous sense.

Sounds good so far.

But the program isn’t limited to farm labor. Indeed, any industry can apply for these permits. And that’s where the problems are arising. This program is meant to be only for jobs that Americans can’t or simply won’t fill. But several industries are instead using it as a way to get cheap labor.

For example, in 2007, at a time when most of the rust belt was already out of work, the industry that makes barges that travel the great lakes made an application under the H1 program to bring in large numbers of Vietnamese welders to Buffalo on the claim that they couldn’t find American welders to do these jobs. These jobs paid $90,000 according to the application. Are we really to believe that in the rust belt, there are no American welders who could handle this job or be trained to handle this job who would be willing to move to Buffalo for that kind of money?

Then I heard about the most shocking application. In 2007, investment bankers and market analysts roamed New York City, living high off very fat bonuses. By 2008, hundreds of thousands of these same people had been laid off in the financial crisis that sparked the Great Recession. But then the stock market turned around and each of the companies that laid off was suddenly looking to add more people. Enter the H1 application. That’s right. The financial/banking industry made an application for H1 permits on the basis that there simply weren’t enough bankers and analysts in the country to fill the jobs they needed. . . despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of them had just been laid off and remain unemployed. That’s bull.

This was a total abuse of the application process. These companies wanted to import cheaper workers from places like India with the idea that they could improve their profits by cutting their employee costs. Rather than hiring more expensive Americans, they simply wanted to import cheaper foreigners. This is not what the H1 process is about. It’s not about depressing American wages or helping companies improve their profitably. It’s about filling jobs that are necessary to the American economy but which the employers simply can’t fill with American workers or where American workers can’t be found at wages that allow the industry to survive. It’s not meant as a means for finding cheaper labor.

This is the type of behavior that exploits a valuable American program, that is abusive to American workers, that allows connected businesses to shift part of their costs onto taxpayers, and that generally reflects poorly upon free trade. Conservatives should not stand for this, nor should they support it.

So the next time you hear a lobbyist-connected politician of either party mention the H1 program, ask them to which jobs they think this program should apply.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Weekly Bidenism

With Dodger Joe Biden headed to Canada to woo vital Canadian voters for the Democratic Party, and his motorcade having their fourth accident in a year (why do they let him drive?), you’d think we wouldn’t have anything to write about. . . you’d be wrong. Because like rust, Joe’s mouth never sleeps, and this week, his mouth was talking about Iraq. Get ready for. . . The Weekly Bidenism.

This week, Prognosticator Joe went on Larry King to explain why things will look good for the Democrats in November. Apparently Joe thinks Obama’s “greatest achievement” will see them through. What is Obama’s greatest achievement? Iraq.
"I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. . . I've been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences."
That’s Obama’s “greatest achievement”? Ok, let’s look at the two things Biden says he’s achieved. First, bringing home the troops. As with the Nobel Prize, this isn’t an achievement yet, it’s a promise of an achievement. Those don’t count. Moreover, despite the claim that these troops would be home by the end of the summer, Joe later downgraded this certainty to “likely” on Sunday’s Meet the Press.

Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that this will leave around 60,000 troops in Iraq. Compare that to Obama’s original promise that he would remove ALL troops from Iraq by August 2010, and this “achievement” starts to sound a little fake. But hey, what’s 60,000 troops among friends!

At least Joe is right that Iraqis have put down their guns and are using the political process to settle their differences. Unless you count the daily bombings that continue to kill hundreds of Iraqis each month, including, for example, twin blasts on February 5 that killed 40 pilgrims, or the three explosions at Shiite shrines yesterday, or the fact that December was the deadliest month in Iraq in almost a year (on the worst day, December 8, 121 people were killed in a series of car bombs). But perhaps we are being too critical, after all, daily bombings are just part of the political process in every country, right?

What’s more interesting, is that Joe went on to claim that the Iraq war hasn’t been worth “it’s horrible price,” which he blames on the war being “mishandled from the outset” and on the United States taking “its eye off the ball” by invading Iraq instead of finishing the fight in Afghanistan. Does Joe have a point? I don’t know, let’s ask an expert:

The year was 1998 when Sen. Joe Biden first called for an invasion of Iraq. Said ChickenHawk Biden when U.N. inspectors told him they had no evidence that Saddam had WMDs:
"As long as Saddam’s at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction."

"The only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone."
But the evil President Clinton wouldn’t listen to Joe’s bellicose dreams. No, Joe would have to wait until after September 11, 2001 for his hopes to be fulfilled. With the run up to the war just starting, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden again called for war:
"One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power."
When others cautioned Joe that there was no actual proof that these “weapons” existed, Joe fired back:
"If we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late."
Added Joe about Saddam Hussein:
"[He is] a long term threat and a short term threat to our nation security [and an] extreme danger to the world."
When Joe was asked as late as 2007 if he stood by those comments, he said he did: “That’s right, and I was correct about that.”

Bellicose Joe then warned us that we must be prepared for the long term:
"I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur. We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after."
He then shepherded the war resolution through the Senate.

But that was before it became more popular to oppose the war. Soon, he and Obama were calling the war immoral, and they insisted that we never should have invaded in the first place. When others suggested the surge, Biden screamed that we should cut the country into three parts and run away. Indeed, Biden not only insisted that the surge “would fail,” he vehemently opposed it, assuring us the surge will “worsen sectarian violence.”

Of course, the surge worked, and Obama won the election. Suddenly, Biden was the surge’s biggest fan. And now he’s claiming that the effects of the 2007 surge are somehow Obama’s greatest achievement. Think about that. . . Obama’s greatest achievement was something Bush did in 2007.

You know what? Maybe for once, Biden’s right?

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Bye Bayh Bye

Today’s announcement of the retirement of Evan Bayh was a shocker. Although we told you a couple weeks ago that his seat wasn’t as safe as it first appeared, no one expected him to quit. This decision has sent shock waves through the Democratic Party and may signal the death of the Democratic Party.
Bayh’s Decision
Bayh won his senate seat in 1998 after serving as the governor of Indiana. He comes from an Indiana family dynasty, with his father serving three terms in the Senate from 1963 until 1981. He was considered a moderate and fairly popular in the state.

However, he also was never close to the senate leadership and he was not considered a team player. He made a failed run for the presidency in 2008 and has been passed over three times as a Vice Presidential nominee.

Until today, it was assumed by all that he would remain in the Senate for many years to come, where he had become an outspoken voice for moving the Democratic Party back from the brink of insanity and toward the center. Indeed, prior to this announcement, he had raised nearly $13 million for his re-election campaign and had already ordered television ads.

But trouble was looming. If you believe Bayh and the Democrats, polling shows Bayh with a significant lead over his opponents. Yet, if you will recall, we pointed out a couple weeks ago that Bayh was finding himself in a surprisingly close race. According to Rasmussen, Bayh would have lost to Congressman Mike Pence if he chose to run, and was only leading likely challenger former-Congressman John Hostettler by a 44% to 41% margin. As we noted, any incumbent with less than 50% support must be considered endangered.

Then, about a week ago, retired Senator Dan Coats decided that he would run against Bayh (unlike Rudy Giuliani who won’t run in New York. . . jerk). Despite the Democrats blasting Coats in a series of nasty advertisements, the writing was on the wall so Bayh suddenly discovered that he doesn’t like politics.
“My decision should not be interpreted for more than it is, a very difficult, deeply personal one. I am an executive at heart. I value my independence. I am not motivated by strident partisanship or ideology. . . . To put it in words I think most people can understand: I love working for the people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress.”
Now it’s been revealed that Bayh’s wife has made millions of dollars over the past couple years sitting on the boards of health care companies and evil insurance companies.
The Indiana Race
Unlike the retirement of Christopher Dodd, Bayh’s retirement will benefit the Republicans. Dodd, an unlikable man plagued by corruption scandals, had no chance of winning re-election. Connecticut, where he held his seat, was a far-left leaning state that would rather elect Hitler than a Republican. But Dodd, apparently, was worse than Hitler, so the people of Connecticut were preparing to toss him out. When he announced that he would step aside, the Connecticut Democratic Party simply inserted a generic Democrat in his place and suddenly their 20% loss in the polls turned into a 20% lead. Indiana is different.

First, Indiana is a rather conservative state. Bayh only managed to remain competitive in the state because he was a moderate Democrat with a strong family name and two popular stints as governor. With Bayh leaving the race, Indiana will have a tendency to shift to the right, not the left.

Moreover, the Democrats have no one of Bayh’s stature to replace Bayh. The likely replacement for Bayh will be either House Democrat Baron Hill or Brad Ellsworth. Both are considered moderates, though neither is in the popularity league of Bayh. Moreover, if Bayh’s surrender was motivated by an electorate that has turned against the Democrats, as it appears, then it won’t matter which Democrat they run.

Yet, by running either Hill or Ellsworth (Ellsworth is the establishment favorite), the Democrats also put their House seats at risk. Thus, look for the Republicans to have a distinct advantage now in the race for Bayh’s seat and look for them to pick up another House seat as a result of Bayh’s decision.
The Democratic Party Dies
Finally, we come to the real impact of this decision, which goes way beyond a single senate seat. Yes, from a technical perspective, this will improve the Republicans’ chances of retaking the senate, though mathematically that remains unlikely. But this decision has ripples far beyond simple senate math.

Bayh is one of the few moderates left in the Democratic Party. Most of these moderates are quitting during this election cycle. So far, this could be explained for one reason or another -- like the health care vote or scandal. But Bayh is the first who seemed to skate through the Democrats’ agenda without too much harm. That he is quitting foretells a potentially massive shift to the right by the electorate in 2010, where only Democrats in the most left-wing of districts and states will be safe. We will have to watch for more signs of this.

Interestingly, even Obama himself apparently tried to talk Bayh out of quitting, but Bayh refused.

And that takes us to the more important issue. The frustration shown by moderates like Bayh, who reached the point that he would willing give up his career, tells us just how poisonous the inner workings of the Democratic Party have become. Bayh’s retirement shows us that moderates no longer have a home in the Democratic Party.

The media loves to focus on in-fighting within the Republican Party but turns a blind eye to the absolute war going on in Democratic ranks. It’s a blood bath. With a leadership dominated by far-left whackos (not just ideologues, but crazy ideologues), with Rahm Emanuel’s “f*cking retard” activists promising to run ads against moderate Democrats, with the unions threatening to withhold their support unless they immediately get some union-a-topia, with Pelosi treating her moderates like cannon fodder, and with the party’s spokespeople slandering the American people on a daily basis, it’s become clear that the Democratic Party has drifted into a fantasy land of hatred and score-settling.

With the moderates abandoning the party rather than fighting for its soul, there is a serious chance that the Democrats will simply continue to wallow on the left no matter what happens. This means the Democratic Party will no longer be capable of obtaining anything near majority support, and it is likely to lose more and more seats in the coming elections until it is a rump party at best. Moreover, with the moderates leaving the party, there will be no one to pull them back from the brink for at least a generation.

That’s why Bayh’s announcement means so much more than one senate seat.

P.S. I apologize for any pain the NSYNC reference may have caused you.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Democrats Kill Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship means many things to many people. To some, it means trying to work together. To Obama it means the Republicans should accept the blame for his failures. To Harry Reid, it means killing any bill which the Republicans might like. So much for the new era of bipartisanship. Rest in peace dear friend, two days was too young to die.

When Obama met with the Republicans on Tuesday, his lips moved a lot and the word “bipartisan” kept falling out, but so did a lot of other nasty words. Still, we were supposed to believe that Obama wanted a new era of bipartisanship, and he particularly urged the Republicans to work with the Democrats on a jobs bill. But that was Tuesday and yesterday was Thursday, and two days is a long time in politics.

Thursday morning, Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Chuck Grassley unveiled their long-awaited bipartisan jobs bill. But within minutes, the Democratic Party’s left flank was up in arms.

“Waaaaaah, this includes tax cuts,” sort of whined Dianne Feinstein. Actually, what she said was:
“It is my belief that tax credits only go to people who are making money, and they generally keep it. That’s the way I feel, I don’t know that anyone else agrees with me.”
Wow, that’s stupid! Note the use of the word “feel” rather than “think,” indicating the disuse of her brain -- and the lack of any research. But then, she may know what she’s talking about. . . considering that she apparently uses her Senate seat to benefit her husband financially:
1. She served on the Senate’s Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, while companies owned by her husband won extensive government contracts (worth more than $1 billion) without competitive bidding -- the same procedure Barack promised to halt until he found out he could reward his own friends using this practice; and

2. She requested $25 billion in extra federal funding for the FDIC, which three days later granted a huge contract to a real estate company on whose board her husband sits to sell foreclosed homes for the FDIC.
But DiFi wasn’t alone. No, where there is one rich socialist howling at the moon, there are more. Enter Tom Harkin, a man who "mistakenly" claimed to fly combat missions over North Vietnam when he was really in Japan. Rich farm boy doesn’t like the bill either, it doesn’t extend unemployment benefits far enough. . . here piggy piggy.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (SBD for short), who did not take campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff while his committee was investigating Abramoff. . . but did take them from Abramoff clients (that’s called a “bag man” in the criminal parlance), worries that “this has morphed into something different than just a jobs bill.” Oh no! You mean it’s become a regular Democratic bill? Liars and spenders and bagman, oh my!

And there are more: Sherrod Brown, who flosses his teeth with his underwear, and Jay Rockefeller, who flosses his tooth with Brown’s underwear, don’t like the bill either.

Thus, confronted with a wave of socialist anger, Dingy Harry Reid killed the bill. But not only did he kill it, he killed it only a couple hours after it was introduced, without even a chance to fix the bill. This was considered a major rebuke to Max Baucus for his misjudgment in trying to work with the Republicans. What were you thinking Max? Don't you know that bipartisanship doesn’t mean actually working with the Republicans!! Don't make me go all Rahm Emanuel on you!

So there you have it. We now know exactly what the Democrats mean when they say “bipartisan.” They mean they would rather do nothing than do anything the Republicans might like. . . funny, that sounds like spite? Oh well. And I guess we also know what Obama’s appeals for bipartisanship mean to his party.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Obama’s Deficit: Threat To National Security

This one is important. A little bit of national debt is a good thing, believe it not. Millions of people depend on government borrowing as a safe investment. . . lots of little old ladies hold treasury bonds. But too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and we are way beyond bad. In fact, Obama’s deficit has gotten so large that it’s become a serious national security threat. Here’s why. . .
The Scope of the Problem
In May of 2007, Paul Weinstein of the Progressive Policy Institute wrote this about the Bush deficits:
“The current administration’s fiscal irresponsibility will compromise our nation’s prosperity and security for years to come unless the next president shows a commitment to restoring budgetary sanity.”
Weinstein had a point. By May 2007, Bush had turned a supposed surplus into a deficit of around $200 billion a year (the Democratic Congress would jack this up to $400 billion in 2008). Because of Bush’s spending, he would add nearly $2.5 trillion to the national debt during his eight years. But compared to Obama, Bush was a tightwad (see chart right).

In the first budget that was truly his, Obama proposes a deficit of $1.75 trillion!! Eight times Bush’s deficits! His long term projections show him adding nearly $7.5 trillion to the national debt if he lasts eight year -- and that “low” number relies on laughably phony projections of growth. Where is Mr. Weinstein now?

Obama’s deficits are so large that they’ve become a national security threat. They make us vulnerable to our enemies, they threaten our ability to recover from disaster, and they threaten our economy.
At The Mercy Of Our Enemies
Debt is not as big of a concern as the deficit. Once we borrow the money, the power really belong to us, because we have the ability to either default or to inflate our way out of the debt. Neither idea is a good one, but they do afford us a good deal of power over the lenders. Deficits are different.

Because we are running a deficit, we need to keep borrowing money to afford our government. That means that every couple of weeks, the Treasury goes into the market and sells bonds. Most of these bonds are bought by foreign governments, particularly China. If they decided to stop buying our debt, our government would suddenly find itself without the money it needs.

How bad is this problem? Under Bush, we were borrowing $200 billion a year. If we assumed that every foreign government stopped buying our debt because they saw an advantage in it, the government would have come up $200 billion short. . . about the yearly cost of the Afghan war. In other words, by working together, foreign governments could have cut off our funding for the Afghan war. To make that up, we would need to raise taxes or cut spending out of the budget. This would have been a problem, but not a disaster.

But Obama’s deficit is $1.75 trillion. This is a disaster waiting to happen. That deficit represents 45% of the budget! That means that if China et al. stopped buying our debt, we would need to cut 45% from our budget!

Only 57% of our budget is discretionary, meaning the rest consists of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security and mandatory payments like interest on the debt. To cut 45% from our budget would mean that we would need to cut all discretionary spending by 79%!! In other words, we would need to cut 79% out of the defense budget, 79% out of the FBI budget, 79% out of the INS budget, 79% out of the budget for education, roads, homeland security, transportation, medicine, environmental enforcement, parks, etc.

The chaos would likely cause our government to collapse. Thank you Mr. Obama and Madame Pelosi.

And for those of you who think this can’t happen, China sat out one auction last year in response to Obama Administration criticism and caused a near panic. Recently, the Chinese Army argued publicly that China should not only stopping their purchases of US bonds, but should also dump the bonds they already hold . . . right after Obama announced an arms sale to Taiwan.

But even if this didn’t happen, the mere threat that it could happen is enough to let China dictate our foreign policy behavior. Suddenly, because of the Democrats, our threats have become empty threats, our ability to defend our friends worthless, and our independence suspect.
At The Mercy of Mother Nature
But even without our enemies trying to choke off our government, Obama’s deficits have created another significant vulnerability. This was exposed by the Haiti disaster. Haiti is a worthless pit. If the whole country was destroyed, it could probably be rebuilt with the spare change found in all of the couches in the Congressional office building. An American city could not.

If another Katrina happened today, particularly to a larger or more important city, or a larger 9/11, it is no longer clear that the United States government has the financial ability to rebuild. Indeed, as you witnessed from the health care debate, the Democrats went into a panic over finding an extra $100 billion dollars to spread over ten years. . . that’s $10 billion a year. The estimated cost of Katrina to the federal government (at the time) was $200 billion. Afghanistan costs $180 billion a year. The total economic harm of 9/11 was estimated at $2 trillion.

If we are worried about $10 billion a year for health care, how confident are we that our nearly bankrupt government could respond to another disaster?
At The Mercy of Creditors
Finally, we come to the hidden disaster waiting to happen. This one is extreme, but people don’t pay attention to it because it sounds esoteric. When Obama announced his deficit, the credit rating agencies immediately announced that these deficit would destroy the United States’ AAA rating if the deficits continued (as Obama projects them to do). They then promptly shaded our rating below that of Canada and France.

So what you ask? Ok, here goes:
Step 1. If the credit rating falls, our cost of borrowing skyrockets. Right now the United States spends $255 billion a year in interest (that’s 1.5 Afghanistan wars). That’s based on borrowing costs of 1-2% for short term loans and 7% on long term loans. If our credit rating falls, the cost of borrowing increases. Suddenly, we could be paying 7-10% on short term debt and 20% on long terms debt. Suppose our short term rate goes up to 4%. That means our interest costs suddenly increase to $500 billion a year -- or the amount we spend on Medicare. If our interest rate increase to 6%, that will cost us $750 billion a year, or what we spend on defense. If our interest rate increases to 8%, that will cost us $1 trillion a year, or 26% of our entire budget. . . or 46% of our non-borrowed budget. Think about that.

Step 2. A drop in credit rating would be the end for the dollar as a reserve currency. That means other countries would stop hedging their currencies in dollars. This means a further depression of the dollar. Thus, that BMW that might cost you $72,000 today could cost you $172,000 tomorrow.

Step 3. The loss of reserve currency status also means that we lose the discount we’ve been getting from our creditors -- they pay us less than they should to buy our debt because of the supposed safety that the dollar provides. This means our cost of borrowing could go up another couple percentage point. Suddenly, we’re looking at $1.5 trillion in borrowing costs. . . that’s 68% of our non-borrowed budget!

Step 4. As the government’s spending costs increase so do yours because all loans are based on the government’s cost of borrowing plus some risk premium. That house you wanted to buy? Your next mortgage could cost you 17%.

Step 5. As interest rates shoot up, a downward spiral begins. The cost of borrowing causes a vast number of businesses to stop borrowing or to fail outright. The economic effect is disastrous. Moreover, the crashing economy means a tax revenue shortfall, which means more borrowing, which means higher interest rates. It’s a vicious circle. Welcome inflation, welcome Great Depression redux, welcome Germany 1930 or South America 1970.
Thank you Mr. Obama and Madame Pelosi.

This is why Obama’s deficit has become a national security emergency. This is why we need to stop spending immediately. Obama, Pelosi and the Democrats have literally put our country on the brink of disaster.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Obama’s False Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship (n.) -- Word used by failing politicians to shift blame to the other side.

Obama is in trouble. His agenda is dead, killed by his own arrogance and stupidity, and the excesses of leftist Democrats. Now he needs to change the terms of the debate. His strategy, as I first noted the other day, is to shift blame to the Republicans by accusing them of a lack of bipartisanship. Let’s look at his faux “bipartisanship.”
Obama: Can’t We All Just Get Along
When Obama came to town, he told Republicans simply: “I won.” He then ignored every one of their concerns as he and his supermajority of Democrats set about creating a massive left wing legacy. But something went wrong on the way to the Politburo, the voters rose and up and the Democrats got shaky knees. Before it was over, Obama achieved nothing but falling poll numbers. . . numbers which hit a new low again this week.

By the time of the State of the Union, a speech which was supposed to be a victory lap for health care, Obama had gone from “I won” to calling for bipartisanship, begging that Democrats and Republicans forge “a sense of purpose that transcends petty politics.” But was he serious or was this just a political ploy to shift blame to the Republicans?
Obama: Nah Nah Nah, I’m Not Listening
On Tuesday, Obama summoned Democrats and Republicans to talk up his plans for bipartisanship. He began the meeting by whining that his administration isn’t getting enough credit for what it’s done to improve the economy. This, of course, begs the question: is he talking about the eight million lost jobs or the nearly two trillion dollar deficit that is so large it’s become a national security threat?

He then accused the Republicans of “want[ing] to kill” his agenda.

After that highly partisan start by Obama, Sen. Mitch McConnell said that they could work with Obama in various areas, including trade, offshore drilling and expanding nuclear production and clean coal technology -- all things Obama mentioned in his State of the Union. Obama wasn’t interested.

Rep. John Boehner then pledged that Republicans would support Obama if he used his authority to rescind spending measures, to help reduce the deficit. Obama wasn’t interested. Instead, he attacked McConnell for not supporting Obama’s attempt to create a “bipartisan debt-reduction commission.” Ignoring their concerns that creating such a panel will push off any debt reduction measures until after the election, Obama demanded that they appoint member to a debt commission he plans to create by executive order (without first providing them with any details about the commission), or he would appoint the members himself.

The Republicans also said they could work with Obama on a bipartisan jobs bill, so long as it didn’t become too costly and it didn’t just become another stimulus bill. Said McConnell, “We know that wasn’t a job generator.” But Pelosi immediately put out word that she would not support the only job generating portion of the bill, a $5,000 tax credit for businesses to hire new workers. . . though she would support more green spending (perhaps, spending that helps the price of her CLNE stock stock?). Several Democrats also stated their opposition to any agreement on trade.
Obama Attacks
Immediately following this one-way bipartisan meeting, Obama held an impromptu press conference -- his first in months. Obama appeared right after Robert Gibbs mocked Sarah Palin for using crib notes by writing “eggs, milk, bread, hope and change” on his palm. Obama (Mr. Can’t-Speak-Without-A-Teleprompter) took the podium and declared “I want a substantive discussion. . . The people who sent us here expect a seriousness of purpose that transcends petty politics.” I guess Gibbs didn’t get the memo?

The new bipartisan Obama then blasted the Republicans. He said that he’s seen few signs the Republicans are willing to support any of his policy initiatives:
“Bipartisanship cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for and we do those things, and then we have bipartisanship. That’s not how it works in any realm of life.”
He then singled out Mitch McConnell and accused him of only paying lip service to bipartisanship:
“Mitch McConnell said something very nice in the meeting about how he supports our goals on nuclear energy and clean coal technology and offshore drilling to increase oil production. Well, of course he likes that — that’s part of the Republican agenda for energy.”
So apparently, bipartisanship as Obama defines it is Republicans giving up everything they believe in? Also, if Obama supports those goals too, as he claims, why not pass them . . . other than spite? Obama then blasted the Republicans for failing to act on his nominees (keep in mind that the Democrats control the Senate calendar). He then threatened to fill these appointments by recess appointments if they aren’t confirmed (something the left called unconstitutional when Bush did it).
Other Partisan Attacks Are Made
As Obama blasted the Republicans and Gibbs mocked Sarah Palin, White House counterterrorism aide John Brennan made a series of vile attacks against the Republicans on the issue of terror. You might recall Brennan as the idiot who can’t answer why Islamic terrorists want to kill us. In an op-ed published on the same day as Obama's (bi)partisan soirĂ©e, Brennan accused Republicans of “misrepresenting the facts to score political points” about panty-bomber Umar Abdulmutallab. He added that this “politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of Al Qaeda.” As if he knew what those goals were.

But Brennan isn’t the only demonizer on staff. Obama has done it himself since his calls for bipartisanship. Last week, two “moderate” Democrats in danger of losing their seats told Obama that he needs to reassess his agenda. Sen. Blanche Lincoln told Obama that he needs to “push back on our own party and look for that common ground that we need to work with Republicans.” Sen. Evan Bayh told Obama that the Democratic Party needs to show that it can be trusted to bring down the deficit and control spending. Obama’s response? He attacked the Republicans, accusing them of causing the 2008 financial break down “to make sure that we continue the tax breaks for wealthiest Americans.”
The Republicans Aren’t Fooled
Fortunately, the Republicans are getting it. Noted Minority Leader John Boehner: “It’s not hard to figure out that there’s some kind of shell game going on here. I know bipartisanship when I see it, and it’s not saying one thing and doing another.”

They also expressed concerns about his health care conference because of his unwillingness to start from scratch, rather than continuing with his existing bill. Said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, “We’re not interested in a dog and pony show to trumpet failed bills that, in fact, the Democrats can’t even pass right now.” And Republicans appear to be sticking to their guns in demanding a fresh start on this.

They also pointed out that Obama’s talk is not consistent with his actions. For example, while he talked about moving forward on nuclear power, two days later he cut all funding for Yucca Mountain, a necessary storage site if nuclear power is to be extended, and he pushed back any alternative decision by creating a blue-ribbon panel to study nuclear energy and waste storage. . . effectively delaying any decision by at least two years. Said Sen. Jim DeMint: “It’s hard to take him seriously -- let’s push nuclear energy at the same time he makes it impossible to deal with the waste. What we’re losing now is just the ability to trust what he said.”

Finally, they noted that despite his claim in his State of the Union that he would “make tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development,” Obama’s budget tells a different story; it indicates that Obama has no intention of expanding oil production.

Obama’s demand for bipartisanship is proving to be exactly what it appeared to be during the State of the Union, just another disingenuous tactic meant to shift the blame to the Republicans. Since blaming Bush wasn’t working, he’s apparently decided that he need a new fall guy. . . one still holding political office. Fortunately, these Republicans aren’t playing his game.

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Book Review: The Looming Tower

Last night we had the first Commentarama Book Club. We read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, a book about the creation of Al Qaeda. You should read this book. It’s truly eye-opening.

Written by Lawrence Wright, a journalist who spent years teaching in Egypt, The Looming Tower tells the story of the birth of Al Qaeda up through the events of 9/11. To write the book, Wright conducted hundreds of interviews in the United States, Europe and throughout the Middle East. . . and it shows. The Looming Tower contains a wealth of information, much of which you have never heard before. Indeed, this is a gripping story with amazing revelations.

The book begins with the story of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian educator and the intellectual founder of what we consider militant Islam. And right out of the gate, the book smacks you with some fascinating information. Qutb, who would lay the foundations for the struggles that followed, wasn’t radical when he lived in Egypt. . . he became radical when he came to Fort Collins, Colorado to study. Much of Qutb’s motivation, by the way, appears to be a twisted response to an inability to relate to women -- a hang-up that has driven many of history’s crackpots and serial killers.

From there, the book takes you through Nasser’s rule in Egypt and how he and the Muslim Brotherhood became enemies. Interestingly, this introduces a repeating theme throughout the book as various governments try to exploit the radical fundamentalists, only to find that they ultimately lose control of these movements. Indeed, if there is one lesson to be taken from this book, it is that these radical movements would be nothing more than minor nuisances if it weren’t for regional governments trying to exploit them.

From Egypt, we move to the Afghan war. The war against the Soviets in Afghanistan became a holy war, with the faithful pouring into Afghanistan to defeat the atheist Soviets. Critically, most of these fighters came to Afghanistan because they were encouraged to go by their governments. Regional governments used the Afghan war as a way to dump their troublemakers, hoping they would all get themselves killed. But they weren’t killed, and this left an army of malcontents, with combat experience, who would soon find themselves without a home. They were a ripe for recruiting by the terrorists.

This is where we meet Osama Bin Laden. He spent several years in Afghanistan and became a hero with many followers. After the war, he returned to Saudi Arabia, where his family is quite wealthy. Interestingly, he is not. He was worth only about seven million dollars at the time and he relied on a stipend from his family to pay his bills.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Bin Laden went to the Saudis and promised to bring his Afghan followers to the peninsula to defend the Kingdom. They turned him down and instead called the Americans. Indeed, the Saudis viewed Bin Laden as insane for thinking that 70,000 Afghan could stand up to Saddam’s million man modern Army. Bin Laden viewed this as an insult and become incensed about the presence of American troops. Soon, he and the Saudi royal family were at war. . . though the Saudis refused to put an end to him.

Bin Laden moved to Sudan, where he and Al Qaeda turned themselves into a terrorist organization. At this point, we learn some fascinating facts that you will not have heard before. Bin Laden is not a very good businessman. He goes broke. He’s a bit of a moron. His deep religious convictions simply mirror what other people have written, and he doesn’t seem to really believe them or follow them.

We also learn that many of the acts attributed to Al Qaeda weren’t really theirs. They just took credit for them. There are surprises about how small Al Qaeda is as an organization, and how ineffective. They are also not very good terrorists. In Egypt and Algeria, Bin Laden's advice for the terrorist to kill indiscriminately turns the public against them and leads to security service crack downs that all but wiped out those radical movements. One terrorist forgets his gun in the car, another falls asleep and misses the attack. Their first attempt to attack an American ship fails when they overload their boat and it sinks. And so on. Not to mention that these guys sing like songbirds when they get caught, and that’s not even counting the several who get upset at Bin Laden and head straight to American embassies to sell their knowledge.

The book also explains how Bin Laden’s people overcame the Islamic prohibition on suicide by drawing a false distinction between dying in the killing of infidels and dying in any other fashion. This leads to some very disturbing discussions of various Al Qaeda attacks. Wright is not particularly graphic, but he gives enough of a picture that you will be angered and repulsed by what these bastards have done.

The book, by the way, doesn’t sugar coat anything. Take for example, the discussion of the Taliban who murder and rape their way through the country, who sodomize little boys because there aren’t any women around, who take sledge hammers to priceless works of art, and who mutilate and torture zoo animals.

The book soon turns incredibly frustrating, as Wright discusses the American efforts to catch Bin Laden. Several times, he was offered to us, and we blew it:
• Bin Laden wore out his welcome in Sudan and the Sudanese offered him to the Americans. The Americans didn’t want him. Despite the fact that the Egyptian security services knew all about him, and the Americans had been warned about his intentions, the Americans simply saw him as a minor nuisance. So they told Sudan to throw him out of the country (the Sudanese robbed him on the way out).

• When Bin Laden got to Afghanistan, the Taliban didn’t want him. They viewed him as too much trouble. But the Taliban were being financed by the Saudis and the Pakistani security services, in the hopes of ending the chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal and of offsetting Iran’s influence. The Saudis had been unwilling to eliminate him or take him back, so they told the Taliban to keep him quiet.

But when Osama didn’t stay quiet, the Saudis finally decided to rid themselves of Bin Laden, and the Taliban agreed. But then Clinton fired the cruise missiles at Bin Laden and at Sudan, despite warnings that this would only make the situation worse. The effect was (1) to blow up a harmless civilian pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, (2) to miss every single Al Qaeda leader, (3) to give Bin Laden some dud cruise missiles that he could sell to the Chinese to replenish his fortune, and (4) to make Bin Laden an Islamic hero. After that, the Taliban changed their minds and decided not to give him up. 9/11 followed.
It is also amazing how much information “the government” had, which they could not put together because the agencies wouldn’t share it. Wright makes an excellent case that the government had more than enough information to stop 9/11, but couldn’t stop infighting long enough to do it. This part alone is well worth the read.

The sections on the American government, by the way, are very consistent with my experience working for the federal government some years ago -- interagency squabbling, the right hand refusing to talk to the left hand, bureaucratic turf wars, vendettas against productive employees, bizarre rules that interfere with any sort of useful action, and general incompetence. This will be eye-opening to anyone who thinks our government consists of dedicated professionals.

You will also read about other insane decisions, like when the CIA hired a Muslim who they immediately discovered was a traitor. Despite this discovery, they brought him to the United States under CIA protection and let him join the Army. From there, and from his later job with a defense contractor, he provided secrets to Al Qaeda and he wrote the Al Qaeda manual on terrorism based on what our military taught him. He actually spent months in Afghanistan establishing terrorist training camps while he worked for our government. . . the government accepted his claim that his absences were because he was buying rugs in Pakistan.

Finally, it was interesting to read that Bin Laden’s intent with 9/11 was not just to kill civilians, but to draw the United States into a ground war in Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires, where they could “bleed” us. Thus, it seems that we have played right into his hands. . . as we apparently have several times.

Do I recommend The Looming Tower? Absolutely. The writing style is good. It is easy to read and it flows. The names are difficult because we’re not accustomed to them, but Wright always gives you little reminders of who these guys are which makes it easy to follow -- though a chart would have been nice. Still, the information presented is invaluable for understanding what is going on in the Middle East and for understanding the shortcomings of our government and our policies.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Obama Lays A Health Care Trap

Obama said this weekend that he wants to meet with the Republicans in a televised negotiation to discuss health care. As a lawyer, I know what he’s doing, and the Republicans need to be very, very careful. This is a trap.

Many years ago, I was involved in a trial in federal court. I had a co-counsel with me at the time because we represented multiple plaintiffs. By our agreement, I did most of the trial, including the opening, and he handled some of the cross examinations and the closing. A closing is the argument that takes place at the end of the trial. The plaintiff’s attorney always goes first, with the defense attorney following. After that, the plaintiff’s attorney gets to present a rebuttal closing, but this is limited to responding to the points made by the defense.

What I didn’t know until after the trial began was that my co-counsel, who had only done defense work before, couldn’t frame an argument to save his life. . . his strength lay in tearing down the other guy’s argument. Unfortunately, since we represented the plaintiffs, we had to go first. That meant he had to put together an argument that told the jury why we had met the burden of proof.

As the time of the closing approached, it was obvious that he couldn’t do it. But I knew something about the defense attorney. I knew his type. He was a typical big firm attorney, which meant that he had an excellent pedigree, looked great in the suit, but was absolutely out of his league once the trial began. It also meant that he would methodically lay out his case in his closing, no matter what we did in our closing.

Hence, I told my co-counsel to forget the closing: “Just give a short, simple statement, and sit down. Let the other guy give his closing, let him lay out his case, and then get up and tear his presentation apart in the rebuttal closing.” He did, and it took less than twenty minutes for the jury to come back in our favor.

The reason this worked so well was that by focusing the entire closing on attacking the defense case, we subtly shifted the burden of proof onto the defense. In so doing, we basically led the jury to believe that they should rule in our favor if they didn’t find the defense’s case persuasive. Thus, even though the law said that we had to prove that we were right, the jury came to believe that we only had to show that the defense was wrong.

This may sound like an esoteric point or a distinction without a difference, but I assure it’s not. There are very powerful psychological forces at work when humans assess who has the burden of proof. We instinctively demand greater proof from the person who we view as needing to prove their case, and we demand significantly less from the person who appears to be arguing for leaving things as they are. By making it appear that the defense was the one trying to convince the jury, we made ourselves into the party asking the jury to “leave things as they are,” even though we weren’t.

To put this into non-legal terms, think about it this way. When your friends present you with a choice of “let’s go to restaurant X unless you disagree,” you are much more likely to end up at restaurant X than if they said “would you prefer restaurant X or Y,” and far more likely than if they said “let’s go to Y unless you really want to go to X.” This is because there is a human bias that favors leaving things as they are.

This is exactly what Obama is trying to exploit. He’s tried everything he can think of to sell his health care plan, and none of it worked. He talked about the need to cover the uninsured. . . no takers. He claimed it would save us billions of dollars in health care costs. . . no takers. He talked about history. . . no takers. He blasted the evil insurers and greedy doctors. . . no takers.

So now he is trying to shift the burden of proof to the Republicans. If he can get them to put forward their own plan, then he can poke holes in that plan and he can argue to the public that the Republicans have failed to present an adequate alternative. If he does this right, then he can frame the Republicans as the ones wanting a change and his plan as representing leaving things as they are. He will have done to the Republicans what we did to the defense attorney. Hence, this is a trap for the Republicans.

So how do the Republicans avoid the trap? First, they should have rejected his invitation:
“If Obama isn’t willing to start from scratch in a bipartisan manner, to do this right, then we aren’t going to provide him political cover as he crams a horrifically destructive bill down the throats of the American taxpayer.”
But they already agreed. So now they need to focus on avoiding giving him a target. One thing they could do would be to present a list of general principles rather than any specific ideas. For example:
“We need a plan that lowers the cost of health care for all Americans, that protects the uninsurable, and doesn’t harm our world class health care system, doesn’t drive doctors out of the profession, doesn’t close hospitals, and doesn’t leave millions of seniors out in the cold.”
But this runs the risk of looking like obstructionism. Thus, what I would recommend would be to prepare a list of specific proposals that few would object to. I would test these through a series of trial balloons to warm up the public before they are introduced and to weed out any that might cause a public backlash. Here are my suggestions:
• Granting a federal medical license to let doctors practice in any state.
• Allowing insurers to offer insurance across state lines.
• Increasing the size of medical savings accounts.
• Malpractice reform (as we outlined in CommentaramaCare) to cut medical costs.
• Allowing doctors to operate fixed price medical plans, like I mention in CommentaramaCare.
• Eliminating overlapping federal bureaucracy.
And if they need something “to save Medicare,” talk about possibly raising the qualification age for Medicare benefits to 70 in some number of years. But don't talk about anything painful or unpopular at this time, because that's what Obama needs.

Finally, whatever they do, they need to do two things. First, they need to repeatedly make it clear that Obama has the burden, and they need to emphasize that the third choice is to do nothing. . . to leave things as they are. I would recommend this:
“We should not do something that will destroy our medical system, raise all of our costs, wipe out Medicare, and bankrupt America just because the Democrats want to get a plan done before the election. We need to take our time and do this right.”
Secondly, they need to pound home in every sentence they say during this conference (no matter how rude it may seem) the words “Obama deficit” and “Democratic deficit,” and they must never let the public forget for even a minute that they have been called in to help clean up a Democratic mess.

That’s how I see it.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

The NFL: An Abject Lesson For America

With everyone watching the Super Bowl (me included), I’m probably talking to myself. But here goes. . . Football truly is America’s game. Indeed, it is a microcosm of America itself. Yet, over the past 20 years, with the growth of the NFL, the game has changed significantly for the worse. In that change lies a warning to America itself.
What Football Was
The game of football uniquely represents American values. Like America itself, it is a game that requires a constant mix of team work and individual talent -- as compared to games like soccer where individual talent is almost meaningless. It is a game that lets you succeed in any number of ways, from strength to speed to specialized skills or brains, just like the American dream offers many paths to success. In America, anyone can succeed, whether they are smart, strong, skillful, or simply hard working. Football also prizes hard work and rewards risk taking, just like America.

Moreover, there is a psychological aspect of football that seems uniquely American. In other sports, scoring is about exploiting a weakness in your opponent; you find the hole in your opponent’s defense and sneak through it to score. That’s not football. Football is about making your own opportunities, about seizing control from the other team and establishing your own destiny.

There are other aspects of football that mirror America as well. . . at least, there used to be. It was one of the first sports to integrate because it didn’t care what you were, so long as you could play. It was also a game that anyone could play regardless of class. You didn’t need to be rich to learn the basic skills (like golf), nor did you need to live in the right part of the country (as you did with hockey because you needed ice), nor did you need to be born into a football family or learn to play from birth. Nor did you need to be born with certain skills (like pitchers) or with certain physical traits (like basketball requires abnormal height); indeed, football uniquely offers a position for anyone to play. In that way, football is like achieving the American dream, anyone could become a great football player so long as they have the drive to succeed.

Thus, football was the epitome of the American dream. Anyone, from anywhere, could learn to play, and they could succeed in any number of ways so long as they worked hard to make themselves into a success. But that was then . . .
The NFL Changes Football
Over the past 20 plus years, football has changed dramatically, and for the worse. As the NFL grew, the focus of the game shifted to money. Teams became worth billions of dollars and profit became all that mattered. Indeed, football stopped being about the sport entirely. It became a business. . . the biggest of big businesses.

Today, the NFL is driven entirely by the profit motive. Owners hire teams of consultants and lawyers to exploit everything they can touch. They hold up cities for stadiums, not to benefit the fans or make the game better, but to squeeze an extra few million out of luxury boxes. Historic jerseys are changed, not because it is something the team or the players or the fans want, but because Nike tells the owners that they can make more money by changing their jerseys. The NFL has become a political lobbying machine, owning more than a few politicians. Few regular fans can now attend the Super Bowl because corporate America has turned the game and the week around it into a retreat for the elite.

The players have changed too. They’ve gone from guys who played because they loved the game to selfish, drug addicted creatures who play for money first, second and third. Did you know there is a strike looming in 2011 because the billionaire owners can’t get along with the millionaire players?

At the same time, the NFL has changed the game itself. When football began, it was a game with a small rule book. It allowed creativity, and the referees really couldn’t determine the outcome. But over the past twenty years, the rule book has grown to epic proportions. It’s become legalistic. Changes where made to placate unions, to satisfy the television contracts, and to try to make the product (formerly known as “the game”) more exciting to a television audience. Did you know that a visiting football team can only bring 43 players to the game, while the home team can brings full compliment? Why would something as stupid as this end up in the rule book? Because it was included in the union contract to reduce payroll costs.

These days, the game is highly regulated. The referees are deciding more and more games. Not a week goes by without the league office handing out fines for player conduct, regulating their speech and conduct. The NFL employs people to walk the sidelines of games and remove or cover up any brands that don’t have a contract with the NFL. The NFL even regulates what coaches can wear on the sidelines.

Along with the legalistic environment, the “technicalities problems” have come en mass. Players can only be discipline as allowed by the union contract, and discipline can be appealed. Want to bench a trouble maker? Better lawyer up. Payroll issues now decide rosters. Even race has returned to plague the NFL after decades of relative racial harmony. It is virtually impossible to criticize black quarterbacks without being called racist. And the NFL has a rule requiring teams to conduct at least one (sham) interview with a “minority” (read: black) applicant before they can hire a new coach. Not to mention the constant complaining from black groups that there aren’t enough black head coaches.

Why? Because the monetary stakes of the game have risen so much that it’s worth fighting about these things.

And this is all flowing down to the lower levels. Do you recall William “the Fridge” Perry? He weighed just over 300 pounds when he played in the 1980s and people were shocked. But his success meant that people had to get bigger and stronger to compete. Today, there almost isn’t a lineman in the league that doesn’t weigh 60 pounds more than that. Indeed, there are NFL quarterbacks today who are larger and heavier than every player in the NFL in the 1920-1970s. What’s worse, this is now becoming the norm at the high school level. I know a coach at a high school team who told me that in his city of 18,000 people all six high school teams have at least five 300 pound kids each on their offense lines -- that’s 30 kids larger than Perry.

How is this happening? With the ridiculous sums of money being thrown at athletes, kids are taking (and some parents are letting them take) steroids and human growth hormone. I’ve read stories of parents who hold their kids back 1-2 years in grade school so that they will be larger than the other kids and get a chance to excel in high school. "School shopping" for guaranteed starting positions is now common for high school players. If you want to be an NFL quarterback, your father better be your high school coach. If you want to coach, your father better have been an NFL coach.

What does all this mean? It means the game no longer invites all comers, it has become a game for professionals only -- from high school to college to the NFL. You now need to be born into a football family. You need to meet certain physical requirements that you can’t achieve without drugs. You need agents and trainers and PR reps. And like all “special people,” the rules no longer apply to these athletes. They can commit crimes and throw public tantrums, but their schools, their employers and their sponsors stick with them. They are forgiven instantly by the system without asking for forgiveness so long as they have talent. Even the law looks the other way. They have become the ancient royalty of old Europe, capable of no act which cannot be ignored.
The Warning To America
There is a lesson in all of this for America. We have allowed our government to grow too large. It is packed with heredity princes like the Kennedy’s and family dynasties like the Bushes, who are above the law. It regulates everything, and it sells its power to regulate to the biggest of big businesses so that they can squeeze their competitors, exploit taxpayers and consumers, and impose a new order on American society that is exclusive and runs contrary to everything that made America great.

It’s time we put an end to this, before big business does to the American dream what the NFL has done to football. Otherwise, there will come a day when the only way to succeed in the United States will be to be born into the right families, to get the right pedigree, and to follow the only allowed path to the top. We will become what Europe was in the 18th Century and has largely become again today.

That is our destiny if we continue to travel down a path of over-regulation, of turning all disputes into legal matters, of corrupt government selling its influence and power to its friends, of family dynasties in politics, of the revolving door between business and government. It’s time the government represented the people again, not just the most important people.

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